Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Ghosts of Future Books

For weeks I walked into my condo and would see the eyeball eyeballing me on the kitchen counter. Of course I had to finish Our Game before I could open it. I found this book in Barnes & Noble on one of their clearance tables; I think my sister had to buy 2 books so I could get it for $3.33.

Now, every time I get in my car I notice the paperback copy of The Good Earth stuck in the door pocket. It doesn't have an eye ball on its cover, but it's eyeballing me none-the-less...

Today, I had a stress-echo test for my heart. As I waited, I read The Book of Illusions. Hector Mann abandoned his sweetheart in Spokane and flew into the arms of a Chicago whore... Of course the sweetheart was the sister of the sweetheart his fiance had shot in the eyeball.

The receptionist at the "heart center" came out and told me about the magazines, the brochures, the whatnot. I told her I'd brought a book. She asked me about it. I had to tell her about buying it for $3.33 - but I told her I felt guilty because I was enjoying it so much. That maybe I would buy it for somebody for Christmas, so I could pay full price for at least one copy. I told her it was about a two-reel silent film star that disappeared from Hollywood in 1929, about what had happened to him; how Paul Auster had spent one chapter describing the 11 or 12 silent movie's Hector had made, and how he'd done such a good job of evoking a silent movie feeling... How, supposedly he'd gone on to make more (presumably silent) movies, and how I was looking forward to getting to see them... She asked me if it was a true story. I had to say no. I didn't tell her it was better than true. Every page I turn rings true. But in some sad way I look at it as better than true, because, well, true I associate with reality... blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I'd rather be Hector, even with his guilt... This is also a very well written book; the pages ahead, draw me in...

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Mystic River: Boston red in tooth and claw

At the end of this movie (stop reading here if you haven't seen it), Sean Penn's Jimmy character stares out the window of his New England clapboard house and says, "I killed the wrong man." He looks like he's in a trance, as if he might begin to feel something like the horror we, the audience, feel after having watched him coldly shoot his childhood friend in the head like you would a crippled horse. But then Jimmy's wife comes over and coos in his ear that he only did what he had to; like her, he's strong in a world of pathetic weaklings, and that's all that's important. So you killed an innocent, vulnerable man-- whatever. Let's get it on, big daddy.

And that, in essence, is the message of this movie. Something really bothered me about this film-- more than just the fact that the wife character is way too underdeveloped to imbue with such malevolence at the end. If there's a message here, it seems to be that the world is amoral, so why even try? Poor Dave gets the short end of the stick from beginning to end: abducted and molested as a child, wrongly suspected of murdering his friend's daughter, and then murdered himself by said friend. As much as you want something to happen to redeem Dave's sad life, it never does. And Jimmy suspects-- he seems to want there to be an understandable reason-- that his daughter's murder was some kind of retribution for his earlier transgressions. As it turns out, though, it was just kind of a freak incident. [I guess you could argue that there was *some* kind of cosmic retribution at work, since the guy who killed his daughter was the son of a guy he killed earlier. But it was not as if that motivated the kid, who had no idea about the earlier murder]. And then there's Dave's wife Celeste, who finally breaks under the strain of believing that her husband's murdered somebody and gone crazy, and starts telling people about it. For her troubles, she ends up with a dead husband and a depressed child.

So as much as (I suppose) we are expected to feel revulsion when Jimmy's wife starts her psychopathic monologue, we can't escape feeling that she's right. She and Jimmy will go on living with their little family (minus one), going to parades and first communions and eventually coming to "rule this town" (the wife's own bizarre non-sequitur, same monologue). And did friend number 3, Sean the Honest Detective, arrest Jimmy for killing Dave? No, he did not. What, after all, would be the point in a world in which horrible things happen every day and for apparently no reason? Where sensitive people like Dave and Celeste, who are trying to be decent, repeatedly get chewed up and spit out by predators of various sorts? Why even try?

It's one thing, I think, to create a chilling and realistic depiction of the world as an amoral and arbitrary place. But the nice thing about *people* is that they are not, as a rule, amoral or arbitrary beings. They are skilled at doing awful things to one another, but they are also capable of extraordinary goodness. Mystic River spares no screen time at all for goodness, which makes it a truly depressing drag to watch.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Gravy Train

When I was a kid, I remember, when I was a kid...

My parents led me down the trail of telling me that I was supposed to put water, probably warm water, on my dog's food; not much, but a little, and I think this was because the variety of dog food I fed my dog was Gravy Train. And that's what you were supposed to do, because the coating on the dog food was somehow suppose to mix with the water and make gravy, that, of course, was delicious to my dog. I remember that though my dog would eat some of this dog food, ultimately the next day I would have to clean out half of the bowl, and it would be just a big mush, (because of the water), and it had this sour stink. We fed the dog a variety of foods... There was dog food that came in the form of a patty, that was supposed to be like a hamburger or something. We'd feed him canned food, but that always stunk too. We fed him chocolate kisses that we're like doggy chocolate kisses. Reality is the dog didn't really like any of this, though I sort of remember him not having a problem with the 'patties' and/or the 'kisses'. Mainly he was a spoiled yankee dog, and ate speghetti, and chocolate (this before anyone told us chocolate was poison to a dog...), and cookies and other good things.

Now I neither feed my dog Gravy Train nor really, any of the above. I do not put warm water on my dog's kibble. Tonight she got catfish, and while I was eating my catfish I was telling her how delicious her meal was going to be. Generally she gets turkey with her kibble. She likes baked potatoe skins. And of course any meat fit for human consumption. But reality is hamburger tends to give her the shits, so well, she doesn't get much hamburger. Mainly turkey. Generally it satisfies her. Usually after a meal she'll come over and give me the eyeball. In the back of mind I thinks she's asking for more, but generally I like to think that she's actually saying thank you (in some doggie sort of way...).

Saturday, November 05, 2005

End Game

Near the end of Our Game Le Carre has a character tell the following joke:

Remember that joke Stalin liked? Three people dead in a ditch after a motor accident, that's a national tragedy? But a whole nation deported and half of them exterminated, that's a statistic?

It sounded very American...

Near the end of Our Game Le Carre has his protagonist imprisoned by a group of Ingush separatists in the basement of a Moscow tenement (or something like a tenement though it's a old gymnasium) for a number of weeks, guessing as to what his fate is to become... It brought me back to my previous posting in this here blog regarding how the title was a double entendre... referring both to the spy game and to the writer's game, to wit, what is going to be the fate of this here character...

Ultimately, he leads us up into the Caucasus Mountains and the home of the Ingush, and the pun takes on a third meaning... to wit, our equaling human; the human game, the game of living, the game all of us participate in.

This wasn't the book I wanted to read when I started. I would've been happier with a book about vampires, only that book was too bland. And as I said, Le Carre fed my need for good writing, and in that sense did not disappoint at all. As I turned more and more pages I realised I wasn't disappointed at all.