“But writers INVITE ghosts, maybe; along with actors and artists, they are the only totally accepted mediums of our society. They make worlds that nev“But writers INVITE ghosts, maybe; along with actors and artists, they are the only totally accepted mediums of our society. They make worlds that never were, populate them with people who never existed, and then invite us to join them in their fantasies. And we do it, don't we? Yes. We PAY to do it.”
Thad Beaumont wanted to write from the time he discovered that a person could make a living as a writer. He pounded away at the typewriter so much that his parents were beginning to fear that something was wrong with him.
They were right...
something is wrong with Thad, but to fully understand what is wrong will take decades to figure out.
Birds, thousands of them, chittering and flapping their wings, a cacophony of noise. Sparrows in particular. The sounds of them are a precursor to setting off a lightning storm in Thad’s head that leaves him flopping on the ground like a fish trying to find its way back to water. His parents take him to a doctor, and scans show that something is in his head.
The surgeon takes that something out of Thad’s head. It is something so unusual that he decides not to tell Thad or his parents. He has saved Thad’s life, and for now that is enough.
Thad goes on to write a couple of critically acclaimed books which unfortunately do not do well financially. He teaches to make ends meet, but there is something nagging at him like he has left some unfinished business. He decides to create a pseudonym that will allow him to get these increasingly dark thoughts out of his head and put them on paper.
He becomes George Stark, or George Stark becomes him. The separation between them creates no daylight.
While writing as George Stark, he transforms into someone else, someone meaner, someone who likes seeing blood. ”Cut him. Cut him while I stand here and watch. I want to see the blood flow. Don't make me tell you twice.” Thad Beaumont writes with a typewriter, but George Stark don’t write with no faggoty typewriter; oh no, it is Black Beauty pencils or nothing. The words are etched into the paper like words carved over the doors of the ”stone hotels” in which Stark has spent so much time incarcerated.
The sparrows are back. The sparrows are flying.
Stephen King shares some interesting thoughts about sparrows. Sparrows are so common here in Kansas that they have about the same significance as a blade of grass or a tree leaf. ”Gatherings of sparrows are rather more ominous…. Sparrows are said to be outriders of the deceased. Which means their job is to guide lost souls back into the land of the living. They are, in other words, the harbingers of the living dead.”
Living dead? Like zombies you might ask?
Well, not exactly.
When Thad decides to retire George Stark and go back to writing as Thad Beaumont, things start to get weird and not in a wow isn’t that kind of weird way, but more in a OMG someone is killing everyone Thad knows kind of way.
And Thad is the number one suspect.
It doesn’t take long for Thad to realize that he is involved, that he is the source of the problem.
”I am the knower. I am the owner. I am the bringer.”
George Stark doesn't like being dead. He wants just what everybody else wants. He wants to live. ”When you fuck with him you are fucking with the best.” As things become clear, crazy clear, Thad realizes that he can’t share these revelations with his wife Liz.
” I’m not going to tell Liz this time, he thought. Be damned if I will. And not just because I’m scared, either...although I am. It’s perfectly simple--not all secrets are bad secrets., Some are good secrets. Some are necessary secrets, and this one is both of those.”
George Stark drives a 1966 Black Oldsmobile Toronado. In college I drove a 1969 White Oldsmobile Toronado. There are differences between the years, but let's just say I understand the power that Stark felt when he was driving that Black Beauty down the road. My father has a 1966 Black Toronado he is having restored. I hope he doesn’t turn into George Stark!!!
When Stephen King writes about writers, it is simply irresistible. I don’t know if there is another writer on the planet who understands all the nuances of being a writer, a famous writer, better than King. He conjures things out of his mind that scare the hell out of millions of people every time he releases a new book. His nightmares have nightmares. As King taps into the dark side of himself to find those horrors, I think he has met his George Stark. This evil doppelganger feeds him with the images that become words that become horrors made out of the worst of human impulses. I guess the question he has to ask himself is will these feathered soul catchers come for him someday.
The day after I finished reading this book I opened the garage to take out a bag of trash before heading to work, and hundreds of birds exploded over my head flying just a few feet over the top of my house. They were sparrows, providing me with one last bone deep chill that brushed skeletal fingers down my spine.
”The paw. He turned it in his hands, looking at its supple efficiency for the hundredth time. He placed it on the desk, then picked it up again and ra”The paw. He turned it in his hands, looking at its supple efficiency for the hundredth time. He placed it on the desk, then picked it up again and ran its claws along his cheek. It would do its job well, this paw. The long toes with their extra joints. The broad, sensitive pads. The needle-sharp claws. Almost...what a human being might have if people had claws. It had the same functional beauty as a hand, a lethal one.”
I first became aware of Whitley Strieber in 1987 when he published his first “non-fiction” work titled Communion. In the same year Budd Hopkins published his book titled Intruders. Both were about alien abduction, and the fact that they both came out in the same year created a synergy of dread and doubt. We were selling out of these books so fast and furious at the bookstore that I finally decided to take them home and read them. Spooky damn stuff.
I didn’t know what to believe, but let's just say uncertainty had purchased a townhouse in my mind.
In 1985 I had skipped school to drive my buddy around to several dealerships in neighboring towns to try and find him a good used pickup. It was late when we were coming back home. He fell asleep leaving me with the soft sound of the radio and with heavy eyes peering into the inky black night of the middle of nowhere. We were North of Hill City when a flash of bright light illuminated the ditch beside my Pontiac. It was so bright; it was as if it were lighting the grass on fire, and to look at it left bright red spots in my eyes. The light followed along in the ditch with the car. I turned off the radio and rolled down the window (Yes, to those youngster out there we actually used to have to physically roll down windows on vehicles.). I leaned out of the window as far as I could and looked upward trying to spot a helicopter.
There was nothing, no sound. Just stars and darkness.
The light continued to follow alongside of my vehicle. I tried to wake Oren up. I shook him. I grabbed his jacket and gave it a good yank. He slept on.
The light came over and landed on the car for probably a half a second, but it felt like longer. The road disappeared as my eyes were overwhelmed with too much brightness. I couldn’t see a thing. The car shimmed to the left and back to the right due to the death grip my hands had on the wheel that was causing me to oversteer. The light moved off my car across the road to the other ditch.
I hit the gas, pushing the car up to 90.
The light stayed parallel with my car.
After another three miles or so the light just disappeared.
As soon as it vanished, Oren woke up. He looked at his watch and looked over at me. “Did you pull over and take a nap?”
“No, I haven’t stopped.”
“Why we running so late?”
I shrugged and told him about the light. He fell back asleep before I even got to the good part.
Now I don’t know what it was, but I don’t remember no aliens or any probing, so with what I know the only logical explanation is that it was something terrestrial, maybe some flyboy from McConnell Air Force Base having a bit of fun making me piss my pants.
As far as the missing time, well hell, maybe we lost track of more time than we thought.
While investigating the brutal evisceration of two beat cops, Wilson and Neff, the two investigating detectives, see something they don’t understand. It is kind of interesting that Strieber was exploring this concept with his first book in 1979. When we see something that doesn't make any sense, our minds go through a rolodex of images we’ve seen before until it hits on the most logical explanation.
The unexplained becomes...well...explainable.
As they investigate further, they start to understand that what they saw was not a dog or wolf, but something unknown. Something much more dangerous. The Wolfen have existed alongside human culture for thousands of years. They are trained to eat the weak, the homeless, the people who will be missed least which is why they live in the abandoned buildings next to the disintegrating tenements where people who have lost everything or never had anything have to live. To attack a healthy human goes against all of their instincts, but as Wilson and Neff close in on not only what they are, but where they live, they are forced to try and kill them before they find the means to eliminate the pack.
I found the story much more interesting because The Wolfen are a separate species, not humans turning into werewolves. ”Professors Slusser and Rabkin comment that Strieber makes the supernatural an "explainable part of the real universe" and undercuts the fantastic to give a more scientific explanation.” Strieber actually takes us into the minds of The Wolfen and explains how they think, what they believe, and why they do what they do. Knowing more about their motivations actually splits my loyalty between the cops trying to solve a crime and The Wolfen who were only trying to survive.
Strieber continues to ratchet up the tension as The Wolfen become more desperate to kill the humans who threaten their existence, and Neff and Wilson face the real terror of trying to fight something no one else will believe exists.
We are so skeptical of things we deem supernatural, whether it be ghosts, the devil, aliens, Donald Trump’s hair (so if I’m projecting an image of the closest thing his hair can be compared to...then what does it really look like? *shudder*), or a creature like The Wolfen. We have a hard time believing things that we have not seen ourselves, and even when we do see something that doesn’t make sense, we convince ourselves that it was something else.
I remember one time I was working in the backroom of the bookstore in Tucson with another man I’ll call Justin. We were sorting books and talking. Suddenly, I felt this force push me back against a wall of boxes of books. Justin was pushed further into a cubical away from me as this unidentifiable shape went between us. As quickly as it was there, it was gone. Now Justin and I are both well over six feet, fit individuals, and it moved us as easily as if were made of straw. There was the usual HOLY SHIT WHAT WAS THAT conversation, but we never did come to any conclusions that made any sense. Ultimately, whatever it was didn’t hurt us, and probably a team of scientists could have come up with a plausible explanation regarding trapped air and this door opening and that door closing at the right time.
