Saturday, September 29, 2007

TRH Movie - Into The Wild

I've been mildly obsessed with reading about Sean Penn these days after going to an advance screening of Into the Wild before I jetted off to NYC two weeks ago. I know I'm prone to hyperbole, but goodness, it's one hell of a film. As he's mentioned in interview after interview, Penn wanted the landscape to be as much a character within the picture as the actors themselves, and it's truly heartbreaking how he achieves this throughout the movie.

Emile Hirsch plays Christopher McCandless, whose tragic (if you want even to call it that) story was brought to light by Jon Krakauer in his best-selling book. When McCandless promptly hands over the balance of his college fund to Oxfam and heads on his own to discover America with only his courage to guide him, it's less than two years later that he ends up starving to death in a magic bus in the Alaskan wilderness. The film charts his journey with an effortless spirit and energy that portrays McCandless as a modern-day hero, fully realized and idealistic, charming and charismatic, who gathers love around him like a moth to a flame. Abandoning the ethics and ethos of his upper-middle class parents, McCandless steps to the beat of his own heart in a way that betrays his youthful good looks. As my RRHB said to me when we left the theatre, "How incredible to live that fully realized, even if it was just for a short period of time."

And it's true. McCandless might have been foolish to head off into the Alaskan wilderness, but the philosophy behind his need to live a life off the beaten path, remains true. All in all, it's a wonderful movie that runs maybe just a tad too long, and showcases an extreme talent in the young actor who carries the burden of the title role.

I think, however, the performance of the film, for me, rests solidly with Hal Holbrook, An older man Chris befriends the months before he heads into the wild, Holbrook's Ron, who tenderly tries to dissuade the younger man from following his dream, ends up coming to terms with a life he never expected to lead. I don't want to say too much more for fear of spoiling the genuine moments the two have on screen. But I will say that akin to Richard Farnsworth's magnificent turn in The Straight Story, Holbrook's performance in Penn's picture remains riveting throughout.

Anyway, I've rambled on far too much today anyway. Just know that I admire Penn's aesthetic when it comes to this picture so much that I fell I'm the one doing it a disservice trying to describe it with my weakened words.

So YOU Think You Can Dance?

Okay, so I know I'm not the only one in love with the television show, but when Alicia and I showed up at our Fundamentals of Dance class two Thursdays ago, we certainly weren't expecting to be standing next to 100 other happy feet.

Seriously.

What's up with that? Toward the beginning of last summer there were maybe 10 people in our class, half of which didn't show up most of the time. But now, with Nigel and a rash of "contemporary" dancers on the small screen week to week, people are excited about dance in a way I've never seen before.

Even the studio was shocked. Goodness, they have a waiting list! That's never happened before. Ever.

Thankfully, this week wasn't as crowded, and I know that in my mind, I'm way too advanced, having danced so much as a kid, for the class. But the Tech I class hurts my hip, and so I'll take it slow and work my way through with baby steps alongside a whole bunch of other hopefuls.

It's honestly the physical highlight of my week. I just enjoy it so much that I'm willing to yawn through the explanation of plie and give it my best shot when my left foot goes where the right truly should be.

New York, New York

So my trip to NYC last week didn't exactly turn out as I'd hoped. That is not to say, in the least, that I had a terrible time, but falling ill from medicine, lady problems and the remnants of a bug I still don't think I've entirely shaken, meant that I didn't do as much as I'd hoped I would.

We were there Thursday / Friday for work, which meant a lot of racing around the NY office of our company for different meetings. On the whole, I enjoyed it immensely, and truly felt that the meetings were well worth the price of the ticket to New York. On the Thursday night, I had work drinks that lasted for quite some time, and by the time I made it back up to the room, it was later than I had hoped, having a freelance assignment to finish. So...I ordered room service, which is always fun.

