Everyone maintains the required silence but one.
From the back cover. "When Mary Ladd Gavell died in 1967 at the age of 47, she had never published a story." At her death, she was the managing editor of the journal, PSYCHIATRY, which published one of the stories in their journal. They recalled her scribbling during her lunch hours. John Updike included it in the BEST STORIES OF THE CENTURY. The stories in this collection are wonderful. Original, succinct, unusual. "Rotifer" is the one Updyke chose but he could have chosen any of them. I loved "The Swing" where a mother is able to revisit her son's youth at night on the swing he played on.
I am afraid to hear what George has been going through in Buffalo!
How about you?
YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS
POD SAVE AMERICA
POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR
THE NEW YORKER RADIO HOUR
(Washington) POST REPORTS
THE NPR POLITICS PODCAST
DETROIT TODAY/DAILY DETROIT
WTF (Marc Maron)
BAGMAN (Rachel Maddow)
BBC BOOKS AND AUTHORS
Runners up THE TREATMENT, THE NEXT PICTURE SHOW, FILMS TO BE BURIED WITH, THE BOOK REVIEW, ALL THERE IS (Anderson Cooper)
Probably several of these would not have been on this list on a more normal year. But you work with what you have....
In no particular order
The Banshees of Inisherin
Top Gun: Maverick
Lady Chatterley's Lover
Good Luck to Leo Grande
Runnersup: After Yang, The Wonder, The Glass Onion, Bad Axe
Small Things Like These, Claire Keegan
Foster, Claire Keegan
Deer Season, Erin Flanagan
The Lost Daughter, Elena Ferrante
Ghost Light, Frank Rich
Taste, Stanley Tucci
Hamnet, Maggie O'Farrel
Life's Work, David Milch
The Sacrament, Olaf Olafsson
BETTER CALL SAUL
WHITE LOTUS: SICILY
ABBOTT ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
RUNNERS UP: PACHINKO, BETTER THINGS, FOR ALL MANKIND, SOMEBODY, SOMEWHERE, ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING, THE STAIRCASE, THE HANDMAID'S TALE, MO, ROTHANIEL, THE LAST MOVIE STARS
What about you?
Gray skies, lake effect snow. Who wouldn't want to live in Michigan in the winter? I have become quite worried about falling so I will not get out much in the next weeks.
WHITE LOTUS finished strongly. By the end, most of the characters had been allocated at least a bit of humanity despite being driven by unfulfilled lust and jealousy. The entrance of Tom Hollander, midway through, certainly injected more energy into the plot.
I am very bad at watching SLOW HORSES, why do spy dramas not hold my interest more.? I have no instinct for the genre, I think. Although FLEISHMAN IN TROUBLE doesn't draw me in much either. I am watching the old series DALZIEL AND PASCOE on Kanopy. Reginald Hill is missed.
The Saul Bellow doc on PBS did not put him in a very good light. Phil loved his novels.
Speaking of books, have enjoyed FOSTER (Claire Keegan) as much as SMALL THINGS LIKE THESE. And apparently there is a film adaptation of FOSTER already. It is called THE QUIET GIRL and it is winning awards in Europe. Also enjoyed LEONARD AND HUNGRY PAUL, a very sweet book about two misfit men in their thirties who prove a quiet, kind life yields its own rewards. Saw WHITE NOISE-a strong first hour and an interesting performance by Adam Driver but the last half was pretty bad.
How about you?
MILDRED PIERCE is different from Cain's other work in that there are no murders, no crimes at all. It's a portrait of a woman in the years during the depression trying to support her two daughters and find some happiness for herself.
She turns out to be very good at supporting them financially, and she parlays her skills for pie-making into a small restaurant chain. She is less successful in supporting her family in other ways though and allows her unbridled love for her older daughter undo everything.
The men are not admirable; no one comes off very well. Economic distress may have a hand in this, of course. This book provides the reader with a good portrait of life in southern California during the depression. These are not the same people we see in THE GRAPES OF WRATH, of course. But they struggle too.
One of the biggest fascinations for me was how Cain laid out the details of life for Mildred Pierce: how a restaurant is run, how a waitress learns her craft, how people dress, decorate their homes, all of these things. And it also has four strong women as characters. Pretty unusual. It's the men who are weak in MILDRED PIERCE.
