Dawn Reader

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

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sunday Sundries, 151

1. AOTW: i think the word has gone out, and people are now competing for this now-coveted award. I had two great contenders on a trip home from the health club the other day: (1) two different cars behaved as if they had the right-of-way as their lane was merging in to mine--gunning it, aggressive as warthogs; (2) as I turned onto Church St. (our street), one-way at this point, two women were standing in the middle of the narrow single lane having what must have been a fascinating conversation; I had to edge by, thinking HERE ARE THE WINNERS! But then this morning, about to exit the Acme parking lot (turning right), I saw a car coming along SR 303 on my left--a little close--so I waited; not so the AOTW, who turned left into the parking lot, right in front of the oncoming car I was waiting for. As the AOTW passed us, I saw she was in a merry smart-phone conversation with someone. Pretty bad when your phone's smarter than you are!

2. I should note that this week was the first time I've been able to ride my bike since April 25, when, after I rode home from Starbucks that afternoon, I drove out to the health club, exercised, passed out in the shower. This led to a Grand Adventure: a ride with EMS (later in the week), the ER overnight, scans and blood draws, and meetings with specialists about my persistent and serious dizziness. But we changed my BP med, and I've been getting better--not perfect, but better. And this week, I added air to the tires, rode off, had a grand old ride. Here's hoping there will be many more to follow ...

3. I finished two books this week.

     a. The first was The Burgess Boys (2013) by Elizabeth Strout, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist whose books I'm slowly reading my way through. I love her work. This one has a frame story (at the beginning only--not sure why she didn't return to it at the end? oh well, Shakespeare didn't either in The Taming of the Shrew). In the Prologue a first-person narrator is talking with her mother, remembering the Burgess family from their hometown in Maine.

Then we begin Book One in the 3rd person (and we stay in that person) and hear about a grim auto accident years before when one of the little Burgess boys released the brake in the car, which rolled over Dad, killing him. Bob Burgess supposedly did it (though this grows more complicated later in the novel). His older brother, Jim, is an all-star lawyer who has won an OJ-like case and is a celebrity. Sister Susan, still in Maine, is now a single mom with an odd late-teen boy, Zack, who one day hurls a pig's head into a mosque in town, a mosque attended by the many Somali refugees who have moved into the little Maine town of Shirley Falls (fictional).

Well, Bob and Jim get involved in his case; things grow complicated; a Somali becomes sort of a major minor character, and Strout explores the issues of immigration, of Muslims in America, of celebrity, of family--issues that have hardly, uh, disappeared since 2013, eh?

I'm a StroutFan now, and I marvel at how she's able to integrate multiple points of view in her fiction (as she does here). The Burgess Boys does not employ exactly the same technique of some of her other fiction (like Olive Kitteridge)--i.e., interconnected stories. But the POV shifts often here, and it's a thrilling way for readers to see the relativity of "truth."

     b. The second is the new novel (Grief Cottage, 2017) by Gail Godwin, whom I've been reading since the 1970s. I actually met her, back in the early 1970s, when she and my older brother, Richard, were teaching colleagues at the University of Iowa. Richard was taking Joyce and me on a little tour of his office, etc., and Gail Godwin was sitting in hers, too, grading papers. Nice chat--though I don't recall a single sentence of it! I reviewed her for the Plain Dealer once or twice, and I've read all of her novels.

Grief Cottage is not one of my favorites, I'm sad to say. It's told in the first person by a man (now a shrink) recalling the summer when he was eleven years old. His dad is gone (and uncertain in identity); his mom has recently died in a car accident; he has gone to a South Carolina island to live in a beach cottage with his great-aunt, an eccentric soul who makes her meager living by painting local scenes for tourists and others. "Grief Cottage" is the name locals have given to a near-ruin way down the beach from where Marcus (our narrator) is staying, but he becomes obsessed with the place, where, supposedly, an out-of-town family died in Hurricane Hazel years before.

Marcus begins to notice a ... presence ... there when he (surreptitiously) visits--and he even sees what he believes is the ghost of the young boy who died there.

Well, there are complications: his aunt sustains a wrist injury (yes, her painting hand) and drinks a lot; Marcus befriends an elderly local who is kind to him and his aunt; we get flashbacks to Marcus' earlier boyhood and a friend he calls Wheezer; a local realtor is trying to sell Grief Cottage; oh, and some turtles are about to hatch in a nearby dune and make their race for the surf. Etc.

We eventually learn most of the secrets, but the whole thing just seemed a little too pat and predictable for me. Also, having spent thirty years of my career working with middle-school youngsters, I didn't really see much verisimilitude in Marcus--although we must remember that he's looking back on all of this from years later.

And Grief Cottage itself? It's a good symbol of what we all carry around in us--our own dwellings for the grief that we all carry, the places we all dwell now and then, from which we sometimes have a difficult time escaping as the hurricanes rage outside ...

4. On Saturday night we saw (over in Kent) the new film Dunkirk by Christopher Nolan. Though we don't very often go to war films, we did want to see this one because of two cast members: Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance, two of the great Shakespearean actors of our lifetimes. And Rylance, in particular, was a wonder here as the owner of a small boat that crosses the Channel to help rescue the tens of thousands of British soldiers stranded on the beach at Dunkirk.

Nolan gives us four points-of-view: a British fighter pilot, the leadership on the beach (Branagh), a couple of soldiers trying to survive, the Mark Rylance boat captain. Shifting easily (and effectively) back and forth, here and there, Nolan shows us the horrors of war from the bottom of the sea to the top of the sky. And the horrors are most grim--though Nolan often allows us to use only our imaginations to, well, imagine what's happening, what the men and women are going through. With an amazing soundtrack pulsing through us ...

A first-rate film that is very difficult to watch--and impossible not to watch.

Link to film trailer.

5. We've once again started watching episodes of the fine Brit series Suspects, which we'd stopped some months ago when a favorite character got murdered in a season-opening episode. Too much for an Old Man to tolerate.

But we're back at it now, enjoying ourselves.

6. Final Word: A word I liked this week from one of my various online word-of-the-day providers.

     - niveous  (NIV-ee-uhs)
MEANING: adjective: Snowy or resembling snow.
ETYMOLOGY: From Latin niveus, from nix (snow). Earliest documented use: 1623.
USAGE: “Here, wooded hills rolled gently away to a horizon wrapped in a niveous haze.”
Cecilia Dart-Thornton; The Ill-Made Mute; Warner Books; 2015.

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