October 19, 2014

And sometimes during my waking hours I think, wouldn't it be something if this life was just a dream too?

This Is Where I Leave You
By Jonathan Tropper

I was not expecting this book to be so, so funny & it's the first in a long while I enjoyed immensely throughout. The story is good, it's fine, but what made it great for me is the way in which it was told -- Jonathan Tropper is a great, funny writer using such expressions and metaphors to describe personal and intimate situations, anecdotes, family dynamics, in ways that made me literally laugh out loud. Given the circumstances of the family, especially the main character, Judd, it was a dark comedy of sorts.

The two following passages don't necessarily reflect the humor (this book is another case in which sometimes I was enjoying it too much to jot everything down) - but more the poignancy of the darker moments Judd experiences. Wish I could remember all the good lines! (Goodreads people captured many.)

"I have a recurring dream in which I'm walking down the street, all foot-loose and fancy-free, when I look down and realize that beneath my pants, one of my legs is actually a prosthesis, molded plastic and rubber with a steel core. And then I remember, with a sinking feeling, that my leg had been amputated from the knee down a few years back. I had simply forgotten. The way you can forget in dreams. The way you wish you could forget in real life, but, of course, can't. In real life, you don't get to choose what you forget. So I'm walking, usually out on Route 120 in Elmsbrook, past the crappy strip malls, the mini golf, the discount chains, and the themed restaurants, when I suddenly remember that I lost my leg a few years ago, maybe cancer, maybe a car accident, whatever. The point is, I have this fake leg clamped to my thigh, chafing at my knee where my calf used to descend. And when I remember that I'm an amputee, I experience this moment of abject horror when I realize that when I get home I will have to take off the leg to go to sleep and I can't remember ever having done that before, but I must do it  every night, and how do I pee, and who will ever want to have sex with me, and how the hell did this even happen anyway? And that's when I will myself awake, and I lie there in bed, sweaty and trembling, running my hands up and down both legs, just to make sure. Then when I get up to go to the bathroom, even if I don't have to, and the cold bathroom tiles against my feet are like finding fifty bucks in a jacket pocket from last fall. These are the rare moments when it actually still feels good to be me.
And sometimes during my waking hours I think, wouldn't it be something if this life was just a dream too? And somewhere there's a more complete and happy and slimmer version of me sleeping in his bed, next to a wife who still loves him, the linens twisted up around their feet from their recent lovemaking, the sounds of their children's light snoring filling the dimly lit hallway. And that me, the one dreaming of this version, is about to shake himself awake from the nightmare of my life. I can feel his relief like it's my own."
(pp. 83-4)

"…I am three years old and riding my red plastic motorcycle in the park. It's cold out, I'm wearing my navy blue ski hat, and my nose is running copiously into my scarf. The plastic wheels of the motorcycle clatter loudly against the cracked asphalt as I push off with my feet to propel myself around an Olympic-sized sandbox. I don't know if I'm going clockwise or counterclockwise. I'm three years old; I don't know from clocks. Suddenly, a kid appears in my path, tall and fat, two lines of snot running equilaterally down from his nose to the corners of his mouth. He holds a gray milk crate over his head like the Ten Commandments being brought down from Sinai. "The Hulk!" he screams at me. I don't know what he means. I'm years away from Marvel comics, and even once I discover them, The Incredible Hulk will never make sense to me. Is he a good guy or a bad guy? You're never really sure, and moral ambivalence has no place in childhood. I'm three years old, and I have never heard of The Incredible Hulk, but this kid clearly relates to him intimately. And maybe he's pretending the milk crate is a car, or a house, or a large boulder, or an archenemy, I don't know. Whatever it's supposed to be, it hurts like hell when it hits my face. And then I'm off the motorcycle, lying on my side, the grit of the cold asphalt biting into my cheek. My nose and mouth are bleeding, and I'm coughing and spitting and crying, gagging on my own blood.
And then I'm borne up into the air by powerful arms, lifted high above the fat kid and my plastic motorcycle and the earth, really, my face pressed into my savior's large shoulder, which is somehow hard and soft at the same time. I bleed into the fuzz of his peacoat as he rubs my back and says, "It's okay, bubbie. You're okay. Everything is fine." And then he stands me up on a bench and pulls out a handkerchief to softly wipe away my blood. "That little bastard really nailed you," he says, gently picking me up again. I don't know what a little bastard is, I don't know who the Hulk is, I don't remember what exactly happened, but my father is holding me safely above the fray, and I'm burrowed hard into his powerful chest, and I'm aware of the fat kid somewhere down below but I know the little bastard can't reach me up here."
(pp. 188-9)


October 10, 2014

"If you're scared of your hunger, you'll just be one more ninny like everyone else."

