Whether it’s intentional or not, the very first sentence of Difficult Men delivers an immediate jolt to the heart – that kind of bittersweet realizati...moreWhether it’s intentional or not, the very first sentence of Difficult Men delivers an immediate jolt to the heart – that kind of bittersweet realization that happens when you hear an ironic reference to someone who is dead.
“One cold winter’s evening in January 2002, Tony Soprano went missing and a small part of the universe ground to a halt.” (Prologue, pg. 1)
Mr. Martin is writing about James Gandolfini’s abrupt departure from the set of HBO’s Emmy-awarding drama The Sopranos, but the irony is a bit eerie – for Tony Soprano is missing and has been, most sadly so, since Mr. Gandolfini’s untimely death in June 2013. (Difficult Men was written while he was still alive and published mere days after his passing.)
The Sopranos was one of my favorite shows – not just on HBO, but of all time. Six Feet Under, Rescue Me, and Mad Men are also on that list and Mr. Martin examines all of them to some varying degrees in his book. These shows were different than their predecessors in many ways. They were groundbreaking for television. They “dramatically stretched television’s narrative inventiveness, emotional resonance, and artistic ambition.” (from the book jacket)
While a major part of that had to do with the male protagonists - Tony Soprano, Tommy Gavin, Don Draper, et al were some of the most memorable characters of an era – it had much to do with the writers, directors, and producers of the very shows themselves. The “show runner” really ran the show in more ways than one; all of his personal baggage and therapy fodder was imprinted on the show like an epitaph.
What’s absolutely fascinating is that this isn’t the case with one show.
It’s all of them.
That’s especially true with David Chase of The Sopranos, and sometimes it can be hard to tell where Tony Soprano’s life begins and David Chase’s biography ends. That’s intentional on writer Brett Martin’s part, I think; one of the main premises of Difficult Men is that the creators of these shows were as deeply flawed and nuanced as the characters they brought into our living rooms every week. Some of this is also due in part to the writers and show runners having cut their teeth on some of the same shows. For example, it’s well known that Matthew Weiner worked on The Sopranos before Mad Men. This is a small circle and as the subtitle promises, Brett Martin gets behind the scenes and brings his reader the inside scoop on the backstories, the dramas that we viewers didn’t see, the conflicts in the writing room, and much more.
Difficult Men is a very entertaining book; however, there is one caveat. If you’re not a fan of The Sopranos, you’ll want to consider skipping this one. To a lesser degree, that’s true about The Wire, too. I haven’t seen a single episode of The Wire, but since I was listening to this on audio, I just fast-forwarded through those parts (and chapters). That would be difficult to do regarding The Sopranos‘ references because Difficult Men focuses so heavily on that show. It’s not just a chapter or two, as is the case with The Wire and Breaking Bad, another show that gets a decent amount of play in the book; it’s that The Sopranos‘ influence is woven throughout. Again, this didn’t bother me – but if you’ve never watched the show or didn’t like it, this won’t be the book for you.
I listened to Difficult Men on audio and thought it worked well in that format. It kept my attention and Keith Szarabajka’s narration is excellent.
As a kid, I wasn’t allowed to watch “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
There’s a good reason for that. When this groundbreaking sitcom premiered in 1970, I w...moreAs a kid, I wasn’t allowed to watch “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
There’s a good reason for that. When this groundbreaking sitcom premiered in 1970, I was not quite 2 years old – not exactly the target audience. But I was a stubborn enough toddler (or so I’ve heard) that, had I understood what “MTM” was all about, I bet I could have made a pretty convincing case to my parents to let me watch it.
Instead, I saw it during its resurgence on Nick at Nite in 1992, when I – as someone with my first job out of college – could appreciate it much better. (Never mind that I usually watched Mary and Rhoda while my fiance watched sports with his best friend in the other room, but that’s besides the point. I was happy, he was happy, and we’ve been married ever since. We must be doing something right.)
It helps to have some knowledge of and appreciation of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” when reading Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, but this isn’t your usual television/celebrity retrospective. Sure, there’s a decent amount about the actors, which was interesting. But this is mostly about the women who wrote for the show and why having a team of female comedy writers was so groundbreaking in 1970.
