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 


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


(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 


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.

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 

"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


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.

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.


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?