Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Short Story Wednesday; "Tiny, Smiling, Daddy" Mary Gaitskill

 "Tiny, Smiling, Daddy" is in the collection Because They Wanted To. Gaitskill is an extremely dark writer and pleasure (for me) is derived from recognizing truths in her stories and in the quality of her writing. I like a story that makes me examine issues I have known or been made aware of in myself and others and this one does. Who doesn't know a father (or mother) who lacks what they need to connect with their child.

In this story a father has shunned his daughter since her teenage announcement that she is a lesbian.  His feelings toward her had already been affected by things like nose piercings and her failure to set the table correctly. As a small child, Kitty was close to her parents but that changes as she changes. This announcement leads to Stew (and his wife) telling Kitty she's free to leave and make her own way in the world. 

The story begins with a phone call from a friend telling Stew that Kitty has published a story about their relationship in a magazine titled "Self." Stew gets a copy of the magazine and although there is really nothing surprising in her article, it sort of sums up what their relationship has been, which is sad and shocking for Stew. He then thinks back on his relationship with his father, which was distant, harsh and short. 

The success of this story for me is that although Stew behaves badly in this story, by the end you feel some sympathy for him because he is so clueless about nearly everything in his life. You know he won't change.

Kevin Tipple

Jerry House

Monday, December 28, 2020

Still Here

 Be back next week. Have a safe one.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Monday, December 21, 2020

Still Here


Yesterday I watched six hours of NURSE JACKIE, perhaps the most depressing show ever run on SHOWTIME. I've seen it before, but I just couldn't summon up the energy to do anything else. Part of the problem was I bought this really comfortable chair six weeks ago and it did not seem worth leaving it.  My bottom, as big as it is getting now that I don't get to walk, is already imprinted on it.  

The walking is over now because it is too cold and icy outside so I have worn a path through my house trying to get some steps in.

This bingeing on Jackie came after completing the book, THE MAN IN THE EMPTY BOAT.  I was assured this story would buck me up but really it did not. After recounting the tragic story of the death of his sister from a flu that went haywire, Mr. Salzman, on holiday, bonded with a dog he didn't expect to like. When the dog got sick, I almost gave  up. So a book can be almost entirely depressing, but if at the end, the man and dog bond it is considering uplifting. Interesting.

It was interesting though how every member of his family was anxious. And anxious to the point it was crippling. When his brother almost succeeded in a business, he had to give it up because success made him so anxious. I never thought of anxiety as being genetic really, but in this case it was both environmental and genetic. I am thinking my family was a pretty anxious group too.

BLACK SPOT (Netflix) is another downer of a story. If you don't die from murder in this town in France, you will die from drink because there is nothing else to do. And here's a question. Why are all of these European imports so dark? Dark visually. Even when it's daytime, it never seems sunny. Rather like Detroit in winter. And all of the characters seem washed of any bright colors clothes-wise. I would think it was my failing vision but FLIGHT ATTENDANT is bright enough. Maybe these European countries are still following that idea about filming using natural light.

FLIGHT ATTENDANT, based on the novel, is a thriller and slickly done but still a bit of a downer too. What if you wake up with your one-night stand dead beside you? What if you are a drunk and have blacked out the night? What about if no one is who they seem to be? What if the dead guy haunts every scene? Can't remember if that was in the novel.

Movies: FAST COLOR was an "almost" good movie about three generations of Black women who have special powers. But the world they live in is apocalyptic and I found it hard to wade through the bad stuff happening to get to the somewhat hopeful end. 

Anyway, NURSE JACKIE is calling. I only have a week to finish before it leaves Netflix. 

Sorry if this depresses you. No doubt, I will feel better tomorrow.  (Ah, yes, I do. Must have been KINKY BOOTS).

What are you up to?

Friday, December 18, 2020

FFB-Mucho Mojo, Joe R. Lansdale

Patti Abbott, Mucho Mojo, Joe R. Lansdale (from 2011)

Mucho Mojo is the second installment of the Hap and Leonard series by Joe R. Lansdale and a worthy follow-up to the first one. It concerns the disappearance of a number of eight 10 year old boys over a period of 10 years in a small town in Texas. It was very well done, of course, although I did find it improbable that such a long string of disappearances would get so little attention from the authorities given certain similarities. But all in all, I enjoyed this book immensely.

