Sunday, August 24, 2008

Love Sick

I just finished this book. I don't tend to read this type of memoir that has at its core childhood sexual abuse, for a bunch of reasons. The fact that I started and finished this one in less than 24 hours must say something about the writing or the subject, though. I'm not sure what. I think the book does a good job of skirting the prurience that you might expect from this subject. While it is the story of a woman who goes into treatment for what she calls sex addiction, the story is always about the emotional struggle, it is always about her need for sexual attention from men, rather than the encounters themselves. In fact, the strongest scenes are the ones where the narrator puts us in the room with her marriage. The scenes between the secretive wife and the husband who has no clue about the affairs and yet is filled with anger and disappointment about their marriage are wrenching. 

There is also a long section of the book in which the narrator details her involvement as a teenager with a much older married man and how she tries to become part of his family, or to think of herself as such, after his wife invites her to stay for dinner. She writes, "I imagine they will urge me to move out of my dorm. They will ask me to live here. I can type Forrest's correspondence. I can place my necklaces in the Chinese jewelry box. I can help Shirley cook dinner. I can be Scottie's sister. I can be Forrest's..." Of course all of this loops back to her own father who molested her. Yet, the scene continues through dinner with Forrest's wife and son. It really shows the dynamic she's struggling with and how it is replicated in so many families, not just the ones with abused daughters.

I have more trouble with some of the recovery speak in the book, which is a necessity, I suppose. Or the remembered details of emotional transformation. She writes in a later chapter, "Why does this territory labeled "body," this geography of skin, cause such distraction and destruction? How can this same body now live in a hospital while it attempts to become a different body, learn different routines and movements?" This type of therapy speak, when it popped up, left me flat, as though the real audience of the book is people who are also in recovery for this addiction, and not general readers.

The author, Sue William Silverman, also teaches writing, and I found her theories about memoir to be fascinating, in that they reveal how to tell ultra personal stories like this one. Basically, she feels that there are two voices at work in this type of memoir. One is the voice of innocence, the voice that relates the "what" of what happened. The details emerge in cinematic form. The other voice is the voice of experience, that voice that looks back on the experience to say what it really meant. She has five stages of this that move from pure description to the emotional experience of what happened to the fully developed, reflective narrator of experience. Not every story hits every one of these five notes, but it's a really interesting theory of how to effectively layer pure experience alongside reflection.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Three Changes

We're thinking of going to see Julie's friend, Maura, in this play. We first heard about it from Julie when she was in town a few months ago, and it seemed like a good idea at the time.

The playwright is great, the director is Wilson Milam, the guy who helmed the Lieutenant of Inishmore from London to Broadway (yikes! genius alert!) 

Funny thing is that about a month after we heard about it, the producers (or whoever) announced the cast's players to be named later. About a thousand press releases appeared online to announce that this guy would also be in the play, and he was described exclusively as a "TV heartthrob." No seriously, it appears before his name as some sort of title. I don't suppose you have lots of time to appear on stage if you're job is TV heartthrob. I realized that I would pay cash plus a pint of my own blood to have been in the room for the first rehearsal in which the aforementioned long-haired genius director guy meets the TV thespian to test drive the script. Add one neurotic playwright. Sprinkle in a few stage-savvy actors who round out the cast. Ah, yes. That one scene suggests a whole play.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Free Books!

Came home from vacation bearing garbage bags of laundry to face a week's worth of bills, newspapers on the stoop, and that musty, un-lived-in smell the house takes on when we're away. It took the kids about 45 minutes to take every last toy out of their playroom and distribute them throughout every other room of the house. Toys are like old friends, I guess. As Larry and I were sorting and washing and folding and unpacking, the kids were gleefully making a mess in every corner of the house.

Fortunately for me, the post-vacation blahs have been offset by two packages from publishers. I signed up to be an early reviewer at Library Thing, and it worked. One is by John Banville, who writes sometimes as Benjamin Black. I loved his first foray into genre writing, Christine Falls. Well, I loved almost all of it. His account of Dublin in the 1950s is wonderful; he describes a wildly tangled family mess, and a mystery of missing babies and old grudges, all fascinating.
He has one character in there, aptly named Mal, and there is one scene between the main character, named Quirke and Mal in a bar and I have the urge to memorize it because it manages to be funny and sad and suspenseful all at once. And there's another scene between Quirke and and Irish poet, also in a bar in which they are both drunk, and it has this wonderful quality of being a friendly conversation that is at all times about to erupt into a brawl. The thing I didn't entirely love, apart from the abrupt way in which some of the loose ends found themselves tied up, was the way in which he characterized the non Irish people of Boston in the 1950s. Granted, I didn't live here in the 50s. Or anywhere else for that matter. But these people have the feel of Texans rather than Bostonians. One of them is even nicknamed Tex. That just doesn't feel right, does it?

