1. AsOTW--Plural this week. On Friday, in the men's locker room of the health club where I exercise, I heard two old men (my sort of age!) "explaining" why some folks whom they know are on walkers, etc. They just won't get up and walk! says one. The other: If they'd just exercise more .... In recent years I've found this sort of thing--blaming people for their infirmities--more and more offensive. Why are we so quick to judge? To blame? And so slow to feel empathy? Compassion? No one wants to be on a walker, in a wheelchair. Sometimes, though (and, if you live long enough, eventually), the body just says, That's it! And there you are. And once you go down (or partway down), Depression often floats in on the wake. Oh, the arrogance of the healthy! The sound of body! The lucky!
2.Back in the years when I was teaching The Taming of the Shrew to my 8th graders (1986-1992), there was a line that always made my students wonder if Shakespeare had been crazy. (Actually there were a lot of lines like that!)
In 2.1, the famous "battle" scene between Petruchio and Katherine, they exchange a variety of insults and replies to insults, and at one point Petruchio, responding to Katherine, cries: O slow-wing'd turtle! I was reminded of all of this when Joyce and I saw Shrew last week in Stratford.
Shakespeare used turtle more than once--but he was not talking about that thing with a shell on its back that moves slowly (until it's racing a hare). No, he meant a turtledove. I checked the OED recently and learned there that it dates back to about 1000 A.D. Latin to Old English to Middle English--a Latin word turtur, a word that arose because it was imitative of the dove's call.
3. This week, I finally finished Rick Moody's amazing novel Four Fingers of Death (2010), an inventive, funny, bizarre, and extraordinarily moving novel by one of my favorites in contemporary American fiction. I'm not sure why I'd not read it sooner (could it be because it's 725 pages long--big pages, too!?!) But I admired this book as much as anything I've read since, oh, John Irving's The World According to Garp.
It's almost impossible to describe Moody's technique here. Here's just a taste: A writer, Montese Crandall, is going to write the novelization of a film, and in the first 60 pp or so he tells us his own story/biography. Then ... Book One, which takes place in 2025, a manned mission to Mars. One of the astronauts (Col. Jed Richards) is keeping a blog (edited heavily by NASA, but we see all of it). Bad things happen on the mission. And after some time on Mars, a return has to occur--and quickly, too (I'll not tell you why--or much more about it).
Book Two--We're back in the American Southwest, a small desert town, and we meet another cast of characters. The Mars return capsule is about to enter the earth's atmosphere. A sad genetic scientist who's lost is wife has kept some of her tissue and is trying to bring her back (think: Victor Frankenstein!). SPOILER ALERT: I'M GOING TO TELL YOU A LITTLE ABOUT THIS, SO SKIP TO NEXT PARAGRAPH, IF YOU WANT. He transplants some of her tissue into the brain of a chimpanzee named Morton, who, soon, becomes more and more human--almost supernaturally so (learning quickly, becoming amazingly articulate). Morton falls in love with one of his keepers ... but after he tries being human for a while, he can no longer tolerate it. And on p. 701 we get one of the great moments in the book ...
Morton had made his choice. He'd tasted civilization. And he'd found that it consisted of large helpings of desperation, petroleum by-products, fat substitutes, sweeteners, sewage storage issues, stolen and stripped automobiles, vapor trails, good intentions, bad follow-through, selfishness, red itchy eyes, sentimentality, mold, poor logical reasoning, halfhearted orgasms, advertising, household pests, regrets, mendacities, thorns, haberdasheries, computer programming, lower-back pain, xenophobia, legally binding arbitration, cheesy buildup, racial profiling, press-on nails, the seventh-inning stretch, roundtable discussions, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, perineal pain, individually wrapped slices, road rage, and unfounded speculation, and he decided that it was completely reasonable that he would turn his back on civilization.
4. I also finished the fourth novel in the Walt Longmire series by Craig Johnson--Another Man's Moccasins (2008). I got hooked on the Longmire TV series--now moved (thank goodness!) to Netlix for a new season--and had begun reading the books, and I have to say I'm not too crazy about the four early ones I've read. I like the relationships Longmire has with his colleagues and friends, but I just haven't gotten too hooked on the stories, the way I do with other mystery/thriller writers like Jo Nesbø and Robert B. Parker and so many others. But I'm going to keep reading ... how can I not?
5. And, finally, while Joyce was attending high-school reunion activities in Akron this weekend, I watched (again!) the very fine film of Michael Chabon's 1995 novel Wonder Boys, a film starring Michael Douglas (as a blocked novelist teaching at a college in Pittsburgh), Tobey Maguire (as his gifted but tormented student), Frances McDormand (as the chancellor of the college; Douglas is having an affair with her); Robert Downey, Jr. (as Douglas' worried editor), and Katie Holmes (as another of his students who's boarding in his house). And some good minor roles played by Rip Torn and by Richard Thomas (John Boy!).
It is a complex, funny, wrenching, amazing film. I see that I read the novel in February 2010, but I had to flip through it right now to remind myself of the ending. Because the ending, I thought, was the weakest part of the film.
Too sunny and Hollywoodish (at its worst) for me. Douglas has had horrible problems in the film--dissolving marriage, inability to write, drugs. And at the end of the film SPOILER ALERT he's sitting in a sunny mountain-view cottage typing merrily away while he new wife (Frances McDormand) is bringing into the house some groceries--and their little child.
It's as if a man had walked through the funnel of a tornado, had come out the other side looking better than when he'd walked in.
Here's a link to the trailer for this (otherwise) very good film (which is currently on-demand on Cinemax).