The Girl Is Mine

I’ve never been an enormous fan of Reese Witherspoon; I think she has talent and she had really shone in some things I’ve seen her in (Legally Blonde, Election, Cruel Intentions) but there was always just something about her, though, that set my teeth a little on edge; nothing I can explain, but she just always struck me as the “I need to speak to your manager” type. But her television work has turned me into a fan, and not just because she’s been killing it in shows like Big Little Lies, The Morning Show, and Little Fires Everywhere…she’s been terrific in all of these shows, but the bigger picture is these shows have introduced me to two writers with whose work I’ve become enamored; Liliane Moriarity and Celeste Ng. Moriarity has more of a backlist than Ng, who only has published two novels; I’m working my way through Moriarty as of yet, and loving her work, but Celeste Ng is a whole other story.

Little Fires Everywhere was a terrific novel, and I was holding off on reading her debut, Everything I Never Told You, primarily because I didn’t want to run out of work by Celeste Ng to read (one of my weird predilections; I never want to run out of books by writers I love). But during the aftermath of Ida and with no power, I picked it up, started reading, and didn’t put it down until hours later, when I’d finished.

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast. As always, next to her cereal bowl, her mother has placed a sharpened pencil and Lydia’s Physics homework, six problems flagged with small ticks. Driving to work, Lydia’s father nudges the dial toward WXKP, Northwest Ohio’s Best News Source, vexed by the crackle of static. On the stairs, Lydia’s brother yawns, still twined in the tail end of his dream. And in her chair in the corner of the kitchen, Lydia’s sister hunches moon-eyed over her cornflakes sucking them to pieces one by one, waiting for Lydia to appear. It’s she who says, at last, “Lydia’s taking a long time today.”

Upstairs, Marilyn opens her daughter’s door and sees the bed unslept in: neat hospital corners still pleated beneath the comforter, pillow still fluffed and convex. Nothing seems out of place. Mustard-colored corduroys tangled on the floor, a single rainbow-striped sock. A row of science fair ribbons on the wall, a postcard of Einstein. Lydia’s duffel bag crumpled on the floor of her closet. Lydia’s green bookbag slouched against her desk. Lydia’s bottle of Baby Soft atop the dresser, a sweet, powdery, loved-baby scent still in the air. But no Lydia.

One of the things that strikes me as curious about Ng’s work is that it’s set in the past; Little Fires Everywhere was set in the 90’s, and this, her debut, is set in 1977. Not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with writing stories set in the past, mind you, it’s just an observation. But the two books have very strong themes and look at the roles of women in the society in which they were born; that entire thing about “having it all” (which is mythology, of course; no one is superhuman enough to “have it all”) and the bitter reality that a woman cannot, ever, no matter how hard she works and no matter how much effort she puts into it, achieve this mysteriously, vaguely defined “all” she is theoretically able to have. It’s still a problem for women in our current time; the inability for gender roles to be completely redefined, for one, despite the fact that society and culture have dramatically changed and shifted over the last few decades (four or five of them, at the very least).

Anyway, I digress.

The Lee family, who live in a small college town near Dayton in Ohio, are a typical American family. Dad teaches at the university, Mom is a housewife and mom, and their two eldest children are academic stars at the local high school. The youngest child is a mere afterthought, an asterisk, to whom no one really pays much attention. Both parents are completely wrapped up in Lydia, their second child; much to the detriment of the oldest, Nathan (Nath). Lydia is soon found when they drag the nearby lake; whether she committed suicide, it was an accident, or foul play is pretty much up in the air–although they did find her things in a small rowboat floating out in the middle of the water, so accident or suicide is most likely, but Mom Marilyn refuses to believe her child could or would do such a thing and therefore it must be murder!

