THE BOYS IN THE BOAT: NINE AMERICANS AND THEIR EPIC QUEST FOR GOLD AT THE 1936 BERLIN OLYMPICS. A book about rowing? Seems improbable that anyone could make it a page turner but David James Brown succeeded.
From the archives
Been watching the scary DEAR CHILD on Netflix (German). Also watched Eric Rohmer's TALES OF AUTUMN. Still looking for a long series to get me through winter. Gave up on ER and GREY'S ANATOMY. Maybe I will rewatch THE SOPRANOS but I don't know if I want to enter his world again.
Picked up the new Kate Atkinson's story collection and the new Angie Kim, HAPPINESS FALLS. Still working on my book club book, but Tuesday is the day.
Went to Senior Day at the Detroit Zoo this week. Also listened to a Jazz Group practice at the Senior Center.
I get my shots on the 28th. Wish it were sooner so I didn't have to wear a mask to a play next Sunday.
What about you?
THE INNOCENT MRS. DUFF, Elizabeth Sanxay Holding
some reason, much as I've pushed her, I'd never read THE INNOCENT
MRS. DUFF by Elizabeth Sanxay Holding. It is remarkable in many ways,
not least because the protagonist, Jacob Duff is drunk for virtually
the entire novel. And we see 95% of the book through his eyes.
Functionally drunk for most of it but also falling-down drunk in
places. Holding's genius was to sustain a sense of
dread that I don't think even Ruth Rendell has equaled. There are times in her novels when I have to put the book down for a few minutes. They are that claustrophobic in mood and action.
That's the first remarkable aspect of the book. The second remarkable aspect is that we see the book through the eyes of one of the most arrogant, self-involved, cold and self-deluded men I've ever encountered in fiction of any kind. I hated the bastard so
much--I'm not enamored of the upper-classes, alas, and Duff embodies everything I loathe about them--I almost gave up after chapter three. I wasn't sure I wanted to learn anything more about this jerk,
But Holding has the voodoo, at least for me. She makes me turn pages faster than any best-seller because what you're rushing to discover is the secrets of her people not just plot turns. All the good folks in
this one are women, especially Duff's younger, beautiful and very decent wife. He constantly compares her unfavorably to his first wife, though we soon learn that he didn't care much for his first wife, either. At
age forty he's still looking for his dream woman. God have mercy on her soul if he ever finds her.
As always with Holding, as with much of Poe, what we have is not so much a plot (though she's as good as Christie) as a phantasmagoria of despair, distrust and suspicion that consumes the protagonist. Is his
wife cheating on him? Is she setting up his death so she'll inherit his estate? Is she turning his young son against him? Has his wealthy aunt, his life-long mentor and mother confessor, taken the side of his young
wife? Has his drinking disgraced him in his small town and are all those smirks aimed at him? And finally, is he a murderer? And why does he have to sneak around these days to drink?
If you're curious about Holding, this is a good place to start. Anthony Boucher always said that she was the mother of all psychological suspense novelists. What's interesting is how few, fifty-some years after her death, have come close to equaling her enormous powers. Not for nothing did Raymond Chandler call her the best suspense novelist of his generation
This is a somewhat familiar setup-a man seems to be disposing of his wife's body and his neighbors are more than a little interested. They are at his elbow from start to finish. What makes it work so well is how great and natural the dialogue is-and it's almost all dialog. The ending is somewhat of a twist but it really hangs together on the development of the characters and that Pronizini makes them so realistic. A real master.
How about those Lions!!! Maybe this is our year.
A lot of cloudy weather. Since it so cloudy in Detroit from November to March, I really hate it when this happens earlier. The temperature is nice though. Some lunches and dinners with friends but nothing at the movies to see. Hoping the new Poirot opens and gets good reviews.
A friend and I went to a couple of plant nurseries on Saturday and at one of them a wedding was about to begin. The groom wore a bright blue tuxedo with brown shoes, which we thought unusual. Black, right? But apparently that's a new trend. The bride was completely traditional. Having a wedding at a nursery seemed odd-it was in the greenhouse, which was fairly dirty because of the leaves blowing in. But it was also sort of nice for a September wedding.
What month did you marry in and was there anything unusual in your outfits? I think my brother had a maroon tux or maybe it was just the cummerbund. Or maybe that was a prom tux. I would check on it but it's on a top shelf in a closet.