Mildred is one of the more enigmatic characters in fiction. Was she a monster herself? Did she turn the people in her lives into monsters? Would Vida have been the way she was if raised by someone else? Certainly Mildred's admiration for Vida's worst flaws, traits she saw as fine and noble rather than cruel and superficial, allowed them to flourish. Validated them. Would she have lost her husband had she provided him with more emotional support? These are the questions that make this book work so well.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for those who like dark characters.
John P. Marquand and John O’Hara were the pre-eminent chroniclers of American life in the first half of the 20th century; and, in a way, their bodies of work describe the tension that existed between the privileged WASP class of Marquand’s world and the second-generation of (predominantly Catholic) Irish, Italian, German, and Polish immigrants who came of age before World War II and about whom O’Hara wrote so perceptively. O’Hara’s characters may not be able to get into the “right” schools or join the “right” clubs, but with their strength and drive they bring a vitality that two hundred years of entitlement has leeched out of Marquand’s characters. If you read O’Hara’s and Marquand’s work side-by-side, you’ll see much of the American assimilation saga played out there on the page.
Unfortunately, if John O’Hara is remembered today, it is as the writer of sexy 1950s blockbuster novels such as BUTTERFIELD 8 and RAGE TO LIVE (both of which were made into indifferent movies). But John O’Hara’s real métier was the short story. For over fifty years, starting in 1927 and ending just before his death in 1970, the prolific O’Hara published more than 200 stories in the New Yorker alone (not to mention many more stories that appeared in other publications); in fact, O’Hara was, in large part, responsible for shaping what we now consider to be the classic "New Yorker short story.”
The stories in this collection represent that half-century span, the first was originally published in 1927, the last in 1966. They range in length from a couple of pages to novellas. These are not stories with twists or surprise endings; they are character studies of people defined and limited both by their own choices and by social factors beyond their control. Outcomes proceed organically from the interactions of characters and the fundamental underpinnings of their personalities. Many of them are set in and around the fictional town of Gibbsville, Pennsylvania, and are narrated by Jim Malloy, the local doctor’s son, a fictional stand-in for O’Hara. A few others are set in New York or Los Angeles. One of the best of the L.A. stories is “Nautica Jackson,” about the devastating revenge committed by a woman who discovers her husband is having an affair with a movie starlet.
My favorite story in this collection is “Imagine Kissing Pete,” which explores thirty years in a mismatched marriage. Bobbie marries Pete on the rebound in 1929; friends assume the couple will soon divorce. But the Depression hits, there isn’t money to divorce, then the children come, and the couple remain married through ups and downs, separations, the Depression, downward mobility, hard times, the war, and eventual post-war prosperity. This is not a happy marriage—there’s heavy drinking (every O'Hara character seems to easily consume a fifth a day), casual (and not-so-casual) infidelity on both sides, anger, recriminations, and physical violence, but the marriage endures. The story ends with Bobbie and Pete attending the graduation of their youngest child from an Ivy League school in 1959.
The last story in the collection, “We’ll Have Fun,” is one that I wished would continue and have a happy ending for the main character, a hard-drinking Irish-American named Tony Costello. Costello loves and understands horses, picking up odd jobs from horse owners when he can and spending all of his money on alcohol But horses are on the way out; the rich owners who used to employ Tony are now buying automobiles; stables are being converted to garages; blacksmiths are closing their businesses. Then Tony helps a well-to-do woman who has inadvertently purchased a very sick horse. At the end of the story, Tony and the woman are planning a horse-buying trip together. Tony—despite his faults—is so committed to his love of horses that I was hoping he would be able to squeeze a happy ending out of his life. O’Hara promises no such thing, wisely ending the story before Tony’s drinking and haphazard lifestyle ruin another opportunity for him.
It’s unfortunate that O’Hara’s short stories are not more widely-read today. In their subtlety, range, social awareness, and precise dialog, they are a match for any of the more popular anthologized short stories of the last century. Anyone looking for reading material that is both entertaining and meaningful would not go wrong picking up a volume of O’Hara’s short stories.
