::Literate Blather::
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Cracked-Back Book Reviews: September 2008

(Quick fire reviews of the books we’ve been reading. A “cracked-back” is what happens to the spine of a new book once you’ve thoroughly devoured it. Please feel free to add your own list of recommendations in our comments section.)

Down to a Sunless Sea

By Mathias B. Freese

This collection of short stories by Mathias B. Freese gets points for the way the writer insightfully glares into the lives of the characters – a group of troubled (and sometimes mentally ill) people. Freese uses stark and penetrating language to accomplish that task. But the real question is if this collection can really be considered short stories. I’d argue not. There’s nary a plot to be found in the collection – as each of the pieces focuses on character building. These are character sketches – not stories. Most, in fact, are internal monologues. Yet some of the sketches work well. “I’ll Make It, I Think” features the powerful voice of a handicapped boy trapped in his deformed body. “Little Errands” is an amusing take on an anal retentive man obsessed with mailing letters. Yet overall, the collection feels too internal – as if the book is trapped inside a room without any windows. Too much of the action is thinking. There needs to be more external action – interaction with other characters, movement, and fluidity; more setting, description and dialogue. If you’re a fan of character – and bizarre, damaged ones then you’ll want to get a copy of “Down to a Sunless Sea.” But if you like traditional short stories, then you may want to pass. After all, there’s nothing wrong with a strong plot every now and then.

Grade: C


By David McCullough

How on Earth did the 13 Colonies ever win the Revolutionary War against the British Empire? It was a lopsided match-up from the start. Yet, somehow, the American rebels pulled it off. David McCullough’s “1776” gives us a glimpse into the first full year of warfare – which may have been the bleakest for the new country. The Army was made up of misfits (mostly from New England) and the citizens were starkly divided (especially in that Tory stronghold of New York City). McCullough takes us from the Siege of Boston to the Battle of Trenton (the turning point for General Washington and his Continental Army). McCullough tells us the story from the perspective of Washington, his generals, his officers, and his soldiers (but there are parts from the British point of view as well). What we get is history as a suspense novel. The action is fast. The characters are larger than life. Although this is a story that most Americans have heard a thousand times (starting in elementary school), McCullough gives it a fresh coat of paint and oftentimes it’s easy to forget that the action had already happened. That’s the sign of a good historian and a powerful writer. It’s amazing that the Colonies ended up winning the Revolutionary War. The British – by nearly every barometer – should have won. But they didn’t. McCullough shows us why through the eyes of the determined Washington and his troops.

Grade: B+

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived The Great American Dust Bowl

By Timothy Egan

What was the worst environmental disaster of the 20th century? Would you believe the over-farming of the southern Great Plains that led to the enormous dust storms of the 1930s? The biggest of these storms on April 14, 1935, which went down in history as “Black Sunday,” completely blocked out the sun and contained more tons of dust and dirt than was removed to dig the Panama Canal. All of it airborne – clogging lungs, blinding cattle, burying homesteads, and turning the Great Plains into a lunar crater. Through diary accounts, personal interviews, and newspaper stories, Egan paints a vivid and personal picture of the people and places most affected by this ecological disaster. The book is fascinating – and penetrating. It’s hard to imagine why so many people of Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska remained behind on what became a blistering hot patch of dirt. But they did. Egan’s account is one of the best written historical novels, I’ve ever read. It’s fast, it’s detailed, and it packs an emotional kick. It’s like stepping into a time capsule. The one weakness of the book, however, is Egan’s failure to really put the disaster into the context of today. It would have been interesting if he spent more time on exploring how the disaster shaped the lives of people living on the Great Plains now. But otherwise, “The Worst Hard Time” deserves your attention.

Grade: A-

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Friday, September 26, 2008
Under God's Right Arm: Jesus Would Vote for Sarah Palin

What would Jesus do?

He would stalk proudly into a voting booth with the lights of heaven glistening upon his brow and cast a ballot for John McCain and Sarah Palin as President and Vice President of the United States of America.


It isn’t because of McCain – a rather crusty career politician who has spent most of his time in Washington licking the boots of New York Times reporters and liberal buddies like John Kerry (Kerry leans so far left he makes Pol Pot look like a conservative!).

The reason the Son of Man would vote for McCain has nothing to do with him. It has to do with his running mate – Sarah Palin, the amazing Governor of Alaska. Sarah is a gift from God.

Don’t let the ugly smear campaign by the anti-Christian, communist media convince you otherwise. What you are witnessing is the systematic demonizing of a strong, God-fearing woman so that the media can put their stealth Muslim candidate in office.

Allow me to personally address the red herring issues raised by the alleged mainstream media as to why Sarah is not qualified to be vice president. It doesn’t take much thought to poke holes in their flimsy case against her – just good, old fashioned logic.

Sarah Palin is a born-again whack job who believes the war in Iraq is a holy war.

It’s amazing how being a Christian these days is interpreted to being a dumb, ignorant hick. Palin is a Christian and believes in the Lord Jesus as her savior. This is the belief held by the majority of Americans. Are we all belly scratchers with low IQs? Of course not! And anyone who doesn’t think the war in Iraq is a holy war – is a nut job (hello, New York Times editorial board!). If Iraq was a reasonable Christian nation instead of one filled with radical Islamic terrorists do you actually think we’d be at war? Of course not!

