Friday, July 03, 2020

FFB: THE ELIZABETH STORIES

The Elizabeth Stories, Isabel Huggan

Eight stories tracing the growth of the child, Elizabeth Kessler, over a ten-year period (ages 7-17) during the 1950s was published as The Elizabeth Stories by Oberon Press in 1984, and in 1987 by Viking Penguin in Great Britain and the United States, where it won the Quality Paperback New Voice Award in 1988 as well as the Best Fiction Prize from the Denver Quarterly. Huggan has won many awards for her writing.

I read the book in 1988 and enjoyed these stories about a girlhood in a small Ontario town very much. Elizabeth has a difficult mother who regards propriety as overly important. She is often misunderstood, often plays a subsidiary role in these stories but never plays a victim. I see this book is now categorized as YA but I don't remember it as anything other than a book of related stories about growing up. Are we not meant to take childhood seriously as adults? Huggan is a lovely writer and this is a model on how to write related stories.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Books read in June

Kerry Smith always posts the books she's read each month as do a few other bloggers. This was the most books I have read in a month in some time. Perhaps it is because I am not writing very much. I am trying to start a memoir although I have no experience in writing one. So far I am mostly writing history rather than my history. Anyway these are the books I read. Reading the NYT takes me an hour most days. I can't remember that in the past.

June

Poet of Tolstoy Park, Sonny Brewer

Strangers on a Train, Patricia Highsmith

These Hills Are Made of Gold, Pam Zhang

Eight Perfect Murders, Peter Swanson

Nothing to See Here, Kevin Wilson

Born a Crime, Trevor Noah

Between Them, Remembering My Parents, Richard Ford

 Two crime novels, one old, one new; two memoirs; three mainstream novels. I also read some scattered short stories. And I started at least four books I gave up on. I started one last night and gave up after 25 pages. It's usually the voice with me--just can't picture spending time with that person. Or the setting-in this case the Chicago World's Fair-I've been there already with Erik Larson (Devil in the White City). I will try it again in daytime. Sometime that has an affect on my reading.

How often do you put a book aside and then return to it?

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Shelfy Selfy


Not sure how much longer I am going to do this because most of the rest of my books probably wouldn't interest you. They are picture books or biographies or literary story collections, journals I have stories in or straight novels. Anyway, I have only read two of these books: STRAIGHT MAN by Russo and ROSEANNA by Sjowal and Wahloo. I love both of those writers but STRAIGHT MAN is Russo's funniest book, especially for those who are college teachers.

I have skimmed THE NOIR THRILLER, which was fun. I have tried to read ADELE by Slimani and found it too dark. I just bought the Pochoda book. Phil always said COME CLOSER by Sara Gran was too scary for me. I loved DOPE by Gran but haven't read any of the Claire DeWitt books.

I still might try it. The Nesbo I picked up in Florida just a few months ago but it seems more like years now. And DEEP WATER by Highsmith has been recommended by Megan and Phil but I don't seem to get to it. DODGERS I picked up free at Bouchercon. Phil liked it but I haven't gotten to it. Let's face it, Phil was the better reader, especially after he retired and before he was too sick. Who is the better reader in your house?



Monday, June 29, 2020

Still here

I had forgotten that back in January I agreed to read and write a short introduction for a Canadian reprint of a book from the fifties entitled I AM NOT GUILTY, Frances Shelley Wees. Last week the book arrived along with a catalog, mentioning my introduction. Had forgotten all about it after so much time had passed.
Wees, a Canadian, was better known for her novel THE KEYS OF MY PRISON, also published by Vehicule Press. This task came my way via Brian Busby. So I am knee deep in that, trying to find something interesting to say beyond a plot summary.
Watching DEAD STILL, about a Victorian photographer who photographs the dead. Sound familiar? So far I haven't really gotten into it. I am kind of in a lull, having finished several viewing projects.
Read THE OTHER MRS. by Mary Kubick. Still working on BORN A CRIME by Trevor Noah. Also reading some short stories from Sarah Weinman's first anthology of domestic suspense.
Watched the Spike Lee movie DA FIVE BLOODS which was rather spoiled by the NYT opinion piece by Viet Nguyen who scolded Lee for being attuned to the problems of black soldiers, but oblivious to the ones of the Vietnamese. Nguyen had spent his whole life watching US Vietnam films that use the native Vietnamese as victims or murderers or servants and not real people.
Sad week. This virus has us by the throat! This needed to be handled at a federal level not state by state. Great piece on Michigan gov, Gretchen Whitmer in the NYT magazine.
How about you?

Friday, June 26, 2020

FFB-City of Nets, Otto Friedrich

Not quite finished this history, but it is long. And really great. If you are interested in Hollywood in the forties, this is the one to read. It begins with the influx of talent (composers, directors, actors) flooding into the country following Hitler's aggression in Europe in '39 and follows the story up to the Cold War, the McCarthy Hearings, etc.

It is not a celebrity gossip book although there are lots of juicy stories in it. It details the union struggles, the writers who came seeking a paycheck they could count on (Faulkner, Dreiser, Hemingway, etc) the composers whose talent was extremely misunderstood by the studios, how the war affected both the content and cast of Hollywood, the goofiness of many of the studio chiefs in handling and mishandling talent.

City of Nets is the work of a gifted historian and writer. Highly recommended



Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Another Shelfy

A PRAYER FOR THE DYING is a terrific account of another plague if you have the guts for it. A doctor returns from duties during the Civil War and finds his entire small town is dying from a disease. He has to decide who to treat and how. Great book. Told in poetic language. O'Nan has said he alternates short books with long ones and this like Last Night at the Lobster is a shorty. I have most of Woodrell's books but this is one (Tomato Red) I haven't read. Winter's Bone is my favorite. Two books from Hard Case Crime, both with Jason Starr.