Also reading and enjoying THE SHADOWS WE HIDE by Allen Eskens.
Saw THE FABLEMANS, which was very good. I think this was a terrible title though. I am not sure what would have been better. Michelle Williams gives a knockout performance. There were fifteen people in the audience. Movies will only be made for TV very soon, I guess.
On TV, THE WHITE LOTUS, VERA, SLOW HORSES, MY BRILLIANT FRIEND.
It is cold but no real snow yet. May that continue. The winter darkness has already gotten on my nerves. We can weeks without sun here.
How about you?
THE DAMNED, Andrew Pyper
I was attracted to this book in my search for a ghost story and because it is mostly set in the suburb next to mine: Royal Oak. MI. Although there is technically a ghost in it I would classify it as a horror story more than a ghost story.
In order for the story to work, you must embrace the idea of a child born bad. I was never quite able to do this so that somewhat impeded my enjoyment of the book.
Twins are born to a family. From the beginning the girl is trouble although just how is never much discussed until the ending. Both almost die at birth and are brought back. At age sixteen, both die again in a fire and this time only the boy is saved. He has always been haunted by his sister in life and now in death, things don't change much. His ability to have a normal life is stopped at every turn.
This was a very well-written book and the setting was interesting for me. Pyper made good use of both Royal Oak and Detroit. But his sister never came to life for me-either alive or dead. There were lots of good plot twists in it, lots of great detail. But I guess I needed someone who didn't slip though my fingers every time I tried to understand her. Her name was Ash and that about sums up her presence.
(first reviewed in 2015)
This was Morrison's first book and I can't imagine there are many stronger first novels. She tells us in the Forerward that the origin of the story lay in a conversation she had with another student when she was in elementary school. The little girl told her she wanted blue eyes. As Morrison thought about this, she was repelled by the idea. She saw the statement as "racial self-loathing." In America, beauty is measured against the dominant white race. How could a black child, especially a girl, have any self-esteem if they were constantly told they could never be beautiful or worthwhile because of the color of their skin.
Percola Breedlove prays every night for beauty, which she defines as blond hair and blue eyes. Possession of these attributes will help her to fit in with her classmates. This is a novel not easily summed up in a few paragraphs. Percola has even more indignities thrust upon her over the course of this story. The writing in this novel is exquisite, lyrical, enriching. The first few chapters make the book seem more difficult than it is. It settles into a manageable read although a shocking one. Set in Lorain Ohio, it might as well be the Deep South of a hundred years earlier. A truly amazing book.
For more First Wednesday Book Reviews, visit Barrie Summy.
Mrs. Manstey, an elderly woman, sits at her window, which overlooks several backyards, most of the day. She is content with this life--so content, in fact, that when visitors come it is hard for her to look at them instead of the Rear Windowish view outside.
Her landlady informs her that their next door neighbor is about to build an extension on her house that will block Mrs. Manstey's view. Mrs. Manstey gathers herself up and goes to see the woman and offers her money to stop construction. It is half of all the money in her bank account. The woman agrees to consider the offer and promises not to allow the construction to begin the next day. But, of course, it does. Mrs. Manstey deals with it in the only way she can think of.
Now I am an elderly lady that looks out my window from time to time. What I see though are high-end car dealers, a Walgreens, and a gas station. Also trees that make a nice green cover part of the year. There is nothing blooming though and no servants to watch preparing meals. If I had rented an apartment on the other side of the hallway, I would have a very different view, more small town and less urban.
What movie would you put number one?
I watched Jeanne Dielman. At three and a half hours, it was long. It detailed three days in the life of a mother and her son. I'm sure it's not for everyone, but I thought it was fabulous. I don't mind watching people live their life though. Or read about it.
I also watched the new version of Lady Chatterley's Lover on Netflix, which I also loved.
Reading Mrs. Dalloway in preparation for seeing the opera streaming from Lincoln Center next Saturday.
Celebrated Kevin's 16ht birthday. Impossible to believe.
What about you?
