Friday, September 30, 2022

FFB: A NIGHT IN THE LONESOME OCTOBER, Roger Zelazny

- Roger Zelazny (from the archives: Bill Crider)

I love Roger Zelazny's early books, but for a time there he was writing things that didn't engage me nearly as much.  I kept on reading them, mind you (well, except for the Amber series) because I kept hoping that he'd return to form.  And then, with his final book, he did.  I should have written about this one for Halloween, but it slipped down in the stack and I didn't get to it until now.  

To begin with, let me say that this is the best book you'll ever read that's narrated by Jack the Ripper's dog.  If that idea puts you off and makes you doubt that this is your kind of book, I'd say you're wrong.  

The dog's name is Snuff, and the story he tells has to do with the Great Game that is played during the month leading up to Halloween in those years when there's a full moon on that date.  That's when the Great Old Ones of Lovecraftian lore make their attempt to enter a gateway into our world.  There are two groups of players, the Openers and the Closers.  Jack has played before, but it appears that none of the others in this game have.  So far, the Closers have always won, but it's often a tight race.  The players this time consist of Jack the Ripper, the Universal monsters (I know they didn't originate with Universal, but their characters in this book come from the movies, not the original sources), a Mad Monk, a witch, a Druid, a clergyman, and a couple of others.  Sherlock Holmes and Watson are also important characters, and all the players have familiars, of which Snuff is one.  The familiars are excellent characters, too, especially Graymalk, the cat, whose relationship with Snuff is one of the book's highlights.

The Game has rules, but sometimes they get violated, and it's fairly complicated.  I'm a little surprised nobody's developed it as an actual game to be played by gaming fans.  I'm sure it could be done.

A Night in the Lonesome October is stylish, poetic, at times hilarious, suspenseful, and just a whole lot of fun.  And did I mention the Gahan Wilson illustrations?  No?  Well, there's one for each night of the month, with maybe a couple of extras. Great stuff.  If you're looking for a treat, don't wait until next year to read this one.



 

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: "The Sensible Thing," F. Scott Fitzgerald



https://shortstoryproject.com/stories/the-sensible-thing/ 

 

"That though the radiance which was once so bright be now forever taken from my sight. Though nothing can bring back the hour of splendor in the grass, glory in the flower. We will grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind."

William Wordsworth

This Fitzgerald story certainly reminds me of this passage.   

                            Here is the final passage in "The Sensible Thing"

 “Yes,” he whispered into her lips. “There’s all the time in the world…”

All the time in the world–his life and hers. But for an instant as he kissed her he knew that though he search through eternity he could never recapture those lost April hours. He might press her close now till the muscles knotted on his arms–she was something desirable and rare that he had fought for and made his own–but never again an intangible whisper in the dusk, or on the breeze of night…

Well, let it pass, he thought; April is over, April is over. There are all kinds of love in the world, but never the same love twice.

George O'Kelley is in love with Jonquil, a girl from Tennessee (and much like Zelda Sayre from Alabama in FSF's own life). George is an engineer, temporarily working in insurance.  Things do not quite work out for them on the first try; George is rather a failure and competing men are lining the porch at Jonquil's house.  But he goes off, goes to South America, and wildly succeeds, returning ten months later. They go for a walk in a magnificent garden and it ends with a kiss and the word abpve

(Scott later noted: “Story about Zelda + me. All true.”)

Kevin Tipple 

George Kelley

Monday, September 26, 2022

Monday, Monday

 

If I had to choose my favorite author, it would be Elizabeth Strout. I have loved following Olive Kitteridge and Lucy Barton and the Burgess Boys for the last twenty years. However, LUCY BY THE SEA may be more than I can handle since it takes Lucy from the first days of the pandemic up until the book's publication. It painfully brings back our isolation, our impotence, our mistakes in handling a pandemic and how other issues erupted to make it even more critical. And yet I can't stop reading it even though I know it is not really a good idea to relive it. Her voice is so powerful.

Also reading THINGS WE LOST IN THE WATER, Eric Nguyen for my book group. Speaking of which, Naomi Hirahara zoomed with us last week talking about CLARK AND DIVISION and was a wonderful guest speaker. Can't wait to read EVERGREEN, which comes out next summer. 

No movies to report. If GOD'S COUNTRY comes your way, it's worth seeing.

Enjoying REBOOT, BAD SISTERS, THE HANDMAID'S TALE and trying to catch up with various VERAS I have missed over the years on TV.  I need a good British mystery now and then, and especially enjoy Ann Cleeves style of mystery. I see SHETLAND is back. I might have to join whichever Brit streamer it's om.

Saturday night, I went with friends to TRINITY HOUSE, a tiny live music venue in Livonia, MI where many local musicians played songs they had written during Covid. So nice to hear live music.




What's up with you?

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Short Story Wednesday, "The Tooth" Shirley Jackson

 


Clara is suffering from a tooth ache, which as her unnamed husband reminds her, has been bothering her since their honeymoon. Full of codeine and aspirin and despite her claim she feels funny and light-headed, he puts her on a bus for a very long trip into Manhattan. Her husband has insisted on this, claiming the local dentist is a butcher. It is very hard to understand why he doesn't accompany her in the state she is in. She has even taken a sleeping pill?

