Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Sunday Sundries, 124

1. AOTW: This happened a couple of weeks ago--just remembered it: At the health club ... as I approached the shower, I heard one running already. And as I stepped into the room, I saw that one was running, full blast, but no one else was there. I walked over to it: It was set on the hottest possible setting, a setting far too high for anyone except Satan to tolerate. I turned it off, wondering what kind of AOTW would do such a thing ...

2. I finished two books this week.

     - Margaret Atwood's Hag-Seed is the latest volume in the Hogarth Shakespeare series, a series of novels based on Shakespeare's plays, novels written by contemporary authors.

The title comes from this exchange, early in the play, between Prospero and Caliban:

You taught me language; and my profit on't
Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language!
Hag-seed, hence!
Fetch us in fuel; and be quick, thou'rt best,
To answer other business. (1.2)
Atwood--like the other writers in the series--sets the story in our own times. We're in Canada. And the Prospero figure is named Felix, who's the director at a theater festival that very much resembles the Stratford Theatre Festival (which Joyce and I have attended in Ontario every August for quite a few years).

A rival manages to get Felix removed from his position, and he finds himself living in a hovel on a farm not all that far away, a place where he continues to "see" the spirit of his daughter, Miranda, who died at age three.

He grumps and grouses there for a while, then takes a gig, under an assumed name, at a nearby prison, where he goes each year to mount a Shakespeare production with the inmates.

And this year it will be The Tempest. Like Prospero, Felix has a plan to gain revenge--and to recover the authority he lost.

The Tempest has long been my favorite of the Bard's plays, and I was moved throughout Atwood's reimagining. One of the final comments about the play hit home; it's delivered by a convict nicknamed Bent Pencil: "The play of The Tempest declares for second chances, and so should we" (268).

Here's a link to the other novels in the series. Those published so far have been based on The Winter's Tale (Jeanette Winterson), The Merchant of Venice (Howard Jacobson), and The Taming of the Shrew (Anne Tyler; this is a play I taught for about a decade at Harmon Middle School; Aurora, Ohio).

As with the other novels, by the way, Hag-Seed becomes more enjoyable the more familiar you are with the play.

     - I'm feeling both sad and happy this week because I finished reading the last (so far) of the published works of Richard Russo. As I wrote here some months ago, I first got interested in him because of that wonderful 1994 film Nobody's Fool (Paul Newman, Jessica Tandy, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith, and others), a film based on a novel of the same name by Russo.

But I hadn't read anything by him. Then when Russo's newest novel appeared this year (Anybody's Fool, 2016), a sequel to Nobody's, I decided it was time. I read Nobody's first, then Anybody's, then decided I liked his work so much I would read them all--in the order of publication. And, this week, I finished with his memoir, Elsewhere (2012).

As Russo tells us at the beginning, it's principally the story of his mother, Jean, who was mainly responsible for the care of Russo and his brother (Greg) in Gloversville, NY, where the boys grew up--the town that Russo uses (modified, of course) for several of his novels (a town which has several names in his various fictions--from Mohawk to North Bath). Russo's father was not around much and is more of a shadowy presence in this memoir that focuses on Jean and her various emotional problems--and her death. (Russo has an epiphany near the end about what was troubling her).

Russo talks only incidentally about his own career here, but readers (I, certainly) will be astonished by his devotion to his mother, whose behavior was, let's say, a test for anyone around her. I was profoundly moved by his (and his wife's) dealings with Jean. It was not easy.

Readers of Russo's NY novels will notice the similarity of some incidents in his life that ended up, transfigured, in those works--like the scattering of a parent's ashes (which is prominent in That Old Cape Magic).

Oddly, Russo repeats an error here that appeared in Cape Magic, too: He tells us that he recited at the memorial service for his mother a sonnet by Shakespeare--"Fear no more the heat o' the sun." But this is not a sonnet. It's a song from the Bard's Cymbeline, a song sung by several characters:

From Cymbeline, Act 
IV. Scene 2

EAR no more the heat o’ the sun,
  Nor the furious winter’s rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
  Home art gone, and ta’en thy wages;
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

Fear no more the frown o’ the great,
  Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke;
Care no more to clothe and eat;
  To thee the reed is as the oak:
The sceptre, learning, physic, must
All follow this, and come to dust.

Fear no more the lightning-flash,
  Nor the all-dreaded thunder-stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
  Thou hast finish’d joy and moan:
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee, and come to dust.

No exorciser harm thee!
  Nor no witchcraft charm thee!
Ghost unlaid forbear thee!
  Nothing ill come near thee!
Quiet consummation have;
And renownèd be thy grave!

I'm not sure how this got by the various proofreaders--and by Russo himself? Oh, well ...

I am happy that I've read these books--and liked them all, the reasons varying. He is a masterful storyteller, able to move from character to character, from scene to scene, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, as if it were life itself.

Mohawk (Vintage Books, 1986)
The Risk Pool (Random House, 1988)
Nobody's Fool (Random House, 1993)
Straight Man (Random House, 1997)
Empire Falls (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001)
The Whore's Child and Other Stories (Alfred A. Knopf, 2002)
Bridge of Sighs (Alfred A. Knopf, 2007)
That Old Cape Magic (Alfred A. Knopf, 2009)
Interventions, with illustrator Kate Russo (Down East Books, 2012)
Elsewhere: A Memoir (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012)
Everybody's Fool (Alfred A. Knopf, May 3, 2016)

3. We saw The Accountant last night in Kent and enjoyed it for what it was--clever excitement. It sort of reminded me of a Jason Bourne film without the CIA hovering about (though the Treasury Dept. is hovering about in this story). Ben Affleck did a good job--as did J. K. Simmons, Anna Kendrick, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, and the little boys are wonderful (the boy versions of Affleck and his brother--flashbacks throughout the film). A popcorn movie--but I do love popcorn. Link to trailer for the film.

4. Last Words--from my various word-of-the-day online providers ...

     - from dictionary.com

harum-scarum \HAIR-uh m-SKAIR-uh m, HAR-uh m-SKAR-uh m\
1. reckless; rash; irresponsible: He had a harum-scarum youth.
2. disorganized; uncontrolled.
... he warn't bad, so to say--only mischeevous. Only just giddy and harum-scarum, you know. He warn't any more responsible than a colt.
-- Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, 1876
Origin of harum-scarum

Harum-scarum entered English in the late 1600s. The first element of this rhyming compound, harum, is based on the obsolete verb hare meaning "to harass" or on the the verb hare "to run like a hare"; the second element is based on the common verb scare.

     - from wordsmith.org

obambulate  (o-BAM-byuh-layt)

verb intr.: To walk about.

From Latin ob- (to) + ambulare (to walk). Earliest documented use: 1614.

“Mukul was obambulating in circles like a caged animal.”

Sam Mukherjee; Chopped Green Chillies in Vanilla Ice Cream; Rupa Publications; 2011.

     - from dictionary.com

nudnik \NOO D-nik\
1. Slang. a persistently dull, boring pest.
Pinni becomes enraged and says my brother is a nudnik. I agree with Pinni. Even though my brother Elyahu is my own flesh and blood, he's an awful nudnik.
-- Richard Burgin, Conversations with Isaac Bashevis Singer, 1985

Origin of nudnik
Nudnik is an Americanism formed from the Yiddish verb nudyen meaning "to bore, pester." Nud- is of Slavic origin: nudny in Polish means "boring"; the Polish verb nudzić means "to bore" and is the source, again through Yiddish, of noodge. It came to English in the mid-1900s.

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