Saturday, August 3, 2013

2013.07.16 — In Celebration of AlMFr's inclusion into Humanity, Some Koontz: The Good Guy

I have adopted a policy of not reading giant American bestselling authors, but an American friend has sited Dean R. Koontz as a favourite writer. AlMFr has joined the 21+ set, and given that i cannot meet her face-to-face to give her a prim and proper public toast in celebration of my pleasure in having come to know her, I thought I would toast her from afar by dipping into her reading world and give Koontz a read.

Although this wasn't going to be my first stab at him. I remember reading Demon Seed in 1975 or so. (Can you believe that this book warrants its own Wikipedia page?!) The book wasn't great, I think because I didn't like the ending. However, it must have something in it because almost 40 years later I still remember this book. (The movie was SO VERY bad. Perhaps the worst book to movie adaptation I have seen, ranking in rankness with Soylent Green. And may actually worse then even Schwarzenegger's Commando and Eastwood's The Gauntlet.)

What to pick? I wandered to my nearby used book store. OMG, he is prolific! J&L of Renaissance Books have about two and half shelves of Koontz, few of them duplicates.

Dean Koontz.
The Good Guy.
Random House. 2012.06.26.
ISBN: 978-0-345-53332-6.

Began July 16, 2013
Finished July 31, 2013


This is an easy summer read with a fun, nicely drawn sociopathic killer with connections to a secret government organization. It has the strong, silent, modest hero, rising to the challenge of unbeatable odds. It has an equally strong female who is not a victim of the attempt to kill her. I was delighted by how much this book echoed my own youthful favourites, in particular Dead Cert by Dick Francis.
[Note: per Wikipedia, Dead Cert is listed in 100 Must-Read Crime Novels.] Now that I am a bit older, it would seem that the stoicism and survival of the characters was what appealed to me and now appeals to my friend. It was a very pleasant surprise that reading The Good Guy brought back youthful memories and feelings.

There is a but, however. Stop reading if you don't want to read me disclosing in some detail the ending. It ended very badly, enough to take it from a five star book, to four. When I told Al of my reaction, she agreed with me. And added 'Koontz writes bad endings. Usually.' Actually, it was so bad that I found myself 'needing' to extemporaneously re-write it for Koontz. I have included that below my review. After I told Al that, she confessed to having re-written five endings for Koontz as well, but without publishing them. (Al, please publish them!)

What could have been so bad? After surviving against all odds, in what had been generally very strong writing for this genre, the protagonist suffers through a deus ex machina as bad as any I've read in at least ten years. The protagonist talks to the President of the USA, who cleans house of the evil secret security organizations. Really? Not only does this assume the president doesn't know about it, which is, although possible, somewhat improbable. But then, if he doesn't, how would he be able to so quickly effect such a housecleaning? And if he did know about them, how would he clean house? They would be an accepted part of managing a free democracy, and he would have little ability to change that.

Yes, The Good Guy had a very bad ending, indeed. Too bad, as it hurt an otherwise very entertaining read.

Normally I include extended citations from the books I review, but in stead I will post my re-write of the ending.
In February, nine months after Tim killed Linda's would-be murderer, six months after his meeting with the president, Michael McCready's house burnt to the ground. What remains were left were tentatively identified as those of McCready, and the initial survey indicated it was an accident.

But Tim didn't learn that for several days after the fact. The day before McCready died, Tim's sophisticated and expertly hidden security surveillance system disclosed someone's presence where no one was supposed to be. Without flinching with the pain of this betrayal, Tim texted Linda with their pre-determined code-word. Without seeking each other, they exited their home via two divergent underground paths. Each picked up the stowed survival kits that had been carefully prepared. Before hurrying to meet her, Tim texted Pete another code word one of the disposable cell phones in the survival kit. He left it and his regular cell phone behind after removing their batteries.

Several hours later, Tim was looking at Linda looking at him. For the first time he thought he saw a touch of fear in her eyes. 'We're not dead yet,' was all he said. It was enough.
Okay, okay. I'll cite something real, as well. I fully acknowledge this is not great heavy-handed literature, but it entertained me for a few hours over a couple of weeks. Here's Koontz:
Taking swift strides, Krait went after her, but he did not run. A pursuit that required running was probably a pursuit lost.

