Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: Stories from THE SUMMER BEFORE THE SUMMER OF LOVE, Marly Swick

 

This has been one of my favorite collections of stories since I came across it in the nineties. Marly Swick, now a retired English professor in Missouri (I think), seems to have written all of her stories and two novels in the nineties and early 2000s. Since that was the time I was writing mainstream short stories too, I bought a lot of collections. Swick's are very straightforward, easy to read stories. 

The title story is about the breakup of a marriage and much of it takes places during a trip to see the Beatles that the mother takes her daughters on. When she leaves the hotel room in the night and her slip is returned in a paperbag the next day, it drives the older daughter out of the house. It also changes the daughter's taste in music overnight from the Beatles to the edgier groups. 

The second story "Ghost Mother" is a favorite of mine. Two screenwriters are adopting a baby from a mid-western teen, who moves into their house for the end of the pregnancy. It is a very poignant yet not sad story and some of it is framed in how the writer might write it in a screenplay.The reader expects the surrogate mother to be exposed in some way and this never happens to our relief. 

Just noticed we have been doing this for more than a year. Don't feel obliged to keep it up if it's getting old.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Monday, Monday

 


Saturday night my family and I went to see CLUE at Meadowbrook Theater. I have gone there for many years although recently they are inclined to show far lighter fare than they did in the past. I guess this is true for a lot of theaters. This was a very young audience, maybe composed of students from Oakland University which is on the same campus. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Although the plot is not great, the staging and acting was terrific. So many clever bits with choreographing it. 

Friday I went with a friend to the DIA and we concentrated on parts of the museums I usually miss: African and Islamic art. The museum was fairly empty but it is a huge place so it takes a lot of people to make it feel full. The Detroit Film Theater was beginning this weekend showing the documentary about the Velvet Underground, but we didn't stay for that. 

Kevin is still enjoying school. Friday night his economics teacher took a group to play laser tag. It raised money for the food pantry his classes run. Kevin seems to be enjoying his classes and the camaraderie they seem to foster at this school. 

Been watching GOLIATH, which I am not crazy about. Also MAID, which is depressing too. Hard to find a series that isn't a bummer nowadays. So I end up watching SEINFELD quite a lot. Looking forward to SUCCESSION tonight.

What's up with you?

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Short Story Wednesday "Torch Song" John Cheever

Jack Lorey and Joan, both natives of Ohio, meet up again in New York City in the 1930s. Joan is a "big" handsome girl and after failing at a try at modeling becomes a hostess in a restaurant. Jack and Joan meet up, mostly at her parties, over a number of years. Each time, she is with another man who is either ill or will become ill soon after. Is she attracted to such men or is it bad luck? Jack also had a number of bad relationships and more and more they are drawn to each other. The war comes and goes and both of them age and Jack at some point resembles the ne'er do wells Joan is attracted to. 

At the story's end Jack accuses Joan of being a crow, who comes into feed on the sick and dying. I read this story in American Fantastic Tales and it took me quite a few pages before I began to see how it fit into this book. Why was it a fantastic story because it many ways it read like a typical Cheever story about suburbia. By the end, I believed Joan was a carrion, feeding on such men. Or is she a vampire feeding on the blood of the men. Or possibly she is death itself, bringing illness to every man who comes home with her? A very interesting story and of course, wonderfully written. You can find it online, I think. The New Yorker published it too. 

Kevin Tipple

Jerry House 

George Kelley 

Richard Robinson

Friday, October 08, 2021

FFB: EAST OF EDEN, John Steinbeck

I was a freshman in college when I read this book. I realized as I reached its end that the feverish pitch of the novel was probably at least partially based on the fact that I was feverish myself—sick in the way that kids that age and away from home get sick. I lay on my narrow bed, skipping classes, skipping meals, and reading EAST OF EDEN. When I was finished, I read four or five more Steinbecks in succession, enjoying them all but not perhaps as much as this one.


It was exactly the kind of book that appealed to me then: a family saga that was long, complicated, sad, over the top perhaps. When I reread it a few years ago, I still enjoyed it but felt a red pencil might have strengthened it.


EAST OF EDEN was published in 1952 and its title refers to the place where the biblical Cain goes after murdering his brother, Abel. The novel begins in Connecticut where Adam Trask and his older brother, Charles, live on a farm owned by their father, Cyrus, whom we later learn he has stolen money. Much of the first half of the novel concerns their relationship with the kindly and noble Hamilton family. After Cyrus’ death, Adam enters the army while his brother Charles stays on the farm and grows rich.


After his release Adam marries Cathy Trask and the couple move to Salinas, California, where she becomes pregnant. She gives birth to Cal and Aron but deserts the boys, shooting Adam while running away to live in a whorehouse. Cathy has few redeeming qualities and seems determined to debase herself and destroy everyone around her.