Cue a truly upset tummy and some other issues, and by Friday morning I was up at 6 AM throwing up that gross yellow bile that tastes like medicine, which meant I felt terrible for most of the day. It also meant that I couldn't go to the movies with Dave and Tara, which made me sad. Luckily I had flown in on Wednesday night and stayed over with them, so I did get to see Tara and spend some quality time with her, I really miss her living in Toronto. So, by the end of Friday I was so ill I was shaking and crying. Gawd, I hate it when that happens. I spent the night ordering room service again, taking Gravol, and whining on the phone with my RRHB.

Annnywaaay, by the next morning, after a good night's sleep, I was feeling much better. I got up early, determined to make the most of my Saturday in New York. There was just one problem and that was the fact that I had to check out of my hotel, which meant a day of carting my computer around because I was a bit scared of leaving it with the doormen in case anything happened to it. The last thing I needed was to lose my work computer.

I had an expensive breakfast at the hotel and started walking south (at least I think it's south!) toward the Lower East Side, where I went on a great tour at the Tenement Museum. Then I met some friends for lunch, and by then, Sam was in town, so we started shopping. We ended up back at the hotel around 6 PM, rested for a bit, and then headed back out to try and find a Mexican restaurant that Carrie recommended in Hell's Kitchen. Glad to be out of the touristy manic Midtown, we never did find it, but ended up eating at an Ethiopian restaurant that was truly delicious.

All in all, a good day.

Then, on Sunday, Sam and I tried, desperately, to find some cultural things to do: we tried to buy tickets for Rock Doves only to find out that we wouldn't have time to see it if I was to make my plane, and even Googled some of the museum exhibits, none of which thrilled us, so we went to Saks Fifth Avenue and looked at the glorious shoes. We ate a terribly gross lunch (so disappointing) and then made our way back to the hotel where me and my still-upset tummy got on a plane and came back to Toronto.

It's such an amazing city, even being there for four short days spent mainly inside a hotel room and/or an office building, was an amazing rush of energy.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: The view from NYC from the crazy-expensive Saks' Cafe. Trust me, the food sucks. The view, not so much...

#63 - At A Loss For Words

Diane Schoemperlen's new novel At a Loss for Words kept me good company on the way to New York. While it's not out until January, I had the good fortune to read an ARC of the book that I got from work. It's a swift, slight novel about a middle-aged woman who suffers from writer's block brought on by the devastating end to a love affair with a man she had first fallen for over thirty years ago.

As the narrator works her way through crossword puzzles and self-help writerly books intended to break the curse of the block, she tells the story of the relationship with a comical and somewhat cynical edge that ensures the novel hits that sweet spot between literary and commercial fiction. As most of their relationship took place over email, with the two main characters living in different, undefined, cities, it's a wordy novel, which really works. And the irony of being wordy while working through writer's block isn't lost on the protagonist.

For the most part, Schoemperlen isn't an author I've had the pleasure of reading before, but I think I might check out Our Lady of the Lost and Found seeing how much I enjoyed this charming "post-romantic" novel.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: The ARC sitting on the chair in my New York hotel room.

#62 - Mister Pip

When civil unrest comes to a small Solomon Island and all the white people who were running the government, schools, and copper mine, abandon the indigenous people and flee to higher ground. Without a proper teacher, the children, including the narrator of Lloyd Jones's excellent and Booker short-listed Mister Pip, Matilda, among them, run wild. With no lessons, their days stretch out in front of them like a million Sundays, until finally Matilda's mother announces that the island's one remaining white man, Mr. Watts, will begin to lead the lessons.

With no curriculum to guide him, Mr. Watts reads aloud from the Charles Dickens classic, Great Expectations. Immediately, Matilda is hooked, on Mr. Dickens as Mr. Watts refers to him, on Pip's journey, on the sheer impact the words have upon her life. As they make their way through the story, life continues around them, the fighting between the island's guerrilla forces and the army carries on, and the violence escalates. The impact of the war on the people can be seen in the obvious ways: some are killed, their homes are burned, but as the novel moves to its tragic and heartbreaking penultimate moments, their human strength remains fortified.