Besides, a running man did not appear to be a man in control. He might even give the impression of being panicked.

Appearances are not reality, but they often can be a convincing alternative to it. You can control appearances most of the time, but facts are what they are. When the facts are too sharp, you can craft a cheerful version of the situation and cover the facts the way that you can cover a battered old four-slice toaster with a knitted cozy featuring images of kittens (120).
See, not great writing, but moves the narrative along while establishing the civil ethos of the sociopathic killer.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

2013.07.04 — The Divine Economy of Salvation by Priscilla Uppal; Finished 2003

This is a belated review in that I read Divine Economy of Salvation in 2003. DES was one of those great little serendipities that I enjoy so much, in that I stumbled across it in my local library. Well, stumbled is not accurate. I heard it call my name as I was glancing at the books on new acquisitions shelf. And I was so glad to have been there to discover it.

Priscila Uppal
Random House (Canada)
2003. ISBN 9780385658058

I loved the book! But, at the time I read it I put off my usual practice of buying my own copy of a library-read book that grabbed me by the short and curleys.

When I did go to buy it, I found it was out of print, at the time and for many years subsequently. (It appears that it is now back in print.) I purchased it this year with a gift certificate to (And I will here say that that was my first purchase from them, and I found it to be an experience worth publicly praising. I would do it again, and would recommend other on-line purchase phobics give it a try.)

This is a beautiful read. I was blown away by the power and complexity and poetry of the language and ideas.

It is told as a reflection to a childhood and, interwoven within that the story is also told from the point of view of that childhood, of a murder. The language that describes the brutality of children in childhood is soft and exquisite. I found myself savouring the language as if it were a fine chocolate or spirit. I'd re-read passages, and pause to enjoy the language and the irony of its beauty in contrast to the events being remembered.

This book isn't filled with histrionics or melodramatic angst. It is about a person's quiet but persistent quest for some kind of spiritual redemption after discovering, as a child, the evil that man can do because she was that evil.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough to people in love with language and quiet reflective reading on the psychology of spiritual redemption.
BELLA is SINGING, HER thin body like a candle in the darkness of the church, her braids like curls of wax. Her arms are raised up to the heavens, and a bright white light shines down from the rafters. There are other singers, hazy outlines swaying in the background, their voices muffled. Bella is clear, her voice piercing the air like a swift bird flying through an open window in winter. She sings with confidence, as if the church were empty, her own heart fixed on a spot beyond this time.
Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the World

Have Mercy on us
The song is a round, but all the voices are Bella's. She is her own chorus, the notes sombre and haunting, the pubescent girl growing older as each new voice enters the chant. I am alone in the confessional, gazing at her through the screen that should house the priest. "The Lord be praised," I whisper, but there is no man there to receive me, only Bella's lungs filling with air and exhaling her song.
Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the World

Have Mercy on us
As she nears the end of the hymn, her many voices slowing, steadily softer in tone, the white ghosts behind her lower themselves onto their knees. Bella screams, her hands against her stomach. Blood appears and she looks down at them with her dark eyes as if her fingers have sinned against her, their tips like foreign objects in her sight, bloody wet flowers sprouting from the nails, pricking her flesh. I try to open the door to the confessional to help, but it is locked. I can hear the trampling of footsteps towards the doors. "Why are you leaving her there?" I yell, pounding the weight of my body against the wood, the small compartment filling with smoke, the screen sizzling. "She's burning! She's burning!"

I wake to the deep rumble of thunder breaking in the winter sky outside. Wet snow against my window in the darkness like tiny hands. I am parched, my throat sore and scratchy, the air in the room dry. A flash of lightning, and the silver candle holder on the dresser is momentarily illuminated as if standing in judgement, its long body a sparkling robe. I put on my housecoat, turn my back on my accuser, and decide to fetch a glass of water from upstairs.

The hallway on the first floor, unlike mine of grey stone, is plaster. There is a washroom in the basement, a single toilet and basin, but no shower. I walk between the white painted walls, lined with wooden engravings of palms and crosses, and pause by Sister Josie's door.
Sister Josie and Sister Sarah, both in their fifties, comprise a convent of two. They are virtually inseparable: take their meals together and say their prayers in unison. It is fairly common knowledge that in the night one might make her way into the room (93-4).