The bus stops at roadside cafes many times and a man named Jim begins to accompany Clara, talking of some magical place. He gets her into the city where her dentists sends her to a surgeon. During most of the story Clara seems only semi-conscious of where she is and what is happening. Of course, gas administered by the surgeon further removes Clara from reality. When it is all finished, Jim is waiting for her and they run barefoot into the hot sand. 

Having been through many dental procedures like Clara's it is pretty familiar. And clearly Shirley Jackson has too. Much of the time, I was in awe Clara could navigate from place to place as drug-addled as she was. This story was seen as very Freudian at the time it was published with all those teeth references. Was Jim real? I doubt it. But clearly such a rescue was something Clara wished for. (And maybe Shirley too). If you have seen the Elizabeth Moss movie on Shirley Jackson, Clara is all the more familiar. 

Kevin Tipple

Steve Lewis 

Jerry House 

TracyK 

George Kelley 

James Reasoner 

J Escribano

Monday, September 19, 2022

Monday Monday

 

 The Handmaid's Tale is back and as scary as ever. Hard to imagine how Elizabeth Moss directed and acted in this episode. She is half-crazy for most of it. Still I have to see it out at this point. Finished Dopesick, which was great if disheartening. 

Saw See How They Run, which was pretty bad. Eight of us went and our opinions ranged from okay for a Saturday morning to never okay. What a waste of a good cast. 

Spent one day exploring Wyandotte, MI, which is along the Detroit River and quite a hip town. A friend of Phil and mine from our Lambertville, NJ days in the late sixties had an art gallery there. He is now dead but we met his widow Patt Slack who now runs it. 

Still plowing along on the same book as last week. But I did finish Clark and Division, which Naomi Hirahara will discuss with my book group on Tuesday night. What a nice job she did with exploring the Japanese-Americans sent to Chicago from Manzinaar but also creating characters to care about. 

What about you?

Friday, September 16, 2022

FFB: TIME WILL DARKEN IT, WIlliam Maxwell



William Maxwell was one of my favorite writers. He died about twenty years ago leaving a handful of novels and many shorts stories and essays. My favorite of his novels is TIME WILL DARKEN IT.

When the King family is paid a visit from distant Southern relatives, Austin King, eager to impress a female cousin and repay their kindness to his father, behaves in such a way as to threaten his marriage, his law practice, and his reputation as a young attorney. His pregnant wife is especially torn asunder by his actions.

Maxwell makes every character in this seemingly ordinary story come to life. I can't think of many books I closed so reluctantly and yet with such complete satisfaction. His novels include:

  • Bright Center of Heaven (1934)
  • They Came Like Swallows (1937)
    • An autobiographical novella about the cruel impact of the 1918 flu epidemic, as seen through the eyes of an 8-year-old midwestern child and his family
  • The Folded Leaf (1945)
  • Time Will Darken It (1948)
  • The Chateau (1961)
  • So Long, See You Tomorrow (1980) (Winner of the William Dean Howells Medal and National Book Award for Fiction)
    • An aging man remembers a boyhood friendship he had in 1920s Illinois which falters following a murder.

 

Thursday, September 15, 2022

The Return of Noircon

https://noircon.com/

Check it out. We can all take part in this virtually.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: "Certain European Movies" Emma Cline (THE NEW YORKER)


 

 

 https://www.newyorker.com/books/flash-fiction/certain-european-movies?fbclid=IwAR2-DmhIS0w2lmCElgtSOiAd8w912fMasMkg1A0vC_rck68diqlu5YB29uc

Like the Hemingway story of a few months ago, this is about a couple, probably in Spain or at least in a Spanish speaking country. This couple doesn't know each other well and it isn't clear if they met on this trip or arranged it. (They are probably academics) She is older than him and the story is from her perspective. The plot is mostly about their trips to various beaches, their difficulty in finding places in a foreign country. How the Europeans staying at this residence find them humorous. 

One beach had become theirs, even though there really is no theirs.
 

This couple seems ill-suited to each other. There is an age difference. They take pictures, which she knows they will delete before returning home. He has a family in the States

Now if I wasn't looking for a story to talk about today, would I have finished this? Probably yes because unlike the first story I tried (Kelly Link) this one read easily enough. But even on my third read of a fairly short story, I was still picking up hints on its themes. I think I will read it again too.

Interesting how the author (also of THE GIRLS, based on the Manson girls) doles out information stingily, making you hungry for it.  Probably few would have had to read it 4 times to get it all. I think I am a day-dreamy reader, always thinking what I might say were I writing it.

Kevin Tipple

Jerry House

George Kelley 

Casual Debris

Monday, September 12, 2022

Monday, Monday

 

Reading THE SACRAMENT by Olaf Olaffson. I heard him speak on one of the book podcasts I listen to and was impressed. He's written several books, but this one is about a nun drawn back into an old crime. The writing is beautiful, which means so much to me when I read. If the writing is gorgeous, the plot can just be okay. But on TV it is only dialog that gets to shine. Very different when you think about it.