The same adoption agency that played the villain in THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS (Netflix doc) were involved in the adoption of these twins too. In their mid-thirties, Elysse and Paula learn of each other's existence. They quickly meet and their immediate elation is a feeling that comes and goes for each of them as they try to adjust to what they've lost by the separation and what they now have. Both women have had issues with mental illness, mostly minor but impactful ones. One has a husband and two kids (eventually), the other lives in Paris alone. One is more eager for a close relationship. There are similarities-they both have been involved with the film industry, but also differences. The two then try to find their birth mother and learn what happened to her--why she gave them up. An interesting book with its disappointments and successes.
A woman finds her neighbor dead. She notifies the police, and the older woman's family comes and hires our protagonist to clean the digs out. They pay her almost nothing for her trouble and still she comes out on top because of their greed and haste in hiring her and selling the house. They want to beat the traffic home and sell the house in a quick sale. Great detail about the music business, the art of Thomas Hart Benton, and Hollywood in a few thousand words.
Lawrence Block asked writers to choose a painting and write a story about it. This is not so easy to pull off. Sanford certainly excelled at not being driven by the painting he chose.
Still reading THE THURSDAY MURDER CLUBS. I like the characters more than the mystery but maybe it will pick up.
Saw A GLASS ONION after our Thanksgiving feast. I think I liked it the most of we six. Everyone else seemed to expect a different kind of ending. But I thought there was enough twists ahead of it. Also saw SHE SAID, which I thought was well done although I guess no one else is seeing it. Third, THE MENU, which was pretty good too.
Kevin is binging BREAKING BAD. I can't imagine doing that with such an intense show. He is not usually much of a TV watcher so this was a surprise.
GO MICHIGAN. The Lions almost did it.
Watched THE HOURS on TV. A better movie than I remembered. Rewatched THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, which was a lesser movie than I remembered. I adored John Irving for many years but maybe our time has passed. Certain authors seem to speak to you at certain times of your life.
Still watching THE WHITE LOTUS, FLEISHMAN IS IN TROUBLE, THE CROWN, ABBOTT ELEMENTARY, THE BIG BRUNCH and assorted other things.
What about you?
Graham Swift is one of my favorite writers. He won the Booker Prize for LAST ORDERS and was short listed for several other books. MOTHERING SUNDAY, WATERLAND, SHUTTERCOCK and LAST ORDERS have all been made into films.
In this story, the two adult children of a man who died taking his golf clubs out of the trunk have gone to a minister to tell him about their father's life so he will have something to say, (about a man he didn't know) at his funeral. Funny how often this seems to happen in stories.
The woman thinks back over her father's life to an incident when she was nine and her father had called a carpenter to fix the hinges on their door. Although the carpenter was far from a young man, she is attracted to him--the first time she has experienced anything like this. And it becomes apparent that "Joe Short" is something of a Lothario in their neighborhood.
At the funeral, she considers telling this story, how her father held her hand while they waited to have their front door put back on. But in the end, she reads the poem that appears on the program. Of course, it is the writing that makes this story work. There is no eureka moment, no mystery solved, no problem overcome, just people going through a situation we have all gone through so its familiarity is soothing. And perhaps gaining some insight into their life (and ours).
Finally got my hands on THE THURSDAY MURDER CLUB. Very popular. But even more astounding is my next book group book, PERSONAL LIBRARIAN, which has accumulated 28, 000 Amazon reviews in six months. Can that possibly be legit? Also trying to read MRS. DALLOWAY before the opera on December 10th.
No new movies this week. I had guests here three nights this week, which I enjoyed very much. It is much easier for folks to get in here now that the construction is finished.
I am watching THE CROWN, THE WHITE LOTUS, FLEISHMAN IS IN TROUBLE, 1899, and probably more whose titles are escaping me.
We have a little snow and it is very cold but supposed to warm up in a few days. Did a little Christmas shopping and put my decorations up.
Be careful out there and tell me what's new.
Jeff Meyerson has been a member of DAPA-EM for over 30 years and published an early fanzine in pre-computer days called (way before the bookstore/publisher of the same name existed) The Poisoned Pen. I was a mail order book dealer, specializing in secondhand British mystery and detective fiction. I've read thousands of mysteries since 1970.