Olive Kitteridge
By Elizabeth Strout

"Oh, Winnie," Julie said. But she was squinting at her baby finger, and then she unscrewed the nail polish again. "You know what Mrs. Kitteridge said in class one day? Julie asked.
Winnie waited.
"I always remember she said one day, 'Don't be scared of your hunger. If you're scared of your hunger, you'll just be one more ninny like everyone else."
Winnie waited, watching Julie do her baby fingernail once more with the perfect pink polish. "Nobody knew what she meant," Julie said, holding her nail up, looking at it.
"What did she mean?" Winnie asked.
"Well, that's just it. At first I think most of us thought she was talking about food. I mean, we were just seventh graders--sorry, Doodle--but as time went by, I think I understand it more."
"She teaches math," Winnie said.
"I know that, dopey. But she'd say these weird things, very powerfully. That's partly why kids were scared of her. You don't have to be scared of her--if she's still teaching next year."
"I am, though. Scared of her."
Julie looked at her sideways. "Lot scarier stuff right here in this house."
(p. 195)

"And yet, standing behind her son, waiting for the traffic light to change, she remembered how in the midst of it all there had been times when she'd felt a loneliness so deep that once, not so many years ago, having a cavity filled, the dentist's gentle turning of her chin with his soft fingers had felt to her like a tender kindness of almost excruciating depth, and she had swallowed with a groan of longing, tears springing to her eyes. ("Are you all right, Mrs. Kitteridge?" the dentist had said.)
(p. 224)

"She stepped into the room, put her handbag on the floor. He didn't sit up, just stayed there, lying on the bed, an old man, his stomach bulging like a sack of sunflower seeds. His blue eyes watched her as she walked to him, and the room was filled with the quietness of afternoon sunlight. It fell through the window, across the rocking chair, hit broadside the wallpaper with its brightness. The mahogany bed knobs shone. Through the curved-out window was the blue of the sky, the bayberry bush, the stone wall. The silence of this sunshine, of the world, seemed to fold over Olive with a shiver of ghastliness, as she stood feeling the sun on her bare wrist. She watched him, looked away, looked at him again. To sit down beside him would be to close her eyes to the gaping loneliness of this sunlit world."
(p. 269)

"Her eyes were closed, and throughout her tired self swept waves of gratitude--and regret. She pictured the sunny room, the sun-washed wall, the bayberry outside. It baffled her, the world. She did not want to leave it yet."
(p. 270)


October 08, 2014

Had they known at these moments to be quietly joyful?

Olive Kitteridge
By Elizabeth Strout

"There was a beauty to that autumn air, and the sweaty young bodies that had mud on their legs, strong young men who would throw themselves forward to have the ball smack against their foreheads; the cheering when a goal was scored, the goalie sinking to his knees. There were days--she could remember this--when Henry would hold her hand as they walked home, middle-aged people, in their prime. Had they known at these moments to be quietly joyful? Most likely not. People mostly did not know enough when they were living life that they were living it. But she had that memory now, of something healthy and pure. Maybe it was the purest she had, those moments on the soccer field, because she had other memories that were not pure."
(p. 162)

She had forgotten how angelic he'd looked, like some creature newly hatched, as though he had not yet grown a skin and was all light and luminescence.

Olive Kitteridge
By Elizabeth Strout

I finished the book and I finished the miniseries. Both (IMO) very much worth reading and seeing. I'll post more excerpts over the next few days.