Sometimes in the dark or even moving among us in broad daylight, there are things we can not explain. I’m alright with that.
Doctor Rock: You know you come off with this journalist bullshit all the goddamn time, you know that? I haven't seen one article Richard Boyle: I wrotDoctor Rock: You know you come off with this journalist bullshit all the goddamn time, you know that? I haven't seen one article Richard Boyle: I wrote a book! "Flower of the Dragon"! Doctor Rock: "Flower of the Dragon"? That was ten years ago, Boyle! Richard Boyle: It was a big exposé! Doctor Rock: Ten years ago! What have you written since? Richard Boyle: Articles. Doctor Rock: What articles? Richard Boyle: I wrote for a right wing newspaper in El Salvador about guerillas. Doctor Rock: [sarcastic] Oh the one in El Salvador? Oh yeah, I read that, my whole family read that! Everyone saw that article, Boyle! From the movie Salvador (1986) directed by Oliver Stone starring James Woods as Richard Boyle.
Photo by Horst Faas
One thing that everyone needs to understand about Richard Boyle is what a big pain in the ass he is. He is brash, undisciplined, drinks too much, hangs out with women of dubious virtue, and yet for all these character flaws the man has a sense of integrity that would not let him compromise a story even when to print it put his life in danger. He did three tours in Vietnam as a war correspondent, well... not always actually while affiliated with a news organization, but let's not quibble over paperwork.
”The war in Vietnam is measured not by ground taken, as in most wars, but by the number of enemy killed.”
The difficulty with a war like this is that the Viet Cong would often just melt back into the population. US soldiers had trouble distinguishing between the enemy and the civilian population. It seems like every conflict the US military has been involved in since Vietnam would fit this profile. This blending of combatants with civilians makes mistakes easy. It is also not difficult to understand the growing frustration that any soldier would have when most of the time he feels he is fighting phantoms.
Photo by Horst Faas.
Not being able to really see civilians as noncombatants, but actually believing that they are part of the problem, leads to tragedies like the massacre at My Lai. ”For me and for millions of my generation My Lai came as the final punch in the mouth, the end of our illusions. We could no longer say we didn’t know. The day we learned of My Lai changed our lives.” As it turns out, My Lai was not the first nor was it to be the last massacre of civilians by American soldiers.
It isn’t any wonder that a large percentage of the soldiers in Vietnam elected to tune out and light up. Grass was a problem, but heroin and Binoctal were a bigger problem. Binoctal was frying soldier’s brains. Heroin was a difficult habit to break, and as guys were rotating back to the states, their main concern was making sure they could find a dealer to keep feeding their addiction. Just because soldiers were allowed to leave Vietnam they didn’t always leave the war behind them.
One of the bigger stories that The Overseas Weekly, the paper that Boyle worked for, broke was in regards to fragging. There were distinctive dividing lines between the Lifers, mostly officers who intended to make a career out of the army, and the enlisted men who were mostly draftees. Officers were responsible for carrying out the objectives usually passed down from higher ranking officers. The problem in a war of this nature is that objectives don’t always make sense. They weren’t marching across Europe, liberating people, with the ultimate goal of stopping a madman. When a soldier in WW2 was asked to risk his life to take a hill or take point on a dangerous advancement, he did so convinced that what he was doing was helping to keep his sweetheart and family back home safe, and on a larger scale that he was actually helping to save the world.
By 1969 most of the rank and file soldiers in Vietnam were convinced that they were dying for absolutely nothing. They were absolutely right.
So what started out as occasional incidents where inexperienced or bad officers were being taken out by disgruntled troops quickly became an epidemic. Typically a grenade would be rolled in with the officer or he would be shot in the back while on maneuvers. (There were 600 officers confirmed murdered, but over 1,400 more that died under mysterious circumstances.) What I didn’t realize until I read Boyle’s book, but it actually makes perfect sense, was that the Lifers were also fragging enlisted men sometimes as a preemptive move against a potential assassination. There were bounties being raised by whole units sometimes as high as $10,000 that would be paid to the soldier who performed the murder. The Lifers were seen by the average soldier as more dangerous than the VC.
An army at war with itself.
Revolts and outright mutinies were becoming common. Boyle flew into Firebase Pace to cover an incident where a whole company elected not to participate in nighttime maneuvers. They asked Boyle to carry a message to Ted Kennedy because he was the brother of John and Bobby, and they couldn’t believe that, if he really knew what was going on in Vietnam, he wouldn't put a stop to it. “Do you think, if anyone back in the world really knew what was going on here, they’d let this madness continue?!”
The men of Firebase Pace. Photo by Richard Boyle.
Ted was a powerful man in Congress, but he wasn’t John or Bobby, and he certainly wasn’t going to burn up political capital on an issue so large that there was no way for anyone to wrap their arms around it.
Boyle spends most of his time talking to ground troops. He was looking for truths, not sound bites. He was searching for ways to bring enough attention to what was really going on, to hopefully start moving the needle towards shutting this unwinnable war down. He always had his nostrils in the wind, and whenever a whiff of something foul came to his attention, he was never afraid to catch the next chopper there. Although as the Pentagon became more and more aware of his journalistic endeavors, it started to become harder for him to get clearance to visit those situations of embarrassment that the military would rather see swept back into the jungle. I couldn’t help admiring his tenacity. I’ve read several books on the Vietnam era, and still Boyle revealed things to me of which I was not aware.
This book is compelling to read and is filled with Boyle’s own pictures of the soldiers who were asked to do an impossible job and of the civilians who were living in a war zone that probably made little or no sense to them. Boyle’s passionate personality comes through on every page as he tries to make everyone understand that it was long past time for our boys to come home and for the industrial war complex to start making their money on something that didn’t require the blood of our children.
“I insert the bevel and draw back the plunger. I know that the syringe contains more than sodium chloride-that even as the toxic contents fill my fath“I insert the bevel and draw back the plunger. I know that the syringe contains more than sodium chloride-that even as the toxic contents fill my father’s veins, he is sharing with me his final gift: the horror and thrill of saving lives.”
Reading this collection of stories reminded me that I don’t read enough short stories. I keep hearing that people are becoming more interested in short story collections because they fit so well with our abbreviated attention spans, busy schedules, and our tweet/text diminutive information needs.
Who has time to read a whole novel anyway?
Well, me for one.
Just because I make the time to read novels doesn’t mean that I should forgo the stepchild of publishing...the short story collection. After all, I’m not allowed to discriminate against short people why therefore should I be allowed to snub stubby stories.
I can’t tell you how many people, when they find out that I read, say, as if it is an original thought usually accompanied by a heavy sigh while violin music softly plays in the background: “I wish I had time to read.” I stifle a yawn and usually either ignore them or say:
“Everyone has time to read. You just choose to do other things.”
The impression that people have about reading is that it is something you do when you have ABSOLUTELY nothing else to do. I don’t know how many times, when I’m sitting at the auto dealership waiting on my car or on a plane or on a train or on a park bench reading, someone will start talking to me because obviously if I’ve resorted to reading I must be BORED OUT OF MY FRILLING MIND. So why not replace Fyodor Dostoevsky, Raymond Chandler, or Virginia Woolf with idle chit chat about the weather or their goiter issues or their granddaughter’s exploits on the soccer field.
The point I was leading up to is that now, instead of giving my typical snarky reply that just makes people even less interested in reading because who wants to be like the intellectual a$$hole who just made them feel like a dumba$$, I will pull out my phone and queue up Amazon and say order this damn book…YOU have time for this book.
The “I wish I had time to read” tax will now be the cost of this book. I will look at their wristwatch and their shoes and make a quick determination if they have to buy a brand new copy. If they are wearing a t-shirt that looks like it has been washed on stones in a river or shoes that are held together by twine or a sundial on their wrist, I might point out the fact that they can buy used ones for pennies.
There are eight stories in this collection, not even double digits, so again if TIME is an issue, you can have this book read easily within a week by just reading one story a day and two on Sunday ( this slender volume fits easily in the middle of a Bible or a hymnal). They are Cheeveresque with a little T. C. Boyle hot sauce added to the mix. I didn’t really pick up any Raymond Carver, but then it has been awhile since I’ve read Carver, so he might have been standing in the shadows between sentences, and I simply missed him. I do wonder if Jacob M. Appel has a time machine and set it to take him back to Iowa City, Iowa, in 1973 to have sex with Cheever, smoke weed with Boyle, and drink shots with Carver.
That M. in the middle of his name looks suspicious, like maybe it stands for Mathematical, Mechanical, or Machine.
The thing of it is books are time machines, so Appel didn’t have to build one. The pages of the books that Cheever, Boyle, and Carver all wrote will take all of us forwards and backwards in time without ever necessitating that we leave our armchairs. He didn’t need a DeLorean; he only needed a bus that could take him down to the nearest bookstore or public library.
These stories are about redemption, the first love that we are usually fortunate to escape, time shared turtles, illness withering the strength of a father, deaf-mute sex so as not to further disturb a disturbed hedgehog, of someone so happy at what IS instead of what could have been, a bit of scheming with Einstein, imaginary lovers, and a daughter caught in a whirlpool of her father’s madness.