In today’s anything-goes television environment, it’s almost quaint to remember just how revolutionary “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was. The idea of Mary being divorced and having a career was – to put it mildly – a hard sell to network executives. The CBS execs replied with, ”American audiences won’t tolerate divorce in a series lead any more than they will tolerate Jews, people with mustaches, and people who live in New York.”
Yeah. Those were the good old days, right?
Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted explains how the writers and producers got around that (some reviews suggest that the book should be called “Jim and Treva and Allan and Susan,” for the writing and producing team that made the show happen). It also explains how having a female writing team significantly shaped the issues portrayed on the show – as well as the edgy ones on future shows produced by MTM Enterprises.
Ironically, my childhood dream was to grow up and be a screenwriter for “St. Elsewhere” – the critically-acclaimed medical drama that, like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” also saw its share of firsts and also was produced by Grant Tinker’s company MTM Enterprises, named for his then-wife, Mary Tyler Moore.
(In high school, I entertained the crazy idea of sending Mr. Tinker an unsolicited script. I talked about this a lot. Now, after reading the story about how superfan Joe Rainone would write detailed, weekly letters to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” cast analyzing each week’s show and how Marilyn Miller from Monroeville, PA (just outside of Pittsburgh) wrote a spec script for MTM and became a writer for “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” I kind of want to kick my own ass.)
Regardless of my lost dreams, Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted was entertaining – and the audiobook proved to be a good choice as I lived vicariously through the characters on my way to and from my real life, slightly-less-exciting-than-a-scriptwriter-but-hey!-still-a-writer! job as I listened to this on my commute to work. I enjoyed this for the inside stories and especially the focus and perspective on the writers. I was glad that they included what they – the writers and the actors – have done since “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” went off the air.
It was also so goddamn nostalgic, almost sad to a point. So many magnificent shows of television’s Golden Age of Comedy are referenced in this book as well as how the show that almost wasn’t going to be on the air wound up inspiring so many others. The end of the book gives a nod to Mary Richards’ “cultural daughters” like Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon of “30 Rock” and “power ensembles” as found in “Friends,” “Seinfeld” and “The Office.” Truly, Mary Richards’ influence and that of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” is more far-reaching than anyone probably ever imagined.
Still, although we have indeed come a long way (baby) from the days when a writer couldn’t pen an episode about a New Yorker who was divorcing someone who was Jewish with a mustache, it makes one wonder if all the hard fought gains are truly appreciated by the talent we have today. Probably by some, yes. But I think the further we get away from television’s Golden Age, and the less communal our viewing experience becomes, the fuzzier those golden days will seem.(less)
The Grievers may possibly be one of the best books you’ve never heard of.
This is the somewhat unusual case where I’ve heard of the author before the b...moreThe Grievers may possibly be one of the best books you’ve never heard of.
This is the somewhat unusual case where I’ve heard of the author before the book. You see, Marc’s a Philly guy and although our paths haven’t (to my knowledge) crossed, I’m thinking I had to have read something of his at one point.
He’s just too good.
The Grievers came to my attention in late 2011, when my friend – and fellow Philadelphia author - Beth Kephart shared some reflections about it on her blog. I immediately added it to my Goodreads TBR list. There it sat until several months ago, when I spotted The Grievers on the shelf at the library.
(This is the irony that’s become my life nowadays: I need to move across the damn state to discover an author from my hometown. Somehow, I think that the main character Charley Schwartz would appreciate – and relate – to that.)
“Elvis Costello was singing on the radio. Neil cranked the volume and lowered his windows. As the world flew by at sixty miles per hour, we became children again – or pretended to, at any rate – belting out song lyrics with the wind whipping all around us. It wasn’t freedom, exactly, but a small part of me wondered what would happen if Neil laid a heavy foot on the gas and kept going – past the Academy, through the city, over the Delaware, and straight out to the Jersey shore. Could we have a do-over, I wondered? Could we win back the infinite possibility of childhood?” (pg. 62-63)
When prep school friends Charley and Neil learn of the death of Billy Chin, a fellow classmate, they agree to help the school with the memorial service … which turns into something else entirely. (Those of us who work or have worked in the development profession will especially enjoy this part of the book, as there may be more than a few incidents that sound all too familiar.) It also turns into something of a midlife crisis of sorts for Charley. (Or, as the book description puts it, “The Grievers is a darkly comic coming of age novel for a generation that’s still struggling to come of age.”)
