Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Ship Made of Paper




On a ship that's made of paper, I will sail the seven seas...
just to bring you home with me.

Scott Spencer's novel, A Ship Made of Paper, is about two couples. The man-Daniel-in one falls obsessively in love with the woman-- Iris-- in the other.   She reciprocates the affection though not quite as maniacally. The two become illicit, sweet, and steamy lovers.

In one scene in the book, Kate, the woman who is being jilted, approaches a bar for a drink.

"The bartender is a man in his sixties, tall and stately, with delicate broken veins in his hollow cheeks and thick authoritative eyes. He looks like a New England Protestant patriarch, he should be a county judge and Kate wonders what wrong turns have brought him to this place, standing behind a noisy bar wearing a red cut-away jacket and a black bow tie."

And this captures a good deal of my take-away from the novel--though I don't think it was the author's intent to make this scene so meaningful.  The decisions we make, the wrong turns and the right turns, bring us to where we are.

Is love the only meaningful driver? If we make decisions based on love are we making the right turns even if the road ahead is hazardous and it's dangerous and could be considered dangerously irresponsible to drive thataway?

The situation for Iris and Daniel is complicated because he is white, she black.  The book is set during the time of the OJ Simpson trial. The community is nervous because kids, mostly African Americans, have escaped from a local home for troubled boys and are frightening, legitimately and otherwise, the predominantly white town.  Kate, a writer by trade, has been authoring a series of articles about the Simpson trial which are unequivocal with assertions of his guilt. It is in this context that Iris and Daniel tryst, meeting in his office and elsewhere, stealing moments to be close. 

Spencer is an excellent story teller. He is able to take a scene that could be described skeletally and flesh it out so that the reader can "see" the scene in all of its nuances.  This is the fourth book I have read by him. The first one I read is actually the book that comes sequentially after this one. In it Kate -though none of the other characters- features prominently.  That book is called Man in the Woods and it is excellent--better than this one.  I also read Endless Love which I can not, not recommend, strongly enough.  (Anyone interested can see that I wrote reviews about both of these in this blog).  

Nobody believes more strongly than I do that love is the key to happiness. Have it and you dance. Don't have it and you settle for substituting other things for love and your life is not as rich. Not sure though that I can support Daniel's behavior in this one. Not sure that what he has is love for Iris as much as a need to fill a void. I can see why he desires Iris, she is depicted as beautiful in her heart and every other way.   But I am not sure Daniel is doing right by either Iris or Kate. You would have to read the book to see what I mean--to explain my reasoning here would be to give away too much.

In sum, do I recommend A Ship Made of Paper?  Yes, absolutely, but not as strongly as Man in the Woods.   

For whatever it is worth, if you have spent time in the Hudson Valley of New York, you will see that this book clearly takes place in Rhinebeck (though Spencer changes the name of the town).  I have a friend who lives in nearby Hyde Park and have spent some time in the region. I think if you are from that area you might enjoy the book if for no other reason than the regular references to places that will be familiar. 


Monday, February 23, 2015

Easy to Bruise

I have found in recent years that I bruise easily.

This morning when I went into the shower I noticed two big black and blue marks; one on my chest and another further south on my gut.  Initially I was taken aback by the marks, but then realized how I got them.

Yesterday and Saturday in an attempt to clear some snow from my roof without risking my life standing on the roof, I leaned outside upstairs windows--first with a canoe paddle, then with a shovel, and lastly with a long push broom. I swatted down icicles, pushed snow off the roof, and in what was some sort of acrobatic move, shoveled snow behind me off of the roof.

In order to get as far out as possible, I had to swim out of three narrow windows. In one case I had gotten out up to my thighs, but for the most part my body was out from the belt up. I was regularly banging my chest on the base of the windows.

Therefore, I have these marks on my chest. And besides that, I am sore.  I know that if I was 30 or 40, I would not be as sore as I am today or as bruised.

On my morning commute today I began to think of this phenomenon as metaphor.  As a young man I tended to think that as we got older we became wiser, and less likely to bruise from emotional affronts that would set us reeling as adolescents and newly minted college graduates. I figured that we would be stronger because of our experience, networks of friends, growing extended families, and accrued wisdom.

Don't think so.  I think--like my chest today--the bruises from emotional injury are more likely to surface as we age.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Jameis Winston

Ryan Leaf, Johnny Manziel, and Jameis Winston.

Three college quarterbacks who were excellent at that level. Three men who regularly got in trouble.  Three college quarterbacks who were or will be busts in professional football.

Jameis Winston yesterday said he anticipates competing with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as top professional quarterbacks and super bowl participants.

Some unsolicited advice for Mr. Winston: shut up.

Jameis Winston just does not have the goods to be a top pro.  Like so many "great" college quarterbacks, part of their "greatness" was a function of playing on a strong team. Put Jameis Winston on say, Rutgers, he does not shine. He would go undrafted. He shined because he had a team that made his talent seem far better than it actually was.

If you look at the excellent quarterbacks in the NFL, few were stars in college.  Flacco played for IAA Delaware.  Roethlisberger for mid major Miami of Ohio.  Neither of the starting quarterbacks in the super bowl this year were highly touted when they came out of college.

Some of the great Heisman winning quarterbacks who played for big name schools were back-ups in the pros: Andre Ware, Steve Spurrier, Ty Detmer.

Jameis Winston had tremendous exposure at Florida State. FSU played on national television nearly every week. He had behemoths on his offensive and defensive line. That is why everyone believes he is the messiah.

Add on to his not extraordinary talent his track record of being a ne'er do well, and you have Ryan Leaf and Johnny Manziel redux.  Winston's talk about comparisons with Brady and competing for superbowls is something that will be ridiculed the rest of his life.