Sarah Palin supports abstinence rather than sex education in public schools her own teenage daughter is pregnant.

The unfortunate situation with Palin’s daughter is family business – a private matter. And, yes, I know I once called Jamie Lynn Spears, the pregnant 16-year-old sister of Brittany Spears, a “trailer trash whore with parents who have the morals of a Las Vegas stripper,” but that is a different situation. Jamie Lynn is being raised by liberal sex fiends and clearly Palin’s daughter is being raised by an outstanding Christian family. There are differences. Just because Palin’s daughter made a mistake and didn’t resist temptation doesn’t mean that abstinence training doesn’t work. Teenagers need to understand that sex outside of marriage is a sin and can lead to an eternity in the fires of hell. A condom won’t change that!

Sarah Palin has less than two years of experience as governor of Alaska.

This complaint always makes me roll my eyes. My answer is so what? Sarah was also mayor of a teaming metropolis for six years and on the City Council for another four years! The Muslim Democrat has only been a senator for three years and before that a state senator of just seven years! Add them up and Sarah has one year more of political experience. People can talk about the fact that he’s also a Constitutional law professor educated at Harvard Law School and Columbia University – but do those qualifications really mean more than Sarah’s BS from the University of Idaho (a great public college!)? I don’t think so.

Sarah Palin opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest.

So does Jesus. She’s in good company.

Sarah Palin doesn’t have any foreign policy experience and thinks being close to Russia qualifies her as an expert.

The hyperactive communist media gets lathered up about Palin’s truthful observation that Alaska is close to Russia. We all know that the closer you are to something – the better understanding you have of it. That’s just common sense. Of course Palin knows Russia. She lives right next door to those Godless heathens! Just because she hasn’t traveled abroad doesn’t mean anything except that she loves the United States more than most of those globe-trotting liberals who want to see how most of the world doesn’t have working toilets. I’ve never been outside of the United States either (except for one trip to Mexico in the 1980s). The reason? Everything I could ever want I can find at the mall! There’s no reason to waste money on airplane tickets to experience other cultures. If I want to understand the Chinese – I can go to a Chinese restaurant or to one of the many Chinatowns here in our country. If I want to experience Italy – hey, there’s an Olive Garden! You get what I mean. Palin has common sense and faith in Jesus. What else do you need when negotiating with UN flunkies, African mob bosses, and Middle Eastern terrorists?

(The Rev. Colson Crosslick is pastor of the Pretty Good Shepherd Church in Ripsaw, Arkansas. He plans to be a patriotic Christian and vote for Sarah Palin in November. He also writes the regularly appearing column Under God's Right Arm for DaRK PaRTY.)

More from the Reverend:

How Lego Celebrates Murder

Bring Back Bush!

Why Do Liberals Hate Jesus?

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Thursday, September 25, 2008
Fantastically Bad Cinema: From Dusk Till Dawn

“Did they look like psychos? Is that what they looked like? They were vampires. Psychos do not explode when sunlight hits them, I don't give a fuck how crazy they are!”

-- Seth Grecko (George Clooney)

It’s not a good sign when your vampire movie begins to suck donkey balls when the vampires show up.

But that’s the unfortunate circumstance in “From Dusk Till Dawn” (1996).

Make no mistake: “From Dusk Till Dawn” is B-movie camp all the way. Director Robert Rodriguez and Screenwriter Quentin Tarantino embrace cheesy cinema in much the same way that John McCain is now gushing about government regulations: a bit over the top.

B-movies can be artful. Look no further than Rodriguez and Tarantino’s recent collaboration on “Grindhouse” (2007).

But 11 years ago, they didn’t quite have the recipe down yet. The result is that “From Dusk Till Dawn” is an uneven effort that tumbles down the rat hole of fantastically bad cinema right about the time the strippers turn into blood suckers.

The first half of the film is downright good: a gritty, hard-boiled crime caper featuring odd-ball personalities and crisp, crackling dialogue. It starts out with bank robbers Seth (George Clooney) and Richard (Tarantino) Gecko on the run in southern Texas. Richard, a sociopathic killer, has rescued his older brother from a courthouse – leaving behind a blood bath.

The two outlaws – dressed like they were part of the “Reservoir Dogs” (1992) crew – have kidnapped a bank teller and speed off into the desert. They end up at Benny’s Liquor Mart for the best scene of the movie.

The liquor store clerk, Pete Bottoms, is chatting with Texas Ranger Earl McGraw who has come in for a beer. They babble on a bit before the Ranger mentions that the Geckos are coming through and if he sees them – “pay back.” He goes to use the toilet and we find out the Geckos are already in the liquor store – holding two female customers hostage.

Of course, it turns into a blood bath – but not before we get some patented snappy dialogue from Tarantino. The Geckos end up at a sleazy motel with the kidnapped cashier. The second best part of the movie is when Seth leaves the poor woman alone with misbehaving brother, Richie. When Seth gets back – well, only chunks of the woman are left.

If only the movie continued with the story of the Geckos and their run from the law.

Alas, it does not.

Instead we’re introduced to Harvey Keitel as Jacob Fuller, a minister on a trip with his two teenage children (Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu). Fuller has lost his faith after the death of his wife and he’s decided to ride his Winnebago into the sunset.

