1. AOTW: The person who failed to turn off the cellphone which chirped late in the night and woke me up. Uh oh ... I did that. Making me the AOTW. Do you get a T-shirt for this?
2. This week I finished My Name is Lucy Barton, the 2016 novel by Elizabeth Strout (who won a recent Pulitzer for Olive Kitteridge), a novel that's been receiving terrific reviews here and there and everywhere. (Here's a glowing one from the New York Times.) I too enjoyed the novel--but not so ecstatically so as did some of the reviewers I've read.
It is a story that many of us can relate to (at least to certain aspects of it): ill health, a hospital stay, a surprise visit from the patient's/narrator's mother, a woman whom Lucy has very rarely heard from since she left her impoverished home, headed to New York City, worked hard to become a writer.
The visit lasts five days, and Strout adeptly zigzags in time--back to Lucy's girlhood (and its numerous deprivations), her relationships with her siblings, her first (failed) marriage, her children, her beginnings as a writer, her time in the hospital, a very kind and competent physician.
There are some very affecting moments/scenes in the novel (the Old Man veered near weeping), but I felt some of it was a tad forced, and Convenience ruled a bit too strongly in places.
Still, a book I enjoyed reading--a book I'm glad I read. And here are a couple of moments and/or passages I really liked:
- But there are times, too--unexpected--when walking down a sunny sidewalk, or watching the top of a tree bend in the wind, or seeing a November sky close down the East River, I am suddenly filled with the knowledge of darkness so deep that a sound might escape from my mouth, and I will step into the nearest clothing store and talk with a stranger about the shape of sweaters newly arrived. This must be the way most of us maneuver through the world, half knowing, half not, visited by memories that can't possibly be true. But when I see others walking with confidence down the sidewalk, as though they are completely free from terror, I realize I don't know how others are. So much of life is speculation. (14)
- There is that constant judgment in this world: How are we going to make sure we do not feel inferior to another? (79)
There's a lovely final paragraph I will not reproduce--don't want to ruin the experience for others who will read the book. (191)
And one little error: She says that sixth graders are 12; nope. Most are 11 (though some may turn 12 during the year).
3. Last night (Saturday), Joyce and I drove over to Kent to see the Coen Brothers' latest--Hail, Caesar! (Link to trailer for the film.) I should preface this by noting that Joyce and I are huge fans of Joel and Ethan Coen and have seen all their films (many more than once), all the way back to Blood Simple in 1984. In my mind, there are no bad Coen Bros' films. Even the ones I'm not crazy about evince levels of imagination and skill that are very rare in Hollywood. A number of critics want the Coens to make "masterpieces" every time out--serious ones (like Fargo, which actually made me laugh a lot). Critics ganged up on the Coens and pretty much trashed Burn After Reading (2008), a wonderful satire that I've seen four or five times. (One of my favorite Brad Pitt roles--as a vacuous personal trainer.)
Hail, Caesar! is in the Burn genre. A satire on Hollywood, religion, vanity, greed, geopolitics (and a lot more); the Coens explore the difference between image and reality (especially with the Esther-Williams-like character played by Scarlett Johansson, who looks classy and sophisticated in the synchronized swimming scene, a scene that seems to have Moby-Dick floating beneath the surface, but, as we find out, is someone quite different from her image (like many of the rest of us?).
I really loved Alden Ehrenreich, who played someone called Hobie Doyle, an Audie-Murphy type of character--a 50s Western hero (who could sing, twirl a rope, etc.). There's a hilarious scene between him and Ralph Fiennes, who plays a sort of fey director of "serious" films; Fiennes tries to put the cowboy in a tux and have him utter wry and sophisticated lines in his new film--doesn't quite work out. I don't think I've seen Ehrenreich in anything else--hope to see him again. He's talented.
BTW: I realize my allusions to Esther Williams and Audie Murphy will place me in the category Of a Certain Age, but this Coen film demands some knowledge of popular culture in the early 1950s--my boyhood. It was the age of the Western, the swimming movie, the movie musical (there is just a great production number in Caesar featuring Channing Tatum and a bunch of sailors in a bar--an old-fashioned song-and-dance number that is a highlight of the film--and which has some not-too-subtle suggestions that these sailors, about to go off to sea for months (sans women), are going to ... enjoy ... one another instead). Viewers also need to know about the blacklists, the fears of "Commies" in Hollywood, the efforts of film producers to make fortunes on religious stories (hmmm ... no conflict there, right?), the sway of the gossip columnists (Tilda Swinton plays twins here--rival gossip columnists clearly based on Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons), and more ...
So ... was Hail, Caesar! a Major Motion Picture? No. But it made me laugh, admire, think, remember. And for that I am ever grateful.
4. Some words-of-the-day I liked recently.
- Aeromancy \AIR-uh-man-see \Noun: 1. the prediction of future events from observation of weather conditions.
- Cryophilic \krahy-oh-FIL-ik\ Adjective: 1. preferring or thriving at low temperatures.