Thursday, December 10, 2009

Where've you been?

1.Watching the Yankees win another World Series.
Congratulations to Derek Jeter. Nuts to the rest of ya.

2.Dealing with matters not germane to this blog.

3.Barely reading.
This is just the pits, man.

4.Watching horror movies.
I misspent most of my adolescence at the drive-in, watching DePalma and Cronenberg and John Carpenter flicks, and all the god-awful slasher-trash on the bottom half of those double features, and I still favor horror movies over any other genre; I do.

Quick, which do you remember: Jane Fonda’s lauded performance in Coming Home, or Sissy Spacek (or Piper Laurie!) in Carrie?

I watched twenty-odd recent horror flicks over the past couple months, and I’d re-watch the least of them before subjecting myself to Funny People again.

Here’s two I can recommend without much qualification:

The House of the Devil would have fit right in at the Drive-In Algiers in 1979. Pretty girl wanders alone through creepy house. Perfect, right through the end credits.

Also features a nice turn by Greta Gerwig, the star of many of the films from the oft-reviled "Mumblecore" scene (i.e. Hannah Takes The Stairs, Baghead). She has the P.J. Soles role here, and makes the line "I had to, like, look at a map" a lot funnier than it has any right to be. (She co-stars with Ben Stiller in Noah Baumbach's (The Squid and The Whale, Margot At The Wedding) next movie.)

The online review that convinced me to watch Grace assured readers that, whatever they believed in, the movie was against it.

I have nothing to add.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Honey In His Mouth

One of the first stories I can remember being crazy for -- reading over and over -- was in an issue of a ‘70s Marvel Comics horror/suspense/EC Comics knock-off anthology comic book (to come up with the title, I’d have to go digging through the boxes of comics in my mom’s basement to find it, and that way lies madness).

Set on Devil’s Island, it was the story of one prisoner’s single-minded determination to escape. None of Papillon’s nobility for this guy: he screws over everyone to have his chance. In the end, justice is served, to put it mildly.

I hadn’t realized I’d been looking high and low for a final wallop with the same distinct flavor as that one until I ran across Honey In His Mouth, the Lester Dent novel that Hard Case Crime prized from oblivion this summer.

This book -- especially its ending -- made the seven-year old in me very, very happy.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Double Feature

The ad campaign for Body of Lies made it look like a technothriller, but it’s not. The failure of technology to deliver on its promises in the War on Terror is one of the movie’s themes: “They’ve figured out they’re fighting an enemy from the future,” as a character nicely puts it. The interrogation methods of the CIA are treated glancingly as well --just enough to leave a chill --and the interagency rivalries, and then the story quickly gets down to the real business of espionage: the care and feeding of cat’s paws. This is a good one.

Blindness is a zombie story without the zombies. If you’ve ever doubted the need for zombies, for the distance they allow, watch this film. It is slightly easier to take than Spike Lee’s When The Levees Broke.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dragons On The Cover

I haven’t read Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, but I’ve read a lot about it, most written by people who’ve never before stooped to write a word about a private eye novel.

Once stooped, they figure, why not add some heavy lifting to the enterprise, and cut loose on the meanings of genre fiction?

This is all fine and well. I enjoy highbrow mucking-about in popular culture as much as any middlebrow does -- maybe more.

However, at the risk of sounding like a teenaged hard-SF fan whose aunt buys him books with dragons on the cover…I say, friends, please: I wouldn’t come to your party and throw around “allusion” and “metaphor” as if they were one and the same.

You’ve guessed it. I’m on about this again.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Relationship in Three Lines: Motherly-Love Edition

"Ruby still cared very much about Richard. But she cared for Richard the way she would have cared for a mangled toe. She had no high expectations for what it could do, but it still hurt like crazy, so there was no question that it belonged to her."

--from Runner by Thomas Perry

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Summer Reading

READ (Hard Case Crime catch-up edition):

Casino Moon, Peter Blauner;
Passport To Peril, Robert B. Parker;
Straight Cut, Madison Smartt Bell;
Say It With Bullets, Richard Powell;
No House Limit, Steve Fisher

JUST PURCHASED (Nightmare-Inducing Edition):

A Swell-Looking Babe, Jim Thompson (Creative Arts/Black Lizard);
Delay, Tim Krabbe’;
The Widow, Georges Simenon;
Pariah, Dave Zeltserman;
Bury Me Deep, Megan Abbott

(all purchased at the great Magers & Quinn Booksellers in uptown Minneapolis)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

1 2 3

I will see the remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 when it hits theaters, but only because I have little choice in the matter:

I love American movies, and I’m an adult: therefore, Denzel Washington is my movie star.

(Name another American movie star for adults…Clint Eastwood; George Clooney; possibly, some year soon, with a little more practice, Angelina Jolie.)

I fully expect that, with the exception of Denzel Washington’s performance, everything about this remake will stink.