Anyway, the new one is called the Lemur, and so far it's pretty good. More cynical still, in subject matter, but still the evil father figure who dominates his family, still the confusion of an Irishman in the US who has lost himself somehow. And the prose features the same witty insights delivered by a third person narrator. I don't much like the characters, but they are interesting enough to follow around for the 120 pages of the novel. It's a skinny little book that doesn't take too long to read. I fear that it lacks subplots, and other points of interest. Final verdict to come.

The second one is called The Whiskey Rebels and it's about Colonial-era whiskey runners. I think. More soon. It's by David Liss, who wrote A Conspiracy of Paper and I loved that. Loved it.

I love books. 

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Twilight Encounter

Sitting at the pool at our last summer vacation experience with this book next to my chair. The kids were happily playing in the pool with Larry. I was making notes in a notebook, listening to the kids splashing around and playing "toilet" with Larry. Don't ask. 

Then this guy walked by. Seemed like a nice guy. He looked down at the book. Looked up at me. Got excited. "How do you like that?" he asked. He was really happy. I said, "dunno." I was just a few pages into it. Having trouble getting traction, actually. The subject is intriguing, but the style is...well...less so. But it's summer and I have it on good authority that there's something here. So...

So the guy starts gushing. "It's so great. Really. Give it a chance. My niece gave it to me. I've read three of them since last week." 

Holy moly. In a week? Three of them? Uh. This is a story about a teenage girl who has a crush on a vampire, right? One of these is about 500 pages. You read three? I couldn't help myself. I said, "Wow. I've never heard a man say that." The woman who was with him, who might have been his wife, actually turned and snickered. She might have been his sister, though. He's a round-faced, ruddy guy in his early 30s. Quick to smile, soft around the middle. He never blushed but he did look bashful when he admitted going to the author book signing for the latest one of these a few days ago. "Ninety percent women there," he said. Um, yeah. How many of them were older than fifteen?

He gushed more and urged me to keep going with it. "It's a great story. You won't be able to put it down." Uh-huh.

Larry heaved himself out of the pool, dripping heavily. He reached for a towel. "Nice job calling him a fag," said Larry. 

I was incredulous. "I never said that." 

"You might as well have."

"Not true." I was truly astonished. That's all. 

And I've run into this guy twice since then. We go to the little pool here a lot. He taps on the chain link fence around the pool as he's walking by to get my verdict. In fairness to him, I have had the book with me each time. "It's good, right?" he says through the fence. Yep. You betcha. Best blood sucking girlie crush book in I don't know how long. It is, too.

Monday, August 11, 2008

No Country for Old Readers

The usual vacation reading binge has brought me, finally to this book. Can't say as I understand it. The first 30 pages just scared the bejesus out of me. 'Cause it was pretty clever and all about the antelope hunter becoming the hunted. You know, clever. And then after that, I was struggling to figure out what the point was.

I asked Larry about it every fifty pages or so. I'd say, "What the hell is this thing, anyway?"

And he'd say: You think you know what's going to happen, but you don't.

And to that I'd say: Sure I do. Some other poor sods are going to get their faces shot off.  And this gentle reader will be hanging out over the body against her will, while the narrator preens over the blood gurgling out of the throat or the hand that's been half shot away and this narrator will even wax what you might call rhapsodic about the life draining out of the person and the light going out of their eyes and all. And then we'll walk along with the killer while he drinks orange juice and sits for a long time thinking and going through the phone bills of the deceased.

People do things for a long time in this story. That's the PN's favorite phrase. They sit for a long time. They sit bent over their wounds for a long time. Oh, excuse me. They don't sit. They set. They just set there. Or rather they don't just set there. They get up and shoot each other. A lot. They don't do things. They fix to do things, or they are fixing to do things. And they use words like kindly. That's how we know them to be plain good folks mixed up in evil doings. 

If I sound annoyed, well...

I think your best bet for finding this a masterpiece is to be about sixteen and a boy and drunk on a certain type of B movie. 

Finally, Larry said that when he read it he had the thought that it was some kind of practical joke played by the author on the publishing business. (But in Texas, they'd call it the publishing bidness.) Given that one of the back cover blurbs refers to the writer in question as "our greatest living writer," I'd have to concur. I finished it an hour ago and I've already forgotten most of it.