All the stories are strong, but three of them are really something special. I was going to parcel these elite eight out over several days, but frankly I couldn’t leave them alone. I kept putting aside the novels that were bristling with bookmarks and post-it notes and indulged myself by reading another Appel story. I soon ran out of pages and was eyeing the empty white pages at the back of the book in much the same manner in which I peer into the empty bottle of a fine single malt scotch...satisfied, but looking for more. Highly Recommended!!
I’ve been friends with Lisa Lieberman for about as long as I’ve been a member of Goodreads. Over the years she has frequently tipped me off to great mI’ve been friends with Lisa Lieberman for about as long as I’ve been a member of Goodreads. Over the years she has frequently tipped me off to great movies and books. In particular, I’m grateful for her recommendation for me to watch Jean-Luc Godard’s amazing film Breathless. When I heard she had written a novel about Hollywood abroad in Europe during the 1950s, I dropped everything and devoted myself to reading it. I knew it would be well researched, intelligent, and brimming with all that wonderful information that I know is so beautifully arranged (unlike the clutter in my own) in her head. Instead of a traditional review, I thought it would be more interesting for me to ask Lisa a few questions about how this book evolved.
Breathless directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Jeffrey Keeten: Previously, you've written some very serious books about tough subjects. I still see a writer concerned about the bigger issues even though your choice of expression has changed from history to fiction. I liked the way you weaved the history of the time period into the book. You took a book that could have been categorized as a Hollywood cozy and made it into a more profound book tackling contentious issues. For instance: McCarthyism, sexism, racism in London, and even the fate of children in Europe still facing harsh conditions left over from the war in the mid-1950s. As almost a counter balance, you worked in elements like Princess Grace's wedding and Queen Elizabeth's coronation. Were you drawn to the issues of the 1950s for a particular reason? What created the click in your head that said I need to write this book?
Lisa Lieberman: As a historian of postwar Europe, I’ve been inhabiting this period for a long time. My nonfiction addresses some pretty depressing issues, as you note: suicide, including those of Holocaust survivors; the German occupation of Paris; war crimes and the trials of French collaborators after the war; terrorism and torture in French Algeria; the crushing of the 1956 Hungarian revolution. Even as a nonfiction reader, I’m drawn to dark topics. My bookshelves could rival those of Woody Allen’s character in Annie Hall (Alvy’s books all had “death” in the title).
But I’m actually a fun-loving person, and my taste in films reflects this. Musicals, mysteries, British comedy, French caper movies, satire, romance. It just so happens that the 1950s was a prime era for all of these genres, in addition to noir, which I also adore. So that’s where I tend to go, when I want an escape.
When my father was dying, in 2008, we watched a lot of old movies together, and after he passed away, I had a hard time getting back to my work. I found myself watching more movies, and gradually this story began to take shape in my mind.
Jeffrey Keeten:Cara is a nontraditional private eye, no trench coats, or gats, or worn shoe leather in this book. In fact, the mystery plot spends most of the book trapped in her subconscious. Did you set out to write a 1950s murder mystery or did you you want to write a book about 1950s Hollywood, and the mystery element evolved with the writing?
Lisa Lieberman:I was thinking about writing a mystery featuring blacklisted Hollywood people, and got the idea of having it narrated by a young girl who comes of age over the course of the story, only understanding the clues of the mystery that haunted her childhood as she gets out and about, lives a little. Noir, as a genre, has more psychological depth than, say, 30s melodrama, although I didn’t want to make my story too dark and convoluted (it’s more Hitchcock than noir, really; no accident that it ends up on the French Riviera, with the characters staying in the same hotel where Grace Kelly’s character stayed with her mother in To Catch a Thief.)
Still, there was a good deal of serendipity involved. Some of the characters and plot developments were planned, others emerged in the process of writing. Who knew that there was a DP camp in Trani (which I picked randomly by looking at a map, to determine a good spot for the car to break down on the way to San Giovanni Rotondo) and that, to get to it from Reggio di Calabria, one passes through Valentino's home town? The journey was exhilarating, waking up each morning and not knowing quite where I'd be going that day. Looking at old issues of Vogue to outfit Cara for the film festival? Learning about the Roma in Italy? Reading trashy Hollywood bios to help flesh out a character? Lots more fun than frequenting the Bibliothèque Nationale or listening to Holocaust testimonies at the Fortunoff archive at Yale!
JK:Cara's brother, Gray, is a fascinating character, so fascinating in fact that he overshadows his sister in the early part of the book. Did you have anybody in particular in mind from real Hollywood that you based his character on?
LL:I was reading Charles Chaplin, Jr.’s bio of his father, Charlie Chaplin, and came upon this poignant passage. He and his brother were collateral damage in their parents’ divorce, and he said that he didn’t think anyone in the world loved him enough. “I want more out of this life. I want to achieve something worthwhile as an actor. And so, when things are low and tough, and it seems I’m getting no place in my career, when I have no answer if people ask, ‘What are you doing now, Charlie?,’ then is when I drink.”
JK I couldn't help noticing you slipped Cary Grant into the book. Any particular reason why the dashing, debonair Hitchcock favorite was given a cameo?
LL: Pure self-indulgence. I love Cary Grant (if you search my blog, you will find that I’ve reviewed a ridiculous number of his films — even some bad ones). Surely, I’m not alone in wishing I could have met him, if only fleetingly.
JK: Rudolph Valentino died too young in 1926, but the specter of him still lingered over Hollywood for decades. I thought it was interesting how you found a way to place him in your plot. The question remains though, if you could have dinner with Valentino or Cary Grant which would you choose?
LL: Dinner? Cary Grant. The way he traded insults with Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday, the back-and-forth with Katherine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story, his comic timing in Bringing Up Baby and Holiday, suggest he’d be a delightful table companion, even if we were only sharing a hotdog. Of course, I’d hope we went somewhere posh, so I’d get to see him in a tuxedo.
With Valentino, on the other hand, I imagine a more wordless encounter. We might begin by dancing a tango, with the evening evolving from there. . .
JK: I love this quote you put in the book from Valentino. ”I am merely the canvas upon which women paint their dreams.”
JK: As I was reading the book, I kept thinking the Director Luca was based on Roberto Rossellini. I still have issues with him over how he, in my opinion, took away too many key acting years from Ingrid Bergman. Am I on track or did you have someone else in mind?
LL: Bingo. I wanted Cara to come under the sway of an Italian neorealist director, and he fit the bill: serious, thoughtful, passionate about art and women, not as self-obsessed as Fellini. He was generous to a fault, stayed on good terms with all his ex-wives and mistresses. Ingrid Bergman’s autobiography provided tremendous insight into his character. She forgave him for the way he treated her, by the way.
JK:I read Donald Spoto’s bio of Bergman this year so my resentment towards Rossellini is still too fresh, but I’m sure I, too, will eventually forgive him. :-)
JK: This is a natural book for a wonderful soundtrack. Music is layered into the plot. Did you listen to specific music as you wrote the book?
LL: I’ve always loved 50s jazz and the “gypsy jazz” of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, but in the course of researching the time period, I learned that there was a Calypso craze in England at this time. Trinidadians came to London to help repair the war-damaged city and brought their music with them. The musicians gave themselves fabulous names: Lord Invader (he wrote “Rum and Coca Cola,” but wasn’t credited for it), Lord Kitchener (the basis for my character Dory). This wasn’t the clean Calypso later popularized by Harry Belafonte. Some of the lyrics were quite racy, and English audiences loved it — Princess Margaret included.
JK: You bring up Kahlil Gibran's book The Prophet (1923) in the plot. This book seems to have a resurgence about every twenty years or so. In the late 1980s when I was in the book biz, I sold copies like crazy. It was a big book of the 1960s counterculture in America. Does this book have special significance for you?
LL: No special significance for me, but the mid-50s was one of those fad periods you refer to, and Gray would have been exposed to it during his youth in the 30s, so it seemed like the perfect birthday present for him to give Cara.
JK: Cara Walden has a slightly sordid past by the tender age of 17. In fact, she has had a child already and has given it up for adoption. Hollywood is an adult world where child actors grow up fast. Cara is attracted to all the wrong men, but really to me it was the environment in which she was growing up. It seems natural for a romantic, attractive young girl to fall in love/lust with those handsome actors. There is a particularly brutal, embarrassing scene on one movie set with a man she thought she was in love with. How much control over her own body did a young woman have during this time period? Not only with giving a child up for adoption, but with recourse for an assault? Silence or no work?
LL: Yes, I think it is the environment that destroys actors, men and women, then and now. Too many tragedies to list, but just think of Judy Garland being put on diet pills and being “persuaded” to have an abortion when she was married to her first husband, because her image in those days was of a younger girl.
In the 50s, and even in the 70s, when I was a teenager, sexual assault was not talked about, not even at slumber parties when it was just girls. Victims kept quiet; nobody wanted to hear about it, for one thing., and there seemed to be something shameful about it. After she was raped in 1974, Connie Francis bravely spoke out, but every interview is prefaced with an account of what a good girl she was before it happened. (“I had a very traditional upbringing and a mother and father who loved me. I was a very disciplined performer. I didn't go to clubs after a show. I didn't drink or party. I'd go back to my room with my aunt or my mother and play Scrabble. I was never abused. My manager was very protective. I never saw agents directly. I never knew the old show business story about having to deal with the producer on his couch. I was a virgin until the day I married at the age of 25, didn't have affairs. When I fell in love, I got married. . .”)
