Thursday, January 19, 2017

Flynn Backward and Forward

I just finished reading two novels back to back by Gillian Flynn, second novel first and first novel second. These, like her third novel, Gone Girl, which I have not read, though I did see the film, are mystery novels done in admirable literary style, and therefore a step above and outside the genre from which they sprout.

Honestly, I have always been mystified by mysteries, whether in novel form or film, usually needing to ask my wife what happened when the story concludes, but in the case of these two novels, I followed along just fine, even through to the unexpected ending in each. Now, whether someone like my wife could have had the whole thing figured out before the end, I can’t say – although I will say that I doubt it.

Gillian’s second novel, Dark Places, shows a very fine hand indeed in the creation of story and character and meaning. Who killed the Day family, save for one daughter? Was it the older brother? Was it the estranged, low-life ex-husband? Or was it someone else altogether?

Libby Day, the surviving daughter, who for 25 years has been living on the dwindling proceeds from the fame resulting after her personal tragedy, must finally find a way to exist without the sympathy funds, and must also find, in her own person, the means of dealing with the past, even understanding the past – what really happened. Although brother Ben has been imprisoned for the murders, questions persist, and a sort of lurid fan club of followers champion the case for his release. They provide Libby with what she needs in the short term – money – in exchange for the entry that only she can provide into the minds of people directly involved – father, brother, friends, girlfriends – and, in the longer term, the only thing that can really release her from her tragedy and allow her to go forward. Resolution.

Only 7 at the time of the murders, it turns out that there were very many things indeed that Libby did not know, just as there are very many things, even as adults, that we do not know or even suspect about other people, even those close to us. As she peers into those dark places, the story takes some very dark turns, winding into a twisted world of drugs, satanic worship, ritual killings, sexual perplexity, adolescent angst, adult desperation. Life is much more complicated than she imagined – just as complicated as an unsolved murder.

Dark Places is a richly done, complex novel accomplished with style and sureness, securing a place for Flynn, in my opinion, among the best practitioners.

What struck me most of all about Flynn’s first novel, Sharp Objects, was the imprint of her voice, flinging one sharp, sometimes jarring, awakening phrase after another upon the pages like speckles of bright paint, causing the mind to gasp, Oh! again and again. Damn, I wish I’d said that! I had not seen a voice as authentic as hers in a good long while. It almost made me want to try my own hand again. These are words that leap off the page and bump about in the brain, bright and exact.

Again, Sharp Objects is a mystery, and, as one might expect, it is a bit less accomplished on a literary level than Dark Places. One glimpses the sharp editorial blade here and there, the safe play. Nonetheless, Flynn announces her presence in this first outing as a writer to eagerly follow. Again, we find ourselves immersed in the unexpected, the unknown, a stream much swifter and deeper than it had appeared to be. Secret currents tug, the long grasses of perverse lies twine unseen about ones ankles beneath the surface. It is a theme which seems a favorite for Flynn. All the things we did not know – the very things that explain us.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Open and Shut

I read an interesting thing recently about a curious human behavior. It seems that when we walk through a doorway, especially in our own homes, we tend to forget why we walked through the doorway to begin with. Let us say that you are in the living room and you realize that you've forgotten to pick up your keys from the table in the bedroom. Therefore, you go to retrieve yours keys, but upon passing through the bedroom door, you straightaway forget why you're in the bedroom. You stand there trying to remember why you're standing there, and then you go about your business until you remember your keys again, which is probably about the time you try to lock the front door behind you. Now, this happens to me all the time, in one manifestation or another, and so I find it to be a great relief to know that the problem is not with my brain, but with doorways. Therefore, if I ever design a house for my personal use, it will be one without doors or ways. This might be a bit problematic, when it comes to bathrooms, for instance, but then one is not really very likely to forget what he is doing in the bathroom. And besides that, it is not very likely that anyone will want to live with me in my doorless, wayless house anyway. Which itself would probably make life less complicated for all.

Movie Marathon

In this age of zombie overkill (so to speak), The Girl With All the Gifts actually gives us something to think about, other than blood and guts, I mean. This movie is from a novel and has a feel of the greater depth that is likely found in the novel, which I have not yet read, but would like to after seeing the film. To be fair to zombies, these creatures in the story are not exactly zombies. Rather, they would seem to be victims of a very contagious disease which is contracted after being bit by someone who already has the disease. So, close enough. But there’s more. Children appear to suffer from a second, separate stage of the disease wherein they, unlike the adult victims, are still able to think and speak. They are also immune to attack from other zombies because they have already been bitten and already carry the disease. In other words, the adult zombies have no taste for the infected children, even though, by appearances, they are still human. On the other hand, the children do have a taste for untainted flesh. So … what is deadly may come in a pleasing package. What is deadly may not intend, in itself, to be deadly. It has a soul. It also has an appetite. The child is both the cure and the disease. It is our hope, and it is our death. So, you see, interesting. I think I saw the novel in Periplus, so I’ll say more later.