The Philadelphia setting is absolutely dead-on; Mr. Schuster nails every detail of the geography. Although several of the locations are fictionalized, it was pure fun guessing what Mr. Schuster may have been referring to with certain aspects of his story.
I’m oversimplifying, it seems, but Mr. Schuster absolutely does an excellent job with this novel. Discover why – and how – for yourself.(less)
"Tell me about William Whatney," she said. "When I last saw him he was a slim young man in a boat." Peggy burst out laughing. "That must have been ages...more"Tell me about William Whatney," she said. "When I last saw him he was a slim young man in a boat." Peggy burst out laughing. "That must have been ages ago!" she said. "Not so very long," said Eleanor. She felt rather nettled. "Well -" she reflected, "twenty years - twenty-five years perhaps." It seemed a very short time to her; but then, she thought, it was before Peggy was born. She could only be sixteen or seventeen." (pg. 205)
We've all experienced this, haven't we? This somewhat unsettling realization when something that we perceive in our minds to have occurred "not so very long" ago really happened more like two decades (and then some) in the past.
Nice to see that Virginia Woolf understood that even in 1937 when she wrote this novel.
I mean, I fall into this mind trap ALL THE TIME. I still, on more occasions than I care to admit, think 1990 was ten years ago rather than (gulp) 22 years long gone. I chalk this up to approaching my mid-40s, but after reading Virginia Woolf's novel The Years, now I'd like to look at this differently.
"They talked as if they were speaking of people who were real, but not real in the way in which she felt herself to be real. It puzzled her; it made her feel that she was two different people at the same time; that she was living at two different times in the same moment." (pg. 167)
Yep. That's it exactly. We are two different people at the same time, living at two different times in the same moment. We're a combination of our present and our past. ("What is the use, she thought, of trying to tell people about one's past? What is one's past?" (pg. 167)
Virginia Woolf's second-to-last novel The Years is a commentary about the passage of time, which she brings forth for the reader by showing her characters - members of the large, well-to-do Pargiter family and their extended family - through 1880-1918. (The last chapter is titled "Present Day," which I suppose is 1939, when the novel was published.) The Pargiters live in London, and at the beginning of the book, are in that sort of odd stage when you're just watching and waiting for a loved one to pass away. (In this case, their mother.)
Not too much happens in The Years. People visit each other, talk about their life and their travels. They sometimes die. It's a reflective, thoughtful sort of novel, and truthfully, this takes a little while to get used to - especially if you, like me, are not generally a classics reader or one who doesn't normally read novels set in this time period. (Woolf's passion for the semicolon is also more than a bit distracting.) It isn't until almost halfway through the story that you begin to see the connections among the characters, the passing of time as evidenced by the changing seasons and the weather.
Honestly, up to that point, I kind of considered abandoning this, but then I started gaining an appreciation for what Woolf was trying to say. With the exception of Mrs. Dalloway, which I absolutely loved right off the bat (kudos to one of the most awesome college English professors ever), I'm finding that this is my typical reaction to Virginia Woolf. I start off a little perplexed, a little lost and confused, and then I get immersed in the story.
Just like life, no?
"My life, she said to herself. That was odd, it was the second time that evening that somebody had talked abut her life. And I haven't got one, she thought. Oughtn't a life to be something you could handle and produce? - a life of seventy odd years. But I've only the present moment, she thought. Here she was alive, now, listening to the fox-trot. Then she looked round. There was Morris; Rose; Edward with his head thrown back talking to a man she did not know. I'm the only person here, she thought, who remembers how he sat on the edge of my bed that night, crying - the night Kitty's engagement was announced. Yes, things came back to her. A long strip of life lay behind her. Edward crying. Mrs. Levy talking; snow falling; a sunflower with a crack in it; the yellow omnibus trotting along the Bayswater Road. And I thought to myself, I'm the youngest person in this omnibus; now I'm the oldest ... Millions of things came back to her. Atoms danced apart and massed themselves. But how did they compose what people called a life?" (pg. 366-367) (less)
I Remember Nothing is narrated by Nora Ephron herself - so given her recent passing, hearing her distinctive voice is kind of bittersweet at first.
