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 


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


 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?

Friday, June 18, 2021


 From the archives

 Charlie Stella's review


Hedonism or Good Deed Doing?

Dark without gratuitous violence and as existential as it gets, The Boy Who Followed Ripley was (and remains) a wonderful Patricia Highsmith psychological thriller that makes the reader wonder yet again just what it is that motivates her wonderfully dark creation, Tom Ripley. If he’s supposed to be just another hedonist, it doesn’t show in this brilliant offering. Tom shows signs of genuine humanity when dealing with a runaway young man (Frank Pierson, age 16) who has crossed the ocean in flight from patricide (after shoving his wheelchair bound, very wealthy, dear old dad off a cliff).

Never mind the spoilers here, amici; this book is too good not to read (although I’ll do my best to leave you somewhat hanging). This Ripley installment takes place during the Carter (here) Chirac (
there) years when Tom is married to a wealthy young French woman (Heloise) and living in France in Ripley’s estate (Belle Ombre). Tom still deals in the world of high end art (frauds and otherwise) and hasn’t lost his sense of survival (at any cost). Whether or not he’s a sociopath is a good question since he thinks/discusses his past murders (yeah, plural) as if he were thinking/talking about cars he’s owned. Although his first and most famous murder, that of Dickie Greenleaf, can at times still haunt Tom, it’s not like he regrets clubbing the rich S.O.B. to death (although let me point out that he does, in fact, regret clubbing a Mafioso, one of his later murders, to the same end).

Ripley is the ultimate survivor who once had nothing more than a suitcase and some clothes, but by book four, through a combination of cold blooded murder(s), an ability to adapt and learn, connections earned through his reputation and (no doubt) a ton of luck, now has everything.

So why ta
ke up with this kid who has sought him out from across the Atlantic? Ah, there’s the rub. Has he suddenly become, as the man behind the curtain once put it, a “good deed doer”? Or does Tom see some of himself in young Frank Pierson, a boy who wasn’t exactly crazy about his father but didn’t hate him either; a boy who just might have spotted a golden opportunity when dear old dad was taking his usual gander at a sunset from his favorite spot a few feet from a deadly drop to the rocks way down below.

Tom decides to help the boy evade his family for a few days and puts him up until a pair of suspicious characters he thinks might be kidnappers appear on the scene. Tom then takes Frank to Berlin in an attempt to evade the pursuit of those potential bad guys and the detective the Pierson family has hired to find young Frank. One can only assume it’s a temporary game Tom is involve
d in; perhaps he misses the intrigue of a life on the run or maybe it’s the potential danger of having his name splashed across the headlines once more in his controversial life, but help Frank Mr. Ripley does (with the caveat that the boy will return to America and his family and the girlfriend Frank is not quite sure really likes him).

A few days on the seamier side of Berlin with some wild nights in a few gay bars, some dealings with people living on the fringe and then a kidnapping and what to do about it makes The Boy Who Followed Ripley a thoroughly entertaining read which will probably find you returning to book one in t
he series in an attempt to understand this wonderfully complex character who seems to know how to get things done (whatever the cost) and barely flinches in doing so.

There’s more to the story following the kidnapping. The world of Ripley doesn’t portend many happy endings and I’m not about to let you in on the secret(s), but at least in this adventure we can sense Tom’s heart does in fact beat almost, not quite, like the rest of ours.

I never would have thought I could so thoroughly enjoy a crime novel where I had to search for curse words and/or graphic violence, but it’s back to book one in the series for this reader. Highsmi
th’s Ripley is a mesmerizing character fully deserving of our attention (in whatever order we read him).

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Short Story Wedneday: Black Country, Charles Beaumont


Charles Beaumont published "Black Country" in PLAYBOY MAGAZINE in 1954. It was their first short story. He also wrote 21 episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. Tragically he died in his thirties of a dementia-related illness. 

"Black Country" is the story of a jazz group, led by Spoof Collins, The story begins with his burial, his horn and music is buried with him. Spoof had hired a white kid (Sonny) who played a sax and a female pianist/singer (Rose), integrating the group because they played so well. Of course, sex enters the picture and so does the illness that will eventually kill him. And then comes racism as Sonny tells Spoof to take his black hands off of Rose. Spoof falls to pieces and eventually dies. 

What makes this a ghost story of sorts is the effect of the buried horn and the buried man on Sonny after Spoof's death. This is a story that succeeds more on its terrific ambiance and sense of place than your belief in the plot. You can read it here.

Kevin Tipple 

Jerry House 


George Kelley

Monday, June 14, 2021

Monday, Monday

Has been a rather strange week. Very hot for June. I had dental surgery and had a bad reaction to the antibiotics. I have also had periods of dizziness. I think I may have that issue with ear crystals again. Or a sinus infection. I hate to try and fix it alone because you have to do things with your head hanging off of the bed and I am always afraid I will do damage. Or fall on my head. 

It seems somewhat better today. 