Matlida's special relationship to Mr. Watts comes out as well—they have an obvious connection, not just in their mutual love and admiration for Mr. Dickens and for Pip, but in their faithful need to love and respect the fact that words can sometimes make all the difference to a life. In a sense, words themselves represent a kind of power in this novel, whether they're from the Bible or the novel, they are literal objects that can change your life.

The main conflict within the novel, outside of the obvious physical violence, is generational, between Matilda and her mother. With her father having escaped to the mainland years before and turning into a 'white' man, Matilda and her mother scrape by together. As she falls deeper and deeper under the spell of the imaginary Pip, Matilda and her mother move further and further away from an understanding of one another. It's not an unfamiliar theme, any daughter of a mother will know it intimately, yet with the added layer of the civil war, their petty arguments and fundamental differences run a course that will ultimately have an deep effect upon both of their lives.

I read much of this book in an airport and on a plane; two times where despite being surrounded by people, I felt incredibly lonely and alienated. In this sense, it was a perfect book for that moment in my life, uplifting and generous, lovely and tragic, heartbreaking and momentous. The ending sucks the breath right out of your body (in a good way) and it's one of those books that just stays with you for hours, days, months, years, after you've finished reading.

READING CHALLENGE ASIDE:Mister Pip now graces my Around the World in 52 Books challenge, as I didn't have an author from New Zealand on the list, and I certainly have never read another novel set in the Solomon Islands. The setting is crucial, and if I were teaching post-colonial literature, I would absolutely insist this novel be on any course list. And I think if pushed, I could probably write one hell of a paper comparing this novel to Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea.

#61 - All In Together Girls

Let me confess, first of all, that I don't read a lot of short stories. So while I'm a huge supporter of short fiction, I don't necessarily pull it off the shelf and read it as much as I probably should. Like my friend Metro Mama always says, sometimes it's good to read short stories simply because, well, they're short.

But I also feel like it's important to buy and read the work of people you know. Not just because you know them but to show your solidarity in terms of their art. I go to plenty of indie rock shows for this reason. And after finally meeting Kate Sutherland in person at the beginning of the summer, I had been meaning to read her book for months. Well, am I ever happy that I did. Wow, is All in Together Girls ever an excellent collection. Some of the stories are linked, some not, but all feature riveting characters who transcend, in a way, their more humble circumstances.

Of the collection, I'd have to say that the majority of stories with the teenage girls were the ones that stood out for me. Not only because I was that teenage girl, because I knew the skids, the rockers, the preps, and fell in love with the boy on the lake, not necessarily across the street, who was certainly all wrong for me. But more because how can you not love a story that begins, "Saturday night started off like usual—just us girls and Mitch, drinking in the parking lot behind the Pentecostal church."

Immediately, I'm walking down Winston Churchill Blvd with Lesley, drunk on beer that Katrina bought, having left an awful house party where I felt, as always, awkward and out of place, until the cops stop us and kindly mention that isn't it about time we got going home. The tone of Sutherland's stories reminds me of Prep, but with a cooler edge, of a necessity to push the boundaries of the words to an edge that she isn't afraid to explore, even if it makes the reader feel uncomfortable.

In a way, I wish I was reading provincially as well as globally this year, and then I'd count this collection as Saskatchewan, long-winded places populated by everyday people who get out and get back in with alarming regularity. The prairie towns, like the town near my cottage, where kids wander off into the night with a sense of recklessness that feels utterly necessary at that age. What else are you going to do?

