Right. Apart from being laid up with the flu at the moment thing’s are fine. I went to an avant garde puppet show? That was weird. I’m having trouble thinking clearly, my brain’s been cooking for a couple of days.
Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruins of Ymir by John Crowley – A view of humanity’s journey from the stone age to just beyond tomorrow, as told (sort of) by Dar Oakely, a magic, immortal crow. I like John Crowley a lot, even though I haven’t liked all his books. He’s brilliant and has a fine prose pen and most importantly (particularly in the thimble-sized genre in which he writes) he’s ambitious, his writing defying easy convention or simple analysis. Ka is a lot easier to get through than say, Aegypt, but still this is the sort of book which is going to turn off most genre readers by virtue of his scope and difficulty, while, probably, getting the usual short shrift from the literary types who can’t admit to liking speculative fiction unless it’s been written in a different language. Which is too bad because, while imperfect, Ka is a really strong book. The first 2/3 in particular are strange and original, at turns horrifying and beautiful, and Dar Oakley’s peculiar series of journeys through the worlds of men living and men dead are weird and creepy and exciting. It bogged down a fair bit once we reached modernity, both because the various subplots aren’t as strong and just generally I think because the idea had kind of run out of steam a hundred pages before we actually ended the book, but still this is a thoughtful, valuable take on the miseries of human existence and the endless unknowability of death. Also, lots of flying. Library, but I’d probably keep it until I have to move somewhere again anyway.
Quartet by Jean Rhys – a young, underdeveloped, down on her luck Englishwoman living in Paris is manipulated into an affair with Ford Maddox Ford and his wife. Well-written, swift, and very, very mean, this reminded me a bit of last year’s After Claude in its…well, not quite misogyny, but the ferocious nastiness with which its female characters are all portrayed. It’s a slender novel, largely plotless, though I did really like the way Rhy’s sets the heroine’s obsession for the Ford character sort of off page, showing the terrible effects of it but not really the passion itself. All around well worth a read, I’d keep it but it’s a library book.
All Shot Up by Chester Himes – Maybe my favorite one of these? Admittedly they’re all very good, and very similar, but the mystery here was particularly sharp, there was a little bit more of Coffin and Gravedigger than there are in some of the others (which is a good thing), and the realm in which their investigation runs—the Harlem homosexual subculture, and the black local political elite – prove particularly fruitful terrain for Himes’s critical eye and ever-sharp elbows. I’ve been getting these from the library but at some point I'll be out somewhere and I’ll see them all on a shelf and I’ll buy then and then I’ll keep them.
Bilgewater By Jane Gardam –The story of a brainy, peculiar tom-boy raised by a bookish, silent father and a beloved nurse/caretaker, and the various troubles she gets into during adolescence. This is a really, really excellent Y/A book, from a time before that was a clearly delineated idea, well-written but conceptually rather limited. I’d give it to a cousin or a niece or something and they’d love it and carry it around and dog-ear the hell out of it but I didn’t think it was as complex or exceptional as the last Gardam I read. Not at all a bad book but I’m not sure I’d hold on to it. Not that it matters cause it’s a library book, THEY’RE ALL LIBRARY BOOKS NOW, so the keep/drop rubric should probably be amended.
The Heat's On by Chester Himes – When Grave Digger Jones gets dropped with a gunman’s bullet, Coffin Ed brings savage retribution to Harlem. The most conventionally plotted of these, and probably not surprisingly, my least favorite. Not to say that it’s bad, it’s not bad at all, it’s good, it’s just not as good as the others. Still, a ton of weird fabulous throw away stuff about Albino ex-boxers and viciously immoral geriatric heroin dealers. Library, but, you know, I’d keep it because I want an entire collection of Himes’s stuff at some point.
