READING: Nathan Hill’s THE NIX (and a few others)

I’ll be talking about four books today; IN MIKE WE TRUST by P.E.Ryan; HOME BY NIGHTFALL by Charles Finch; THE WOMAN IN CABIN TEN by Ruth Ware; and my favorite of this post, the very good THE NIX by Nathan Hill. You can click on any of the titles in red below to be taken to either the publisher’s page or the author’s page for the books. Enjoy.

in-mike-we-trustIN MIKE WE TRUST, by P.E.Ryan, hardcover, 366 pages, Harper Teen

After having reveled in the glories of Patrick Ryan’s The Dream Life of Astronauts, I worried the next author I read would be at an unfair disadvantage. So, what did I do? Followed up with Mr. Ryan’s — this time writing as P.E.Ryan — young adult novel, In Mike We Trust.

15-year-old Garth and his emotionally and financially stressed Mom are adjusting to a smaller life when the identical twin of Garth’s deceased father, Mike, a sort of prodigal brother/mysterious black sheep, arrives on the scene. Garth has recently come out as Gay to his best friend, Lisa, and to his Mom, the latter of whom wishes him to keep it quiet until he’s older, refusing even to discuss it with him. Mike shakes up the fearfully circumscribed world in which Garth and his Mom have mourned themselves into in ways that alarm Garth’s Mom, Lisa, and finally, Garth himself who is also falling for Lisa’s friend, Adam, further complicating matters.

This is a very fast read (with a slow-ish start) and, like I said, after The Dream Life of Astronauts, nothing stood a chance with me. I liked this well enough but something about Mike felt unfinished to me, as if the author meant him to be more, or to go in a different direction originally, but was convinced not to. In general, the characters and the story felt underdeveloped and too plotted and planned at the same time, unlike Astronauts, which was full of surprises and breathtaking realities, this felt predictable and not really from the truth of a heart.

home-by-nightfallHOME BY NIGHTFALL (Charles Lenox Mysteries #9), by Charles Finch, Hardcover, 304 pages, Minotaur Books

I have read only one other in this series, a much earlier installment. The aristocratic Mr. Lenox, in 1876 London, having Continue reading

Almost Home(less)

I recently spent a week in New York City. I stayed at a luxury hotel. I went to Broadway shows. I drank twenty-five dollar cocktails and ate in lovely restaurants where the staff encourages upgrading from gratis water to something bottled and aerated.

And I am almost homeless.

Pop-Pop, my paternal grandfather, went every morning to mass at Saint Peter’s Holy Roman Catholic Church to which he gave ten percent of all he earned, he watched Lawrence Welk and the evening news religiously, seldom spoke other than chanting the evening rosary, considered his very rare hissing “son of a snake” a curse requiring confession and penance, and he never had a charge card. He paid for everything with cash and if he didn’t have savings enough for something, he didn’t buy it. He faithfully filled tiny journals with two column lists of every purchase and its price. The once a week trips to the grocery store were followed by his re-writing of the sales slip into these notebooks, where also were entered amounts spent on gas, heating oil, newspaper and magazine subscriptions, doctor visits, medicine, and the not infrequent loans and gifts to relatives who were less frugal than Pop-Pop, which, in the end, turned out to have been almost all of his descendants of which I am considered one of the most flagrantly, hopelessly, failed and profligate. Financially. And, well, in other ways too.

Perhaps I am. Perhaps, not.

When I arrived in New York for my birthday trip,unwilling to spend money on a cab, I lugged my bags on a beautiful walk from Penn Station to the Algonquin. I, like Pop-Pop before me — under very different circumstances in a very different world — have no charge card. My entire trip was an incredibly generous gift from friends, the hotel stay paid in advance, but when I tried to check in I was informed by a desk clerk who was quite rude, increasingly loud and seemingly intent on embarrassing and shaming me, that the Marriott Corporation’s policy required I have a credit card to cover expenses I might incur while staying in their hotel or I would not be allowed to check in to my fully paid for room. I wonder if Pop-Pop was ever reduced to weeping because his lack of a charge card inspired Marriott (or, other corporate) tools to treat him like a criminal, unworthy of the benefits of capitalism, an outlier of society unwelcome in their place of business?

Other patrons in the lobby and employees behind the desk averted their eyes from me and my situation, as if, somehow, my place on the financial grid was contagious; that I didn’t fit the profile the Algonquin/Marriott corporation required to treat me with respect and decency not only left me feeling humiliated and guilty, but it made everyone else in my vicinity uncomfortable. I might as well have been the fellow sitting half a block away, his “I’m down on my luck” cardboard sign asking for change. How had I gotten there and what was I doing, making all those other credit-card-carrying folk have to pretend I wasn’t happening?

I asked myself the same question.

Let me be clear, my life choices were mine. I own this. To the degree that here, where I am, going (or not going), is the result of my own intemperate dissipation and self-indulgent dissolution, so be it. Let me also be clear, I am grateful to those others who have given me kindness and assistance and support of every variety — financial, emotional, spiritual — from which I’ve benefitted. I have been helped and held and housed by some of the best (and some of the worst, but that, not the story today) and my journey has been full of much joy.

Yet, as I sit here suffering stress-induced IBD, spastic colon, and cramping, filling out financial forms with cover letters and references trying to explain why I’ve made so little money in each of the last five years I haven’t had to file taxes; to make clear why the bankruptcy almost two decades ago over less than five thousand dollars seemed the only way out at the time; being asked to justify the life I’m now leading — this semi-off-the-grid, not trying to spend another twenty years working at something to have to lose it all/give it away, uninterested in the having to have a degree/title -play the game -build the brand – spin the spin – just want a way to read, eat a little, go to the gym, take care of my Mom and others, and be left quietly alone world in which I live, I can’t help but feel a bit hopeless. And a lot — a very lot — tired.

And failed. And, did I mention, tired?

I’ve been homeless before. Felt homeless before. I was asked to leave my Mom’s home when I was sixteen. Not without cause. But I knew then, felt then, “I will never have a home again.” It was scary and awful. I lived a lot of places, my favorite being Libertytown, in the home my grandfather had bought and we’d owned for nearly 100 years when by family decision it was sold when just my aunt and I lived there. I was asked by another aunt and uncle to stay with my aunt for that move, my aunt who had NEVER in her sixty-plus years lived anywhere but that house in Libertytown, who had rightly (I think) believed that having spent her entire life taking care of Pop-Pop and Mom-Mom and everyone else (me included) she would get to die there. I knew then, felt then, “My base is gone, this center of who I am won’t be here for me anymore.” And just a few years ago, something not dissimilar but too invasive of another’s privacy a story to tell occurred and again, I was without a home, without a part of me with which I’d long identified.

Stories. We all have stories. Others might have thrived or blossomed from these homeless-nesses. I didn’t. I deliquesced. Again, a choice. I wanted, that last time, to become simpler. To have less to carry with me. To depend less on what the world said ought and should and must be.

A choice. Perhaps, not so wise. And so…here I am. Almost homeless, again.

There is a memoir to be written of my life, but, it seems I won’t be the one writing it, and, truth, everyone’s life deserves a memoir. And everyone’s life, eventually, disappears. When I was still teaching theatre, I would regularly introduce into conversations the names and work of Mary Martin and Ethel Merman and Barbara Cook and Judy Garland, about whom fewer and fewer knew. When they didn’t even know who Barbra Streisand was, my life seemed to lose most of its meaning. And, never, in all my years of teaching, did any of those children have any idea who Joan Didion or Dorothy Parker were.

Last night on Power Player Jeopardy, Mad Men creator, Matthew Weiner, was unable to come up with the “what is the NAACP” when asked what organization Julian Bond had been chairman of from 1998 to 2010.

History fades. Things disappear. We are not remembered. We do not have charge cards and so we are not worthy. We may once have held people up and taken care of others and tended to them and encouraged them and worked in the corporate world and owned our own businesses and saved and earned and played the game, but, when we don’t, or when it’s over, well then, we are no longer entitled to occupy space on the game board.

But dear ones, had I managed to not go bankrupt; to get another job in insurance when that company folded; to stay in one of my abusive, emotionally crippling relationships and maintained financial stability that way; bought fewer books; said yes to men or women I didn’t care for who might have taken care of me; fought instead of surrendered; queried two thousand agents; auditioned more; gone to Jesuit boarding school as a child when the church wanted to send me; taken a few more pills when I was fifteen and tried to off myself; left that New Haven bar with the guy who wanted me to snort coke off his cock in the bathroom; learned to say no; if/then — maybe I’d still have savings or a job or a lover or less despair, and maybe A and B and J and D and P and J and others would have behaved differently, loved me more, judged me less, stood up for me and with me.

So what? The ending is the same. We disappear. We are, at most, relics of lost times and stories on display in a museum for someone to maybe see, maybe understand, maybe not.

This blog is my cardboard sign, I suppose. My “down on my luck, spare some change?” please notice.