Mine was dead normal except I wore a short gown. Megan did also thirty years later.
Watching THE SECRET SHE KEEPS, based on a Michael Robotham novel. It's on Prime. Also the PBS Sunday night fare. Contemplating watching HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER since I am listening to Viola Davis' memoir. Boy, can she read it well.
Still struggling with this book club book. So well written but boy it moves slowly. I think anything I have to read I struggle with. Listening to lots of podcasts as I walk and ride the bike. My PT guy came to the gym in my bldg and worked out a routine for me since I am out of therapy now. A new fun one is TEAM DEAKINS, which interviews film people. I will finally learn what a best boy does.
So what's new with you?
(reviewed by Richard Robinson, 2018)
Obviously, the computer is fixed. It wasn’t a big deal, I should have figured it out myself.
Meanwhile, this is another in my series of forgotten or seldom read books
This may or may not truly be a “forgotten book”, but it is certainly not much read these days. I know I hadn’t thought about it for a very long time until, reading Jo Walton’s An Informal History of the Hugo Awards, I saw it listed and discussed. So I decided to reread it. The copy shown is my copy, the January 1963 Dell edition of the 1961 original published by Harcourt Brace.
Jo Walton’s comments are right on target, for the most part, so I’m quoting some of them:
“I remembered this book as an exciting technical story about a rescue on the moon—and my goodness, that’s what it still is. A Fall of Moondust remains an edge-of-the-seat exciting technical story of a rescue on the moon. It’s the 2050s. The solar system is being colonized. On the moon, they want to make some money from tourism. They have a boat that skims over the dust in the “Sea of Thirst,” just a tour bus, really, out there to give the tourists a show—until the day when there’s a moonquake and the boat slips down into the dust.”
From that point on, the book tells how, with brains, luck and patience, the craft is located and the passengers rescued. The “dust” is made up of such tiny particles that radio signals can’t penetrate it, so the dust-drowned craft is completely out of touch with Moonbase. They can’t send any signal without opening a door or hatch, which would let the dust flow in and suffocate everyone in minutes.
The passengers, not knowing how deep they may be, can’t risk trying to “swim” through the dust, which flows like a liquid and is blinding and deafening, trying to find the surface. Then what? To sink again. So the passengers settle in for a wait, for rescue.
The people on the surface work frantically to rescue them. As Walton says, “It’s as unputdownable today as when I first read it.”
The tension never lets up. The ship goes under the surface, and time is ticking and heat is rising and oxygen is running out and more things keep happening—it’s riveting. You can never forget you’re on the moon. All Earth can do is watch. Some of the passengers are comic relief, but the vast majority of the characters in this book are competent men doing their jobs. Even the grumpy astronomer is a competent man doing his job with a bit of sarcasm.
“This is the future that didn’t happen, the future where the boffins of the 1950s rose up and colonized the solar system with slide rules and general cooperative intellectual competence. This moon was first reached in 1967 by the Soviets—and this was published after Kennedy announced the space race, so Clarke was putting his money on the other side. The hotels have notices in English, Russian, and Chinese, but there’s no indication that the Cold War is still a problem.”
A Fall of Moondust is a classic of science fiction—a “man against nature” story, at one-sixth gravity and in a sea of dust that’s halfway to being a liquid. The characters are thin, but the prose is full of the poetry of science. We have come a long way since 1961, but this is readable, exciting, and chock-full of sense of wonder.
Anyway, this is the story of an eleven-year old who feels compelled to visit the haunted house in her neighborhood, much like Margaret O'Brien's character in Meet Me in St. Louis. Penny is also afraid of her father who's suffering from PTSD from his tour in Vietnam. The Hoffman House was the scene of an horrific murder and sits abandoned around the corner from Penny. This is also a story about day v night and the landscape of dreams. I am looking forward to reading the other stories, all written by woman.
Jerry House -I could not get into your blog at all. Maybe just thinking of that word did it.
Lots of nice weather although we have entered a hot stretch. Today I am going to see a play in Ann Arbor. The title is MLIMA, The playwright is Lynn Nottage. It's about an elephant that is murdered. The theater is very tiny, which usually works out well. Lots of tiny theaters in Michigan. Too many of them do the same old stuff though. This one never does.
