In Over My Head
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Organize Your Corpses (Death is never tidy) by Mary Jane Maffini sounded amusing. The cover announces "Organizing tips included!". The author is described as "a lapsed librarian, a former mystery bookseller, and a previous president of Crime Writers of Canada. In addition to creating the Charlotte Adams series, she is the author of the Camilla MacPhee Mysteries, the Fiona Silk series, and nearly two dozen mystery short stories. She has won two Arthur Ellis awards for short fiction, and "The Dead Don't Get Out Much", her latest Camilla MacPhee Mystery, was nominated for a Barry Award in 2006." So it should be good, right? Maybe it is. I just don't like it myself. Obviously the failure is mine. I'm part-way through chapter five and I'll tell you where I have problems with this book.
Have you seen the old television program "Gilmore Girls"? I found that program incredibly annoying for it's too rapid-fire, too smart-alecky dialogue. Organize Your Corpses echoes the style. Now, my daughter loved Gilmore Girls and she's no fool, so maybe it's the generation gap - perhaps I'm just too old, stodgy and witless.
I find the book over-written and under-edited. The author seems to be unduly hasty in revealing her characters and they're a well-worn cast of cliches. They all need killing. (Just like the Gilmore Girls). After about one chapter it felt like I was laboring over a tough steak, ruminating on an excess of adjectives and adverbs. Mary Jane Maffini's phones 'scream' and 'trill'. Her characters 'squeal' and 'shriek'. The situation is 'craptacular.'
But wait a minute! I just scanned the pages quickly to remind myself of those little gems. It's not so bad if you read it fast enough!
Don't write this book off based on my comments. That wouldn't be fair to the author. Perhaps I should put it aside for another day.
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Bad PoetryI found a torn piece of foolscap when I was cleaning today. (It's obviously a long time since I tidied in that particular area!) Back in my daughter's high school years, I recall she had an assignment to write a poem patterned on the style of Frost's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening". I always enjoyed assignments of this type... Okay, I'm not delusional - this is pretty bad. I had fun with it though and so I fished it back out of the wastebasket for one last airing:
That chicken looked a little pink
Maybe undercooked - ya think?
I have to make up some excuse
Salmonella sure would stink.
I'll stall for time and sip some juice
I'm sweating now, and it's profuse
I've got to think up some good lie
A ploy, a trick, or clever ruse.
Dessert is coming - apple pie
But instinct tells me, "say goodbye"
I don't need to tell them why
I don't need to tell them why.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Sunday Salon - January 20
I've just picked up "The End of the Alphabet", by C.S. Richardson - haven't read very much yet, but it's a lovely, 'neat' little book which I find very pleasing aesthetically.
The central characters are Ambrose Zephyr and his wife Zappora (Zipper) Ashkenazi. I like that - A.Z. and Z.A. The little I've read thus far describes the civilized, restrained, perfected life that Ambrose and Zappora have been living. Sadly, we discover that Ambrose has but a month to live, "give or take a day"...
Ten p.m: I finished the book and a few jobs as well. The book is so short - a hundred, thirty-nine pages and some of those quite abbreviated. Lovely little book, I'm still digesting it...
Ambrose has lived a somewhat mundane life, but we discover that he has a spark of creativity. His last month is a 'flame-out', the last flashes of brilliance left in his fire. He's had a life-long fixation on the alphabet and when faced with death he feels suddenly driven to make one last race through Amsterdam, Berlin, Chartres, Deauville. In Amsterdam Zipper buys a small journal which the book itself seems to illustrate. The description of her journal coincides nicely with the cover of the book. The quality of the book paper seems 'just so' and even the occasionally nearly-blank page evokes Zipper's journal. Her journal remains untouched until the last page of the book.
Ambrose adjusted his itinerary for his wife's sake, settling for "E, for Eiffel Tower" instead of his planned Elba. Next is Florence, then Gaza. "H" and "I" are turning points - Ambrose and Zipper return home to England and the alphabet is completed there.
This one deserves to be read again I think. The writing is elegant and subtle. I read slowly, carefully and yet I feel certain that there must be something I've missed. It's that good.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Indelicate Sunday Salon - January 13, 2008My daughter checked my Amazon wish list before Christmas and chose three books for me... I'd forgotten that I had a wish list at Amazon dot COM since I've been using Amazon dot CA exclusively of late. It was a long time since I'd looked at the dot com list so on Christmas day when I unwrapped this book my jaw went slack. I'd completely forgotten. I suppose it's good that I did because it was the perfect present, one that I would never buy for myself. I mean, I was interested alright, but I wouldn't have wanted anyone to see me looking at it...