Still, it would be fun to copy the style. Just to test drive it. Not all is lost.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Baklava? Not quite.

Two thirds of the way through this book, I stumbled across the word "balaclava" and had no idea what that was. 

The scene features a bad guy breaking into a house. He's planning to kill someone. (Yeah, it's not high art. Workaday potboiler set in Glasgow.) The paragraph reads: "He spat silently onto his fingertips and rubbed the exposed hinges on the gate, trying it tentatively at first until he was sure it made nothing louder than a mild creak. Pausing only to pull his balaclava on, he adjusted the eye holes and slid through the gate into the garden. "

Okay. Must be, a ski mask, but what's the reference?

It's a close-fitting garment that covers the head and face, but with eye holes. Usually made of wool. Was used in the Crimean war. Named for the city of Balaclava (above). Apparently troops stationed there in the 19th century needed face masks to protect them from the winter cold, and English wool did the trick. Still used by skiers. It's especially popular for outdoorsy types with asthma, because it traps exhaled moisture where it can be recirculated into the lungs. Its like having a private humidifier in the bitter cold. At least Wikipedia tells me so. Wonder if any of it is true.

Learned something new today. Proper vocabulary for the attire of criminals and terrorists and outdoor enthusiasts everywhere. Running to the dictionary is one of the great pleasures of reading. Especially this book in which young men are "yobs," people are described as "prole" or "proddy," (generally the f-bomb is dropped first) the police are "polis." I have keep my desktop dictionary widget handy at all times.

Monday, August 4, 2008


While visiting the Cape in June, I saw this book by Henning Mankell. I read several of his Kurt Wallander mysteries last year and liked them. The author has a very spare style, at least in translation. His inspector Wallander is taciturn and yet prone to angry outbursts. He is matter-of-fact about everything, every detail of every crime, every mistake he makes in his personal life.  I love the silences in the scenes and the way the social culture between the characters is laid out. It's set in Sweden, and I sense nuances of that culture as described by Mankell that seem midwestern, that is, oddly familiar. 

Depths is set in 1914, and its main character is a man who is taking depths readings of the sounds around Sweden as the country contemplates taking a side in World War I. This is not a nice man, this character. He is a stranger to his wife, to the officers serving with him, and even to himself. In the course of his work, he lands on a small island that should be uninhabited and he meets a young widow living there alone. He develops an obsession with her and plots to return to the island to be with her, and yet he wants to maintain control of his wife as well. 

The chapters are short, one or two pages each, and these short bursts of story make the characters and the action seem more disjointed, even fractured, like the main character's personality. 

The book begins, oddly enough, in the wife's point of view, where we learn that she has been living in an asylum for many years, quite insane, and uncommunicative and that when she can clear her head she remembers her husband. The rest of the story is from his perspective. The narrator maintains this spooky attention to detail and these rhetorical questions about the main character's inability to understand himself or his own motives.

This is from Chapter 3

The gangplank swayed under his feet. He could just make out the water between the quay and the hull of the ship, dark, distant. 

He thought about what his wife had said when they said goodbye in their flat in Wallingatan.

"Now you're embarking on something you've been aching to do for so long."

They were standing in their dimly lit hall. She had intended to accompany him to his ship before saying goodbye, but as she started to put on her gloves she hesitated, just as he had done at the foot of the gangplank.

She did not explain why the leave-taking had suddenly become too much for her. That was not necessary. She did not want to start crying. After nine years of marriage he knew it was harder for her to let him see her crying than to be naked before him.

They said goodbye hurriedly. he tried to reassure her that he was not disappointed. 

In fact, he felt relieved. 

He paused halfway along hte gangplank, savouring the almost imperceptible motion of the ship. She was right. He had been longing to get away. But he was not at all sure what he was longing for.

Was there a secret inside him of which he was not aware?

He was very much in love with his wife. Every time he had to leave for a tour of duty and said goodbye to her, he unobtrusively breathed in the scent of her skin, kissing her hastily. It was as if he were laying down that perfume, as you do a fine wine, or perhaps and opiate, to take out whenever he felt so forlorn that he risked losing his self-possession.

His wife still used her maiden name. He had no idea why, and did not want to ask.

A tug boomed from the direction of Kastelholmen. A seagull hovered in the updraught over the ship. 

He was a solitary man. His solitary nature was like an abyss that he was afraid he might one day fall into. He had worked out that the abyss must be at least forty metres deep, and that he would leap into it head first, so as to be certain of dying.