I read this around the same time I read Ann-Marie MacDonald's amazing book The Way the Crow Flies. I mention this because these two books are a nearly perfect pairing of complementary ideas and themes, told from completely different perspectives.
Those being personal redemption, injustice, and an exploration of the brutality of children, a theme we squeamish adults would rather pretend did not exist.

The Divine Economy of Salvation is brilliant, and is still sitting in my top 20 all time favourite books. (And I will be posting a review of The Way the Crow Flies.)

Saturday, June 29, 2013

2013.06.29 — Something Different: 'Florescence', A Poetry Reading by Me

A few weeks ago a couple of poems I read in The Weekly Short Story Contests and Company inspired me to read them. With the writer's okay, I did, and discovered that I wanted to read the entire lot of them twelve in total, when you include mine.

See Note Below for Image Credit
The topic was Florescence, the 170th topic. You can read the contest at Weekly Poetry Stuffage :) > Week 170 (June 10-17). Topic: Florescence.

I am biased by my membership with this group, but I feel that this quiet little place on the web has some real talent. Several of these poems read amazingly well, even with my relatively poor effort. So well, I wanted to advertise their efforts, and publicly praise and thank them for their contributions.

You can hear them in Soundcloud here.

The poems, in order of reading, can be read:

1. light bleating by Belly

2. Eating by Al

3. Beyond by Hannah

4. Imagine by Rikki

5. Funnels look Flowers look Flutes . . . by Ajay

6. Untitled by Roshan

7. Terribly Cheesy Villanelle by Robyn

8. the price of flowers for lunch by Guy

9. Reversion to Swamp by M

10. Flowers by CJ

11. I'll take that pill now doctor by Paula Tohline

12. Amber Fort Goats by Jim Pascual Agustin.

Image Credit
The image I have used is courtesy of AshtrayheartRomina of Deviant Art. I have used this with her permission. And, with her generosity, without payment. I proffer her my sincere thank you for allowing me to share with you her creative eye. If find the image engaging, please visit her gallery at the Deviant Art web page, linked above.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

2013.05.26 — Elizabeth Costello by J.M.Coetzee: Finished

It's been too long since I've blogged a review — or anything, for that matter. But, now to break the silence. I have been busy, and I've been reading too. Since my last book blog (2012.12.25!) I've read the following books, from the most recent:
Elizabeth Costello by J.M. Coetzee;
Archetypes and Strange Attractors: The Chaotic World of Symbols by John R. Van Eenwyk;
The Fisher King and the Handless Maiden by Robert A. Johnson;
The Prosperous Few and the Restless Many by Noam Chomsky;
Marcovaldo by Italo Calviino.

And I am in the process of, actively, reading the following:
World Orders, Old and New by Noam Chomsky;

The Cult of Personality: How Personality Tests Are Leading Us to Miseducate Our Children, Mismanage Our Companies, and Misunderstand Ourselves by Annie Murphy Paul.
With some luck and a bit of diligence I will blog the rest of these books in the near future.

But this blog will be of Elizabeth Costello by the much lauded J.M. Coetzee.

Begun: 2013.04.21.
Finished 2013.05.08


It would seem that I have become something of a literary recluse because I do not remember anything distinctive about the author or his books despite his having won a Booker Prize, for Disgrace and even that has not jogged the grey cells. My friend, and expansive book reader, TR called me to him when I was walking by his desk. 'I think you might like this,' he said. 'It is really making a strong criticism of the humanities! Shockingly so and funny.'And TR was right! The obnoxious and eccentric narrator is the famous Australian writer Elizabeth Costello. She is bitter that she is famous for one book, an early one, and that bitterness colours much of her interaction with those who are either giving her literary awards or are seeking her opinion on writing. She is not just critical of generally accepted standards of literary discourse and the general zeitgeist of the humanities, but castigates them and their adherents. I confess to laughing with pleasure, too, because Coetzee articulates through Costello some of the criticisms I've expressed about the intellectual state of university schooling.

