Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "Coda" Tessa Hadley from the August 2, 2021 issue of THE NEW YORKER

 


I have always enjoyed Tessa Hadley stories. Nothing much happens in them, but her writing is terrific and I am always impressed with how acutely she observes people. She is especially adroit at depicting family relationships. This one is no exception.

A mother (92) and her sixty-something daughter have holed up together during Covid quarantine in the UK. Of course, we immediately sympathize with the daughter who has had the care of her mother thrust upon her. But as the story unwinds, the mother has had an exciting life with three husbands, multiple houses, trips to Europe, etc. And the daughter has lost her husband, her job and is casting about for a purpose, a new beginning if that is possible. She spends much of her time watching the caretaker of the elderly man next door, and actually claims to be her mother's caretaker rather than her daughter. These characters are drawn so well, you feel they must live next door to you. 

Sometimes I wonder why I enjoy stories like this so much. Am I looking to find myself in the characters I read about instead of escaping into a story about something else entirely. What about you?

Monday, August 02, 2021

Monday, Monday


 If this wasn't so high on the wall, I would have gotten a better photo of it but it's in celebration of THE TURNOUT debuting today. It's a signed print by William Gropper. I have four, which I got in an antique store years ago. Gropper did a lot of satirical political work but also a lot involving performance. Anyway congratulations to Megan on her 10th novel. This one is about a down- on- its-  heels ballet school, hence the dance picture. So far the reviews are very good.

A very unsettling week here in Michigan for sure. It's getting harder to believe we will ever be out of  Covid Days or the attempt to overthrow our Democracy. Or the horrific weather events.

Watching THE SINNER series, which I didn't catch on USA originally. I really think Bill Pullman is terrific in it. Enjoying TED LASSO (Apple). Still haven't decided about THE WHITE LOTUS (HBO). I don't think I am in the right frame of mind for a show about totally horrible people. Watched a movie called THE BEAST, which was compelling if unsettling too. I was trying to rewatch QUIZ SHOW last night but Prime kept going out. I can't watch any of the Olympics because my cable box is still out.

Read THE SILENT PATIENT and found it played a bit unfair. It kept me turning the pages though although I can't exactly say why.

I am gradually getting used to my hearing aids. But although I know it's not true, it seems like my hearing is getting worse since I have been wearing them. 

Three things to be thankful for: 

We've been having some lovely days, here and there. 

I lost eight pounds.

My library is open and I can get books more easily. I have never walked into a library without feeling better.

How's things in CA, NY, FL, MI, WI, TX, and elsewhere?

Friday, July 30, 2021


 THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG, Muriel Barbery (from the archives)

This novel, a selection of my reading group, at first put me off. Who wants to read, or in my case listen, to the philosophical ramblings of a 54 year old French concierge and a rich 12 year old suicidal child in a Paris apartment building. But perhaps because I listened to rather than read this book, I soon became engaged with it. On vacation in Paris several years ago, I was also seduced by the setting.

Renee Michel, a fifty-four-year-old woman of humble origins, is concierge in a Parisian apartment building. Renee quit school at age twelve, but throughout her life she has studied philosophy, literature, film and art. She hides her intelligence from the residents of her building. She puts on the mantle of the grumpy, unintelligent concierge for reasons that become clear over time.

Also we hear the diary of Paloma Josse, a twelve-year-old who also lives in the apartment building. Like Renee, Paloma pretends to be average so as to be ignored--to be left alone. Paloma plans to commit suicide on her thirteenth birthday. She sees no reason to continue life with her rich, uninterested family. If her fate is to become like them, she'd sooner die.

Thus the lives of Renee and Paloma are similar and we wait for them to discover this. We wait for them to find and save each other.

One day, Kakuro Ozu, a Japanese businessman, moves in. Both women find their salvation in his interest in them and eventually each other. They create their own salon.

This book won me over due to the acerbic, uncompromising nature of both women. And yet, beneath their cynicism lie hearts eager to be won. Madame Michel asks herself, "What is the purpose of intelligence if it is not to serve others?" If only we all could embrace this sentiment.