I don't hear much from HCC anymore. Are they still publishing? The Awakening, read it for a course. And, of course, it is a classic. Memento Mori, now I know I read this on a Muriel Spark binge, but I have little memory of it. It seems like it's about a person who makes unpleasant phone calls to a group of friends. Seems like it's worth reading again. Name of the Game is Death, Dan Marlowe. A terrific noir. Pretty terrifying if I remember it. Woman on the Roof, Helen Nielsen, never took it out of the plastic cover. I bought it when I was supposed to be on a panel about forgotten female writers. I think I ended up not going to that conference so I never read it.

Have you read any of these?


Also: DNR can mean a range of things, which I didn't realize. For instance, if you come off of a ventilator, putting you back on one constitutes resuscitation. This may differ from state to state or even hospital to hospital, but check it out before putting that bracelet on a wrist.

Monday, June 22, 2020

I'm Still Here


A kind friend took me to a nursery where I bought some coral bells, astilbe (?) and begonias for immediate color. I didn't overdo it. It is too late in the season to do much.

Had two sets of friends over for early dinners (all takeout) and this is enough to buoy me for a day or two. And my son and his family came over yesterday. I ordered middle eastern food, which they picked up. A very nice day. Kevin is almost as tall as his father. He's quiet but not in an angry way. He does get tired of hearing about the President and Covid-19, I am sure. We are a very political family. It seems hard to talk about anything else. Hoping this will not be the defining time of his life the way Viet Nam is for me.  Does each generation have that moment: a war, a depression, a crisis of some sort.

Reading Richard Ford's book about his parents (Between Them). Finished Eight Perfect Murders (Swanson), which I liked, but he did lean awfully heavily on other writers' work. I know that was the point of it, but still. Reading Born a Crime (Trevor Noah) for my book group. Still working on City of Nets at lunch every day.

Rewatched The Last of Sheila, which I don't think held up that well. Finished Srugim, which I am very sorry to be done with. Watching the documentary on Lennox Hill Hospital and the one about Babies (both Netflix) Was disappointed in the first episode of Grantchester, but the second was better. Looking forward to Perry Mason although the reviews are so-so.

Sometimes as I type this I see that I need an awful lot of stimulation. I don't even list the podcasts I listen to. Am I a greedy consumer of stimuli? Not sure. There are very few minutes in my day when something is not going in my ear or eye. How about you? And there is always the fact that I don't drive and am alone. I wonder how others in my situation fill their days?


Friday, June 19, 2020

FFB: THE POET OF TOLSTOY PARK, Sonny Brewer

Henry Stuart is a sixty-seven year retired professor living in Idaho when he is diagnosed with tuberculosis, a disease the doctor tells him will kill him within a year. A widower with two adult sons, he decides to go live in a more temperate climate and chooses Alabama. The novel is set in the 1920s and his only means of travel is a long train trip. He arrives in Fairhope, AL four days later. He has purchased ten acres sight unseen and lives in the barn while he decides what to do about a permanent home.

Much of this book describes how Henry builds his house. And how he gives up things like reading to make  himself tougher. There is a lot of Thoreau in Henry Stuart. The reader also gets a lot of philosophizing and very exacting accounts of how he fixes things and how he builds that house. We meet his neighbors although not enough to feel we really know them. Our time with them too often reminds of stock scenes from Little House on the Prairie or The Waltons.

This novel is somewhat based on a true story although the real Henry was called the Philosopher of Tolstoy Park rather than the Poet. There is much discussion about Tolstoy.

I feel pretty ambivalent about this book. I like the idea of trying to live simply, but don't understand why Henry insists on being a hermit for much of the book. Is it just to emulate Thoreau? Why does he give up reading and writing and focus solely on his tasks and nature. I think you need to be an especially gifted writer to make this sort of book work. And I am not sure Sonny Brewer is so blessed. But I am not sorry to have read it. There was enough here to make it worth my while.


Thursday, June 18, 2020

Gardeners

I would like to plant some new perennials here. Something with some color. It is mostly shady from a big red maple and oak but gets some sun late in the day. Any ideas in case I still get to the nursery this year. BTW there is more room than this photo shows although I don't want something that spreads too much.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Shelfy Selfy

This is my worst bunch yet. I have only read two of these: POISONWOOD BIBLE and HOUSEKEEPING. Both of which I love. I tried to get Phil to read POISONWOOD for years. But once I told him it was about a missionary and his family in Africa, I lost him every time. It is truly a brilliant book and Kingsolver, a brilliant writer. I think it is one of my book group's favorites too. Also HOUSEKEEPING, about a semi-deranged by well-meaning women taking care of her two nieces. Another great writer. When we were in Paris she was speaking at Shakespeare and Company and so many people wanted to hear her that they put a speaker out on the street.
I have started BRIGHTON several times but something always gets in the way. Same with the rest of these. I would not still have them if I didn't know they were well worth reading.
Now I bought CALL ME BY YOUR NAME after admiring the movie. And I have yet to open it up. Same for PNIN by Nabokov which was recommended by more than one person.
I still haven't learned how to schedule so this may go right up.
What percentage of the books on your shelves have you read? Ballpark. What makes up read some right away and others-never?

Sunday, June 14, 2020

I'm Still Here


On my walk, I find all kinds of signs and call-outs to what's going on. The sidewalks are filled with chalked messages, windows hold signs offering thanks, there are fairy gardens at the base of so many trees.

This rock, which is really tiny, says Doctors Rock. And they do. I would like to watch LENNOX, which is about doctors on Netflix but I am too scared because you know they will have patients with cancer.

Things are sort of the same every day, every week. I often feel like I am marching in place and will it ever end. A really good friend went to have a hip replacement last Tuesday and is now on a ventilator and has an embolism. This was in Georgia. They send you home the next day with nobody checking in on you. Do they assume his wife (and his wife has a Ph.D so she's a smart woman) will know that his oxygen level is too low (80) without giving her a way to check it. Don't get me started. Who said that all the time on TV?

