Monday, December 31, 2012

Book Review: "Movie Icons: Marlene Dietrich"

Marlene Dietrich (Taschen Movie Icon Series)Marlene Dietrich by James Ursini

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This is basically a coffee table book, which includes a great many glossy stills from Marlene Dietrich's movie career, as well as a few from her live shows. Also included are an array of movie posters. The book contains a number of interesting quotes from the lady herself, as well as people who knew or worked with her. There is a little bit of biographical text, as well as brief explanatory notes about the stills and photographs. All text is in three languages: English, German, and French.

Marlene Dietrich was a top tier star, a very sexy woman who flirted with both women and men and was as captivating in a man's tuxedo as she was in a Hollywood gown. This is a woman who, when offered the chance to be a star in Nazi-sponsored German movies (in 1933), basically told Hitler to stuff it, and became an American citizen. This book isn't meant to be an in-depth biography, but is well worth an hour's time for anyone who finds her fascinating...and who wouldn't?



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Book Review: "The Age Of Grief"

The Age of GriefThe Age of Grief by Jane Smiley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This book consists of five short stories and a novella. First, let me state the obvious: that Jane Smiley, who won a Pulitzer for "A Thousand Acres" can really write. Her grasp of what really goes on at the heart of relationships, and within people in the course of their daily lives, is remarkable. These stories explore connections between friends, parents and children, and men and women. I will say that the stories all tend toward the down side. While there is genuine truth here, I think she shortchanged joy, which is just as real and present in our connections as is pain.

I admired and enjoyed four of the five short stories. In "The Pleasure Of Her Company", a woman's friendship with her new neighbors isn't exactly what it seems to be, or what she thinks it is. To me, this was the best of the bunch.

In "Lily", a beautiful but lonely woman plans to ask her friends--a married couple--why they think she can't find love, only to discover that they aren't the ones to ask.

"Long Distance" concerns a single man visiting family-centered relatives at holiday time. It's really keenly observed. "Dynamite" is about a very rare bird, a female bomber. It was written pre-Oklahoma City and makes a creepy read indeed, today.

The only one of the short stories that I didn't care for was called "Jeffrey, Believe Me", about a woman who gets her gay male friend high and manages to seduce him and become pregnant. It all seemed surreal, unlikely, and silly to me.

The title novella concerns a married couple who have three young daughters and who share a thriving dental practice. The story is told through his eyes. He comes to believe that his wife has been having an affair, which has subsequently ended. He goes to insane lengths not to give her the chance to tell him in so many words. Personally, I felt his fearful, angry emotional remove was worse than anything she may or may not have done. All five characters are richly depicted, and all of them except the narrator ring absolutely true. Him, I couldn't quite believe, and I thought, not for the first time, that it is a tricky business to write cross-gender fiction; that is, men writing women or women writing men. I found it hard to spend as long as I had to, inside this man's head. Four stars, on the whole.



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Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Moonstone Ring

At the bottom of a pool ringed with high blades of brown grass,
I met my bare-legged love,
the one with the slender fingers and the starfish eyes.

"What is it like, drowning?" I asked,
removing her moonstone ring.
My thinking at the time was to restore her entire,
from a detail.
If I set out her favorite soaps,
would not her fingertips appear, to take them?
Would not her arm follow, serpentine, impossible?
Would I not sleep with her again that very night,
my returned heart,
my conjured desire?

The moonstone ring had tiny lizards traversing the band,
counterclockwise,
enchanted;
the stone itself so pale,
retrograde,
floating to one side in a blue morning sky
as I did in the pool,
suffocating on my very urgency to have her back.

"Dial it down," she said to me, filling her sorrowful, disembodied voice
with her familiar lazy patois.
The stars dragged themselves, too bright, over our heads
and then melted like pangs of conscience
or fading scars,
achingly final,
reducing us to ripples, my love and I,
spreading away from each other, vanishing, in spite of ourselves.
_______

Written using some words from a list. Thank you, Jasminecalyx.

Linked with Carry On Tuesday #186, where I failed to follow the rules.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Demanding Doll

The Demanding Doll isn't satisfied with the Colonial in Hunter's Grove anymore.
A few pairs of shrimpy shoes the size of baby teeth
are supposed to keep her happy?
Get a real job, you worm.
Grow some.
Get out there and get busy.

The Demanding Doll hasn't got the distractions of motherhood.
Breasts may be for babies,
but if someone would just swing her by her ankles,
she could use hers to hammer horse shoes.

The Demanding Doll has powers.
If she wants more hair, she can just pull it out the top of her skull.
She can do all the positions in the Kama Sutra and never get a cramp.
She can keep living for weeks without her head.
Close all the car windows 
in the middle of July.
Leave her there alone.
She won't die.