Regardless of my own emotional connection to many of the stories in the collection, I'd still highly recommend it to anyone who might ask.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: I read the majority of Sutherland's book in transit to work this week. I snapped the picture as quickly as I could before the bus picked up speed again.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

I Am Alive

But just so totally swamped that I haven't had a moment to blog for myself until right now. There are a million things to update so here's my list:

1. I've started dance class again. Very exciting. And hilarious.

2. I've read two more books and can't wait to talk about them.

3. Went to see a screening of Into the Wild that kind of blew my mind.

4. Have signed up for another creative writing class.

5. Have been wondering what's it all for in terms of, well, just about everything, and suffering from a good dose of the crabbies.

6. Will dish about NYC and exciting things seen and bought.

Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Live Blogging NYC

Well, so far I've seen a lot of the inside of my hotel room. Started off Friday morning with a little barfing (gross, I know) from all the meds for the disease and all the other complex things happening in my body. After a two full days of meetings I could barely move, and ended up ordering room service. In NEW YORK CITY. And then watched Live Free or Die Hard on the pay per view.

I was so disappointed. I had friends I could have seen. Great restaurant recommendations, and had already had room service the previous night because we stayed out too late having some corporate drinks. I knew I had to get up early the next morning so it was just easier.

But room service two nights in a row? Well, that's just an insult to NYC, I think. Stupid medicine.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Off To NYC

So I'm off to NYC tomorrow afternoon until Sunday evening, but I'm bringing my computer and camera with me, so maybe I'll be able to write a post or two while I'm there...

But, of course, I caught a dreaded cold from my nephew, who sneezed in the most adorable way up at the cottage this past weekend, and I am now quite sick. My chest feels like it has a dozen bricks on top of it and my throat is both sore and scratchy.

Gross.

It will not, however, stop me from shopping, walking, eating, and then shopping some more on Saturday and Sunday with Sam. Two girls in the Big Apple, we'll be unstoppable. Or not.

Monday, September 17, 2007

If I Were A Lady...

Stolen from the Very Lady Patricia the Sage of Giggleswick herself...

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Venerable Lady Deanna the Perplexed of Mellow under Trollness
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title


Oddly, it totally matches my mood today. Trollness, indeed.

The Long Tail In Reverse

Another in a long line of WTF-type emails from Amazon.ca's "if you like this then you'd surely like this...":

I ordered a copy of All in Together Girls, a book of short stories, by Kate Sutherland -- as I haven't read it yet, if anyone can illuminate me how exactly it relates to a second-rate movie novelization of a sports film I will never see, I'm all ears.

Sigh.

ragdoll,

We've noticed that customers who have purchased or rated All In Together Girls by Kate Sutherland have also purchased Facing The Giants : Movie Novelization by Various Contributors. For this reason, you might like to know that Facing The Giants : Movie Novelization is now available. You can order yours at a savings of 27% by following the link below.

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Book Description

Never Give Up. Never Back Down. Never Lose Faith.

After six consecutive losing seasons, high school football coach Grant Taylor believes things can't get any worse. He's wrong. With fear and failure defeating him in football and in life, the downtrodden coach and husband turns to God in desperation. Trusting that God can somehow do the impossible, Coach Taylor and his Shiloh Christian Eagles soon discover how faith plays out on the field.

Short List, Long List, Any Old List

We're back from another weekend at the cottage, which starts off an incredibly busy span of time for me: I leave on Wednesday for NYC for work and I'm not back until Sunday night where I'll be visiting friends, doing other fun stuff like shopping, and hopefully seeing a Broadway show...oh, and attending some meetings too. Then it's Word on the Street the following weekend, then Thanksgiving, then I think we're home before going up north again to close up the cottage. It doesn't leave time for a lot of reading, does it?

Regardless, there's an incredibly solid Giller longlist that's just been announced this morning here. This year, compared to most, I've actually read 4 of the books on the list so far: October, Effigy, Helpless, and Divisadero. And it's always exciting to see who actually makes the shortlist.

Anyone pick their front runner just yet?