Again, this is not an easy book to sink into. But don't be put off by her philosophizing. She's worth your perseverance.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: " The Pilgrimage" William Maxwell.


 

William Keepers Maxwell Jr. (August 16, 1908 – July 31, 2000) was an American editor, novelist, short story writer, essayist, children's author, and memoirist. He served as a fiction editor at The New Yorker from 1936 to 1975. An editor devoted to his writers, Maxwell became a legendary mentor and confidant to many of the most prominent authors of his day. Although best known as an editor, Maxwell was a highly respected and award-winning novelist and short story writer. His stature as a celebrated author has grown in the years following his death. 

"The Pilgrimage" almost certainly is a story based on something experienced or something heard by Maxwell. It gets so much right about tired tourists on the road. The Ormsby's are an American couple touring France. On the way to Paris, they make a detour to find a restaurant that friends have told them about, saying "it was the best dinner they had in their life" How can the couple not have dinner at a place that specialized in truffles and also " deserts made from little balls of various ice cream in a beautiful basket of spun sugar with a spun-sugar bow." 

They drive through village after village and finally come on a place that seems right except the menu has neither of the dishes they are seeking. And neither does another place on the town square. They are completely obsessed with having the things they were told about and act in the way Americans are always accused of acting. 

This is a satirical story, of course, meant to point out the problems with tourists in foreign settings. Maxwell is a master of this sort of story. And I can't say enough about the quality of his novels. especially TIME WILL DARKEN IT, THE FOLDED LEAF and SO LONG, SEE YOU TOMORROW. 

TracyK

George Kelley 

Richard Robinson 

Jerry House 

Todd Mason

Monday, July 26, 2021

Monday, Monday

I am working with a new computer here and I have not figured everything out yet. So much faster though. 


So happy to see TED LASSO again. And the first episode was just as good as last year's series. It doesn't always work out that way. I am watching the original Belgian version of PROFESSOR T, which is a bit too much MONK for me. I liked MONK, but I don't need another version. The UK one looked worse. 

In the middle of THE BEAST MUST DIE on AMC and too soon to tell but I loved Nicholas Blake books when I read them 50 years ago. Also not sure about WHITE LOTUS yet although the second episode seemed better than the first. 

The movie mentioned above is Hungarian and was so interesting. It is available on several platforms and worth your time if you like a puzzle. 

Lots of horrible rain, really driving downpours and one of them knocked out my cable box. Will Comcast try to charge me to fix/replace it. If they do, goodbye I think. Maybe I can get along with just my Roku and WIFI. 

We people who got our vaccines six months ago now have to be careful. It seems to wane about now and several people I know have had breakthrough cases, and not so asymptomatic. B.V. Lawson has had it twice not. Once before and once after the vaccines, despite wearing masks. All of this could have been avoided it everyone had vaxed up. 

No books to report. I pick them  up, read 50 pages and put them down. It is probably just me. 

So what's new with you?

Friday, July 23, 2021

Friday's Forgotten Books: Max Perkins, Editor of Genius, A. Scott Berg


Richard S. Wheeler was the author of sixty-nine contracted or published novels that largely dealt with the American West. This include historical novels, biographical novels, and traditional western fiction. In recent years he wrote mysteries, including some set in the upper Midwest, under the pseudonym Axel Brand. 
This review is from 2009. Richard Wheeler died a few years back. A lovely man.

Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, by A. Scott Berg

I've finished rereading Scott Berg's great biography of Maxwell Perkins, which won the National Book Award in 1978. It is a massive book and took a week to get through. I've often wondered why it is my favorite book, and why I return to it with renewed thirst and joy, every little while.

For a long time, I thought it was because I had been a book editor and found common ground with Perkins. Or perhaps it was because my family is rooted in New England, though I grew up in the Midwest. There was something in Max Perkins' shy, awkward, introspective nature that rang bells in me.