What do you bring to the table?
Are you a man or a mouse?
Don't be so meek.
Speak.

Listen at you.
"I thought everything was perfect!"
"I thought you really loved me!"
"I thought you were fully posable!"
Wake up.
She doesn't want any toy Escalade with plastic doors.
And one thing more...
she's late,
and it's not yours.
________


Friday, December 28, 2012

Goldilox's Goat

If you're set on killing your kid,
I'm not feeling it, but it's your business.
It might even be a mercy--
he won't have to see your Pinball Eyes across the dinner table anymore;
no more double jackpot bonus for obedience.

Still,
five bucks says you didn't consult your wife about this.
Bloodshed
zealotry,
long flowing beards,
these are the kind of things you get
when women aren't part of the decision making.
Honey, if you have to choose between 
dealing with God
or dealing with maternal fury,
God can collect His own coconuts, that's what I think.

And so now, my text, brother.
Don't fuck with my Goat.
Do you think I believe that shit story about the brambles?
Do you think that I think that he just rocketed on in there
like a meteor into somebody's living room?
Do you really believe in sacrifice by proxy?
Do you really think I won't hurt you if you touch my Goat?

Capricorns are a tricky business.
They mope, they brood, they suspect your motives,
and since your motives blow chunks,  there you have it.
Isn't it handy
how your God ran a quickie shell game 
and swapped kid for Goat, so to speak?
Kill the kid,
no don't, just kidding,
ha ha.
And all the while, you, with your knife raised
as if you were playing whack-a-mole with it.

I once visited the Three Bears. 
I crashed there, they fed me this oatmealy crap.
All I ever heard was, don't mess with the furniture,
this is mine,
that's his,
hands off,
blah-de-la.
It was pretty dysfunctional, but there were no Divine commands,
no infanticide,
no Pinball Eyes turned toward the heavens.

Here's how it's going to be:
I'm gonna take my Goat.
You're gonna chill the fuck out.
I'm gonna cougar your kid at the reading tonight
and make him shout hallelujah.
Problems?
Call 1-800-CAP-GOAT.
Thank you for holding.
Someone will be with you as soon as you pull your head out and put the knife down.
Later, Abe.
Go home to your wife.
Meditate on a new rubric.
Insert quarters, play again.
_______

for Out Of Standard with Izy 

                       

Friday, December 21, 2012

Book Review: "Talk Before Sleep"

Talk Before SleepTalk Before Sleep by Elizabeth Berg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Putting the basic premise of "Talk Before Sleep" in a nutshell--two friends in their early forties, one dying of breast cancer, the other helping her through it--makes it sound like a bad Lifetime movie melodrama, but it isn't like that at all. Elizabeth Berg has a keen ear (and heart) for the way women are with each other; the way we talk, the things we feel, and the way we know each other in a way that men can't understand.

The two main characters, passionate artist Ruth and dependable, careful Ann, might seem like a mismatch at first, but they balance each other. When Ruth becomes ill, Ann puts her own life with her husband and nine-year-old daughter on hold, and devotes herself to taking care of her dying friend. About half of the book is told in flashback, and the reader gets to see how these two women have bonded over time.

I've read any number of Berg's novels, and she has a wonderful sense for the simple scene that says a lot, in a marvelous way. For example, in one scene in this book, Ann is looking at a painting which hangs over Ruth's bed. It is a watercolor of a group of women laying languidly in a field on a sunny day. Ann finds it so evocative that she can feel the warm sun, and smell the grass. Then she thinks, how can they do that? Don't they have to go get groceries for dinner, or something?

There are several very well-drawn and interesting side characters in this book. Nothing seems cardboard, or paint by number. I ended up feeling like I knew all of these women, and I do. I have either known them or been them. Berg gets to the heart of things, with humor and with humanity.

On a personal note, the last two books I have read and reviewed were both novels by favorite authors I had not read in a while, and they were both hiding, forgotten and unread until now, on my bookshelf as if patiently waiting for me to find them again. I'm glad I did.



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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Year In The Factory

There are thighs and then there are thighs--
yours put foreign powers on DefCon 5
out of pure jealousy.

Night shift at the factory is enough to melt skulls,
reverse the flow of hearts, turn bones to industrial byproduct
out of sheer boredom.
I loved you wearing jeans and safety goggles,
better than gown and pearls any day.

We took a picnic lunch to the city park,
and set our eyes to floating on the gray waters of the
flammable, compromised river that cuts through it.
"This is fun," we lied,
and fed bread to a one-eyed pigeon 
who kept missing with his first peck.

