Creative Writing

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Susan Orlean’s novel The Bullfight Checks Her Makeup explores a handful of incredibly unique people living in the world today. From an infamous show dog, to a young basketball superstar, Orlean meets and lives with variety of different people as each chapter unfolds. In living and traveling with these people, Orlean is able to find the extraordinary within the ordinary. She allows for regular, law-abiding citizens to read and relate with somewhat fantastic law-abiding citizens. She describes each person she meets as normal people, even though in come cases, like eighties teen-queen Tiffany, they are celebrities. Susan Orlean successfully creates a realistic picture of people normally viewed as inaccessible to the public, while exposing the smaller, yet just as extraordinary people in the world.
Orlean’s use of voice fluctuates between chapters. Her voice tends to mirror the person she is creating a portrait of. For example, the first chapter is about a young boy of ten years. Her opening sentence puts herself at the youngster’s level, saying “If Colin Duffy and I were to get married, we would have matching superhero notebooks.” (3). By doing this, Orlean automatically connects to each reader and their memories of their wn experiences. It is also a light and humorous way of starting a non-fiction story, by looking at a small detail that makes the person who they are. Her voice changes, however, when she speaks about Fred Brathwaite, an MTV personality whose niche was Hip-Hop. She opens with the understatement, “the coolest person in New York at the moment is Fred Brathwaite.” (51) Instead of automatically instilling into readers the more popularly notable things about “Fab Five Freddy,” as we later find out he is called, Orlean creates a smaller picture of him, then adds in the more flamboyant aspects later on.
As stated earlier, Orlean’s ability to create an extraordinary experience out of the ordinary is compelling in this novel. One of the people Orlean observes is Felipe Lopez, a high school basketball phenomenon with offers from big-leaguers coming from every different direction. Although Felipe seems to be popular and important, compared to fashion designer Bill Blass, or underwear-sporting model Marky Mark (both in Orlean’s novel), Felipe’s existence seems minuscule. However, somehow readers are wrapped up in the eighteen-year-old’s life. Orlean accurately portrays Felipe in an innocent, adolescent light, even though she clearly points out that, “…he is not nearly as naïve and eager as he appears.” (105) Felipe seems to act, speak, and think ordinarily, but Orlean’s intriguing representation of his lifestyle draws readers into his story. She takes what this boy thinks is ordinary, and creates an extraordinary way of interpreting it.
Susan Orlean also very successfully includes a satisfying back-story to each of her portraits. In her article entitled, “After the Party,” Orlean dives into the life of former Hollywood agent Sue Mengers. After briefly visiting Sue in the present, Orlean relives Sue’s past, commenting on certain celebrities she worked with, parties she threw and clients she lost along the way. She notes the struggles that came along with this certain profession, while accentuating the glamorous elements only seen on the surface by on-lookers. The back-story helps to justify the person introduced initially in the chapter. By recollecting Sue’s past, readers are drawn to be more sympathetic with her, becoming compassionate and understanding as serious past experiences are exposed.
The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup is humorous, yet sentimental. It allows for readers to completely relate to otherwise impersonal people. Susan Orlean sharply observes a colorful variety of people who otherwise readers would not know. Orlean’s wit, creativity, attention to detail, and ability to completely relate to each of her subjects intertwine to create a unique and memorable reading experience. Personally, I feel that Orlean does not necessarily “face the dragon,” nor does she really deliver a promise. This could be because of the genre in which she writes, which is portrait. Although she does not fulfill these standards, the novel is still satisfying. The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup is a great book to learn technique from as well as laugh out loud at the normally overlooked originality of individuals.


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