The Fuller family has the misfortune of meeting up with the Geckos – and, well, a kidnapping ensues. The Geckos (with Fullers in tow) escape to Mexico and Seth is ready to meet his criminal friends at a stripper, biker bar called “Titty Twister.”

Here’s the catch. At the “Titty Twister” the strippers and staff are vampires that use the bar as a lure to unsuspecting truckers and bikers (we never get any explanation). Here the movie stalls -- badly. It transforms from crime spree flick into a cheap, not-very-frightening horror movie. The special effects are terrible, the campy nature of film slides into the ludicrous, and the one-liners become groan inducing.

The transformation from one movie genre to another is jarring. There’s no segue at all. Suddenly, we’re in a cheesy horror movie. Wham-O!

There are so many stupid things happening in the second half that its enough to make you vote Republican: one of the characters is named Sex Machine (he has a gun at his crotch that fires when erect); the characters actually stop and converse while in the middle of a vampire melee; and then there’s Harvey Keitel eye-rolling monologue trying to convince his kids to kill him when he transforms into a vampire after being bit. It hurts.

Add to this pap the miserable vampire make-up – I’ve seen better Halloween costumes – and the clunky new characters and you’ve got some seriously bad film making.

Do yourself a favor. Watch the first half – then turn it off.

More Fantastically Bad Cinema:


Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

3:10 to Yuma

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Remarkable Literary Characters

DaRK PaRTY asked writers and authors a simple question: “What literary character do you find most compelling and why?”

Here are the answers we got:

Mark Bauerlein, author of “The Dumbest Generation”

“Let me go back a few decades and recall a character from my first year of college: Ivan Karamazov. I read the book for a first-year humanities course at UCLA, and it stuck. No doubt much of the psychology and historical context of the book escaped me, but the plight of the middle brother hit home hard. Ivan is young, smart, talented, handsome, a journalist/writer, and an atheist. I, too, was an atheist, having just come out of a conversion experience that left me without any spiritual beliefs at all. An ominous and lonely feeling hovered all the time, and I wondered what life was for, what nobility was possible for clever little animals wandering a speck of rock in a vast, cold, empty universe.

Ivan gave that condition dramatic form. Yes, his fate is a sad one, but on the way toward it he manages to make his metaphysical discomforts into something with a dignity all their own. That’s all I wanted. Not a return of faith, which I knew would never happen, but a casting of atheism as meaningful and wise and noble. I no longer believe that atheism is any more moral or intellectual than faith is (though I’m stuck with it), but Ivan´s example lingers as a special remembrance.”

Hannah Tiniti, author of “The Good Thief”

“I have to say that my favorite literary character has always been Jane Eyre. I think this is because the book is divided into three distinct parts—childhood, romantic love, and God. As a little girl, I read about Jane and sympathized with her feelings of injustice and marveled at the way she talked back to grownups. When I was a teenager, I envied how Jane maintained her own identity, throughout her love affair with Rochester, and later, as a young woman, I thought her extremely sensible in her faith and understanding of the divine. I’d like to be more like her.”

Otto Penzler, editor of “The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps”

“I've always (well, for 50 years, anyway) had tremendous affection of A.J. Raffles, the gentleman jewel thief created by Arthur Conan Doyle's brother-in-law, E.W. Hornung. The portrayal (however inaccurate and romanticized it may have been) of the serene life of mahogany-leather-etched glass clubs, weekends at country houses, and tuxedos at dinner parties has a deep appeal, but most interesting is Raffles himself. His odd code of ethics and the thoughts that went into his decision-making brought me back to the short stories frequently. This is really true of the first two books only (The Amateur Cracksman and Raffles, which was titled The Black Mask in the U.K.) because he almost functioned as a detective in the third collection, A Thief in the Night, while the novel, Mr. Justice Raffles, is excruciatingly dull.

Virtually every story showed Raffles committing a burglary to help someone else, not unlike the malignant Robin Hood paradigm in which it is implicit that the commandment ordering "Thou Shalt Not Steal" can be ignored, as long as you're stealing from the wealthy— not unlike the Democratic party's message. Raffles wanted to relieve the terrible situations of those to whom he was close, surely a noble inclination, yet was able to do so only by resorting to its ignoble opposite— theft. His greatest dilemma occurs when he contemplates stealing from the host who has invited him for a lovely weekend in the country, with a glamorous party to boot— the epitome of breaking the gentleman's code of honor.”

Dave Zeltserman, author of “Small Crimes”

“The Continental Op. This nameless, short, overweight, and not particularly good-looking op from the Dain Curse, Red Harvest, and several volumes of short stories, is probably one of the most dogged and persistent PIs in crime fiction. He's also a tough SOB who can take a beating, is smart enough to make the connections he should, and is willing to steal a crutch from a cripple if it means getting the job done. How can you not find a guy like that compelling?”

Polly Frost, author of “Deep Inside”

“I'm going to answer with the fictional character who I've most recently found compelling: Auntie Mame from Patrick Dennis' book of the same name.

I know this is hardly a stop-the-presses answer. Many people found Auntie Mame to be one of the most compelling characters they've ever encountered in fiction. Camille Paglia has even called "Auntie Mame" an important, overlooked book. I'm with her on that. And who hasn't heard someone – usually a carefree, madcap, willfully charming woman who behaves younger than her years – described as an "Auntie Mame?” She's such a familiar archetype that for years I didn't really feel I needed to read the book. Now that I have, though, I really-really understand what's so great about her as a creation.