On the plus side I got out quite a bit to restaurants and my son's house so I was never alone for a whole day. Kevin finished eighth grade and will be playing tennis every day this summer. And taking driver's ed. Gulp. As an incoming freshman, he reads three books over the summer: ANIMAL FARM, INTO THIN AIR and THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME. He had choices on the second two.

I am really in the doldrums on finding a good book for me right now although three await me at the library. On TV, LUPIN is back and I have been watching SWEET TOOTH. Finished HACKS, which I liked a lot. I rewatched Alda's THE FOUR SEASONS and found it horrible. I remember liking it at the time but now it was unconvincing that these people would be friends or married. It was just so dull. The only interesting character was Sandy Dennis' because she was not such a generic forty-something.

I finished my story for Lawrence Block's anthology on stories with games in them. He accepted it and now I have to find something else to write. If my head stops spinning that is. 

What about you? 

Friday, June 11, 2021


Ed Gorman's review from the archives.

I like to read while I eat. Lately I've been working my way through David Thomson's enormous Biographical Dictionary of Film at lunch time. Thomson is the most interesting and entertaining film critic since Pauline Kael--and every bit as frustrating. When I disagree with him, I want to all him up and read him his rights--before violating every one of them.

Today I read his take on Edmond O'Brien. Thomson notes going in that movie stars aren't supposed to sweat. That makes them too much like everybody in the audience. Part of movie stardom is inaccessibility, fantasy. But what a clever hook because beefy O'Brien sweated all the time, especially in his most memorable movie DOA. He was also fat, frequently out of breath, devoutly neurotic and often frightened. He was, in other words, pretty much like the people in the darkness watching him on the big screen. An Everyman of sorts.

In the course of his entry on O'Brien, Thomson makes clear that he enjoys the odd-ball actors and actresses far more than he does the stars. Thus he finds Warren Oates vastly more compelling than Robert Redford and Jeff Goldblum more intriguing than Paul Newman.

When I was a kid I rarely wondered about the lives of the stars. But I was always curious about character actors such as Elisha Cook, Jr. and J. Carrol Nash. There was a vitality to their performances that the stars were rarely capable of matching. And in the case of Cook, there was a melancholy and weariness that I recognized even then as being much like my own.

Same with the women. The ones I was always excited about were the second- and third-leads. They were the ones I got crushes on. They were often as pretty as the leading ladies, sometimes even prettier. And they frequently had more interesting roles, the bitch, the tart, the victim.

Barry Gifford once remarked that when you see a musical with all those young gorgeous girl dancers you have to wonder what became of them. The majority probably became housewives; more than a few probably took to the streets as parts became harder and harder to come by; and a lucky handful became the wives of powerful Hollywood men.

I've been watching a lot of silent films of TCM and the same impulse grabs me then, too. Who were they? What happened to them? Did they know they'd become immortal? A full century later I sit in our family room and watch them as--most likely anyway--another century from now people will still be watching them. This is probably heresy of sorts but to me film immortality is far more imposing than literary immortality.


Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "Here We Are in Paradise" Tony Earley


This is the title story from the first collection from Tony Earley. Most of the stories appeared in  literary journals. The couple in this story is the most ordinary of mid-twentieth century couples. The writing is plain, which well suits this couple. 

The story begins with Vernon Jackson purchasing a flock of ducks to place on the pond on the land he has bought. His wife would prefer he puts a house there but instead it's a mobile home. He has no reason to think ducks something his wife wants and in fact, he seems to know little about her despite their long marriage. She is sick now and he thinks they can sit outside at night and watch their ducks, wings cut so they can't escape. 

The story traces their meeting at a softball game where Vernon is the star pitcher. Pitching seems to be his one skill and it is enough to attract the young woman. But he has never bothered to get to know his wife, which she realizes late in their marriage. Yet, he treats her well, if without much thought, and it is hard to think ill of him. 

It is hard not to think that many marriages were like this one. They are no children and this was a further impediment to closeness since they can't seem to talk about it. There is no doubt Vernon loves his wife and little doubt she does not love him but is stuck in a marriage that just happened to her.

I have read countless stories like this over the years. All of Earley's stories could be novels and yet I think he says all that he wants to say in under 8000 words. I also read his novel JIM, THE BOY, which was excellent. 

Kevin TIpple

Jerry House 


Richard Robinson 

Rich Horton

Monday, June 07, 2021

Still Here


Although there were some men at the protest against gun violence on Saturday at noon, it was mostly women. And the approving beeps from passing cars were mostly from Black Americans or women.  Anyway, nice to see a racially mixed crowd supporting it.

Finally getting around to BERLIN BABYLON, which looks great although I do find it tiring to read on my TV. But the dubbed version was wretched. Couldn't they use people with German accents at least?Also still watching THE HANDMAID's TALE and IN TREATMENT. MARE OF EASTTOWN ended very well. I am tempted to rewatch it because it would have been a better show if watched more quickly than once a week. So many characters.

Also watched BELLS ARE RINGING on Criterion this week. Lovely little movie from 1960. Also watched MIDNIGHT RUN, which I remembered as funnier than it was.  

