July 30, 2013

Upstream Color

Upstream Color is a highly acclaimed indie film by Shane Carruth. It's a strange one: lots of odd things happen, half the time you don't know what's going on, and it's slow as . . . I was going to say molasses but perhaps "orchid growing" or "parasite infiltration" would be more accurate. If you have a liking for Terrence Malick, you'll probably like it.

I have to admit that I like having seen the movie more than I liked watching it; it was kind of torturous to watch (for several reasons) but great to reflect upon. I have occasionally watched an entire film on fast forward with captioning on (I watched Dead Calm this way), and that might work here. The film's only 90 minutes long, but it's a slow 90 minutes.

Reading this blog post on Slate about the film (after watching it, natch) was invaluable.

July 23, 2013

Enter the Dragon

Finally got around to seeing this classic. (1) What a star Bruce Lee was

and (2) how about that Williams character? I have a hard time reconciling the blaxploitation label with this mild-mannered, ethical, normal character. He has a very egalitarian friendship with the white guy, not because we live in a magical fairy land where whites and blacks are besties but because they were in Vietnam together.

I was a kid when black characters started popping up on TV. I loved the show Julia about the black woman who was a nurse (though critics have since pointed out that she's a mom with no husband and no backstory to explain the child, which nicely erased the scary black man for the white portion of the audience), and there were occasional multiracial shows like The Mod Squad. I've been watching the first season of Columbo on Netflix this month and am impressed with how, in every single episode, there are black professionals: other detectives, businessmen, even a secretary with a big afro portrayed as a smart competent woman. There is not a single episode without some black professional included, which seems pretty great for 1968.

July 21, 2013

How's This for a Great Sentence?

"Many of Berriault's characters apprentice themselves to their worst instincts yet aren't necessarily the worse for it."

—Howard Norman's commentary on Gina Berriault's short story collection Women in Their Beds

Makes me want to read Berriault's writing but even more it makes me want to read Norman's, whose novels The Northern Lights and The Bird Artist were both finalists for the National Book Award.

July 17, 2013

Sound Familiar?

It's a rare day with no freelance work, so I get up in the morning ready to spend the entire day writing for my book. I make coffee and play some solitaire while the bath is running. Bathed, clothed, I sit at the computer. First the gauntlet of websites: Facebook, Pinterest, Jezebel, Huff Post, Washington Post. All done, but there's my stack of published book reviews that need to be inserted in page protectors. Then I notice the stack of bills that have accumulated in my in box. An hour later I open Word and think, I really need to walk the dog. Call my friend; she can walk with me in an hour. Back to the computer. Need a snack. In kitchen, I guess I should empty the dishwasher. Marvel at the number of chores that suddenly need to be done. Think it's funny. Before sitting down to Word to write, I really should blog about it.

July 13, 2013

The Art of Patience

We spent some time at Wilde Lake today taking photographs. It was, at first glance, uninspiring: a beautiful, manicured park but seemingly not rich in possibilities. But we walked and stopped and walked and looked and soon found ourselves drawn in. Making art requires a lot of wastage: kicking-around time, throwaways, dead-end attempts. I'm not a great photographer, but I was happy with a handful of pretty pictures at the end.

July 2, 2013

Where'd You Go, Bernadette


How many times do you see a novel title with a contraction in it? How about the contraction "Where'd"?

That's this book in a nutshell. It is steeped in the vernacular in a way that might make it incomprehensible to readers a hundred years hence, like much of Tristam Shandy or The Frogs is to us, but it's a tour de force. Any review of it will tell you it's smart, funny, and witty, but that's just the beginning. Bernadette is the snarky, brainy mother of the teenager narrator, always at odds with the world around her. When she goes missing, the daughter tries to figure out what happened to her,  dragging up emails from neighbors, moms at her own school, husband, husband's dedicated secretary to patch together what's happened. The use of emails allows the author to inhabit all these different voices, and not just once but over time, turning aggressive or meek, conspiratorial or cold, as events develop.

I had to wrack my brain to dredge up what work I associated with this technique, and I finally came up with it: C. S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters. In this 1941 epistolary novel, the senior devil Screwtape mentors the junior tempter Wormwood in his attempt to snare his first soul. You only see one side of that communication, Screwtape's, and he is alternately condescending, groveling, and abusive, depending on how Wormwood's success (or lack of it) has increased (or decreased) his status in the organization. Clever. And efficient in terms of storytelling, as a simple "I hope you didn't take my last correspondence seriously . . ." tells you almost all you need to know in terms of how events have played out since.

The set-up of Where'd You Go, Bernadette also makes for fun reading because the unreliable narrator is the most fun of all the narrators, and the novel is told by a bunch of them.  A novel like this shows that fun can be just as good a means of getting to weighty matters as sadness or tragedy.