But, I recently had a magical week in New York where much of my time was spent with people much better at the game than am I, than I ever was. People whose choices were better, who worked harder and with more acumen at things I might have and perhaps should have done, people who planned better, believed better, loved better; people who would not have started crying at the Algonquin front desk, but, rather, would have stood up (or sat in or something-ed) for themselves.

I also spent time with an illegal Russian immigrant, P, who left his country and home so he wouldn’t be killed for being gay. Who works catering jobs now using a social security number he “rents” and who hopes to make it into a dance company. In the meantime, he turns tricks as a masseur/escort. He’s virtually homeless.

Bad choice: I asked him to marry me to get him citizenship. Here’s how good I am at love: he told me I was too gullible and should go home. Which I did. Although, now, see there, I am almost homeless.

Neither P nor those New York pals who are deservedly successful are my life . It isn’t who I am. And while — as I said — the choices I’ve made were my choices, my responsibility and I own them — I never really fit anywhere on that grid of what is called “success” and during the periods of my life when I seemed part of the upwardly mobile climb, I felt always a fraud and afraid of being found out.

I was always more like P; a visitor, borrowing part of someone else so as to be allowed in, dreaming crazy dreams, waiting to be expelled, found out.

Well, I’m found out now. I am poor. I am almost homeless. And I am not ever going to really have a place on that grid. So, as I have in the past, I will have to find some way to make who I am, how I am, what I am, where I am, work.

Until I don’t. Until, somehow, I find, again, home.

Or, someone gullible asks me to marry him. I, unlike P, would say yes. No doubt he could tell I was a bad risk. Ah life.

Later pals. Need to fill out some more financial forms because, you know, there’s always an Algonquin clerk somewhere eager to sneer at you for not having a charge card.

In Just No Time At All . . .

elkins, anne

Anne Elkins, my Berthe from “Pippin” – one of the good ones, one of the dear ones

One of the dear ones has died.

Last night I was a roiling, boiling, bursting mess of fury and sorrow over the hate against LGBQT people being legislated and signed into law in North Carolina. I disconnected from social media, dove into a fantasy-romance sort of novel, and turned off my heart and head as much as I could. Sometimes, one must. Or, sometimes, I must.

So, this morning I decided to focus on joy. I needed healing. I headed out-of-doors and took notice of all the blooming spring happening in my own backyard. I posted on Twitter using the hashtag “HugaHomo” which I’d said last night on Twitter when departing it, suggesting people hug the homo nearest them because I, alone in my bat-cave, reading the North Carolina hate news, was in need of embrace.

spring 2016 1 spring 2016 2 spring 2016 3 spring 2016 5 spring 2016 6 spring 2016 7

I take comfort in the blooms of spring. The return of color. The promise. My dear Sissie, she loved spring too and was fond of saying in a Katharine Hepburn-esque way, “The forsythia are in bloom.” Sissie, about who you’ve much heard if you read/follow/know me. When I was a boy-child of twelve, she, the first in a treasured line of  older-women who would enrich my life with friendship, wisdom, humor, and unconditional love, took me to New York City and my first Broadway musical, Irene, because she was afraid what the family would say if she took me to the other big show playing at the time, Pippin.

Fast forward. Age eighteen. I became involved with the inception of the new theatre in my small town, The Octorian Theatre Company, a group of young upstarts intent on shaking up the long-standing community theatre and its reliance on old-warhorses of shows by doing only new, risky, sexy shows. Like Pippin. In which I did a turn as The Leading Player. Octorian’s founder, director, producer, Steve, was wise enough to recruit for the role of Berthe one of the doyennes and reigning prima donnas of that long-running community theatre. Mrs. Anne Elkins.

I’d first met Mrs. Elkins, as I called her then, when I, twelve years old and just back from the Irene – New York trip, auditioned and was cast by that hoary community group to play Floyd Allen, boy-child, in Dark of the Moon. A few years later, a hardly formed but very tall fourteen year old, I was again (mis)cast as the young husband in one or another Neil Simon comedy playing opposite a very (and justifiably) unhappy twenty-seven year old wife. Mrs. Elkins played the mother (in-law?).

As Pippin took shape, I was a very different person than I had been during the previous two shows with Mrs. Elkins during which I’d been awestruck by her talent — she was a formidable actress and singer, and regaled me with her tales of working as a big band vocalist. At eighteen, I was a horrifying mess of a human being, a terrified, nasty, vicious, desperately lonely boy in  a man’s body, trying to find a place in a world that often did not want me. And there was Mrs. Elkins, surrounded by dope-smoking, foul-mouthed, determined to be sexy and shocking young people by whom she was amused and most certainly not abashed, and she insisted that I call her Anne.

I did. But it felt wrong. Always. It was another honor and privilege I wanted to deserve but was naggingly, quietly certain I did not. I was tortured by such doubts then (and, well, now) and those doubts, along with the fear, the certainty I was not enough made me — I am sorry to say — very cruel, very often. I see now that I was arming myself, my cruelties and drug use and anger like the prickly quills on a porcupine meant to protect me from the predators I saw everywhere in the world.

Mrs. Elkins – Anne was not fooled. One day after having watched me throw myself into performing Simple Joys with a vigor of “I WANT I WANT LOVE ME LOVE ME” so desperately intense it horrifically distorted what little technique and charm I might have had, Anne took a quiet moment with me and said, “You know, I know you don’t want anyone to see that pretty heart you have beating in there somewhere under all that bluster, and I’m no expert at anyone’s life or business, but I think if you just calm down and quiet down a bit and let it shine, you’ll accomplish what you’re trying to with all the yelling and running you’re doing. And you might even have a little energy left over to be happy.”

Good advice. About which — again, I am sorry to say — in that moment I was furious, although — I am happy to say — my breeding and fondness for older women did not allow me to express. I said thank you. I thought about it. And I did Simple Joys the next time with very little movement, a snap here and there, a turn or two, and, wouldn’t you know it, my best number in the show.

This week, my dears, I’ve been doing a lot of screaming and yelling. Of late, this life, I have been attacking my reality with such vigor, living in such desperately intense fear, and feeling so horribly lonely and solitary, unseen and unheard, reaching out in all the wrong ways, to suspect people, longing to be hugged, held, heard and, at the same time, panicked I am wearing out and exhausting the few who do see me. I want. I want. Love me. Love me. All that.

Last night: North Carolina. Last night: googling someone I thought I knew a bit and finding out they were a felon. This morning: the spring. This morning: message from someone to whom I’d sort of reached out, who’d sort of reached out to me, saying, “You’re really not enough.” This morning: a message from a loved one, “Wanted you to hear it from me, Anne Elkins died on Monday.” This morning: I am going, now, to pick up my dear 88-year-old mom, who I still have, and have hair day, lunch day, look for Vienna Sausages and no-sugar-added peaches at the grocery store day.

This morning, maybe, listen to Mrs. Elkins — sorry, Anne, that’s who you are to me — and calm down and quiet down and let my pretty little heart show? Maybe a snap here or a turn there, but, holy mother of all things, maybe, please, have a little energy left to enjoy the blooms and be happy?

Yes, and bring me my fucking trapeze!

Thank you, Mrs. Elkins, and, I wish I could hear you, one more time, singing your song; No Time At All.

No Time At All lyrics

 [BERTHE]
When you are as old as I, my dear
And I hope that you never are
You will woefully wonder why, my dear
Through your cataracts and catarrh
You could squander away or sequester
A drop of a precious year
For when your best days are yester
The rest’er twice as dear….What good is a field on a fine summer night
When you sit all alone with the weeds?
Or a succulent pear if with each juicy bite
You spit out your teeth with the seeds?
Before it’s too late stop trying to wait
For fortune and fame you’re secure of
For there’s one thing to be sure of, mate:
There’s nothing to be sure of!Oh, it’s time to start livin’
Time to take a little from this world we’re given
Time to take time, cause spring will turn to fall
In just no time at all….

I’ve never wondered if I was afraid
When there was a challenge to take
I never thought about how much I weighed
When there was still one piece of cake
Maybe it’s meant the hours I’ve spent
Feeling broken and bent and unwell
But there’s still no cure more heaven-sent
As the chance to raise some hell

Everybody….

[ALL]
Oh, it’s time to start livin’
Time to take a little from this world we’re given
Time to take time, cause spring will turn to fall
In just no time at all….

Now when the drearies do attack
And a siege of the sads begins
I just throw these noble shoulders back
And lift these noble chins
Give me a man who is handsome and strong
Someone who’s stalwart and steady
Give me a night that’s romantic and long
And give me a month to get ready
Now I could waylay some aging roue
And persuade him to play in some cranny
But it’s hard to believe I’m being led astray
By a man who calls me granny

[ALL]
Oh, it’s time to start livin’
Time to take a little from this world we’re given
Time to take time, cause spring will turn to fall
In just no time at all….

Oh, it’s time to start livin’
Time to take a little from this world we’re given
Time to take time, cause spring will turn to fall
In just no time at all….

Sages tweet that age is sweet
Good deeds and good work earns you laurels
But what could make you feel more obsolete
Than being noted for your morals?