What I am excited about, though, is that the movie landed a brand new edition of the John Godey novel in paperback racks nationwide. I’ve probably seen the original, Walter Matthau/Robert Shaw movie a dozen times, but I’ve never read the book.

I expect the novel will read much as the first movie played, as a sterling example of the sort of storytelling -- brisk and efficient, but filled with character -- that Americans, in particular, excelled at, right up into the 1970s: stories that could be moved from page to screen to radio play to stage, without losing a step.

Easy as…well, you know.

Monday, May 11, 2009

I'm Not Alone, I'm Not Alone

“Here, in other words, is a long-range backstory—a device that, in…recent times, has grown from an option to a fetish…In all narratives, there is a beauty to the merely given, as the narrator does us the honor of trusting that we will take it for granted. Conversely, there is something offensive in the implication that we might resent that pact, and, like plaintive children, demand to have everything explained.”

---Anthony Lane (in this week’s New Yorker)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Read, etc.

Never finished: Bandits, Elmore Leonard

If I take a book on vacation and don’t finish it during the trip, I’m never gonna finish it. Don’t know why. Sorry, Elmore.

Read: Lush Life, Richard Price

I hadn’t read Price in decades. This was great. No heroes, no villains, apt title.

Bought: the first six Richard Stark reissues from University of Chicago Press

--but only five shipped. Where’s The Jugger? Don’t make me ask again.

Reading: Casino Moon, Peter Blauner

You know how I always complain about writers changing-up between first- and third-person in the course of a book, and how much I hate it? Blauner does that here, but -- this is crucial -- he’s good enough to get away with it. Better than good enough. Recommended.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit

Well, this is just ridiculous:

Detroit Noir contributor Michael Zadoorian, who just last month slapped the world around with his second novel, The Leisure Seeker, has a short-story collection, The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit, available today from Wayne State University Press.

Apparently, Zadoorian has decided to challenge fellow Detroit Noir contributor Joyce Carol Oates in some kind of Sheer Output Competition, or something...

(Michael wrote a new short story while I was typing the previous sentence.)

But, seriously...

Detroit's in the news much of late, but it's the same old story, snippets of Barry Gordy hits over footage of shuttered factories. Get the real news from Michael, a fine writer worthy of your attention.

Friday, April 10, 2009

"A Visit From The Footbinder," Emily Prager

The hideous cover of this short story collection really stood out when I first saw it in the paperback rack of a small-town pharmacy in 1984. No fourth-rate Carver wannabe stories in here, it fairly screamed. Emily Prager’s cv -- fashion model and National Lampoon staffer -- closed the sale.

The short stories and novella collected herein are mostly along the lines of what I’d been hoping for when I bought the book: the kind of anti-authoritarian comedy and tone the best Lampoon short stories offered, but more expansive and lyrical, on a more personal level. And genuinely transgressive where the lesser Lampoon stuff was merely gross.

Nothing prepared me for the title story, though, and I’ve never gotten over it.

“A Visit From The Footbinder” has the power and menace and simplicity of style of a great folk tale. As far as I know, it hasn’t been anthologized and taught in college. It should be. If you haven’t read it, track it down.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Beauty Products

When the guy on the next barstool tells you a story, he starts at the beginning, hits stride in the middle, and has a big finish waiting at the end. If he started in the middle and backtracked to the beginning, you’d drift away and start counting the swizzlesticks, or something. He understands this: Why have professional storytellers forgotten it? Or has it become irredeemably square to tell a story in a linear fashion? I’m not arguing that every story needs to be linear, but I find it annoying that so many books and films are now burdened with flashbacks and fractured time frames that add nothing to the story. Today’s filmmaker, handed the script for “Gunga Din,” would no doubt turn in something resembling “Rashomon.”

Last year, I enjoyed and admired “Michael Clayton,” but questioned the need to open the film with a scene replayed near the end. Did writer/director Tony Gilroy fear he’d lose the audience if something didn’t blow up real good right after the opening credits? As it turns out, Gilroy was just getting warmed up. His new film, “Duplicity,” keeps interrupting itself for flashbacks that are meant to deepen the intrigue, but serve only to push the movie’s running time past the two-hour mark. (My dismay increased every time some variation of LISBON: 6 MONTHS AGO flashed on screen.) At ninety minutes, you might’ve enjoyed a timely update of screwball comedy; at two hours plus, this strange mash-up of “Last Year At Marienbad” and a caper film exhausts the audience’s good will.

Then again, perhaps I’m too focused on a pet peeve, and being too hard on Gilroy, and the real problem with “Duplicity” is that the genre setting it shares with “Michael Clayton” -- the world of corporate espionage -- simply feels inconsequential when the stakes are less than mortal. The whole sub-genre of the corporate-espionage tale may well be played out, frankly. Seeing Cold War tradecraft employed in this manner has begun to seem (to me, anyway) reductive and banal. In the novels of John LeCarre, for instance, when Smiley and Karla spar, it’s thrilling and awful, and there is the spectre of a mushroom cloud in the air. Gilroy is smart and skillful, and he can get you just as excited about beauty products -- but he lets the film drag on long enough that you have time to remind yourself: They’re beauty products.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Been Away.