The truth of it is that I have no idea why that book stands above all others in that place of the heart where I build altars. It is largely a description of the way Perkins, a Scribners editor, nurtured several wayward authors and the result was the most sublime period in American literary history. The list of those he encouraged and published is too long for this posting, but they include Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Ring Lardner, Edmund Wilson, Erskine Caldwell, Sherwood Anderson, John P. Marquand, S. S. Van Dine, Taylor Caldwell, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Alan Paton, and James Jones. No other editor has even come close to discovering and publishing a list like that.

Scott Berg writes tenderly. He had his hands full, because of the acrimony, the disappointments, the bitterness, the craziness, the hurt, that he was chronicling. Somehow Perkins managed to nurture each of his authors, supplied the specific criticisms that lifted their books to new heights, all the while trying to remain anonymous because he felt that editors should not take credit or be known to the public. He often said that a book belongs to the author, and it is the editor's task simply to bring out the best in the author and the book.

This great work by Berg shaped me. It deeply affected how I think about literature. It changed what I aspire to in my writing. I am not the same person I was before this book entered the place of honor on my shelf. I lost my father, whom I loved and admired, when I was young. All those authors he nurtured lost a father when Max Perkins died.

 

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Short Story Wednesday

 

 (Thanks to Steve O. for the loan of the collection Perchance to Dream)

 "Father, Dear Father," Charles Beaumont

Time is the only thing that really interests Mr. Pollet and not so much what happened in the past or what will happen in the future but how alteration of time will affect  him. He builds a time machine and after many attempts gets it to work and he travels back in time to the days before his conception. His father died when he was four and he is curious to see what would happen if he'd never been born. So he walks the streets of the town of his birth, finds the house he grew up in, and murders his father and nothing changes. Can you guess why? 

This is a bit of a gimmick, but at its short length and nice writing, I think it worked reasonably well. It's all too familiar though to read about a guy whose only interest is in how time affects him. He could travel to any time and witness historic events but he is satisfied with only traveling to a small town in Ohio and murdering a man whose only sin (supposedly) lay in conceiving a son who is a narcissist and a murderer. 


I will be tied up most of the day with various appointments so forgive me if I don't get to look at your choices until tomorrow.

 Jerry House

Kevin Tipple
Steve Lewis

 TracyK

George Kelley 

Richard Robinson

Monday, July 19, 2021

Monday Monday

I watched THE NUTTY PROFESSOR Friday night and I'm sad to admit, I find little to like in this film. My daughter is a Jerry Lewis fan and I'm sorry not to share her enthusiasm. It is possible I was poisoned by my mother who really disliked him and said so many times throughout my childhood. She thought he was making fun of mentally challenged people in almost every film and I have to say it comes off like that to me too. What about you?

Enjoying The Unforgotten a lot. Trying not to speed through it too fast and yet not to drag it out either. I have friends that are going to movies but most are not. I would like to see the Anthony Bourdain one but I know he is not to everyone's taste. I always found him interesting and smart although probably not a guy I would like if I knew him.

Reading You, Again although I haven't gotten far. It's got a great premise. I won't spoil it.

Lots of rain here. Friday was horrible. I thought for sure it would surge inside my house. Not having a basement makes it less likely but not having a basement means it would immediately ruin upstairs furniture rather than basement furniture. I certainly wouldn't keep anything in a basement anymore. Attics will be mandatory on houses soon.


So what's up in your neighborhood?


Friday, July 16, 2021

FFB: Brewster, Mark Slouka


Mark Slouka's BREWSTER takes place in the blue-collar town of Brewster, NY in 1968. But 1968 was very different for blue-collar teenagers in a blue-collar town than for those slightly older at that time and of more means. Only gradually does the outer world work its way into the story of four kids in upstate New York.

Its the inner world that Slouka is concerned with here anyway. It's the past, not the present, that has a enormous affect on these lives.

Jon Mosher has always felt like an outsider in his town because of his parents’ roots as German-Jewish émigrés and the accidental death of his older brother. The death of his brother has destroyed his family and especially his mother, who like the mother in ORDINARY PEOPLE seems to hold him responsible for being the one who survived. Spending your life dodging your mother's disdain for you takes its toll.