Started watching Inhuman Resources on Netflix. I remember the author from a big splash novel about a decade ago. Pierre Lemaitre (Alex?). Have only seen one episode but it seems
Watching Grey's Anatomy but I am not sure I can stick with it for 20 seasons. Medical shows are not my favorite. Sad to be done with Slow Horses. I hope the next season comes soon. Still watching After Party. Some episodes are much better than others. Also watching Commission on Prime. Artists in Seattle get commissions to paint buyers a picture. So far everyone wants abstract art. I need a good doc show to cleanse the palette. In the past I have watched a series on Portrait Artists and Landscape Artists.
Reading the Sarah Winman book for my book group. (Still Lives)
Megan has a short story in JCO new anthology, which just arrived. Some of the authors will be at the Mysterious Bookshop on Thursday night.
Susannah Moore is a novelist, perhaps best known for her dark novel, IN THE CUT. But this is a memoir published in 2020. Not really forgotten, but a review I wanted to get on here so I don't forget it. This book details her rather difficult early years, especially the ones she spent with a wicked stepmother. But it is also discusses her modeling career and her years in Hollywood (sixties and seventies mostly) where she was never quite successful but charming and smart perhaps because she is a frequent dinner guest at A list parties..
She is candid about not being a very good actress, but enjoyed meeting the stars of the time. Lots of stuff about Roman Polanski, for instance. It is well -written and I will enjoy reading in another volume about her transition to novel writing. The memoir skips around in time more than I like but was quite good.
Jack Pendarvis was a writer for SPONGE BOB SQUARE PANTS and ADVENTURE TIME. He is also a close friend of Megan's who I have been fortunate to meet once or twice. He lives in Oxford, MA where his wife teaches at Ole Miss.
I have read the first two essays or stories in this delightful collection. The first one, WELCOME TO THE NATIONAL LIGHTER MUSEUM tells of his trip to Guthrie, OK to visit Ted Ballard, the proprietor of this museum and its extensive collection which was more than seventy years in the making. Ted is hoping to find someone who will promise not to break the collection up and values at a million dollars. The most interesting item was a lighter made from a scrotum. T
The second chapter discussed the use of lighters in films and TV. As you might predict, the heyday of lighters is long past now. MAD MEN was probably the most recent show to use the lighter extensively, beginning with the first scene.
Although I am thanked in Pendarvis' acknowledgements, I can't think I did anything to help him other than to laugh at most anything that comes out of his mouth. Jack still has a blog, which has also provided me with laughs more than one. His other abiding passion is owls. He finds them everywhere (in books that is)
Read Jack for a while and you begin to ask yourself the kind of questions he asks himself on his blog.
Here's one from today.
I am often running into people who tell me they don't have a sweet tooth. But are there people who don't like salty food? Just normal salty not food bathed in salt. Anyone here dislike pretzels or similar food because of the salt on it?
Jerry House (radio script)
Jeff-I read Mary Lavin back in the seventies and got all of her books from the Wayne State library. Have never seen one in a public library.
Reading STILL LIFE by Sarah Winman for my book group but the light and small font is not fun. I do need some procedure done to clean off the lens from my cataract surgery and perhaps that will help. I have a bunch of books waiting for me that I'd rather be reading.
Kevin took his SATs Saturday. We went out to celebrate but he can take them five more times if need be. I hope he doesn't have to though. These kids have too much pressure on them.
I am almost done my PT- but don't think it's helped my knee much. But the other day, walking down a very small incline, I wondered if my ankle isn't some of the problem. It seems to roll over.
We have been getting horrible storms with too much rain for the infrastructure. Why didn't we begin address climate change fifty years ago?
How about you?
Continental Drift, Russell Banks.
It is hard for me to choose between AFFLICTION and CONTINENTAL DRIFT as my favorite novel by Russell Banks. But I am going with this one today. You may have seen the filmed version of AFFLICTION, a tremendous film with Nick Nolte and James Coburn.
Bob Dubois is a furnace repairman in a blue-collar town in New Hampshire, a state the American Dream has bypassed. Although Bob has a wife, three kids and a steady, if low-paying job, he is persuaded to look for a better life in Miami by his brother.