Lightweight thoug
h some self-important people may feel the book to be – and don't get me started on how undervalued comic novels are! – Auntie Mame really is one of literature's most compelling characters. The secret, it seems to me, is that she's archetypal – the madcap free spirit larger than life aunt – but she isn't just archetypal.

Whether instinctively or consciously, Patrick Dennis understood that compelling characters can't just be resonant archetypes. They need to be living and breathing. Think about what's involved in 1) nailing a larger-than-life archetype, and then 2) bringing her to life. That takes a lot of daring and talent.

And there's no question that Auntie Mame is alive for the reader. She's full of contradictions: she's self-centered, self-interested, and yet admirable for her resilience. She uses people, yet she's egalitarian. She's a neglectful parent towards her orphan ward, yet she also sets him free in ways a traditionally caring mother never could. She's crude yet fine-spirited, embarrassing yet glorious.

For all that I thought I already knew Auntie Mame and how she would behave in the novel, I was constantly surprised by the fictional reality of her. She was far more outrageous than I'd imagined she would be, far more self-serving, and yet also far more touching.

And that brings up a fiction-topic that seems to me to be 'way under-discussed: the importance – the challenge, the technique, all that – of creating a supporting cast that sets your main character off. Divas are so outsized that we often overlook their setting. In my experience, it's just as hard to create these supporting characters. They can't compete, yet they can't be boring. The reader needs to identify with them and their perspective on the compelling character, yet not lose respect for them.

In "Auntie Mame," Patrick Dennis pulls this stunt off in a way all writers could learn from. His
narrator character – Auntie Mame's conventional-souled nephew – has real conflicts in the face of Mame's seductive bohemianism. He longs for middle class security, yet knows he'll always be entranced by his Aunt. He loves her, yet he needs to escape her. Yet he always comes back to her too. We believe in him as much as in her – we know how it is that she gives his life a kind of meaning it wouldn't have had otherwise.

"Auntie Mame" should be required reading for all writing students.”

Ken Bruen, author of London Boulevard

“The sheriff, Ford, in Jim Thompson's, The Killer Inside Me, what a voice, chilling yet almost chatty, lethal yet oddly convincing, and with a very dry sense of humour, almost un-noticable and he sucks you in, you start to see the world like this stone cold psycho does and to understand his maddness, a real feat of masterly narrative and the more you read it, the more you realise how incredibly plotted, crafted it is and so simply written, it seems ...easy.”

Emily Benedek, author of Red Sea

“I have always loved the character of Konstantin Levin from Anna Karenina. He was a farmer and a good soul who cleaved to nature. He withdrew from what he perceived as the falseness of Russian society life to live at his country estate, where he tried to develop modern farming techniques, treat his serfs well, and mused about issues of rationality and faith. I very much relate to his interest in science and religion--and their sometimes fraught relationship, and also his ability to appreciate pure goodness when it appeared in his midst.”

The Most Memorial Dickens' Supporting Characters

In Search of City Lights

5 Writers Every Man Should Read

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Thursday, September 18, 2008
5 Questions About: Ken Bruen

An Interview with Ken Bruen, the Duke of Hard-Boiled Crime Noir

(Author Ken Bruen helped launch a new era in hard-boiled crime fiction. His novels are not for those who like linen napkins with their tea. His villains are mean bastards and his heroes generally will do anything it takes to get the job done. This recipe has worked wonderfully for the Irish-born writer as he’s won the Shamus Award and he’s been nominated for just about every damn mystery/thriller award in the business. He’s best known for his Jack Taylor series – noir crime books that are set in Galway. Taylor is a disgraced ex-cop who occasionally works as a private eye. Don’t piss him off. DaRK PaRTY caught up with Bruen recently to see what he’s been doing and to pick his brain about his fiction.)

DaRK PaRTY: You are often described as a "hard-boiled" crime writer. How would you describe "hard-boiled" in literary terms?

Ken: Mean as hell, black as coal and uncompromising in every sense, not for the Booker readers

DP: You are the author of the acclaimed Jack Taylor series. Jack is a fallen cop with substance abuse problems. Can you give us your personal opinion on Jack? What do you like about him and what do you dislike about him?

Ken: I like that he sees justice as being dispensed in alleys, especially with the scum of the earth walking free from so called trials every day of the damned week, I like his reading choices and what I hate about him is fixation on the past, his very, very short fuse and his inability to form a real deep caring relationship. A lot like me own self, in fact, alas and more's the damed Irish-ed pity, for us both.

DP: Ireland plays an enormous role in many of your books. The country has undergone so much change in the last two decades. Can you tell us why your homeland is so important to your literature?

Ken: Firstly, we've only been a free country for a mere number of years and then we went from dirt poor to one of the richest countries in the world and went mad and this has to have an enormous influence on the literature of the country, it is wondrous territory for a mystery novelist with all the outriders of simmering racial tension with the new immigrants, the huge influx of drugs that have flooded the country and the greed that has overtaken Catholicism as our new faith.