Ja...moreI Remember Nothing is narrated by Nora Ephron herself - so given her recent passing, hearing her distinctive voice is kind of bittersweet at first.
But the humor more than makes up for it, of course, and listening to this three CD recording is like listening to an old friend (or a new one who feels like an old friend). In this audiobook, Ephron peppers her personal essays with phrases such as "I have to tell you," and "I am not proud of this."
I Remember Nothing almost has the feeling of being two books in one. The first part is Nora recounting all the everyday as well as significant and historical happenings in her life that she can't remember or may only remember trivial details of.
And we're talking MAJOR events. Things like meeting Eleanor Roosevelt, being outside the White House on the evening Nixon resigned, and covering the Beatles as they performed on The Ed Sullivan Show.
"On some level, my life has been wasted on me. After all, if I can't remember it, who can?" she says.
These recollections (or, what Ephron can recall about them) are among the best part of I Remember Nothing. The rest is more along the lines of reflections and musings on various topics such as divorce, email (a section that feels a little dated), thinning hair, and other vestiges of growing older. The essay about having a meatloaf named after her in a restaurant is especially well-done, and there's a poignant story about her plans for a potential inheritance from an uncle that will resonate with every writer. (Ephron was struggling with a screenplay at the time and the windfall from the uncle would have made that go away. We would have also not have had one of our most classic movies.)
There is a passage about her being on her deathbed, which is just downright eerie now. And the ending of I Remember Nothing, two lists of "What I Won't Miss" and "What I Will Miss" (after she has gone) is bittersweet and prompts a bit of reflection on what one will miss (and not miss) of one's own life.
Still, at the risk of seeming to speaking ill of the dead, I Remember Nothing feels a little ... disjointed. If you're familiar with Ephron's movies and her writing, you won't find much new ground here. What you will find is Ephron's trademark snark and sardonic wit, some good entertainment and laughs if you're in a bit of a funk and need a quick hit of humor to relieve you ... and an ironic, bittersweet reminder that despite her feeling of growing old, Ephron really wasn't as old as she thought she was.(less)
"I was told love should be unconditional. That's the rule, everyone says so. But if love has no boundaries, no limits, no conditions, why should anyon...more"I was told love should be unconditional. That's the rule, everyone says so. But if love has no boundaries, no limits, no conditions, why should anyone try to do the right thing ever? If I know I am loved no matter what, where is the challenge?" (pg. 414)
I drank the Kool-Aid with this one and my God, was this gooooood.
Gone Girl is the summer's hottest book, currently enjoying the #1 spot on The New York Times Bestseller list. It is the book that every blogger is talking about (well, along with that other book). Normally, with all this kind of hype, I wouldn't want anything to do with this book, but this one was absolutely irresistible.
For starters, it's a mystery, and I don't do mysteries. I scare easily, and I started this while The Husband was out of town for the night. This isn't a fright-fest, per se; this is more of a "what the fuck?!" fest.
(And that's in every sense of the word. Really. Be forewarned that if the likes of the f-word and a lot of gratuituous acts and descriptions thereof are not your thing, Gone Girl has all of the above in abundance. And then some. And then some MORE. I wound up wanting to give this 4.5 stars, and that minus .5 was because of the language and descriptive goings-on and I am far from easily offended.)
For those who have no idea what Gone Girl is about, allow me to give you just the most barest of plot summaries - because this is one of those books that the less you know about it, the better. Nick and Amy Dunne have been married for 5 years. On the morning of their 5th anniversary, Amy goes missing. ("I took a cue from your beloved Mark Twain: What ought to be done to the man who invented the celebrating of anniversaries? Mere killing would be too light." (pg. 109)
OK, enough said.
Sounds simple enough, but there's nothing simple about this book - nor these crazy as hell people who are incredibly, bizarrely complex.