And while we're on the subject of prizes, there's a really interesting article in The Guardian about the 'tussle' behind the scenes over the Booker shortlist here. I'm certainly not as prepared to offer an opinion on that literary giant of a prize as I've only read one of the books listed, and that's On Chesil Beach, by McEwan.

It's such an exciting time of year for books, lots of events, plenty of big tomes hitting the stores, and loads of prize announcements to keep people talking.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

#60 - Out Stealing Horses

Norwegian writer Per Petterson's outstanding work of fiction, Out Stealing Horses, had me enthralled from beginning to end. Having won this year's most monied international award, the IMPAC Dublin, the novel tells the story of a man called Trond who approaches his old age with one goal in mind: to learn to be alone. And it is in this journey of self-discovery, this coming to terms with spending time completely cut off, in a way, from the society of one's life, that the story unfolds.

Returning to the county where his happiest memories as a boy happened, Trond slowly lets the reader in on the real reason he decides to retire there (without a phone, without a television, without an inside, working bathroom): he needs to truly understand and come to terms with his relationship with his father. The book meanders as slowly as a seasonal change from Trond's current situation as a 67-year-old man to the summer he spent at a similar cabin with his father as an adolescent. That summer, marked both by tragedy (an awful accident at the neighbour's that involved his only friend Jon) and utter happiness, ends up, in retrospect, the moment in time that defined him. To give away more of the plot would not necessarily ruin the novel, but I enjoyed the story as it unraveled so much that I am hesitant to say anything further should I spoil the reading experience for someone else.

The prose, long lavish sentences that flow seemingly endlessly from start to finish, sometimes over half a page, reflects the main character's voice so utterly that I also had to wonder how different it would have been to read the novel it its native Norwegian. Not that the translator, Anne Born, did a terrible job, just that Petterson's writing is so lyrical that it must simply read like poetry in his native tongue. For the most part, this is an interior story, with much of the action taking place in Trond's mind, his memory. But there's an active core too: the acrid, rich smell of the horses they "steal," the feeling of the hot sun during his glorious summer, the crunch of the snow fall, it all adds up to an author that has an almost unbearable talent for writing landscape and situation.

For the first time in a long while, I felt like I truly experienced life in the "host" country of my reading travels. The Norway he describes, both in the late 1940s, during the war, and in his modern time, remains vivid all throughout the book, even if the setting (the county where each cabin sits) itself remains unchanged throughout. And for a person who herself grew up at a cottage, understanding the connection to a place that feels like home, means that there's an added level of emotional involvement for me. Bloody brilliant, there are precious little other words to describe it, well-deserved win, in my opinion.

I know that I've only read two of the other nominees (Slow Man and No Country for Old Men [humm, quite a pattern there actually, as each have protagonists coming to terms in different respects with the lives they've chosen to lead]), but in terms of my Around the World in 52 Books challenge, I'm so glad this book won so I had the chance to read it. I doubt I would have picked it up otherwise if it weren't for the short blurb in a Publisher's Weekly newsletter. Funny, now I can't imagine a life where I haven't read this novel.
Time is important to me now, I tell myself. Not that it should pass quickly or slowly, but be only time, be something I live inside and fill iwth physical things and activities that I can divide it up by, so that it grows distinct to me and does not vanish when I am not looking.
People like it when you tell them things, in suitable portions, in a modest, intimate tone, and they think they know you, but they do not, they know about you, for what they are let in on are the facts, not feelings, not what your opinion is about anything at all, not how what has happened to you and how all the decisions you have made have turned you into who you are. What they do is they fill in with their own feelings and opinions and assumptions, and they compose a new life which has precious little to do with yours, and that lets you off the hook.
PHOTO IN CONTEXT: Setting the book down on a messy pile of papers while I cleared off enough desk space to finish up my freelance assignment. The cover's beautiful, isn't it?

Monday, September 10, 2007

Are You Calling Me A Superromance?