This is, of course, a classic set-up for a crime novel or a novel about families; the twist here is that James, the husband/father, is Chinese-American (his parents were immigrants) and Marilyn the mom, is white and from Virginia.; therefore their children are bi-racial, and this was still kind of a “thing” in the 1970’s (not that it isn’t still, of course; progress has been made but it’s also been rather on the slow side, really). When James and Marilyn marry, miscegenation laws are still on the books; Marilyn’s own mother is such a racist bitch she says horrible things to Marilyn on her wedding day–which is the last time Marilyn sees or speaks to her mother. They are the only Asians in their little college town, which also impacts the kids and how they see, not only their parents, but the world. Marilyn is also a frustrated feminist; she wanted to be a doctor, took Science classes against the advise of teachers and advisors, and only gives up on her dreams when she becomes pregnant and marries James, becomes a wife and mother….and channels all her frustrated hopes and dreams onto her daughter, Lydia–who has a lot of trouble, as we see over the course of the book, living up to those hopes and dreams. There are no villains or heroes in this book; just complicated human beings doing their best to get through their lives–and how the things unsaid to each other, for whatever reason…and as we get to know each character and their own foibles and flaws and dreams, they become fully realized, and the reader cannot help but love and empathize with them. The story structure, after the present day opening with Lydia dead, flashes back and forth between the present and the past, as we learn the story of the Lees and their broken hopes and dreams; watch them deal with the horrific and completely inexcusable casual racism of their white neighbors and classmates; as Marilyn meets women who followed their dreams and envies them, wonders how they managed to do it; and there’s also a queer subtext/plot thread that is handled delicately and beautifully–if perhaps not realistically for small town Ohio in the 1970’s; whatever issues I may have with the realism of the story in the time in which it is said can easily be set aside because of how beautifully Ng does it as an author.

Everything I Never Told You is an absolute gem of a novel, and I can highly recommend it.

Lay It On The Line

I woke up this morning and knew immediately it was Thursday, which is progress of a sort, isn’t it? I may not know the actual DATE, but I know the day of the week, which is a step in the right direction.

I made it to the gym yesterday after work for a very brief, one 15 rep set of everything upper body related–it had been well over a week since my last workout, so I was worried about overdoing it and straining the muscles too much, but it felt so amazing, and I felt so good afterwards–I woke up this morning feeling good, too–that I think a lot of the stress, tension and tightness I was feeling in my neck, shoulders and back could have been from not working out in addition to being stressed on top of everything else. I also slept incredibly well last night without taking anything chemical–I was sleepy when I went to bed, and decided to see if I was tired enough to sleep without medical assistance, and apparently I was. I may try to sleep without assistance tonight again myself, just to see–I do worry about becoming chemically dependent; the last thing I need at my age is rehab–so we will see how it all goes this evening.

I feel normal this morning for the first time since the power went out. I can’t really say why–I honestly don’t know–unless going to the gym yesterday kicked my brain back into some sort of normality or present reality or something. It’s nice to feel normal again, though–the trouble with these paradigm shifting disruptions is you’re never sure what normal feels like in the new reality, but this morning I kind of feel normal, which is really lovely. I have more work at home duties to get through today–more on the horizon tomorrow–and am curious to see what is in store for work for next week. Will we be seeing clients again? Will the building be open? There’s an all-staff call on Tuesday again–which makes me tend to think the office may or may not be open by then, but then again, I used to always miss these calls because they were during the time I was seeing clients, so I don’t really remember if this was a weekly thing or not. I am hopeful–always–that somehow, getting through this as another off-week and through the weekend will continue with this feeling of normality. We shall see–I guess the next test is to see whether I can write or not.

I spent some time yesterday evening watching documentaries on Youtube–there was a particularly good one on Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of my all time favorite historical women. I’ve also discovered a channel on Youtube that focuses primarily on biographies, short for the most part, no longer than fifteen minutes at the longest, that focuses on the French House of Bourbon. I love seventeenth century France (always have, hence my obsession with The Three Musketeers), have always wanted to write about it, and maybe someday I will. (To be fair, I am also obsessed with the sixteenth century history of all Europe, not just France…and perhaps someday I will write my history about the powerful women of the sixteenth century. Catherine de Medici and her life remain absolutely fascinating to me; I’ve always wanted to write about that turbulent period of French history–the Religious Wars of the latter part of the century–and de Medici’s Flying Squadron–women trained in the art of seduction in order to spy on potential enemies of the throne. Maybe someday, when I’ve retired.)