I found out I have the downloading service Hoopla through my library and downloaded an audio book. (EIGHT PERFECT MURDERS) The choice was not great but it's free. They also have movies and print books. Between that and Kanopy you would think I had enough to watch. I am insatiable. Really looking forward to the dark version of Perry Mason coming soon.

Also finished listening to NOTHING TO SEE HERE by Kevin Wilson and finished reading the very strange POET OF TOLSTOY PARK (Sonny Brewer).

Working my way through SRIGUM and now I understand what Ultra-Orthodox Jews are. It took them two and half seasons to explain it to me. Also spreading out RAMY, which I love. Muslims, maybe I will study them. The acting on this show along with the writing is terrific.

But if they have an online course on Judaism, I would like to take it. Because I grew up in a mostly Jewish neighborhood, and a lot of my friends have always been Jewish, I think I would really find it interesting. More about Jewish culture than the actual Torah though. Although I would like to understand what the men, especially, are always studying. I think it is more commentary from famous rabbis over the centuries than the actual Bible. I read the entire Bible in high school so I have some grounding there.

About to start another Maigret. I can always find one to download for $1.99 on amazon.

Beautiful weather here. So much trimming and weeding though. And I pulled out a lot of stuff that I hope is weeds. None of my friends are gardeners except the woman in Georgia. Usually she is back here by now.

Thanks to the friends who do not forget me. I am blessed.

I am babbling. I can't figure out how to not publish this right away. Sorry.

And what's up with you?



Friday, June 12, 2020

FFB: DINNER AT THE HOMESICK RESTAURANT, Anne Tyler

Patti Abbott, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant. (from the archives)
 

I first read DINNER AT THE HOMESICK RESTAURANT when it came out more than 30 years ago and my reading of it then and now are quite different. I found the family quirky then. I find them sad now. As we grow older, things seem more set in stone and a dysfunctional family seems unlikely to change.

It is the most critically acclaimed and beloved of Tyler's books and is often compared to AS I LAY DYING.

All the members of the Tull family are dysfunctional. Beck, the father, deserts his family and for most of the book, we believe he is the primary cause of all their troubles. We don't understand why until the very end and share the frustrations and puzzlement of his wife, Pearl with his actions.

Pearl is run into the ground supporting her family and is seldom up to coping with them. Only a brave writer would give a woman so beset by financial problems such unlikable traits. She resorts to various verbal abuses that scar the children. Cody, the eldest, develops such severe hangups over his father's desertion and his mother's display of favoritism he becomes emotionally estranged from the family. His resentment of his younger brother and the action he takes to ameliorate his pain is painful to read. Jenny grows up scattered and remote despite her profession. Ezra, the most sympathetic character of the book and owner of the "Homesick Restaurant" shares this beaten down quality.

There are few acts of heroism in this book and, in fact, few big scenes. Its success can be pinned to the small accretion of details and words that give the Tull family life. You may not either like or dislike any character in this book, but you will believe they exist. And although you may not want to eat dinner with them, you can
 picture them in Baltimore even now.

This is one of my favorite Anne Tyler novels. I haven't read one in a long time though. Maybe it's time now. 

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Shelfie Selfie

BOB THE GAMBLER: The story of the Barthelme brothers, Stephen and Frederick not Donald, who inherited a sizable amount of money and went down to a river boat and lost it in an afternoon has always fascinated me. This is not the memoir of that stunt but Frederick's tale of a gambler, which I also found interesting. Do you have a favorite tale of a gambler?

Of course, THE LAST GOOD KISS is a classic, but I have not read it. It has the most quoted first line in crime fiction though. "When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a spring afternoon." I thought "bulldog" was a colorful term for a guy on the next stool, but the next line clears that up "The dog slumped on the stool beside him like a tired little buddy, only raising his head occasionally for a taste of beer from a dirty ashtray set on the bar." Talk about a colorful image.

1984-we read this in my book group, I think. It's an awfully glum book and too much of it came true. It was the play my high school did my senior year and I played what is a man in the book.  It was a Christian high school and the lead actress, Rosemary Camilleri was not allowed to kiss boys so they had to cut that from a scene. See, they should have cast me in the part. I would have been able to fulfill my role's requirements.

EARLY ORGANIZED CRIME IN DETROIT, James Buccellato. Jimmy was a Ph.d student of Phil's and this is a real interest of his. This was not his dissertation though.

THE PIANO LESSON, another book we read in my book group and I saw this play of August Wilson's as well as FENCES, and one or two others. There is a good documentary on August Wilson on Prime right now. Wilson wrote a play about black folks for every decade of the 20th century. THE PIANO LESSON won the Pulitzer Prize for drama.

AN UNQUIET MIND: Kay Redfield Jamison, a book on mental illness I read for CONCRETE ANGEL. It was books on mental illness for CONCRETE ANGEL and books on photography for SHOT IN DETROIT.

WONDER VALLEY, Ivy Pochoda -Phil enjoyed this and although I just bought her new book I have not gotten to this or VISITATION STREET, which also sits on the shelf.

DEAR LOS ANGELES, ed by David Kipen-can't remember who gave this to me but I haven't even opened it. Some day.

TRANSCRIPTION, Kate Atkinson, I have read all of Atkinson's books except this one. It's about spies and that is just not my favorite genre. Maybe some day.

Read any of them? 



Monday, June 08, 2020

Still Here

These beauty bushes are not long for the world. Although the robins who have "sheltered" in them are also fleeing. We had an uneasy relationship so I am glad for that. I need to clear all the weeds out of the cracks now. I sprayed them with vinegar and salt but still have to excise what's left.

I was invited out to dinner last night, which was oh so nice. So tired of cooking every night and ordering out for one just never seemed worth it. I am managing to get to see people several days a week on my porch which is nice. We have had great weather lately. Really hope this is resolved before we head back into indoor weather.