"I don't know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet. If we are betrayed, we know the words to say; when a loved one dies, we know the words to say. If we want to play the stud or the smart-ass or the fool, we know the words to say. We are all working from the same dog-eared script.
It's a very difficult era in which to be a person, just a real, actual person, instead of a collection of personality traits selected from an endless Automat of characters.
And if all of us are play-acting, there can be no such thing as a soul-mate, because we don't have genuine souls.
It had gotten to the point where it seemed like nothing matters, because I'm not a real person and neither is anyone else.
I would have done anything to feel real again." (pg. 73)
Nick and Amy string each other along and you, as the reader, are just along for the literary equivalent of Mister Toad's Wild Ride. (less)
Yeah, that’s right. Helen Keller was once in love.
And let’s cut right to the chase: there are a few steamy scenes in this book.
If you have an issue wi...moreYeah, that’s right. Helen Keller was once in love.
And let’s cut right to the chase: there are a few steamy scenes in this book.
If you have an issue with that (the idea of Helen Keller being intimate with someone), read another book.
Apparently the notion of Helen Keller in a compromising position bothers a few folks, judging from several reviews I’ve read.
Which is exactly why this historical fiction novel is so important.
Well, one of the reasons, anyway.
“The blind are idolized for the wrong things. It’s strange. The praise I got for being ‘Helen Keller the miracle.’ Everyone loved that. Some people even praised me for becoming a Socialist – a Wobbly, even – supporting the Lawrence strikers, working to wipe out slums in New York City, and rallying against wars around the world. I believed that plutocrat President Taft when, at a speech for the New York Association for the Blind, he asked, ‘What must the blind think about the Declaration of Independence, since they are not granted the same rights as others in our society?’ In my blindness and deafness I proved I was equal – more than equal – in my intellect. But no one, from the time I was a young woman, would accept my having a lover. It was unseemly, somehow, a blind girl in a love affair. Torrid, almost. So I didn’t speak my desire, I hid it. While I marched for birth control, stood up for Margaret Sanger when she gave out leaflets in Brooklyn saying women could limit the number of children they would have, I wasn’t allowed to even marry, or consider having children of my own.
I couldn’t accept that fate. That wasn’t enough for me.” (pg. 34)
Our image of Helen Keller is the one that she spent most of her life talking about (but could not actually remember): that of being a seven year old blind and deaf girl, standing at the well as her teacher Annie Sullivan spells W-A-T-E-R into her hand. It’s a moment captured frequently in print and in film, so much a part of the American canon that it feels like we were right there with her.
In our collective minds, Helen Keller never grew up, never went to college at Radcliffe, never met with presidents, never established friendships with Mark Twain and Alexander Graham Bell, never traveled across the country delivering passionate speeches about the war.
Never was kissed. Never made love to. Never was secretly engaged to be married.
Helen Keller in Love is debut novelist Rosie Sultan’s “highly inventive telling of a story Keller herself would not tell,” according to the book jacket. The book explains those reasons and is very clear (at the end) that Helen Keller absolutely, definitely did have a love affair with her “private secretary,” Peter Fagan in the fall of 1916. And at one point during that time (when Annie Sullivan was sick with what was thought to be tuberculosis), Helen and Peter were engaged to be married.
Nobody seems to dispute any of that.
What appears to be at question are the exact details of their relationship, the “did they or didn’t they?” question that everyone wants to know. Why we care about their private business is another issue, but more on that in a moment.
Let’s start with something simpler. The what’s true and what’s made-up has always been my issue with historical fiction. I love the idea of it and I want to embrace this genre more – and this year I’ve read a little more of it than usual – but it becomes frustrating to me, this not knowing what is truth and what is fiction. It does have the benefit of making me want to learn more.
There was so much I learned about Helen Keller from this little book. I knew that she gave speeches, but I had no idea what a demanding schedule she kept. I also didn’t realize how poor she and Annie Sullivan were, despite Helen’s many awards and her giving generously to charitable causes and individuals in need. (This part I did know.) I didn’t know Andrew Carnegie (among others) supported her financially. I had no idea how controlling Helen’s mother and Annie Sullivan were, and I never knew how outspoken and passionate Helen was about Socialist issues.
