I don't write much, I know, but I consume. Here are some of the recent good things I have tasted:
The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger. Such a good book. It a science fiction story, really, of a man afflicted with a genetic abnormality that causes him to suffer "chrono-displacement," meaning that he time travels without warning into his past and occasionally his future, marries a girl who, thanks to his time traveling, has known him since she was a small child, but whom he only meets when he is twenty-three. It's a sad book. I totally cried in through the final pages, but it had to be that way. I loved the relationship between the two characters -- the steadiness of their love for one another, despite loads of trouble -- that is mostly held together by her certainty of it. I was truly moved by her role in it, the way she had to conform her needs and desires to the reality of his disorder, and the way she had to be steady, because he couldn't change that about himself. Maybe it sounds like a book for girls? I think not. I really loved it.
Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides. So good. I think a big part of it's huge appeal for me was the history of Calliope/Cal's big Greek family, and their journey from Turkey, near Bursa and present day Izmir. A few years ago, I made a trip to Turkey and visited all those places, including the town my own Greek family on my father's side is from, and saw the house they lived in. While I was there, I met a Turkish butcher who thought he might have remembered my grandfather. There's something about family stories like this one that really get me; I think these kinds of histories are the way we know ourselves in some deep sense, and I loved this saga of the Stephanides family. Of course, the twist in this one is that generations of intermarriage in the family lead to the birth of our hero, the hermaphrodite, who must come to see himself not as a monster, but as the natural product of a rich history. I felt the book faltered a little at the end when Cal is briefly separated from his family by what is essentially his need to internalize his own sense of identity, but it was all right back on as soon as he was back in the room with his crazy old grandmother. Great book. I loved it.
Seven Types of Ambiguity by Elliot Perlman. Yes, that is a title swiped from William Empson's absolutley fantastic work of literary criticism, and frankly, I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it's brilliantly written, dense, compulsively readable, and quite long -- all good -- but, on the other hand, I felt that its story told from seven first-person perspectives and attempted relationship between that modus operandi and Empson's book is a bit forced and overly-clever. Additionally, the plot hinges on loads of coincidental relationships between otherwise unrelated characters -- also forced. The whole story hinges around the life of a man who is obsessed with his own idealized love for an ex-girlfirend that left him abruptly 9 years before. Eventually, he kidnaps her son, sending everyone connected's life off-course. I'm probably not doing a great job of selling this one here, but I really liked it in a lot of ways. It's the kind of book where you wish someone else you knew (and whose aesthetic sensibilites you respect) had read it, so you could hash it all out. I would totally recommend it. And, if you read it, let me know!
FebioFest 2006. Prague is host to a really nice, big film festival every year in March. During it, I finally got to see one I've been dying to see: Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale, which was a really, really beautiful film. In it, a very difficult English professor/failing novellist and his wife split up, and the film looks at the effect their overly-frank, painful break-up has on their two sons. One of the Baldwin brothers is smarmily brilliant as a tennis club pro cum new boyfriend to the mother, and Jeff Daniels is so freaking sad as the father that it's almost a perfromance that makes you never want to see him again, a la Jack Lemmon in Glengarry Glen Ross. Laura Linney as the wife, and the two boys who play their sons were incredible as well. The whole affair was the kind of intelligent, thoughtful, poetic film that you are rarely so lucky as to see.
I also saw Matador in which Pierce Brosnan, rocking the world's most awesomely horrible hairy caterpillar on his upper lip and having no compunction about prancing around in his skivvies despite the fact that his figure is not what it once was, plays a hit man who wants out of his game. Greg Kinnear is the sweet suburban husband who helps him out. It's hilarious and surprisingly sweet. Throughout the film, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop in favor of some kind of tiresome lip-service to gritty "reality," and I was delighted when it never did. I left the theater smiling from ear to ear.
Both of those films were at Sundance when I went up there for Brick (currently tearing it up at a theater near you, bitches, so GO SEE IT), and I didn't manage to see them then, so I was happy to finally have the opportunity.
I also saw Mysterious Skin for the second time, and really enjoyed it. It's a hard one to watch, but ultimately, I think it's a very compassionate film, and Brick star Joseph Gordon Levitt is freaking brilliant in it. I took along some friends who looked a bit shell-shocked afterwards, but they liked it. While I'm at it, I should also mention that Joe has a really nice website for his short films, and you should all go watch them. Escargots is especially beautiful. Please be aware that it is his voiceover on the soundtrack, and know that he is truly lovely.
The Smiths. I'm a bit obsessed lately, especially The Queen Is Dead and Strangeways, Here We Come. There was a time, in my youth, when I'd read about how Morrissey was celibate and a vegan, and disdained him thoroughly as an affectedly pathetic prancy-pants, but I was wrong. He is, in fact totally brilliant, and I love every song without exception on about four different records by The Smiths. As for the others, I just don't know them as well; I feel certain that I will love them just as much in the future. The shimmery guitar, the fantastic writing and yowling, and the way all the gloom just somehow makes you feel like laughing is fucking great. I love the growly way he sings on "A Rush and a Push and the Land Is Ours", and I adore "Paint a Vulgar Picture". My favorite Smiths song of the moment, though, is definitely "Never Had No One Ever" from The Queen Is Dead. Oh, the operatic misery. I feel some correspondence with that blend of real sadness and humor that I never did back when it came out and I was a gloomy, bad-poetry-writing teenager.
If my brief encounter with the northern lad I've been "seeing" of late (and, I'm sorry, but scare quotes are fully necessary in this case) has any legacy (other than confirmation of my sad fate as a spinster who dies alone and is eaten by wild dogs), it will be my newly intensified appreciation for the whole Britpop thing from the mid-90's, with its blend of high-spirits and hopeless working-class despondency. More thoughts may be formed later, but right now I'm still listening...