Women who report sexual assault are still expected to prove their innocence, but it’s getting easier to come forward, I think.
JK: There is a hint on the front cover that states 'A Cara Walden Mystery' which would indicate to me that you are planning a series. Are you working on a follow-up? And will it be in the same time period?
LL: I’m just putting the finishing touches on the sequel, Burning Cold. This one is set in Budapest during the failed 1956 Hungarian revolution, taking off from the classic film directed by Carol Reed and starring Orson Welles, The Third Man. Graham Greene wrote the screenplay and I’m kind of channeling him for this one. After this, I’m be visiting the remnants of French colonial Vietnam, then we're off to Paris in time for de Gaulle’s return to power in May of 1958, followed by a jaunt to Cuba to meet Fidel Castro and witness the end of the Batista era. Never a dull moment.
JK:The Third Man is a terrific movie and one of my favorite Welles movies along with Touch of Evil and The Lady from Shanghai. With Graham Greene added to the mix how could the movie be anything less than a masterpiece?
I want to thank Lisa for being such a good sport about answering my questions and for tipping this reader off to this intriguing, well researched book that is filled with references to great films, body swaying music, and inspiring literature. I felt right at home in the pages of this book and look forward to experiencing more 1950s Hollywood as Cara finds herself on location in Budapest.
”Sometimes you want to stop doing something, but it’s not enough to want to stop. Something else has to happen.”
The Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Gé”Sometimes you want to stop doing something, but it’s not enough to want to stop. Something else has to happen.”
The Raft of the Medusa by Théodore Géricault
The unreliable narrator of this tale, Katherine Shea, lies to us as unreliable narrators tend to do. She doesn’t just lie to us, but also blurs the truth for herself. She isn’t a very good liar. I sussed out what was going on very quickly, and then it became more of a matter of understanding why.
We don’t have to look any further than her mother. Katherine has an unnatural relationship with her mother. She always tells Katherine that friends are overrated, which could be because she was in desperate need for her daughter to be her friend. She molds Katherine into an equally abnormal version of herself. Instead of reading her stories from Dr. Suess, or Beatrix Potter, or Mary Poppins, she tells her stories of The Donner Party, of Dante’s Count Ugolino, or details about the Raft of Medusa.
Her mother is...how do I put this delicately...batshit crazy!!!!
”The truth is not for everyone.”
Her father knows and tries to keep things stabilized by keeping her mother medicated to the gills. Without medication she tends to tear all her clothes off and perform wild, acrobatic dancing on the snow covered front lawn. Of course, they are against the father, and the secrets of what they know, what they believe, have to be kept from him.
When Katherine picks up this Russian writer in New York City, she can’t help but think of her father. ”Bored on the plane, I’d tried to picture what man my father would like to see me with least. I thought of the usual suspects: addict, musician, performance artist, his business partner. But Boris had to be the worst of them all--the European intellectual who would find my father inferior.”
Autumn Cannibalism by Salvador Dali
We are treated to the history, the art, the literature of cannibalism as we ramble through Katherine’s disjointed life. She can justify her unnatural hunger, her aberrant behavior, by stacking up all the evidence of situations where throwing some salt and pepper on some human flesh ( I hear the upper arms are the delicacy of the human body.) was necessary for survival. After all…”our civilization, the ‘America’ that was a source of unending pride for her father, was not based on the nurturing of the weak but on their calculated demise.”
She is pale, but pretty, in fact, very attractive. She collects men with ease. She has a vulnerability about her coupled with an intelligent mind that men find stimulating. I would guess, though this is speculation on my part because much is not explained about Katherine because she is controlling what we know, that she is uninhibited between the sheets. There is probably a raw hunger there that is barely suppressed from becoming outright feral.
She does meet one gentle soul. A kind, down on his luck musician named Arthur, and for a while it feels like there is a chance that she could find a way to be happy living with him and leading a normal life. It’s difficult being with someone so nice when you know what you are. ”The relationship, despite all my optimism, had already failed and Arthur had become a mirror, reflecting all my deviancy back at me.”
There are secrets, but then there are man and meat, and meat and man secrets.
Katherine is rather a sloppy eater. More of a nibbler than an efficient cannibal, like Jeffrey Dahmer who butchered the carcass and ate the whole kill. The problem with this is that bodies are not disappearing, but piling up. Will it all come undone or will her unusual culinary preferences continue to be indulged as she escapes to begin again?
Saturn Devouring his Son by Francisco Goya.
Sabina Murray has lived in Massachusetts, Australia, and the Philippines. Her mixed heritage has allowed her the benefit of experiencing and being influenced by several different cultures. The historical references she sprinkled throughout the book added to my enjoyment. Her research added some whimsical, intellectual twists to a behavior that none of us can condone; and yet, I found myself pondering the possibilities if faced with the proper dire circumstances. This book certainly reminded me of the works of Patrick McGrath. It doesn’t quite have the gothic flair that McGrath’s work has, but it certainly comes close. If you’d like to make a weekend of reading about the deviances and delights of Long Pork, I would also suggest as a companion volume to this one: David Cronenberg’s book Consumed.
“There was silence. Something real was happening: this was, as it were, her life. If she could keep that in mind she would be able to play it through,“There was silence. Something real was happening: this was, as it were, her life. If she could keep that in mind she would be able to play it through, do the right thing, whatever that meant.”
Whenever Maria called, it was as if the ringing of the phone heralded the end of any conviviality I might have been harboring. I always had the impression when I talked with her that the Fun to Be Around Maria was dying in another room, and all I was left with was the beautiful corpse.
She was beautiful. Even though we had all seen changes to her appearance recently. So beautiful, in fact, she could still get acting jobs without too much trouble. I could see this all ending soon because she was so morose that her mood permeated the whole movie set. She had become so lost, so indifferent to everything. She was a zombie, long before Hollywood became infatuated with them.
Her relationship with men was not particularly complicated. They wanted to sleep with her, and she was rather indifferent as to whether she slept with them or not. When we had first met, I’d “seduced” her while blinded by her glamour and allurement. It was only after we were entangled that I realized that all of that was only skin deep.
“By the end of the week she was thinking constantly about where her body stopped and the air began about the exact point in space and time that was the difference between Maria and other.”
She had leaned on one elbow and shared that revelation with me. Her hair was still rummaged from my fingers. Her lipstick was smeared from my lips. There was something gone from her. The worms in her head had eaten into the core of her. The flame that had made her a star was nothing, but ashes. I left her with vestiges of misery clinging to me as if I’d been tainted by her own unhappiness.
But we remained friends.
I worried about her and worried about myself whenever I knew I had to see her. Things weren’t going well with her husband, Carter, or with her other lovers for that matter. They all were finding it harder to find the woman that first made them want her. Her mantra of late was: “I know what "nothing" means, and keep on playing.”
Her circle of friends continued to take her calls because we were all afraid that by not answering we might be putting her life in danger. Someone so miserable had to be suicidal. It was like a guillotine hanging over all of us, waiting for her to decide when and how. It was frustrating to see someone who had been given so much not being able to find any way to enjoy the life that many desired.
I’d been drinking one night after losing yet another part that would have insured many years of future success when she called. Her unhappiness fueled the fire of my own dejection. I heard myself scream into the phone, “For all our sakes just get it over with.” I’d slammed the phone down and poured myself a couple of fingers more of scotch. I couldn’t afford to know Maria anymore. It was too debilitating, too disheartening, and inspired too many ugly thoughts of resentment. I wanted her melancholy to be left to song.
Remorse wrapped crumpled newsprint around all my further thoughts.
”She had her highborn air, dexter, and right next to it she had her lowborn air, sinister, which also came of being a Jew, an outcast, a gypsy, and no”She had her highborn air, dexter, and right next to it she had her lowborn air, sinister, which also came of being a Jew, an outcast, a gypsy, and not giving one goddamn. She could up and follow a racetracker, a coarse adventurer, if she so chose. Moreover you could get to her through her body. It was a black, rich, well-watered way, between rock faces.
The word podzol came to mind.
The word humus. Soil. Slut.
You could ask all you wanted of that flesh, you could whisper outrages into her ear and, no matter what she said, the flesh would tremble and fall open to you.”
It all begins when Maggie Korderer shows up at the Indian Mound Downs in Wheeling, West Virginia, in a battered, white Grand Prix and asks for four stalls for horses. She has no idea she is about to meet a cast of characters whose names sound like they stepped out of the pages of a comic book. These people are more tangible than most real people: Suitcase Smithers, Old lady “gyp” Deucey Gifford, Kidstuff the Blacksmith, Medicine Ed, and Joe Dale Bigg.
She fell in lust with a racetracker named Tommy Hansel. Medicine Ed sums him up quickly: ”But the young fool? Something have made him think he big when he small and strong when he weak, something have set him thinking he the king when he ain’t nothing. Long as he think he king, he can’t see how low he is, don’t know to ask the bad luck to leave him while it’s still time, and put it back on them that brung it and send it back to the Devil where it come from.”
Sometimes the Devil is in desire, or in a horse, or in a man, and sometimes it can be in a woman, too.
