The Pick List: The Week’s Recommended Events

Wednesday, Feb. 5

Willy Vlautin

The longtime leader of Americana band Richmond Fontaine, Portland’s Willy Vlautin has become a rising literary star with his hardscrabble novels. His first, The Motel Life, was recently adapted for the screen. His fourth, the new The Free (HarperPerennial, $14.99) is his latest and most accomplished book to date. It marks a major shift for Vlautin, who has previously relied on a single-character-driven narrative. Here instead he juggles three characters, while managing to provide each the space and consideration to create the deep empathy that his lowly heroes require. The Free is ostensibly about Leroy, an Iraq War vet who appears to be suffering from severe PTSD that has kept him locked up in a group home for eight years. And yet Leroy is conscious only for the first few pages, wherein he attempts suicide and is left in a coma. From there the story expands to include the struggles of the nighttime caretaker who found Leroy and the nurse who watches over Leroy in the hospital. Vlautin also relates a lucid sci-fi tale in a dystopic dreamworld within the comatose patient’s mind. Defying genre, the masterful novel has received praise from such disparate literary luminaries as Ann Patchett and Ursula K. Le Guin and inspired other storytellers, including Drive-By Truckers lead singer Patterson Hood, who recently penned a song based on one of The Free’s characters. Vlautin’s stage experience as a singer makes him an excellent storyteller; the opportunity to hear him read from this novel in his distinctive drawl shouldn’t be missed. Elliott Bay Book Co., 1521 10th Ave., 624-6600, Free. 7 p.m. (Also: 7 p.m. Thurs., Third Place Books.)

Thursday, Feb. 6

Dakota Gearhart

Gearhart has a wonderfully weird relationship with nature. She makes porn about plants—short films in which a voyeuristic camera lustily films a tree while she overdubs dirty come-ons. Last summer we talked at length about the intimacy of a potted plant hanging from a light pole across the street. More recently she explained, “As a child I talked to overlooked plants, animals, and microorganisms, and felt strangely connected to them. Specifically I remember chatting with the rows of potted plants at Walmart and the unseen colonies of germs on my fingertips. I felt how supernatural their presences seemed and, simultaneously, how ethereal my own presence was.” Gearhart’s new site-specific installation, Chroma Key, marries her love of video and plants—tying together “green screens, green houses, and green rooms” into a single experiential environment “where plants are not plants, boulders can float, and the sun hibernates inside a drinking jar.” A master of juxtaposition, Gearhart considers how odd it is to be a human, how odd it is to be a plant—and in doing so, kindles a strange sort of kinship between the two. (Through March 31.) A Gallery, 117 S. Main St., Free. Opening reception: 6–10 p.m.

Friday, Feb. 7

Jerry Seinfeld

Bee Movie is forgotten, and Seinfeld reruns are still welcome in most American homes. Seinfeld himself hasn’t been working too hard since his prime-time days; he’s content to raise kids, collect Porsches, and do regular comedy engagements. He’s a relentless practitioner of his craft; and being a semi-retired multimillionaire allows him to focus more on that craft. As he recently told The New York Times regarding his constant refinement of everyday humor, “The smaller something is, the harder it is to make, because there’s less room for error.” To go big is too easy—that’s why he eschews gags about sex or politics or this week’s celebrity outrage on TMZ. And Seinfeld never pushes for a laugh, unlike Leno and some of his generational peers. That’s been one of the pleasures of his Internet series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee (just pimped during the Super Bowl): simply watching him listen to his A-list guests, then lob in the right bon mot, like a jazz musician finding his spot. When you’re Seinfeld-rich and Seinfeld-famous, you don’t coast so much as ride easily. And Seinfeld has a fresh Porsche to ride for every day of the year. The Paramount, 911 Pine St., 877-784-4849, $44–$78. 7 & 9:30 p.m.

Sidewalk Stories

It was 1989, the year of Sex, Lies and Videotape and Do the Right Thing. Indie film was on the rise; Steven Soderbergh and Spike Lee would go on to make many more fine movies. But who today remembers Charles Lane and his Sidewalk Stories? It was an oddball even then, critically praised, a self-conscious throwback to Chaplin and the silent era. America was then at the prosperous end of the Reagan era, yet Lane very deliberately focused on the homeless, the down-and-outs, and the starving artists of New York City. He plays an unnamed artist suddenly forced to care for a small child (played by his own daughter), and his quest to reunite the girl with her mother becomes an odyssey through a generally cold and uncaring city. Lane doesn’t play the black-and-white film entirely for pathos; there are chases and beatings and run-ins with the cops. The artist isn’t really qualified to be a surrogate parent, and he even resorts to a little shoplifting to provide for the toddler. Raising a kid is damn expensive, a lesson that applies today as well. A prize-winner at Cannes, now newly restored, Sidewalk Stories was championed by Roger Ebert and The New York Times’ Janet Maslin as a film that stood up for the underdogs. What they couldn’t have known, 25 years ago, was how it came in the middle of a widening gulf of social inequality. If Lane’s city was stratified then between the haves and the have-nots, the bottom is even lower today. (Through Thurs.) Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Ave., 267-5380, $6–$11. 7 & 9 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 8

Intruder No. 9 Release Party

The Intruder is a Seattle treasure—a free quarterly newspaper chock-full of incredible local comics. Published by a collective of a dozen local artists, The Intruder gives each contributor one full page to do his or her thing. Marc Palm, the paper’s unofficial editor, draws a recurring strip featuring a man with a giant beaked head who wanders through surreal, grotesque scenes that begin as abruptly as they end. Darin Schuler’s impossibly intricate linework explodes from the page, journeying though fantastical landscapes inspired by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Neverending Story. Tom VanDeusen’s Scorched Earth backpage series harkens back to ’90s alt-comix greats like Daniel Clowes, following the depressing exploits of a socially inept loser as he desperately attempts to get laid. The ninth edition of The Intruder introduces Brian Dionisi, whose wizardy drawings graced the cover of Seattle Weekly’s Halloween issue last year. To help celebrate tonight, there will be live performances by local band Funky Photo and Olympia’s Moldy Castle, a “muscle rock” band that made its own self-mythologizing comic for last year’s Short Run zine festival. Hilliard’s Beer, 550 N.W. 49th St., Free. 21 and over. 7–11 p.m.

Monday, Feb. 10

Love Illuminated

As editor of The New York Times’ “Modern Love” column, Daniel Jones has sifted through more than 50,000 essays, memoirs, and reflections on what he calls “life’s most mystifying subject.” In Love Illuminated (HarperCollins, $26), the editor and author distills some of the keenest observations to have crossed his desk into a tome that separates the topic into 10 parts, including pursuit, destiny, vulnerability, wisdom, and more. A handful of those submissions hail from Seattle, and those authors—Nicole Hardy, Theo Pauline Nestor, and Wilson Diehl—will also read from their work tonight. Hardy, whose recent memoir Confessions of a Latter-Day Virgin began as a “Modern Love” column in 2011, is looking forward to her encounter with the Times newsman. “Can’t wait to meet Dan in person,” she says. “The day he accepted my work in ‘Modern Love’ literally changed my life. [It] feels like a drink and a personal thank-you are in order.” She’ll have no problem accomplishing that goal—the Hugo House bar will be open, and books by all readers will be available for sale. As for Love Illuminated, Hardy says, “How could it not be full of humor, hope, wisdom, and insight?” Let’s hope she scores an autograph, too. Richard Hugo House, 1634 11th Ave., 322-7030, $5. 7 p.m.

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