Okay, so I have a confession to make. My mother loved to read Harlequin romances. We often made trips to the mall with her to peruse the romance section of the local Coles so she could pick up one of her books. I couldn't tell you what the attraction was for her as I was still a teenager when the car accident happened and never got to ask, but I do know that I sure as heck read a lot of them over her shoulder growing up.

I mean what pre-teen girl didn't read Sweet Valley High and its equivalents? And if was I was feeling particularly brave, I'd dig out the one I half wrote in Grade Eight while I should have been doing math. It's hilarious. Seriously. And then I got all snotty and stuff, did two fancy pants degrees, discovered all kinds of different books in my adolescence and never really looked back.

So when a friend of a friend kindly put forth my name for freelancers to write some marketing copy for one of the 1200+ books they put out during the year, I sort of jumped at the chance. I mean, my mother would be so proud of me, and sort of tickled pink, I think. And I've handed in my first assignment, which went okay. I'm working on my second right now and I know that a third is on the way. Fingers crossed I can balance out the throbbing loins with the love of their lives enough to entice people back into the fold. All in all, it's the most fun I've had writing for pay in ages. I enjoyed the heck out of it even if I'm still sort of stretching my fingers in terms of getting the right tone and quality of copy.

Come on, confess, you've read at least one in your lifetime, right?

#59 - Little Men

For those of you who know my extra-curricular freelance activities, you can probably guess why I was reading Louisa May Alcott's sequel to Little Women, Little Men. Not one of her go-to classics (apparently, those are the aforementioned original and Jo's Boys), I still enjoyed it, and remember reading the novel years and years and years ago during my Louisa May Alcott period spanning an entire summer when I was 11 or 12.

The adventures of a grown Jo as she navigates motherhood and a school she and "Father Bhaer" have set up in Aunt March's old estate, Little Men roams around the adventures of the rag-tag bunch of students they take in over the course of the novel. While I sometimes found the "messages" of Alcott's fiction dated, I still truly enjoyed the journey each of the children take during their unusual residency at Plumfield.

And it's hard not to have just a little crush on the imaginary Dan, even if you've made the mistake of trying to watch the abysmal movie version starring Mariel Hemingway and Chris Sarandon. Seriously. It's awful.

I will say one thing, however, I bought an omnibus that included all three books, and after finishing my work with Little Men, I sort of said to myself, "Am I really done?" I almost started working away on Jo's Boys just so I could remember what happens to Demi, Nat, Dan and the lads. Who knows, maybe I'll create another reading challenge for myself called 'books I wished I'd abridged' and put it at the top!

#58 - Life on the Refrigerator Door

Alice Kuipers's new novel, Life on the Refrigerator Door, is a quick, easy and heartwarming little book about a single mother whose relationship with her daughter and subsequent illness plays out over a series of Post-It notes left on the fridge door. In all honesty, I read the book in about twenty minutes, which isn't necessarily a comment upon the quality of the prose but, rather, of the shortness of the notes and their ability to pull you along seamlessly.

However, after interviewing Alice via email for work (you can read it here), I wanted to share this:

1. What was your inspiration for the novel?

Two events inspired the writing of this novel. One was a note that my boyfriend left me in our house. If someone else had seen his six words, they would have known so much about us and our relationship. I wanted to explore the idea that so few words could reveal so much. As a writer, this idea was quite compelling to me: how little can I write and how much can I say. The other event was witnessing my friend lose her mother to breast cancer. The way she coped was a true inspiration.
Now, I'm totally hooked and kind of fascinated by those six words that inspired an entire book. And I'm interested in trying to sum up my own life in six words, like the six-word stories that were all floating around the Internet a few month's back. But I don't think I could do it, I mean just typing up Wegener's Granulomatosis seems like a lot, let alone fitting four more words around it.

I know it's a pretty timid question that I asked her, but I do find the idea of actually writing less to reveal more pretty inspiring. I mean, has anyone else been watching Mad Men? (Sorry, I know, I'm obsessed!).