I've always been drawn to things Jewish - felt a connection somehow. Both my grandmother and great-grandmother were Esthers...maybe somebody forgot to tell me?... (Quite honestly, I don't think so, but I told my daughter that she can count on me to convert if she finds the perfect Jewish fiance and needs a Jewish mother to 'seal the deal'.) I came across a review of this book somewhere (probably Debra's blog again) ages ago and absent-mindedly put it on the 'to buy' list. I understood it to be a 'slice' (gasping for breath at my own highly-evolved sense of humour...) of Orthodox Jewish culture.
The first thing to surprise me was the author's photograph. I expected a nerd and instead found myself looking at Mr. Intensity, a stereotypical football tackle. The next revelation was that Jewish people are not all perfect parents. (I had thought they might be.)
The book troubles me though. The author, Shalom Auslander, seems to be a very hurt, angry man. I don't think this is going to help him at all. I imagine it will cause grief to his family and it's not helping Jews much either.
I think Shalom has increased my understanding of the Jewish experience and I may withdraw that offer to my daughter... It strikes me that these wonderful people are slaves to history - haunted by it, hating it, and yet clinging to it. The group I've been reading about seem to fasten a ball-and-chain around each new infant's leg, expecting the child to abandon any hope for joy. It's no way to live. Shalom's stories about his family are heartbreaking. He's got good reason to complain. And yet...and yet...
Shalom, Let it go! I know you're hurt. Believe me, a painful childhood is not a unique experience. You're an adult now and you can't continue to rail against your family forever. Your mother and father were responsible for you when you were a child and they failed you. But how long are you going to hate them for their frailty? Let it go! I'll tell you what's worked for me: Look at your family as a long line of brothers and sisters. You had the misfortune to be raised by a brother and sister who weren't very good at the job. They were flawed, imperfect people. Forgive them and move on. Really, it's possible to still love imperfect people. And if you don't have it in your heart to do it for them, do it for yourself. This anger is not good for you or the brothers and sisters who'll be entrusted to your care. Your parents have some forgiving to do too, now that you've publicly humiliated them...
So...It's a pretty good book. There's humour (bitter, edgy humour), a couple of insults for the Gentiles and even more for the Jews. And I'm getting my peek into the Orthodox household.
12pm: I've read a hundred, nine pages so far - seven chapters - and I'm not sure I'll finish the book. It's decent-enough writing, and there have been some really amusing vignettes but I feel terrible to be laughing at the pain and dysfunction of this family. I remind myself that Auslander is writing from a different culture and a different generation - I shouldn't be so offended by vulgarity. I acknowledge that I am a 'prude' and I am still reading...
A thought: At one point Auslander tells us that his rabbis at the yeshiva school predicted that one day he would be a great rabbi himself. The young man he portrays seemed to be sincerely trying to live a righteous life in spite of everything. I'm wondering if he might not in fact have become a positive force in his community were it not for the negative effect of his family. Such a pity. (Who was it who said "We spend the second half of our lives trying to recover from the first half"?)
The offer's off the table, Martha. I'm not converting. I don't really fancy organized religion much anyway...
I'm going to look at this book next. I've read it before...there's a chapter on Adolph Hitler that almost has a 'synchronicity' to Auslander's book.
Shalom, I think you need to move to Hawaii and immerse yourself in the 'Aloha Spirit'. Instead of separating yourself in a community bent on exclusion you need to find a community that is non-discriminating and embraces everyone. You need to find some happiness.
Sunday, January 06, 2008
Undercover Sunday Salon
I've been finding it very difficult to post clandestinely; this is the time of year I never seem to have five minutes alone. So, this may be quite brief...
I was at Costco yesterday, glancing over the book tables, and I spotted a name I vaguely recognized...couldn't remember where I'd come across it, but my memory is a wonderful thing because I had successfully stored the title as a 'buy'. I didn't even take the time to read the blurb, just threw it in my cart and carried on (I have great faith in my memory). Well, I certainly wasn't mistaken ! This book is exactly my cup of tea.
I suspected I might have read a review on Debra's Book Blog, and sure enough, there it was. I don't think Debra loved it the way I do though. (Debra's probably too 'normal' to fully appreciate this book.) The story is written as narrative from an autistic person's point of view and it is quirky, creative, zany... Autism is a handicap, alright, but a peek into this mind is pure pleasure. The book is different from anything I've ever read before. I just love it!!