There are some delightful ironies, such as when Costello's sister, who is a practicing nun, is awarded an honorary degree in the humanities. In her acceptance speech Blanche (the sister) articulates that the history and evolution of the study of the humanities as being the study of anything but 'humans'. The birth of the so-called humanities began as the search for the literal truth of Scripture by trying to find the original language, the original text, the original 'tribe,' etc. The development and evolutions of the humanities had nothing to do with man and mankind's search for meaning in artistic expression.

This section acts as delightful counterpoint to Costello's ostensibly vain pursuit that the meaning and truth of life to are to be found within reason's purview. Coetzee suggests with humour and brilliant language, that enlightenment was wrong, that reason is a bastard child and leads to people developing disagreeable tempers with poor digestions. (Costello becomes an obsessive, perhaps even irrational, animal rights advocated.)

Blanche's acceptance speech is a fabulous articulation of the problem of reason, the arts, and the meaning of life:
'Eilizabeth,' Blanche (is there something new in her tone, something softer, or is she just imagining it?), 'remember it is their gospel, their Christ. It is what they made of him, they, the ordinary people. Out of love. And not just in Africa... Ordinary people do no want the Greeks. They do not want the realm of pure forms. They do not want marble statues. They want someone who suffers like them. Like them and for them.'

Jesus. The Greeks. It is not what she expected, not what she wanted, nat at this last minute when they are saying their goodbye for perhaps the last time. Something unrelenting about Blanche. Unto death. She should have learned her lesson. Sisters never let go of each other. Unlike men, who let go all too easily. Locked to the end in Blanche's embrace.

'So: Thou has triumphed, O pale Galilean,' she says, not trying to hide her bitterness in her voice. 'Is that what you want to hear me say, Blanche?'

Matt's Sketch of Orpheus
'More or less. You backed a loser, my dear. If you had put your money on a different Greek you might still have stood a chance. Orpheus instead of Apollo, the ecstatic instead of the rational. Someone who changes form, changes colour, according to his surroundings. Someone who can die but then come back. A chameleon. A phoenix. Someone who appeals to women. Because it is women who live closest to the ground. Someone who moves among the people, whom they can touch — put their hand into the side of, feel the wound, smell the blood. But you didn't, and you lost. You went for the wrong Greeks, Elizabeth.'
From the acknowledgements, this 'novel' is a compilation of stories written over a long period of time, for different purposes, that have been patched together. This may have been it's weakest element, as the voice changes in rather unusual ways as the book progresses. It creates a curious reading tension, which I found complemented the arc of the tales very well, but which may be off-putting to some.

Also, for those who are not to enamoured of philosophical arguments couched in a novel-like form, this will likely not be the book for you. But the philosophy and argument I found engaging and challenging and, above all, fun, despite Costello being rather obnoxious character.

The cleverness of Coetzee's writing is expressed through an ironic compulsion of Costello. Costello has become fanatical about the horrid state of our animal husbandry practices, and cannot keep herself from condemning the people around her for their insensitivity and ignorance to this dire situation regardless how inappropriately timed or expressed. But Costello has enough self awareness to know that her obsession is irrational, even fanatical. But that awareness was not enough for her to temper let alone eliminate her irrational compulsion with reason. Rather, her emphasis on the importance of reason to guide action demands of her that she rationalize her compulsion in a manner her sister admonishes in the acceptance speech, and in Costello herself.

To the 'right' reader this is highly recommended. But to the wrong one, I suspect it will barely eke out a single star. All I can say is 'Thank you TR, for your recommendation!' I have subsequently purchased his Booker Prize winning Disgrace and added yet another book to my growing reading list.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012.12.25 — Stanley Park by Timothy Taylor: Finished & a Triptych of Small Fushigis*

Timothy Taylor
Stanley Park
Toronto:Random House Canada ISBN 9780307363596.

Began 2012.11.27
Finished 2012.12.23


I have a dream, chef and struggling restaurant owner Jeremy Papier avers. I want my restaurant to bring the hyper-industrialized, homogenized, world back to its roots: food, specifically, that which is grown locally.