#57 - Bel Canto

Ann Patchett's Bel Canto took me a few weeks to finish. I kept starting it and then stopping it and then starting it, forgetting where I was, stopping, sleeping, and then starting again. Finally, after finishing up my manuscript and having true free time for the first moment in what felt like a summer of hectic classes, tonnes of other manuscript revisions, and loads of my own writing, I took an afternoon to finish the book while RRHB fiddled about and before my aunt and I set out on a Scrabble marathon to end all Scrabble marathons (she bingoed, and then won; I put up a noble fight).

Annnywaaaay. Bel Canto. This book won all kinds of awards six years ago: the Orange Prize for Fiction and the Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction, as well as becoming one of the most beloved books around. Set in an unnamed country (I think) in South America during a birthday party at the Vice President's house for a Japanese business man who loves opera, and adores the opera star Roxanne Coss who is paid to perform for him, a group of revolutionaries burst in an take the large group hostage. When they discover that the President himself was absent from the party (he stays home to watch his soap opera), the terrorist sequester the group away for months on end waiting for their demands to be met by an increasingly uncooperative government.

The group bides their time, first in terror for their lives, and then in a quiet kind of acceptance of the terms of their imprisonment. They have little freedom, but are fed; they have no rights, but soon adjust to their new life as captives. It seems as with any group of people shut up in close quarters with their fellow human beings, lives change in ways that are irreversible. People fall in love. People change. People become a truer version of themselves.

Now, I'm not about to say that I didn't enjoy Bel Canto, because I truly did—it's a novel deserving of its prizes, but my emotional response to this novel wasn't even remotely close to that of Run. It's well written, the plot if fascinating, and the characters are meticulously drawn. Yet, there's a chill that runs through this book that I wasn't expecting regardless of the beauty in Patchett's voice.

If anything, it made me think that above and beyond listening to classical music a lot these days, I should really also give opera a try.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: I am sad to say that, again, I left the book up north without taking a picture so I give you a fuzzy shot of me and my nephew Spencer. Just because.

#56 - No Country For Old Men

There's something about Cormac McCarthy's attention to the sparseness of punctuation and sentence structure that works exceptionally well in No Country for Old Men. It's as if one comma would ruin the flow of the language and pull your attention away from how the characters' voices are conceptualized. And I'm consistently amazed at how he manages to ensure the flow of dialogue without quotations, or truly, any way of knowing who's speaking beyond the voices you create for them in your own head.

As a youngish man goes for hunting in the back country near the Rio Grande, he discovers the spoils of a drug deal gone bad: lots of product, even more money. Leaving the product and picking up the cash, Llewelyn Moss turns around and makes his way out of the back country. He gets back in his truck, and drives home to his bride, who's but a wisp older than sixteen.

[And I'm paraphrasing]

She drawls, "What's in the bag"

"A pile of money."

And at that moment, whether they know it or not, their lives change forever.

The blunt force trauma of this story follows as such: Llewelyn, having stolen the money from an active drug cartel, is hunted down by the killer Anton Chigurh on one side of the law and by the old-time police chief Ed Tom Bell on the other. Seen from either direction, the story is sure as sh*t not going to come down in the favour of poor Lleweyln, nor is it going to turn out alright for Carla Jean, his wife. The chase on either side is brutal, dedicated, bloody and violent as hell.

It's hard to say but I'm not sure if there's a living writer (non-Canadian) that I admire these days as much as McCarthy—but only, truly, for these latest few books. All the Pretty Horses, with its majestic first sentence, as I've said here before, remains one of my all-time favourite books. Now, as you know, I was completely captivated by The Road. But No Country For Old Men blew me away. No one writes violence like McCarthy, and turns something that's often mocked in the popular media, or blown out in ways that ensure any impact of it gets lost between big guns and lots of useless fake punches, into literature.