And since we returned, I find myself unable to read. I am probably going to get caught up on my Real Housewives watching while stripping condom packs today–yes, it’s a big and exciting day of work-at-home duties for Gregalicious today, but I don’t know if I can face the tedium of the data entry; maybe I can get my shows watched and perhaps a movie, and then move back into the data entry, I don’t know; I will play it all by ear today methinks. And I need to make a new to-do list….

And on that note, tis time to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

I’m Here, You’re Here

I really have no concept of days and dates anymore. And since my office at the day job is closed and without power–at least thus far; I’ve not checked the Entergy map yet this morning–there’s no telling when I will start remembering the dates and what day of the week it is for the foreseeable future, honestly. I’m sleeping better than I was (anything is better than the powerless sleep of last week)yet my energy reserves still seem to be a little on the low side. Yesterday I hit a wall around five, but pushed through the final hour of work-at-home duties; we’ll see how long my energy lasts today before it starts flagging.

I stopped by Rouse’s yesterday; very picked over and the whole building was condensed to half it’s size; fruits and vegetables moved from their usual section over to where the dairy and bacon is usually stored on the river side of the store–but the bakery was operating and they had bread and milk, which was important, but were low on Cokes and Gatorade, which was a bit disappointing, but to be expected. There’s no telling when the trucks to restock will have the gas to get in or out of the city, so am rather glad we bought some things in Greenville to bring back home. Today I have more things to do at home–we still can’t get into the office, per yesterday (I’ve not checked yet this morning as to whether we can get inside or not, as I already mentioned)–but am worried about running out of things to do at home before we can get back inside the office.

Last night Paul and I caught up on the shows we missed during the evacuation–Ted Lasso, American Horror Story, and Archer–before retiring for the evening; as always with a power outage our a/c is now messed up, with it hovering in the high 60’s/low 80’s upstairs and mid-to-low 60’s downstairs, but seriously, am just so happy cold air is coming out of the vents I don’t even care in the slightest that the thermostats are fucked up again. I was laughing yesterday as I did the last load of power outage/evacuation laundry; my tights were in that load, and I remembered that the thermostats had gone all fucked up before the power outage, so I was wearing layers downstairs because it was so cold. I laughed because of the extremes–one day I am wearing layers downstairs because it’s so cold, the next I am sweating to death and can barely breathe. New Orleans is definitely not for the timid of heart.

Driving around yesterday was weird. There’s still a lot of debris out there being cleaned up, but there’s still a lot that hasn’t been as of yet. The streetcars aren’t operating yet–no idea when they will be rolling again–and it’s rained off and on a lot, which leads to water pooling because most of the catch traps or gutters are blocked with debris. The enormous live oak branches are the ones that make me sad; I hate seeing damage to live oaks, but I’ve only seen one or two of our beautiful trees uprooted and down, so that’s something. It seems like we lost more of them during Katrina than we did during Ida, but that may not be true; it’s just how I see it, and of course, my post-Katrina memories are in the foggy recesses of my brain any way.

And of course, now that I am home, I cannot focus on reading anymore. The Internet came back yesterday, so obviously we have television streaming capabilities again (thank you, Cox), so I was able to get my phone hotspot turned off and can also use my work laptop now to actually do the day job stuff–I try to keep my computers free from other uses; I try not to do dayjob stuff on personal computers and personal stuff on the dayjob computer, although it’s not always possible, frankly.

My plan for this week is to slowly get the apartment and the outside yard/walk under control this week–still debris out there that needs to be picked up–and re-acclimate myself to everything; find the last to-do list and make a new one; keep cleaning and purging things from the apartment; keep making a list of things we need to get to be prepared the next time there’s a storm and/or loss of power (candles being at the top of the list; preferably tapered ones), and just get back on top of things–a near impossible task, really, since I wasn’t on top of everything before Ida came ashore–so I can feel better about everything.

And on that note, tis time to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely whatever day of the week it is, Constant Reader–I’m going to guess Wednesday.