And so he gets his dream when, through struggling to find his own family's roots, he begins to cook the wildlife of Vancouver's Stanley Park: the squirrels, starlings, ducks, geese, raccoons. His first park repast was with his father. They dined on the duck that his father had caught. Eventually Jeremy began to feed a collective of the homeless living in the park. His father, 'The Professor,' is a social anthropologist who, in doing this project, his last, has gone back to finish where he began his career. He is exploring his own and the city's roots by choosing to live amongst the homeless who reside beneath the forest's canopy, hidden from the city's eyes that are too busy to see them. He is exploring what it is that are the ties, the roots, that bind people to homelessness. During the course of the book, this sub-theme comments that, in some ways, these people are more closely connected to their environment, more alive if you will, than the grasping many who have big houses, but spend most of their time feeling alienated and disconnected from their lives.

But the protagonist is Jeremy, and his dream falls apart when his self-destructive impulse purchase of a $3000 knife cuts the final threads of his credit card kiting. With creditors hounding him, he turns to the international coffee czar to save him and his dream. But a czar doesn't live the dreams of others, and in an elegance only a wealthy thug can envisage, he steals Jeremy's dream and twists it into an ungrounded international smorgasbord.

What would any creative and daring Chef do to see his dream survive beneath the tyranny of the condescension of wealth?

And so Taylor writes a complex and elegant fugue that explores the roots of family and food. This is an engaging delightful and complex read. I highly recommend it.

Fushigi Triptych
During the course of my reading SP it joined me to participate in several small fushigis. Some I've already blogged. See 2012.12.15 — Bonfire of the Vanities, and 2012.12.01 — Anna Russell and Kris Boyd and Lamb Stew: Three Tiny Fushigis. But three small ones, collectively, have crept up in the final pages that have moved me enough to blog them as one.

Third One First.
… There was a great quantity of Scotch going down and many, many cigars being waved around.

Olli was offered a Scotch with this very thought, leaning back in his chair thinking about it and watching through the front window as Kiwi hailed a cab and disappeared into the night. Just thinking about that and a voice next to his ear said: "Scotch, sir?"

"What do you have?" he asked by mistake.

"Glenmorangie, Loch Dhu, Balvenie, Dalwhinnie, Glenkinkchie, Cragganmore, Oban, Talisker, Lagavulin, Macallan, Laphroaig, Connemara, Glenhaven and Sheep Dip."

They didn't even have Glenfiddich (393).
What makes this interesting is that the day before I read this I was sent out to buy a bottle of Scotch for our upcoming party. I don't drink Scotch, and so many years ago a friend recommended that a good one to have on hand for Scotch drinking guests is Talisker. Alas, my local liquor store no longer stocks it. So, after talking with the sales rep, she suggested Glenmorangie. To the best of my remembrance, I've never seen nor heard of either of these scotches before.

The Second One Second. A little earlier in the book, I read:
"It really looks . . . dramatic," Margaret said, moving on. But Jeremy just kept stroking his chin and scratching his ear, glancing around the room. He looked pale; had he lost weight? (369)
Well, earlier that day I read the stories in the WSS's weekly short story contests: Week 148: Witchcraft. In it, Tim has written an excellent story called Darrens. Here's the first paragraph:
I walk the one hundred twenty three steps from my desk by the elevators to the cafeteria and congratulate myself on not having thought about her. Unfortunately, this involves thinking about her. I touch my left earlobe with my right index finger.
Initially this wasn't strong enough to blog, even as the second of two funny fushigis.

First One Last. Okay, not the first first in this book, but the first since the last time I blogged a fushigi from this book. This one started on December 18th. Again, in the WSS, but this time in the TPBM (The Person Below Me) thread, when M posted # 2397. He wrote:
TPBM sometimes gets chocolate on the keyboard.

The following day ML called up from the living room. She was impressed by a computer tech pre-Christmas 'news' story that covered, amongst other things, a kid-proof computer keyboard.

The following day, when I recommenced perusing Stanley Park I was amused to read:
Angela's idea [for her own restaurant] was Grazer, a high-concept tapas Web bar. Satay, tofu spears, samosas and slivers of super-fusion designer pizza. Caviar and quail egg was mentioned. The Web part centred on the stand-up tables with shelves for the tapas dishes and pop-up, active-matrix, flat screens. Waterproof touch-pad keyboards (324).
By itself, not worthy of noting as a fushigi, but first of three in a row.