He begins to run track on his high-school team and becomes friends with Frank Krapinski, a Christian and talented athlete; volatile Ray Cappiciano, who comes to school bearing the bruises of constant fistfights; and Karen Dorsey, who falls for Ray.

Ray’s alcoholic father, a WWII veteran possessed of a raging temper takes an interest in Jon. And Jon's damaged mother has a fondness for Ray, confounding both boys.

The four teens bond in their desire to leave their damaged lives and working class town behind. It is only gradually they see that you can never leave the past behind. This book is especially about the solace, the support, and the gift of friendship and loyalty among teens who feel they are powerless.

This was a hard book to read in many ways and it is certainly more noir than more books touted as noir.  But every moment felt real. Highly recommended. 

 

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: Balloon Night, Tom Barbash

 



And you can read it here. 

This is a story I have read many times. Part of its success is the terrific setting, Barbash came up with. It is balloon night on the upperwest side and the story takes place in an apartment on the street where the floats and balloons are prepared for the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. I was in New York and very close to the street in question two years ago, but too timid to venture there alone. And from the story, it looks like the block is pretty well guarded.

Anyway, Timkin and his wife, Amy, give a party on this night every year and so do a lot of the people living on this street. People wander from party to party, getting drunker and drunker as they celebrate the preparations going on below.  This year however, Timkin is alone after a fight with his wife. He doesn't want anyone to know so the party goes on with him fielding questions about where Amy might be. He drifts in and out of his own party, sometimes watching it from the street. At one point a friend says that the only reason Amy married him was for the location of the apartment. 

I guess for a lot of people this story would be like a Seinfeld episode (and there was one about this street) where nothing much happens. But to me, the author gets across both the pomposity, the ennui and the sadness of this man. We never know what his fight was about and yet we know very well. 

Kevin Tipple

Jerry House 

TracyK 

George Kelley 

Richard Robinson 

Todd Mason

Monday, July 12, 2021

Monday, Monday

Wow, this weather is getting on my nerves. Too many days are either too hot or too rainy. And summer is half over with winter weather looming ahead. I booked a cottage in La Jolla for a month. Did I tell you that? Hoping it works out. At least I can cancel until January 1 if circumstances dictate it.


Reading The Damage by Caitlin Wahrer and assorted short stories. 

Hanging onto the last Bosch, I will miss it. Also watching The Great Pottery Throw down, which never fails to relax me. Looking forward to Unforgotten tonight on PBS. And The White Lotus on HBO. 

Two movies on TV this week. Shiva Baby and a rewatch of Homicide. Criterion has 20 neo-noirs on this month.



I continue to pay too much for cable television. I only use streaming channels almost all of the time so I know I need to cut the cord, but it's complicated, isn't it? I need someone to guide me with the scissors. After going through a lengthy process to install a new modem/router (which Comcast insisted I could easily do--not true at all),  my old computer cannot find the new name and password. Do I buy a new computer or install a Mac of Phil's that is also old and I have never used Macs. Do I stick with Comcast or move over to Wow or At& T? Is there someone you can hire to lead you through this? (I bought a new computer)

In another piece of bad news, my good friend, who was vaccinated with me back in February, has Covid. She got the antibody infusion but still hasn't fully recovered. Less than 1% of the vaccinated have had this happen so what a piece of bad luck. And I know no one more careful than she has been. 

I get hearing aids tomorrow. I hope I can adjust to them. Biden spoke of having cheaper ones available, but my hearing has been waiting too long already for help. The tinnitus is driving me crazy. 




So what's new in your world?

Friday, July 09, 2021

FFB: THE JOURNALIST AND THE MURDERER, Janet Malcolm


''Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people's vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse.''

