Monday, August 08, 2022

Monday, Monday

 I am listening to Stanley Tucci's memoir called TASTE: MY LIFE THROUGH FOOD. It centers on the meals enjoyed by his Italian-American family growing up north of NYC and the years following. The recipes are wonderful, but there is no way I can eat like this. He must belong to the just a taste of it club because he is thin. He has the most wonderful forearms I have ever seen (based on his show on CNN). Also I can not imagine spending the time necessary to make some of these recipes. And each day many of them were served.

Food did not play a big part in my childhood. My mother was an indifferent cook and liked us all to be thin. Which we were. A pound of meat was more than enough for four and a frozen package of green beans was too.  I think we lost a lot by not enjoying food together. I can only think of one dish of hers I ever tried to repeat and it still was nothing special. I am not a great cook, but even cooking for myself I try to make a dinner I want to sit down to. There was not a cookbook in our house and the only spices were cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Surely there were others but I can't remember them.

How about your childhood! Was food a big part of it?

Also reading the newest Peter Robinson mystery. I think I have read them all, which is unusual for me nowadays. I have the new Michael Robotham at the library if it ever cools off enough for me to walk there.

It has been such a hot week here I have barely been outside. I would have to walk to the park to sit outside and it just doesn't seem worth worming my way through the construction to get there. A real deficit of this building is there are no sitting areas outside.

TV-Still watching the super-creepy BLACK BIRD. FOR ALL MANKIND has sort of lost my interest even though lots of stuff has happened this season. ONLY MURDERERS IN THE BUILDING also seems lacking. It probably is me.

And rewatching MAD MEN, which is my favorite show ever. Watched a great documentary on Kanopy about the Hollywood photography coming out of the agency Magnum.

Please notice this.

What are you up to?

Friday, August 05, 2022

FFB: Small g, Patrica Highsmith

 (Because it's always worthwhile reading a review by Deb again)
Small g: A Summer Idyll by Patricia Highsmith (Review by Deb)

Patricia Highsmith’s Small g: A Summer Idyll was published posthumously in 1995.  In fact, it had been rejected by Highsmith’s publisher just a few months before her death.  Perhaps the publisher found the book so atypical for Highsmith that they weren’t sure how to market it.  Certainly it does not contain the oppressive sense of dread and foreboding that is a hallmark of much of Highsmith’s work.  With its roundelay of love affairs and heartbreak involving a large number of people, Small g put me in mind of some of Iris Murdoch’s novels of the early 1970s (without the philosophical trappings, however); and I think this work, as unlike anything else that Highsmith ever wrote, is a fitting coda for her body of work and perhaps even goes some way toward humanizing a woman who even her closest friends had to admit was a very difficult and demanding person.
Set in Switzerland during the 1990s, Small g covers a few eventful summer weeks in the lives of an interconnected group of lovers, friends, and acquaintances—some gay, some straight, some still finding their way—who live and work in the same Zurich neighborhood.  The hub of this circle is a local restaurant-bar called Jakob’s, designated in local guide books with a lower-case g to indicate it caters to a mixed gay and straight clientele.
Most of the events in the book are filtered through the perceptions of Rickie Markwalder, a middle-aged commercial artist who is still recovering from the grief of losing his young lover, Peter, to a stabbing some months before.  Police believe Peter was the random victim of a botched robbery committed by drug addicts looking for money, but Rickie is not so sure.
Within Rickie’s circle is Luisa Zimmermann, a young apprentice seamstress who has run away from an abusive family and was in love with Peter.  Although her love for Peter was unrequited, Luisa remains close to Rickie, at first because it helps her feel closer to memory of Peter, but eventually she and Rickie become good friends.  This friendship is a morale booster for Luisa, who lives with and works for the dominating Renate Hagnauer, an ugly homophobe who none-the-less spends several hours a day at Jakob’s.  By a combination of emotional blackmail and controlling the purse strings, Renate keeps Luisa under her thumb.  Renate also poisons the mind of Willi, a mentally-disabled handiman who repeats and believes the gossip and rumors (which almost always reflect badly on gay individuals) that Renate relays to him.
Into the mix come some more people:  Teddie Richardson, a young Swiss-American man who becomes an object of both Rickie’s and Luisa’s affection; Dorrie Wyss, a vivacious lesbian who finds Luisa attractive; and Freddie Schimmelman, a married, bisexual policeman who begins an affair with Rickie.  Freddie is presented in an interesting way--his marriage and his other relationships are depicted in a very matter of a fact manner; his sexuality hardly an issue.
With the main characters in place, and lots of others in supporting roles, the story can begin in earnest.  It all starts with an attack on Teddie Richardson and Rickie’s single-minded pursuit of the culprit. Freddie uses police connections to help prolong interest in a case that the police would undoubtedly have allowed to go cold.  The reader knows who attacked Teddie (and Rickie has very strong suspicions), but will the police ever have sufficient evidence to charge the person?  Meanwhile, Luisa must skulk around, making secret telephone calls and even using Rickie as a go-between in order to meet with either Teddie or Dorrie, or even to slip out of the apartment for a cup of coffee with someone other than Renate.  It all sounds a bit soapy, but Highsmith’s sure hand and attention to detail keep the plot running efficiently.
If I have a quibble with the book it’s that we really never see into the emotional lives of the characters; we can only guess at their motivations.  We can deduce that part of Renate’s homophobia (and overbearing, protective attitude toward Luisa) may stem from her own suppressed lesbianism, but Renate never reveals that aspect of herself.  Also, we can infer that Rickie pursues Teddie’s attacker because Peter’s killer(s) were never caught, but Rickie never lets that element of his pursuit come to the forefront of his emotions.
At this point, I must also address an act committed by Rickie’s doctor that is so unconscionable as to be both illegal and baffling [SPOILER]:  The doctor tells Rickie that he is HIV-positive and allows him to continue believing this for several months, even though the doctor knows this is not the case.  The fact that both the doctor and Rickie (and, apparently, by extension, Highsmith herself) think that what the doctor has done is fine and “for the patient’s own good” is mind-boggling to me and reinforces my belief that, whatever her virtues as a writer, Patricia Highsmith is not someone I could have personally liked.
Eventually, an accidental death, sets the plot spinning into an entirely different orbit.  Ends are tidied up a bit too neatly perhaps, but there’s a sense of the characters reaching certain points in their lives and have learned lessons (some rather harsh).  The summer idyll is over and life continues on even when the weather changes.


Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: "Winter Light" James Lee Burke

 You can read it here.


At the Traverse City Film Festival, the founder's prize was given to a film called GOD'S COUNTRY, which was an adaptation of James Lee Burke's story "Winter Light." 

In the original story, a professor at a Montana college, newly retired, confronts two townies who are parking on his land as they hunt. The story escalates as the adversaries rev up their game. The story works very well because of the gorgeous writing, the setting, the plot and characters. And the director God's Country originally made a short film, which stuck pretty closely to this original scenario. 

But when Julian Higgins decided to go on and make a full-length film of the story, he made many significant changes.He changes the professor from a white retired man to a still -working Black woman (Thandiwe Newton). The woman was a cop in New Orleans before she came west with her mother. Higgins adds a lot of complexity to her character as well as to the hunters. He adds a town sheriff into the mix who is unable to deal with the hunters. Although I liked the story very much, most of what Higgins added made it a more interesting story to me. See what you think if the film comes your way. 

Kevin Tipple

Jerry House 

George Kelley 

Todd Mason

Monday, August 01, 2022

Monday, Monday

Mostly good to very good movies. Especially liked GOD'S COUNTRY based on James Lee Burke's story "Winter Light" and SORRY I MISSED YOU, (Ken Loach) and BAD AXE. The crowds were almost as big as previous years although there were less films and fewer venues. The weather was sensational and we had several excellent meals. So lucky to get away for a week in terrific northern Michigan.  Masks varied but not enough for my peace of mind.

Reading NORMAL PEOPLE by Sally Rooney. Watched not a minute of TV this week. 

What have you been up to?

Monday, July 25, 2022

Traverse City Film Festival 2022


 Off today. Back next Sunday. Twelve movies. Crossed fingers I don't catch, you know. I am so lucky to have free lodging with a friend.

Friday, July 22, 2022

FFB: IRON GATES, Margaret Millar

The Iron Gates was Margaret Millar’s fifth novel, published in 1945. It introduced Inspector Sands of the Toronto police force. Millar (who was, of course, Ross Macdonald’s wife) didn’t use Sands in her novels often, and The Iron Gates was not one of her more famous crime novels. The Edgar Award-winning Beast in View (1955), How Like an Angel (1962), and The Fiend (1964) are the three books for which she’s probably best known. Although Millar is not well-remembered nowadays, devotees find her writing particularly rewarding. She’s especially skillful at portraying women, although her stories are very different from those of writers known for targeting female audiences.

Millar’s greatest strength was in exposing the psychological underpinnings of a crime. Her books are more about motivation than detection. What appealed to me most as I read her novels back in the 1970s was that her writing was never formulaic or predictable. Her best work is found in the standalones. Even Sands, a charming and fully fleshed-out detective, never steals the story from the women who dominate The Iron Gates entirely. It’s not about the detective.

Lucille Morrow lives with her wealthy physician husband, his two grown children, and his sister, Edith, in a large house in Toronto, Ontario. Lucille is Andrew’s second wife. His first wife, Mildred, was murdered in a nearby park 16 years earlier. That case was never solved. The two stepchildren, Polly and Andrew, tolerate their stepmother. And she tolerates them. This uneasy rapprochement begins to come undone when Polly, along with her father and brother, goes to pick up her new fiancĂ©, a soldier who’s coming to Toronto to meet the family. A train crash complicates their trip, but they return home later that night.

The next day, Lucille suddenly disappears after a visit from a strange man carrying a small wrapped box. The last that is heard from her is a scream. She is eventually run down by the Toronto police and her condition is such that she’s institutionalized. This action, mainly occurring in the Morrow household, forms the first section of the novel, which Millar labels as “The Hunt.”

The middle section, “The Fox,” details Lucille’s state of mind as she hides from an assailant, the police, or perhaps her own fears in a mental hospital. The reader is unsure which she sees as the greatest threat. Her involvement with other patients turns out badly. Much of this section of the novel describes her mental anguish, and the reader is left to ponder whether Lucille is the victim she appears to be. Who or what is after her?

The final section of this novel, “The Hounds,” details Sands’ solution to the crimes that have taken place. This section is again largely set in the Morrow household and concerns a diary newly unearthed. Giving away any more plot points would ruin the delicate nature of Millar’s story.

It’s hard to imagine this book being written today, because of its lengthy depiction of a mentally fragile woman in an institution. Today, Lucille Morrow would be prescribed an appropriate drug. Or perhaps she’d be under the daily care of a psychiatric nurse at home. Nevertheless, Millar uses the middle section of The Iron Gates to provide clues, and to do what she does best: show the unraveling of a psyche. It’s also the section of this book that makes Millar’s storytelling different. We go from the calm, if slightly hothouse, feel of the Morrow home in section one, to the agitated madhouse of section two, and then back again.

This novel was apparently purchased after World War II as a vehicle for actress Bette Davis, but was never filmed. I think she would have done justice to Lucille Morrow. However, after reading The Iron Gates, you will understand why the movie wasn’t made.