I debated about including this, but… well, here it is. A little earlier, on the 17th, in post #2380 of TPBM thread I wrote:
Thank you Al and Christa for your confidence in my writing! OMG, now I'm feeling so much pressure! Me and my big fat mouth! I'm having trouble breathing.... [clunk a;ldkfja;sdlkfha;sdofja;sldfjka;sdfjka;sdfjka;sdfkjas;dfjas;dlfjas;dflkasdf — oops, sorry about that. Head fell forward onto keyboard.]
End of Fushigi Triptych.

Book Review Resumes and Closes — an extended citation
Here is a passage I flagged while reading SP to include in my blog book review.
"Shitty week," Jeremy snapped. But he stopped at that, because in the Professor's eyes, those impervious eyes, there was a colour that he recognized. A shade of bruising. A shade of vulnerability. He lowered his voice. "How is Caruzo?"

"Sends his best."

Jeremy steadied himself.

The Professor spoke first. "There was a woman in the park on the day they died."

Jeremy dropped his head. God.

"She saw something that day... someone..."

Jeremy turned and stepped into the street. The Professor remained on the grass. He held the last inch of his park. "The two are meant to be together," he said, talking to Jeremy's back. "Just as the two were drawn from the same soil, so too must the same soil hold them...."

The strange words.

Jeremy spun, standing in the middle of the empty nighttime street. From her expensive apartment window high in the concrete and glass monolith behind them, had the resilient old lady of the West End risen for a nocturnal glass of grapefruit juice just then, she might have looked down and seen a small, charged scene on her quiet street. A rumpled figure, tired, authoritative, holding court on the grass by the curb, his arms crossed, his head back looking at the sky. And opposite him, a leaner, younger frame of a discernibly similar type, angular, also in black, hands in his jacket pockets rigidly, critically, dubiously. Staring at the older cast of himself.

"From the file in the library," Jeremy said.

The Professor pantomimed applause.

"And if you've read it," Jeremy went on, "may I ask why I—"

"Because you are a part of what is going on here."

Jeremy stared. He didn't want to know. He plunged.

"I accepted an offer." Even to his own ear, the words clanked coldly out into the night air between them, but he couldn't have predicted that the statement would bring the Professor's arms limply to his sides, that it would pull him a step forward. Out of the park. Onto the curb. Into the gutter. The Professor was staring at his son, his blood. Standing in the street, in the city. "Oh, you have made such a mistake."

"It's a good deal. It gives me freedom."

"Freedom. So many things done in this name."

Freedom from debt, Jeremy tried to say, but the Professor was looking past him now. Over his shoulder and up between the buildings. Beyond. He was whispering.

"Too often, I think, the desire for freedom masks the desire for destruction."

The words a thin stream. A last breath.

"You want to destroy everything around you, everything you have created for yourself or been given by others. To be free."

Tapering. Diminishing. Losing angularity, presence, power.

"Natural for you, perfectly natural," the Professor whispered. "Natural to refuse the key that is given. To be blind in the darkness of knowing. To be filled with a dark light that we must shine on the people around us. A light that makes us weep and pull down our own houses."

The wind spoke in the cherry trees, a hissing speech through purple leaves and thin black branches. The city hummed, hypnotic. Winding through the deepest part of a Wednesday night.

"Come stay with me," Jeremy said. He could hardly hear his own words. "Do your research but sleep in a bed. Write your notes at a table. You could shave."

"Stay involved," the Professor said. Back. Alert. "Stay interested."

No second for an answer. He turned. He descended the hill at a determined trot. He threaded through the cherry trees, from the branches of which hung the fruits of their joint linkage to this place.

Around the lagoon went the Professor, dwindling down, then swallowed by the darkness (195-7).

Monday, December 24, 2012

2012.12.23 — Lullaby for Pi: Movie Review

Have you seen the small independent film Lullaby for Pi? No? Well, no surprise. This joint Canada / France production (2010) has received a rating of 6.2 from a whopping 205 raters in IMDb. But, more interestingly, a total of 0 (zero) viewer and critic reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. I found a French critic's review: Nicolas Gilli, which is on a France-based web-page and is in, no surprise, French. Nothing in the (English) Wikipedia. A Google search will bring up a couple of reviews, for example, The Hollywood Reporter's castigation that LFP is
… a ludicrous romance so full of clichés and forced whimsy that it is nearly unwatchable.