Here is a secret I never have told
Maybe you’ll understand why
I believe if I refuse to grow old
I can stay young till I die
Now, I’ve known the fears of sixty-six years
I’ve had troubles and tears by the score
But the only thing I’d trade them for
Is sixty-seven more….

Oh, it’s time to keep livin’
Time to keep takin’ from this world we’re given
You are my time, so I’ll throw off my shawl
And watching your flings be flung all over
Makes me feel young all over

[BETHE AND BOYS]
In just no time at all…

 

 

Tonight at Eight . . .Random Charlie

It’s eight o’clock on a Friday night … I’ve changed my sheets! WEEKEND!

Okay, well, I’m not just changing sheets; I’m also listening to the original Broadway cast recording of Hamilton: An American Musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda. I am listening to it because there is no possible way I will get to see it when I am in New York City for my birthday in LESS THAN A MONTH! Hamilton is sold out until — well, a long, long time.

WHO LIVES, WHO DIES, WHO TELLS YOUR STORY?

It’s okay I won’t see Hamilton. I’ll be there in New York from the 13th to 19th. On the 14th I am seeing Frank Langella in The Father. On my actual birthday, the 15th, I am seeing American Psycho and getting a backstage tour. On the 16th I am seeing Miss Barbara Cook and may even get to meet her — so, yes, the 16th will very likely be the day of my death. Thus, I think when I get off the train on the 13th, after checking in at the hotel, I will head to TKTS and try for seat to She Loves Me because I love the music and I think Laura Benanti is grand and I have never seen Jane Krakowski live, so, yes —

I had forgotten how much I loved the entire score from SHE LOVES ME, especially Tonight at Eight, and so, yes, I should try to see it on the 13th because, though I’ve nothing booked for 17th-19th, like I said, I’ll probably die on the 16th meeting Miss Cook.

My sister, a smartass (imagine that, in my family?) suggested I record myself and what I want to say to Miss Cook since in all likelihood I will be weeping with such vigor should I manage to make it into her presence that I will be unable to speak, thus, I could just hold my phone up to her and press play. Hmph.

I AM SEEING BARBARA COOK THE DAY AFTER MY BIRTHDAY! So ridiculously happy about this. I have been listening to all of her recordings again, over and over, too.

Listen to her voicings of the words “close” at 1:13-1:15 and “wrong” at 1:21-1:22, and “want” at 3:01-3:02, every single time she sings “losing” (god, so so so much pain into two syllables, again and again, how can you not weep?), because each of those words has so much story in them — she gives you hours of subtext; you can SEE the life the singer of the song has lived IN THOSE WORDS. And, holy mother,  the “sleepless nights” at 4:16-4:18 actually has a sob in it without distorting the notes, the visible and audible defeat in “mind” from 4:36-4:42 when the note ends but she CONTINUES the emotion in her AMAZING silence until she comes back in at 4:50 with “I want you so” in such a way it seems she is fighting speaking, the way one fights the confession to someone you know no longer wants you but you simply cannot help yourself, so obsessed are you, so in need of them, and she builds and builds the breakdown (totally in control vocally, though) until the “kind” from 5:42-5:46 which morphs into the closed eyes/turning away from the horror of the final self-admission, the facing, the oh god please kill me I’m losing my mind of realizing, “You don’t love me” and WORSE, “I cannot stop loving you – I am losing my mind.” That end, that final note, that reaching vocally and physically for that love she will never have. NEVER has this song EVER been better sung and it never will be. She is without peer. She makes every single song a journey like this, an emotional tale of truth, beautifully delivered with such intelligence and honesty, nothing false. She is a genius. Brilliant.

Confession: When I sang, it was Miss Cook I strove to please. I wanted never to breathe in idiotic places or sing songs to which I could not bring my soul, always trying to deliver the goods in a way that would meet with her approval.

SUCH A BIG DEAL. Miss Cook and listening to music.

Why is it a big deal that I am listening to music? After a long life of listening to music daily, singing along, knowing the lyrics to nearly every musical written, keeping up with new ones, when I had to leave my last world in which music and theatre played such a huge role, one of the many things that slipped away from me was music. So, playing music in my room as I change sheets, write this, it has a huge-ness. Weird. Feels so weird. Listening again. Will I ever sing again?

I doubt it. But, some days, I miss it. (Confession: I sing alone in the car all the time.)

Weird — this need tonight to confess — confession.

Fitting. This has been a week of weirdness, darlings. I let my feelings be hurt a few times — a couple of times on Twitter. A couple of times by my family. A couple of times by men who think I am English or 40-ish or both.

Then, today, I got my car insurance renewal thank you letter. First of all, I don’t remember being asked if I wanted to renew. Secondly, bright side, since I’ve been with them for more than fifteen years with no tickets or claims I now qualify for no future surcharges no matter how many accidents I have. What? Okay. So, discount for good driving. Hoorah. THEN, I am informed I qualify for the “Over 55 Discount” — WHAAAAT?!?! This was my first “senior” discount and I burst into tears.

Smartass sister again: “You are so eager to die, you’re going to have to get older to do it.” Well, not if the notice of a senior discount or meeting Miss Cook gives me a coronary event. So, HA!

And, might I add (of course I might, I write too much, I’ve been told. And talk too much. So many too much-es about which I’ve been told in my life. I cry too much. I tell too much. I act too much like a girl. I have sex too much. I say no too much. I say yes too much. I want too much. I don’t take care of myself enough (somehow there’s a too much in there) and — well, anyway, TOO MUCH.) that even WITH all the good driver and old man discounts, my insurance still went up. Albeit, only a dollar – BUT STILL!

Oh darlings, I’m tired. It’s been a long week. Gluten-free, sugar-free, corn-free, diabetic friendly, chemical-free(mostly), healthy, clean cooking is so complicated. Everything requires multiple kinds of flour, experimenting with ingredients and temperature and such. I’ve been cooking a couple of hours a day. Which I love to do for my dear ones. I do. Still, my Mom is wonderful, but being with her, watching out for her balance, trying to make sure she is happy, earning enough through random copy editing and ghost blogging and dog/house sitting to pay for her lunches and groceries and such so she doesn’t have to panic about running out of her “monthly funds” — sometimes it is exhausting.

And someone told me this week my blog here would benefit from vigorous cutting. Yes, I know this. But friends, this is a diary, not a short-story. Let’s face it, I’m not a writer, never will be. This is me venting and letting loose and getting out (sort of) the things I need to say — even if it’s just sent into the ether.

So, I have changed my sheets, I have said no to the twenty-year old, I have been listening to Hamilton, I have stomach issues again, I am tired, I say yes too much, I did not say no enough (those are two VERY DIFFERENT things), and Carol is now available on-demand, so maybe I will watch that or read one of my twelve library books (I’ve done it again) or say yes to one of the people who think I’m English and 40-ish — and some said I couldn’t act!  HA! I will have you know, when I played Sweeney, my accent was SO ENGLISH they asked me to pull back by half because no one outside of London would understand me. I don’t know why I’m throwing that in there. I will add that the Baltimore papers reviewed me and said I was terrifying and brilliant and had “crystalline” diction. So, there too.

Uhm … maybe I am losing MY mind.

Love you dears.

Goodnight.

Reading: Ten February(ish) reads

I’ve been thinking more and more that less and less of life requires comment, or, my comment. Thus, my long run of having written about each book I read shortly after having read it came to an end.  Too, I started a Pinterest page (and you can click here to visit) and my first board was about what I was reading. Pinterest allows only five-hundred characters of copy for each photo so I’ve been limited to short, concise exegeses of my impressions about my reads. That has been somewhat liberating. I considered letting this blog become — again — solely an existential traipsing through my dysthymia and adventure in going further and further (or, is that farther and farther? No. Further is metaphorical and I suppose my retreat from the conventions of modern-life is more metaphor than actual physical travel and distancing.) off the grid, but, I know some of you are interested in what I think about books and not everyone has a Pinterest account — I resisted for as long as I could but the opportunity to collect pictures of sexy Marlon Brando and men with tattoos and people’s personal reading nooks finally defeated me — so, here I am, going back into writing about what I’ve read, albeit, in shorter form. (I think. You hope.)

Chee Queen of the NightTHE QUEEN OF THE NIGHT, by Alexander Chee, Hardcover, 561 pages, February, 2016, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt This was the third in a troika of books by gay writers to which I had very much been looking forward. (The first two were Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You and Paul Lisicky’s The Narrow Door – read about them HERE.) Unlike the other two, Night isn’t built around a gay person, although it does take place in the world of opera, which is about as gay a milieu as one can visit – but, strangely (to me) this narrative lacked gay content. It lacked little else. Chee managed to create a huge world, a huge life, there is detail and dynamic enough for a few books. Well reviewed and much heralded by the literary literati, it is delightful that three gay authors have experienced so much success already this year. Happiness. I bought this because I wanted, very much, to support Mr. Chee. When I checked with library about availability (which I routinely do for books in which I am interested, to see if others are reading them too) I saw they had only two copies and the wait was eight weeks. I donated my copy after reading.