What I wanted to talk about here are the considerable strengths I found in this novel--almost amazing ones.

This is a novel by a white writer set entirely in the black community of a small town--and it never seems patronizing or inauthentic. Hap is virtually the only white character.

Secondly, Lansdale is able to write, almost obsessively, about sex without it seeming prurient or pornographic. His sex is tender and graceful.

Third-he is able to create believable characters with a few strokes of his keyboard. Truly, he can find a feature or embellishment to give them something to make them stand out.

Fourth-he can insert humor gracefully at even the darkest moments.

Fifth- he can use profanity without seeming crass.

What a writer. I am in awe.


Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Short Story Wednesday: "Killing: John Updike

This is a bleak story about both the death of a father and the death of a marriage. A woman (Lynne) is forced to decide if her father's life will be continued through extensive life support or not. Having been in this situation myself--three times now--it probably spoke more to me than it would to many. 

Updike spares the reader little as he describes the dying man's last days. And the dying marriage gets the same treatment. It is made all the more poignant when you realize it is Updike's own marriage he is probably describing. He is both hard on himself (Martin, in the story) and forgiving of himself. Pretty nifty to pull off. He wants his former wife to accept his mistress into the family fold but chooses a strange time to attempt this. 

Although the writing is sure-handed, this is a hard story to like too much. I think that is due to Updike wanting Martin (himself) to be forgiven. And he also is ambivalent toward the woman by having her unable to stay by her father's side as he dies. Interesting in many ways but not totally successful, I think. 

When I was at Breadloaf, Updike was roundly criticized for many things: his upperclass characters, his ornate writing for two, his repetition of themes, but I never minded this. I wonder if he is thought better of today. I bet he doesn't turn up on many syllabuses. \

Jerry House

Matt Paust

George Kelley 

Kevin Tipple 

Todd Mason

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

My Favorite TV Shows of 2020











What about you?

Monday, December 14, 2020

Still Here-December 14.,2020

One thing that has saved me over the last year is new "ideas or subjects" that come along and capture my interest. This week it was two things. 

The first was the idea of "dogs." In reading THE FRIEND by Sigrid Nunez, it occurred to me, though not for the first time, that a dog would have given me something to sit this year out with. I have never owned a dog and concept is fairly alien to me. I don't think I will ever have a dog but a pretend one might be nice.

THE FRIEND is a terrific book and is not just about the adoption of a dog but also the years of her friendship with his owner, now deceased. Both the dog (Apollo, a Great Dane) and the protagonist are in mourning and share the bereavement, thus lightening the load for each. Like me, the protagonist is alone. I am not sure how this would play out for a couple or a larger family although I know people have been adopting dogs like crazy in our neighborhood.

This sent me on a search for other books about dogs and also TV shows about dogs on Netflix. There is quite a nice one called DOGS, in which each episode tells the story of a dog and his master. The first is quite moving as a young man who fled from Syria to Berlin, tries to get his dog back. Although Germany gave him sanctuary, he is forbidden to return or to bring the dog over. Also one called PICK OF THE LITTER which is about the training of special needs dogs. The book (THE FRIEND) won the National Book Award for Fiction although it rarely reads like fiction, more like a memoir. Stunning.

My second stumble this week was into the second film in Steven McQueen's SHORT AXE series: LOVER'S ROCK (Prime). It is seventy minutes of dancing mostly. Sort of reggae. It was popular in the Black community in London in the late seventies. It is very romantic dancing, a kind you don't see anymore. And aside from the film there is a documentary on Prime about Lover's Rock and the reason for its development.  Lots of sensational female singers. 

Listening to John Updike stories on Hoopla. Actually they don't all hold up as well as I would have expected. Some do seem overwritten in terms of four-syllable words when simple ones might have worked as well. But I have just listened to three so maybe it will change.