Basically, this is a movie that for all intents and purposes, doesn't quite exist. I don't remember having heard anything about the movie, but came across it by accident while flipping through the movie listings on TV. And that is a shame! Okay, it hasn't gone completely unnoticed, as the tumblr people seemed to like it, and their blog is filled with images.

Synopsis: young brilliant musician goes into a deep depression with the death of his wife and stops music. Instead he spends his time in the hotel room where he first met her, waiting for her to call. A young woman, who doesn't want him to see her face and who lost several years of her youth to being in a coma, forms a friendship with him through the bathroom door. And, like magic, and with the help of the kindly chess playing hotel desk man, the two eccentric people tentatively and quirkily begin to live. He, again, she for the first time.

And it is the quirkiness that I can see being a thumbs down for some. Why? I've been struggling to articulate my thoughts, but it comes to what may be an odd split in the human population between those who delight in Magical Realism versus those who delight in cartoon violence or the un-magical realism of saccharine sentimental (happy / sad) movies. The emotional life of the characters is brought forward in the storytelling through exaggerated setting and character. So the young woman struggling to find her place in the world hides in the bathroom of the man having lost his place. Each have erected a wall between themselves and the world which, by the magic of life, is embodied in the locked bathroom door.

And thus we see a visual metaphor dance around the theme of finding/losing/rediscovering one's voice. The metaphor is re-enforced with the subplot of the young musician who has to struggle to keep his own musical voice while it is being excoriated by the good-intentioned father.

And, in the best of a magical realism typical of many Canadian writers, such as Barbara Gowdy and Margaret Atwood, the theme is explored in different ways. The young woman begins to find her voice using mute media: she uses film frames clipped from the movies she's paid by a theatre company to project and, with a kind of homage to Timothy Findley's novel Famous Last Words, journal writing on the wall of her loft that she would paint over until the day she met Sam…

This is a fun movie. The directing kept it light, and the performances by the leads are engaging and don't fall into maudlin sentimentality. Forest Whitaker as their unassuming spiritual guide was perfect in the role. The filmography is good and contributes to the story with its own subtle quirkiness. And the music is also excellent. As is noted, Charlie Winston contributes perfectly to the sound track, including Rupert Friend's extemporaneous blues/jazz 'hit' I'm in Love With a Bathroom.


Benoît Philippon
Actors: Andre Richards, Clémence Poésy, Colin Lawrence, Dewshane Williams, Forest Whitaker, Matt Ward, Rupert Friend, Sarah Wayne Callies

Finally, in the most peculiar and delightful of ways, LFP participated in a delicious as Pi fushigi on the day I watched the movie.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

2012.12.15 — The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe: Finished in 1992(?) and Fushigi*

I wrote a review of Bonfire of the Vanities on 2012.12.14 to post on Goodreads. When I wrote it I was going to leave it there because I read BotV in the early 90s and because I felt
compelled to wrote a contrary voice to the effusive praise and awards this book has undeservedly received. I finished editing and posting the 'Goodreads' review around 1am.

Before you get to read the review, however, I'll introduce the remarkable fushigi. This morning, I resumed my perusal of Stanley Park by Canadian (Vancouver) writer, Timothy Taylor (ISBN 9780307363596).
At the bottom of the page where against which my mark sat were the words Will Work For Food in italics. Here's the paragraph that that text finishes:
He stood and approached this tree-like diorama and began to examine its leaves and branches. There were childhood pictures, here. There, a wedding picture he had not seen before. The Pelikan pen itself Scotch-taped to the wall in a cluster that included a letter from the dean of anthropology approving extended sick leave. A page torn from Will Work for Food (276).
Now that, as it turns out, is a remarkable fushigi because of what I didn't include in my review of Bonfire of the Vanities.

Bonfire of the Vanities
by Tom Wolfe. Macmillan. ISBN: 9780312427573 or ISBN10: 0312427573.


Here's the review I wrote:

This was one of the few books I've read because of the chit chat around it. The movie, which I felt had potential but which I thought was ultimately a directorial failure, was the final element that brought me to pick this book up. I was curious at how the movie failed and needed to read the book to see if my impression that it was a directorial failure was accurate or not. My reading that book did not answer that question with any certainty because BotV has become one of the touch stone books marking me as an outsider to the society
within which I live. Its award winning popularity is a complete mystery to me. Poorly written, it has uninteresting characters and characterization espousing a heavy handed superficial morality — sort of. My few observations of Wolfe in book interviews did not in any way dissuade me that he is an overrated wind-bag, filled with ego and hubris and little of what I would consider critical intelligence. It struck me that he was an advocate of American hegemony both domestic and foreign.