Oh, Daddy

Many years ago, when you could still make money writing gay erotica (PORN), I used to write erotic short stories and edit themed volumes of it. I had always thought the concept of “daddy”–while possibly viewed as slightly off and strange and problematic by the mainstream–would make a great theme for an erotica anthology, potentially called Oh Daddy! Alas, before I could get around to doing it, that market had begun drying out; the last erotica anthology I edited–which had a great theme, I might add–did not do very well in print, alas. So my plans for Oh Daddy! wound up being scrapped; a pity, because I was certain I’d get some great and interesting stories on this dynamic.

The concept of “daddy” in the gay community is, to say the least, a bit controversial, and it’s really not defined; it can mean any number of things to any number of different people. The most common, of course, is its usage regarding age differences; an older man with a significantly younger boyfriend is often referred to as a “daddy” or “his daddy”; the assumption is the age difference inevitably favors the older man in the power dynamic of the couple–and we also tend to always think that there is some sort of benefit to being the older man’s “boy” (although “boy/daddy” doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with age, either); whether it’s financial, emotional, both, or something else–we always assume the younger man is, at the very least, being paid for/taken care of financially by the older man…especially if the older man is, say, a celebrity or wealthy or successful; why else would the younger man tie himself to an older one?

But this is heteronormativity at its finest, really (although younger women with successful older men aren’t always necessarily gold diggers, either; I’m not sure why we automatically always look at these May/December romances with such judgement and askance); younger man can be attracted to older men both romantically and sexually; there are no set rules of attraction, after all…and youth isn’t always an indication of sexual or emotional immaturity. I am always struck by that photo of Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy from when they first became a couple, back when Isherwood was in his thirties or forties and Bachardy a teenager; they look like father and son in the picture, with Bachardy literally looking like he’s just walked off the set of The Mickey Mouse Club in T-shirt and dungarees, with a sling shot in his back pocket and a cowlick. Yet they stayed a loving, committed couple for the next thirty or so years, until Isherwood’s death; but how differently would such a relationship be viewed today? A seventeen year old and a man in his late thirties/early forties?

It’s interesting.

So when I heard about Jonathan Parks-Ramage’s debut novel, Yes Daddy, I was interested in reading it and seeing its take on the topic.

And I was not disappointed–although it was absolutely nothing like I was expecting.

You asked me to be a witness in the trial.

I owed you my life and so I said yes.

What does one wear to a rape testimony? Your lawyer and I debated this endlessly. Nothing too tight, nothing too baggy, nothing too ratty, nothing too expensive, something sexless yet attractive, a suit jacket perhaps, but nothing flashy, a light navy was best, black was too morbid, too dark. I wanted to seem serious but not angry, definitely not vengeful; maybe glasses were a good idea, but the frames had to be simple, nothing flamboyant, nothing too gay, nothing that might trigger juror prejudice. Something to wear while the world decided if I had been raped.

Something that said, believe me.

I dreaded out rehearsals for the witness stand. Your lawyer’s endless questions. What did the basement look like? How many men? What did they do to you? I never slept, barely ate. Walked through the world a husk, disconnected from my body. Pain was the only thing that cut the numbness. I picked the skin around my fingernails with my teeth, tasting the blood on my tongue, repeating the process until all my digits were crusted in scabs.

Finally, the day of the trial arrived.

I don’t even know where to start with this book, to be honest.

I guess I can start by saying it’s very well done; the writing is terrific, and the tension/suspense are such that you cannot stop turning the pages in order to find out what happens next. Jonah Keller, the main character, is a fugitive from the midwest with evangelical parents–his father was a preacher–and he’s also an “ex-gay therapy” refugee. He no longer has a relationship with his father, and his relationship with his mother–still fervently religious–is fraught. He’s moved to New York to start his life over again, and his ambition is to write, be a playwright…but like so many others who moved to the big city with dreams of fame and fortune, he’s stuck in a nowhere job waiting tables at a shitty bistro and subletting an apartment he really can’t afford. He spends his rent money on an outfit so he can attend an event where he might meet his idol, hugely successful (and handsome) gay playwright Richard Shriver…hoping to meet and perhaps even catch his eye. Jonah’s plan is successful, and they begin an affair, with Richard buying him clothes, taking him out to expensive meals, giving him cash to cover his bills…and even offers to read Jonah’s work, maybe even help him get it workshopped and produced on stage.