I went to Ann Arbor with a friend and was shocked at how many towering buildings have gone up in the last decade. Their medical center(s) are so dominant now. That must mean the future is in medicine. Visited the beautiful Matthai Gardens. The streets downtown have been pedestrianized and bike lanes are everywhere.

Got my omicron booster today. Quite a long wait, which I never had with the last two boosters. 

Watching DOPESICK and THE PATIENT. Finished SLOW HORSES but in the end I was not that impressed. It has a great premise as to a division for failures in MI5, but the crime this one featured seemed dull. And all the scenes were of men driving around in the dark and engaging in man talk. It never lived up to the first brilliant scenes. Ah well, maybe his plots get more interesting. It used to be British series were about the upper crust. Now they all seem to be about gangs, immigrants, and drugs. (So too so many novels from all countries).

No movies of interest.

Off to my writing group in the hope it will spur me to write more.

What about you? 



Friday, September 09, 2022

THE CASE OF THE LUCKY LEGS, Erle Stanley Gardiner



 (review by Sarah J Wesson)

THE CASE OF THE LUCKY LEGS, Erle Stanley Gardiner

While Earle Stanley Gardiner can hardly be called a forgotten author, nor Perry Mason a forgotten character, the books that first introduced these icons to the public appear to be fading from memory. Or at least they are in my library, where most of them have been relegated to the large print shelves so that the patrons who grew up reading about the singular cases of the granite-hard defense attorney can enjoy them without squinting.

The earliest Gardiner in our collection is The Case of the Lucky Legs. First published in 1933, it was the fifth of what would be roughly eighty-two Perry Mason adventures. Stilted by our standards, with rigid standards of grammar and punctuation, and---heaven forbid---not a few adverbs, this mystery still grabs the imagination and keeps it there until the last page.

The case starts with a provocative photograph of a pair of shapely female legs, sent to the lawyer by a prominent businessman, who wants Mason to do something about a fraud that has hurt a young lady of his acquaintance. It seems that a movie studio man has been conning innocent girls into competing in a Lucky Legs contest, the winner of which is promised a screen career that never materializes. Unfortunately, there is no legal recourse unless the con man confesses.

Unlike the televised, post World War II Perry Mason who has entered our cultural lexicon, the Perry Mason of the 1930s wasn't afraid to get his hands or his ethics dirty---he basically agrees beat a confession out of the huckster, though he does pause to square this plan with the county prosecutor before heading to the man’s hotel. In the lobby, he bumps into a frightened young lady with good-looking gams, so it comes as no surprise---to the reader or our hero---that Mason discovers the murdered body of the con man. Moments before the police arrive, alerted by a neighbor who heard a woman’s screams, Mason extracts himself by a bit of slick trickery and gets to work.

It seems odd that Perry Mason doesn’t set foot in a courtroom in Lucky Legs---he didn't settle into regular trial work until later in the series. It’s clear that Gardiner is till getting to know his character and hadn’t quite settled on his formula. But Mason does tamper with a crime scene, trap himself in a legal corner or two, smoke enough to stun a camel, and bring the murderer to justice at the fifty-ninth minute of the eleventh hour despite numerous red herrings. Furthermore, his client is as lovely and clueless as they come and the man footing the bill is an interfering, opinionated pain in the tuchus. Della Street is smart, sassy, and loyal, while Paul Drake is hangdog, hungry, and resourceful.

These are among the golden elements that have kept Perry Mason going for almost eighty years. They’re well worth a revival, not only as the prototypes to modern legal procedurals or slices of social history, but as terrific who-on-earth-dunnits.

I confess that I check out these books fairly often to keep them off the weeding reports. If that's a crime, I doubt even Hamilton Berger, Mr. Mason's D.A. foil and frenemy, could bring himself to prosecute.

 

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

First Wednesday Book Review: TASTE: MY LIFE IN FOOD, Stanley Tucci

 


In the days before I cut the cord, I enjoyed Stanley Tucci's trek through Italy on CNN. I have also enjoyed him in movies like BIG NIGHT and JULIA AND JULIE. Listening to him read this on audio was a treat. He begins with his childhood and the sort of dishes he grew up eating in his Italian-American family who lived in Katonah, NY.  He included the lunches he took to school, what he ate after school, what the other kids were eating. All the sort of information a reader finds interesting but by not think to ask.

His mother was a terrific cook despite working full-time and food was an important part of their life. This book is full of recipes, advice on buying and cooking food, and the kind of thing it is interesting to hear about--like what they feed actors on sites filming movies and TV shows. He shares great meals he has had all over the world and the people he has had them with. This is a terrific book if food interests you at all. 

For more book reviews, please visit Barrie Summy's blog right here.

Short Story Wednesday: Two Stories from MISSISSIPPI NOIR

 "Uphill," Mary Miller and "Cheap Suitcase and a New Town," Chris Offutt

These are two beautifully written stories. I enjoyed them both but reading them in succession is probably a mistake. Especially with noir stories whose characters and settings tend to be much alike. Both stories had a female protagonist who was a match for anyone who went up against her.  

I have read other work by the authors.  BILOXI by Mary Miller and MY FATHER, THE PORNOGRAPHER by Chris Offutt.

The NOIR books is such an extensive series now. Clearly a lot of people have a yearning for these dark stories.  I have dipped into these books over the years but have never read an entire volume. How about you guys?Are you fans of this series or noir in general? 