Cheers to Megan's DARE ME, which some TV critics have chosen as one of the best series this year despite its cancellation. Although if you didn't see it on USA last winter, it will be on Netflix starting Dec 29.  

I think I am done my Christmas shopping. How odd to never once walked into a store this year.  What would have happened if this pandemic came along 30 years ago.

What are you up to?

Friday, December 11, 2020


(from the archives: Ron Scheer)


Robert J. Randisi, ed., Livin’ on Jacks and Queens

This is an entertaining anthology of 14 stories about gamblers and gambling in the Old West. Editor Randisi has assembled a notable gathering of western writers, providing an array of storytelling styles and imaginative treatments of the subject. The names of several contributors will be quickly recognized: Johnny Boggs, John D. Nesbitt, Matthew P. Mayo, Nik Morton, and Chuck Tyrell.

To these he has added a story of his own, plus the yarns of two women writers who may be new to some readers: Christine Matthews and Lori Van Pelt.

My favorites of the bunch include Ms. Matthews’ “Odds on a Lawman,” which tells of a succession of sheriffs who each assumes a tenure of service to a frontier town, before dying or disappearing for various reasons, on which the townsmen place bets until the turn of events claims one of them the winner. It’s an amusing and well-written tale that brings its Dickensian cast of characters to entertaining life, while we wait to see the fate that befalls each of the town’s series of sheriffs.

For a colorful portrayal of the daily life and business of a riverboat gambler, Nik Morton brings that world vividly to life in his story, “Hazard.” In “Acey-Deucey,” John D. Nesbitt’s central character is hired by a woman to retrieve an emerald pendant once given to her by a paramour. Finally locating the current owner of the gem, he has to win a game of cards before he can take possession of it.

Robert Randisi
Randisi’s story, “Horseshoes and Pistols” is so quirky, I kept thinking that it qualified as Twilight Zone material. In it, two men are forced to bet their lives on a game of horseshoes. Matthew Mayo’s “Pay the Ferryman” veers off in another direction, as a man on the run escapes into what might well be called “the heart of darkness.”

My favorite story in the collection was penned by a favorite storyteller, Chuck Tyrell. His “Great Missouri River Steamship Race” evokes a period of river travel from the point of view of a youngster working as a fireman aboard a steamship with a regular route between St. Louis and Fort Benton. Tyrell brings his gifts for characterization, dialogue, and suspense to this story with its echoes of Huckleberry Finn.

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

First Wednesday Book Review, MY DARK VANESSA

Boy this was a difficult book to read. With LOLITA, a book that is similar in story but from the POV of Humbert Humbert, the predator not the victim, we are able to maintain a certain distance. With MY DARK VANESSA (Kate Elizabeth Russell), we have a sexually- abused fifteen year old to take us through the tale. And guess what? For 300 plus pages she is convinced she was not abused by her English teacher. That she longed for this man almost 30 years her senior. And the book is so hyper-focused on this relationship and a similar one that follows, there is no air to breathe. Literally, it left me feeling breathless with dread.

This is a well-written novel. And it is an interesting take on pedophilia. What if the child seems as obsessed with her seducer as he is with her? Is she culpable if she wants him to worship her? If he is the only thing on her mind for 20 years. 

I don't think so. I think the author has to look at the possibility of mental illness more if this is the story. There is literally not a page in this book when the narrator is not pondering this man. Her parents are fairly aloof but not abusive or bad enough to produce a child this obsessed. This obsession completely derails her life. At 32, she, a promising student at age 15 and even 20, works at a dead end job. I need to talk to her therapist. I need an explanation of why this middle-aged man so completely subsumed her. So I can't recommend it despite it being extremely polished and somewhat interesting.

For more and hopefully happier books, see Barrie Summy.

Short Story Wednesday -Keller's Last Refuge, Lawrence Block

I will come back and post links later today. I have competing projects today.