Bob is a good man although not a smart one. The sixties has persuaded him that there is something better out there. That it is foolish to be satisfied with a meager living in a depressed town.
Another character is also seeking a better life in Miami. A female Haitian refuge, who truly does need asylum and comes to the U.S. in a perilous manner. These two lives intersect in a Florida that is the antithesis of paradise, both characters suffering tragedy. This is not a happy book or one to escape into, but it is one that presents characters and situations that seem real and compelling.
Banks died in January. Here is his NYT obit.
Harlan Ellison is hardly a forgotten writer, but I’m working under the assumption there are people today that haven’t read him. They should go right out and find anything by the man. He’s a writer worth reading. I’ve written about him before HERE.
My selection for the first edition of Patti Abbott’s Forgotten Short Stories is THE WHIMPER OF WHIPPED DOGS, the story of a woman brutally murdered in a courtyard while residents watched, not one responding to her cries for help, not even calling the police. The story concerns the aftermath and the decision the young woman protagonist, one of the watchers, makes at the end of the story.
It was inspired by the true life murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964. A news story two weeks later reported on the non-response of neighbors to the brutalization that went on only a hundred feet from her apartment door. Stabbed twice, the attacker left, only to return ten minutes later to continue the assault.
The report may have been in error, no one knows for sure anymore. Nevertheless, it inspired a powerful story from Mr. Ellison on the general malaise enveloping people living in the city, the constant violence on TV, the mind your own business attitude of to many of us. It won the Edgar for best short story in 1974, one of the many awards(to numerous to list here) his writing has won in a long career.
It’s easily available in numerous editions.
1. Bad Moon Rising, eidted by Tom Disch: first appearance and reasonably priced with a little search
2. Deathbird Stories: good prices
3: Dreams With Sharp Teeth: omnibus containing Deathbird Stories, Shatterday, and I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream. A nice introduction to the man’s stories for anyone new to Mr. Ellison’s work
4. The Essential Ellison: A 35 Year Retrospective and the expanded 50 Year Retrospective
What a scene it is to watch hundreds of flatbed trucks removing thousands of antique cars from the streets along this 30 mile stretch. It's like watching the young push wheelchairs with the old strapped in. Many of them have come from half a country away. I saw a row of Avantis (Studebaker) outside my building.
We saw three okay but not great plays in Stratford: RENT, RICHARD II and KING LEAR. We hit tremendous rainstorms coming and going. And Canada seems to not believe in either rest stops or shoulder to pull off on to.
Reading TOM LAKE by Ann Patchett, which is set in Michigan.
Watching CITY PRIMEVAL, MURDERS IN THE BUILDING, RESERVATION DOGS, and SLOW HORSES.
Happy Birthday, Megan.
What about you?
Now as someone who has watched the seal population grow in La Jolla, I am not a seal fan. A huge number of smelly birds follow them around. They need to be dispersed if not slaughtered and other communities have done it. If they can neuter peacocks in Florida, they can deal with this.
Anyway, I liked MISSION IMPOSSIBLE Lots of humor to go with the action. Beautifully filmed. And no matter how you feel about TC, he is a dedicated actor and film maker.
Finally got through the first season of SLOW HORSES. If I put my phone in another room, I do much better at paying attention. Also watched RESERVATION DOGS.
Reading TOM LAKE by Ann Patchett. Such a great writer.
Wonderful if horrific article in THE ATLANTIC by Jennifer Senior about the discovery that she had an aunt institutionalized her entire life. Up until quite recently, children with mental differences were advised to be put away. Rosemary Kennedy was not the only one. Apparently Geraldo Rivera made a doc about it. He used to be rather a good guy, wasn't he?
Going to Stratford Tuesday. RENT, RICHARD II, KING LEAR.
What are you up to?
Donald Hamilton's DEATH OF A CITIZEN changed my life.
I was brought up to be polite and courteous, to put others first, and -- if I had nothing good to say -- to say nothing at all.
Then, as a young teen, I opened DEATH OF A CITIZEN. Read it, flipped it over, and read it again. And again.
Matt Helm was a no-nonsense protagonist who thought for himself and did what needed to be done. If he was polite and courteous, he was polite and courteous because he'd decided to be, not because someone else how told him how to behave.