DP: You’re part of a literary circle that includes Jason Starr, Brett Easton Ellis, and Dennis Lehane. What exactly is a literary circle? Do you meet regularly? Does the group have a name? And where do you all generally meet and what's the topic of your conversations?

Ken: I always saw a literary circle as along the lines of Dorothy Parker and meeting in the Algonquin and drinking lights out, the only writer I regularly sit at a table with is Jason and we am (to) drink sensibly, sometimes... Jason and I are usually planning our next book for Hardcase and wishing to hell we could cast one of our books as a movie, we lie a lot about advances and money in general and bitch about… the NYT best seller list.

DP: What writers have had the most influence on your work and why?

Ken: James M. Cain. Charles Willeford, Horace Mc Coy, because they wrote fearlessly, with a very savage twisted sense of humour and with a ferocity of style that is so immediate, it's like a slap in the face and a kick in the balls, Derek Raymond too.

Read some of our other author interviews:

Duane Swierczynski

Polly Frost

Elizabeth Miller

Steve Almond

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Great Openings

The First Sentences of 12 Classics of Literature

Oliver Twist

By Charles Dickens

“Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be
prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name,
there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a
workhouse; and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not
trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to
the reader, in this stage of the business at all events; the item of mortality
whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter.”

Pride and Prejudice

By Jane Austen

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

By Mark Twain

“You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” but that ain’t no matter.”

Jane Eyre

By Charlotte Bronte

“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.”

For Whom the Bell Tolls

By Ernest Hemingway

“He lay on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and the high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees.”

The Scarlett Letter

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

“A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and grey steeple-crowned
hats, inter-mixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded,
was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily
timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.”

Portrait of a Lady
By Henry James
“Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than
the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea."

Ethan Frome
By Edith Wharton
“I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in
such cases, each time it was a different story.”

Heart of Darkness
By Joseph Conrad
“The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails,
and was at rest.”

Of Human Bondage

By W. Somerset Maugham

“The day broke gray and dull.”
Light in August
By William Faulkner
“Sitting beside the road, watching the wagon mount the hill toward her, Lena thinks,
‘I have come from Alabama: a fur piece.’”

I, Claudius

By Robert Graves

“Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you yet with all my titles) who was once, and not so long ago either, known to my friends and relatives and associates as "Claudius the Idiot", or "That Claudius", or "Claudius the Stammere", or "Clau-Clau-Claudius" or at best as "Poor Uncle Claudius", am now about to write this strange history of my life; starting from my earliest childhood and continuing year by year until I reach the fateful point of change where, some eight years ago, at the age of fifty-one, I suddenly found myself caught in what I may call the "golden predicament" from which I have never since become disentangled.”

The Most Memorable Minor Characters in Charles Dickens

Poetry Smells Like Talcum Powder

10 Things John Wayne Would Never Do

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Thursday, September 11, 2008
5 Questions About: Hannah Tinti

An Interview with Writer Hannah Tinti About her Debut Novel "The Good Thief"

(One of the hot books of the season is the debut novel “The Good Thief” by Hannah Tiniti. The novel features a 12-year-old boy named Ren, who is missing his left hand (and has no idea how he lost it). Benjamin Nab, Ren’s alleged long-lost brother, shows up to claim him from an orphanage. That’s when the adventure begins. Tinti has been compared to Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Dickens in the dozens of blurbs and reviews the book has received. That’s some heady comparisons. Hannah Tinti grew up in Salem, Massachusetts. Her short story collection “Animal Crackers” was a runner up for the PEN/Hemingway award. She is also the co-founder and editor-in-chief of One Story Magazine. Ha
nnah, as a fellow New Englander, knew DaRK PaRTY was a huge fan of the New England Patriots so finally decided to grant us an interview about her sudden literary fame and how she views fiction writing.)

DaRK PaRTY: When did you know you wanted to be a novelist?

Hannah: My mother was a librarian, so I’ve always been surrounded by books. I think I was 19 when I took my first writing class, and after that, I was hooked. But I never thought I’d be a novelist. I was comfortable in the world of short stories. Then I came across this word, “Resurrection Men”. It’s what they used to call thieves who would dig up bodies and sell them to medical schools. I cut out the definition and pasted it into my journal. I thought of a scene, and I wrote it down. Then I thought of another, and I realized that it was going to be a novel, not a short story. And I was terrified.

DP: Can you tell us about the process of writing "The Good Thief?" Where did the initial spark of the idea originate?

Hannah: It was a strange and mysterious process. I wrote the middle of the book first. Then I wrote the beginning, then I wrote the end. I went through many, many drafts. Whole sections were sketched out and never used. Three characters merged into one. My first draft of the book was over 500 pages. The second was about 230. I’m an intuitive writer, and this may not have been the best way to go about writing a novel. I know other writers who use diagrams and note cards. I just try and follow the sentences, and sometimes they lead me to strange places.

DP: The novel has been compared to Dickens and other Victorian novelists. Are you a Dickens fan? What authors are your influences?

Hannah: I am a Dickens fan. He wrote his novels serially in magazines and newspapers, each chapter having its own kind of arc, and I definitely was inspired by that as a way of making my way from one end of the book to the other. Other influences would be the Brontës, James Fenimore Cooper, Robert Louis Stevenson, but also more modern writers like Flannery O’Connor.