Watched the movie, VAST OF NIGHT on Prime and it was terrific. Science fiction like was made in the 1950s. Still enjoying RAMY on Hulu and SRIGUM on PRIME. Reading THE POET OF TOLSTOY PARK for my book group. Also listening to MY MAN JEEVES on fm.libro. Still working on CITY OF NETS, which is lots of fun if you like movie history.

My brother called to say that Ancestry.com reconfigured something and that the man we thought was my father is not. Glad I didn't contact those supposed half-siblings. Jeff (my brother) has a new candidate, but this guy never had kids and died long ago. I guess I will never be certain of any of this. I am waiting for my brother to give me an address from the 1940 census and see where that leads.

Friday, June 05, 2020

FFB-Strangers on a Train, Patricia Highsmith



Patricia Highsmith was 29 when this, her first novel, was published. It's hard to believe it's a first novel because  not only is it polished it also has the misanthropic outlook of a older, more jaundiced, writer. I listened to this book through fm libro where the profits go to a local bookstore of your choosing. It was read by Bronson  Pinchot who did a great job.

I'm sure you know the plot from the Hitchcock movie if not the novel. Two men meet on a train. One is the spoiled son of rich parents, the other is an up and coming architect (in the movie he's a tennis player). The spoiled son, Bruno, gradually gets the architect, Guy, to confess he's in a loveless marriage and eager to be rid of the woman who is recently pregnant by another man. Bruno introduces the idea that they should each murder the person standing in the way of other man's path to happiness. (Bruno has a father he can't abide and who sees through his son's profligate ways).

Guy basically forgets the man and his idea until his wife is murdered at an amusement park. Then the game is on and he must either shake off Bruno, eager to have his part of the bargain met somehow or murder his father.

After finishing the book, I watched the movie. Each had certain strengths. This was one of Hitchcock's best films. It's much more fast- paced than the book and he uses so many interesting techniques to fill you with dread. Making Guy a tennis player provides for one of the best scenes too. However the book looks into each man's psychological makeup more fully. Both mediums are very good and worth investigating. Robert Walker, in particular, makes a perfect Bruno. He died not long after this film from a bad reaction to a drug. He was 31.



Wednesday, June 03, 2020

First Wednesday Book Review: Hidden Valley Road


Robert Kolker follows up his investigation of disappearances on Long Island (Lost Girls) with another riveting story.  Hidden Valley Road examines the Galvin family of Colorado. Mimi Galvin gave birth to twelve children over a twenty-year period. Ten boys were followed by two girls. They were a family that seemed to flourish and shine in their community until the boys hit their teen years and, over time, six of the ten boys exhibited signs of mental illness.

When the boys first showed signs of schizophrenia, (1960) it was in an era when a cold mother was blamed for the condition. Donald, the oldest, would spend the rest of his life in and out of mental hospitals. This would also be the fate of five of his brothers, two of whom died of related issues.

Kolker has done a terrific job of incorporating the research and treatment of this mental illness over the last half century with the story of the Galvin family. Although it's clear the parents made mistakes in their handling of the boys, it was genetics that really explained the ailment. Brain studies of the afflicted compared to the more normal children showed stark differences.

And the information culled from this family is being used (much as what happened with Henrietta Lacks) to fuel further research into the illness. When I heard Kolker interviewed by a bookstore via zoom, many of the family members called in, supporting his attempt to tell their story and to give it value. It has to be of some comfort to them.

For more reviews, visit Barrie Summy



Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Selvie Shelfy

Sorry these are hard to read and the top three were actually Phil's but I am finishing off a shelf. The Armchair Detective is lots of fun Probably some of you have it. It has very varied list like Edgar Award Winners, and Julian Symons 100 best crime stories. It was published in 1989. Julian Symons wrote many mysteries but I cannot recall one showing up on FFB. I remember reading them with pleasure too. Remember Robin Winks, he's got a list in here too.

Funniest thing: they ask mystery writers to list their favorites and here's what Patricia Highsmith said. "Since I do not enjoy reading mystery books (therefore almost never do) I'm not the person to ask for a favorite list. ...a list would be 100% phony on my part. Sorry I can't be more of help toward your book."

The next book is Susan Sontag's ON PHOTOGRAPHY, which I read for SHOT IN DETROIT.
Next is a book given to me by James Reasoner. Horace McCoy's I SHOULD HAVE STAYED HOME. I haven't read it. It looks too fragile for my style of reading. But I love having it.
Two Jean Shepherd books which I reread when I need a good laugh. I had a third one with Fig Newton in the title, which I can't find.
Always meaning to read Gene Kerrigan's THE MIDNIGHT CHOIR, an Irish crime novel which is always mentioned in reviews of Irish crime novels.
Another Flannery O'Connor book. Read probably forty years ago.
And finally Chandler's THE SIMPLE ART OF MURDER which is an essay and some short stories.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Still Here

Usually unrest tends to help law and order candidates, I think. This is how we got Nixon. Still one can hardly blame the protestors. Except how many in the crowd are coming from various groups eager to cause trouble. Lots, I think. Just when you thought things couldn't get worse...

Anyway this one of our six beauty bushes, which are very pretty although right now they are home to robin nests and the robins are determined to save their babies from the marauding home owner. Some similarities here.

Enjoying HOW MUCH OF THESE HILLS IS GOLD and CITY OF NETS, about Hollywood in the forties. Two California books. Also listening to STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, read by Bronson Pinchot and he is very good. Anyone remember him from PEFECT STRANGERS.

Enjoying RAMY, about an Egyptian-American and SRUGIM about young Jewish people In Jerusalem. Amazing how we can get these shows from everywhere now.



So what is new in your part of the woods?


Friday, May 29, 2020

FFB LET HIM GO

(from the archives)

 I saw that the movie version of this with Kevin Costner and Diane Lane is due to be released so I thought I would post this again.

I am a big Larry Watson fan and LET HIM GO did not disappoint. It is a great followup to books like WHITE CROSSES and MONTANA: 1948.

