Saturday, April 29, 2023

TURN EVERY PAGE: movie recommendation

Robert Caro, a biographer of Robert Moses, and Lyndon Johnson (4 volumes so far) and Robert Gottlieb, an editor, have been working together for fifty years and this delightful documentary gives you a sense of that relationship. Caro is working on volume 5 now and it's a race against time but he will not be rushed and ruin the gift he has left us. Phil and I listened to MASTER OF THE SENATE on a trip to Cape Cod once and he held us spellbound. This is available now on PRIME for $5.99 and I highly recommend it. (Gottlieb has edited around 500 books beside Caro's. Both men are feisty and interesting.

Friday, April 28, 2023


Kim Zupan, The Ploughmen (from the archives, reviewed by Ron Scheer) 

One reader has compared this novel to No Country For Old Men because of a murderous central character, John Cload, who brings to mind yet another dark work of fiction The Silence of the Lambs. Cload is more than a little like Hannibal Lecter, as he befriends a deputy sheriff who keeps him company from outside his jail cell through long, sleepless nights and escorts him to and from the county courthouse where he is under trial.

The deputy, Valentine Millimaki, has been encouraged by the sheriff to learn what he can about Cload that might help in the trial. But besides a single killing, for which there was a witness, the deputy remains unaware that Cload has bodies buried all over the rough Montana country along the northern shores of the upper Missouri River.

Not more than marginally interested in Cload anyway, Millimaki has troubles of his own. Cload correctly senses that they are woman troubles. As a schoolboy, Millimaki once discovered the body of his mother, who had hanged herself in a barn on the family farm. Now, his young wife has left him, weary and depressed by life in a backwater Montana town.
Missouri River, below Great Falls, Montana
Missoula writer Kim Zupan has a wonderful gift for lucid and sharply polished prose. As much of the novel takes place at night or in the waning days of autumn, there is an awareness of light and shadow through many of the scenes. You know as Millimaki walks the corridors of the jail or sits outside Cload’s cell exactly how the fluorescent lighting affects what can be seen.

His characters are strongly drawn and come alive in realistic dialogue. Most absorbing for the reader is the strange and fragile bond that develops between the two men. One has the calm clarity of a man who knows he is about to be convicted of murder. The other surrenders to a pervasive gloom as he is overtaken by loneliness, and his life slowly derails. Each needs the other, but for very different reasons, which do not become evident until the final chapters.

The Ploughmen is currently available in paper and ebook formats at amazon and Barnes&Noble.


Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: INTO LOVE AND OUT AGAIN, Elinor Lipman


Jeff sent me three story collections. I picked up the Elinor Lipman one first because although I admire her novels, I had never read her stories. There are story collections where you can only read one at a time because they are so difficult, sad, or so thought provoking that one at a time is enough. Lipman's stories are so enjoyable you have trouble putting the book down, unusual for stories.

This collection is from 1987 but it seems completely contemporary and it's hard to put my finger on why. I think it's because many female writers still tell this sort of story. Stories about women struggling to find love, struggling with their families (especially their mothers) struggling to get the right balance of career, home, love, friends. Breezy stories for a rainy afternoon in Detroit. Light but not froth or trivial. Thanks, Jeff!

Monday, April 24, 2023

Monday, Monday

So  much rain. The grass is neon.

Got to one movie this week. Despite good reviews, I didn't think much of this, often sour, film. The Italian family portrayed seemed so generic and the jokes did as well. I was happy to see a decent audience although too many of them forgot to turn off their phones. I think a better writer could have pulled a stronger script from the pieces left behind.

SUCCESSION is still amazing me. Talk about strong writing. There are at least three podcasts that have devoted themselves to an analysis of it. 

BARRY also seems to be going out on a strong season. 

I watched one episode of THE DIPLOMAT and Rufus Sewell seems to be stealing the show. Tried MRS. DAVIS but not sure it's for me. Because so many series are shot in New Mexico now that landscape seems more familiar to me than New York or LA.

SPIN on the Roku channel seems promising but a very short series apparently.

