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.
Monday, July 25, 2022
Friday, July 22, 2022
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 fiancé, 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.
Wednesday, July 20, 2022
Ernest Hemingway wrote this masterpiece when he was 28 years old. It always amazes me when someone has such a great understanding of what makes a terrific story at such a young age. And short stories sometimes require more skill in this regard than novels. And this is a very short story.
A couple are at a train station in Spain, midway between Madrid and Barcelona. They are drinking a lot and gradually it emerges he is trying to talk her into have a procedure done. (Nothing specific is mentioned but what else could it be). They talk about the scenery, the hills in particular, how many alcohols taste like licorice. He talks a lot, trying to persuade her of something and she asks him (several times) to stop talking so much. We know he is an American and her name is Jig and not a lot more. We can tell they have been traveling together for some time by the stickers on their luggage. Now my interpretation may be different from yours. There are a million websites that discuss this story. Clearly Hemingway edited this down to the most minimal story he could tell. And it is great because of that. What do you think? Who wins the struggle?
Monday, July 18, 2022
I also watched the 1930s version of THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH-which was quite good until the last 15 minutes which were all a shootout.
My street continues to be the biggest mess you've ever seen. And the rain this week has made it worse. They have fashioned various ways to navigate it on foot but they change from day to day. Coming home at 10:30 the other night, I couldn't figure it out at all until a teenager pointed the way.There are huge holes to fall into.
Still watching THE OLD MAN but it's a struggle for me. I don't have the brain for spy drama. Instead I prefer THE BEAR. I am re-watching MAD MEN (even better than I remembered) and BETTER CALL SAUL. What will happen to Kim?
Also struggling to find a novel. I went to the library to try to find a Peter Turnbull set in York but they only had the other series. I just can't read on a kindle. I look at all the books I have downloaded and how few I finished. I can't exactly say why.
I am trying to get back to writing and am rejoining my old writing group, which is now on zoom because so many of them have spread out. I have 80 pages of a novel. Would be nice to finish it.
What about you?
Friday, July 15, 2022
(From Richard Robinson)
Deathtrap by Peter Turnbull, Severn House 2000 hardcover, mystery, police procedural. 2nd in the Hennessey and Yellich series, set in York, England.
review from Kirkus Reviews:
“Yet another of the author’s absorbing procedurals, this time set in the city of York, where Detective Chief Inspector George Hennessey presides over the Micklegate Bar Police Station when local retiree John Smith, taking his usual walk on the edge of the Whickham Great Wood, comes across the body of freelance reporter Cornelius Weekes, an apparent suicide, in a closed, fume-filled car. When a painstaking autopsy by Hennessey’s close friend Dr. Louise D’Acre proves the death to be murder, Hennessey begins an exploration of Weekes’s recent movements. He soon links the case to the death 18 years ago of Donald Round, another reporter. Both men, Hennessey learns, had been examining the case of Melanie Clifford, imprisoned for the murder of her long-time lover Toby Erickson’s wealthy wife Charlotte. It’s soon clear to Hennessey that John Cross, the long-retired police detective who first headed the Erickson investigation, had deliberately ignored evidence in Melanie’s favor. Now, 18 years later, Hennessey and sidekick Detective Sergeant Yellich are convinced of Melanie’s innocence and set out to prove it.”
After reading a review of one of the books in this series — don’t recall where just now — I went looking and found an ex-lib copy, which I read just last week. I really enjoyed it, especially the characters. I’ll be looking for more of this series.
Wednesday, July 13, 2022
Four stories and four pieces titled Road Trips. I have read two of the road trip pieces so far.
In one "In the Beforetime," the author (Yiyun Li) contrasts two trips to author's homes (Larkin and Dickinson) in two countries. A family on the train on the way to Hull (Larkin) is not abiding by the "quiet carriage" rules. The second trip never happens because life intervenes with his plan. He comes to the conclusion the family's noise was not very important given the ending of the second trip. Would this satisfy an editor looking for a short story? He (She) probably would have had a slightly more definite ending. But maybe not. I am not even totally sure this isn't a short story.