After their adult son is killed in an accident, his widowed wife marries again and leaves the Blackledge's home to go with her new husband to Montana. She takes their grandson with her, of course, and therein lies the problem.

"With you or without you," Margaret Blackledge insists, and at these words George knows his only choice is to follow her.
 

George takes to the road with Margaret by his side, tracking down the Weboy clan quickly. When Margaret tries to convince Lorna to return home to North Dakota, bringing little Jimmy with her, the Blackledges find themselves mixed up with the entire Weboy clan, a horrific family determined not to give the boy up without a fight. It's more about possession than love with a family like this. 

This slim volume contains a heart-pounding story, unforgettable characters, terrific atmosphere

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Shelfies

I used to have a lot more movie/tv related books than this. But I have weaned them down over the years. Most of these I have not read but intend to. PICTURE is Lillian Ross' story about the making of THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE, which she was witness to. The four I have read and loved are PICTURES OF A REVOLUTION, THE MOVIE MUSICAL and the bio on Rock Hudson. I am rereading CITY OF NETS now, It's about Hollywood in the forties. I have read at MOVIE LOVE IN THE FIFTIES and MAD MEN.

FIVE CAME BACK is the story of five directors who went off to war and came back to make a new kind of movie. EASY RIDER, RAGING BULL is about how the summer blockbuster changed Hollywood. ELIA KAZAN, A LIFE is the one you can't read.

Do you have a collection on any particular subject? I have a few more.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Beatnik Beach (from MURDER-A-GO-GO'S)


                                    This is posted here as the request of Holly West, who edited this anthology.
                                                                       
                                                                                               
                                              Beatnik Beach
                                                                      Patricia Abbott                                                                                   

Katherine watched from a picnic table as Ava seized control of the playground’s merry-go-round — or that’s what they called the thing in her childhood. And this was a playground from the eighties, she thought, eyeing the dented monkey bars, the finger-pinching swings. A thousand tiny feet pounding circles produced dirt as hard as stone.
Looking at Ava in the too-short dress she’d insisted on wearing, red-faced and panting as she ran faster and faster, Katherine was reminded of her mother's doggedness. Her daughter's stance when she huffed to a stop to let a toddler climb on was not a six-year old's. Even her feet splayed like her grandmother's. It was as if she too endured years of standing while she stamped metal in the Chrysler auto plant.
“Careful, Ava!" Ava's feet were lifting as the spinning disk's speed increased.
Katherine had visions of a child flying off, a limb getting mangled. She looked around, but the other adults seemed oblivious to the danger. Grateful, in fact, for a few minute’s peace, few of them even were watching the spectacle.
A woman sitting on Katherine’s right put her paperback down, saying, “She's a mama bird, isn't she? Your kid, right?"
"Still …” Katherine began, “she shouldn’t—"
 “Watch how she slows it down whenever anyone wants to get on or off,” the woman interrupted. “What is she anyway—seven, eight?”
“Six.”
“Six!” The woman shook her head in disbelief. “Now my kid….” The woman looked in the direction of a boy on his belly pushing a hot wheels car in figure 8s in the dust beneath the speeding apparatus. “Billy,” she shouted suddenly, “you’re gonna lose a hand doing that." She raced off to rescue Billy from certain amputation.
Ava was helpful—helpful to a fault. Like her grandmother, she was always the first to jump in. Why did it rub Katherine the wrong way? Why did the similarities between them annoy her? Maybe she needed a therapist to figure it out. Her mother seemed born to be a grandmother and perhaps Ava was too. Bunny never had the time to be the mother Katherine longed for.
“About ready to go?” Tom asked, sneaking up. His new longish hairstyle made him look fifteen. He slipped in beside her, bumping his knee on the table leg and wincing. Looking up, he caught his daughter helping a smaller child off the ride. “No one has to tell our kid to play nice.”
“Don’t you think it’s odd she never takes a turn herself?”
Tom laughed, his face crinkling. “So what if she gets a charge out of running the show! I mean how entertaining is whirling around on a rusty old plate?”
“She did the same thing on the swings! And after that, she planted herself at the bottom of the slide to be sure no one got hurt.”
“She’s just bored by this outdated playground.” Tom's face shone with pride.
Ava, catching sight of her father, waved. “Hiya, baby!” he called, his grin wide. “Look, no one’s bothered to put down a measly layer of mulch to break a fall. I thought the city checked out that kind of thing."
“Maybe not around here. We should have waited till we got closer to home before stopping. It looks like the sort of place child molesters frequent.” They both looked around warily.
Tom stood and began gathering up the last items of their impromptu picnic. “Are you going to finish your sub?” he asked, holding it up.
Katherine shook her head.
 “No, of course you're not. The calories might turn up on the scale tomorrow." Katherine looked at him quickly, but he was smiling. "Ready, kid,” Tom shouted to Ava.
“Can we stop for ice-cream?” Ava asked, dashing over and taking a hefty swig of a half-empty cup of lemonade. Avoiding her mother’s eyes, she added, “I’m gonna order a purple cow.” She squinted. “I like purple cows, don’t I?”
“Let me comb your hair first,” Katherine said, pulling a comb from her purse. Her daughter held still for a few seconds before tearing away. Katherine watched as she ran after Tom. She'd toss that dress in the Goodwill bin at church. Ava wouldn’t mind a younger child getting her outgrown clothing.
 “Nearly a quarter of my patients are overweight,” the pediatrician said as he helped Ava down from the examining table at her checkup last month. “When we were kids, it was less than ten percent. We’re stoking our kids instead of stroking them.”
 “Is anyone writing these pearls down?” she asked. Luckily, he was an old friend of Tom's and didn't take umbrage.  
“She takes after me,” Tom said when she told him about Ava’s checkup. “I was a chunkster. She’ll outgrow it.”
“No, no— she takes after my mother. And it’s not the kind of weight that goes away!” At 5’4” Bunny weighed in at 170, tending to be soft and squishy through the middle, though her limbs were muscular.
“I wish you’d check with me first,” Katherine said now as she hurried after him toward the parking lot. “She’s already eaten half a box of animal crackers.” Drop it, you idiot, she commanded herself. Don’t ruin a nice day. Be glad she has a father who adores her.
"Anything for you, Kit?" Tom asked her when they got to the ice cream stand. She wrinkled her nose in response, and he turned to order two Purple Cows. "You don't know what you're missing," he said, digging in. "I've never saw a purple cow."
"I never hope to see one," Ava chimed in.
"But I can tell you anyhow," Katherine added.
"I'd rather see then be one," Tom finished laughing.
She wished she'd had a Dad like Tom. Katherine’s father took off when she was four, and after that, it had been just Katherine and Bunny. Or Kitty and Bunny, in Bunny’s parlance. Bunny didn’t badmouth her former husband much despite his desertion. She never shared much about her childhood either. She had a sunny disposition that pointed her toward the assets in her life—namely her good health, her loyal friends, and firstly, Katherine. Katherine had no doubt Bunny would give up her life without a second's hesitation for her. Such devotion was sometimes smothering.
“I don’t know why you can’t see the resemblance,” Katherine whispered to Tom later that evening, watching Ava tote the watering can from the faucet to her own garden. Ava’s flowers, Katherine noticed, were doing better than hers; the sunflowers, in particular, were nearly a foot high and the second planting of lettuce ready to eat. Except it would never be eaten.  
“I like how it looks,” Ava had said when Katherine suggested harvesting the leaf lettuce. “Can’t you just buy lettuce at Krogers? " Wrinkling her nose, Ava pinched back her marigolds, her fingers already strong enough at six.
“I’ll have opportunity for a closer comparison next week,” Tom joked once Ava was tucked in, flipping the page of his Sports Illustrated. Bunny was coming along for their week at Cape Cod. She lived half a day away from them nowadays in Traverse City so it was hard to deny her an extended visit. But Katherine tried to for some reason.
 “You know you’ll end up babysitting most of the time!”
“That’s exactly what I want to do.” Bunny sniffed. “Of course, if you don’t want me tagging along….”
  “Ava would be crushed if you didn't come.” And that was true. Only later, she realized she should have included herself in that statement.
           