Kevin Tipple

 
TracyK

George Kelley 

Steve Lewis 

Todd Mason

Monday, September 05, 2022

Monday, Monday

 Saw HALLELUJAH, the movie about Leonard Cohen at the theater. There were four of us, yet the ticket seller warned us to sit in our assigned seats. The theater held perhaps 200 seats.


At home, Criterion is running the "kitchen sink" British films of the 50s-60s. I have seen them all before but it's fun to see them again. So far I have watched THE GIRL WITH THE GREEN EYES and THE L-SHAPED ROOM. Both are overly long but have lots of good things in them. Seeing Rita Tushingham, 22 at the time, with Peter Finch, 48 is more alarming now than then I think. We were used to seeing Audrey Hepburn with every aging actor of the time around then.

Finally getting to SLOW HORSES, which is very good. Also moderately like BAD SISTERS. 

A rainy day here. Not many of them this summer. 

Reading CLARK AND DIVISION still. I have to spread it out so I won't forget it for the book group. Naomi is going to visit us via zoom. I didn't have much luck with FEN after making my library round it up for me. Reading one strange story is perhaps enough for me. 

What's up with you?

Friday, September 02, 2022

FFB: THE JEWEL THAT WAS OURS, Colin Dexter

 from the archives: Rick Robinson

The Jewel That Was Ours by Colin Dexter, Ballantine (Ivy), 1991, paperback, mystery, police procedural – Inspector Morse

Jewel That Was OursThis is Inspector Morse’s ninth outing, if I have the count right, and though I’ve tried to read these in order it’s been a while and I think I pulled this off the shelf out of order. Still, little seems to have changed, perhaps Lewis is slightly more confident, and Morse is an angrier, sadder, boozier man than I remembered from the last one I read.

I liked John Thaw as Morse on the Mystery! and now I can’t read these books without picturing him in the role. No problem there.

This story concerns a group of tourists, all from California, on a tour of Oxford and other historical cities. One of the group is going to present an Oxford museum with The Wolverton Tongue, part of a buckle artifact originally set with three rubies (only one left now). The woman has a heart attack, the “jewel” is stolen, then a lecturer is murdered. Morse is attracted to a woman who drinks too much and is one of the lecturers to the group. With two deaths and a theft, the tour halts while Morse and Lewis investigate the many clues.

Dexter is a pleasure to read, though the last chapter seems overly drawn out in this book. Still, the motives are sound, the red herrings sufficiently convincing, the language satisfying, the clues well if scantily placed, and it’s another good Morse outing. These books are satisfying enough that I never seem to want to read two in a row, but each time I pick one up I’m glad I did. I think I still have a couple unread, so there is more to enjoy ahead. I was lucky enough to meet him at a signing some years ago in southern California, he was a very personable fellow.

If your only experience with Morse is with the televised series, I encourage you to try the books, these are very good.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: "In the Gloaming" Alice Elliott Dark



About to begin Dark's new novel, FELLOWSHIP POINT, I decided to reread this story. It is in THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES OF THE (20th) CENTURY. It is only for the stout of heart, but the writing is so exquisite it is worth the tears. Whenever I read something like this, I don't regret the sadness. I feel like I am sharing an emotion that needs to be shared. Does that sound crazy?

A mother and her thirty-something son, always close, bond even more strongly in the last days of his life. The story didn't specify an illness, but because it was written in the nineties and it is a wasting disease, you assume it is AIDS. It was made into a movie (HBO) with an all-star cast. I will try and watch it. The last line is the saddest. It is perhaps too sad. 

Kevin Tipple

Jerry House 

TracyK 

George Kelley 

Todd Mason

Monday, August 29, 2022

Monday, Monday

Saw Three Thousand Years of Longing with Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba, which was good if not great. Also enjoyed A Love Song with Dale Dicky and Wes Studi. A total of 12 people in these two theaters.


Reading Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara, and it is an exceptionally fine novel. Reading her bio in the back you see what a successful career she has had, aside from the novels. A real advocate for the Japanese/Asian community, especially the gardeners who lost their preeminence in California to Mexicans immigrants. Also like that I am learning about wartime Chicago. Finished the Robotham, which I liked but did not love as much as I did his series novels. 


Watching Bad Sisters (Apple) and the victim in this series steals the show. Watched We Have to Talk About Cosby. He was so much worse than I ever imagined. It is streaming on Prime through the 31st and perhaps also HULU. It will knock your socks off. Also Watching Kleo (Netflix), about an Easter German female spy. A bit like Killing Eve.

What a lovely week it has been. Although the summer has been hot, I never remember a sunnier one. Hopefully the construction will be done in another six weeks or so. Although the Dream Cruise has ended the racing cars with their loud noise persists. I rewatched American Graffiti this week and it was sadly similar,

I am trying hard to get back to the writing. Wish me luck.


Friday, August 26, 2022

FFB: NIGHT CALL AND OTHER STORIES OF SUSPENSE

(from the archives)

Ed Gorman was the author of the Sam McCain and Dev Conrad series of crime novels. He is sorely missed.