Some may say I'm splitting hairs here, but DEATH OF A CITIZEN taught me not only self-awareness but self-determination.
Sure, Helm killed people, but nobody's perfect.
No book is perfect. DEATH OF A CITIZEN comes very close.
Take the following exchange. Helm and his ex-lover Tina are traveling together. Teasing has lead to a game of tag, and the longer-legged Helm eventually brings her down.
"'Old,' she jeered, still lying there. 'Old and fat and slow. Helm the human vegetable. Help me up, turnip.'"
It's funny and it's fitting and it's a damn fine piece of writing. I've read the book dozens of times and still continue to be blow away by that paragraph.
As a bit of background, Tina and Helm (or Eric, as he was known at the time) worked together during the war as government assassins. He gets out once Germany is defeated, marries, and leads a normal life until Tina reappears.
Donald Hamilton delivers on multiple levels. Not only does he create entertaining plots, and write them well, he provides a rich array of three-dimensional characters.
Take, for example, what happens when Helm borrows a car, rushing home to save his daughter who's been kidnapped by Tina and her partner Frank.
"It was the ugliest damn hunk of automotive machine I'd ever had the misfortune to be associated with...
"[The gas attendant thinks differently.] 'That's quite a car you've got there. I tell you ... when they can get something real sharp made right here in America.'
"Well, it's all a matter of taste, I guess."
Helm might be his own person, but he understands and accepts that his way is not the only way. That's as rare in books as it is in real life.
One finds murder, kidnapping, and torture within DEATH OF A CITIZEN. The disembowelment of a pet cat. And yet, one finds the following passage while Helm waits for a female guest to leave Frank's hotel room.
"...the tartier the girl, strangely enough, the longer the skirt. You'd think it would be the other way around.
"This one was pretty well hobbled."
And after the woman leaves, and Helm follows Frank out of the hotel and under a nearby bridge:
"There were a couple of cars going past overhead. It was a good a time as any. I took out the gun and shot him five times in the chest."
Only later does Helm explain that Frank was too big and unimaginative to be made to talk. Killing Frank at least took him out of the equation, freeing Helm to concentrate on Tina.
"She licked her lips. 'Better men than you have tried to make me talk, Eric.'
"I said, 'This doesn't take better men, sweetheart. This takes worse men. And at the moment, with my kid in danger, I'm just about as bad as they come."
Between 1960 (DEATH OF A CITIZEN) and 1993 (THE DAMAGERS), Matt Helm appeared in 27 books. Donald Hamilton died in late 2006. He was just about as good as they came.
I was listening to a long interview with Andre Dubus III on Fresh Air about his new book, SUCH KINDNESS, and much of their talk was about male violence. He relayed a story about how his Dad wrote "Leslie in Califonia" after the two of them discovered his sister was being beaten by her husband. Dubus II went home and wrote this very short story and his son Dubus III was very upset with his father using that incident to create art. "How does this help?" he asked. But of course, it does because it reminds us that this is going on right down the street, right next door sometimes. When I was a kid I watched the man I babysat for throw his wife out the front door. At night, I could often hear the man in the row house next to ours repeatedly push his wife against the wall. The walls are thicker in the places I live now but this still goes on.
So of course I had to read the story or rather reread it because it is in a collection I own. In the story, a woman wakes up with her eye hurting and we learn her husband has beaten her. And like all men in this situation he promises he will never do it again, but of course, he will. And the story ends with the woman indicating she is about to leave. There is nothing new about this story but it gets right to it without telling us a word more than we need to know.
So last night I tried a new series on Prime called THE LOST FLOWERS OF ALICE HART, an Australian series starring Sigourney Weaver and guess what it's about. And this time the man beats his child and wife. Some days you can't get away from it.
I saw THEATER CAMP, which probably few of you have heard of based on the audience of six.
Watching JUSTIFIED: CITY PRIMEVAL, which probably will rank as one of the lesser seasons. Debating whether to watch HI-JACKED. Finished up GRANTCHESTER and is it me or was that one of the worst seasons too. They really didn't seem to know what to do with half the characters on the show. Maybe it is me. Trying SLOW HORSES again after hearing an interview with Mick Herron on the BBC.
Been rereading some of the Andre Dubus II short stories. A great writer indeed.