So, with that in mind it was with surprise and even fascination that I read a Tom Wolfe encomium of American domestic practices under Reagan get severely castigated by Noam Chomsky. In his satirically way, Chomsky basically puts Wolfe's social commentary into the ranks of the rantings of a delusional apologist for the greed-based policies that successfully impoverished the majority to the benefit of the very few. So, in a perversion of a 'proper' book review, here is a taste of Chomsky chastising Tom Wolfe — note, I hadn't even heard of Chomsky before reading BotV:

What the [economic] "paradox" [in 1992 of a 'Weak Economy but Strong Profits'] entails for the general population is demonstrated by numerous studies of income distribution, real wages, poverty, hunger, infant mortality, and other social indices. A study released by the Economic Policy Institute on Labor Day, 1992, fleshed out the details of what people know from their experience: after a decade of Reaganism, "most Americans are working longer hours for lower wages and considerably less security," and "the vast majority" are "in many ways worse off" than in the late 1970s. From 1987, real wages have declined even for the college educated. "Poverty rates were high by historic standards," and "those in poverty in 1989 were significantly poorer than the poor in 1979." The poverty rate rose further in 1991, the Census Bureau reported. A congressional report released a few days later estimates that hunger has grown by 50 percent since the mid-1980s to some 30 million people. Other studies show that one of eight children under 12 suffers from hunger, a problem that reappeared in 1982 after having been overcome by government programs from the 1960s. Two researchers report that in New York, the proportion of children raised in poverty more than doubled to 40 percent, while nationwide, "the number of hungry American children grew by 26 percent" as aid for the poor shrank during "the booming 1980s"—"one of the great golden moments that humanity has ever experienced," a spokesman for the culture of cruelty proclaimed (Tom Wolfe Boston Globe February 1990) [I did a Google and found these relatively contemporary items: A Rising Hunger Among Children and Infant Malnutrition at Staggering Levels in Massachusetts.]

The impact is brought out forcefully in more narrowly-focused studies; for example, at the Boston City Hospital, where researchers found that "the number of malnourished, low-weight children jumped dramatically following the coldest winter months," when parents had to face the agonizing choice between heat or food. At the hospital's clinic for malnourished children, more were treated in the first nine months of 1992 than in all of 1991; the wait for care reached two months, compelling the staff to "resort to triage." Some suffer from Third World levels of malnutrition and require hospitalization, victims of "the social and financial calamities that have befallen families" and the "massive retrenchment in social service programs" (Boston Globe September 8, 25, 1992).
By the side of a road, men hold signs that read "Will Work for Food," a sight that recalls the darkest days of the Great Depression.(Year 501: The Conquest Continues, p280-1).
I am being a little mean here, I fully acknowledge. But in the few Wolfe interviews I saw, I found myself becoming angry that a bad writer was being heralded as a visionary and truth seeker to be paraded by the media in their campaign to mis-represent the extent of income polarity and impoverishment that is the direct result of American policies that are benefiting very few, but doing so to a staggering degree.
End of Goodreads Review

What made the highlighted text above not just a fushigi, but a remarkable one is that when I originally cited Chomsky in the review I omitted that line, and only that line. I remembered reading it, but because I was squeezing my citation I felt that that line wasn't necessary to make the point I was trying to make. I have, since then, edited the review to include it.

Post-Script 2012.12.16:
And I know this is completely irrelevant, and totally meaningless, but I have found it a little bemusing that the colour of covers of Year 501 and Stanley Park is almost identical. I have no idea why I am writing this down. When I first noticed it I dismissed that detail as trivial and uninteresting and likely to make me look like an idiot if I were to put it out here. But, each time I pick up Stanley Park to recommence my perusal — I'm now page 278 now — that thought gets into my brain and buzzes around for a while. So, I have written this post script to stop that thought from floating around and to fully prove my madness to the few who read my blog. (But then, those few will already know that I am mad.)