Forgotten Books: Charlotte Armstrong Night Call & Other Stories



New from Crippen & Landru

   I first read Charlotte Armstrong after seeing a 1952 movie called "Don't Bother To Knock." The stars were Richard Widmark and Marilyn Monroe. Monroe plays a seriously disturbed young woman asked to babysit the child of Widmark and his wife. Monroe is terrific--terrifying. Will she kill the kid?
   I'd seen the name Charlotte Armstrong on the metal paperback racks. She always seemed to have a new paperback out. And she was in Ellery Queen Magazine a lot. I tracked down Mischief which the Monroe movie was based on and became an Armstrong fan for life.
   If she was not as phantasmagoric as Dorothy B. Hughes sometimes was or as Elizabeth Sanxay Holding almost always was, Armstrong, as a critic recently noted, updated the gothic tropes of the previous generation and made of them tart and contemporary popular art.
  No critic of the time was a bigger promoter of Armstrong's work than Anthony Boucher. He noted that she was the creator of "suburban noir" and he was right.
  Though she used the tropes of what was dismissively called "women's fiction" she took them into a nether realm that was riveting and terrifying.
  Editors Rick Cypert and the late Kirby McCauley have collected here a collection of short and long stories that are a tribute to the Armstrong finesse and darkness.
  None of the pieces here have ever been collected before and there is also unpublished material.
  Everything in the book is packed with excellent storytelling but my favorite has to be the long novelette "Man in The Road") about a "career woman" (yes that was how they were divided from "real women" :) ) who returns home to a small bleak desert town only to find herself accused of a sinister mysterious hit-and-run. I'll pay this the highest compliment I can--this is the kind of twisty crime story Richard Matheson excelled at. It would have been perfect for the long form "Alfred Hitchcock Presents."
  My favorite of the shorter pieces is "The Cool Ones" which concerns the kidnapping of a grandmother and makes as contemporary a statement  as the Flower Power era she wrote it in.
  This is not only a major collection of a major writer  (thanks to Sarah Weinman for bringing so many overlooked women writers back to our attention) but is also the most beautifully jacketed and produced book Crippen & Landru has ever published.   

 

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Short Story Wednesday" "A Bruise the Size and Shape of a Door Handle" from FEN Daisy Johnson

 


Every once in a while I make myself read a story that I am not comfortable with. This was one of them. Her mother dead, Salma goes to live with her father, choosing the attic room for her own. She begins to skip school to go to the cinema and see art house films. Here she meets Margot and the two begin a romance. The fourth character, the house, becomes jealous. This is a very sensual and strange story, but not so strange it lost me as often happens. The house is like a jealous male lover left behind by Salma's turn to Margot, and it eventually gets its revenge. This was one story in a collection called FEN, which Johnson published about five years ago. I will look for it. The stories all take place in East Anglia, a watery, boggy place, I believe. You could feel that in this story. 

Here is a review from NPR of the collection. 

Todd Mason

Kevin Tipple  

George Kelley

Jerry House

Monday, August 22, 2022

Monday, Monday



 

These are three of the winning quilts from the American Quilt Show I attended in Grand Rapids. Three hundred fifty gorgeous pieces of art. There were many from Taiwan, Japan, Australia and pretty much every country in Europe and every state. Some very traditional but many did not look like quilts at all. Also went to the Gerald Ford Museum and the Grand Rapids Art Museum. Quite a lively city. Several great meals. It seems like food has become a high art almost everywhere now. It has become a challenge to identify the ingredients in most dishes.

Sad that BETTER CALL SAUL is done although it ended very satisfactorily to me. Still enjoying RESERVATION DOGS/

Hardly read a word this week. 

What are you up to?

Friday, August 19, 2022

FFB: VENDETTA, Michael Dibdin



This is the second in the series (1990) concerning the police work of Aurelio Zen. Inspector Zen is one of the more sophisticated cops and the Italian settings in this series always wowed me.
 
In VENDETTA, Zen investigates the assassination of a millionaire and all of his his guests at a posh location in the Sardinian mountains. Despite a sophisticated security system, no pictures of the intruders exists. A lot of pressure comes from Zen's higher-ups to solve this high-profile, seemingly locked room-type murder.

I like this series a lot. Michael Dibdin died far too young.

 

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Short Story Wednesday "Girls, at Play, Celeste Ng


 From the Bellevue Literary Review

 “This is how we play the game: pink means kissing; red means tongue. Green means up your shirt; blue means down his pants. Purple means in your mouth. Black means all the way.”

A group of eighth grade girls, from the working people side of the tracks, play a game at recess where they leave themselves open to the desires of their male classmates. When a new girl, Grace, comes to town, she is a year younger so they abandon the game to help Grace with her new school. She is a willing novice to things like stealing, makeup, sneaking into adult movies. There is a constant acceleration of what they teach her, but most of it at her request. But for a long time, they refuse to show her how to play the "game."When she insists, there is a Lord of the Flies scene where the girls initiate her. This is a fairly brutal story, not so much that anything too frightening happens, but in how badly the girls behave. Ng is the author of LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE which had a fair share of brutality too. Ng is a skilled writer and the story won a Pushcart Prize. 

