'The Savage Girl' author Alex Shakar speaks at Shaman Drum

For the Daily
Published October 15, 2002

Ever wonder why those midnight Meijer runs leave you with empty pockets and enough food to feed half of North Campus? Is it the stimulation or relaxation of coffee that keeps Ann Arbor's coffee shops afloat? Alex Shakar, author of "The "Savage Girl," would call it a paradessence, "the two opposing desires that promise to satisfy simultaneously."

"Savage Girl" follows Ursula Van Urden into the anything-goes career of trendspotting. This burned out artist explores the parks and alleys of fictitious Middle City searching for the next big trend. She finds it in a homeless girl hunting pigeons in a nearby park. The Savage Girl's image implanted in Ursula's supermodel sister could change the face of fashion and popular culture. Ursula quickly learns the theorized rules of pop culture with terms like paradessence and postirony while trying to market a brand new product diet water.

"The Savage Girl" explores the jagged relationship between humans and the products they crave. Shakar portrays the grocery store as a dumping ground of corporate strategies to lure humans in and force them to live vicariously through the products. Imagine a laundry detergent labeled Now Fat Free or bottled water that boasts its absence of calories. Originally, Shakar thought the idea of diet water was "kind of the most awful product I could think of and it was my personal symbol for end of humanity. Since then it's come true." The character Javier, is optimistic and "believes we can really express ourselves and improve our lives through purchases" while Chas portrays the dark side by believing our purchases "cover up what we lack and make us powerful."

"The Savage Girl" displays Shakar's love-hate relationship with popular culture. He wanted to "see the interaction between the individuals and the world we live in, how the bizarre things that are going on in our culture affect our individual psyches. I was writing for anybody that goes to a supermarket watches TV, sees commercials, basically all of us."

Trendspotters really exist. Shakar was inspired by them because "They have a perfect combination of idealism and cynicism. They're part businessmen and part philosophers. What appealed to me about them is that they are people who really think that these glittering surfaces that are surrounding us actually mean something deep about us."

Shakar's literary skill makes "The Savage Girl" a little too insightful to be fiction, but much too bizarre to be real. He explains "When writing "The Savage Girl," I got to talk to a lot of trendspotters and marketers and do reading about all these crazy marketing theories. I ended up just coming up with my own because the others weren't crazy enough."

Paradessence is an intriguing yet scary idea that ties in closely with many marketing company strategies. "I really didn't know what marketers would think about this book, I thought they'd hate it, but they responded very positively. Last I heard the book was being taught in a marketing class."

Shakar most admires authors like Cortazar, Salinger, Faulkner and Vonnegut. "In college I kept reading books that made me not only want to write but want to live. I wanted to feel like I was experiencing life more vividly." He enjoys "the freedom it gives me to think about whatever I want to think about and become whoever I need to become. I love doing research for books"

What's next for Alex Shakar? "Trying to keep writing more books. I'd like to keep changing and keep growing as a person as an artist and try and explore what ever interests me."