Wide Sargasso Sea By Jean Rhys – About how the brutal racial politics of the post-slavery Carribean drove a minor character from Jane Eyre insane. Full disclosure: I’ve never actually read Jane Eyre (awkward pause), though I’m not sure if that puts me in a better or worse position to review this book. Anyway, it’s dope, its got a very peculiar structure with the narrative shifting between the protagonist and her husband about midway through the book, as well as this overwhelming sense of gothic horror. It’s quite a nightmarish novel, actually, but then you sort of expect that going in. Library, but very good I’d keep it.
Blind Man With a Pistol by Chester Himes – As a summer Harlem explodes with violence, the powers that be send Gravedigger and Coffin Ed to figure out who’s causing it, only to discover that the culprit is (wait for it) racism! One gets the sense that Himes was basically sick of writing this series by this point; this is less a mystery novel than it is an exploration of a New York about to explode. There’s lots of murders, but none of them get solved; there’s lots of evil, but none really gets punished. I was always pretty much reading Himes for his depiction of scene and his insight into the brutal nature of racial politics in America, and those are all still on evidence here, but if you were hoping for you’re regular genre pay off you’ll be disappointed. I liked it though, keep. If it weren’t borrowed.
Last Good Friday (1980) – Bob Hoskins is a mean asshole who runs the London underworld, Helen Mirren is a somewhat underused Mob wife, Pierce Brosnan is very young, the script is complex and mean and takes a while to come together, you’re rooting basically for Bob Hoskins but there’s no real notion that he’s a good person or anything, that is to say it does a really good job of not sugar-coating the realities of professional crime, the final bit is fucking brutal, I dug it.
White (1994) – So, basically any American non-Arthouse movie is genre, that is to say, operating according to an internal narrative structure which provides certain expected emotional pay offs to the viewer—even relatively unsophisticated consumers have some underlying appreciation of this fact, which is why they tend to get angry if you buck it in even fairly casual terms. Part of the fun of watching things that don’t come out of the Hollywood system is that they can ignore these formulas or, as is the case here, torture them in interesting ways. Karol is a Polish hairdresser who’s insanely beautiful Parisian wife (I am as in love with Julie Delpy as I was when I saw her at 12 in American Werewolf in Paris (horrible movie)) divorces him. He is forced to return in tatters to Poland and…well, I don’t want to get into it for fear of spoiling the ending, which is super weird, and fun, and made me laugh in shock. Apart from that bit, though, I basically didn’t love any part of this, it was kind of slow and not that funny. So, watch it for the part I can’t tell you about, I guess, and then we’ll have a more substantial conversation on the merits at some point.
Vengeance (2009) – Very famous Frenchman Johnny Hallyday hires three contract killers to take revenge on the men who murdered his grandchildren. It goes on too long, it’s a little bit sappy, and there are these occasional bits you have in foreign movies where people start acting in completely incoherent ways. But it’s stylish as fuck, and very famous Frenchman Johnny Hallyday is, well, you can understand why he’s famous, and there are some great throw away noir lines here and there. As far as Johnny To movies go, I preferred last week’s The Mission, but this was pretty strong in and of itself and I’ll keep an eye out for more of his movies if I can.
Yield to the Night (1956) – A character study of a woman on death row; maybe a third of the run time is about what led her to her circumstances (an ill-fated love affair, needless to say), but mostly it’s just a slow depiction of the protagonist going gradually more insane from the misery of her circumstance, and the attempts of the wardens/her family/etc to check the slide. This was good, well done, slow, kinda dull, might ultimately just not have had enough material to justify the runtime, conceivably could have been better if it had been a little weirder.
Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976) – A mumblecore mafia movie. The guy who plays Jackie Treehorn is a strip club owner who gets in debt to the guy with a mustache who’s in all of Wes Anderson’s movies. It’s sort of an odd conceit that ‘accurate’ dialogue – by which I mean rambling, semi-coherent, with a lot of repetition – often goes hand in hand with an ‘inaccurate’ plot – that is to say, people doing things for inexplicable reasons, or general lapses in narrative logic. I’m kind of a sucker for this sort of thing, but I’ll admit your mileage might vary. Good title, though.