DP: Can you describe your writing philosophy? How do you approach a project?

Hannah: Most of the real work for me is done in the editing process. I sketch out scenes and characters and try and push them as far as I can, and then I print the pages out, and rework the language, and try and see the patterns and what I’m trying to say. Often I don’t know what is missing, but I’ll put a big X on the page, or a double-headed arrow, which means: this needs to be opened up and explored, or there is a scene missing here, or a step has been skipped. Then I go back to the computer, and start adding and subtracting and shaping the story. When I’m exhausted and can’t look at it anymore, I print it out and start all over again with the editing.

DP: "The Good Thief" has been getting excellent reviews. How does it feel to be a "hot young" writer on the rise?

I don’t really consider myself “hot” or particularly “young”. I’m 35, and I’ve been a part of this literary community for a while. I am extremely appreciative of reviews, whether they are good or bad. The fact that anyone has read my book and taken the time to respond is incredibly humbling. It took me six years to write, and there were many late nights at three am where I came close to chucking the whole thing. I tried to write a book that I would like to read. In the end, I think I accomplished that. If anyone else enjoys it, that is just an amazing bonus.

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008
7 Obscure Serial Killer Flicks Worth a Watch

Kiss the Girls

Year: 1997

Director: Gary Fleder

Starring: Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Cary Elwes, Brian Cox, and Alex McArthur

Synopsis: Freeman plays a Washington D.C. detective who travels to North Carolina to find the serial killer who has kidnapped his niece. He’s aided in his investigation by Judd, a victim of the killer, who managed to escape his clutches.

Killing Method: The killer – Casanova – kidnaps his victims and makes them subservient. If they rebel, he tortures and murders them.

How the Killer Dies: Gunshot to the chest

Flaws: The surprise twist at the end is clever, but not likely.

Why It’s Worth a Rent: Two words: Morgan Freeman.

Jennifer 8

Year: 1992

Director: Bruce Robinson

Starring: Andy Garcia, Lance Henriksen, Uma Thurman, Kathy Baker and John Malkovich

Synopsis: Garcia plays a hotshot detective from L.A. who moves to northern California to take a job on a department with his buddy Henricksen. They find a dead woman’s hand in the dump and Garcia thinks he’s on the trail of a serial killer who likes to kill blind women. Nobody believes him and when Henricksen is allegedly killed by the “serial killer” the cops think Garcia did it.

Killing Method: Unclear, but he cuts off the hands and heads of his female victims.

How the Killer Dies: Shot several times by the wife of a police officer he murdered.

Flaws: Bad ending that makes you groan.

Why It’s Worth a Rent: Malkovich steals the movie in a small role as an FBI interrogating grilling Garcia. He’s simply amazing. Also worth a rent to watch Uma Thurman playing a vulnerable, trembling blind cello teacher. When’s the last time you saw Uma playing a victim?

The Bone Collector

Year: 1999

Director: Phillip Noyce

Starring: Denzel Washington, Angelina Jolie, Queen Latifa, Michael Rooker, and Luis Guzman

Synopsis: Washington plays a wheel-chair bound detective who teams up with a female detective to track down a serial killer who kidnaps women from taxis and then kills them in different sadistic ways.

Killing Method: Various. The killer murders the victims by copying the methods outlined in a book called “The Bone Collector” written by Washington’s character.

How the Killer Dies: Gunshot

Flaws: The identity of the killer is almost an afterthought to the movie, which is really about the interactions between Washington and Jolie.

Why It’s Worth a Rent: Washington is wasted as a man who can’t move anything but his little finger, but in many ways this was another breakout role for Angelina Jolie.

Copy Cat

Year: 1995

Director: Jon Amiel

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Holly Hunter, Dermot Mulroney, William McNamara, and Harry Connick Jr.

Synopsis: Weaver plays a psychologist with agoraphobia (she can’t leave her apartment) and Hunter a criminal profile after a copy cat serial killer (he mimics the methods of other famous serial killers). The killer discovers that Weaver and Hunter are after him and begins a cat and mouse game with them.

Killing Method: You name it, he does it.

How the Killer Dies: Shot and falls off a roof.

Flaws: The movie premise is too far fetched and it doesn’t make much sense for a serial killer to copy the murders in the order of a speech Weaver gives more than a year ago.

Why It’s Worth a Rent: It’s worth watching two of Hollywood’s best actresses at the top of their game – even though the script is a bit weak.

Mr. Brooks

Year: 2007

Director: Bruce A. Evans

Starring: Kevin Costner, Demi Moore, Dane Cook, William Hurt and Marg Helgenberger

Synopsis: A married businessman named Man of the Year has a secret: he’s a serial killer known as the Fingerprint Killer. In order to control his murderous impulses, he attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, but it becomes more and more difficult to stop. When he kills again a young man photographs him and wants to come along the next time he murders. Meanwhile a cop is hot on his trail.

Killing Method: Shoots them and then dips their fingers in blood.

How the Killer Dies: He doesn’t. Get ready for the sequel.

Flaws: This was a very unrated movie that flew under the radar screen. But the plot does get bogged down at points, especially with the sub-plot of Moore’s tough cop being pursued by another serial killer.

Why It’s Worth a Rent: Kevin Costner gives one of his most powerful performances against type.

