Friday, January 22, 2021

FFB DIRTY WORK, Larry Brown

(from the archives)

DIRTY WORK is the debut novel from Mississippi writer, Larry Brown, and it seemed appropriate to read it around Veteran's Day since that's its subject matter. I picked it up in Mississippi last month and just wish I had picked up more of them. I have RABBIT FACTORY around somewhere and will dig it out now.

Walter James and Braiden Chaney are two Vietnam Vets lying side by side in a Vet hospital 20 years after the war. Chaney has basically spent the entire time in a hospital since the war left him with no arms or legs. James is newly admitted with some sort of brain trauma from a bullet lodge in his head. He has also been badly scarred from his years in Vietnam. 
  
The two men eventually trade war stories, but this book does much more than that. It painted the lives of the sort of men who couldn't dodge the war--the down and dirty life they led in northern Mississippi. Much of Chaney's thoughts are dream-induced and almost biblical in theme. Who could spend 20 years in a bed and not retreat to such a place?

The two men do a lot of drinking with the beer Chaney's sister smuggles in.  They also smoke a lot of pot. Their stories are different and the same. It was men like these two who served in Vietnam and never recovered from it. They either died in body or died in spirit. An amazing and thought-provoking book.

 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "Something is Out There" Richard Bausch


Back in 2005, I sent a story to a submission call for a new publication called MURDALAND. It was probably the darkest story I ever wrote and I was surprised when Eddie Vega, the submissions editor, took it and encouraged me to make it even darker. This would be the first issue (there were only ) two and the magazine was the lovechild of two guys named Cortright McMeel and Mike Langnas.  A lot of the stories were from real stars in the field:( Ken Bruen, Mary Gaitskill, Daniel Woodrell) But my favorite was from Richard Bausch, who eventually made this story the title story in a collection.

A family returns home from the hospital where the father is spending some time after falling off the roof after being shot. They are having a rare snowstorm, and the boys begin to shovel the driveway and walk. The women try to piece together what has happened. The man who shot the father has been captured and was a former business partner. They are also waiting for the return of another family member away at college. They are worried about him out on the icy roads.

The dread in this story is palpable: the storm, the fate of the college student, knocks on the door, is the father involved in some crime? And then the power goes out. 

Bausch takes his time to make you feel what they are feeling. In fact, when a knock came at my own door (something very rare nowadays) I almost fell out of the chair. (It was the mailman). 

Bausch understands that the threat of violence can be more frightening than actual violence. He gives you enough information to understand, sort of, what might be going on. The story ends with the woman, standing at an upstairs window, with a loaded gun. The kids wait downstairs baseball bats and knives at the ready. The other woman waits too.

 Superb. There are probably pdf's online if you care to read it. A new copy of that issue MURDALAND lists for almost $800. 


 Kevin Tipple

TracyK 

Jerry House 

Todd Mason

Monday, January 18, 2021

Still Here

Thanks to Jeff, I watched MEKIMI this week. It's the story of a TV performer who falls for a guy who quickly becomes an ultra religious Jew. She follows him down this path much to the anger of  her family and friends. It's a short series, I would have liked to know more

In catching up online with what happened after the series, the couple divorced and he returned to a secular life. Although I do not understand why women live in a sect where they are expected to spend their lives in the kitchen with their many children, I do admire their non-materialistic life.

And I really do find stories about people wrestling with this sort of decision interesting. 

When I was reading the Cary Grant bio, there was a lot of print given to how much he loved Sophia Loren, although she turned around and married Carlo Ponti. So I was eager to see this film with the two made during this time. It wasn't a great movie, but it was entertaining, light, and you could see the chemistry between them. Although he was 30 years older, she seemed older than 23. It had some of the poorest sets and background I have ever seen in a A movie though.  She certainly was gorgeous. I guess they figured that was all they needed.

Reading the Willie Vlautin book still, (THE NIGHT ALWAYS COMES) which is very good. Also a book by Sue Miller (THE LAKESHORE EXPRESS) on audio.  

Although I have put my name on several lists to get the vaccine, I have heard nothing. One more issue blown as we learn Trump did not have any stored vaccine he promised. Remember when we saved Europe after WW2 through the Marshall Plan. Now we can't save anything or anyone. It's a good thing no one is counting on us to do more than destroy ourselves.