Jerry House

Kevin Tipple 

TracyK 

George Kelley 

Todd Mason

Monday, August 15, 2022

Monday, Monday

 Kevin at 15. Some day he will look up!




Nearly finished my rewatch of MAD MEN and watching Don Draper self-destruct is as powerful as watching Walter White do it on BREAKING BAD. What flawed men they both were. And I will add watching Saul Goodman (Jimmy) do it on BETTER CALL SAUL is also gripping. Can't wait to see its resolution tonight but I will miss it. There has to be a story of a woman self-destructing but I can't come up with one as dramatic as these. Well, perhaps the prime minister on BORGEN, whose name eludes me. But she steps back from the edge.

RESERVATION DOGS is as good as ever. 

Enjoyed THE TWELVE CHAIR, which I have never seen before. Boy, Frank Langella was a gorgeous young man. I think his looks may have handicapped him in a time when we liked craggy leading men (Dustin Hoffman, Richard Dreyfus, Jack Nicholson). A very cute movie.

Rewatched CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD and again was struck by William Hurt's distinctive acting style. You never forgot his performances. 

Reading the Michael Robotham book, WHEN YOU ARE MINE. He writes females so well. And although the first scenes are very familiar, he makes them fresh. Next weekend 1.5 million people will be below my windows watching THE DREAM CRUISE. Hopefully, I will be in Grand Rapids looking at quilts! The noise was intolerable this weekend, as people are already tail-gating. Making your exhaust system make noise shouldn't be allowed. Crotchedy old lady says. This cruise goes on for sixteen miles and includes nine cities. Read about it here. http://www.woodwarddreamcruise.com/

What about you? 


Friday, August 12, 2022

FFB: TRAP FOR CINDERALLA, Sebastian Japrisot


TRAP FOR CINDERELLA, Sebastien Japrisot

This is one of those books that depends on taking you by surprise and it is difficult to review it without divulging details that will detract from that pleasure. A girl wakes up in a hospital. She has just undergone plastic surgery to fix the burns she sustained in a fire at her house in a French resort. Her friend has died in the blaze. Or is she the friend? She can't remember much, including who she is. A third woman seems to play a role in both scenarios.

The book plays with this idea--who died and who survived. It is a moody, atmospheric
book--reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith. The book won France's most prestigious fiction award. It is short and dark. Read it when you are fully awake and not drowsing in bed or you won't know who is who either.
 
 
 

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: THE STORY OF AN HOUR, Kate Chopin



https://archive.vcu.edu/english/engweb/webtexts/hour/ 

"The Story of an Hour' by Kate Chopin was written in 1894. 

This is a three-page story that begins with the line, "Knowing that Mrs. Mallard was afflicted with a heart trouble, great care was taken to break to her as gently as possible the news of her husband's death."

Her husband has been killed in a train accident and Mrs. Mallard immediately cries on hearing it, but asks for solitude and goes into another room. Over the course of the next hour, she suddenly sees the world outside her window as a more beautiful place. She embraces the new freedom that will be hers. "Free! Body and soul free!" she kept whispering. 

She will not just be the handmaiden of her husband but can embrace a life with activities that interest her.  She is a young woman and it is not too late to make her way in the world. The yoke that marriage puts around her neck is broken.

And then the door opens, and her husband comes in. He was not on that train. 

Mrs. Mallard has a heart attack and dies. 

There are lots of discussions of this story online. Some writers believe Chopin could only get this story published by having her punished at the end. No one at the time would accept a good woman could rejoice (somewhat) in her husband's death. I don't know if I feel her death is necessary or not. How would the story end otherwise? Would she pretend to be happy her husband is okay? Or would she begin plotting his future death now that she understands herself?

A beautifully written story that says so much in three pages.

Kevin Tipple

TracyK 

George Kelley 

James Reasoner

Monday, August 08, 2022

Monday, Monday


 I am listening to Stanley Tucci's memoir called TASTE: MY LIFE THROUGH FOOD. It centers on the meals enjoyed by his Italian-American family growing up north of NYC and the years following. The recipes are wonderful, but there is no way I can eat like this. He must belong to the just a taste of it club because he is thin. He has the most wonderful forearms I have ever seen (based on his show on CNN). Also I can not imagine spending the time necessary to make some of these recipes. And each day many of them were served.

Food did not play a big part in my childhood. My mother was an indifferent cook and liked us all to be thin. Which we were. A pound of meat was more than enough for four and a frozen package of green beans was too.  I think we lost a lot by not enjoying food together. I can only think of one dish of hers I ever tried to repeat and it still was nothing special. I am not a great cook, but even cooking for myself I try to make a dinner I want to sit down to. There was not a cookbook in our house and the only spices were cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Surely there were others but I can't remember them.

How about your childhood! Was food a big part of it?

Also reading the newest Peter Robinson mystery. I think I have read them all, which is unusual for me nowadays. I have the new Michael Robotham at the library if it ever cools off enough for me to walk there.

It has been such a hot week here I have barely been outside. I would have to walk to the park to sit outside and it just doesn't seem worth worming my way through the construction to get there. A real deficit of this building is there are no sitting areas outside.

TV-Still watching the super-creepy BLACK BIRD. FOR ALL MANKIND has sort of lost my interest even though lots of stuff has happened this season. ONLY MURDERERS IN THE BUILDING also seems lacking. It probably is me.