(She was criticized for that, too.)
“The Brooklyn Eagle said that as blind woman I had no right to speak about politics, but Peter’s hand warmed mine and I heated up in rage. ‘President Wilson,’ I said, ‘is as blind as I am. Fifty-seven thousand soldiers killed in one day in France? For what?’ The battle in Europe raged. And even though the United States remained neutral, daily President Wilson called for our entry into the war. Weekly my desk was piled high with desperate letters from German, French, and English soldiers blinded in battle, letters pleading for help.
Peter laughed at my comment about President Wilson.‘Why, Miss Keller,’ he spelled, ‘you’re calling the president blind?’
‘Why not?’” (pg. 13)
I loved getting to know this spirited, grown up Helen Keller, who echoes several times in this novel that “[t]here are so many ways to be blind.” (pg. 87)
We can allow our own fears and insecurities to prevent those we love from living their own lives and making their own mistakes. We can be blinded by another’s fame. (“They say love is blind. But fame can blind a person, too.” pg. 11). There’s fear of the unknown and of a future we can’t see.
“I felt a bit of fear. Could I really know Peter without seeing? A blind man once said he didn’t want sight. He wanted longer arms. Arms so long that if he wanted to understand the moon, he would simply reach up and touch it: he would rather feel the moon than see it. So no, I didn’t need to see Peter: the hot skin of his neck, his mouth on mine, said all I needed to know.” (pg. 125)
To me, Helen and Peter’s presumed sexual relationship wasn’t the disturbing factor of this book. It’s how she was supposedly treated by those closest to her for having the audacity to want to marry him. Because of their own issues (unresolved grief over having a child with a disability, betrayal of a husband, being needed by Helen 24/7 in such a dependent way), it was impossible for Mrs. Keller and Annie Sullivan to see Helen as a separate, independent individual with the same desires and needs as any other woman.
I realize that much of this mindset was part and parcel of the times. But, in many ways, this still permeates our society today. Too many people view people with disabilities as not having sexual feelings – or, if they are thought of in that regard, they are often automatically, wrongfully, and hurtfully labeled as horrific monsters and predators.
We can debate whether it was Rosie Sultan’s place – or any author’s place – to tell this “highly inventive” story, whether Helen Keller herself would have wanted it to be told. After reading this – and admittedly, I haven’t read her autobiographies or other works (but I am curious to do so now) – I’d like to think that she would have approved. She was outspoken, she was a feminist, she wanted the same things (marriage, children) that others had.
She knew that the reason she was being denied was because of her disability.
That’s why Helen Keller In Love is such an important book.
That seven year old girl at the well taught us so much.
We can learn even more from the 36 year old woman we never knew existed. (less)
This book caught my eye in the teen section of our library several months back and I was immediately intrigued. I kind of love me some Edgar Allan - a...moreThis book caught my eye in the teen section of our library several months back and I was immediately intrigued. I kind of love me some Edgar Allan - and my introduction to Steampunk last Christmas (of 2011) wasn't too bad either.
If you're unfamiliar with the idea of Steampunk, it's a little different. Wikipedia defines Steampunk as
"a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century. Therefore, steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century's British Victorian era or American "Wild West", in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has regained mainstream use, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power. Steampunk perhaps most recognizably features anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era's perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art.
According to the jacket copy of Steampunk Poe, this is described as "a marriage between Edgar Allan Poe and Steampunk, the likes of which may surprise admirers of both writer and genre. Of course, there will be some who have always believed that gothic madmen and clockwork gears were destined to make brilliant companions. Inside, the classic works of Edgar Allan Poe are presented in their original form, with the dark tales of horror and mystery heightened by equally dark and mysterious Steampunk illustrations."
The short stories contained within include Poe's classics "The Masque of the Red Death," "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Fall of the House of Usher," "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," "The Balloon-Hoax," "The Spectacles," and "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether." Of the poems, we have "The Raven," "To Helen," "The City in the Sea," "A Dream Within a Dream," "The Conqueror Worm," and "The Bells."