I may have read this book years ago, but with Janet Malcolm's death, I decided to read it again. Or listen to it. Malcolm wrote books on many subject, but this one looks at Joe McGinnis' book about Jeffrey McDonald and the death of his wife and children (FATAL VISION). This was a huge murder case and a very popular look at it. What interests Malcolm is whether or not McGinnis took advantage of his relationship with McDonald and his defense team to crucify him. Or was it something that happened over the course of the case. Was it fraud? Can a journalist be an objective onlooker or is it likely they will either believe too much or not at all. And either position will affect their work. Does a journalist like McGinnis frame the story in a way that will sell books? So many questions to ask here.

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "Brownies" Z.Z. Packer


This is another story from the collection above. This one is about a Brownie Troop on an overnight trip. The girls are Black and one of them overhears a White girl from another group referring to them by the "N" word. (Just can't type it). The girls decide they will find the girls from this troop and fight them to regain their self-respect. Of course, when they do the White girls have their own stigma to reckon with. This is a clever story, beautifully written and very surprising. 

If I had one quibble it would be that the girls think and speak more intelligently than I would have at 8 or 9 years old. This is always something of a problem with stories written about children. Do you want to have them speak like children really do or do you want to articulate a more mature thinking process that may come later? I vote for the latter. 

I have my own story about Brownies. Maybe I can try to write it although it certainly can't compare to this excellent one.

Kevin Tipple

Jerry House 

TracyK 

George Kelley

Sunday, July 04, 2021

Friday, July 02, 2021

FFB CANADA, Richard Ford

 CANADA, Richard Ford.

I am a big Richard Ford fan. Loved his trilogy about Frank Bascombe beginning with THE SPORTS WRITER. Love his short stories.

CANADA may be his most brilliant work. It is certainly a sharp turn north. The North American experience, the life on the western plains, has never seemed more eloquent.


Dell and Berner Parsons are fraternal twins being raised in Montana. When things get tight, their parents rob a bank. This information comes from the first lines of the novel.

"First I'll tell you about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later. The robbery is the more important part, since it served to set my and my sister's lives on the courses they eventually followed."

And it is this event that drives the first half of the book if not all of it. You may think Dell's parents are kindred souls, but in fact their marriage is awful in the way marriages born of bad decisions were in 1960. But Dell's parents, in a severe economic crisis, rob a bank, and come home to almost immediate imprisonment.

Dell is sent to stay with a remote Canadian relative in Saskatchewan and his sister takes off for virtually the remainder of the novel. Dell is put in the care of Arthur Remlinger, a remote, strange man who basically ignores him with the idea he is teaching him survival skills.

The final part of the book hooks the siblings up fifty years later, but again it is not a happy reunion. These two were doomed from the moment of their birth.

This is a sad book, a strange one. But the experience of Dell is one we want to hear. The writing is exquisite: rough-hewed at times, velvety at others. I highly recommend it to readers who like good writing and are patient with plot.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank" Nathan Englander

 

Here's a link to THE NEW YORKER publication of the story. 

This is one of the stories collected in the 2015 100 Years of Best American Short Stories, edited by Lorrie Moore. The first story in this collection was written by Edna Ferber in 1915 and the last by Lauren Grof in 2015.

I have read this story before, probably in The New Yorker, which I have subscribed to for 50 years.  Sadly I don't always read the stories now but you if you subscribe you can read most of them in their archives. Also some of them are read aloud.

Two Jewish couples meet in Miami after many years. The two women were childhood friends. One couple lives in Israrel now and is ultra-orthodox and has a family of twelve children. The other is secular and has one child. A lot of the conversation is over this chasm. Can you be a Jew and not religious? Can you be a cultural Jew? The more secular woman though is obsessed with the Holocaust and is always thinking of how they can hide if they need to. The four play a game, deciding who would hide them if they needed hiding. It ends with one woman deciding her husband might not hide her if she wasn't a Jew. (They call the game the Anne Frank game).

There are lots of great things about this story. It is not often in stories that people discuss real issues rather than relationship issues or family issues. I also found it interesting to contrast how evangelical Christians are so much the same and yet so different from religious Jews. This foursome is drinking and smoking pot, which would never happen with evangelicals that I have known. All of the dialog is expertly written and their behavior was consistent with how real people act.