And rewatching MAD MEN, which is my favorite show ever. Watched a great documentary on Kanopy about the Hollywood photography coming out of the agency Magnum.

Please notice this.  http://jerryshouseofeverything.blogspot.com/2022/08/catherine-keane-house-march-7-1949.html

What are you up to?

Friday, August 05, 2022

FFB: Small g, Patrica Highsmith

 (Because it's always worthwhile reading a review by Deb again)
Small g: A Summer Idyll by Patricia Highsmith (Review by Deb)

Patricia Highsmith’s Small g: A Summer Idyll was published posthumously in 1995.  In fact, it had been rejected by Highsmith’s publisher just a few months before her death.  Perhaps the publisher found the book so atypical for Highsmith that they weren’t sure how to market it.  Certainly it does not contain the oppressive sense of dread and foreboding that is a hallmark of much of Highsmith’s work.  With its roundelay of love affairs and heartbreak involving a large number of people, Small g put me in mind of some of Iris Murdoch’s novels of the early 1970s (without the philosophical trappings, however); and I think this work, as unlike anything else that Highsmith ever wrote, is a fitting coda for her body of work and perhaps even goes some way toward humanizing a woman who even her closest friends had to admit was a very difficult and demanding person.
Set in Switzerland during the 1990s, Small g covers a few eventful summer weeks in the lives of an interconnected group of lovers, friends, and acquaintances—some gay, some straight, some still finding their way—who live and work in the same Zurich neighborhood.  The hub of this circle is a local restaurant-bar called Jakob’s, designated in local guide books with a lower-case g to indicate it caters to a mixed gay and straight clientele.
Most of the events in the book are filtered through the perceptions of Rickie Markwalder, a middle-aged commercial artist who is still recovering from the grief of losing his young lover, Peter, to a stabbing some months before.  Police believe Peter was the random victim of a botched robbery committed by drug addicts looking for money, but Rickie is not so sure.
Within Rickie’s circle is Luisa Zimmermann, a young apprentice seamstress who has run away from an abusive family and was in love with Peter.  Although her love for Peter was unrequited, Luisa remains close to Rickie, at first because it helps her feel closer to memory of Peter, but eventually she and Rickie become good friends.  This friendship is a morale booster for Luisa, who lives with and works for the dominating Renate Hagnauer, an ugly homophobe who none-the-less spends several hours a day at Jakob’s.  By a combination of emotional blackmail and controlling the purse strings, Renate keeps Luisa under her thumb.  Renate also poisons the mind of Willi, a mentally-disabled handiman who repeats and believes the gossip and rumors (which almost always reflect badly on gay individuals) that Renate relays to him.
Into the mix come some more people:  Teddie Richardson, a young Swiss-American man who becomes an object of both Rickie’s and Luisa’s affection; Dorrie Wyss, a vivacious lesbian who finds Luisa attractive; and Freddie Schimmelman, a married, bisexual policeman who begins an affair with Rickie.  Freddie is presented in an interesting way--his marriage and his other relationships are depicted in a very matter of a fact manner; his sexuality hardly an issue.
With the main characters in place, and lots of others in supporting roles, the story can begin in earnest.  It all starts with an attack on Teddie Richardson and Rickie’s single-minded pursuit of the culprit. Freddie uses police connections to help prolong interest in a case that the police would undoubtedly have allowed to go cold.  The reader knows who attacked Teddie (and Rickie has very strong suspicions), but will the police ever have sufficient evidence to charge the person?  Meanwhile, Luisa must skulk around, making secret telephone calls and even using Rickie as a go-between in order to meet with either Teddie or Dorrie, or even to slip out of the apartment for a cup of coffee with someone other than Renate.  It all sounds a bit soapy, but Highsmith’s sure hand and attention to detail keep the plot running efficiently.
If I have a quibble with the book it’s that we really never see into the emotional lives of the characters; we can only guess at their motivations.  We can deduce that part of Renate’s homophobia (and overbearing, protective attitude toward Luisa) may stem from her own suppressed lesbianism, but Renate never reveals that aspect of herself.  Also, we can infer that Rickie pursues Teddie’s attacker because Peter’s killer(s) were never caught, but Rickie never lets that element of his pursuit come to the forefront of his emotions.
At this point, I must also address an act committed by Rickie’s doctor that is so unconscionable as to be both illegal and baffling [SPOILER]:  The doctor tells Rickie that he is HIV-positive and allows him to continue believing this for several months, even though the doctor knows this is not the case.  The fact that both the doctor and Rickie (and, apparently, by extension, Highsmith herself) think that what the doctor has done is fine and “for the patient’s own good” is mind-boggling to me and reinforces my belief that, whatever her virtues as a writer, Patricia Highsmith is not someone I could have personally liked.
Eventually, an accidental death, sets the plot spinning into an entirely different orbit.  Ends are tidied up a bit too neatly perhaps, but there’s a sense of the characters reaching certain points in their lives and have learned lessons (some rather harsh).  The summer idyll is over and life continues on even when the weather changes.