Adam and his servant, Lee, raise the two boys. One night Cal takes Aron to the house of prostitution owned by Cathy, showing him his mother for what she is. Like their father and uncle before them, the brothers resemble the biblical Cain and Abel. Aron is killed in combat (World War 1) and Cal falls in love with his brother’s longtime girl friend, Abra Bacon. Adam who has suffered a stroke following the shocking death of Aron forgives Cal for his sins.

This is certainly one of Steinbeck’s best novels and a classic for me. Despite its rigid notion of good and evil—people are mostly one or the other—its rich story line, the beauty of the writing and its compelling nature, still make it a favorite. 

What is your favorite Steinbeck novel? 

 

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket"


I read many of Hilma Wolitzer's novels years ago. She was one of a myriad of women novelists writing about domestic life in the sixties, seventies, eighties. Her stories are warm hearted; even when her characters are flawed she sympathizes with them. In the title story (1966) a young pregnant woman is waiting in line to pay for her groceries when a young mother blocks her passage, muttering, "There is just no end to it." She says more nonsensical things while her children hang onto her. The mother's distress grows as does her son's who needs a bathroom. The store manager and our narrator try to ID her but cannot find anything in her purse. A crowd gathers with various customers making suggestions. Finally someone knows her and her husband is summoned. That night our narrator is sitting in the bathtub weeping and when her husband comes in she sounds much like the woman who went mad in the supermarket. This story drives home how close all of us are to madness. And maybe especially women in the sixties whose whole life revolved around domestic chores and their children. 

The second story "Waiting for Daddy" concerns a child unable to pin her mother (or grandmother) down on anything concerning the identity of her father. 

I know these summaries make the subjects sound trite or prosaic but the writing is strong and this is the stuff of everyday life.  I find it easier to be successful with a short story that relies on character and mood rather than plot. What do you think? Of course, one great exception to this that comes to mind is Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find" which manages to do it all. 

Kevin Tipple 

TracyK

George Kelley 

Monday, October 04, 2021

Monday, Monday






 Friday was a busy day. I got to see Kevin play tennis, his last match of the year. Then we went to dinner and finally a play called THE NIGHT OF JANUARY 16th. A play by Ayn Rand as you might imagine, championing the idea of these  "special" titans of industry that will make America great. This work has been much produced and there is even a movie of it. And although the cast did a great job with their parts and it was a credible production given our limitations, the work itself feels like something that should have died in the thirties. It is a courtroom drama and uses 12 members of the audience as a jury although that really felt like a gimmick. But it was great spending a whole day with my family. Everyone was masked at the theater and not allowed to use the lobby but it still was awfully close seating. They did have a special air circulation system but these small theaters probably shouldn't be open yet.

Saturday, I went to Cranbrook, which is where the picture is from. Cranbrook is a pretty special place: a school, a center for all sorts of art and artists, gorgeous gardens, a science center, and lots of places to walk. Such a beautiful weekend weather wise too.  The photo above is of the annual garden but there are many interesting perennial gardens, herb gardens, shrubbery, and lovely paths. Plus a terrific Arts and Crafts house to tour. 

Watching THE CHESTNUT MAN on Netflix, which was a scary book and is now a scary series. And the dubbed version is pretty good. Netflix has apparently spent some money getting much better dubbed versions of their foreign series. The only one that didn't work well for me dubbed was LUPIN, because they gave all of those Frenchmen American accents. Think I have said that before.

Reading Hilma Wolitzer's collection of stories. I have been reading her my whole life, I think. And now Meg Wolitzer is perhaps even more well known.

Isn't Sarah Weinman doing a great job with the Crime page of the Sunday NYT? She finds unusual books to review and writes so beautifully. Marilyn Stasio always seemed to review books that everyone knew about anyway. Appreciate Sarah looking further afield for great picks and bringing new writers to our attention. 

What about you?

Friday, October 01, 2021

FFB: BABY MOLL, John Farris

 Reviewed by Ed Gorman (from the archives)


 
Baby Moll by John Farris

John Farris was my generation's first literary rock star. When his novel Harrison High was published it quickly became controversial because of its honest depiction of life among American teenagers. This was 1959. America still believed that if teens weren't exactly like Ricky and David Nelson they certainly weren't like Elvis. Given the fact that many of these teens would be in the streets protesting the Viet Nam war only a few years later, you can see how badly books such as Pat Boone's Twixt Twelve and Twenty misjudged them.

The paperback edition became a companion to Peyton Place, published a few years earlier, both Great Reads and both purveyors of unpopular truths.

Mr. Farris, now famous, was all of twenty-three when the book was published. But he was no beginner. Born in 1936 he could already claim the following novels in print:

* The Corpse Next Door (Graphic Books, 1956) (as John Farris)
* The Body on the Beach (Bouregy & Curl, 1957, hc) (as Steve Brackeen)
* Baby Moll (Crest, 1958, pb) (as Steve Brackeen)
* Danger in My Blood (Crest, 1958, pb) (as Steve Brackeen)

He was writing and publishing before he could legally buy beer.

Hard Case Crime has now given us a chance to look at some of Farris' early work with Baby Moll appearing this month. And fine work it is.