What about you?



Friday, January 15, 2021

FFB: THE POISONWOOD BIBLE, Barbara Kingsolver


 I have been in a book group for close to twenty years and this is probably one of our five favorite reads over that period. (Other contenders would be NICKEL AND DIMED, LEOPOLD'S GHOST, and LAB GIRL) 

It is 1959 and Nathan Price, a Baptist minister, takes his wife and four daughters to the Belgian Congo where he believes he can convert the heathens. He is from the fire and brimstone school of preachers and this does not serve him well with the local population. The family is ill-prepared for the climate. They also are ill-prepared for the unrest they will find as the Congo tries to pull away from Belgian's harsh colonial rule. The novel does a great job of showing the reader how this period played out. King Leopold of Belgian would give a certain president a run for the title of worst person who is not Adolf Hitler.

The first half of the novel documents the many vicissitudes found by the Prices and practiced on the local population by Nathan. It is written from all of their POVS, which gives a pretty full picture of how this affected each one of them. Nathan gives little thought to how this experience will affect his family, reminding me of the father in MOSQUITO COAST and the parents in AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY.   

The second half of the novel details the lives of these seven people over the next thirty years. I have to say that half of the book is not as memorable or at least I don't remember it. It is hard to compete with the fiery Price. But a very good book all in all.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Short Story Wednesday "How Old, How Young" John O'Hara


I have always thought I read a lot of John O'Hara as a kid until I looked at his list of publications. I may have only read FROM THE TERRACE, or was reading it when my father pitched it out the door. This action necessitated a late night retrieval because it was a library book. And I really can't believe my father had any idea about who O'Hara was or what the book was about. Maybe the cover scared him.

At any rate, I think I mostly read O'Hara short stories He published hundreds of them. But I did read a lot of novels by three other Johns as a teen: Steinbeck, Marquand and Dos Passos. As well as Sinclair Lewis, Thomas Wolfe, Willa Cather, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen and Theodore Dreiser. No mysteries at all. I don't think I knew they existed then.  My mother had a few in our one tiny bookcase, but I was more attracted to the romances there.

Anyway this story is collected in the Library of America collection of a few years ago. It is a nine-page story. O'Hara wrote both very short and very long stories. It begins with a young man (Jamie) noticing a young woman crying in the street. He recognizes her and has a immediate desire to cover her up because her deep distress is like nakedness to him. People didn't often cry in the streets. 

He looks for her at a swimming party that night (this is probably set in Gibbsville- a stand in for O'Hara's own hometown in PA) Nancy has begged off coming; she was supposed to bring 12 ears of corn, someone complains. A discussion takes place over how girls mature earlier than boys. How he shouldn't fall for her since although the same age, he was too immature for Nancy. "She needs someone who can take care of her," someone says.

But he looks for her again the next day at the club swimming pool and finds her. He is very attracted to her and watches as she climbs out of the pool to see where the swimsuit sticks to her body. (I had never thought of this as a "thing" before). The dialog between them is snappy. 

She has been crying because her father has been charged with misappropriation of funds and she asks him if he assumed she was crying because she was pregnant. 

Again there are references as to how he is not mature enough for her. He offers to marry her and she says he isn't even finished with college. The story ends with the lines. 

"I don't want to have to wait that long," he said.

"We don't have to wait, for everything," she said. 

Although only nine pages, you come away from the story feeling you know a lot about these two twenty-one year olds.  They come from the privileged class and I think that was the typical group O'Hara wrote about. He came from that class  (father was a doctor) although he always felt like an outsider apparently because he was Irish and Catholic. There are lots of phrases in the story that date it, but the story isn't dated at all. Something very like it is in The New Yorker most weeks. 


Steve Lewis

Jerry House 

Kevin Tipple 

TracyK

George Kelley 

Todd Mason 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Public Service Announcement

The Science page of the NYT today has an article stating an FIT (Fecal Immunochemical Test)  is equally acceptable to a colonoscopy. No need to go through a horrible preparation and test with this at home test providing reliable results
 
"If your doctor tells you a colonscopy is better, that's not accurate," said Dr. Alex Krist, chair man of U.S. Preventive Services. 
 