“Ava’s hired someone to water her garden,” Katherine informed Tom the next day, stifling a yawn. She was working too many hours at the design center but couldn't cut back. Not with the week at the Cape looming.
He put down the newspaper. “Who?”
“That kid who tags after her at school. Birdy something.”
“Berty. Berty Taggert." Tom was a school district social worker and knew all the kids. "How much is she paying him?”
“They have a sliding scale worked out—depending on whether it rains.” Katherine had heard the transaction from the next room, jumping in only when Ava was about to take the spare key out of the kitchen drawer.
“Why does he need to come inside the house while we're gone?” Katherine asked, sliding the drawer closed.
 “He’s gonna feed the Little Mermaid,” Ava explained. “We’re gonna be gone nine days, Mom!” Berty, underfoot to look the place over, stared at Katherine disdainfully, no doubt thinking she was one of those mothers who flushed inconvenient things down the toilet.
“We can put aquatic plants in the bowl for the Little Mermaid. Just like we did when Aunt Helen died and we had to go to Ohio."
Ava nodded agreeably after a moment, but Katherine put the key in another spot anyway. She’d been fooled by Ava’s apparent acquiescence more than once. In this regard, Ava took after her father.

At the beach at Truro a week later, Bunny was digging in the sand with Ava, wearing one of those matronly swim suits that came in two pieces. A good idea, but the top rolled up to exhibit her sizeable breasts every time she bent over, exposing her slack and sizable belly.             “Mom!” Katherine said, throwing her a spare tee shirt. Both Bunny and Ava looked up from their sandcastle. Bunny shrugged and pulled the shirt over her head, stretching Katherine’s size four to a sixteen in seconds. The crab on the tee shirt's front took on the proportions of something zapped by nuclear fallout in a disaster film.
Tom stood over them dripping. “Water’s great,” he panted. “Anybody wanna try the raft.” All three women looked toward the crashing waves, the necklaces of seaweed, the sharp stones and broken shells—and declined. 
“I told you we should find a bay beach,” Katherine reminded him. “Ava’s not used to such big waves.”
 “I don’t think Kitty saw the ocean till she was grown,” Bunny said to Tom, shielding her eyes. “Funny, since I grew up only thirty miles from the ocean in Maine.” She perked up. “But most years, my mom and me came down to the Cape to Dennisport to stay with my aunt and uncle and their kids. He ran a religious bookstore in town.” She wrinkled her nose. "He was a true believer. I guess everyone in my family was."
“I saw Dennisport on a sign we passed, Grandma,” Ava informed them, wetting the drying sand carefully with her pail of water. “I can read now, you know."
 “And I loved the story you read last night. The one about the duck.” Picking up someone’s discarded straw, Bunny stuck it on the highest tower of the castle. “There!”
“Where did you go for your vacations when you were a kid, Mom?” Ava asked. 
Katherine only remembered one—a weekend at Mackinaw Island in Michigan. She remembered eating enough pink fudge to make her sick and riding in a horse-drawn carriage with Bunny chattering away to the driver. The cost of a cottage for a week was too much on Bunny's salary. Vacations were for other people. But now she was one of those other people.
“We went to different places,” she answered evasively. “Daddy and I went to the Caribbean for our honeymoon. We spent every day on the beach.”
“When you weren’t busy elsewhere!” Bunny added, wiping her sandy hands off on her suit. Exchanging an amused look with Tom, she asked, “Want to go up for a clam roll?” She directed her question toward Ava. Then she glanced at Katherine and Tom, adding, “How ‘bout it, you guys?”
Katherine looked at her watch. “It’s not even noon, Mom. And we brought sandwiches along.” Bunny had actually helped prepare them, insisting on adding pickle relish to the tuna, lavishing mayo on the bread, throwing in the chips she had harpooned at the grocery store. “Remember?”
“How often do you get a chance to eat clamrolls, Kit? Why don’t you three go? Girls lunch out.” Tom nudged her and she acquiesced, standing up and jamming on her hat. Bunny and Ava were already half way up the beach, neither looking back.
“Can I bring you something?”
His eyes were half-shut. “I’ll eat the tuna. And relish it.”
“Very funny But you just…Oh, never mind.” She caught up with Bunny and Ava a few minutes later. Walking in dry sand was a chore and their progress slow since Ava stopped every few seconds to add another shell to her  pail.
 “Go wash your hands off, Ava,” she told her daughter as they approached the shanty, motioning toward an outdoor spigot. Both Bunny and Ava were covered in sand. She'd like to tell  her mother to do the same. How could a grown woman stand it? Plus they'd get it all over their booth. It was one thing for a child not to understand, another for a grown woman.
“The trouble with you …” Bunny said suddenly, surprisingly her. She pulled her sunhat off and blinked blindly as they walked inside.
“The trouble with me… is what?” Katherine asked.
 “Never mind.”
“No, go ahead.” Inside, they found an empty booth by the window. Katherine looked out and saw her daughter washing off every shell along with her hands.
“Okay then,” Bunny said, anticipating Ava’s seating preference and sliding over. “The trouble with you is—you don’t know how to have fun.”
