Sunday, August 25, 2013

Book Review - The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud

I just finished reading the novel The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud and I have to admit that I am blown away. The reason why I say that is because I tried to read this novel years ago and found that I could not get beyond the first ten pages. However, after reading her new book, The Woman Upstairs, when it came out, I developed an appreciation for her work and her style of writing, that same way that I now appreciate Ian McEwan, my all time favourite author.

The Emperor's Children takes places several months before 9/11 regarding the lives of three friends and their existence in New York City. First we have Marina Thwaite, daughter of the powerful and well known journalist Murry Thwaite and attorney Annabel Thwaite, who is also jobless and still trying to work on her first book that has been in the making for the last seven years. Next we have Danielle, a television producer who is also a shy intellectual, and finally we have Julius, a critic for several magazines who is also queer, a fashion hound and broke. These three friends live and breathe New York in their own way and yet they are the same: early 30s, selfish to a degree and uniquely ambitious. Their stories create the backdrop for a turn paging novel that also makes you realize that none of the characters are that likable, which in turn makes them very real and very vulnerable.

When Frederick Tubb, also known as "Bootie", comes to New York to live with his uncle Murray and family, he changes from a shy and overweight deep thinker to a catalyst that will set off a chain of events with the 9/11 event as the climax. Bootie comes to New York for a better life away from the distraught Waterstown, New York, and instead finds only lies and deceit. Julius begins working for a company and instead falls for his older boss David. Danielle begins an affair with a most unlikely man. Marina marries Australian Ludovic Seeley yet wonders if she is trapped.

Many people claimed that The Emperor's Children was long-winded and in need of an editor but I beg to differ. Messud's writing is drenched in description and revelation of innermost feelings; nothing is held back, nothing is sacred. For me, that is appealing and makes for a great novel. Reading about Danielle, Julius and Marina through Messud's words made me dislike them even more so than before, yet, as I stated before, made them very real and very vulnerable.

The Emperor's children are naked and vulnerable, just like their father, yet with eyes that see all, we as a society are quick to accept what is for simply what is. Are we just that accepting . . . . or just that blind?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Good Beer SPOTLIGHT - Red Banshee

Red Banshee beer, made by Fort Collins Brewery, was my introduction to this company. This beer, on first sip, delivers a punch filled with spices and citrus, yet becomes mellow with each additional sip. There is also a hint of caramel/malt towards the end of the sip, blending the flavours into one good beer.


Book Review - The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald

After having read W. G. Sebald’s novel Austerlitz, I decided to plunge into another one of his novels – The Rings of Saturn. Only, it is not a novel per se. Actually, I am not really too sure as to what it is. However, I can say with definite honesty that I truly did enjoy it. From what I could gather, the author took a walking tour of the eastern coast of England and wrote down his experiences that became The Rings of Saturn. Yet, the narrator in the book is both Sebald and not so all we have are recorded words and photographs to enhance this “tale”. As with Austerlitz, Sebald’s words read like a dream sequence that is easy to follow if you do not rush it.

The “novel” tells of the narrator’s experiences while taking the tour and along the way, he meets a colourful cast of characters as well as visits historical places that lead his mind to other related places and events. Everything is connected in the narrator’s mind and everything has a place, even if that place is one time and short lived. He tells of a man who is creating the Temple in Jerusalem with matchsticks, owners of manors long forgotten in British history, the history of silk and the wars fought over the worms, and other such eccentric events, places and people. This is a book that makes no sense and in doing so, makes such perfect sense.

I did not know what to expect while reading this book and in doing so, kept my mind open to what the narrator was trying to show to the readers. Too much thought in reading the cross pollination of history within the stories would lose many readers. I found myself re-reading certain pages in making sure that I had read them correctly, or looking up some of the people and events on my computer just to have a better grasp on them, like the life of Roger Casement, or asking a friend about the mating habits of silkworms. I could tell that the narrator took great pains to write about what he experienced during the tour as well as his thoughts that added many other links.