"One evening when she returned home, she looked through a drawer of old photographs. Her mother, plump and smiling, but still foreboding. Her father, tall, stoic; his silence in life seemed right there in the photo--he was, she thought, the biggest mystery of all. A picture of Henry as a small child. Huge-eyed and curly-haired, he was looking at the photographer (his mother?) with a child's fear and wonder. Another photo of him in the navy, tall and thin, just a kid, really, waiting for life to begin. You will marry a beast and love her, Olive thought. You will have a son and love him. You will be endlessly kind to townspeople as they come to you for medicine, tall in your white lab coat. You will end your days blind and mute in a wheelchair. That will be your life.
Olive slipped the picture back into the drawer, her eye catching a photo of Christopher, taken when he was not yet two. She had forgotten how angelic he'd looked, like some creature newly hatched, as though he had not yet grown a skin and was all light and luminescence. You will marry a beast and she will leave you, Olive thought. You will move across the country and break your mother's heart. She closed the drawer. But you will not stab a woman twenty-nine times."
(p. 161)

September 27, 2014

Or sometimes it didn't go away but got squeezed into something tiny, and hung like a piece of tinsel in the back of your mind.

Olive Kitteridge
By Elizabeth Strout

The adaptation of this book is coming to HBO as a four-part miniseries in November. I watched the first two parts this week and think it's quite lovely in a very sad way, and it affects me deeply getting this close-up look at how all of these characters cope and endure. It's a little strange, as if you shouldn't have so much access to a stranger's struggle. I agree with Lena Dunham, who said "it is the most beautiful, spiritual, funny thing." (And a reminder of why she's proud to work at HBO - my thoughts too.) I'm more often than not convinced most people are doing fine and maybe I'm the only one who's perpetually confused, and yearning, and hoping, and trying. But reading & watching makes me feel like -- maybe not. In any case, the experiences of the people in this small town are beautifully rendered.

"Hello, Angie." He wasn't a man you'd look twice at now. Probably back then he wasn't a man you'd have looked twice at, but that didn't matter the way people thought it did. It didn't matter how once he'd had an ugly brown leather jacket and thought it was cool. You couldn't make yourself stop feeling a certain way, no matter what the other person did. You had to just wait. Eventually the feeling went away because others came along. Or sometimes it didn't go away but got squeezed into something tiny, and hung like a piece of tinsel in the back of your mind." (pp. 56-7)

"She drank, with one hand, all the Irish coffee. And then she played all sorts of songs. She didn't know what she played, couldn't have said, but she was inside the music, and the lights on the Christmas tree were bright and seemed far away. Inside the music like this, she understood many things. She understood that Simon was a disappointed man if he needed, at this age, to tell her he had pitied her for years. She understood that as he drove his car back down the coast toward Boston, toward his wife with whom he had raised three children, that something in him would be satisfied to have witnessed her the way he had tonight, and she understood that this form of comfort was true for many people, as it made Malcolm feel better to call Walter Dalton a pathetic fairy, but it was thin milk, this form of nourishment; it could not change that you had wanted to be a concert pianist and ended up a real estate lawyer, that you had married a woman and stayed married to her for thirty years, when she did not ever find you lovely in bed." (p. 58)

September 21, 2014

But when the crowd caught sight of the murderers ... it fell silent, as though amazed to find them humanly shaped.



In Cold Blood
By Truman Capote

Chilling, sad, disturbing. People like Richard Eugene Hickock and Perry Edward Smith still exist today & always will -- that's the saddest, most disturbing part. That innocent, good people will still die at the hands of ruthless murderers. It's disheartening. I can see why this book was lauded, as it's an impressive in-depth account of the events leading up to the murders, and during and after. A bit of timeliness, too -- apparently a Florida detective wants to exhume their bodies because he believes Richard and Perry were connected to a similar Florida murder that happened around the same time. (Truman mentions this in the book, but states that at the time of publication the killers were still at large. It's a bit suspicious. Perry maintained that it was probably done by crazy people who saw what him and Richard did & wanted to copy. Even though they were both in Florida when the similar murder occurred.) Also, the governor at the time, a strong supporter of the death penalty for the two of them, recently died.

I identified with the following passage because this year I started doing what Nancy did. Maybe I see her in me a little.