I have read four stories in this collection and this was my favorite. I have read many of the other stories before but will probably read them again. 

Kevin Tipple

Jerry House 

TracyK

George Kelley 

Monday, June 28, 2021

Monday, Monday

We have had some torrential rain here over the weekend. Lots of houses in my old neighborhood near Lake St Clair were flooded. This is an area that does not suffer from this normally. Seven inches in a few hours tests most basements. It looks like a failure in a pumping station that did it.


Sad also that the mall my kids grew up hanging out at, is being demolished. They built Eastland Mall shortly after we arrived in the Detroit area and it was a lovely mall at one point. Although it's been on a downward slide for 20 years. There is really only one mall left that attracts crowds and that, of course, is a very upscale one.


Listening to a biography of Carrie Fisher by Sheila Weller via Hoopla. Reading Jeff's recommendation of the Best Short Stories of the Century, which I am enjoying except for holding the huge book in my hands. This would have been a good choice for Kindle. Also reading Lawrence Block's new book A Writer Prepares and The Return for my book group. 

Watching on Apple TV: 1971: THE YEAR THAT MUSIC CHANGED EVERYTHING. Lots of new footage of the musicians and the times. First episode contrasted John Lennon and Marvin Gaye. I think there are 8 episodes.

Of course, I started BOSCH. He does have a way of finding sad girl cases. 

I had a dinner party Friday, which was difficult. Buying the food. figuring out what to make, cooking the food, setting the table, cleaning up. I'd forgotten how much difference a second person (Phil) made in doing this. However, this was two couples who have stuck by me since Phil's death and through the pandemic, had me over for meals, took me out, kept in touch so I really wanted to reciprocate in a personal way.

Plus it was in the middle of that torrential rainstorm so we were all worried about them getting home safely..

However, from now I'll take folks out.

Anyway, what about you guys?

Friday, June 25, 2021

FFB Die A Little, Megan Abbott

https://youtu.be/gMEZLMTrh70

FFB THE RULES OF THE GAME, Georges Simenon

 THE RULES OF THE GAME by Georges Simenon 

Nobody writes a better review than Deb 

(Review by Deb)
If you handed this book to someone without telling them it was written by Georges Simenon, I think they would guess it was written by John O'Hara or John Marquand or one of the other mid-century American writers who focused on the interior lives of middle-class men reaching roadblocks in their attempts to navigate the social structures of their suburban worlds.  Certainly, a reader would not guess that this book was written by the creator of that quintessential Frenchman, Inspector Maigret.

Published in 1955 and written during a period when Simenon lived (and wrote several books set) in America, THE RULES OF THE GAME concerns a few pivotal days in the life of Walter Higgins, the manager of a large grocery store in Williamson, a prosperous Connecticut suburb.  For the second year in a row, Walter has applied to join the local country club.  The previous year, he was black-balled; this year, assures the friend who sponsors him, he is a shoo-in for membership.  To Walter, membership in the country club means he has arrived, that he is part of the group that runs things in Williamson, that his Little League coaching, regular church attendance, membership in the Rotary Club and VFW (he served in WWII), and volunteer work with the school board has been noticed and rewarded.  It also means he can let go of the memories of his difficult childhood in the rough, working-class town of Old Bridge.

But again Walter is black-balled and this time his life comes tumbling down with the imploding of his expectations. Despite the support of his wife and perceptive oldest daughter, Walter cannot adjust to the notion that people who control the admissions process do not think he is "worthy" of country club membership.  The scales have fallen from his eyes and at last he sees the social strata of Williamson and his place in it.  He realizes that everyone plays a game in this social interaction, but that he has failed to understand the rules (or even be aware that a game is being played). 

This new awareness leads Walter to a brave act: Supporting a proposal to raise local property taxes in order to build a new school that will accommodate the town's growing population.  There are some remarkably timely exchanges at the school board meeting (or perhaps it's just a case of "the more things change, the more they stay the same") where the town's wealthiest citizens (and their proxies) complain that the increase in taxes will hurt them the most, even though they have recently been willing to pay much more to erect a new building at the country club; while people on the other side of the issue claim that the new schools are necessary to produce the sort of educated workforce needed by the wealthy to run their factories and other enterprises.