The Rings of Saturn is not beach reading nor is it light reading, yet do not let that dissuade you from reading this work. It is meant to be read, questioned then read again if you have time. In fact, if you do read this novel, send me an email and let me know what you thought of it.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Picturing America - The Latest Exhibit at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens

As I have said many times before, I am one of those Memphians that ACTUALLY loves living in Memphis! Although I have my reasons, here is one I would like to talk about tonight: the art museums. As being a member of both the Brooks and the Dixon (I will renew my membership to the Metal Museum soon, honest!), I get to visit their latest exhibits as many times as I want to and thankfully, both the Brooks and the Dixon have awesome exhibits this summer!

So, since I have spoken at great length about the Carroll Cloar exhibit at the Brooks, now it's time to talk about the latest exhibit at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens - PICTURING AMERICA: Signature Works from the Westmoreland Museum of American Art. This exhibit from August 4, 2013 through October 6, 2013 is a highlight of what the Westmoreland has to offer plus it is a great introduction to American art, especially if you are not familiar with American artists like me. Going to this exhibit has already proven to be quite the learning experience for me and I am glad for it.

Within the exhibit are works that date from the mid 18th century to the early 20th century, from still life to landscape to portraits to fill-in-the-blank: this exhibit has something for everyone. Some of my favourite pieces are:

Silver Thread Falls, Pennsylvania by James Brade Sword

Point Judith, Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island by Alfred Thompson Bricher

Apples in a Brown Hat by Levi Wells Prentice

Unity (Study for International Understanding and Unity: Supreme Manifestation of Enlightenment) by Violet Oakley

Two Sisters by Alfred H. Maurer

Studio Window, Anticoli by Guy Pene Du Bois (my all time favourite in the collection and the photo used above)

The Green Ballet by Everett Shinn

Oranges and Avocados by Doris Emrick Lee

And finally . . . Still Life With Plants by Milton Avery

 If you do get a chance to visit Memphis before October the 6th, do yourself a favour and visit the Dixon! This exhibit is well worth the time and money to see at least once; however, if you are an art junkie like yours truly, you will want to visit the exhibit again and again!

See you next Saturday, Dixon!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Seduced By A Violin

I will freely admit that I am under the spell of the violin. For years, I have loved that instrument above all others because of the sound it makes, the legends behind the instrument and the people throughout history who have fallen under its spell. I love the violin so much so that my next novel, tentatively titled Open A, is based on a fictional violinist and a wide variety of characters in his life, including his Luthier uncle, Julien Fayette, who has a Bluebeard Complex and a killer wine cellar.

Several years ago, I took lessons from a violinist (now a dear friend) yet stopped due to my own worst enemy: myself. In fact, here is a photo of the rental violin I began my studies with that I named Auberon:

It had a sound that made me melt every time I played it; the notes were clear, haunting and beautiful. Alas, I had to return it to the music store where I rented it and regretted ever doing so since then.

However . . . .

I purchased a violin at an estate sale years ago, hoping to get myself back into that world, yet due to the busyness in my life, I left it sitting in a corner to accumulate dust. I then placed it in a closet, hoping to possibly sell it. Then, several months ago, while listening to some classical music on my iPhone, I felt my love for the violin return; in fact, as I later realized, it never left me but only took a back seat, knowing that sooner or later, I would come back.

And I did.

So, tonight, I took my violin to Amro Music Store to get it re-strung, cleaned up and purchased a bow and a cleaning cloth. A BIG thanks to Chris for assisting me tonight, by the way!

And, how does it look now? Well, take a look at the photo below.

Say hello to my OWN violin named . . .well, I have not named it yet, although "he" keeps telling me to call him Proust. I keep thinking I want to call him Julien, after my Luthier character in my novel.

I think this is the beginning of a BEAUTIFUL friendship . . . .