The Watcher

Year: 2000

Director: Joe Charbanic

Starring: James Spader, Keanu Reeves, Marisa Tomei, Ernie Hudson and Chris Ellis

Synopsis: Spader plays a burned out FBI agent who was tracking, but unable to find serial killer Reeves. He retires, but Reeves sends him information about his news victim and a new cat and mouse game begins.

Killing Method: He slowly tortures his victims

How the Killer Dies: Gun shot

Flaws: Are there really any serial killers who simply stage elaborate murder scenes for the police in order to show off how brilliant they are? No, so why does Hollywood instead of treating serial killers like complicated artists?

Why It’s Worth a Rent: Reeves goes against type and plays a serial killer and Spader is always fun to watch – especially when playing tortured characters.

The Zodiac

Year: 2007

Director: David Fincher

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Robert Downey Jr., Brian Cox, and John Carroll Lynch

Synopsis: A newspaper cartoonist becomes obsessed with solving the Zodiac murders and begins to track down the possible suspects. He befriends a reporter covering the cases and who eventually lets the horror of the crimes destroy his life and career. The movie is based on the unsolved Zodiac murders in northern California in the early 1980s.

Killing Method: He shoots them.

How the Killer Dies: Since the Zodiac killer was never found – we don’t really know.

Flaws: The movie is long and the plot intricate.

Why It’s Worth a Rent: Robert Downey Jr. is worth the rental price along. He has revived his career and simply chews up the scenes he’s in.

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Monday, September 08, 2008
30 Years Later: Halloween Revisted

Observations and Rants While Watching the Horror Movie That Changed the Genre

I saw the original “Halloween” for the first time when I was in eighth grade. To say it scared the shit out of me is to reduce the term “scared the shit out of me” to meaninglessness. The movie gave me nightmares – for weeks. Hell, it changed my perceptions on fear. I still think about butcher-knife welding madmen every damn time I hear a strange noise in the night.

Can it be argued that the United States’ obsession with serial killers started with this low-budget slasher flick (that cost about $300,000 to make)? Can it be argued that Michael Myers – the demented seemingly supernatural killer – is the grandfather of Hannibal the Cannibal, Jason Voorhees, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, Freddy, and all the rest of our gloriously worshiped Hollywood mass murderers?

Yes, it can be. So on the year that “Halloween” turns 30 I decided to rent the 25th anniversary edition and watched it – alone – to take only my second look at the horror movie that changed everything.

Here’s my real-time running commentary on the film (the parenthetical comments were all added later):