Back now. Post soon.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Logrolling In Our Time

Fellow Detroit Noir contributor Michael Zadoorian is getting a lot of ink for his new novel, The Leisure Seeker. I haven't read it yet -- the subject matter is too close to my current life -- but you should pick it up immediately. The most recent rave is from the L.A. Times.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

El Wah *

The last time it was so cold for so long here in the Detroit area had to be winter ’93-’94. I was living in a tiny second-floor room above a hair salon in a house in downtown Ann Arbor. I’d just moved to town and had no money, few friends, and a research lab job with no fixed schedule. The week the deep freeze really hit, I did what I only wish I could do this year: I did not leave home.

It was the only thing to do. Going to work meant a twenty-minute walk, and the mean temperature during that week was below zero Fahrenheit. Not life-threatening for a block-long jaunt to, say, the party store (cigarettes, beer, cold cuts, canned soup) or the library (getting to this in a second) -- but obviously lethal, I was certain, for any greater distances.

I used the time well. I hauled James Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet home from the library. The Black Dahlia. The Big Nowhere. L.A. Confidential. White Jazz. And read All of it.

If you’ve read any Ellroy, you might question the wisdom of attempting to read over a thousand pages of his machine-gun prose over five days’ time while snowbound. Well, good call, neighbor. (I hasten to add that I’d never read anything by him before.) I read all day every day. I read most of the night. I read while sober, while half-bombed, while hung over. I slept fitfully. The trapped odor from the permanents being administered downstairs crept up through the vents. I upset furniture. I stopped using articles when I spoke. I jolted awake from catnaps and re-read entire chapters, convinced I’d been hallucinating.

It was great.

As I neared the final pages of White Jazz, we had a freak thaw -- a day in the mid fifties. All that ice became water, rushed through the streets with nowhere to go. Knee-high geysers over the gutter drains.

It was beautiful.

Now I’m finally reading American Tabloid. I’ve put off reading this book since it was published, in 1995, and put off reading The Cold Six Thousand since it was published, in 2001, because they are the first two books of Ellroy’s Underworld USA Trilogy, and I’ve heard over and over, through the years, that the final volume was nowhere on the horizon, and I finally tired of making due with one of his earlier potboilers or later miscellanies once a year or so, holding out hope that I could someday read all three books of his Magnum Opus on a bender, as I’d done with the L.A. Quartet.

I’m not even reading my own copy. I was, once again, in a library, during a cold snap, saw Ellroy on display, and pounced. My iced-in nostalgia was running high; Ellroy’s not getting any younger; neither am I. “If the trilogy is never finished,” I thought, “at least I'll have read the first two books.”

Kizmet. What I discovered yesterday is that the final book, Blood’s A Rover, has a publication date of September 15th, 2009.

Is this old news? At least now I can read American Tabloid and The Cold Six Thousand without the nagging fear -- and at a normal, middle-aged-human pace....

Eh. We’ll see about that.

*"El Wah” is a joke from that Ann Arbor cold snap/L.A. Quartet week, and probably only funny if you’re housebound in or near Canada, living on Campbell’s and Old Milwaukee, and reading so much your eyes feel like they’re bleeding.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Friday's Forgotten Book: Lucky Bastard

Charles McCarry’s Lucky Bastard never made it into paperback, and it’s yet to be reprinted by Overlook Press, the house that’s brought most of his earlier books back into print. The Random House first edition (from 1998) is an ugly-looking book: the wrap is an inch undersized, revealing the topmost of a series of Kennedy half-dollars tumbling down the front and back of the boards. (It’s like a hardcover version of those hideous peek-a-boo mass market covers.)

Loathsome appearance aside, the novel had the misfortune of being pegged in reviews as a satire of the Clinton journey to the White House, and one that appeared a full two years after Joe Klein’s Primary Colors -- a reductive assessment that no doubt played a part in the book now qualifying as forgotten.

Klein’s roman à clef is knowing and funny; McCarry’s novel is a brazen fantasia, but one grounded, nevertheless, in what feel like political realities that any sane American would wish to be able to dismiss as pure fantasy. Difficult as it may be, even now, not to view the story of James Fitzgerald Adams and his wife, Morgan -- chosen during their college years by a rogue KGB mastermind to be future residents of the White House -- through the prism of the Clintons, it’s worth the effort. The story is bigger than that. As narrated by their soulful Russian handler, it’s a beautiful piece of writing, and reading it may leave you giddy.

for all of Friday's Forgotten Books, see Patti Abbott's blog.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Donald E. Westlake (1933-2008)

Westlake made my other favorite writers look like oafs.