Trying to shake of the politics of this country and having little luck.
What about you?
I tried to rewatch THE X-FILES, but the episodes are so driven by an single idea (e.g. a guy that can ooze through grates) that there is not much else going on except them chasing after him. Tried a British show called THE BOOK GROUP but like a lot of book groups (not mine) the idea of a book quickly gets lost. Wow, that sequel to SEX AND THE CITY is an embarrassment, especially to the actress who plays Charlotte. Was she that ditsy in the original?
PT is tiring and I keep getting caught in torrential rain going home. My knee seems much the same after four sessions. No strength for going down the stairs. And since I have none, I can't practice. I may never be able to go to New York (or any big city) again if it doesn't improve.
My brother is off to Norway and Iceland via cruise ship. More and more a cruise makes sense especially for a non-driver. But on the other hand, I always get seasick on the water. My I am full of problems.
No new movies although I saw BARBIE twice.
How about you?
I have belonged to a book group for about five years. We have seldom
read a book without merit. We read more fiction than non, but not exclusively. We have
read poetry (1) and plays (2). We have read polemics (What Happened to
Kansas) and memoirs (Personal History and Made in Detroit). My favorite book was Bel Canto
About 25% have been classics like Pride and Prejudice, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Madame Bovary, East of Eden.
I stay in the group most of all because I like the women. They are thoughtful, caring people. That seems like a pretty good reason.
They read Megan Abbott's book Die a Little and came to her reading.
I have belonged to this book group for another 17 years. About 23 years in all. We read far fewer classics and far less non-fiction nowadays. It is almost the same people but two of them have Alzheimer's, one Parkinson's, and two husbands have died, one moved and does it over zoom. We all did it on zoom for more than two years but we didn't miss many meetings. Almost all of us have had a tragedy of some sort over the period. The average age is about 78. Half of us caught Covid despite all having all the vaccines. One had it twice. We have trouble choosing books often and I pick too many. We rarely read mysteries because they don't usually have enough to discuss. We borrow a lot of ideas from an adjacent group. Although we have always been troubled by the state of the world, we are more troubled now. One or two came to Megan's latest reading (Beware the Woman), ten books later. We are hanging in there but it grows harder. My favorite book in all those years are books by Ann Patchett, Sigrid Nunez, Larry Watson, William Kent Kruger, Elizabeth Strout.
OPPENHEIMER was very good although two things distracted me. First, trying to place the myriad of actors slightly altered to look their part. Of course, I recognized Matt Damon, Robert Downey, Jr and others, but I highly recommend if you intend on seeing it to look over the cast before going. Secondly, music played behind a lot of the dialog, and it was hard to hear. Or perhaps I am just overly used to using closed captions. But its greatness still shone through--even without seeing it on an IMAX screen.
Watching a strange but likable show called PURE on Prime. Other than that, I drift. As I also have been doing with books. I got the book mentioned on THE BEAR, which is called THE REMARKABLE POWER OF GIVING PEOPLE MORE THAN THEY EXPECT (Will Guidara) This is advice on how to create a great restaurant, which Richie on The Bear has taken to heart. This could apply to any business though-making a customer feel valued, seen appreciated. At dinner last night, I felt like giving a copy to our waitress who kept trying to clear plates off the table before we were done. And there were plenty of empty tables at 5 pm.
Wednesday night I went to the park concert where they played surf instrumental music for two hours. Perhaps a bit too much, but they were good.
My book group struggled with DAUGHTER OF TIME. Although strangely enough when I got my report from 23 and Me, an ancestry site, my oldest known ancestor was Richard III. Me along with millions of other people. I do know now that my birth father was a man named Jack Yarnall. Ralph Nase was a wonderful father and I am glad he never knew this. I wish I had never learned of it too.
What about you?
The second story was told similarly (second person) but this is about a first romance. She is growing tired of her boyfriend when he develops a kidney problem that is difficult to diagnose. How long are you required to stay with someone you don't love because of an illness? Especially at age 20 or so.
Literary stories used to be like these: easy to understand, beautifully written, about the kind of issues we faced. Or least I thought like that.
Now many of the stories I see in THE NEW YORKER are abstract, foreign, odd stylistically. Perhaps I have just outlived stories that feel familiar. First-world stories perhaps.