Enjoying HELLO BEAUTIFUL, which is an homage to LITTLE WOMAN, with Laurie becoming a more central character. If you don't remember him, he was the neighbor boy who eventually married Amy. 

Off to see a play today. What's new with you?

Friday, April 21, 2023

FFB-The First One:Desperate Characters, Paula Fox

FRIDAYS: The Book You Have to Read (Many years ago...)

This is the first of what I optimistically hope will become Friday recommendations of books we love but might have forgotten over the years. I have asked several people to help me by also remembering a favorite book. Their blog sites are listed below. I also asked each of them to tag someone to recommend a book for next Friday. I'm worried great books of the recent past are sliding out of print and out of our consciousness. Not the first-tier classics we all can name, but the books that come next. Here's my choice.And here were the first choices from other bloggers.

 City by Clifford D. Simak (Bill Crider)
The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler (Clair Dickson)
Scar Lover by Harry Crews (A.N. Smith)
Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen (Sandra Scoppettone)
The Dog of the South by Charles Portis (Patrick Shawn Bagley)
Dust Devils by James Reasoner (Sandra Ruttan)
The God Files by Frank Turner (Brian Lindenmuth)
Don't Let's Go to the Dog Tonight by Alexandria Fuller (Josephine Damian)
The Rock Orchard by Paula Wall (Travis Erwin)
When the Elephants Dance by Tess Uriza (Ello)
The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith (Eudamonia for All)
Desperate Characters by Paula Fox (Patti Abbott)

Desperate Characters by Paula Fox

It's difficult to remember, thirty years on, New York in the seventies, The City was facing bankruptcy, the streets were dangerous, frequent strikes left unattended garbage for the rodents, buildings crumbled. Paula Fox's novel Desperate Characters perfectly captures that time along with the similarly disintegrating marriage of Sophie and Otto Bentwood. The story begins with an unexpected cat bite. "Because it's savage," Otto answers Sophie's puzzled, "why?" It was a cat she was trying to feed that bit her. This well-intentioned act, this McGuffin, sends the couple off on a weekend odyssey, where ominous events continue to haunt the childless couple. They find little solace in each other and there is no easy resolution at the end. The quiet desperation that suffuses their story is heart-breaking. The writing is haunting, lucid, and succinct.
Fox has also written two books about her life (Borrowed Finery and The Coldest Winter), a few other novels (The Widow's Children) and many children's books. But nothing is finer than this one for me.

 The links courtesy of Todd Mason

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Short Story Wednesday: "Walk the Blue Fields" Claire Keegan


Is there any contemporary writer as good as Keegan at combining the earthy and the ethereal? I doubt it. I have read the first four stories (or listened to) in this collection and all manage to do this. First is the writer who is given a cottage to work in (and then doesn't) at least according to the priest who chastises her for living in Heinrich Boll's cottage and not taking the gift seriously. Or the priest who watches the woman he didn't marry get married and finds solace in nature. Or the girl leaving Ireland and the memories of her father's abuse behind. Many of these are online now and many are read aloud. She certainly rose to the top quickly and based on her great talent. 

Todd Mason

Jerry House 

George Kelley 

Casual Debris

Martin Edwards

James Reasoner

Monday, April 17, 2023

Monday, Monday


A quiet week with great weather. I wonder how many used bookstores like Charles Shaw in Grosse Pointe Park are still around. This huge collection of unusual books is normally only open on Saturday afternoons. We caught it on an April Friday and were so lucky to get inside. It doesn't have many mysteries or even that much fiction but instead has amazing collections of books about sea-faring, music, poetry, diaries, Michigan, Detroit, African-American books and on and on. I restrained myself but my friends who has extremely wide interests found a few books to take home. Saturday night another two friends and I went to hear folk music at the Unitarian Church. 

The greatest episode of SUCCESSION played last week. How can they top it? Trying to get into BEEF, but it's awfully unpleasant. Will stick it out for a while. Looking forward to BARRY tonight although another unpleasant show. I think I can take unlikable characters more in books than on TV.