"Six years after quitting the Florida Mob, Peter Mallory is about to be dragged back in.

"Stalked by a vicious killer and losing his hold on power, Mallory’s old boss needs help—the kind of help only a man like Mallory can provide. But behind the walls of the fenced-in island compound he once called home, Mallory is about to find himself surrounded by beautiful women, by temptation, and by danger—and one wrong step could trigger a bloodbath."

If you have any doubt about Farris' writing skills open the book and read the first chapter. It is both lyrical and ominous, an unlikely combination in a paperback crime novel. This establishes the way Farris even then managed to take some of the familiar tropes of genre fiction and make them entirely his own.

The set-up itself is unique. Mallory called back to save the life of a boss he despises but a man he owes his life. The boss got him off the bottle.

The story, as it plays out, is also all Farris. While parts of the first act brought Peter Rabe to mind Farris takes the gangster novel in a different direction. Given the relationship of the people on the island the book becomes almost Gothic in its entanglements and ambience.

Farris of course went on to write numerous bestsellers, a number of them staples of modern dark suspense and horror, but even here, early on, he was a cunning storyteller fascinated by the perplexity and perversity of the human soul.


Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "So Much Water, So Far From Home" Raymond Carver


 When I was taking writing workshops and classes back in the nineties, Carver was the gold metal standard for short stories. I doubt he is now. White, male, alcoholic writers are not held in such high esteem. And Carver's trajectory has been complicated by the knowledge that his editor, Gordon Lish, edited with a very heavy pencil. Are we reading Carver or Lish? I am very far from an authority on this but it's interesting. Lish favored minimal story telling. Whole characters and plot lines disappeared when he got hold of them. Carver was evolving into a different sort of writer although he trembled with fear of Lish's disapproval well into his career. 

This story was first published in the UCSB literary journal when he was teaching there. The student that secured it was awestruck at her luck in persuading Carver to give her something to publish.

Anyway, "So Much Water, So Far From Home" is the story of a group of men on a fishing trip that find the nude dead body of a girl and do nothing about it for the two days of their trip, reasoning she is dead and what good will ruining their trip do her. 

When Stuart's wife hears the story she is appalled and it quickly sabotages what was a shaky marriage anyway. Stuart's lack of action and then lack of remorse disgusts her. Various other issues in their marital history arise and there is always the undercurrent of violence. Stuart is constantly warning her about  "riling him up." This is a very complex story in many ways. It is available online and it is part of the movie by Robert Altman (Short Cuts) and also the Australian movie JINDABYNE. 


Kevin Tipple

George Kelley 

Richard Robinson

Monday, September 27, 2021

Monday, Monday

 

I rewatched ENCHANTED APRIL this week and was somewhat disappointed. I remembered it as less fluff than it turned out to be. I was amazed to see Joan Plowright is still alive. She seemed quite elderly in this thirty-year old movie. The love interests were played by Alfred Molina, Jim Broadbent and the man who plays Foyle. Only the British would find those actors credible as romantic figures but it was okay by me because they are great character actors. Also rewatched LATE QUARTET, which I had forgotten Dustin Hoffman directed. That was actually better than I remembered it and I wonder why Hoffman did not direct more. I would love to retire to a facility with people playing music all day long. Maggie Smith as always stole the show. 

SEX EDUCATION on Netflix is very open in its portrayal of sexuality--even among teenagers. I can't imagine any US show doing this.



Got out with a few friends this week and felt lucky to do so because there was a lot of very heavy rain. 

I took a passel of books out of the library on Monday and returned them unread on Saturday. Still having focus issues. I am listening to a book by Pat Conroy on his reading life, which is okay for my walks. His defense of GONE WITH THE WIND is a little suspect though. I am almost tempted to read it again and see if I find the strengths that he did in it. Josh and Julie (Son and daughter-in-law) got tkts to two plays in the next few weeks. I am somewhat worried about maskless people. Michigan is completely immobilized on a mask mandate. Most people favor it but the ones that don't are ready to go to war. Hope your state is more rational. 

What's up with you?

Friday, September 24, 2021

FFB: THE CHINATOWN DEATH CLOUD PERIL, Paul Malmont

 From the archives

The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril. By Paul Malmont (reviewed by Bill Peschel) Bill can be found here.

