Snyder, George. “On Wings of Affection”, Lulu, 2011.
A Mystery in WeHo
I love a good mystery and we get that and so much more from George Snyder. Sam is a gym bunny, Pam (Agnes) is what we call a “poor little rich girl” and Didier is the partner of a high class decorator and these are the first characters that we meet. When the decorator is killed and Didier flees as he is the main suspect and then things get really wild with Sam now becoming a suspect and there is a disaster and one thing follows another to the point that the plot becomes really hard to follow—but great FUN. If you try to keep things organized you will lose the joy of this reading. You must suspend belief and just fall into it and go with it.
Snyder is great at sarcasm and there is plenty of it here. I love that and I had one laugh after another. It is the mystery that draws you in but it is the humor that keeps you reading. Our trio of characters is delightful and I can see them coming back in future novels. We get a lot of twists and turns in the plot and everything is just a fine backdrop for murder. We see West Hollywood as a place of lust and jealousy just as we see in so many gay communities elsewhere
Sam narrates with humor and tongue in cheek and if I have a complaint it is that the plot, as I said, is a bit difficult to follow. Otherwise this is a delightful read. Don’t worry if you get lost—everything comes together in the end.
Shalev, Meir. “Beginnings: Reflections on the Bible’s Intriguing Firsts”, Three Rivers Press, 2012. (Paperback).
In the Beginning…
It is always a treat to read Meir Shalev in English, something I was not able to do when I lived in Israel (he was only available in Hebrew). His new book looks at the firsts in the Hebrew Bible and I found it not only enlightening but great fun.
For example, the first kiss was not a kiss of love or affection, the first love was not between man and woman and the first hate was a man for his wife. Interestingly enough, the first laugh was the only one so it was both first and last. Many of us will learn about the firsts for the first time and Shalev has done a wonderful investigative job here. I am sure that he has discovered things that many Biblical scholars have missed or never thought about.
Shalev not only finds the eleven firsts, he investigates them to discover the meaning and in doing so we learn about how the first Jewish (Hebrew) king came about as well as other pieces of history that he looks at from a secular point of view and in this way the text of the scriptures becomes easily accessible and understood.
Shalev also explains what is important about the firsts and each of these has its own chapter in the book. I never considered the love of Isaac and Rebecca to be the first love or Abraham being the first prophet. Reading this is like reading the Bible as a novel. Yet it is more than that because we learn something as well.
Daitch, Susan. “Paper Conspiracies”, City Lights Publishers , 2011.
The Affaire Dreyfus
The Dreyfus Affair is one of the memorable events in European history and as a result of it the political Zionist movement began which eventually led to the creation of the State of Israel. Beginning with the affair the novel takes us the film studios of Georges Melies and we meet a film restorer who us suddenly involved in political intrigue. Daitch manages to use a historical event that teaches us about the way we live today.
The Dreyfus Affair exposed anti-Semitism in France as well as being a trial for treason. We usually hear only about the main characters but here we get a look at the others who were operating in other areas while the trial was going on. We see just how far reaching the trial of Dreyfus was and that we are still feeling the effects today.
There has been a lot said about “Shameless” and most of it has to do with a comparison to the original British series (see my review here). I am not going to add to that discussion except to say that I enjoyed them both. The series is about a dysfunctional family unlike any other—the Gallagher’s. The father is a drunk who lives in a perpetual stupor leaving his six children to cope as best they can. The mother let long ago and Fiona, the eldest daughter, tries to hold the family together. Eldest son Philip (Lip) trades his physics tutoring skills for sexual favors from neighborhood girls and middle son Ian is gay. Debbie, the youngest daughter is stealing money from her UNICEF collection and ten-year-old Carl is a budding sociopath and an arsonist. The baby Liam is just might be black although has an idea how this happened.
I find the acting to be excellent and we are reminded of people we know by the characters. The main difference here is that they all belong to one family. Set in Chicago, William H. Macy is the father who spends most days drunk and lying on the floor. Emily Rossum is Fiona and she is the mother here which is not a job for a young girl.
It takes a while to get into the story but once you do you will find it endearing and even the family becomes fun.
“Which Side Would You Be On?”
It is hard to believe that “If…” was released more than 40 years ago. The film is an allegory using a British boys’ school that undergoes a revolution by the students. This is a powerful film set in a school which does not allow students to totally express themselves. This was Malcolm McDowell’s first film and he is excellent as Mick, the ring-leader of a group of dissatisfied students who just do not fit into the ultra-conformism that the school requires.
The film has the feel of a documentary as it depicts a violent rebellion. Everything is excellent and it is as effective as it was when it was released. McDowell owns this film and we can easy see how this was his beginning to create his character for “A Clockwork Orange”. So much can be said ablaut the film but it would be better just to tell you to go and see it and then listen to your own reactions.
Bornstein, Kate. “Hello, Cruel World:101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws”, Seven Stories Press, 2006.