I have about given up on my book club book THE OVERSTORY. I am very sympathetic to its aims but it is too long for me and the characters too similar. I am also reading a book about the making of the film GIANT. Not sure I will stay with that either. It is not a movie I have much feeling for. 

Just seems to be one of those periods when I drift from book to book and don't finish a lot of them. 

Went for a walk at Cranbrook Gardens. It was gorgeous. Cranbrook has been a place where a lot of famous architects and designers have spent time. It is also a splendid school for the very wealthy. There is an art museum, a planetarium, a science building and lots of gardens and trails. It costs $35,000 a year for a sixth grader.

About 2o% of people in a upscale grocery story yesterday were not wearing masks. I guess we will find out if we are being to hasty in our retreat. It is more difficult to wear masks in 90 weather for sure. 

What are you all up to?



Friday, June 04, 2021


 (from the archives)

Reviewed by Quinn Cummings

Quinn Cummings is the author of Notes from the Underwire: Adventures From My Awkward and Lovely Life.

The Portable Dorothy Parker

I don't know why short stories have withered as an art form. Really, they couldn't be more modern. All the pleasure of eavesdropping on the table behind you, only with a good editor. In the modern arena where we're all gladiators competing to see who has the shortest attention span and the most to do, what could be better than a beginning,a middle and an end in the time it takes the plumber to snake the bathroom drain?

And if you're going to read short stories, you're going to want to read Dorothy Parker. Even if you don't think you know Dorothy Parker, I'll bet you do. Men don't make passes...

If you just thought, girls who wear glasses, you know a little Dorothy Parker. If you're a bookish type (And we know you are; you're reading this) you probably know she wrote for The New Yorker and the Constant Reader, was the Clever Girl in Manhattan in the 20's and 30's, was the Hermione Granger at the Algonquin Round Table.

Some of her stories are funny. Some are snorting-into-your-sleeve funny; my mother gave me "The Waltz" to read when I was eleven and I can't think of a better gateway drug to Ms. Parker. "From the Diary of a New York Lady" gleefully exposes the stupidity and lack of self-awareness of a society dame, some primordial Paris Hilton. But while I've never turned down Dorothy in high humor, the stories which have stayed with me were her more serious stories, which inevitably circle around how people, knowingly and unknowingly, hurt one another. Her serious short stories have the precision of Flaubert and the scrupulous attention to detail of an autopsy. I don't wish people pain, so I'm not pleased Ms. Parker had a well-documented difficult romantic life. Having said that, there have been times in my dating life where I thought back to some moment or sentence from a story of hers and thought, "Oh. That's what she was talking about" and felt oddly mollified if not exactly happy. Her stories are clear and bright, very much of their era but also timeless. They are excellent company which fits in your purse.

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Short Story Wednesday: "The Little Stranger" Gene Wolfe


I have a friend who always cites Gene Wolfe as his favorite writer and I have been meaning to read a story by him for years. "The Little Stranger" is the story of an elderly woman, living alone, who hears her house moaning most nights. No one can locate the source of the problem. She writes about it to a now-dead friend and in fact, it is through her letters to him that we follow the story. 

(This is a story hard to describe without giving things away) But I will try. The woman decides that if she were to add a small house to her property, the moaning might disappear. (You can never follow her logic in this tale) When a caravan breaks down outside her house, she strikes a deal with the family that if they build the house for her, they can stay on her land until they fix their caravan (good deal for her!)

The question is: is she a witch? The people in the caravan never come out ahead in their bargaining. But it's not clear that she does any real harm, even when  two children named Hank and Greta turn up. I enjoyed this story but it would not make me cite Wolfe as my favorite writer. It is a bit too circuitous and vague for my taste. 

Kevin Tipple

Jerry House 


George Kelley 

Matt Paust 

Richard Robinson 

Todd Mason

First Wednesday Book Review: KLARA AND THE SUN, Kazuo Ishiguro

I am blaming myself for not enjoying this book more. And I am greatly in the minority Although it is a glum book that is not the reason why. I am not sure what the reason is because I am a great fan of NEVER LET ME GO and REMAINS OF THE DAY. 

It shares a lot of DNA with NLMG. They are both set in the future and deal with the sacrifices some make for others. In this case, Klara is an AF. Artificial friends are mostly purchased for teenagers, to help them through those early difficult years 12-15. Klara is an especially intuitive AF and is purchased for a girl who suffers from an unnamed illness. Her mother is dubious about Klara at first but comes to rely on her advice and help. Klara turned out to be the character I most understood in the book. The humans were far more opaque. Of course, the story is told from her point of view, which always makes a character more sympathetic. 

Klara doesn't see the world quite as we do nor does she understand a lot of what she sees. She invests the sun, for instance, with mystical powers. 

Do you ever go back and reread a book that you didn't much care for at first and find your opinion changed? This has happened with books I read in high school and college. Books that were forced on me.  

For more First Wednesday book reviews, see Barrie Summy.