“Oh, and having fun is spreading sand all over a restaurant, Mother.” The thought of adding that maybe she didn't learn to have fun at the right age flitted through her head.
Bunny rolled her eyes. Katherine grabbed a napkin from the holder and swept some sand off the table.
"It's all about the sand here, honey. You can't fight it." Bunny covered Katherine’s hands with her own to still them. “Maybe my idea of fun isn’t yours? Hey, did I ever tell you about the summer I became a beatnik?"
This was rarity. Her mother hardly ever talked about her past.
"You mean a hippie?"
"Nope, a beatnik." Bunny straightened up, preparing for a long reminiscence. "We were at some beach on the Cape--I don't even remember which one now. It was dusk and I was headed home from some activity--maybe just a walk, but probably eating ice cream. There was this great little dairy stand..." She sighed. "Anyway, I heard this strange music coming from the beach--music I'd never heard before--and I saw a bonfire lighting up a bunch of kids. Must have been ten or fifteen of them."
"Aren't you too young to be a beatnik?"
"Just listen to my story, Kitty. Hippie, Beatnik, who cares? Well, I walked out onto the beach and in that second, it was like there was some cosmic shift in the atmosphere. It was magic, pure magic. These kids were different from anyone I'd seen before. Dressed different, different hair, different music. I swear they even smelled different, but maybe that was the pot."
"What year was this?" Katherine was still focusing on the hippie/beatnik question.
"I was probably fourteen," Bunny said, after a few seconds. "So say '62."
"I guess it was beatniks then," Katherine acknowledged. "Hippies were more like 1968."
"So anyway, a couple of them had instruments. Guitars and some bongos. maybe that round thing with bells on it. I am drawing a blank on the name."
"A tambourine?"
 "Right. And castanets, I think. And this one girl--well, actually she was a woman more than a girl--was singing this song about the wind."
"Mariah," Katherine guessed.
"Maybe. Well, anyway, she had long blonde hair. People I knew didn't wear their hair like that yet. And she had a sort of Mumu on, an outfit I'd never seen before. The only thing I could think of was that guy on Dobie Gillis."
"Who's Dobie Gillis?" Katherine asked.
Bunny shook her head. "Never mind. Let's keep on with the story here."
"That's a funny name, Grandma," Ava said, rejoining them, hands clean and held out for inspection. "Dopey. Wasn't he one of the seven dwarves?"
"Dobie, honey, not dopey. You two can sure get a girl off track. Anyway, one of them wore a beret and another a porkpie hat. Now, never mind what that is, Ava. We can look it up later. Next, they were doing the limbo with a sand rake someone had found."
"What's the limbo?" Ava asked
Bunny rose, started to demonstrate, and then stopped. " I'll show you that later too. Or you might have to, Kitty. Limbo's a young person's game." She paused. "I forgot how different things were then. We had a president we loved, didn't know we were polluting the world, we all seemed to get along. Sorry, now I'm getting off the subject."
"And then what happened?"Ava asked.
"Well, actually, they did something bad next. They pulled out some grass and started passing it around."
"You mean like the grass on the lawn?" Ava asked, puzzled.
"Cigarettes," Bunny said, looking over her head at Katherine. "They were passing around a cigarette."
"I am never going to smoke," Ava said, crossing her heart.
"I certainly hope not," Bunny said.
"And I supposed you partook," Katherine said.
"It only seemed friendly."
"And you hung out with these beatniks the rest of the summer?"
"I did. When I could manage it. I was mesmerized. They treated me like their very own Gidget."
"That was Sally Fields?" Katherine asked.
 Bunny blinked her eyes. "Or Sandra Dee. Wow. I just remembered the end of my story. Which wasn't so much fun. Remember, I told you we always stayed with an aunt and uncle in Dennisport? The bible hawker."
"Right, go on." Finally Katherine was engaged in the story.
 "One Sunday night, my cousin and I were supposed to be attending a Luther League swimming party."
"What is Luther League anyway? It features heavily in your childhood reminisces.  It sounds like a Hitler Youth group."
"Nothing that incendiary. It was a church group for teenagers. The Brewsters were a real religious family as I said. That always put a damper on things when we stayed with them."
"So you didn't go, did you? To Luther League."
Ava laughed. "Ooh, were you a bad girl that time, Grandma. Smoking and then not going to Luther League."
Smiling down at Ava, Bunny said, "Nope, I didn't go. They were having a luau on the beach that night. Roasting a pig or something crazy. So I talked Peggy, that was my cousin, into going. I didn't usually invite her to come out with me because she was barely thirteen, but it wasn't too hard to get her to ditch church. We went to the luau and that's about it. We ate some barbecue. Listened to music. Tried to get the older guys to notice us. Nothing really happened. Not then, at least."
"Then when?" Ava asked.
"Anyway, when we got back to the cottage," Bunny continued, "my uncle was waiting outside on the street. It wasn't late but he was pacing. 'Guess who I just had a call from?'" he asked Peggy, but I knew he was really asking me," Bunny said.
"Cause Peggy wasn't a good listener, right?" Ava had made a face on the table out of spilled sugar and turned the smile into a frown. "My teacher tells me that sometimes."