Those We Left BehindTHOSE WE LEFT BEHIND, by Stuart Neville, Hardcover, 320 pages, September, 2015, Soho Crime  I love the escape of crime procedurals, the comfort of a returning character, in particular one with flaws and peccadilloes, so I am always giving new series a chance, hoping to find the next “go to” sort of solace I like between heavier reads. This is the first to feature Irish DCI Serena Flanagan, and both she and probation officer Paula Cunningham were well-developed, interesting. The plot concerned two doomed brothers, one a sociopath, the other his victim, and had some twists, some supposed-to-be surprises. It was a quick read, nicely done. I think I will likely give its next entry a go. Borrowed from library.

eileenEILEEN, by Ottessa Moshfegh, Hardcover, 272 pages, August, 2015, Penguin Press As I said in my Pinterest blurb, this was an extremely unpleasant story full of extremely unpleasant characters, without even a hint of redemption or joy. I found it to be unkind. I don’t know how else to describe the experience and I am sorry to be so negative, but I would not recommend this to anyone. Just ugly. The author was compared to Shirley Jackson and Patricia Highsmith — both of whom I admire and enjoy — its milieu said to be evocative of David Lynch’s filmic work — much of which in small doses has fascinated me — but, for me, this bore little similarity to the works of those auteurs. It was relentlessly bleak of heart (which it meant to be, so, congratulations) and mean of spirit (which it meant to be, so congratulations) and strove to be tongue-in-cheek but, instead, was snide and cruel. It is censoring, I suppose, to say that life is too short and dark enough already without spending my time in a fictive world of such dark, soulless, venomous, ferocious despair — so be it, I don’t need this sort of energy in my life. Borrowed from library.

american housewifeAMERICAN HOUSEWIFE: STORIES, by Helen Ellis, Hardcover, 208 pages, January, 2016, Doubleday  I quite enjoyed this collection of twelve pieces — I wouldn’t call all of them stories — that were frequently funny, and often trenchant without trying too hard. Had I to read it again, I’d have spread them out rather than reading all at once, as in, Ellis is a writer whose work I’d like to come across regularly in magazine — her take on life is amusing and insightful — but consuming it all at once, I think it lost some of its power. So, yes, quite good, but read one a week or so, not in toto. Borrowed from library.

 

Vaschss AftershockAFTERSHOCK: A THRILLER, by Andrew Vachss, Hardcover, 368 pages, June, 2013, Pantheon  This was another first in a crime series. I gave it a try because I read many of the author’s Burke series, years ago, suggested to me back then by my dear, departed brother-in-law. So, I picked this up out of sentiment. Vigilante justice — no matter how heinous the criminal — not my thing anymore, and Dell, the main character, like Burke (who he very much resembles) takes the law into his own hands, doing away with scum. Well, I suppose it’s a release for my baser instincts to read about such a thing, but, killing is killing, and if you become the killer — even of those who are horrid — you are still a killer and horrid yourself. As I’ve aged, my ability to read about ugliness decreases (see review of Eileen above). In this, as I mentioned, ugliness is answered with vigilante ugliness and when I find myself cheering for the murder of even villains, I question reality and such and so, no. Also, tenses and grammar often purposely incorrect for “voice” – even for voice, it gnaws at me. Borrowed from library.

Hadley The PastTHE PAST, by Tessa Hadley, Hardcover, 320 pages, January, 2016, Harper  I love Tessa Hadley’s writing. She is an incisive stylist and observer of people, love, connections, desire, and despair. In this tale of siblings gathered to decide whether to sell the family home, each dealing with its histories and echoes in different ways, the ghosts of the past becoming the characters of the present – it’s divided into Present/Past/Present structure – the how we get here and how we fall apart and how we mistake the shapes of love, are so well done, it felt to me as if Hadley had met my family. She has a gift for making specific the universal. Wonderful book. Borrowed from library.

 

Williams, Diane Fine Fine FIne FIne FineFINE, FINE, FINE, FINE, FINE, by Diane Williams, Hardcover, 131 pages, January, 2016, McSweeney’s  Hmm. Collection of short – very short – stories. Gloriously languaged, chock-full of sharp-edged imagery, these stories are like shards of something broken one tries to piece together into a whole. Bleeding ensues. I liked it but a little “Emperor’s New Clothes” hipness & WTF?  Some of these were simply beyond comprehension, or, even, sense — another in a plethora of late of what seem to me exercises in journaling given publication. I should very much life my existential ramblings and prose-poems to be gathered together and  put between hard-covers and huzzah-ed as the big thing by the literati. I don’t begrudge Ms. Williams her publication – but, like I said, some (even, much) of this was sort of – “okay, but, why?” (Full disclosure: Every year I enter the McSweeney’s columnist competition and every year I lose. So, bitter much? Maybe.) Borrowed from library.

after the parade ostlundAFTER THE PARADE, by Lori Ostlund, Hardcover, 340 pages, September, 2015, Scribner   I wanted to read this because Ms. Ostlund had won the Edmund White award. Well written but awfully sad study of the many kinds of love and loneliness and abandonment: parent/child, friends, lovers. Struck personal chords for me about needing to leave someone as a matter of saving one’s own self & soul and being manipulated by someone who confuses love with control. I was irritated because my local library does NOT have it. I ordered a bargain ($2) copy from the evil empire and then donated it — when I’d finished reading — to library.

 

Oliver, Mary FelicityFELICITY, by Mary Oliver, Hardcover, 96 pages, October, 2015, Penguin Press  I am only just beginning to read poetry on a regular basis after many years of not having done so. In the long ago it was Erica Jong and Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsberg and Frank O’Hara and Dorothy Parker and Edna St. Vincent Millay and Patti Smith and Rimbaud. The theme of this slim volume is love, of the romantic and nature varieties. I am not much a believer in romantic love – its categorization outside and over and above other loves – especially lately I am annoyed by the cultural insistence on its primacy – and nature I can take or leave as well, I refer smog and city sounds, so, perhaps I am the wrong person to talk about this book. On the other hand, Oliver’s facility with language, the spare beauty of her imagery, quite stunning. But then again, given my general ignorance about poetry (I am studying now) and love (I am a life-failure and no amount of study will remedy that, this I have accepted), don’t listen to me about poetry. Borrowed from library. (Still have it, actually, plan to renew all five allowed times as I continue to re-read, examine, think – because, it’s poetry.)

Pinckney, Darryl Black DeutschlandBLACK DEUTSCHLAND: A NOVEL, by Darryl Pinckney, Hardcover, 294 pages, February, 2016, Farrar, Straus and Giroux  Not going to lie, I had a tough time getting through this. I got it because it was blurbed by Edmund White and compared to Isherwood. No. Aside from troublesome syntax and construction, it really didn’t have anything to say (to me) & far too much meandering detail, seeming — again — as if the narrative was interrupted with pieces from his journals about which Mr. Pinckney said, “Oh, this is lovely” and wanted to use but which added nothing. It needed to be better edited and the time jumping was unclear, a muddle. I kept falling asleep while I read it and wishing I had stopped early on. The last eighty pages were such a slog, but I was determined. Again, sorry to be negative, but Mr. Isherwood’s Berlin Stories is one of my favorite books and to compare this to that, well, no.  Borrowed from library.

And now, I am up to date on up-to-dating you on my reading. I know, dears, quite a lot of comment for one who says he is questioning the need to comment at all on anything, and just more dumping on the grid for one who says he is considering further grid-self-removal. But, if I am nothing else — and certainly not a McSweeney’s columnist — I am a conundrum (or two or dozens). In any event, I leave you with this — because, you know, I may not believe in love, but I do believe in fantasy love.

 

Brando shirt on

And with that, darlings, dear ones, loves, lights, here I am, going.

Reading: The Swans of Fifth Avenue

Swans of Fifth AvenueThe Swans of Fifth Avenue, by Melanie Benjamin, Hardcover, 368 pages, January 2016, Delacorte Press

I’ve always had a weakness for celebrity gossip. While I claim the mantle of politically-correct (more below) socialist-libertarian-egalitarian, count myself among those who believe capitalism has run amok, a behemoth become evil empire overseen and heavily-hand-ruled by a small cabal of venal, heterosexual white men who are determined to enslave the rest of us and lay waste to equality and democracy, much of my righteous indignation comes from the truth that I am poor, will always be poor, and have never had a path to gain foothold among the haves and one-percenters. There is little doubt I would gladly have compromised my morality for a Fifth Avenue apartment with a view and the opportunity to hobnob with the upper echelons of society, to rub elbows (and anything else to which they’d give me access) with the beautiful people.

It’s that aspirational acquisitiveness that makes novels like The Swans of Fifth Avenue so seductive. Reading this novel’s pre-publication publicity, I’d hoped for a juicy roman a clef in the Dominick Dunne tradition; his Vanity Fair columns (most of Vanity Fair, come to think of it) and novels like The Two Mrs. Grenvilles, A Season In Purgatory, An Inconvenient Woman, People Like Us, were thinly veiled exposes of people we commoners — the hoi polloi — had always envied but could, thanks to Mr. Dunne’s admittance and spy-work, now also pity and pooh-pooh and sanctimoniously tsk-tsk, patting ourselves on the back that we did not indulge in such malignity, malice, and evil even as we wished with all our avaricious little hearts that we could have those Porthault linens and hot, available, sexy chauffeurs and lawnboys.