Tampa Bay should draft a linebacker or a pass rusher or some huge defensive lineman, but stay away from Ryan Leaf--er Jameis Winston.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Thread

Kind of eerie reading a book about three generations of family while sitting in my parents' home amid photos of them and my grandparents, while contemplating my life, sibling, and the next generations.

Anne Tyler does not disappoint. I buy her books as soon as they are published without knowing a thing about them.  Since A Ladder of Years, she has written 8 to be recommended books in a row.

This new one-A Spool of Blue Thread,  is no exception. It starts with a depiction of a contemporary family and the difficulties the parents--in their early seventies--are having with a troubled and troubling son.  The reader sees how this child's behavior affects the other three siblings and the relationship of the parents themselves. Then we learn about what transpired to cause the mother to fall in love with the father, and then how the grandparents united.  There are even some references to great grandparents.

So, I sit here in the quiet of my now deceased parents' home, where they lived and I visited for the last 25 years of their life.  And I see pictures on the walls, and in the drawers that I leaf through.  And there are the shots of their parents and I recall all the stories that I'd heard about them.   I sit in 2015 in the middle of an ongoing story; a piece of string on a spool of thread.


Every family has its ongoing story.  Nobody's is blemish free, just some are better at applying make-up.  Anne Tyler is an engaging story teller.  And the characters are--for the most part--so well developed and nuanced.  There are a bunch of kids and characters in this one, so you have got to stay focussed or you might forget who is the kid of whom.  And, it is so Tyler-esque, to draw quirky characters and quirky situations--the two daughters both marry men named Hugh, so one is called Amanda's Hugh and the other Jen's Hugh, and one of the Hughs opens a restaurant that just serves turkey dinners and calls the place Thanksgivings.  And a bunch of other eccentric sorts.

If you are new to Anne Tyler I would not start at this one. Noah's Compass is better and easier as is The Beginner's Goodbye.  The Amateur Marriage I read in about a day it was so impossible to put down.  And there are others of hers that I would recommend before this one.  But that is like making a choice between several desserts each of which you know will be great. If you like to read you will enjoy A Spool of Blue Thread.  If you look at families carefully enough, you will see how they are connected.  This may not be the most uplifting book you will read this year, but it is worth whatever sad musings it fuels.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Boston Rant

Boston is a large city in the northeast.  It snows here.  Sometimes it snows a good deal.

Therefore, I do not understand how impossibly inept the city is at addressing snowfall.  Last week we had a blizzard.  It was a bonafide storm.  This week on Monday it snowed as heavily as it did during the dubbed blizzard.  The snow stopped on Monday night at 8 pm. Lots of snow, but it stopped on Monday night February 2nd at 8 pm.

How come then, on Tuesday morning February 3rd, the streets were not cleared? How come driving into town yesterday I would have been better off on a sled?

I have lived in Dunkirk, Fredonia, Angola, and Buffalo, New York where they would describe snowfall in Boston as flurries.  Trust me. The storms we had in the past two weeks--however nasty--would not slow Buffalo down.

Not only was the snow removal lame, but go figure it was cold on Tuesday morning.  Because of the snow--predicted--and the cold--(predicted and predictable--we are on the same latitude as Buffalo)-- the subways could not cope, busses did not run efficiently, and the commuter rail was erratic.

It is really not funny, but one of the more amusing sights I saw this morning as I drove to work was a cluster of freezing commuters waiting for a bus on Huntington Avenue.  One woman had a glare on her kisser which belonged in the hall of fame for angry mugs.  Maybe her face was just frozen in a scowl.

Last night as I drove home, I noticed that on the Mass Pike--the Mass Pike, not some local highway--the snow in the right hand lane intermittently was left to take up part of that lane.  So one could be driving along at 55 miles an hour and all of a sudden need to veer off into the center lane because Charlie Snowplower did a half fast job.

Yesterday, Tuesday, it took me two hours to make the 15 mile drive from my home to work. The commuter rail, vu den, and subway, vu den, and busses, vu den, were not working because it was cold.  So everyone decided to drive in on poorly plowed highways.

We can win the superbowl, but somebody needs to go to Buffalo and hire someone who knows how to remove snow.  Because--I am just guessing here--it will probably snow again sometime.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Prediction

240 eastern time. Four hours before kick-off.

Prediction

Patriots 31
Seahawks 20.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Girl on the Train

Two long plane rides and a snow day gives a reader time to read.  I picked up, The Girl on the Train, and put it in my satchel as I headed for the airport on Sunday.  I completed inhaling it today while resting my sore arms from the toil of shoveling.

Very good book. A thriller and a page turner with an unsettlingly plausible plot.

A woman takes a train into London daily. Ostensibly a commuter, when the train stops each day by a certain neighborhood she stares wistfully at the back yards of the homes on one street. She does so because she used to live in one of the houses as the spouse of the man who still lives in one of them with his new wife.

There is a disappearance and a murder. Who did it is a major plot line as is the emotional journey of the commuter who deals with her sadness as well as other hurts by knocking them back far more than she should.

There are five central characters with a few interesting and multi dimensional supporting ones.  The author's, (Paula Hawkins) ability to piece the story together is as impressive as the story itself.  Told in the first person by three of the characters, from different periods in 2012 and 2013, the reader --or at least I--had to go back a number of times to make sure that one event had taken place before another, because the first person narratives are not sequential.

Unlike a lot of whodunits, this book goes beyond the plot line.  When we've taken an emotional jolt our ability to think rationally is compromised. We might think of others as far more solid than they are and we just have a hard time connecting the dots. Maybe we become drunks or maybe we just are intoxicated from the poisons of loss.  It's important to try to purge the toxins, solve our puzzles, and piece our lives back together.

Great way to spend a snowy day and a long ride on an airplane.  Highly recommended.