Bunny sighed and patted Ava's head. "No, he knew I was the one who convinced Peggy to ditch church and go to a party. Peggy would've have never done it on her own. " She looked at Katherine. "She was a lot like you, Kitty. Virtuous."
"Ava, you need to wash your hands again. They are full of sugar and who knows what else." Katherine pulled her daughter to her feet.
"But, the story..."
"You can hear it another time."
Giving a big sigh, Ava went outside to the spigot.
"Did you hear this story before?" Bunny asked. "Is that why you sent her away?"
"I remembered it suddenly. You must have told it to me when I was that age. Anyway, he pulled off his belt and whipped Peggy across the backs of her legs, didn't  he?" Katherine looked white.
Bunny nodded. " I can still hear the sound of the slap of that belt on her legs now. And when I tried to leave, he stopped me, told me my punishment was having to watch. My mother wasn't there to stop him or she would have. She'd gone bowling with my aunt. And, of course, I stood there frozen. It seemed like it went on forever but it was probably only a minute."
"A minute's pretty long to have your legs switched. And you've always regretted not doing anything?"
"It's worse than that. That night, once Peggy fell asleep, I pulled the sheet down and looked at the back of her legs."
"And they were full of cuts?"
"Yeah, but beneath the marks from that day, there were lots of silvery scars. I was sure he beat her regularly. I thought about pulling the sheet up higher to see if her back was scarred too, but I didn't."
Katherine shook her head. "And this was your uncle?"
"Uh, huh. But it was his wife who was my mother's sister. We left the next day. I think that was the last time we stayed with them. Maybe the last time we saw them." She paused. "Peggy didn't cry out once, didn't try to get away, didn't even beg him to stop. I could never forgive myself for not saying something. For not telling my mom at least."
"Don't you think she figured it out and that's why you left?"
Bunny shrugged. "I never had the heart to ask."
"I wonder what happened to the beatniks?" Katherine said.
"Ha. I heard later they got caught robbing a house. I thought they were up to something because they never dressed the same way twice. And such food they brought to those bonfires. Fancy stuff." She took a sip of iced tea. "Not the kind of stuff kids buy. Of course at fourteen, what did I know?"
"Poor Peggy."
"I should've done something. Saved her somehow."
"Mom, you were a kid. You couldn't have saved her. Oh, here you are,” Katherine said as Ava slid in next to her grandmother. The waitress returned with their food a few minutes later. Bunny and Ava chattered on about making a tunnel from their castle while Katherine munched absentmindedly on her own clam roll. Ava was done soon and out the door.
"Day's been kind of exhausting, hasn't it? I forgot how tiring walking in the sand is. And the sun wears me out." Her mother rubbed a foot and stood up.
"And poor Ava getting the bum's rush."
Bunny looked sleepily toward the window."That spigot got a workout all right."
Katherine peeked out. "Hey, wait just a minute. Who's that going up the beach with Ava? It's certainly not Tom."
"Where?" Bunny said, on her feet at once.
But Katherine was already out the door, her flip-flops slapping the sand as she ran. "Ava!"
"Kitty, Kitty. It's okay," Bunny yelled. "It's the man we rented the cottage from. Ava's probably following him back to Tom. Kitty!"
But Katherine didn't hear her and before Bunny could catch up, Katherine had tackled the man from his waist and brought him to his knees.
"Just where do you think you are going with my kid?" she asked, her hand gripping his pony tail from behind. His head was pulled back far enough to make his mouth fall open.
Ava, dumbstruck from what she'd witnessed, stood frozen.
"Kitty, calm down," Bunny said, arriving at the scene."It's Jack Owens. The guy who rented us the cottage. Remember, he helped us carry in the bags. Guess being far-sighted came in handy for once." Bent over, hands on her knees, she struggled to catch her breath.
Slowly, Katherine climbed off the man's back, stood, and wiped the sand off her shins. "Sorry, Jack. Without my glasses, you looked like Jack the Ripper to me"
He rose, laughing. "Wrong Jack."
"You sure ran after us, Mom," Ava said, her speech returning. "You were like that old wind Mariah coming down the beach."
"My story put you in that kind of mood," Bunny said, "Seeing danger everywhere."
"I think I came to that myself," Katherine told her.

"You guys were gone a long time," Tom said, sleepily opening his eyes. "Were they out of clam rolls or something?"
"Daddy, you'll never guess what happened."
            "What happened?" he said sitting up. The two women looked at each other.
"Grandma met a bunch of beatniks on the beach near here. They sang songs, did the mambo, and wore funny hats that she's gonna show me later."
"Today?"
"It was a long time ago, Daddy," Ava said chuckling."When kids did olden things."
"But you got your clam rolls, right?"
The three of them nodded.
"Anyone up for some ice cream?" Tom asked.
"I sure am," Katherine said.
"Mommy, I've never seen you eat ice-cream," Ava shrieked. "What kind do you like?"
Katherine looked at her mother. "What kind do I like, Mom
Bunny paused. "Something green, I think. Maybe pistachio."
            "But if could be chocolate mint, right?" Ava smiled. "That's my third favorite flavor. I hope it's  that        flavor. You could take after me sometimes."