FIT yields an equally reliable analysis. But do get the test. Page D3 of today's issue.

 

Monday, January 11, 2021

Still Here

and waiting for the call that says I can schedule my vaccination. How do things look where you are? They lowered the age to 65 here and I have gotten several emails from my local hospital telling me they would soon begin a schedule. 

Reading the new Willie Vlautin book-THE NIGHT ALWAYS COMES. Enjoying more stories from LIES OF THE SAINTS.  Also read WITH OR WITHOUT YOU by Caroline Leavitt which was pretty good until the end when she insisted on every character becoming self aware and able to right themselves. Do you want that in a book? That must be why it happens so much in mainstream literature.

Rewatched MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE last night. Myrna Loy and Grant are, of course, great but Melvyn Douglas really steals the show for me as their acerbic friend. Grant is sort of a bumbler in this part, but he does it beautifully. My favorite scene is the one where Loy describes what colors to use in painting the house.

Finished A SUITABLE BOY, which I have to say was disappointing. I had always heard how terrific the novel was but this probably stripped the novel of everything but the romantic story lines. I can say the same thing about BRIDGERTON. Although maybe that was all romance in book form. 

Don't need to say anything about this week, but I was never more ashamed of being an American. As more information dribbles out, it is clear just how vast and far-reaching the planning for this was. Has there ever been an American who did more harm to their country that 45. I don't think so. And his enablers are just, if not more, culpable by not seeing a mad man and working against him.


So what are you up to?

Friday, January 08, 2021

FFB-CROSS COUNTRY, Herbert D. Kastle

 (From the archives-2009)

Ed Gorman was the author of TICKET TO RIDE and many other fine stories-long and short.

Herbert D. Kastle wrote a number of science fiction stories in magazines of the 1950s. That's where I first read him. Later in the 1960s he was writing those fat sexy bestseller-type novels that owed more to marketing and Harold Robbins than his presumed muse.

Then in 1974 he wrote CROSS COUNTRY. Here's a quote from one of the reviews: "This novel seems to occupy the same dark and twisted territory as the works of Jim Thompson. Characters interact in a dance of barely suppressed psychopathological urges and desires that is as grotesquely fascinating as a multi-car pileup on the freeway. It
may leave you feeling unclean afterwards, but chances are you will not forget it."

Damn straight. It really is a sewer of sex and terror and blood-soaked suspense. I read it in one long sitting. If it's trash, as some called it at the time, it is spellbinding trash.

IMDB sums up the story line succinctly: "After a woman is found butchered in her New York apartment, suspicion falls on her estranged husband, an ad executive who has suddenly left town on a cross-country road trip. He takes along a beautiful girl he met in a bar and a drifter he picked up along the way. A cop sets out after the husband, but he's more interested in shaking him down than bringing him back."

Kastle masterfully controls his long nightmare journey and you buy into his paranoia. He shows you an American wasteland of truck stops, motels, convenience stores connected by interstate highway and darkness. By book's end everyone will betray everyone else. This is survival of the fittest enacted by a Yuppie businessman, sociopathic hippies and a crooked cop. The sheer nastiness of Kastle's existential vision make this book impossible to forget. Thirty-some years after I first read it I still think of it from time to time when hundreds of other novels have fled from memory.

As a vision of hell, it's a small masterpiece.



Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "The Return of the Argentine Tango Masters" from The Lies of the Saints, Erin McGraw

This story came my way via George Kelley who kindly sent me this collection. I was all set to talk about a story by Joyce Carol Oates from Best Mystery Stories of 2017, but it was so JCO that I was not enthused about talking about it. But this one was charming and it just had more story to it. The setting was interesting, (a radio station) and the characters felt more fleshed out, less generic. And in some way, it was subtly as dark as JCO. 

A radio talk show host is surprised when her ex-husband, Rafe, calls into her show, eight years after they split. The audience is enthralled with his tales of their marriage, especially ones about their doing the tango. Gwen's producer is insistent that the increase in ratings after this is thanks to the delight their audience is taking in the replay of this relationship. He will not let her blow Rafe off. And, in fact, when the Argentine Tango Masters come to town, the entire town comes to watch them dance. 