In the 1930s, the heyday of the pulp era, magazines like "Thrilling Detective," "Amazing Stories" and the like kicked ass, took names, and shaped the morals of millions of American readers. The writers who created the heroes like Doc Savage and The Shadow worked under impossible deadlines for pennies a word to give us tales of the fantastic, of Oriental criminal gangs, dens of vice and iniquity, weird villains, two-fisted heroes and dames to be ornamental and rescued. At its height, as a pre-Scientology L. Ron Hubbard reminds us in "The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril," 30,000,000 pulps were bought every month. It took the paper shortages of World War II to knock them down, and they were finished off by television in the ‘50s, but they left us a legacy of heroes that include Conan and Tarzan, cult favorite H.P. Lovecraft, and provided the seed that spawned science-fiction and fantasy.Return with me, now, to those thrilling days of yesteryear, with the help of Paul Malmont, who, according to his bio, works in advertising and lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two kids.I'm firmly convinced that, at night, he slips out of his brownstone in Park Slope and roams the wilds of Manhattan, battling the forces of evil with mad crimefighting skillz he learned in the mountain fastnesses of Bhutan.Either that, or he's a pulp fiction fan who did a wonderful job of researching the era, and clever enough to cast as his heroes the writers Walter Gibson, Lester Dent, Hubbard (known as "The Flash" because he was quick at the typewriter), with guest appearances by Lovecraft (oh, how I want to tell you how he appears. It's so appropriate!), E.E. "Doc" Smith and Orson Welles.As for the story, well, the title gives it away, and I'm not going to say more. If you're going to read this, it would just spoil the fun. But if you're still on the bubble, I'll say this:
Malmont writes about the pulp fiction world, but the story is told straight. Neat. No purple prose.
The plot makes sense. It's creepy and scary, but doesn't rely on the supernatural.
The writers may have created two-fisted heroes, but they aren't. That's part of the fun.
Malmont plays fair with Hubbard. I'm no fan of Scientology, but I was glad that Hubbard is presented just as you would expect him to be at the beginning of his career. He's ambitious, proud, something of a blowhard, but great sidekick material.
To say more would give away the fun, so let me just say that, if you have any affection for the pulp era, if you smile at the thought of a "GalaxyQuest"-type story set in New York of the Depression-era, or just want a rousing tale without the literary baggage, check out "The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril."UPDATE: Thanks to Kaja Foglio, the co-creator of the fabulous "Girl Genius" comic, I found out that Lester Dent's Zeppelin tales are being republished.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

At the end of 2012, I posted this...


2012: I read 42 books, 365 short stories, 16 plays and 59 movies at a theater. No doubt the short story reading cut at least 5 books off of my usual tally. I actually read more than 365 stories because I didn't finish some of the lousy ones. I doubt I will read a story a day this year because the actual picking out a story every day was time consuming. The movie watching is clearly an expensive hobby for me. But I see at least half of them for $5 at a matinee.Why am I guilty for not reading more books and guilty for seeing too many movies? Goal next year to read at least one book a week. Thirty years ago, I read three books a week.  

This year, I saw three movies at a theater. No plays really unless I count the ones I zoomed from zooming sites. Probably about the same amount of books and far less short stories. In 2012, I took part in an effort to read and report on a short story a day. 

If I had known what was coming in so many ways, I would have seen more plays and movies for sure.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives.


Sarah Weinman gathers stories here written by women who perhaps did not get the fame and readership they deserved. Some of the writers are more well-known than others, but maybe not for the stories collected here. Here we are calling the stories "domestic suspense" but I notice already that that term is no longer popular. I can see that is still puts fiction written by women and about women in a confining box. Anyway..

"The Heroine" by Patricia Highsmith is a spooky story about a woman hired to be a governess to two small children. It was Highsmith's first published story and it is a strong one. How often does a nanny who is doing her job at the highest level and with the most devotion scare you. This one does. Right from the outset because she has staked so much on getting this job. She doesn't want a day off or even a salary so devoted to this family does she immediately become. She decides she must prove her devotion by rescuing them from some sort of plague. You can read the story in many places online--or have it read to you. Highsmith liked to toy with how a good intention can turn bad. 

Dorothy Salisbury Davis' story "Lost Generation" is also a horror story, reminiscent of "The Lottery" in some ways. It carried a warning when it was published in Ellery Queen that it might be too horrific for some readers, but its ideas were important. A school teacher is retained by the school board despite making some political remarks that offended many of the parents of his students. The police come for him like a lynch mob and shoot him in his hallway. His small son, who has already expressed fears of things in the night, flees, leading to a chase. 

Here is a charming piece by Sarah Weinman about going to visit Ms. Davis shortly before her death. 

Jerry House

Kevin Tipple 

TracyK 

George Kelley

Monday, September 20, 2021

Monday, Monday



 I am coming up with surprisingly little to say. I saw and liked THE CARD COUNTER with Oscar Issac. This is Paul Scrader's new film and continues the themes from FIRST REFORMED.

Too soon to say what I think of SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE, which also stars Issac and Jessica Chastain. Having trouble investing myself in a number of series I have tried. HIT AND RUN for one and GONE FOR GOOD for two. Reading a movie on a TV is not much fun. My facial recognition issues require me to watch the person and not the closed captions. Sometimes the dubbing is good enough to use that but they have to at least provide them with the appropriate accent. Which is why Lupin didn't work well for me.

Instead I am watching a British show on a Portrait Painting competition. Have I lost my focus completely?

I went to see a new high rise apartment complex near me. It has some really great features but it looked like a place where everyone would be under thirty.  