Well, I’d still sell out for a Fifth Avenue view, high-thread-count sheets, and available and willing hunky, horny servant types — you can’t get much commoner than am I — and so I thought I’d have more fun reading The Swans of Fifth Avenue than I did. And damn damn damn this evolution of self, since I didn’t, I have to figure out why.

For those of you who read “reviews” for synopses, here’s what the publisher says:

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The author of The Aviator’s Wife returns with a triumphant new novel about New York’s “Swans” of the 1950s—and the scandalous, headline-making, and enthralling friendship between literary legend Truman Capote and peerless socialite Babe Paley.

Reading: 5 Days, 5 Books

Today I will be writing about: THE SELLOUT, by Paul Beatty (library), I CAN GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE, by Gary Indiana (purchased), WAYS TO DISAPPEAR, by Idra Novey (advance copy sent by literati-industry pal), YOU ARE NOT A STRANGER HERE, by Adam Haslett (library), MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON, by Elizabeth Strout (library – but after reading, bought a copy), and, as always, talking about myself. This is, after all, my blog.

Those of you who have come here for a discussion of books, I’ve got five today, some of which are fantastic, but pardon me for a moment while I speak to another part of my audience, those who — for the briefest of ecstatic, orgasmic moments yesterday — led me to believe some lit-type had linked me, praising my blog as a don’t miss, must read, savant-ish polyglot’s potpourri of belletristic babble and the off-color, onanistic emotional offal of a train-wreck in progress. But, hell no . . . instead . . .

IF YOU’RE HERE LOOKING FOR NAKED CHARLIE CARVER, SORRY.

Carver twins charlie & maxIn the past 48 hours this blog has gotten a ridiculous number of hits. “Huzzah!” said I, all a-tingle and a-glow with that endorphin rush only impact play can bring, “Hit me some more, sir!”

Now, were I a different kind of person, say, perhaps, NOT one who’d first been BDSM-ed by the School Sisters of Notre Dame and Roman Catholic-brainwashed into the mindset in which every pleasure requires requisite punishment, I might have enjoyed this spanking of popularity without regard to its residual bruising and scarring; alas, I am bottom-trained to the bondage of guilt and suspicion, a man accustomed to taking it while on his knees, and so, I assumed the position and investigated.

Charlie Carver came out yesterday on Instagram [click here]. Good for him and it means nothing to me other than this: In March of 2014 I posted pics of Charlie and his twin brother, shirtless, in a piece about my objectification of men. The picture above is from that post on my blog and it comes up first when one types “Charlie Carver Naked” into a search engine. While I am sore disappointed that the hits to my blog are not driven by people hungry for my prose-stylings, I can imagine just how disappointed are those confronted with my prose-stylings when they’d hoped for Charlie Carver’s dick, so, apologies, and please, when taking it out on me, try not to leave a scar. My safe word is “READ!”

NOW, TO THE BOOKS . . .

During January of 2015 I read ten books. So far, in January of 2016, I have read six, mostly good books, one so fantastic I hesitate to write about it because doing so seems sacrilegious. But, this blog is about more than the good pain/bad pain humiliations I suffer along the way as I worship at the altar of attractive and unattainable young men, it is also a platform for sharing how I feel about the things I read, and for promoting those books I love, this my humble effort to spread the joy and love and light books bring to me. Well, here goes.

SelloutTHE SELLOUT, by Paul Beatty, hardcover, 304 pages, March 2015, Farrar, Straus & Giroux This is another of those very buzzy books, about which much has been written, superlatives bandied about, mad-love admirations by the erudite literati gushed in the usual-suspect-we-all-ride-the-same-morning-train-and-talk publications. For the first hundred pages or so I was ready to hobo-hop my way onto that train as I often do; it was a salient satire about race and class and cynicism, one after another funny – sometimes hysterical – riff on stereotypes and ignorance and self-delusion, but then, it bogged down in what was for me a plotless plod of too much plot. I know, that makes little sense, but, it took too long for too little to happen and the variations on the social commentary that had been riveting the first one hundred pages were just repetitive in the next two hundred.

freighthopping hoboHere’s the thing about being the literati equivalent of a freight-hopping hobo: I’m not paying for the tickets to get on the trains, I’m wandering and wondering, a flaneur, going where I want, when I want, dawdling, dallying, and yes, diddling, at a pace all my own on a journey of my catch-as-catch-can design, and, my dears, doing it this way has proven to be a little dangerous, true, sometimes I’m hungry, almost always I am a little (or, in truth, quite a lot) lonely, but having already lost everything more than once, the only voyages remaining for me are those junkets in which I’ve got nothing to lose — as in, job, reputation, followers. I mean, hell, the most traffic my little book-exploration-sometimes naked guys blog has gotten in the past year has been driven by Charlie Carver’s dick, so, you know, here I am, going (on and on and on and on), not likely to be intimidated by the threat of further dissipation.

Thus and so, here is another of the things about me, like I said, literati-freight-hopping-flaneur with a catholic (and Catholic, I guess) penchant for being abused: As foul-mouthed as I am, as rabid an advocate for freedom of speech as I am, as far-left as I am, the use of certain words makes me uncomfortable. I never use the N-word. Mr. Beatty uses it — and other equally triggering words — throughout The Sellout, which I understand is part of his point. I get it. And, Mr. Beatty, being African-American and writing from that perspective and using the word as ironic commentary, all gotten. But, back to that thing about me, see, I think words are incredibly powerful, able to cast spells, takers and givers of energy with lives that continue after we’ve said or written or thought them, words have the power to make things happen just by being said, written,

hobo ranta photo

From Michael Ranta’s “Shot from Trains” series. Click photo to visit his site. Gorgeous work.

thought. Words create energy waves in our minds, in our hearts, in our world and so, I am one of those gay men who doesn’t think gay men (or anyone else) ought say the Fa-word nor should lesbians (or anyone else) say the Dy-word. I also don’t care for the use of the Bi- and Ba- words and I despise the Cu- word. I get the whole “We are reclaiming them and making them harmless and powerless” thing but I think that is a specious defense for using words born of hate. I think the world is still too full of ignorant people who upon hearing we minorities using words once (and, often, still) pejorative in nature to refer to ourselves will take that as liberty to continue to use them in ugly, distasteful, violent, abusive and damaging ways. We should be very careful about filling our mouths, hearts, and environments with those words, because, we need to protect our hearts and the hearts of others. So . . .

i can give you anythingI CAN GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE, by Gary Indiana, hardcover, 240 pages, September, 2015, Rizzoli Ex Libris . . . Gary Indiana’s use of sometimes pejorative terms for gay men in his memoir also gave me pause. I don’t know, perhaps I am the duddiest of fuddies, but the phrase “buxom giddy queen” is the sort of thing meant to cut and harm and I just would rather not live in that or read about it. That said, otherwise, I loved LOVED LOVED this book. Perhaps it is because Mr. Indiana and I are long-distance contemporaries belonging to a cohort of shared experience if not geography, and at this crepuscular state in my life, finding resonance and kind — even at the remove of hardcover pages — is a comfort. Mr. Indiana’s writing is compelling, evocative, and eviscerating in its honesty; he spares no one, including himself. My (bought) copy is festooned with sticky-notes and scribbled marginalia. Here, just a few lines I marked:

Time is glacially slow in this country, but my face races on, across all the mirrors, en route to the eternity of nothingness behind the finish line. [page 12]

I’m told I think too much, and have too many emotions. For some reason this terrifies people. In my own estimation, I’m emotionally blocked, stupid in practical matters, and cursed with an isolating intelligence that’s worthless, . . .  I can be whatever somebody wants temporarily, if I glean a clear intuition of what it might be. I’m so solitary that roles I try playing for other people seem contrived and arbitrary. I’m uncertain enough of my existence to absorb nearby tastes and opinions, as if claiming them as my own will bring me into clearer focus. . . . I don’t fit with anyone I meet, except in a lubricious, sweaty, transient junction of organs and holes, a fusion of raw desires that discharge themselves with two spurts of jism. The guys I pick up are impervious to emotional complications, . . . What I look for is an abridged version of what I want: a no-fault fuck in the parking lot of time between last call and the morning reality principle, and a modicum of cordiality. [page 81-82]

I had the sense of always standing a little apart from the narrative, of missing the point, of nothing ever being quite enough or never adding up. Life was a choppy sequence of images unfolding in several worlds whose only connection was the fact that I slipped into one after another like an actor performing several plays in the same twenty-four-hour span. [page 170]

And this, story of my life:

It sounds ridiculous now, but his sexual indifference embarrassed me for years after this whole period was finished, as a high point of humiliation. It was a purely willful, physical attraction, but I had fastened on Don as the person I wanted to love me back, imagining my desire could make this person I didn’t really know into the person I wanted him to be. [page 172]

And one-offs aplenty, like, “At least with an ex-convict, there’s a little damaged tenderness.” [page 228] and, “…the inbred assurance of an upper-middle-class Eagle Scout, a wide-eyed, impervious optimism that only needed a dusting of freckles and a few amphetamines to turn him into Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz.” [page 199]  and, “. . . Ferd sighed, with an oracular exhaustion I can still hear after thirty-five years.” [page 205]

I share an exhaustion with Mr. Indiana, if not quite as oracular, at least as weary, and brought on more than a little by having come of age in an age where a coming out like Mr. Carver’s would have meant the end of many possibilities and opportunities, and so we internalized our self-hatred and fear, the disgust with ourselves into which we’d been brainwashed and acculturated, seeking lovers and tricks and John Rechy-esque numbers for partners, those men who were but were not what we were and were afraid of being, reflections of our own rejections of self.