Gwen's new husband, Leo, is gradually seduced by the idea of learning the tango. By the story's end, the reader is not sure if the "tango" has a deeper and possibly more sinister meaning than the name of a Spanish dance. A fun story for me.


Kevin Tipple

Jerry House

TracyK 

George Kelley 

Steve Lewis

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

My Favorite Movies of 2020

                                                                                    

Lovers Rock


The only movie on this list I saw at a theater was Portrait of a Lady on Fire. There are a ton of movies I haven't seen, which is unusual. But anyway these are the ones I most enjoyed in no particular order.

The Vast of Night (Prime)

I'm Thinking of Ending Things (Netflix)

Palm Springs (Hulu)

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Hulu)

Small Ax: Lovers Rock (Prime)

The Painter and the Thief  (Hulu)

The Forty-Year Old Version (Netflix)

Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Often (HBO Max)

Dick Johnson is Dead (Netflix)

The Assistant (Hulu)

The Nest (Prime)

If I had to give the Best Picture Oscar to one, I think it would be Lovers Rock.

What movies have you enjoyed this  year? Even if the movie is from another year.

Monday, January 04, 2021

Still Here

                                        This is just one side of the sidewalk I have to shovel.



For six  years, we headed out to CA about now. I heard from a friend yesterday that San Diego County had 4500 Covid cases on January 1. My friends that we went out there with cancelled their trip their this year and I am sure we would have had to. Despite getting to FL last  year, it seems  like a very long time since I've been away. And, of course, I was sick almost the whole time in FL. MY DIL's uncle died of Covid this week. He broke his hip and contracted it at either the hospital or the rehab place he was sent to. The number of deaths that have occurred in nursing facilities is staggering.

I am having trouble right now finding books I like. The one I am reading for my book group is awfully dull. (THE BOOKWOMAN OF TROUBLESOME CREEK) I ended up not like Bryan Cranston much after reading his memoirs. He was too full of himself and confident he knows everything there is to know about stagecraft. Funny how often that happens in a memoir. I have two books coming from a gift card. Maybe one of them will work. My library card has expired and they are open so little I have trouble renewing it. So I can't borrow anything from them. I have about 1000 books in here I haven't read but I just can't seem to land on a good one. And I am trying hard not to use Amazon, which eliminates a lot of options. When I read what Bezos took in last year, it made me sick. As basically a shut- in, I have to use Amazon for some things, I need, but I won't use them for books if I can help it. 

Saw two old movies. I had never seen HAROLD AND MAUDE before and I enjoyed it. Did Ruth Gordon ever play anyone but herself? Not that herself wasn't a good character. I also watched STARTING OVER, which I thought held up well. Jill Clayburgh was such a great actress and Burt managed to mug his way through it. Lots of good scenes and lines. 

Enjoying watching DARE ME on Netflix without commercials. It does make a huge difference. BRIDGERTON is very junky. Maybe it's just I never read or watch romances but it seems like every scene is about sex. I really don't think a comparison with Jane Austen is apt. However, I continue to watch it. 

So what's up with you guys?

Friday, January 01, 2021

FFB-My favorite mysteries from 1989-92.

Sleep and His Brother-Peter Dickinson
Well-Schooled in Murder-Elizabeth George
Burden of Proof-Scott Turow
Nemesis-Rosamond Smith
Going Wrong, The Crocodile Bird, Anna's Book-Ruth Rendell
Icy Clutches, Old Scores-Aaron Elkins
The Wench is Dead-Colin Dexter
H is for Homicide, I is for Innocent--Sue Grafton
Dancehall of the Dead, Coyote Waits--Tony Hillerman
A Ticket to the Boneyard, A Dance in the Slaughter House-Lawrence Block
Body in the Vestibule-Katherine Page
Shadow Play, Not That Kind of Place, Deep Sleep-Frances Fyfield
A Simple Plan, Scott Smith
A Literary Murder-Batya Gur
Sculptress-Minette Walters
Past Reason Hated-Peter Robinson
Devil in a Blue Dress-Walter Mosley  

Remember any of them?