"Before saying her prayers, she always recorded in a diary a few occurrences ("Summer here. Forever, I hope. Sue over and we rode Babe down to the river. Sue played her flute. Fireflies.") and an occasional outburst ("I love him, I do"). It was a five-year diary; in the four years of its existence she had never neglected to make an entry, though the splendor of several events (Eveanna's wedding, the birth of her nephew) and the drama of others (her "first REAL quarrel with Bobby" - a page literally tear-stained) had caused her to usurp space allotted to the future. A different-tinted ink identified each year: 1956 was green and 1957 a ribbon of red, replaced the following year by bright lavender, and now, in 1959, she had decided upon a dignified blue. But as in every manifestation, she continued to tinker with her handwriting, slanting it to the right or to the left, shaping it roundly or steeply, loosely or stingily--as though she were asking, "Is this Nancy? Or that? Or that? Which is me? (Once Mrs. Riggs, her English teacher, had returned a theme with a scribbled comment: "Good. But why written in three styles of script?" To which Nancy had replied: "Because I'm not grown-up enough to be one person with one kind of signature." Still, she had progressed in recent months, and it was in a handwriting of emerging maturity that she wrote, "Jolene K. came over and I showed her how to make a cherry pie. Practiced with Roxie. Bobby here and we watched TV. Left at eleven."" (pp. 65-6)

"As long as the sun lasted, the day had been dry and warm--October weather in January. But when the sun descended, when the shadows of the square's giant shade trees met and combined, the coldness as well as darkness numbed the crowd. Numbed and pruned it; by six o'clock, fewer than three hundred persons remained. Newsmen, cursing the undue delay, stamped their feet and slapped frozen ears with ungloved, freezing hands. Suddenly, a murmuring arose on the south side of the square. The cars were coming.
Although none of the journalists anticipated violence, several had predicted shouted abuse. But when the crowd caught sight of the murderers, with their escort of blue-coated highway patrolmen, it fell silent, as though amazed to find them humanly shaped. The handcuffed men, white-faced and blinking blindly, glistened in the glare of flashbulbs and floodlights. The cameramen, pursuing the prisoners and the police into the courthouse and up three flights of stairs, photographed the door of the county jail slamming shut. No one lingered, neither the press corps nor any of the townspeople. Warm rooms and warm suppers beckoned them, and as they hurried away, leaving the cold square to the two gray cats, the miraculous autumn departed too; the year's first snow began to fall." (p. 286)

July 14, 2014

A beautiful day with the buoyancy of a bird.


Breakfast at Tiffany's
By Truman Capote

"That Monday in October, 1943. A beautiful day with the buoyancy of a bird."

"Unless it was Thursday, her Sing Sing day, or unless she'd gone horseback riding in the park, as she did occasionally, Holly was hardly up when I came home. Sometimes, stopping there, I shared her wake-up coffee while she dressed for the evening. She was forever on her way out, not always with Rusty Trawler, but usually, and usually, too, they were joined by Mag Wildwood and the handsome Brazilian, who's name was José Ybarra-Jaegar: his mother was German. As a quartet, they struck an unmusical note, primarily the fault of Ybarra-Jaegar, who seemed as out of place in their company as a violin in a jazz band. He was intelligent, he was presentable, he appeared to have a serious link with his work, which was obscurely governmental, vaguely important, and took him to Washington several days a week. How, then, could he survive night after night in La Rue, El Morocco, listening to the Wildwood ch-ch-chatter and staring into Rusty's raw baby-buttocks face? Perhaps, like most of us in a foreign country, he was incapable of placing people, selecting a frame for their picture, as he would at home; therefore all Americans had to be judged in a pretty equal light, and on this basis his companions appeared to be tolerable examples of local color and national character. That would explain much; Holly's determination explains the rest." 

"I let curiosity guide me between the lions, debating on the way whether I should admit following her or pretend coincidence. In the end I did neither, but concealed myself some tables away from her in the general reading room, where she sat behind her dark glasses and a fortress of literature she'd gathered at the desk. She sped from one book to the next, intermittently lingering on a page, always with a frown, as if it were printed upside down. She had a pencil poised above paper -- nothing seemed to catch her fancy, still now and then, as though for the hell of it, she made laborious scribblings."

"Never love a wild thing, Mr. Bell," Holly advised him. "That was Doc's mistake. He was always lugging home wild things. A hawk with a hurt wing. One time it was a full-grown bobcat with a broken leg. But you can't give your heart to a wild thing: the more you do, the stronger they get. Until they're strong enough to run into the woods. Or fly into a tree. Then a taller tree. Then the sky. That's how you'll end up Mr. Bell. If you let yourself love a wild thing. You'll end up looking at the sky."