 

Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Short Story Wednesday: "Winter Light" James Lee Burke

 You can read it here. https://www.jamesleeburke.com/winter-light/?fbclid=IwAR3ExWObQYtL3hN-VAHXvfhwCaiJzSDzlxcMrKV9eqpiKOJ5vQcKXdN1BDc

 


At the Traverse City Film Festival, the founder's prize was given to a film called GOD'S COUNTRY, which was an adaptation of James Lee Burke's story "Winter Light." 

In the original story, a professor at a Montana college, newly retired, confronts two townies who are parking on his land as they hunt. The story escalates as the adversaries rev up their game. The story works very well because of the gorgeous writing, the setting, the plot and characters. And the director God's Country originally made a short film, which stuck pretty closely to this original scenario. 

But when Julian Higgins decided to go on and make a full-length film of the story, he made many significant changes.He changes the professor from a white retired man to a still -working Black woman (Thandiwe Newton). The woman was a cop in New Orleans before she came west with her mother. Higgins adds a lot of complexity to her character as well as to the hunters. He adds a town sheriff into the mix who is unable to deal with the hunters. Although I liked the story very much, most of what Higgins added made it a more interesting story to me. See what you think if the film comes your way. 

Kevin Tipple

Jerry House 

George Kelley 

Todd Mason

Monday, August 01, 2022

Monday, Monday

 
Mostly good to very good movies. Especially liked GOD'S COUNTRY based on James Lee Burke's story "Winter Light" and SORRY I MISSED YOU, (Ken Loach) and BAD AXE. The crowds were almost as big as previous years although there were less films and fewer venues. The weather was sensational and we had several excellent meals. So lucky to get away for a week in terrific northern Michigan.  Masks varied but not enough for my peace of mind.

Reading NORMAL PEOPLE by Sally Rooney. Watched not a minute of TV this week. 

What have you been up to?

Monday, July 25, 2022

Traverse City Film Festival 2022

 

 Off today. Back next Sunday. Twelve movies. Crossed fingers I don't catch, you know. I am so lucky to have free lodging with a friend.

Friday, July 22, 2022

FFB: IRON GATES, Margaret Millar






The Iron Gates was Margaret Millar’s fifth novel, published in 1945. It introduced Inspector Sands of the Toronto police force. Millar (who was, of course, Ross Macdonald’s wife) didn’t use Sands in her novels often, and The Iron Gates was not one of her more famous crime novels. The Edgar Award-winning Beast in View (1955), How Like an Angel (1962), and The Fiend (1964) are the three books for which she’s probably best known. Although Millar is not well-remembered nowadays, devotees find her writing particularly rewarding. She’s especially skillful at portraying women, although her stories are very different from those of writers known for targeting female audiences.

Millar’s greatest strength was in exposing the psychological underpinnings of a crime. Her books are more about motivation than detection. What appealed to me most as I read her novels back in the 1970s was that her writing was never formulaic or predictable. Her best work is found in the standalones. Even Sands, a charming and fully fleshed-out detective, never steals the story from the women who dominate The Iron Gates entirely. It’s not about the detective.

Lucille Morrow lives with her wealthy physician husband, his two grown children, and his sister, Edith, in a large house in Toronto, Ontario. Lucille is Andrew’s second wife. His first wife, Mildred, was murdered in a nearby park 16 years earlier. That case was never solved. The two stepchildren, Polly and Andrew, tolerate their stepmother. And she tolerates them. This uneasy rapprochement begins to come undone when Polly, along with her father and brother, goes to pick up her new fiancĂ©, a soldier who’s coming to Toronto to meet the family. A train crash complicates their trip, but they return home later that night.

The next day, Lucille suddenly disappears after a visit from a strange man carrying a small wrapped box. The last that is heard from her is a scream. She is eventually run down by the Toronto police and her condition is such that she’s institutionalized. This action, mainly occurring in the Morrow household, forms the first section of the novel, which Millar labels as “The Hunt.”

The middle section, “The Fox,” details Lucille’s state of mind as she hides from an assailant, the police, or perhaps her own fears in a mental hospital. The reader is unsure which she sees as the greatest threat. Her involvement with other patients turns out badly. Much of this section of the novel describes her mental anguish, and the reader is left to ponder whether Lucille is the victim she appears to be. Who or what is after her?

The final section of this novel, “The Hounds,” details Sands’ solution to the crimes that have taken place. This section is again largely set in the Morrow household and concerns a diary newly unearthed. Giving away any more plot points would ruin the delicate nature of Millar’s story.

It’s hard to imagine this book being written today, because of its lengthy depiction of a mentally fragile woman in an institution. Today, Lucille Morrow would be prescribed an appropriate drug. Or perhaps she’d be under the daily care of a psychiatric nurse at home. Nevertheless, Millar uses the middle section of The Iron Gates to provide clues, and to do what she does best: show the unraveling of a psyche. It’s also the section of this book that makes Millar’s storytelling different. We go from the calm, if slightly hothouse, feel of the Morrow home in section one, to the agitated madhouse of section two, and then back again.

This novel was apparently purchased after World War II as a vehicle for actress Bette Davis, but was never filmed. I think she would have done justice to Lucille Morrow. However, after reading The Iron Gates, you will understand why the movie wasn’t made.