”When he came home in the afternoon from the track and she from the paper, they were in bed in five minutes, with all of it: newsprint and horse manure, saddle leather, ink and hashish, past performance charts and food pages, sweet feed and recipes for blancmange and corn souffle. The sheets literally reeked of all that. The sweat-damp canyons of the featherbed were gritty with their mixture. In some way their unmiscible lives fused.”
Maggie didn’t expect to fall in love with horses. She came to the business for the man, but ended up staying for the horses. They are beautiful animals, even the ones that have fallen so far down the ladder as to be running at tracks in $5000 races where anyone could buy any horse in the race for that amount. It’s a brutal existence with Goofer Powder and syringes full of juice that take a little more of the soul of the animal during every race.
Jaimy Gordon is at times so lyrical that I found myself rereading lines several times just to squeeze all the honey out of the language. ”An hour before Little Spinoza’s first race they sat around in a funeral mood--all except Little Spinoza who stood in his bucket of ice as cool as a Tiffany cocktail stirrer, dreaming in black jewerly eyes of emerald alfalfa and clover of Burmese jade.”
This is a literary book; and yet, there are also these great hardboiled lines that add this beautiful edge to the writing. Joe Dale Bigg is a gangster who fixes races to keep his cash flow stable. He gets one whiff of Maggie, and he wants her. He wants to hurt her. He has a plan on how he will arrange things so that she has to come to him. ”Hey, didn’t I figure you right? Isn’t that what you like? Somebody who can reach his hand up inside you and tell you what disease you’re dying of.”
Medicine Ed is watching this witches brew of chaos and knows better than just about anyone what the future will be. His eyes are ancient eyes glutted with the past. The possible outcomes of the narratives of all our lives have all been played before. When Ed, Maggie, and Deucey buy a horse in an attempt to be more than they’ve ever been before, they have allowed the Devil a chance to tickle their necks with his hot breath and whisper in their ears the consequences of failure.
Thoughts and dialogues masquerade as each other. He said she said has been stripped from the prose. Quotation marks have been eliminated from Jaimy Gordon’s computer keys. The style is brilliant, earthy, and immediate, but can pose a challenge for some readers. I found it invigorating and genuine, as if I were there seeing the words in their eyes before they had time to move their lips.
From Wikipedia: In England, the Lord of Misrule — known in Scotland as the Abbot of Unreason and in France as the Prince des Sots — was an officer appointed by lot at Christmas to preside over the Feast of Fools. The Lord of Misrule was generally a peasant or sub-deacon appointed to be in charge of Christmas revelries, which often included drunkenness and wild partying, in the pagan tradition of Saturnalia. For the purposes of our story, he is a horse arriving in a whirlwind to throw a hoof through the hopes and dreams of a trio of fools.
This book first came to my attention when Entertainment Weekly published their map of the United States showing the books that best represent each state. This was the choice for West Virginia.
”It’s always the wrong people who have the guilty conscience. Those who are really responsible for suffering in the world couldn’t care less. It’s the”It’s always the wrong people who have the guilty conscience. Those who are really responsible for suffering in the world couldn’t care less. It’s the ones fighting for good who are consumed by remorse.”
David Lagercrantz, a novelist and journalist, was asked to assume responsibility for the continuation of a trilogy of novels that frankly took the publishing industry by storm. The books left readers stunned with the marvelous insanity of the writing. More importantly Stieg Larsson created a character who is forever immortalized as one of the greatest anti-heroes to ever step out of the pages of a book.
It doesn’t surprise me that Lagercrantz is a little afraid of her. Who isn’t? His fear might be reflected in the fact that she is a shadowy figure in the book until about halfway through when she answers a call from Mikael Blomkvist.
”Shut up and listen,” she said.
Ahhh, yes, that’s my girl.
She doesn’t look like much, just an androgynous girl? with piercings, tattoos, and strange hair. She is undersized, but bristles with attitude. The outward appearance is not just for show...it is bone deep. She is blessed/cursed with a photographic memory. She doesn’t have the patience or sympathy for stupidity. She has no time for social niceties. If you were her “friend,” you would see her only when she wanted to be seen. If you are involved with her sexually, you will find that you are not really “involved” with her at all.
But the sex...well...is by all accounts...fantastic.
If you are someone who gets aroused by beating up women or children, you better pray to all that is holy that Salander doesn’t find out who you are because you will find yourself with her boot on your throat wondering how this diminutive creature incapacitated you so quickly. You’ll want to hurt her, but she is capable of not only hurting you physically, but also taking your whole identity away from you.
she is also a hacker. A vengeful hacker, but also a prideful hacker. When she gets the chance to hack the National Security Agency in Washington, D.C., she goes through their system like buttered bread.
All hell breaks loose.
Lagercrantz might have underestimated just how much America would overreact to such a breach of security. In reality, Sweden might have found themselves invaded by Marines, tanks, and Apache helicopters as the Americans turned over every stone looking for someone with the hacker handle WASP.
For the first part of the book, Lagercrantz puts Mikael Blomkvist center stage. It would make sense that he identifies with him since they share a similar profession. Not that I mind spending time with Mikael. Blomkvist, if he were a real person, would give me hope for journalism. He is a person obsessed with the truth. Other journalists either revere him or hate him. He is a target for those that loath him. ”Your uncompromising attitude makes people feel pathetic. Your very existence reminds them just how much they’ve sold out, and the more you’re acclaimed, the punier they themselves appear. When it’s like that the only way they can fight back is by dragging you down.”
Millennium, the magazine he founded, is in trouble. They had to sell out a portion of their ownership to keep the publication afloat, but now those same corporate people who bought them to add some integrity to their own list of titles suddenly want to compromise the integrity of Millennium by adding more human interest material.
For me, now that I’m one of the owners of the publication I work for, the trials and tribulations of a magazine to keep up subscription levels hit home. Any soften of the economy turns subscription renewals into luxuries, not to mention all the competition from free publications online that also erode print subscriptions.
So Blomkvist is in a funk; more is going wrong than is going right. He is spending most of his time, even the time he is supposed to be sleeping, reading Elizabeth George novels one after another. I can relate to that for there is nothing like escaping into the pages of a good book when life becomes TOO BORING, TOO DEPRESSING, TOO REAL.
A call from Frans Balder finally gets Mikael reinvigorated. Balder is a leading expert on Artificial General Intelligence or ”Something with the intelligence of a human being, but the speed and precision of a computer.”
The plot explodes.
It doesn’t take long for Salander and Blomkvist to realize they are working the same problem from different ends of the stick. With her behind the scenes, beyond the law approach to finding out the truth and his unflinching, uncompromising need to expose hypocrisy, the duo form a team that scares everyone from criminal elements, to large corporations, to governments. Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between those elements.
There is techno jargon, but Lagercrantz does a great job of explaining everything. He also does a fantastic job talking about autism and savant tendencies in socially compromised children. I thought it was cool that an autistic child becomes an important plotting device. Lagercrantz did not have access to the notes left by Stieg Larsson for continuing the story. This probably was more of a blessing than a curse. Larsson’s, long time girlfriend ( that term seems so out dating and doesn’t quite explain the situation), has been in a legal battle to obtain ownership or rights to Larsson’s unpublished works. It seems the Swedes, so advanced in so many ways, might be lagging behind in the common law aspect of inheritance. I believe that Lagercrantz by using the first three novels as his only source documentation kept himself from being hampered by Larsson in making this novel his own creation.
I read this book in two days. I thought the plot was great. I thought the writing was very good, even if it did lack some of the flair that was such a Larsson trademark. It is hard to wear a dead man’s suit, but I have to say Lagercrantz, even if the jacket was too big in the shoulders or too short in the arms, still managed to make me believe that even as he left the funeral he was leading me back to a new beginning and creating a new life for characters that were relegated to retirement much too early.
”I know what they need. Perfection all the time would drive them mad. For every perfect little town, there’s something ugly underneath. No dream witho”I know what they need. Perfection all the time would drive them mad. For every perfect little town, there’s something ugly underneath. No dream without the nightmare.”
We all have secrets we carry around with us. As a species we aren’t really good at keeping secrets, even those rattling skeletons that could prove detrimental to our lives. In the end, most of us end up telling somebody. You can swear someone to secrecy, but the same itch, the same need to tell someone that compelled you to tell them, is whispering to them from the corners of their brain. This powerful urge, maybe with some help from some uninhibiting wine or soul exploding sex, will eventually gain the upper hand, and those locked away words will spill. They swear that person to secrecy, and so on and so on until everyone you know...well...knows.
So the only way to keep a secret is to tell NO ONE.
Recently appointed Sheriff Ethan Burke is carrying the granddaddy of all secrets. I was trying to think of something in the history of mankind that is a bigger secret. Knowledge of what Brutus has planned for Julius Caesar at the forum?...hmmm...nope. Finding out the Japanese plans for Pearl Harbor on December 6th?...not even close. How about the fact that I travelled back in time and handed Alois Hitler a FREE condom nine months prior to April 20th, 1889? Epic fail! Unfortunately...his appendage was too small to stay covered for the crucial moment (as it turns out that unfortunate disability runs in that family). See, and what did I just do...I told you!!
Ethan tells his wife, Theresa.