The character of Ed Tom, the local police chief charged with not only unraveling the mystery of all the dead drug dealers, but also attempting to find Llewelyn before he's got no life left to live, remains a moral compass behind the entire book. Each chapter begins with a long, almost internal section from his point of view, where you can truly see how the country has started to make the changes into society as we know it today. It's a very particular vantage point, sitting on the cusp just before the world completely changes, and he seems bittersweet at best when coming to terms with the end of his life.

Ed Tom, as with many of the characters, acts stoically when faced with a situation that seems quite simply beyond the grasp of what everyday life prepares you for. The novel openly contemplates the idea that a secret, life lesson, sense of karma, or fairness itself will truly be obliterated by the sheer force of the universe. So much of the narrative plays out this philosophical ideal by the scenes of truly brutal violence, but also in the sheer fact that, as McCarthy proposed in his Oprah interview, some people are simply born luckier than others.

Of course I'm preparing myself for the movie adaption. By all accounts it's apparently bloody brilliant, the Coen brothers at their finest, but I still think the story will lose something that only the inner workings of Ed Tom's mind can relay. So before everyone heads out during Oscar season to work out their picks, I highly recommend reading this book before thoughts of Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem and Josh Brolin fill up your imagination.

Oh, and there's a slight error in the cover copy that bugged me all through the book, it says something along the lines of 'set in our modern time' or something when it's actually a period piece (to an extent). The book actually takes place in the early 1980s (or just 1980), which is just another reason to pay homage to McCarthy's talents as he doesn't have to come right out and say this, but it's totally inferred by the cars the characters drive and the technology they use.

PHOTO IN CONTEXT: I left the book up north and feel very strongly that it belongs in the cottage library (should there ever truly be one), and so I'm posting a photo of the moon on the night I finished reading the novel. I'm telling you, as lame as my picture is, it was one of the most beautiful moons I had ever seen. I stood outside and took a dozen pictures trying to find just one that captured the tenor of the clouds and the songs of the night, and honestly think I failed—but I sure hope you get the picture.

Quick Updates On The Fly Redux

We've been back from up north for a week and it flew by so fast that I haven't had time to blog but here's a list of things to come this week:

1. Book reviews of "Life on the Refrigerator Door," "No Country for Old Men," (the book, not the movie), "Bel Canto," "Little Men," and Per Peterson's "Out Stealing Horses," which I am about twenty pages away from finishing.

2. Thoughts on a few movies like "3:10 to Yuma" and a couple leftover summer flicks like Bourne and Potter.

3. I'm gearing up for all kinds of classes: dance classes, novel writing classes, yoga classes...

4. I want to dish about the new freelance assignment.

5. I finished my latest Classic Start and handed in my manuscript over the long weekend. Now I'm back to writing my own story and need to start in with serious revisions.

Whew. There's so much going on that I don't even know where to start.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Mad Men

Just a quickie post to say that I am utterly engrossed by Mad Men. I love the attention to detail, the wonderful period costumes and situations, the brilliant dialogue, and the bloody fascinating 'ad men'. It's not reaching Flight of the Conchords-levels in terms of the actual obsession, but it's a good, solid drama to take up the place of the bloody awful Grey's Anatomy that I have now permanently broken up with and will not reunite with this fall under any circumstances.

I am going to desperately try to limit the amount of television I watch this TV season. I found watching more movies (even older ones, shocking, I know for those of you who know me, non-virtually) and picking up more books this summer because we've been away from the television has actually been a really positive thing in my life.

It's a battle I have constantly, the TV-no TV argument, and I can see both sides, but then I sit down and get sucked into a world like the one they've created in Mad Men and think, wow, this is a hundred times better than a) that terrible Halle Berry film that the RRHB downloaded for me that I watched on Sunday in a computer coma and b) more engaging than half the films we watched this weekend, yes Fracture, I'm looking at you—while trying to ignore the obvious heat resonating from Ryan Gosling.

And Ethan, yum. And Ethan, ohhh.