Reading LONE WOMEN (Victor Lavalle), WALK THE BLUE FIELDS (Claire Keegan). Lots of podcasts. I like THE MARIS REVIEW, which interviews writers.

What about you?

Friday, April 14, 2023


                                THE HOURS BEFORE DAWN, Celia Fremlin 


Louise Henderson is the mother of three, the last being a baby who cries too much, putting her into a state of constant tiredness and anxiety. Clearly she's the victim of an undiagosed case of postpartum depression.

Onto the scene comes Vera Brandon, a teacher who is eager to board in a third floor room. She is able to talk intelligently to Mark Henderson, (Louise's husband) a source of jealousy for Louise. The new boarder does not seem disturbed the infant's constant crying. Although she's supposedly employed, Louise begins to wonder just how often she actually leaves the house.

As Louise tiredness mounts, little things begin to go wrong, mostly issues with the baby. Much of the trouble seems to come from that quiet woman on the third floor--someone that seems vaguely familiar to nearly everyone.

Fremlin does a terrific job of giving the reader the domestic details that make this familial portrait come to life.This is a subtle mystery. At times, is is funny and at other times suspenseful. And Fremlin gets nearly everything right. This was her first novel, but it seems like the work of a seasoned professional. 

Obviously she mined a terrain familiar to her.

Fremlin won the Edgar for THE HOURS BEFORE DAWN in 1958. She went on to write 15 more novels.


Wednesday, April 12, 2023

AIR (or Podiary)

My original reaction to this film was fairly positive. It held my interest, the acting was good, the direction crisp. I knew a lot about Michael Jordan after watching THE LAST DANCE so I didn't need a movie that centered on him. But after a few days thought and after reading other reviews of it, I am less enthusiastic. Although I realized right away that it was far too positive about corporations and capitalism,  I thought the story was interesting enough to overcome that. But by now, I think it was basically one long commercial for Nike and their shoes. The movie made the corporate bigwigs far too noble, far too clever. Anyone else see it?

Short Story Wednesday: "Uncle Wiggily in the Country" From Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger


Eloise and Mary Jane are two former college roommates, who are drinking the afternoon away in a suburban Connecticut town as a snowstorm builds outside. They are rehashing college days and the war that came soon after or at least men they knew that went to war. Eloise   remembers Walt, who died in an accident overseas and compares him with the man she married. Walt was the ideal man although one doubts he would have lasted with Eloise long.

Ramona, Eloise's small daughter comes into the room along with her pal, Jimmy, who turns out to be an invisible friend. The maid, Grace, a Black woman, asks if her husband can spend the night due to the inclement weather and Eloise turns her down cold. She is cruel to Ramona too and later cries at her bedside then asks Mary Jane if she was a nice girl in college. 

This story is a critique of the sort of women one found in the postwar suburbs. Eloise is given no good traits or moments in this story and Mary Jane fares only slightly better. Ramona's imaginary friend is much like Walt, the man her mother lost.

This is the only piece of work Salinger sold to Hollywood. It became a film called, MY FOOLISH HEART, which bore almost no resemblance to the story.

You do wonder when the war stopped playing such a big part in lives and in stories. I remember thinking the same thing about Vietnam. Such wars inhabit fiction as well as lives for a long time. 

(Uncle Wiggily is not the storybook character but instead the term Walt uses for Eloise's sprained ankle). 

George Kelley

Jerry House 

Tracy K 


James Reasoner

Monday, April 10, 2023

Monday, Monday


Reading three books at the minute and all are great: THE PROPHETS, REMARKABLY BRIGHT CREATURES (audio) , and LONE WOMAN, which I think will have elements of horror eventually.

Yesterday, Josh, his wife, Julie and Kevin and I went to the brand new Hilberry Gateway Theater on Wayne State's campus to see CABARET. It is a gorgeous theater with great site lines, although the original building had its more homey charms. The musical was very well done. I had forgotten how sexual it was, sitting next to my 16 year old grandson. 