Damn it’s been a freaking long road. And Bowie has died. On the day Charlie Carver came out. And there are echoes and connections there. And I am feeling ancient. And Mr. Indiana’s book echoes and ruminates on all of the angst and agita that brought him to this same place, from where we were, who we were, what we have been, to here, where we are, going.

Ways to DisappearWAYS TO DISAPPEAR, by Idra Novey, Hardcover, 272 pages, February, 2016, Little, Brown and Company I read with far more hope than I trick, perhaps because I have far better luck with hook-ups in my literati-hobo-flaneur-ing than I have ever had with men, and one such connection brought me an advance copy of this beguiling, enchanting debut novel by poet and translator, Idra Novey. Ways to Disappear defies categorization and genre. It is like nothing else I’ve read, an un-doing of form, a translation of emotion and relationship into a unique shape that is at whiplash inducing, breakneck pace funny, frightening, instructive, and heartbreaking with dollops of magic realism and heapings of lyrical prose, imagery run carefully amok — I know, carefully amok, but there’s the incongruous truth and beauty of it. Ms. Novey manages a mordant burlesque of character and circumstance into a fast-paced, page turning meme-noir of great beauty and wit with fascinating finesse. First paragraph, listen:

In a crumbling park in the crumbling back end of Copacabana, a woman stopped under an almond tree with a suitcase and a cigar.  She was a round woman with a knob of gray hair pinned at the nape of her neck. After staring a minute up into the tree, she bit into her cigar, lifted her suitcase onto the lowest branch, and climbed up after it.

Read that out loud. Sit with it a moment. Is it prose? A poem? Hilarious? Tragic? All of the above? Whatever else it might be, it is gorgeous and courageous writing. Ms. Novey takes all sorts of terrifying and satisfying chances, all the while making music of syntax and rhythms that roll luxuriously off the tongue – read it out loud, I dare you. There is so much on which to meditate in this short novel, I read it twice in one day and have read the ending a few more times since. It is a meditation on how we translate emotion into reality and relationship, on the way we shape our lives through such translations, and the search for those who hear things in the same syntax as do we, who share our vocabulary of the heart. Yes, there is romance as well, romance that scars. Truly, my efforts to further describe might do the disservice of dissuading you from picking this up, and you really ought to read it. So go, get a copy now. I’ll wait.

You Are Not A Strager HereYOU ARE NOT A STRANGER HERE, by Adam Haslett, Hardcover, 256 pages, August, 2002, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday  Why did I order this book from the library? I wish I could recall where first I heard about it, who recently wrote about it, which website or Twitter-Literati recommended it, but, I didn’t share decades with Gary Indiana and David Bowie and not suffer some brain-cell loss in the process.

However it came to me, I am grateful. A collection of nine short stories dealing with disturbing degrees of alienation from the world, from others, from the self, this is a well-written though hardly easy read. I devoured all the stories in a two-day binge and that was not, I think, the ideal way to appreciate this work. One should space these stories out, as having them all too quickly follow one another is akin to spending too much time with that friend whose life is one after another tragedy and trauma and who, one suspects, enjoys the agony just a little more than they ought. Too much.

Still, nice work, the opening story, Notes to My Biographer, about a schizophrenic father on a manic high was especially compelling and wrenching. The Beginnings of Grief was a horrifying study in where the numbing effects of loss and despair can strand a person. Devotion, about a brother and sister and the man they both loved and the secrets and lies between them is beautifully wrought, its construction my favorite in the collection and it contained my favorite passage, this;

He won their games of hide-and-go-seek because he never closed his eyes completely, and could see which way she ran. He could still remember the peculiar anger and frustration he used to feel after he followed her to her hiding place and tapped her on the head.

That’s a perfect evocation of what goes on between a brother and sister, the summing up of a relationship in which one’s own misdeeds being allowed are a source of anger. He cheats. He is angry because she has accepted and forgiven it. There is every indication she knows, early hinting of which is finally revealed to be true. He needs not to lose more than she needs to win, a flaw in him to which she acquiesces, which infuriates him. That’s some glorious imagery there.

But, the story by which I was most moved was Reunion. A fellow has contracted AIDS, is dying, and the emotional and physical peregrinations through which he chooses to contort as he moves toward his end, the letters through which he shares this with his father, a devastating telling.

And now, I must somehow find a way to write about a book I loved so much I fear sullying its near-perfection by speaking of it. But, I have put it off long enough, here goes:

My Name is Lucy BartonMY NAME IS LUCY BARTON, by Elizabeth Strout, hardcover, 208 pages, January, 2016, Random House I first cried reading pages 41 and 42 of this book. I almost never cry when reading. I said this on Twitter; “No words of mine in any combination seem worthy of speaking of this book — that is how much I love it. Ms. Strout’s limning of the failure of love that meant well and knew no better, her exploration of the ways in which we disappoint while doing all we can — it is glorious. There is not one single word, space, mark of punctuation, presence, absence, breath, that is not absolutely essential to the telling, each a necessary part of a transcendent whole. Rarely have I been this moved. People, if you’ve ever trusted my lit-taste for a moment — even if you haven’t — I beg you, stop everything. Read My Name Is Lucy Barton now.”

I don’t know if I’ve the skills to say it better. I can tell you this, every time I start trying to describe this book to anyone, I begin weeping anew. Here is what the Penguin Random House site says about the novel:

A new book by Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout is cause for celebration. Her bestselling novels, including Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys, have illuminated our most tender relationships. Now, in My Name Is Lucy Barton, this extraordinary writer shows how a simple hospital visit becomes a portal to the most tender relationship of all—the one between mother and daughter.

Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy’s childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lie the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy’s life: her escape from her troubled family, her desire to become a writer, her marriage, her love for her two daughters. Knitting this powerful narrative together is the brilliant storytelling voice of Lucy herself: keenly observant, deeply human, and truly unforgettable.

Yes. And maybe it is the Mother and child angle that gets to me in particular, the ways in which they find and lose and fail and comfort and disappoint and love — oh how they love — one another. Maybe. Or, perhaps it is that Ms. Strout is a writer of such proficiency and profound gifts, a talent so rare, I was transported by that alone. Oh people, I don’t know. I only know this book took me to a world so vividly made, so real, so powerful, I could not stop once I started.

I would begin quoting from the book, Ms. Strout’s beautiful lines, but they belong so ineluctably to the wholeness of it — as I said, every letter of it contributes to its completeness, is essential, and so to pull-quote without context diminishes. Still, I will try, just briefly, this:

But I think I know so well the pain we children clutch to our chests, how it lasts our whole lifetime, with longings so large you can’t even weep. We hold it tight, we do, with each seizure of the beating heart: This is mine, this is mine, this is mine.

Have you ever? And, okay, this, oh holy mother of all that is holy, this, from page 41-42 where began my weeping:

One more thing about Jeremy: The AIDS epidemic was new. Men walked the streets, bony and gaunt, and you could tell they were sick with this sudden, almost biblical-seeming plague. And one day, sitting on the stoop with Jeremy, I said something that surprised me. I said, after two such men had just walked slowly by, “I know it’s terrible of me, but I’m almost jealous of them. Because they have each other, they’re tied together in a real community.” And he looked at me then, and with real kindness on his face, and I see now that he recognized what I did not: that in spite of my plenitude, I was lonely. Lonely was the first flavor I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden inside the crevices of my mouth, reminding me. He saw this that day, I think. And he was kind. “Yes” is all he said. He could easily have said, “Are you crazy, they’re dying!” But he did not say that, because he understood that loneliness about me. That is what I want to think. That is what I think.

To have achieved that paragraph in this lifetime would be enough for me. Had I written it, I could happily say, “Well, now I have done all I ever need do.” Such beauty. So many stories in so few words. Spare. Perfect.

I cannot imagine there will be many books this year (or, ever) that move me in the way My Name Is Lucy Barton did and continues to do. So beautiful. Such artistry. So much truth. Please, please, PLEASE read it.

AND SO WE REACH THE END . . .