Moonlight, which was nominated for a Golden Globe award, is a whole nuther critter. This is a deeply felt, very finely acted story about growing up male / growing up black / growing up human on the mean streets of America. It is about how important is to have someone when you have no one. It is about the relationship between love and cruelty, and how the two can go hand in hand. The film work in this movie is amazing, addictive. I would watch it again just for the fine points on that count.

Lastly, we have Fences, with Denzel Washington. Denzel does a great job in this play brought to the big screen, as do all the supporting actors. Although the story is somewhat derivative, it draws on age-old themes and re-presents conflicts that we all experience in our own times and settings, and does nicely in making these themes universal rather than racial. To be sure, the characters are black and the frame of reference often pertains to the black experience, but, on the wide view, we are looking at the life of any human in any family – that universal condition which William Faulkner so ably summed up in his own Nobel Prize speech. This movie is more accessible than Moonlight, though not as good. Still, it is well worth seeing.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Cold Pills

The employees at Kimia can be annoying, especially when one is not feeling very well. I wanted to get cold pills and some of those vitamin C tablets that dissolve in water.

Jadi, saya minta:

Aku mau vitamin C itu yang ditaruh dalam air.

Oh, ada yang lebih bagus, Pak. Ini.

The woman steers me to another aisle and hands me a bottle of pills.

Kenapa lehih bagus?

Karena pil-pil ini tidak akan ganggu perut bapak.

Oh ya? Berapa harganya?

Seratus lima puluh ribu.

Hah! Perut saya udah diganggu!


Terlalu mahal, mbak. Aku mau yang ditaruh ...

Oh, ada lain, Pak. Promosi!

Another bottle of pills.

Berapa harganya?

Hanya seratus dua puluh ribu. Bagus ya Pak?

Tidak. Tidak bagus. Aku mau yang ditaruh dalam air. Rasanya seperti jeruk.

Tahu-tahu kecewa. Senyumnya lenyap.


Berapa harganya?

Tiga puluh.

Yeah. More like it. I'm sorry, but honestly, I don't believe that vitamin C helps anything. I just like the fizzy tablets. And they taste good. And I'm sure that vitamin pills that cost more than 100000 rupiah would make me feel worse. 😐

Thursday, December 22, 2016

One Xmas Night

Walking down to Toko Nadia this night, wrapped in a rare swirl of wind, I happened to find myself swept away by an Oregon winter, a Christmas night. It had been snowing for some days and the snow was still coming down, dancing rather than falling, billowing like bedsheets, breathing in and then roaring forth like a gang of excited, unruly children, spilling into the yards and along the icy curbing strips and up against the houses and the huddling gables all bedecked with twinkling lights which shuddered to stay warm in the night's icy grip, the very air so cold that it seemed about to shatter and fling all the world in abbreviated pieces to same caprice that ruled the swirling flakes of snow. My son was 12, I think. I must have been 30-something, and I had had too much to drink that night. We took our walk, as we always did. We never missed our evening walk. He walked slowly, always the careful one, clutching trees wherever possible. The whiskey and I skated and spun and tumbled in the glimmering ice where tire tracks had packed down the snow during the day. I was laughing. It was Christmas. I was warm inside and falling felt good. And I was as padded as a fat bear in my two coats and gloves and wool scarf and stocking hat, and as white as a polar bear after my first couple rolls in the clinging snow. Everything was quiet, no traffic was moving, the falling snow whispered a long, great, fluent, urgent, endless secret in our frost stung ears. Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy. Those are secrets that you only hear at such times as these. Those are the whispers you remember forever.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry

Another fine novel by Swedish writer Fredrik Backman, author of A Man Called Ove. Like Ove, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry is a tender-hearted story of human relationships, human foibles, and the common compassion of the human heart in its will to fashion and facilitate community despite the challenges faced in life and the differences in experience and personality. We are ultimately one people and most fully ourselves when we are able to comprehend the other. Told from the viewpoint of a precocious, "different" child of 7 almost 8 eight years of age, this novel is packed with intelligent humor and the disarming wisdom of simplicity. A highly recommended joy to read.

Monday, December 12, 2016


A news article on Facebook today asks "Where's the Outrage?", with reference to the findings of Russian manipulation of the American election process. The answer is that it has been there all along. I have been outraged for months on end, as have well more than half the American voters, at the lies, at the insults, at the hatred, at the stupidity, at the sexual assaults, at the bigotry, at the selection of a cabinet stuffed with racists and lobbyists and billionaires and Wall Street elites and neo-Nazis and white supremacists and misogynists and war mongers, and Islamophobes and conspiracy theory nutcases and so on ad infinitum. For those of us who stood against this absolute lunatic, the outrage has stalked us day after day, always  present, always near the boiling point, interrupting sleep, darkening dreams. At the same time, outrage is conspicuously absent in the other half of our population - those who would make American great again by calling every truth a lie, by bowing to a Russian dictator. There is no limit. Common reasoning is destroyed. They have made Trump the man Trump the god, and I fear that our country is quite irreversibly undone.