Guilt is hammering away at him. He has kept secrets (not very well... proving my point) in the past. Big ones like doinking his hot FBI partner Kate, who also is a resident of Wayward Pines. She also happens to be running a resistance movement against the powers that be. No one, except Ethan... well and now Theresa, knows exactly who that might be.
The electric fence surrounding the town hums with high voltage electricity. Occasionally, one of the 461 residents uses the fence to kill themselves. Unfortunately, the smell of their charred flesh just makes people hungry for barbecue. Miraculously, new people show up to replace those who have been lost. They are quickly assimilated into the community. Speaking about the past is verboten. If people don’t accept the rules by joining the rest of the seemingly ecstatically happy people, they are fêted. Yes, there is a big group. Yes, there is a big party. No, those being fêted are not having a good time.
What the FRILL is going on?
As I said when I wrote the review for the first book in the trilogy, Pines, my recommendation is to watch the Wayward Pines TV series first. I know! Shocking! I feel like frog marching myself out to a stone cliff and throwing myself into the sea. The rule is always read the books first. *Sigh* one thing I’ve learned after decades of life is that flexibility, even as your joints refuse to be so, is important in all things. Rules were maybe not meant to be broken, but certainly, they were meant to be bent.
Be the tree that sways in the wind.
Watch the series, there are only ten episodes ( I really appreciate it when American TV shows some restraints with the number of episodes), and if you like the series, read the books. The books do differ from the series, but not by a large margin. In for a penny in for a pound, on to book three.
“The world is no longer man's theatre. Man has been made into a helpless spectator. The two evil forces he has created- science and the state- have co“The world is no longer man's theatre. Man has been made into a helpless spectator. The two evil forces he has created- science and the state- have combined into one monstrous body. We're at the mercy of our monster...”
The Big Board from the 1964 movie.
As I was making my way through the public school system in the 1970s, they were still doing duck and cover drills. In retrospect, of course, these drills were absolutely worthless except as an effective way of convincing all of us that our lives were dangling at the fingertips of madmen. Getting under our desks and covering our heads with our hands as a way to survive an atomic blast is about as effective as holding up a tissue in front of a speeding bullet heading towards our heart.
It took me years and much reading on my own to undo most of the brainwashing that was just part of our normal psychotic relationship with the Soviet Union. My impression of Russians were that they were deranged lunatics and that our strong military was the only thing standing between them and world domination.
The Cold War.
The Nuclear Weapon Buildup.
Gazillions of dollars were spent by both countries. Paranoia was behind the wheel with the gas pedal mashed to the floor. Both militaries used inflated numbers of the other’s strengths to keep blackmailing their politicians for more and more money.
This book came out in 1962. The timing could not have been better. The Cuban Missile Crisis in that same year gave the world a very genuine taste of what had previously just been academic conjecture.
The end of the world was very real.
This book was an instant best seller. The copy I appropriated from the library was a fifteenth printing. I’m sure it went into many more printings than that. Frankly, the book depicts a terrifying scenario. Being a child of The Cold War, it certainly pressed all the right buttons for me. To those who have grown up with illusions of safety, it is ludicrous for most of them to even think that something as crazy as a Nuclear Exchange could ever happen. To those who don’t understand the historical significance of this novel, they could think this scenario to be...well... unbelievable. To those of us who lived through it and felt the haunting spectre of war hovering over every international crisis, this book confirms every worse fear that we experienced while living in a nuclear unstable world.
In the book they talk a lot about Fail-Safe. ”Fail-safe means that a device will not endanger lives or property when it fails.” The plot begins with a blown fuse that sends an errant message to a bomber group hovering in the designated “Fail-Safe” area. Computers have replaced men, and protocols are in place that are based off those same paranoias that sustained the whole Cold War. Once the GO signal is given it is almost impossible to stop the process from proceeding.
I watched the excellent 1964 movie right after reading the book. Being a natural optimist, even though I knew the ending from the book, I was still hoping for an eleventh hour reprieve. The book and the movie (it follows the book very closely) both left me shaken. The decisions of the world leaders, I can guarantee, will shock and surprise you. The book is compelling especially in the last hundred pages, but the movie might even be more so from start to finish. The dark, stark black and white footage lends a feeling of desolation to the actions of the characters. The director snaps close ups of eyes widening, of sweat glistening on skin, and of lips saying words that are devastating in their impact.
One of the more interesting and abhorrent characters in the book is Professor Groteschele (played very well by Walter Matthau in the movie), who shares end of the world scenarios at cocktail parties with the intention of leaving those listening to him shocked and disturbed. The prospect of war is a punchline for him.
”Knowing you have to die, imagine how fantastic and magical it would be to have the power to take everyone else with you.” Groteschele said. “The swarms of them out there, the untold billions of them, the ignorant masses of them, the beautiful ones, the artful ones, the friends, the enemies...all of them and their plans and hopes. And they are murderees: born to be murdered and don’t know it. And the person with his finger on the button is the one who knows and who can do it.”
Walter Matthau conveys smug very well.
He is smug in his objectivity. War is a series of calculations that ignore the human cost as long as more of us survive than those who oppose us. When soldiers follow orders, even immoral orders, they have to become less than human. Groteschele fears our best intentions the most. ”'What frightened us was not so much the madman problem, ' Groteschele was saying, 'but its opposite: at the last moment someone might refuse to drop the bombs. A single act of revulsion could foil the whole policy of graduated deterrents.'”
With six United States Vindicator bombers flying towards Moscow with a large enough payload of atomic bombs to wipe six cities the size of Moscow off the map, the tension continues to ratchet up as the President tries to keep Nikita Khrushchev, The Soviet Premier, from launching all out war.
Henry Fonda as the President in the movie.
It may have just been an accident, a horrible accident, but still with paranoia flowing freely it is difficult for both sides to convince themselves that this is not just a trick perpetrated to create an advantage in war. Everyone involved is trying to decide what exactly is true and what is subterfuge. As the bombers approach Moscow, the President orders his military advisors to tell the Russians the weaknesses in the Vindicator’s defenses. ”General Bogan felt his finger tips shaking against his trousers. He felt for a moment as if he were being exposed to some strange torture; some spikelike split of his allegiance; some rupturing of his life.”
As the Vindicator planes score victories, it is hard for the United States military men not to cheer, even though the fate of the world rests on the ability of the Russians to shoot all the planes down. The ballooning tension kept my gut churning and my mind spinning with all the potential outcomes. The ending was not what I expected at all. The book was good. The movie was even better. I felt like the experience was enhanced by reading the book and watching the movie, but I would highly recommend anyone who is interested in this era or fascinated by human behavior under pressure to, at the very least, watch the movie.
”One night I had a frightful dream in which I met my grandmother under the sea. She lived in a phosphorescent palace of many terraces, with gardens of”One night I had a frightful dream in which I met my grandmother under the sea. She lived in a phosphorescent palace of many terraces, with gardens of strange leprous corals and grotesque brachiate efflorescences, and welcomed me with a warmth that may have been sardonic. She had changed--as those who take to the water change--and told me she had never died.”
It might have been the uncertain light from the flickering fire casting deceptive shadows across my friend’s face or maybe it was the way the lush, aromatic smoke from our smoldering cigars circled around his head, but I could swear that I was seeing changes morphing the features of Robert’s face as he told me his tale.
He showed me a piece of jewelry with grotesque depictions of insidious looking creatures engraved on its surface. I rubbed the engravings vigorously with my thumb as if I could smear the gold and blur their hideous features.
“I’ve seen them.”
I gave him a startled look. “You mean in your nightmares like the fantastical one about your grandmother.”
He sighed and drained his glass of cognac and signaled into the darkness for another. “Jeffrey, you are my only hope. The only person I know who could even begin to fathom what I have seen, what I have experienced. Out of all my friends, you are the most likely to be able to set aside what you think are absolutes and allow me the courtesy of objectively considering that what I’m telling you could possibly be true.”
I nestled back into the oxblood leather of my chair. I considered the set of his face as best I could. His eyes seemed larger suddenly, black as if the pupils had encroached outside of their normal sphere. A waiter appeared, dressed in dark colors, barely distinguishable from the surrounding darkness except for a white napkin tucked in his belt. He dropped off two more cognacs and evaporated back into the midnight recesses of the room. I’d barely touched the first, but I felt that this might be a fine time to add some fortification, given that I felt an uncontrollable, insane urge to grab one of the decorative shields from the wall of the room so that I would have something between me and the words that were about to be shared.
I flicked a trembling hand in the air. My hand had a pale luminescence as if I were reaching for a torch burning under water. “I appreciate your faith in me, dear Robert, please do continue.”
He flicked the piece of jewelry with his finger. “These images are mere stick figures gouged into a cave wall by an ancient man when one compares them to what they actually look like.”
”I think their predominant colour was a greyish-green, though they had white bellies. They were mostly shiny and slippery, but the ridges of their backs were scaly. Their forms vaguely suggested the anthropoid, while their heads were the heads of fish, with prodigious bulging eyes that never closed. At the sides of their necks were palpitating gills, and their long paws were webbed. They hopped irregularly, sometimes on two legs and sometimes on four.”
“You’ve seen them yourself? If anyone else were describing these creatures to me, I’d think they’d been reading too many Penny Dreadfuls”
“I nearly didn’t escape them.”
He held up a hand to quiet the questions bubbling to my lips.