Here I am, nearly gone, 3500 words and eighteen hours (and the death of David Bowie and the coming out of Charlie Carver and an afternoon of my own Mother’s stories and a few secrets I dragged out of her) later, my blog hits are double what they were yesterday –entirely attributable to the search of Charlie Carver’s dick – and if you’ve made it here, to this end, my end, today, well, darling, bless you. Love and Light and thank you for joining me here, where I am going.

Goodbye.

 

 

READING: In brief and year-end rush (continued)

Seven days ago I posted what turns out to have been only part one of my In Brief & Year-End Rush [click here], a recounting of the frenzied fit of reading I do as December elides into January. Since then, I have moved from one house/pet-sitting location to another and completed five more of the stack of library books through which I’m working, determined to discipline myself into a single-digit pile when it comes to Library TBR stack, because, honestly, the pressure of having twenty-plus books with return dates signed out is too much for me.

Please note, again, I am not a reviewer, I am an appreciative reader. I love books. I worship really great books. I fall hard for books by which I am moved. I also read a lot of book blogs, a lot of book reviews (I worry about that, worry that I am a pretender, as Rose in Gypsy accuses her daughter, Louise, “…reads book reviews like they were books,” but I digress) and I follow a lot of literary types on Twitter. Thus, I often read things because of the enthusiasms of others. I am often, in those cases, left saying to myself, “WHAT THE HELL? I DO NOT LIKE THIS BOOK!” In order to avoid any of YOU having that feeling, in my considerations of books, I try to include a bit about WHY I do or do not like it — meaning, a bit about me, so that if you decide to read or not read on my recommendation, you’ve some background from whence that recommend (or dismiss) came. Okay then, here we are, going:

Goodnight, Mr. WodehouseGoodnight, Mr. Wodehouse: A Novel, Faith Sullivan, Hardcover, 456 pages, October, 2015, Milkweed Editions  I wish I knew how this novel came to my attention, but, alas, it is nowhere entered on my To Be Read/Heard About Where? list  on which I track such things. Ms. Sullivan  authored four previous novels, none of which I have read, and been described as specializing in Minnesota-small-town characters. In this novel, heroine, Nell Stillman, develops a near medicinal-dependency relationship with the works of P.G.Wodehouse, to which she turns and on which she relies to comfort her through the vicissitudes and vigors of a long life. It is not spoiler to reveal she loses to many different kinds of death many loved (and not so loved) ones along the way, nor is it spoiler to say I had expected more about Wodehouse’s work, and more a Wodehouse tone, but, instead, this is a mostly (for me) melancholy work; it begins with Nell’s obituary, after which, how can it hope to be other than elegiac? The writing is skilled, flows gracefully, and the characters are easily known, rather like those who peopled television shows in which Andy Griffith starred – and I have been known to binge on Matlock re-runs, so, that is not a complaint, but, they are not Wodehouse-ian, so be sure you know what you’re getting into if you decide to pick this up.

Reunion of GhostsA REUNION OF GHOSTS, Judith Claire Mitchell, Hardcover, 400 pages, March 2015, HarperCollins   I read about this a number of places (none of which I recall, and, alas, again, not on my TBR list) and it seemed it would be just the sort of thing I’d enjoy, and, too, Kirkus had included it as Top Fiction 2015, so, there you have it. Allow me to offer the publisher’s precis:

In the waning days of 1999, the last of the Alters—three damaged but wisecracking sisters who share an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side—decide it’s time to close the circle of the family curse by taking their own lives. But first, Lady, Vee, and Delph must explain the origins of that curse and how it has manifested throughout the preceding generations. Unspooling threads of history, personal memory, and family lore, they weave a mesmerizing account that stretches back a century to their great-grandfather, a brilliant scientist whose professional triumph became the terrible legacy that defines them. A suicide note crafted by three bright, funny women, A Reunion of Ghosts is the final chapter of a saga lifetimes in the making—one that is inexorably intertwined with the story of the twentieth century itself.

From the ancestral suicide chart hanging in the three sisters’ apartment to their sick (in the very best way) witted love of punning to their unsentimental embrace of suicide, this is a quite lovely book — which, I know, seems an odd way to describe its rather dark-sounding goings on, but, the prose is delicious, there is story — so much compelling and interesting story — and it hasn’t any of that self-conscious “I’ve a literary MFA” tone that infuses so many novels nowadays; it’s a well-written read, and nowadays, there is hardly higher praise than that. And the pathological attachments of the trio to family, to family history, and to a superstition of primogenital tragedy reminds me of my own dysfunctional, nutcase collection of a family.

Wild Swan Yuko Shimizu

Yuko Shimizu illustration for A Wild Swan

Wild SwanA WILD SWAN: AND OTHER TALES, by Michael Cunningham, Illustrations by Yuko Shimizu, Hardcover, 144 pages, November 2015, Farrar,Straus and Giroux I love Michael Cunningham in the way I love Stephen Sondheim; both are icons of my youth, idols and artists I consider my people, who have created the sort of work and wonders I always imagined I would, those treasures from the collective consciousness of the generation of creators and gay men to which I belong. It seems only fair to tell you that. That said, this slim volume is not unlike Act Two of Mr. Sondheim’s Into The Woods, in which is asked the question; “What happens after Happily Ever After?” Despite its smallishness of pagery, A Wild Swan boasts hugeness of heart and imagination. (It also boasts gloriously evocative illustrations by Yuko Shimizu, worth the price of the book all by themselves.) Like Sondheim, Mr. Cunningham de- and re-constructs the mythology within (and without) the fairy tales, re-examining the pretty-patinas we’ve layered over the grotesqueries and horrors of the original tellings, and finding a truthiness more suited to the current Zeitgeist, all in short-story lengths. A particular favorite of mine, his re-shaping of Hansel and Gretel in which they are — well, I won’t tell you, except to say, years ago I was contracted to write a children’s play version of this tale and I submitted what I thought a brilliant take in which the tables were turned and H&G were modern tween-horrors who terrified the lady who built her house of candy. Needless to say, my version was never performed — but, there we have what I referred to in my opening sentence, that collective consciousness I like to (delude myself into thinking) believe I share with the Misters Cunningham and Sondheim. Listen, I’m entitled to my fairy tales, too.

BeatleboneBEATLEBONE, by Kevin Barry, Hardcover, 299 pages, November 2015, Doubleday Many of my sources went on and on about this one using words like “exhilarating” and “profound” and “literary experiment” and “extraordinary”. Well, okay. I found it annoying. Sorry. Honestly, when I have to read reviews to determine what went on in a book — then the book is too cutesy, artsy, experimental, self-indulgent, purposely convoluted. Again, sorry. I just found it too much of a too muchness early on, and then, somewhere along page 200, the author inserts himself into the introspective, mid-life crisis of a tale. I don’t for one moment have any issue at all with the idea that one’s childhood is forever after the stuff of one’s neuroses, the mountains one must climb again and again – I, too am in the dead-parent-at-a-young-age, surviving-parent-less-than-ideal-meantal-health club — trust me, I get it. We all get it. It’s gotten. Gotten so hard I get it like get every gotten morning while my got gets gotten, going rotten inside me, forgotten about the gets (and the gits who got me before I could get my own) begotten by all the others and — do you get where this is going or where it has gotten? Of course you don’t — because that sort of get got gottening is the sort of rottening monotonous-ing prose “styling” foist upon us and Emporer’s New Clothes-like heralded by reviewers afraid to say, “WHAT THE FUCK?” Work it out with an analyst or in your journal but let’s not publish it and call it a book, okay? I’m being mean, sorry, but, on the other hand, who’s going to make it this far into the paragraph? GET my point? GOTTEN!

OutlineOUTLINE, by Rachel Cusk, Hardcover, 256 pages, January 2015, Farrar, Straus and Giroux This was on the New York Times 10 Best list and touted by the genius I follow on Twitter (he does not, needless to say, follow me), Daniel Mendelsohn. Beautiful writing. Nothing happens. I am exhausted by books in which nothing happens except masturbatory display of metaphor and technique. TELL ME A STORY, DAMMIT. However, the New York Times called it “lethally intelligent” while Cusk, herself, has said she finds fiction “fake and embarrassing” and plotting and character creation “utterly ridiculous.” I suppose this is the answer. Maybe, stop writing novels? Then you’d need not be embarrassed, faking it, as it were, and bothered by the utterly ridiculous requirements of your art, turning out this sort of soporific, self-indulgent twaddle that — once again — fools the literati into drooling, “Oh, how marvelous and new!” Well, wait, there wouldn’t be that exclamation point, would there, because the literati are all too jaded and faux-sophisticated for that sort of excitement. Jeesh, give me a break.

Hmmm … my curmudgeon is coming out. Apologies. Tamir Rice, my heart is breaking for him and his family and this world in which life is so cheap and genocide is an accepted-law-enforcement practice. I’ve read twelve books in December and made 112 dozen cookies and been to the chiropractor three times and gained ten pounds and cleaned up many piles of dog-doo-doo and slept in multiple beds not my own (and none of that for fun) and realized that I am in the bottom 20% of median-income and had to deal with the bodycast of family expectations and prejudices and need to come up with $600 for Mom-reasons real fast and my car is falling apart — literally, the bottom seems to be falling out — and has been keyed — the driver’s side is like a grid of scratchmarks — and I’m having very strange dreams about a fellow and woman, both long out of my life, but who seem determined to torture me in my dreams.