"Night Driving" (Uwem Akpan) details a Nigerian man's traffic stop outside Vegas. Of course, we are very worried about this one turning out badly too. The cop is clearly suspicious the car is stolen because it is a Saab and the plates are out of state. The Nigerian man is asked to come to the rear of the car. I will leave it there. Both stories are distinguished by the writing more than their content.
Most of the stories feature road trips or travel, which makes sense for a summer issue.
Monday, July 11, 2022
Two terrific plays in Stratford. Lovely weather. Using my ArriveCan app turned out to be easy too. Going to Canada is indeed entering another country, one that is sane and never changes very much Except they keep installing more and more roundabouts. Oh, and they have installed boardwalks along side every restaurants so pedestrians do not need their sidewalks and they can put more tables outside. Most people wore masks at the plays but not much elsewhere.
Reading SLEEPWALK by Dan Chaon. Still reading DEAR EDWARD too.
Went to see the Spanish film OFFICIAL COMPETITION which was funny but not wholly satisfying. Comedies in a foreign language work less well than dramas for me. But still a good movie.
Watching end of Better Call Saul. And the hearings, of course.
So much beautiful weather.
How about you?
Today I am picking out what films to see at the Traverse City Film Festival. As usual, they lean toward Michael Moore's POV. It is his party after all.
Friday, July 08, 2022
For anyone who has not heard this, an email from Barbara Robinson shocked and saddened.. When I began this blog I had no idea we would lose so many friends over the years. But that was partly because I never imagined my blog lasting 15 years. I think if you want to correspond with Barbara, you could leave a message on Rick's blog. So sad.
As Rick said in his e-mail below that there would be updates, I am sending one on his behalf. Once I figure out how to post a brief comment on his blog, I will. He would not want to leave out any of his blog/book friends.
Tuesday, July 05, 2022
This is the Festival Theater, one of the three lovely theaters at the Stratford Festival in Ontario. I managed to download and fill out the ARRIVECAN app and hopefully we will sail through the customs at the Blue Water Crossing in Sarnia, ON, CA. I have some trepidation since Covid numbers are on the rise. Masks are not required but encouraged and I will wear mine.
We are seeing HAMLET (has to be my tenth time) and CHICAGO (probably seen it twice before). My friends are also seeing RICHARD III but I doubt I would get much out of seeing two plays in a day. All of these productions have gotten great reviews.
Have a great weekend.
Monday, July 04, 2022
Hard to feel much like celebrating the Fourth this year. My favorite restaurant sent this email out.
This is not a time for the usual celebration of our country's hard won freedom and independence.
In light of recent rulings, we believe it is a time to reflect and take a stand against the freedoms we have all just lost and those we stand to lose soon: as individuals, as families, women and men.
For the love of our nation, we are choosing to take this day to pause from business as usual.
We wish you a good holiday.
I do admire a commercial business bold enough to put this out there.
Anyone feeling celebratory this fourth?
Friday, July 01, 2022
The Movie-goer by Walker Percy
This book won the National Book Award in 1962. It is a brilliant exploration of a young man searching for both a way and the inclination to live a meaningful existence. Binx Bolling has returned from the war, taken up a job as a stock broker, and spends most of his spare time seducing his secretaries and attending movies. The story takes place in a New Orleans that seems totally Southern and certainly far from the New Orleans we think of today.
A lot of the book examines a certain notion of exceptionalism and honor southerners had at that time. Binx is repeatedly reminded of this by his aunt and various other characters in the book. This is the sort of book you will think about long after you close it. What Binx does to alleviate the ennui he suffers may not be persuasive as a cure, but it requires him to put himself and his narcissism aside.
I was a great Walker Percy fan once upon a time. Some of his work has fantastical or science fiction elements: The Thanatos Syndrome and Love in the Ruins being two.