“I discovered that this piece came from Innsmouth, Massachusetts. My curiosity was peaked as to the origin of the artwork. Little did I know that I was being pulled by more sinister forces than just my own natural interest in the extraordinary.”
“What a peculiar statement, Robert. Are you saying that something was compelling you against your will to go to Innsmouth?”
I watched his hand reach out for his glass. The fingers, as they wrapped around the round curve of the cup, were deformed. It took me a moment to ascertain that the fingers were misshapen by what appeared to be webbing.
“What’s the matter, Jeffrey?”
I looked up at his face and then looked down at the hand again. Robert’s hand now looked as normal as my own.
I laughed weakly. “Your tale of fantastical creatures has permeated my brain with disturbing apparitions.”
Robert leaned forward. “Do I look alright?”
He did, too pale, the standard problem with academics. We all began to look like cave creatures after long bouts of research. Whatever morphing I was seeing was merely my own hallucinations. I was starting to wonder if I’d ingested something that was unbalancing my vision. “You look fine, Robert.”
“I’ve been seeing things in the mirror. The Innsmouth look as they say. It is as if something has been changing in me. I do wonder about my own sanity. I’ve been researching my family tree and have discovered that I am descended from a prominent Innsmouth family.”
“What an odd coincidence that is," I exclaimed.
“I’m beginning to believe that none of this has been happenstance, but more to do with predestination.”
“More like morbid curiosity, my old friend,” I said, but doubt was beginning to hang a heavy stone around my own assurances.
“I’m going back to Innsmouth. I do think that I will bring my uncle with me. You know the one that has been incarcerated for mental illness. I’ve been having thoughts of liberating him.”
“Liberating the insane? Is that wise?”
“Maybe he is not insane. Maybe he is just not where he is supposed to be.”
“You are worrying me, Robert.”
He sighed heavily. “It is all so complicated, but only because I keep denying what needs to be done. I’ve been keeping notes of my research and of my dreams. I’m leaving them with this scholar in Providence, Rhode Island, named H. P. Lovecraft. We’ve been corresponding for some time. A strange young man with a voracious appetite for anything I might know about these creatures.”
After we parted that night, I never saw Robert Olmstead again. After months of hearing nothing from my old friend, I decided to take the train to Providence and see if this Lovecraft fellow had seen or heard anything. I knocked and battered at his door, but he refused to come out to see me. His windows were covered with what looked like sheets of metal. I found a place where a hole had been bored through the window frame. As I peered through the aperture, I was momentarily shocked to find myself looking eyeball to eyeball with him. His eye widened and then fell away from me. I heard this awful clatter followed by what sounded like terror induced moaning.
I heard him scream something odd...something that sounded like Cthulhu. Though he screamed it several times, I’m still not sure I heard properly what he was calling out. After several more minutes of pounding on the door, extorting him, and menacing him with all forms of retribution for not helping me, I finally gave up.
There was nothing for it. I was going to have to go to Innsmouth.
The man who checked me into the hotel didn’t look right. ”He had a queer narrow head with a flat nose and bulgy, stary eyes that never seemed to shut. His skin was rough and scabby and the sides of his neck were shrivelled and creased up.” He had a half drowned, dropped on his head too many times look about him that sent a shiver up my spine.
“Have you seen my friend, Robert Olmstead?” I gave him a brief description. He looked at me for longer than was necessary and finally shook his head.
“Listen, you degenerate rogue, I can tell you are lying.” I slapped my hand on the counter for emphasis which made him jump back. The first look of mild intelligence crossed his amphibian features.
He walked around the counter, picked up my valise, and started up the stairs. I weighed my options, but decided it was late and probably the best thing for me would be to rest and recuperate from the long hours spent on the train. ”It would perhaps have been easier to keep my thoughts from disturbing topics had the room not been so gruesomely musty. As it was, the lethal mustiness blended hideously with the town’s general fishy odour and persistently focussed one’s fancy on death and decay.” To further discombobulate my already acute discomfort, the bolt for the door was missing. I wedged a rickety chair under the door knob. The chair looked old enough that Captain John Smith may have put the grooves in the seat with his very own buttocks.
I didn’t feel comfortable enough to undress or even pull my shoes off. I expected at any moment to have some horrendous beast burst through the door intent on my eminent destruction. I tossed and turned. The musty smell of the room and the general stuffiness of the high humidity was driving me to distraction. Finally out of desperation, I decided to leave the uncertain safety of my room for a brisk walk around the town. Few lights offered any help in determining a surefooted way. Luckily, the moon was full and illuminated a choice of paths. I decided that a walk down to the shoreline was probably my only hope of relaxation.
The smell of the salt air did clear my head. I peered out at the water and thought about the stories that Robert had told me. They couldn’t possibly be true. My fear was that his mind was cracking and that the unfortunate circumstances of his uncle might be one he currently shared. I noticed that the waves were being disturbed, that something, possibly wreckage from some unfortunate vessel, was coming ashore.
”For a closer glance I saw that the moonlit waters between the reef and the shore were far from empty. They were alive with a teeming horde of shapes swimming inward toward the town; and even at my vast distance and in my single moment of perception I could tell that the bobbing heads and flailing arms were alien and aberrant in a way scarcely to be expressed or consciously formulated.”
Fear gripped my spine. I wanted to scream, but only an inhuman gurgle was able to traverse the constriction of my throat. My legs, fortunately, responded, and soon I was fleeing at a helter skelter pace up the pathway to the hotel. There were several of them waiting for me outside the hotel, but I flailed my way through them, shuddering every time my fist or my boot came in contact with their foul, nauseating flesh. I ran down the road and out of town. After my stamina began to fail, I crawled into a ditch and shivered all night long expecting at any moment for a webbed hand to reach for me.
I must say, I feel no end of guilty torment over my decision, but I gave up on my quest to find Robert. Once back in civilisation, I returned to my books. I occasionally happened upon some mention of trouble at Innsmouth, but my eyes would always blur before I could read more than a few words. My hand refused to continue to hold the newspaper. I pined for my good friend, Olmstead, but I feared that if I ever did see him again, he would be a creature intent on making me immortal in the most grotesque of forms.
”We throw our parties; we struggle to write books that do not change the world, despite our gifts and our unstinting efforts, our most extravagant hop”We throw our parties; we struggle to write books that do not change the world, despite our gifts and our unstinting efforts, our most extravagant hopes. We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep--it’s as simple and ordinary as that. A few jump out of windows or drown themselves or take pills; more die by accident; and most of us, the vast majority, are slowly devoured by some disease or, if we’ve very fortunate, by time itself.”
It’s about the hours right? Those few precious hours over a lifetime when we feel we have a chance to do something special, to prove that we can do something that will forever immortalize us as someone exceptional.
It was Charlotte who pressed this book upon me. We were at a party conducted by a Mrs. Clarissa Galloway.
“I hear you are on a reading binge.” She’d leaned in close, as she had a tendency to do with me. Her lips mere millimeters away from my ear. It made me shiver somewhere in the core of me.
When I was between assignments, which was all too frequent, I would read book after book; usually I would be in the middle of at least three at any one time. I was getting about four hours of sleep a night which right now was making me a cheap drunk. One martini was going to be more than enough.
“The Hours by Michael Cunningham, didn’t they make a film out of it with Kidman?”
She nodded. She leaned in close again. I often wondered if she knew what she did to me. “The book won a Pulitzer Prize. Catherine told me you just finished reading Mrs. Dalloway. This is a terrific follow-up.“
You couldn’t really be involved with one without being involved with the other. Catherine, my girlfriend, was writing a novel. It was brilliant in fact, but now was somewhat weighed down with its own brilliance. She was happy with the beginning and the ending, but the middle was not living up to the standards of the rest. Charlotte designed book covers for publishing companies. She had a gift for it, but frequently had to endure someone further up the chain asking for modifications, her masterpieces often becoming something more commercially appealing and soulless. When I was doing research on Virginia Woolf, before reading Mrs. Dalloway, I couldn’t help thinking of Catherine as Virginia and Charlotte as Vanessa.
”Vanessa laughs. Vanessa is firm of face, her skin a brilliant, scalded pink. Although she is three years older, she looks younger than Virginia, and both of them know it. If Virginia has the austere, parched beauty of a Giotto fresco, Vanessa is more like a figure sculpted in rosy marble by a skilled but minor artist of the late Baroque. She is distinctly earthly and even decorative figure, all billows and scrolls….”
As usual, I wasn’t really sure why I was at this party. I thought with remorse of the lost pages of reading the party had already cost me. I could see the books strategically scattered around the room of the flat. A book by each of my favorite reading places. This party was bad for me, and if it was not good for me, it had to be an absolute torture for Catherine.
I looked past Charlotte’s large, attentive eyes and could see that Catherine was pale. Her complexion was always pale, but there were various shades of pale that would tell me exactly what was going on with her. She closed her eyes and took too long to open them. I could tell it was time to go.
I leaned in and kissed Charlotte’s ear, raising the stakes, and then muttered in the sea shell of her ear that I was going to take Catherine home. Charlotte always smelled so good, but I was never able to quite identify the scent, something old, something new. Somehow it would be breaking the rules of the game to ask her. I walked over to Catherine and put my arm around her and kissed her on the side of her mouth. She looked at me with surprise. I could see the slender flutes of her nose flutter as she took me in. Could it be that she could sense her sister’s scent even among the mingling fragrances of flowers that filled Mrs. Galloway’s party?