 "Keller's Last Refuge" appeared in Playboy and then in the 1999 Best American Mystery Stories. As of 2016, Keller had appeared in the stories listed below. He also appeared in half a dozen novels.  Considering how many of the stories appeared in Playboy, Keller isn't really a terribly violent hit man. At least in this story, he dispatched his victims in fairly civilized ways: mostly he strangles them. The conceit that makes this story interesting is that Keller believes he is dispatching his prey out of patriotism. Block's writing is terrific as usual. He supplies just the right amount of ambiance and detail to flesh out the story but never enough to weigh it down.  Block must have one of the longest lists of publications in the business. I have read three of his novels. My favorite being WHEN THE SACRED GINMILL CLOSES.  Most of these stories are collected too, I believe.


  • "Answers to Soldier" (June 1990, Playboy)
  • "Keller's Therapy" (May 1993, Playboy)
  • "Dogs Walked, Plants Watered" (May 1994, Playboy)
  • "Keller on Horseback" (1994, Murder Is My Business)
  • "Keller's Karma" (February 1995, Playboy)
  • "Keller in Shining Armor" (November 1995, Playboy)
  • "Keller on the Spot" (November 1997, Playboy) 
  • "Keller's Choice (1998, Murder on the Run: The Adams Round Table)
  • "Keller's Last Refuge (March 1998, Playboy)
  • "Keller in Retirement" (1998)
  • "Keller's Art" (Spring 2000, Modern Painters)
  • "Keller's Designated Hitter" (2001, Murderer's Row) .!
  • "Keller's Horoscope" (2001, Death by Horoscope)
  • "Keller and the Rabbits" (April 14, 2003, Audiobooks Today)
  • "Keller's Adjustment" (2005, Transgressions) 
  • "Quotidian Keller" (July/August, The American Stamp Dealer & Collector)
  • "Keller the Dogkiller" (May 2008, EQMM)
  • "Keller in Dallas" (2009, The American Stamp Dealer & Collector) 
  • "Keller's Fedora" (May 2016; Kindle)
  • "Keller in Des Moines" (May 2016, digital

Matt Paust 


Kevin Tipple 

George Kelley

Steve Lewis 

Jerry House 

Monday, December 07, 2020

Still Here


I really miss going into a library and looking for books on the shelves. My library is open for curbside pickup only and it doesn't work well for me. So I have been reading what is on my shelves as I have said before. This library (above) in Philadelphia (West Oak Lane section) came on the scene when I was about ten. It was a thrilling day for me because book mobiles had great limitations.

 I can still remember the floor plan and how often I campaigned the children's librarian to let me go to the adult side of the building. Mrs. Robinson was the first Black person I knew and she was beautiful, smart, and loved kids. She tried valiantly to get me to read better books than the ones I was drawn to. The books she suggested seemed like boys books to me at ten. I was very wrong to think Sue Barton, Shipboard Nurse, was a better pick than 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, or Robinson Crusoe.

Even though our six thousand person community in Michigan doesn't have a very good library, I can use any in my county and do through loans. 

I have watched a number of plays through various online methods this week. Saw THREE KINGS (with Andrew Scott from the Old VIC) AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, on you tube, which was sensational. a play at the Purple Rose Theater in Chelsea, MI (that's Jeff Daniels' theater) but missed one or two opportunities. If I was adept enough I could figure out how to stream them onto my TV instead of just watching on my laptop. Tonight I will watch, a table read of VEEP with special guests to raise money for the senate race in GA. Being able to see this sort of thing over the last year has been one of the few good things about the year. I have also been able to watch various authors at book store events through zoom and facebook. As hard as this year has been, it would have been a lot harder 20 years ago. I don't think I would make it if all I had to do was read. As much as I love to read, it's not enough. Even the audio version.

I only saw one person this week, but I ordered meals for us from a nice restaurant and we were able to have a pleasant dinner. They deliver them for $10 and you get three, three course meals for $40. They were quite good. 

I ordered all my Christmas presents in the last few days, just hoping they can get them delivered in the next few weeks although Megan got one of them the next day. I wonder how many people will get Obama's book as a present. 

Reading the Obama book myself. Don't think I am going to finish Nabokov's THE LUZHIN DEFENSE. It is too similar in tone and style to LAUGHTER IN THE DARK.