Worried that his support of a tax increase will cause upper-class customers to stop patronizing his supermarket, Walter spends a morning at work in a state of near paranoia, fretting over every person who does (and does not) come in to shop.  Then a phone call summoning him back to Old Bridge leads Walter to confront his past and experience a "dark night of the soul."  The ending is, paradoxically, both happier and more cynical than we would expect from an American writer covering the same material.  We have a sense that Walter will now be better able to function in the society he has chosen, but we do not know what the price of playing the game will be for him and his family.

 

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: 'Motherless Son' Elizabeth Strout

Elizabath Strout won the Pulitizer Prize for her collection of stories, Olive Kitteridge. Frances McDormand memorably played the character in an HBO series. It is hard to read the stories now with out picturing McDormand in the part.

'Motherless Son', which appeared in the New Yorker in August 2019, is from a second collection, Olive Again. Olive is often, in fact usually, not very likable. She reminds me of someone who was given the wrong playbook when they embarked on life. And this story is very much in that vein.

Olive's son and his young family come to visit. Past visits have not gone well. Olive is not an easy person under the best of circumstances and despite observing how other families function seems unable to behave that way herself. She only has a gift for the child her son has fathered (he has two stepchildren). She doesn't buy the Cheerios he asked her to have, she seems pretty ill-prepared for one visitor, let alone six. She is repulsed by her daughter's breast-feeding. She makes no attempt to engage with anyone other than her son and his sired child.

Olive wants to tell her son that she is remarrying, but has not prepared him at all for this. He notices the house is emptying out, but still doesn't put it together. When he behaves like she might have done with her intended, she sees the parallels. She has raised a motherless child. 

As in most stories about Olive there are moments when she is kind (she finds out her daughter-in-law is grieving and comforts her) and you wonder if this is the beginning of her understanding how to change, but she is never able to sustain it. She hears her son call her a narcissist and, of course, she is. But not in a Trumpian way but rather in a way where she is rarely able to step outside her own point of view. 

Spending time with Olive is not for everyone, of course. But I always get insights from Strout's writing.

Kevin Tipple

Jerry House 

George Kelley

Monday, June 21, 2021

Monday, Monday





Loved IN THE HEIGHTS. Maybe a bit dated and a bit predictable. But I also think it is unfair to criticize Miranda for not having a Black enough cast. It's his memory of the neighborhood he grew up in. And there are certainly prominent Black cast members. But the bulk are Hispanic, which reflects his experience. I found it vibrant, lively, joyous and a good movie to return to the movies with. It certainly would not be as much fun watching it on HBO Max.


Enjoyed watching the making of the cast album for COMPANY on Criterion. Elaine Stritch is a stitch in it. Watching the cast sing Sondheim's songs you really see how difficult the lyrics are. I've never seen COMPANY performed (it is a rarity, I guess). I have seen SUNDAYS IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, ASSASSINS, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC and INTO THE WOODS.

Also watched THE DRY on Amazon Prime. I think there is one too many twists in it and the makers didn't take enough time with the drought, but it was a solid crime movie IMHO.

I attended a concert in a tent as part of the Great Lakes Chamber Music Concert. Wonderful music by Mendelssohn and Brahms. Christina Goerke brought so much feeling and joy to her singing. 


Just finished THE PUSH, which was sort of like THE BAD SEED except it looks at three generations of women who eventually produce a murderous child. Or do they? Is it nature or nurture? A page-turner.


The Detroit Free Press ran an article on restaurants with decks on Lake St. Clair or the Detroit River. So a friend and I drove across town around 1:30 thinking we would sail in. The place was packed and it's a large place. We could only see the lake if we stood in the parking lot. But we had a nice lunch. We ordered a lobster roll and they told us lobsters wouldn't be available to mid-July. Maybe they have a chip in them too. 

Anyway, what's with you?