Watching BEEF (on Netflix), PERRY MASON, SUCCESSION, TOP CHEF, and THE BIG DOOR PRIZE (Apple). Not sure about the first and last here. One too mean and one a bit sappy. But I like Chris O'Dowd and will probably stick it out. 

What about you?

Friday, April 07, 2023

Ross Macdonald Day, November, 2013



Guess what book(s) you reviewed, Jeff? 



I read all of the Lew Archer books back in the seventies, most of them on their release and all of them library copies, which I often had to wait some time for. I don't remember if you could reserve them in those days, but I remember filling out cards for books I wanted so you much have been able to in some way. We couldn't afford to buy new books, but we haunted library book sales and used book stores to find copies of ones we had missed or the library didn't have.

This was an audio book and rather than a single reader it has a large cast, man well- known actors. Ed Asner did most of the work and was very good at it. This was a typical MacDonald plot: wealthy people who had a lost daughter, wife, or something of value. Things I noticed: MacDonald sticks to the story. Archer follows the trail, step by step. We learn nothing about him at all. I prefer a story (like what they are doing with Perry Mason on HBO or with Harry Bosch) where we learn more about our gumshoe, at least within reason. 

MacDonald also finds it hard not to comment on female anatomies, which I think the library police might get rid of now. It's harmless, but it happens often enough to be noticeable. The dialog is great. Each character has their own distinctive voice. Maybe it helps that actors are reciting the lines, but it works. The mystery is good enough with several twists. Would I reread another Lew Archer? Not right away but probably. I read THE CHILL a few years back.

Have you read a Lew Archer lately? I can't remember if back in the day we had a Ross MacDonald day. I will have to check. Of course, at the time, we have many more contributors. Looking at a list from a decade ago it is sad how many have died or drifted away.

Wednesday, April 05, 2023

Short Story Wednesday, "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" J.D. Salinger 

This is from Salinger's collection, NINE STORIES.

Plot: Seymour Glass has returned from the war, a victim of PTSD. More and more, he is unable to function in adult society and his marriage is coming apart. His wife's mother is concerned about her being alone with him at a hotel resort based on his recent behavior.

Muriel, his wife, spends her time getting ready for social occasions while Seymour haunts the beach and in particular talks to a four-year old ( There are a few scary moments when he pulls the child out to sea, but it is only when he returns to his hotel room that he carries out his real intention. Bananafish are fictional creatures who gorge themselves on bananas and then die. He entertains the child with this story, but it's reflective perhaps of his war experience.

For a short story, there are lot of tropes and metaphors in this story but they don't detract from the writing or on what you feel for a character you don't know very well at all. His name itself points out that he "sees more" and is easily broken. On finishing this audio version, I ordered the book. This is why I will always have more books than my cases can hold. Just below this link on you tube, a teacher goes through the story for her class. 

Jerry House

George Kelley 

Casual Debris 

Todd Mason

Monday, April 03, 2023

Monday, Monday


A friend visited from Brooklyn so we went to the DIA to see their print exhibit. Barbara knows more about art than anyone I know and pretty much has devoted the second half of her life to studying it-especially African art. It was great walking through the exhibit with someone who could put context into it for me. The first half of her life, as an attorney, she represented sports figures in their contract negotiations. What a switch. In the community of widows I seem to live in it is fascinating how similar and yet different our experiences are. 


Listening to THE ZEBRA-STRIPED HEARSE (Ross MacDonald) with a cast of 40 major actors reading it. Amazing. It's like going to the movies. I got it through Hoopla. Maybe your library has the audio version. I will try to finish it by Friday to review it.

Reading THE PROPHETS by Robert Jones. Horrific story but so well done. I will  hear him speak about it in a few weeks.

Because it was April Fools Day I rented APRIL FOOLS with Jack Lemon and Catherine Deneuve and it was really bad. I love Jack so it was a disappointment. 

It took Megan 24 hours to get home from Memphis, which doesn't bode well for her book tour in June. Is it the storms, are the Airlines understaffed? It almost happened to me coming home from FL. Be careful out there and what are you up to?