This week a toilet and the garbage disposal broke. I was able to fix the disposal but had to pay to have the toilet fixed. I really don't remember having weekly repairs when Phil was here. And I know he was not handy so what's up?

Not reading anything particularly good. Although I have now read THE FRIEND three times (Nunez) Maybe I will just reread rather than read anew. Three books await me at the library. Maybe one of those will capture my attention. 

I was supposed to get to see Kevin play tennis this week but they had to forfeit because they had no bus driver and parents are not insured to transport kids to sports activities. This pandemic has cost all of us so much and still people are not getting vaccinated. The numbers are flat in Michigan. Anyone not vaccinated now, if not for medical reasons, is just plain selfish and evil.

What about you?

Friday, September 17, 2021

FFB: IN THE MORNING I'LL BE GONE


IN THE MORNING I'LL BE GONE, Adrian McKinty

This is the third book of what Adrian McKinty calls THE TROUBLES TRILOGY.  This book won the Ned Kelly Award and I enjoyed it immensely. It's a locked room murder inside a story of the "troubles." I have not read the first two books so that probably factors into a certain lack of knowledge of the character and his problems with the Royal Ulster Constabulary,

Sean Duffy has a chance for reinstatement in the local forces if he is able to find the whereabouts of an infamous IRA member. The two were childhood friends so this gives him a certain insight into the terrorist. The deal with those who can tell him Dermot's whereabouts is to solve the locked room murder of their daughter a few years back. And watching Duffy solve this crime is enjoyable. McKinty writes very clearly and yet doesn't repeat himself. It's a pleasure to be led through the clues by such a good plotter.

Also enjoyable is McKinty's use of Joseph Kennedy Jr. on a trip to Belfast. And the final scenes, which take place during Margaret Thatcher's stay in a Brighton Hotel, are exciting. I liked the style of writing and the cast of characters a lot. We get some of Duffy's life but not enough to slow the action down. I also really like the single POV in this book. It does make following a plot easier. Highly recommended for crime fiction lovers.


 Megan's Noirwich Lecture on True Crime.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

R.I.P Matt Paust

 

Thanks to Todd Mason for reporting this. I knew Matt was ill and hospitalized in the spring, but had no idea his condition deteriorated so rapidly. Here was  his blog for those who might not remember it. It is so hard to keep track of everyone nowadays. I should have recognized his absence.

So sorry to lose another special man.  Here is what Todd posted.


Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: Outside the Jurisdiction, Larry Watson


 

I finished up the stories in , JUSTICE. "Outside the Jurisdiction" is the first story in the collection but chronologically it would  be third. It explains the most about the men that four teenagers eventually became. Also it lays out why the western United States, along with the South, vote the way they do. Much like Southerners often are unable to see Black people as their equals, Westerners see Indians as not quite worthy of their respect. I am not saying this attitude doesn't infect our whole society. Likewise feelings of superiority over Asians, Arabs, Africans. Why must this be so?

Four teenage boys embark on a hunting trip. All of them have guns, knives and are carrying liquor with them. When the hunting trip is ruined by bad weather, they stumble into a town and a restaurant where two Indian girls are subjected to their racist treatment. (I am using Indian because they do. Reservation Dogs, a show on Hulu made by Indians, seems to use "Indians" consistently). One of the boys is disgusted by much of their behavior. But as the youngest, he doesn't protest it.

When the girls manage to escape, not completely unharmed, the boys prepare to leave but are stopped by the sheriff who doles out his own rough justice. However, when they return home, (where two of the boys are sons of a sheriff too) the father's only interest is in the sanctity of the family name. He says nothing about what the boys were up to. These boys, to varying degrees, will carry this attitude into adulthood, culminating in MONTANA 1948. Every story in this collection is strong and together form an novel. 

Kevin Tipple

TracyK 

George Kelley 

Jerry House 

Todd Mason 

Richard Robinson

Monday, September 13, 2021

Monday, Monday


Another difficult week. The electricity went off again. Only a day this time at least.

I had somewhat  painful minor surgery on my eyelids (not cosmetic) and not only did the surgery hurt, the cauterization because they would not stop bleeding hurt too.

Then because I threw a dozen eggs down the disposal after the power failure, I clogged my disposal. Now my bathroom tank is leaking too. Plumber tomorrow.

I did manage to snag a third Covid shot though. And I did get out to eat (outside) twice, so that was good.

Love Only Murderers in the Building. It's not brilliant but it's so comforting to see those familiar faces. And it is entertaining in an old-fashioned way. Also still enjoying Reservation Dogs and Ted Lasso. 

 Finished Justice by Larry Watson, which was just terrific. Tried Breathe by JCO but it was way too depressing for me. Reading Always Crashing in the Same Car, another non-fiction book on Hollywood.

Enjoyed The Clock on Criterion from 1945, a really good NY movie with Judy Garland and Robert Walker. Boy that Modern Love series on Amazon is awfully sad. So much easier to write a sad story than a happy one.

What about you?