She put her slender, fluted fingers on my shoulder. “I can feel one coming on.”
“I’m here to take you home.”
”She can feel the headache creeping up the back of her neck. She stiffens. No, it’s the memory of the headache, it’s her fear of the headache, both of them so vivid as to be at least briefly indistinguishable from the onset of the headache itself.”
I went to see Robert the next day. I’d read most of The Hours last night. Charlotte had been right. It was the perfect followup to Mrs. Dalloway. Robert had been my friend almost my entire life or at least for the segment of my life that I still wished to claim. He’d had a good career on the stage, had mother issues of course, and had always been unapologetically gay. The young nurse from Hospice was taking a vial of blood from him when I arrived. There was something so intimate about blood letting. I averted my eyes as if I’d just caught her furtively giving him a hand job.
“I’m so weak. This is it, my friend.” His voice, the voice that had boomed out to theaters full of people, had been reduced to a whisper.
I patted his hand. He weakly grasped it. I left my fingers there surrounded by the parchment of his hand. “You’ve rallied before.” I’d meant to put exuberance into that sentence, but somehow it all went wrong. My voice cracked and tears sprang to my eyes.
“Oh, come on now. Tears now? You should have wept with joy when I looked like a young Marlon Brando. Not now, not over this decrepit body. If you were a true friend, you’d pick me up and hurl me out that window.”
I thought of Septimus from Mrs. Dalloway and Richard from The Hours. It was almost too much.
“Don’t say that.” My voice was still shaking. I freed my hand from his grasp to wipe my eyes. When I put my hand back on the bed, his hand was gone.
“Do you think six floors would be enough to kill me? God, what a tragedy if it only breaks my bones, and leaves me somehow alive with fresh sources of pain. I was thinking about it the other day. I wouldn’t want to fall on the concrete. I want to land on a car. I want to explode through the top like they show in the movies. You own a car, don’t you? Couldn’t you park it beneath my window?”
“You are hurting me, Robert.”
He sighed. Closing those magnificent blue eyes that had mesmerized women and men in equal numbers, “That is the last thing that I want to do to you, my friend.”
When I got back to the flat, they must not have heard me. Catherine was leaning over Charlotte. ”Virginia leaned forward and kisses Vanessa on the mouth. It is an innocent kiss, innocent enough, but just now,...it feels like the most delicious and forbidden of pleasures. Vanessa returns the kiss.” I wanted to wrap my arms around both of them and nudge them across the room to the bed. I wondered if Leonard Woolf had ever had such desires? They might have willingly went, but then what? By trying to hold them closer, I’d only lose them both.
I cleared my throat and hung up my jacket. When I turned around, they were both looking at me with clear, intelligent eyes. Two sisters, so different, but so much alike as to be indistinguishable when standing in the same space.
It was hard not to think about the big stone. ”She selects one roughly the size and shape of a pig’s skull. The one that took her down to the depths of the river. The one that would not let her escape the embrace of the water even if her natural desire for self-preservation had kicked in. The stone was too real to be denied.
Catherine had read Mrs. Dalloway and was now reading The Hours. She had needed a break from her own writing anyway. Reading sometimes gave her a fresh source of inspiration. I wasn’t sure about her reading either book, but both together could enhance her already acute suicidal tendencies. I’d seen her more than once raking a butter knife across her wrists as if testing how it would feel. I’d had the gas oven taken out and replaced it with an electric one.
I read her diary.
She wasn’t particularly careful with it. She left it out all the time, rarely tucking it back under the mattress on our bed. I don’t know if she trusted me not to read it or she, being a writer, always wanted an audience for her writing. ”Everything she sees feels as if it’s pinned to the day the way etherized butterflies are pinned to the board.” She was obviously feeling trapped. Like Leonard Woolf decided to do with Virginia, I arranged to take Catherine to the country for a month. She was being overstimulated in the city.
Robert threw himself out the window.
He asked the nurse to open the window to give him some air. The stubborn bastard crawled across the floor, pulled himself up the wall, and threw himself out the window. Though he would have preferred a Rolls Royce, he landed on a Mercedes.
Six floors, as it turned out, was enough.
Two days after we reached the country Catherine disappeared. As I walked the river, along with every other able body in the county, I kept thinking about a stone the size of a pig’s skull.
"He did not think of himself as a tourist; he was a traveler. The difference is partly one of time, he would explain. Whereas a tourist generally hurr"He did not think of himself as a tourist; he was a traveler. The difference is partly one of time, he would explain. Whereas a tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveler, belonging no more to one place than to the next, moves slowly, over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another."
Before meeting Port Moresby, I always thought of myself as a traveler, but after one particular late night discussion accompanied by inebriation, interrupted by a frolic in an exotic bordello conveniently located nearby, and then reconvened over tankards of yet more alcoholic concoctions, he managed to convince me that I was merely a tourist.
I was at a disadvantage, you see. I was not independently wealthy. I was still building a living for myself. I had three women I was seeing, all interviewing for a more permanent position as my wife. So yes, I was never able to linger while traveling, due to the fact that I always had a pressing need to return to my life, to shore up my business interests, and to keep my social relationships growing. I was, without a doubt, a tourist. Shamefully so.
Despite knowing this about me, Port did stop in one evening to ask me if I wanted to go with them to North Africa. I was disappointed that his wife Kit was not with him. I guess I might as well confess this now. I was in love with Kit. It was quite awkward actually. A psychologist might make a case that my inability to pick one companion from the available women in my life actually stems from a deep seated belief that eventually Kit would come to her senses, divorce Port, and fling herself into my arms.
”The head is like the sky. Always turning around and around inside. But very slowly. When you think, you make it go too fast. Then it aches.”
I don’t really know how it happened. I thought I had the inside track. I grew up with her. I watched the moth morph into a beautiful butterfly. We exchanged books and thoughts about those books. We hung out together to the detriment of our individual studies. We occasionally kissed with something more than friendly affection. I was on the verge of asking her to marry me when she abruptly disappeared on a whirlwind tour of the world. She came back with Port.
It didn’t take me long to discover that my ship had sailed and Port’s had docked.
I was always watching (analysing) him whenever I was around him, trying to discover what exactly it was about him that had so quickly convinced Kit that he was the one for her. I was more shattered than I could ever reveal. It was only later that I realized that my life or at least the thought of a life with me was something she would have found horribly confining. Port’s attraction was his shiftlessness. His lack of roots. His avoidance of responsibilities. Anytime anything became TOO REAL. He moved on to somewhere else. His money was a buffer between himself and dealing with any of the tedious expectations that others may have for him.
He was free. I was burdened.
I was still considering the North Africa trip. It would have been a perfect opportunity to spend some time with Kit because invariably Port would disappear on some side trip in search of greater meaning. I didn’t say yes right away. I’d assumed I’d have more than a few minutes to give Port an answer, but as usual I underestimated his impulsive nature. They left with a fellow named Tunner.
I had met Tunner, only in the most casual sense. We’d once occupied the same space at a party of mutual friends. I’d logged his presence only because of the way he looked at Kit. It was probably much the same way as I looked at her as well.
I only received one letter from Kit while they were in North Africa.
"She was content to watch the soft unvaried landscape going by. To be sure several times it occurred to her that they were not really moving at all, that the dune along whose sharp rim they were now traveling was the same dune they had left behind earlier, that there was no question of going anywhere since they were nowhere. And when these sensations came to her they started a slight stirring of a thought ‘Am I Dead?’"
Needless to say the letter was disconcerting to me. It reeked of disassociation and had me wondering if those vast endless horizons of the African desert were beginning to inspire some form of mental illness.
My worst fears, as it turned out, were mere childish angst compared to the trials and tribulations she actually suffered. I blame Port, of course, but I also can’t help but blame her as well. After all, she chose the wrong man.
The family, Kit’s kin, came to me and asked me to go fetch her in North Africa. They didn’t know anyone else with the connections to Kit or anyone possessing the wherewithal to make the journey. I guess a part of me thought this was finally my chance to be with her, but seeing the way she looked at me when I reached out to greet her was distressing. It was as if I were just part of the background of her life...a chair for instance that doesn’t exist until she has the need to sit. ”she tried to break away from him. In another minute life would be painful. The words were coming back, and inside the wrappings of the words there would be thoughts lying there. The hot sun would shrivel them; they must be kept inside in the dark.”
She told me everything on the journey home. The death of Port. The rape and worse, the acceptance of rape. She allowed herself to become a possession, a man’s plaything. For a while she even enjoyed it because she didn’t have to make decisions about anything. She traded sex for some semblance of peace. She tried a couple of times to crawl into my bunk on the way home, but I would only hold her against me, trapping her hands when they ventured near my groin. She found that particular solace with one of the young sailors or maybe more than one.
I went through all the stages of grief: fear, anger, depression, but by the time we arrived in New York I’d finally reached some level of acceptance.
The last I heard Kit was in New Mexico, but by the time a letter would reach her, she’d be somewhere else. I often wondered, late at night, with a warm snifter of cognac in my hand and a good book close to hand, whether if I’d agreed to go on the trip, would Port still be alive, and would Kit be a less fractured version of herself.