The customs agents had stopped me the time before;
they searched my emphysemic, cookie-cutter piece of shit
right down to the wheel wells.
Holding up my rubber boots, one of them asked,
"Do you work at the plant?"
Well, what do you think, asshole? What do you think?
So you got even with them for me the next time--
you, fluent in Russian, Romanian and doubletalk
pretended not to understand the agent's fractured schoolroom parlance,
and mumbled until he let you through just to be rid of you.

How crazy that you should be Catholic--
I've never seen a craftier shoplifter.
Each time the grid went down, I kissed you for your pilfered candles,
your flashlight, your shitty little radio that kept us informed
as I buried my face in your sweetness like a supplicant.

There are thighs and then there are thighs,
and yours are the finest ever to grace my cracker box apartment
that I had to be on a waiting list for years, to get.
Everything is always in short supply--
once, you backed me through a rope of yellow hazard tape 
and right into a defective forklift
with a kiss, on work time.
My shoe soles picked up God knows what from the filthy floor,
but my heart was happy
as the assembly lines rattled behind us.

There is plenty everywhere that can poison a person,
or sow cancer seeds that will explode later on.
We gave that year of our lives to the production of jugs of kitchen cleanser,
since banned.
Everyone who worked there had red hands and brittle nails,
despite the gloves, despite the icons some of us prayed to.
Oh well.
I was happy,
and even though you left just as it all seemed so good,
that year was pure, flawless, redeeming even,
like love can be sometimes,
and as your thighs definitely were, and still are,
in some other woman's bed
in another town,
where you mumble into her ear in Romanian
and she holds you closer
for all the good such motions ever do.
________

for Kerry's challenge at Real Toads
 

 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Ngorongoro Nativity

If you are a Cape Buffalo,
the first thing you do in life
is fall.

For your mother, there is no hospital bed,
no breathing exercises, no Lamaze,
no idiot husband with a video cam.
Stoic, she stands and gives you to the ground.

This stunned moment of grass and hoof-shadow
is the last rest you will get,
Little Runner.

The only other place to lay your head
for the rest of your life,
will be that final hour of stifled surrender
in the lion's mouth.
_______

For dolls, part 2, at Real Toads. This doll was created by Becca Nenow. I don't think she probably intended it to be a Cape Buffalo, but this is how it spoke to me.

And, from Detroit's own...
 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Book Review: "Local Girls"

Local GirlsLocal Girls by Alice Hoffman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This is the eleventh Alice Hoffman novel I have read, but the first in five years, and it isn't a new one. She was once my favorite novelist, and "Second Nature" remains one of my dozen favorite books, ever. But I hated the last one I read before this, "The Ice Queen". I hated it so much that I quit reading Hoffman.

Nonetheless, when I was searching my shelves a few days ago for a book to read, I found "Local Girls" tucked away where it had been forgotten, and because it was an older novel of hers, I decided to read it. It reminded me a little bit of "Seventh Heaven"; not bad, but not great, either.

To me, Hoffman's strengths have always been her very well-drawn female characters and her sense of magic. There is plenty of that in this novel, which is the story of a girl, Gretel, and the people surrounding her as she moves from her teen years to young adulthood. We meet her best friend Jill, her mother, who contracts breast cancer, her cousin Margot, and her doomed brother who never really recovers from his father leaving.

What I liked best about "Local Girls" was the believability of every one of the characters, even when Hoffman's signature magical realism takes them through some unusual plot twists. What I liked least was that the main character, Gretel, while not unsympathetic, wasn't someone who I felt could carry a novel. She's just a pretty ordinary "local girl", which I suppose is the point, but while I liked them well enough, I won't miss any of these characters nor probably recall much about them a year from now.

I can't recommend "Local Girls" except for waits at airports or the like. But I did recently buy Hoffman's recent and much-praised novel "The Dove Keepers", so we shall see.



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Friday, December 14, 2012

Paint Horse

I am the paint horse--
I have high-stepped through a thousand snakes,
mouths open like poisoned prairie flowers;

I have left their heads beneath my hooves,
a row of flat, dull silver dollars
staring at the endless open sky without seeing it.

You have called me,
whether you knew it or not.
You, beneath your buffalo blanket like the moon behind a cloud,
you have drawn me here.

With a circle around my eye,
and a hand print on my flank,
I feel the bones of all who came before us--
yours,
and mine--
beneath this dirt, these roots, this earth in all directions.

I am calling you,
you, the beautiful one I love.
You have pushed the bone shard through the flesh of your slender arm,
and not flinched.
Surely, every ghost will honor this.

I am the paint horse,
waiting;
you are the one I love.
We will not need reins, a saddle,
or anything but our bodies
together like cloud and storm,
across the plains.
________

for Hannaballistic's Transforming Friday challenge at Real Toads. She commands that we write about the prairie and its creatures.