Friday, September 10, 2021

THE NORWICH LECTURE 2021 today at 2.

We are delighted to welcome bestselling and award-winning US author Megan Abbott for the annual Noirwich Lecture; a rich, nuanced, and thoughtful reflection on the ethics and responsibility of the crime writer, and the need to reframe the focus in news journalism. How do we come to the beliefs we hold? Whose point of view is taking centre stage? How does crime writing feed into corrupt systems and which relationships do we need to reassess going forward?

Megan will also discuss true crime in the age of the docuseries. Netflix recently adapted her novel Dare Me, and she has recently worked with David Simon (The Wire) on HBO. Join us for a fascinating look into the current state of documentaries and the explosion in popularity of true crime.

Megan is the award-winning author of nine crime novels, including the just published The Turnout, and the bestselling You Will Know Me and Dare Me. Her work has won or been nominated for the CWA Steel Dagger, the International Thriller Writers Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and five Edgar awards. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Guardian, Paris Review and the Wall Street Journal. She is also the author of The Street Was Mine, a study of hardboiled fiction, and film noir. She received her Ph.D. in American literature from New York University. A writer on HBO’s highly acclaimed The Deuce, she recently served as co-showrunner and co-creator of Dare Me, which completed its first season on the USA Network and Netflix internationally.

Sign-up for free today and enjoy an evening in the company of one of America’s finest crime novelists, with introduction by Henry Sutton and live Q&A – all from the comfort of home.

‘There is not a writer alive who is better at investigating the tension and threat of violence at the centre of women’s lives than Megan Abbott’ — Attica Locke, author of Bluebird, Bluebird and Heaven, My Home

‘Abbott is a legend for good reason. No one combines the style of classic noir with the psyches of sophisticated men and women who are willing to do anything — anything — to succeed better than Abbott.’ — The Washington Post 

‘Megan Abbott manages to be a master of suspense, a gifted literary novelist, and a brilliant voice on gender, power and obsession, all at once.’ — J. Courtney Sullivan, bestselling author of Saints for All Occasions and Maine

Part of Noirwich Crime Writing Festival

Noirwich Crime Writing Festival

Image (c) Drew Reilly

Add to calendar
Add to Calendar





 

FFB: From the blog of Ron Scheer (2010)

 

Reading as much as I have about the West through the novels of Larry Watson, I was reminded of our friend, Ron Scheer, and his love of westerns. Here is one of his blog posts. 

 

Mollie Davis, The Wire-Cutters (1899)

1997 edition by Texas A&M Press

It has been argued that The Wire-Cutters by Mollie Evelyn Moore Davis (1844-1909) was the first western novel. It predates Owen Wister’s The Virginian by three years. Much of it is set during a range war that erupted in West Texas in the 1880s with the introduction of barbed wire fences across open range. It was written by a writer who knew West Texas from having lived there.

But it’s a western without cowboys. The hero rides a horse and is a frontier settler with some cattle, but his main cash crops are cotton and pecans. Also, a third of the novel takes place in the Deep South, beginning and ending with a heavy serving of melodrama. Looking for an authentic cowboy novel that predates The Virginian, a reader would do well to consider Wister’s own Lin McLean (1897).  

Plot. The central character, Leroy Hilliard, does not know that he was born to a wealthy Louisiana plantation owner and his wife. Because he bears a mysterious resemblance to his mother’s divorced first husband, she has her second husband get rid of the boy. Without her knowledge, he is adopted by a high-ranking Confederate officer, whom he comes to believe is his actual father. In fact, the man is her much loathed first husband.

Years pass and the now grown-up Hilliard goes to West Texas, where he has bought a farm. When barbwire fences begin cropping up across the countryside and preventing open range cattle from getting to water, he’s among the first to oppose them. But the arrival of a rich, idle, unscrupulous young man, Alan Deerford, stirs up trouble for him. When Hilliard declines to disturb fences that have been erected legally, Deerford leads the local young men on nighttime raids of more wire cutting.

Deerford has a bad influence on an impressionable younger man, Jack, who was once Hilliard’s best friend. Jack goes missing and foul play is feared. In time, his body is found with Deerford’s knife through his heart, and Deerford has disappeared. Meanwhile, the gang of young wire-cutters is jailed for their mischief.

Hilliard magnanimously comes to their defense, acting as their attorney at the trial. After an impassioned plea, he gets a not guilty decision from the jury. He then pursues Deerford to bring him to justice and finds him at the Louisiana plantation where the story started and a cascade of revelations awaits both men.

Romance. Intertwined with the tangled plot of the two men is a romance in which they are rivals for the hand of the same woman, the pretty Helen Wingate. She has come west from Kentucky as a guest of a schoolmate, Margaret Ransome, who is Hilliard’s close friend.

He is instantly taken with Helen. But he soon realizes that Deerford intends her to be his wife as well. We don’t know until well into the novel that Helen does not love Deerford and accepts his attentions only out of a mixture of fear and politeness. As she abruptly leaves to return home, Hilliard is pleased to learn that she is quite fond of him and will happily entertain a proposal of marriage. But in an impulsive moment, she marries Deerford, who is one step ahead of the law, and sails off with him to Europe.