Been watching MURDER ON MIDDLE BEACH on HBO, which is pretty exciting. Also ETHOS, which I go back and forth about. Too many characters for my taste. And because so many women wear head coverings it is hard to tell them apart. And because all of the men have dark beards, they are not easy to tell apart either. Watching the last two seasons of FOYLE'S WAR, which I don't think I saw but who knows. Also watching the Cary Grant movies on Criterion this month. Can't remember ever seeing HOLIDAY before but it was a real gem. OPERATION PETTICOAT was a yawn though.

How about you?


Friday, December 04, 2020

FFB-THE FREE, Willie Vlautin

Is there a kinder soul writing today than Willy Vlautin? Although there are villainous characters in his novels, he keeps them off-stage most of the time and usually gives you a reason for the villainy. THE FREE looks at three or so overlapping characters in a small Southern town. This story revolves around Leroy, an injured Vet who, in attempting to kill himself, ends up in a coma. There is nurse Pauline, who cares for her patients with great tenderness. She also care for her miserable father who criticizes her as she is spooning soup into his mouth, and there is a opiod-addicted teenager, Jo who can't seem to extricate herself for the guys who got her hooked. And then there is Freddy, hoping he will get to see his daughters and working for an abusive jerk. There are so many moments of grace for each of these characters, it serves to lift you up despite their harsh circumstances. I've got his new one waiting for me.

Thursday, December 03, 2020

My Favorite Books Read in 2020

More than in most years, these twelve books gave me succor, escape, pleasure. If I had to pick #1
it would be LEAVE THE WORLD BEHIND, Rumaan Alam, which imagined a fate possibly worse than ours, but shielded us from it in the end. Brilliant. 

Here the top twelve are. It would have been easy to pick 20.

Leave the World Behind, Rumaan Alam

Lean on Pete, Willie Vlautin

Hidden Valley Road, Robert Kolker (NF)

Strangers on a Train, Patricia Highsmith

Between Them: Remembering My Parents, Richard Ford (NF)

Before the Poison, Peter Robinson

The Dutch House, Ann Patchett

The Memory Police, Yoko Ogawa

Lab Girl, Hope Jahren (NF)

This is the Story of Happy Marriage, Ann Patchett (NF) 

Laughter in the Dark, Vladimir Nabokov

Cary: A Brilliant Disguise, Scott Eyman (NF)


Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Short Story Wednesday: "Peach Cobbler" from THE SECRET LIVES OF CHURCH LADIES


   "My mother's peach cobbler was so good, it made God himself cheat on his wife"

A great first line in a terrific little collection of stories (Deesha Philyaw) dealing with Black women, church-going, and life in a patriarchal world. God, in this case, is Pastor Troy Neely, who Olivia at first believes to actually be God. Certainly his sonorous voice at church is God-like and his hold over Olivia's mother is too. He has the big car, the big house, the expensively dressed wife so often found in ministers in Black churches.

Her mother and Neely are engaged in a ten-year affair, which the peach cobbler is part of.  (She makes it every Monday the day that he comes, throwing it out if he doesn't turn up) Over time Olivia can't help but wonder if other women are baking peach cobbler for him the other days of the week. 

As Olivia grows older, she learns how to make cobber. Her mother won't even let her taste the ones she makes for the pastor so it's experiment after experiment. Eventually Olivia is hired to tutor the Pastor's son and she begins a relationship of sorts with him. She brings he and his mother a peach cobbler when a death in the family occurs. But then she learns that, like her mother, her role in the son's life will be as the "woman on the side" when he takes a more acceptable girl to the prom. 

A lot of this story concerns the relationship between Olivia and her mother. Her mother is terribly hard and withholding, thinking that will make Olivia a righteous woman. She is punishing her daughter for her own mistakes. The writing is excellent in this and in all the stories in this collection. It is a debut collection and it was nominated for the National Book Award.

Other Stories

Matt Paust

Kevin Tipple

Jerry House 

George Kelley 




Todd Mason