  • John Carpenter’s piano score is one of the creepiest themes to a horror movie. The opening sequence shows a jack o’lantern with a bemused expression -- a candle glowing within it's plump interior. The music pounds away and I can feel a lump growing in my throat – this is truly a moment of hesitancy and I’m thinking: “Why the hell am I doing this?” The music grows and the camera gets closer and closer to the pumpkin and the bemused expression starts to subtly change – into a very demented face and then it all goes dark and I know I’m friggin' in for it.
  • The first person point of view is brilliant. The sister is making out with her boyfriend – so you know that her number is up. Where did the idea that sex will get you killed in a horror movie come from anyway? Oh, yeah -- "Halloween.” It was John Carpenter that introduced for modern audiences the concept of “immoral” teenagers literally getting the knife. One of the criticisms of the film is that sexual active characters are the first die. Carpenter dismisses this as nonsense – but there it is.
  • The boyfriend bounds down the stairs after like two minutes. Talk about a quicksilver in the sack! No wonder he’s ambivalent when she yells down the stairs for him to call her in the morning. I’d be embarrassed at that performance as well.
  • The first time you see the movie – you think the first-person is some adult killer. He puts on the mask and just starts hacking up his sister. It’s a terrible, shocking scene. When he runs down the stairs and the car pulls up with his parents inside. Wow. There’s this little kid in a clown suit and the knife is so big in his hand it looks like a sword. Blows you away. Even now when I know its coming. Is there a better opening for a horror flick?
  • Donald Pleasence is an ugly bastard. Why do I immediately start thinking about Nazis when I see him?
  • Pleasence is driving with a nurse who is dressed like Florence Nightingale. She’s actually wearing a black-and-red cape. I'm not kidding.
  • Uh oh, here comes the music!
  • There are mental patients wandering the lawn – at night, in the rain! Donald don’t leave the goddamn car!
  • Michael has escaped and Donald shouts: “The evil is gone! The evil is gone from this place!” Jesus, what a jackass.
  • Jamie Lee Curtis makes her appearance at 11 minutes in. She’s a high school girl in nearby Haddonfield – where Michael Myers grew up. Hmm. He escaped from the mental institute. Wonder where the plucky bastard is heading?
  • Jamie Lee is hot.
  • Holy crap! Michael is in the goddamn house! Oh, man, he’s following her and you can hear him breathing.
  • Classroom scene. Look at all those terrible 70s haircuts. Nice bangs.
  • Whoa, Michael is outside the school watching Jamie. Damn this movie is scary (It’s no wonder Entertainment Weekly named it the 5th scariest of all time).
  • Donald finds a truck that Michael stole and runs off. The camera pans back and there’s a dead body in the bushes. For those counting – Michael has already murdered two people: his sister and this unknown pick-up truck driver. Donald, by the way, was wearing a suit with a vest. Quite sharp.
  • Jamie is walking with her two girlfriends – and the girlfriends share a smoke. They’re dead (the girlfriends are P.J. Soles and Nancy Kyes. Soles is probably best known as the sexy MP who romanced Bill Murray in “Stripes.” Kyes appeared in “Halloween II” and “The Fog” and then pretty much disappeared).
  • Carpenter just doesn’t let up. One of the incredible things about the film is how he makes the scenes so tense and creepy – even when they are taking place in broad daylight. Michael drives slowly by the Jamie and the girlfriends and one of them yells out at him. He brakes in the middle of the road. It’s really quite scary – yet it is right after school.
  • By the way, if its autumn in Illinois then why are all the trees green? (Turns out the film was done in California – in the late spring. The crew made fake dead leaves and threw them all over the set. Couldn’t do much about the real trees, however, and apparently there are a few palm trees in the movie).
  • The music really does add an element of eeriness to the entire proceedings.
  • There’s Michael again behind a shrub. This guy is quite persistent.
  • Hmm. Suddenly the streets and sidewalks are soaking wet. When did it rain?
  • Michael’s in the laundry in the backyard!
  • Donald is back – checking out the graveyard of Michael’s sister, Judith. The headstone is gone. Donald says: “He came home.” Captain Obvious!
  • Fabulous. “Don’t Fear (the Reaper)” by Blue Oyster Cult is playing in the car with Jamie and Kyes. Michael, of course, is following them.
  • Whoa. It’s suddenly pitch black. Night falls fast in Illinois.
  • Apparently, Michael ate a dog when hiding out in his old, abandoned house. Donald and the Sheriff are checking out the house. Donald tells the Sheriff “This is no man.”
  • Oh, man. A rock gets thrown through the window. I may have a skid mark on my boxers.
  • Donald is talking about dark eyes and devil eyes. He thinks Michael is evil and he spent six years trying to reach him and another six trying to keep him locked up.
  • Look at the size of those telephones!
  • Kyes is in deep, deep trouble. She just took off her shirt and pants in the kitchen and Michael is watching her. Call me nuts, but I don’t think he likes naked women much.
  • Michael kills another dog. Death count: 2 dogs, 2 humans.
  • Jamie and the boy she babysits are watching “The Thing,” which John Carpenter would end up remaking (in 1982).
  • The people Kyes are babysitting have no washer and dryer in the house. It’s in a dark shed in the backyard. Very unfortunate for her. Oh, man, here it comes!
  • She made it.
  • Michael is like a jack-in-the-box.
  • Kyes is alone again – after dropping off her ward with Jamie. The way she’s parading around it’s only a matter of when. She in her car and she leans forward to wipe condensation off the windows (really nice touch) and then Michael pops out of the backseat and kills her.
  • Body count: 3 dead people.
  • P.J. Soles just showed up with her boyfriend – and they’re drinking beer. They’re heading into the house where Kyes was babysitting and now it’s completely dark. Now they are making out. Won’t these kids ever learn?
  • Now they’re upstairs in bed and Michael’s shadow passes across them.
  • Soles has an annoying giggle.
  • Michael just pinned the boyfriend to the wall with the butcher knife. He standing back to admire his handiwork. Brutal.
  • In one of the more twisted scenes, Michael puts a sheet over his head and put glasses on it. He goes to see Soles. She calls Jamie, who – swear to God – is knitting. Michael then proceeds to choke Soles to death with the phone chord.
  • Body count: 5 dead people
  • Donald sees the car Michael stole down the street. You think he would have, you know, turned around earlier.
  • Jamie has walked across the street – into the house of death.
  • She creeps up the stairs and there is Kyes lying on the bed with her throat slashed and Judith Myers gravestone behind her. She whimpers, bangs into the closet door, and the boyfriend swings out (putting another skid in my poor boxers). Jamie screams. Run, Jamie, run!
  • And then another door squeaks open and there’s Soles. Another scream. Jamie really can scream.
  • Then Michael is behind her and stabs – and actually misses. The bastard rips her shirt and she falls down the stairs. But how did he miss?
  • She runs across the lawn screaming help. But the neighbors don’t do anything. Sounds more like California than Illinois.
  • Here comes Michael. She’s banging on the door trying to get in and he walks across the street. It’s a tense scene. But the little boy finally does let her in. Unfortunately, he’s already in the house.
  • Michael pops up from behind the couch – and misses again. It’s a bloody easy shot! The dude is 0 for 2. So Jamie sticks a knitting needle in his neck.
  • Donald is wandering the streets aimlessly.
  • Jamie goes to get the children – but she should have called 911 first. Here comes Michael again. Jamie locks herself in the closet and the rattling starts. This is the famous scene with the light bulb swinging and then she stabs him in the eye with a coat hanger and then with his own knife. Jesus.
  • Michael is up again. He grabs Jamie and starts to choke her. Donald runs in and shoots the living blazes out of him. Hits him like six times and he falls out of the second floor onto the ground. Jamie says: “Was that the Boogie Man?” Donald says: “As a matter of fact, it was.”
  • When he looks down. Michael is gone. The music starts and Donald looks really, really scared.
  • The movie ends with Jamie whimpering. Then the breathing from every where.
  • Damn that’s a scary movie.

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