(And thousands more, thirteen years later)
These are very short stories and a novella. They are often comprised of snatches of a conversation, fragments, so it is not always easy to summon up a theme. Does it need a point if it captures a moment, a truth? Some of them seem more like poems than stories. They take unexpected turns and then turn again. "How short is short?" she is asked in an interview.
Here's one story "Memoir"
Just once in my life, Oh, when I have ever wanted anything just once in my life?
That's is. Can you imagine the character?
Well, things turned out much, much better than I expected a week ago. I have listened to a million podcasts explaining what it all means. Phil used to serve that purpose but now I am at the mercy of the various newspaper podcasts. (I don't have CNN or MSNBC on my TV to do that for me), And although I read the print version of the NYT, I need more explanation than it provides.
Winter arrived (again) this week. Only in the thirties. Watched LOVING HIGHSMITH on Kanopy but found it a strange film. It was scored and edited to look very romantic. And although they showed a scene or two from Ripley, Carol and Strangers on a Train, mostly it was extended interviews about her personal life with Mary Jane Meeker and other contemporaries. I think the intent was to soften her image. Also watching From Scratch, which is a delightful change from my usual menu of crime dramas and The Crown, (both Netflix)which I am sort of tired of by now. The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu)finished with a very good episode and an ending that although not happy gave us something consoling. White Lotus (HBO) has a great second episode.
Atlanta (Hulu) also finished brilliantly.
Really liked the movie Causeway on Hulu.
Reading a strange book called The Old Place by Bobby Finger. Not sure who recommended it
Talked to my brother, Jeff, this week who continues to trace ancestors. Too bad I am not a Nase because he found out that Mathias Nass left Alsace on the Britannia from Rotterdam in 1731and landed in Philadelphia with his large family and settled in the Indian Valley in Bucks County/Montgomery Country. The ship's captain, Michael Franklyn changed the spelling of their name to Nehs. The spelling changed about a dozen times but they pretty much stayed in that area for 400 years. He has also traced our maternal side back to Robert Bruce and the Sheriff of Bute in the very early days of Scotland. I know almost nothing about my birth father though. My siblings (if they are that indeed) would need to do DNA testing to bring this to light.
How about you?
Laing is alone in the city and feeling isolated. She goes on to discuss, male artists mostly, that were known for sharing their loneliness through their art. Hopper comes first and certainly his paintings reflect that: empty rooms, women staring out windows, a diner at night. She also examines the life and work of Andy Warhol, David Wojnarowicz, Henry Darger, and various scientists searching for an AIDS vaccine or cure.
Laing also wrote the terrific THE TRIP TO ECHO SPRINGS: ON WRITERS AND DRINKING
(This is Jenna Bush Hager from Today Show's Four Hour).
Now I read many dark stories and this one did keep me reading, but it was kind of like the way you have to look at an accident as you drive by it. You keep hoping things will improve and instead it only gets worse. This girl cannot be heroic because she's had too tough of a life, but boy, you need something by the end of this. I think I'm done with Mary Gaitskill. I probably should have just skipped even telling you about it. And all this was after ninety painful minutes in the dentist's chair.
I am wondering if this will be the last halfway decent week politically for a long, long time. There are, of course, people who are voting correctly for their life style and bank account and such when they vote Republican. But I can't help but think the vast majority are voting for one or two issues they think the Republicans will solve. But if they do solve them it will be at the expense of the poor and middle class. If these people would just turn on the "real" news or pick up a real newspaper instead of getting their news from dubious sources, they might realize this.
Saw LA TRAVIATA, streamed from the Metropolitan Opera in NY. So lovely. Although I think the music would be superior at the Met, the closeups are just outstanding seeing it this way.
Enjoyed KAREN PIRIE on Brtibox . Too soon to tell about WHITE LOTUS. ATLANTA is almost finished. I have learned more about Black life from this show than anything else. And the podcast that discusses it helps even more.
Today I am off to see a play.
Reading the excellent THE LONELY CITY by Olivia Laing. Also THE BLUEST EYE.
VOTE: PERMANENT DST, PERMANENT EST or continue switching. If Detroit stays on DST, it's sunrise would be at 9:01 am in winter. That doesn't seem right.
What about you this week?