Will Wiles composed his darkly comic debut novel, The Care of Wooden Floors, on his daily tube commute from London to the suburbs. Heading away from the centre of town he was guaranteed a seat and a peaceful interlude, before heading to his day job as deputy editor on Icon, a monthly architecture and design journal, where he’s written about everything from Pot Noodles to Jumbo Jets. He’s now a full-time writer, and his filmic alter ego is Martin Blank from Grosse Pointe Blank. EITHNE FARRY
‘When you were young and your heart was an open book, you used to say, live and let live, you know you did you know you did you know you did …’
We don’t see what Martin Blank is seeing. He stops his black town car by the kerb and climbs out, mouth open, clearly agitated. After 10 years, this man without a past has returned to the Detroit suburb where he grew up and has decided to revisit his childhood home.
Then we see what he is seeing. His childhood home is gone, replaced by an ULTIMART convenience store. He peels his sunglasses from his face unable to comprehend what has happened. We see again. ULTIMART. Home is gone. Face like thunder, Blank stalks towards the store.
Nostalgia is a form of sickness, a bilious reaction to curdled memories. In Grosse Point Blank (1997), John Cusack’s contract killer has no real desire to attend his 10-year high school reunion, but is bullied into it by his personal assistant. Once he is back on his old turf, he gets nostalgia in a bad way, things ain’t what they used to be. His old house is gone, and his mother cannot remember who he is. Having spent a decade kicking over his own traces, he now finds his prehistory almost completely obliterated – a fact that makes him very angry. And, not being able to talk about his work, he doesn’t have a present to compensate.
It’s a nicely drawn crisis in narcissism. Blank had a completely one-sided deal with the past. He wanted to change completely and reject everything that made him him, but he expected everything in Grosse Point to be just the way he left it. And this deal turns out to be an illusion. He might have killed the president of Paraguay with a fork, but his vulnerability to the mundane facts of his upbringing make Blank an appealing everyman. He can’t go back, none of us can.