I was relieved to see that Poe's stories and poems were kept to their original form. Every so often you hear about some publisher wanting to modernize some classic or another, and I thought this was going to be something along those lines. Thankfully, it wasn't. This was especially good because, while I liked the steampunk elements in the illustrations, several of the Poe stories and poems were new to me (or ones that I needed a refresher in, since I probably hadn't read them since high school or before).
This is an entertaining book (although it is much heavier in weight than it looks!). The illustrations are quirky and and fun, and the stories give the reader just the right amount of Poe that is perfect for a cold winter's night (or, even better, around Halloween). I could see where this would be appealing for young adults and hopefully entice them to explore more of Poe's work.(less)
“How often do you get to lose everything and start all over again?” ~ The Lola Quartet
When we meet him at the beginning of The Lola Quartet, Gavin Sas...more“How often do you get to lose everything and start all over again?” ~ The Lola Quartet
When we meet him at the beginning of The Lola Quartet, Gavin Sasaki has, indeed, lost everything. His wife has left after having a miscarriage, he’s been fired from his job as a journalist for fabricating people and quotes, and he’s been evicted from his apartment.
“The point was that Gavin had opened a door, cracked it just slightly, and he could see through to the disgrace and shadows on the other side. If you tell a lie it’s easier to tell another.”
The Lola Quartet‘s very settings are also in the midst of so much true-to-life economic loss: New York City in early 2009, Florida in the wave of the housing collapse. It is to his hometown in Florida where Gavin returns in shame, working for his sister’s business of giving foreclosed homeowners “cash for keys” to their property, and remembering his high school glory days when he and a group of close friends formed and performed as a music group called The Lola Quartet.
As these things tend to go, each member of The Lola Quartet has also had their dreams foreclosed on, too – sometimes by their own doing, sometimes by their the actions of others.
“They sat together in the basement, Jack and Sasha and Daniel with Gavin ostentatiously absent, and it seemed to Jack that their missing instruments were like ghosts. He’s been thinking a lot about ghosts lately, after a movie he’d seen, and the thought of a translucent ghost saxophone sitting next to him was oddly appealing.
The silence was awkward. He thought of these people as his closest friends, but it seemed that without music there wasn’t much to talk about. He was seized by a mad desire to confide in them – I miss everything about high school and I’m not the musician I thought I was, I don’t know what I’m doing anymore, jazz has always been my life but now it’s slipping away from me and my talent isn’t going to be enough – but he couldn’t imagine how to begin.”
There’s a bit more to this once close-knit quartet – MUCH more, as it turns out. Music is just one of the connections holding this group together after so many years. (“…when all lies in disarray there’s still order in music.”) Those connections and the losses that result from them seamlessly form the plot of Emily St. John Mandel’s incredibly well-written, suspenseful third novel.
This foursome has a history together, beginning with Gavin’s relationship with his high school girlfriend Anna Montgomery, who disappeared during The Lola Quartet’s last high school concert amid rumors that she was pregnant. Suspecting that the child was his (a suspicion he’s harbored in the decade since he last saw Anna) and fueled by a chance encounter that his sister Eilo had with the child as part of her work in the real estate business, Gavin puts his investigative newspaper reporting skills to the ultimate test as he dons his fedora (literally) and tries to put his life together again while piecing together his past.
Gavin is a rather sympathetic, there-for-but-the-grace-of-God-go-I character. This is more than the typical “you can go home again” novel; it delves deeper, for Gavin’s home has changed (symbolized by Florida’s issues with exotic wildlife) yet remained the same (the oppressive heat still has the power to bring him literally to his knees) yet morphed into a place that, by the end of the novel, is just the same as any other town in America.
In the hands of a lesser talented novelist, The Lola Quartet could easily hit a wrong chord. As a novel that is dubbed as “literary noir,” there is a lot of mystery involved here, much territory to cover, and more than a few characters to connect the dots with for the reader. Fortunately for her readers, The Lola Quartet was written by the exceptional Emily St. John Mandel, author of Last Night in Montreal and The Singer’s Gun. Of those, I’ve only read Last Night in Montreal (and highly recommend it), and after The Lola Quartet, she has now become an author whose work I admire and who deserves much more acclaim than she currently receives.(less)