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Book Review - Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald

Before writing out this review, I decided to travel to the land of Wikipedia to read more about author W. G. Sebald. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that he died in December of 2001. Although I had not really heard of Sebald until recently, his novel Austerlitz deeply affected me.

Austerlitz is a story of an unnamed narrator who meets architectural historian Jacques Austerlitz by accident one day while visiting Antwerp in the 1960s. That meeting changes the narrator's life forever as he is privy to a life lived by a man who had to discover his identity. Although Austerlitz was raised by a Welsh couple, he found that his true home and family were quite different than expected. So begins a 30 year conversation between the two that reads as though one is dreaming.

Sebald writes as though he were dreaming; perhaps he did dream this novel then wrote it down in the early morning so as not to forget it. I felt myself with the two while listening silently to Austerlitz tell his story that does not have an ending, merely a discovery that continues to plague, or bless, his life. Scattered throughout the novel are black and white photographs and drawings that add to the overall tale; the reader is made to feel that they are that much closer to what Austerlitz and the narrator experience in this novel. I found myself staring at several of the abstract photos, wondering about the whole picture if there was one.

Sebald's writing impressed me so much that by the time I had read 1/3rd of the book, I had already visited a bookstore to purchase a copy of Sebald's novel book The Rings of Saturn, of which I am chomping at the bit to read! Call me insane (of which I am to a point - creative!), but I do not want to lose my dreamlike state that I acquired while reading this novel. I want it to linger inside of me for as long as humanly possible, or at least until I can read The Rings of Saturn.

Ich danke Ihnen, Herr Sebald. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Book Review - Wonderland by Joyce Carol Oates

When I grow up, I want to be just like Joyce Carol Oates. 

Although I have only read a handful of her books, they linger within me for quite a long period of time after reading the last page. She writes with such a splendid mixture of the Gothic, literary, mystery and something extra that makes her books stand out quite well from other works. I simply adore Joyce Carol Oates.

Wonderland, one of the novels in the Wonderland "Quartet", is a novel that is simply AMAZING. When I finished reading it yesterday, I walked around my apartment in a daze at what I had read. I actually asked myself if I had experienced what I had just read and my answer was yes (I do talk to myself and answer - it's called being a writer, folks!)

Wonderland tells the story of Jesse Harte, a 14 year old boy who, during the course of the 500+ page novel, overcomes many obstacles and takes on many names. Yet, who is Jesse Harte? For that matter, who is Jesse Vogel and Jesse Pederson? Although they are all the name person, from awkward teenager to restrained college student and medical student to frustrated and apathetic physician, the person Jesse is actually a blank canvas that the world around him fills in. And he allows it. 

Oates draws the reader in with her style of words and Wonderland was certainly a page turner for me. What choices would Jesse make and why? Would there be any sort of redemption or perhaps a continuation of the lingering curse that seemed to have been with him ever since he escaped his father's murderous rampage of his family at age 14?  And, in being an blank canvas filled in by the world around him, was he rather just an observer to the world, a kind of Homer to record internally what he experienced and in turn, translated it to his own disjointed and dysfunctional life? I found myself asking these questions and many, many more once I read the last page several times. The last page, of which I am going to spoil, is the confrontation of Dr. Jesse Vogel and his younger daughter, Michelle, after he tracks her down in a seedy apartment building in Canada after having run away from home. She is a product of the 60s drug culture, a broken soul apparently "freed" by her drug pushing lover, Noel, and her father has come to take her home. Again. She thinks, thanks to Noel, that her father was inside of her like the Devil and that she had to have him exorcised from her being. All Jesse can do at that point is say, "Am I?" Wow. A middle aged physician living in the 1970s, witnesses what his daughter has gone through and will probably go through again, yet all he can do is ask, "Am I?" In my opinion, that is quite a Homer-esque response. He will fight to a point yet the notes will still be taken. The canvas still has room for more of the world, no matter how terrible it may be in its truth.

Read this novel and go on the journey with Jesse as he searches for "Wonderland" and instead finds something . . . .else.