Hilliard’s friend Margaret has much more to commend her as a wife and soul mate. She is brave, thoughtful, attentive to the needs of others. You don’t have to read deeply between the lines to see that she loves Hilliard. We keep expecting him to realize this, but there is little to indicate at novel’s end that he and Margaret are destined to be together.

Character. Settling in Texas, Hilliard is good humored and shows his grit by never complaining. His neighbors quickly warm to him as he shows himself able to “straddle a horse and shoot a rifle, sleep on the ground in camp,” and join the men in talk about politics (pp. 92-93). At social gatherings, he catches the eye of the women, who find him to be a good dancer and candy-puller.

He stands out as a principled man by comparison with most of the other men of the community, whose ethics are flexible. He respects the law and does the right thing, though it means the loss his popularity. He becomes an honorable man with few friends.

Style. The Wire-Cutters is an interesting example of a hybrid novel, mixing plantation and western themes. On the one hand is an ante-bellum sensibility, with a refined Southern aristocracy and its “negro” retainers. On the other is the egalitarian spirit of the frontier. Each world gets its own style of storytelling. 

The plantation chapters have a sunny, dewy, perfumed exterior, but dark passions seethe under the surface. A young and unhappy wife takes a knife to a portrait of her husband, slashing his image across the cheek. An image of this same slash shows up as a birthmark on her first son’s face. Southern gothic comes to mind.

The Texas chapters are sharply realistic, with dusty roads, blistering heat and blue northers, dying cattle on the open ranges. The social fabric is richly detailed, the country folk often comically portrayed.

One example: Between services at Sunday church gathering, the men group outdoors on one side of the church and the women on another. The girls studiously avoid eye contact with the eligible bachelors, who wait until leaving time to race after them on their horses and ride along next to them.

Wrapping up. Davis was born in Alabama. From 1855, her family lived in Texas, and she earned a reputation as a poet. Marriage took her to New Orleans in 1879, where her husband was editor of the New Orleans Picayune. A prominent figure in literary circles there, she later became a newspaper editor herself, while continuing to write fiction and poetry.

The Wire-Cutters was preceded by Under the Man-fig (1895), a novel set in a Texas river town on the Brazos. It is a romanticized account of plantation life during the years before, during, and after the Civil War. A collection of short stories, An Elephant’s Trunk (1897) included titles previously published in Atlantic and Harper’s. The same year saw her history of Texas, Under Six Flags.

 

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Sorry. My electricity was out again! I will get the links up and questions answered soon.

 I feel like I am roaming the earth with these outages. No car, no gas stove, it ain't easy.

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: Stories from Justice, Larry Watson


 

This has been sitting on my bookshelf for years and I didn't realize it was a collection of short stories, nor did I realize they were linked and leading up to Montana 1948. I have read two of the seven stories so far. The first entitled "Julian Hayden" tells the story of a very young man who pulls up stakes and moves with his mother to Montana because land is cheap and he is not thriving in Iowa. He leaves his sister behind because he doesn't feel she is up to frontier life. He makes arrangements with a minister that his sister will tutor his daughters but will not do any manual labor. Guess what? The ending is surprising and somewhat violent. The second story, "Enid Garling", tells the story of Julian's marriage. 

I like Watson's writing so much. He is direct and seldom uses an unnecessary word. I don 't know why I am so drawn to stories set in the West but I am. Perhaps this is the style of writing I read most as a kid. 

TracyK

Todd Mason

George Kelley 

First Wednesday BooK Review: BRING YOUR BAGGAGE AND DON'T PACK LIGHT, Helen Ellis

 


Books of humorous essays don't always work for me because my funny bone and the author's might be different. I am not a big fan of blue humor, for instance, and walked out of a comedy club once for that reason. I also prefer a writer that makes fun of herself and her life rather than other people's lives.

Helen Ellis, although a generation younger than me, captures most of the absurdities of female life in the early 21st century. These essays look at cosmetic surgery, menopause, childbirth, female camaraderie, garage sales, aging parents, marriage, being a non-driver, playing poker. I found them well-written, well-observed and kind. Highly recommended. 

For more First Wednesday Book Reviews, see Barrie Summy's website.

Monday, September 06, 2021

Monday, Monday

 


Watched PIG with Nicholas Cage, the story of a hermet who hunts for trifles with his pet pig. When the pig is kidnapped, he leaves the woods of Oregon to track him down. It was actually pretty good. Cage played it as quietly as you would hope. Also watched It Should Happen To You with Judy Holliday and Jack Lemon, which was fun. Lemon's first movie and he is terrific. He had to have had one of the most distinct acting styles and voices. _Favorite Jack Lemmon movie? Mine is The Apartment although The Odd Couple is a close second.