Listening to Alternatives
It has not been a good time for our youth lately. Just as we thought teen suicides had stopped, there was another one lat week that really broke our hearts. I took some time to see what was available for us to read on the subject (aside from the wonderful “It Gets Better” antgology) and I found this by Kate Bornstein who has been in the vanguard for transsexual rights and she has some really good information here.
Sometime we can not always use the orthodox methods to survive in this world as we do live a bit outside of the box. Here we get 101 alternatives to suicide to “the totally irreverent to the highly controversial”. The book is meant to encourage readers to talk about what is bothering them and ways to deal with it. Bornstein is a bit radical yet she is sensitive and she wants us to live.
“I’ve written this book to help you stay alive because I think the world needs more kind people in it, no matter who or what they are, or do. We’re healthier because of our outsiders and outlaws and freaks and queers and sinners. I fall neatly into all of those categories, so it’s no big deal to me if you do, or don’t. I’ve had a lot of reasons to kill myself, and a lot of time to do it in, and I stayed alive by doing things that many consider to be immoral or illegal. I’m glad I did it, because I’ve really enjoyed writing this book. This may be a scary time for you, and if that’s so, I hope I can help you find your courage again. If we meet some day, let me know what worked”. —from Hello, Cruel World by Kate Bornstein
Lennon, David. “Blue’s Bayou (The Quarter Boys)”, Blue Spike Publishing. 2011.
Murder and Blackmail
David Lennon, Lamdba Literary Award winner, brings back Michel Doucette and Sassy Jones, the detectives we first met the first Quarter Boys novel “The Quarter Boys” and then got to know a little better in “Echoes” and “Second Chance”. This time we move a bit away from New Orleans (a great town for mystery thrillers) and go to Bayou Proche where Verle, Michel’s cousin has been accused of murder. As Michel tries to prove Verle’s innocence, a blackmail plot is uncovered and a close friend of Verle’s is involved in what seems to be a conspiracy to get the control of the mineral rights on Verle’s property. But things get even more interesting as Michel is forced to confront his own childhood memories.
We now get the chance to meet Michel as a young man and we get a look at his roots and family—not just the family that we are born into but the family (of friends) that we build ourselves. Now as a Louisianan, family is important and reading about the conflicts that Michel faced as a gay man definitely ring true. Many think of New Orleans as the haven of American bohemian life where gay men can b e free. That is not really the case is the same challenges that gay men face everywhere are faced there as well. And I myself can remember blackmail attempts on gay men when I was growing up in New Orleans.
David Lennon tells us in his author’s note that Michel is not in any way autobiographical although there are some shared traits and experiences only proves my idea that all gay men go through similar trials.
I am amazed with every book of Lennon’s as how he manages to convey Louisiana to the reader. I find that the settings of his novels also serve as characters within them. But more than anything else is the way the plot is thought out and then given to us. Lennon I a master storyteller and while I did not tell you much about the plot, let me just say that “there is a method in my madness”. I have learned that there are really two kinds of people that read reviews—those who want a little taste and those who want to know it all before they buy a book. I you know it all there is no point in buying or reading the book. What I will say is that reading Lennon is a treat and once he hooks you, you will find yourself waiting for each new book. I know that I do.
“The Sleeping Beauty” (“La belle endormie”)
Deconstructing a Fairy Tale
Three witches struggle to find an antidote to the death sentence that has been placed on Anastasia, a young princess. Anastasia was cursed the day she was born. An evil fairy has decided that she will die at age 16 after pricking her finger and the three witches learn of this. They try to find a way to change the curse and instead of dying, Anastasia will sleep for 100 years and live only in a world of dreams. As she dreams she will discover love and loss. This is how Catherine Breillat deconstructs the story.
Breillat usually deals with what happens to the female body and here she transfers that to a fairytale. Here our princess played by Carla Besnainou is a tomboy who wants to be called by a male name (Vladimir) and hates her breasts. In her dreams she looks for a boy named Peter and we wonder if her search for Peter is actually a search for self or is it something about emasculation?
Anastasia is able to break free of being a lady by doing some very masculine things. It seems to me. At least, that the underlying theme here about children who do not fit into their assigned gender and wish to change. The film is replete with ghosts and ogres, lesbian gypsies and albino princesses. The deconstruction of gender isn’t a new subject for Breillat; she has used it in “Anatomy of Hell” but what is new here is the fairytale approach.
Here the sleeping beauty is awakened to be the hero of her own saga in a story told by a wicked aunt. The story is set in France of the 1800’s. Anastasia goes into the unknown (in her dreams) to rescue Peter (Kieran Mayan) and we see an unusually cruel boy here. Her adventures are like chapters of a dream: penetrating the castle of the albino prince (Paul Vernet) and princess (Laurine David), is captured by brigands, befriends a gypsy girl (Luna Charpentier), and trudges across the tundra on a reindeer to take advice from a knowing grandmother. All of these things tended to happen haphazardly.
When 16-year-old Anastasia (Julia Artamonov) is woken by her modern-day prince (David Chausse) and been ushered into womanhood and the dream and its power fade. Anastasia has lost her innocence.