So, grouchy. So, here I am, leaving you alone, going.

Reading: Fates and Furies (and a few others)

Recent current events have me hiding away, a mountain-top(ish) house and pet sitting gig, where I’ve been on a double binge: Reading and Eating. I’ll spare you the details of my Pepperidge Farm Cookie gluttony (they were on sale, 2 for $5) and crackhead like inhalation of Lindt Lindor Milk Chocolate Truffles (honestly, my desperate chomping was Dickensian in its desperation) and stick to the books. Life, as a rule, would always be better if I would just stick to the damn books.

RAZZLE DAZZLE: THE BATTLE FOR BROADWAY, Michael Riedel, Simon & Schuster, 2015, 464pp

razzle dazzleSaw this in the New Releases section at the library and hesitated. In that fantasy world in which I live where I am pals with Broadway types, I recalled something about theatre-folk not caring for Riedel and, not wanting to be disloyal to my imaginary friends, I was going to pass. Then, I remembered he had been on the late, lamented (by me, at least) Smash, and so, I decided that if Megan Hilty, Wes Taylor, Christian Borle, Andy Mientus, and Jeremy Jordan agreed to appear in the same show as had he, I’d be forgiven for reading his book.

I’m a sucker for Broadway stories, gossip, and history. A book that gives me backstory on the Shubert and Nederlander dynasties, Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, Michael Bennett, Hal Prince, Tommy Tune, Stephen Sondheim, and on and on and others and the history of Mack & Mabel – which was my first and finest flop-love as a child-theatre-fanatic; well — it’s a book I’m going to devour. Was it well written or insightful or particularly riveting? Probably not. And, this sentence on page 389: “He looked passed the decay and saw the former grandeur.” Passed? Really? It is this sort of thing that makes me scoff and sniff with unearned superiority. I mean, granted, my blog entries are rife with errors – but I write these in about 60 minutes, tops, and I do NOT have a copy editor (more is the pity).

THE TROUBLE IN ME, Jack Gantos, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015, 224pp

the-trouble-in-me-jack-gantosMy YA read for the week, also a library hold, recommended by one or another book blogger I follow – I cannot remember. In this, a pyromaniac in training hooks up with the wrong kind of kid, starts his training for what will eventually be prison. This is an autobiographical tale made fiction. I’m not in the business of denigrating someone’s life story. It was a fast read. I wasn’t much moved. I didn’t much get the point. I grow weary of first person, self-consciously hip narrators in the YA catalogue.

THE LIBRARY AT MOUNT CHAR, Scott Hawkins, Crown, 2015, 388pp

library at mount charThis was recommended by the Gilmore Guide to Books blog. No, not recommended, RAVED about. Listen:

Bottom line? The Library at Mount Char is the answer to every booklover’s prayer that they have not already read everything new under the sun, because there is nothing like this book. It is that ingenious in its premise and execution. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but oh, I loved this book.

It qualifies as Science Fiction (according to the library, from which I got my copy) and I am, admittedly, not a huge Science Fiction fan. Still, I am determined to read across genres, to experience the best of all worlds. I did find this book interesting for about three-quarters of its length. Then, I started feeling the dreaded “let’s finish it in a way that allows for a sequel” sort of writing. Not a fan. Especially not a fan when what feels like a carefully constructed and elaborately designed universe, and its main characters, suddenly become someones other than who they have been for the first three-quarters of the book. What I considered to be the false, unbelievable softening of the Carolyn and Father figures, and the weirding of the Steve character, ruined it for me.

FATES AND FURIES, Lauren Groff, Riverhead Books, 2015, 392pp

fates and furiesI’ve been burnt by believing hype about hot books more than a few times lately, so, when people kept telling me how great this book was, when it was given such rave reviews, when the Twitter-literati poured on the praise, I thought, “I just won’t ever get around to reading it and thus, I can avoid all the trauma and self-doubt I experience when I don’t love a book as much as my Twitter-idols and vast and sundry of the literary and intellectual elite do.”

But, there it was at the library. DAMN THE LIBRARY!

I agree that Lauren Groff is a marvelous writer. There were many beautiful passages and images in the novel. Her sentences are artfully constructed, measured and rhythmic, striking. Listen:

Denton Thrasher gathered Lotto in his arms and wiped his face with the hem of his pajama top, revealing a furry white belly, and Lotto was rocked on the edge of the stage, smelling witch hazel and Listerine and pajamas worn too many times between washes.

The next paragraph — the next few pages are as — maybe even more — luxurious of image and insight, including this:

He reached out a hand to Lotto’s shoulder and patted him until he calmed. It felt as if they’d crossed a bridge a second before it collapsed.

Holy Proust — and we are only on page 30-31. Page 43, then:

In twenty years, they’d have country houses and children with pretentious literary names and tennis lessons and ugly cars and liaisons with hot young interns. Hurricanes of entitlement, all swirl and noise and destruction, nothing at their centers.

So much good, there. So much. And 62:

‘Don’t know,’ Mathilde said. ‘I can’t tell if you’re benign or malignant. But I feel like I could tell you all my secrets right now and you’d keep them to yourself, waiting for when best to deploy them.’

That is a holy shit line in and of itself, but when you get to the second half of the book, it becomes even more-so. Holier. And, too, shittier. Which sort of sums up the trick Ms. Groff pulls off so neatly with a finesse and elegance of technique one cannot help but admire.

Fates and Furies is the story of a marriage told from the perspective first of the husband, Lancelot, or, Lotto, and then, the wife, Mathilde. They are both despicable. And both entirely lovable.

For me, however, Mathilde was far more interesting and so, that more than the first half of the novel was from Lotto’s perspective was disappointing. On page 312 it is lamented that Volumnia of Coriolanus is far more interesting than the title character, but nobody would go see a play called Volumnia. Perhaps, but I don’t think many readers would have objected to this novel being more Mathilde than it was.

Nonetheless, this book does very well that illumination of the contours and landscape of a life, a real life, a real human, shaped, formed, worn into who and what they are by long, slow accumulation of forces, storms, shifts, disappointments, joys, truths, lies, drips, drops, daily, daily, daily waiting and wanting, so much of it subterranean, unseen, never understood even by those one stands beside, sleeps beside, dies beside. Love and contempt cohabit so often in such intimate proximity, the line between the two sometimes imperceptible, concern and care crossing so easily into contempt and cruelty. Yet, even so, still, there can be love, deep, abiding, horrifyingly strong and terrifying and comforting and confusing and irreconcilable love.

Fates and Furies tells such a huge story, a love that is also a hate, mythological, classic (even an omniscient narrator speaking to us in bracketed asides) and writ large on lives rather small, spirits and souls rather petty.

I liked it very much. Did I five-star it like this year’s Did You Ever Have a Family and Everything I Never Told You? No. But, it was as close as I’ve come in a while and for that — and for it NOT being another hot, new read that I was forced to throw across the room — I am grateful.

clegg, did you everEverything I Never Told You

 

 

 

 

 

Reading: Bobby Wonderful by Bob Morris

bobby wonderful

Click on cover for more information

Bobby Wonderful: An Imperfect Son Buries His Parents, Bob Morris, Twelve Books, 2015, 177pp

Not sure if it’s a sign of the ruling cultural demographic of aging Boomers and GenX-ers or my own myopic obsession, but Bobby Wonderful is the third book I have read since March in a genre dedicated to ruminations on the care and maintenance of aging parents.

The first was Bettyville by George Hodgman, which I very much loved. [Click here to read about it.] And the second, more recently read in preparation for an operation the doctors had indicated could very well be the end of my mother, was Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, which I found to be revelatory and inspiring and terrifying. [Click here to read about it.]

While Bettyville and Being Mortal were very different, they had in common an inspirational reaching; while both authors reflected on their own journey during their parent’s illness, the primary thrust and concern was focused on finding peace with the wishes of those being cared for, a way of transitioning roles that granted everyone agency, dignity, acknowledgment, and a final understanding and acceptance. There was a great deal of becoming a new “we” in both.

In Bobby Wonderful, there is much less of that. It is more an “I” story in which he admits he was not, perhaps, the ideal caretaker. I never felt as if I knew Bobby, his partner, his brother, his parents, his cousin, in the way I came to know the people in Bettyville and Being Mortal, both of which resonated for me, touched on my own experiences. Bobby Wonderful did not give me that feeling of connection. His experience had none of the echoes or colors, did not move me as did those others — there seemed a distance between the experience and the author, a chasm he wasn’t willing to explore or cross, a sense that the author prefers living life at a certain remove.

I am sure the experience was profound and life-altering for him, but in this book, it feels as if he didn’t really want to go to those places, rather, he just skimmed them, described their shape, but left out the soul.

And while I am sure he is a wonderful man, a man who loved much and was much loved in return, we didn’t really get to see that here. So, I would have to give this one a pass.