Also finished POST MORTEM, a Norwegian vampire story, which was disappointing in the end. Very hard to combine a police procedural, with a horror story, and a comedy. The dubbing was terrific though. Such a relief not to have to read a movie. Also enjoy the low-keyed Mr. Corman, about an elementary teacher (Apple TV)

Listened to bits of the Detroit Jazz Festival, which is virtual and live this year. 

Reading John D. Macdonald's THE LAST ONE LEFT, which is a standalone. George Pelecanos and Megan are developing it for HBO. Also reading THE VERY NICE BOX, which seems a lot like Eleanor Oliphant so far. And Steve was right. CRASHING IN THE SAME CAR by Mathew Spector is terrific.

Saw Josh, Julie and Kevin. Kevin loves his new high school and his favorite class is music theory. He is doing well with tennis and I hope to see him play soon. Is there anything better than seeing a kid love to go to school. His school has devoted teachers and students. It's very small and has only modest classrooms and equipment but real learning can take place when everyone's goal is for that to take place. They are reading Shakespeare and Euripedes. He is also enjoying microeconomics.

My friend and I tried to haul 12 bags of books to a charity sale but it was closed. I am purging books like the blood in POST MORTEM. Went out to dinner (patio) on Friday, but inside a huge wedding was superspreading germs. I think we are never going to be done with this based on what I have seen over the last week. Hope things are safer where you are. 

Your turn.

Friday, September 03, 2021

FFB: Let Him Go: Larry Watson


(from the archives)

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, the grandmother 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 and some of the most beautiful prose you will ever read. I liked it almost as much as MONTANA: 1948, making it still one of my favorite books. Oh, to write like Mr. Watson.  

This is a movie now with Kevin Costner and Diane Lane. Pretty good one for me. 

 

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: CATASROPHE and other stories, Dino Buzzati

Tonight Megan and Laura Lippman will be talking crime fiction at 6pm Central Time (7 eastern) through Square Books for anyone interested. You can watch it on youtube or facebook live. Here's a link.


Someone mentioned this on here a few weeks ago and my library kindly found it for me. I am not sure reading these stories, which all have absurd or indefinite endings, one after the other is the best way to read them So I have read four and now I will read one a day until I finish. 

Kevin Brockmeier wrote the preface and talks about running this book down after years of looking for it. 

And in a sense, I should not tell you about these stories at all because they are very short and hard to encapsulate without ruining the mood. So let me say this. They are set in European cities/countries. There is the threat of violence, although often ridiculous violence, in all of them. They seem like an episode of the Twilight Zone if the writer evoked a more European sort of landscape. And he is perhaps a bit more sophisticated although I haven't read the TZ episodes in a story format. Here is one line from "The Alarming Revenge of a Domestic Pet." 

"...it looked more like a bat than all the bats I've ever seen put together."


Kevin Tipple

TracyK 

George Kelley 

Todd Mason

Monday, August 30, 2021

Monday, Monday

 


I have probably seen THE LONG GOODBYE before now but perhaps not because Phil never could stand Elliott Gould. He thought he was a bad actor and didn't really try to be a good one. I am not sure that is the case, but I found a rewatch of this movie somewhat puzzling. It was beautifully filmed, directed and the theme song, which they played constantly, was haunting. I have now read a few reviews and understand this was meant to be a seventies-style version of the forties novel. And I am going to have to read the novel to see if Marlowe was meant to be so laconic and bumbling. I found the casting of Jim Bouton odd. Well, indeed most of the casting was odd. So I have to assume Altman was saying something with that too. It certainly had one of the most violent scenes I have ever watched. Not sure what to make of it. 

Started a new series KATLA, which I kind of like. Finished up THE CHAIR. Will six half-hour episodes stay with me? I doubt it. Not sure what to make of TED LASSO this year. Is it now going to be tragic? I am fearful. 

Reading Sigrid Numez' book on Susan Sontag and just finished BRING YOUR BAGGAGE (Ellis) which is a delightful collection of essays. 

I found out I had COVID when I was in Florida in March 2020. I was quite sick, but at the time the hospital said it was a flu. It doesn't do me any good now because those antibodies that showed up last summer in blood work would be gone now. So I wait for the booster like all of you.

So what's new with you guys?

Friday, August 27, 2021

FFB: THE LOCKED ROOM, Sjowall and Wahloo

 


If there is one setup that always catches my attention in crime fiction, it is the locked room mystery. John Dickson Carr was undoubtedly the master and I read every one of his books many years ago (and also the ones writter under Carter Dickson).

One of my favorite locked room murders, because I am such a Martin Beck fan, is THE LOCKED ROOM. by
In one part of town, a woman robs a bank. In another, a corpse is found shot through the heart in a room locked from within with no firearm in sight. Although the two incidents appear unrelated, Detective Inspector Martin Beck believes otherwise, and solving the mystery acquires the utmost importance. I am not sure this one would rank with the greats but setting and character rate high with me.And this, of course, is from one of the greatest series ever.

What are some other great ones?  Locked room mysteries, that is.