All of Jonah’s dreams are coming true–but there’s always a fly in the ointment, isn’t there?

Richard brings Jonah out to his compound–where three of his closest friends also have houses–out in the Hamptons, and this is where Jonah begins to realize something isn’t quite right; not only with his relationship but with this entire set-up. There are four sexy, hot waiters on the property, usually serving meals to the people living on the compound wearing only black bikinis…and the dynamics of everything; their relationship, the friends, their future–begins shifting and going in directions that make toxic look like a far-off, distant hope to work towards. Saying anymore would be a spoiler–the book changes directions with shocking twists (but every last one of them is set up before you get there, but you still don’t see them coming) and the book and story become something completely different from what you were expecting at the start…and it’s a compulsive thriller; you simply can’t put it down. I read it through in one sitting last week, and passed it on Paul who ALSO read it in one setting–and he’s a very slow reader.

I greatly enjoyed this debut, highly recommend it, and look forward to seeing more work from Parks-Ramage; this is one of the best gay thrillers I’ve ever read.

To Be Lovers

Tuesday morning and still no Internet. The phone hotspot still seems to be working fine–I’m actually surprised at how quick the Internet connection is; I am so glad I upgraded my phone back in July to a 5G, praise be. I have to work from home today–but am probably going to swing by the office tomorrow to get some more work to be done from either here or there; it all depends, I suppose. My office still doesn’t have power; our other office does (I also need to swing by there as well–there’s a prescription for me waiting there) but my office is running on generators. I am assuming that means there’s no Internet there; but I will go by there to pick up things to work on from home tomorrow anyway and see how things are going there at any rate. Yesterday I was exhausted; the tired went all the way to the bone yesterday. I managed to get some things done around here in the morning, continued to do laundry and organize and clean out cabinets and so forth, but by around four in the afternoon I was so exhausted I could hardly move; so I just put on Spotify and collapsed into my easy chair and started rereading things I’ve been working on–the first three chapters of Chlorine, the novellas, some short stories–and while I am not as pleased with that work as I would like to be this morning, there are some good parts in those works and the skeleton/baseline of them are all very good, very well done, and have the potential to be really good, which is indeed something. Before I get started on my data entry I am going to try to get caught up on my work emails and messages and so forth; while I swill coffee and before I take a shower to face the day. I am going to run some errands at lunch time, and hopefully will be able to go to the gym and at least get some work done on my muscles–I think a lot of the stiffness and so forth is my body protesting the lack of exercise, which does happen; your body gets used to being worked out and when you stop, your muscles are not happy about it in the least. I also have some book review posts to get scheduled for today; I wrote them all yesterday in my exhausted state, but didn’t want to bombard you, Constant Reader, with a slew of book entries…they will be forthcoming, to be sure.

It’s very weird this morning to be readjusting back to some semblance of normality. Remember, Hurricane Ida came ashore during my vacation (sobs softly to self); I had taken a vacation for Bouchercon and kept the time off–only to have a hurricane hit on the final Sunday of the vacation and throw everyone in New Orleans off course for quite some time. At least I don’t have to go into the office today; I have plenty of things to keep me busy around here for the day, and I am curious at some point to go drive around the city and see what’s up everywhere else around here. I know the things that are open are only open for limited hours–staffing AND supplies, I would imagine–so am more than a little curious to see what exactly the grocery stores have in stock and so forth, or if deliveries are coming into the city. I also have no idea whether or not we have mail service, either–so will have to be looking into that. I had packages coming, and Paul’s medications come through the mail (or UPS, we aren’t sure which; but they do come to our postal service). I’m also curious as to whether my CVS is open–going to need to refill that Xanax soon, and believe you me, no one wants me to not have the stuff that takes the edge off and smooths out my corners.

It’s also weird not having television–I guess I didn’t realize how much time I waste sitting in my easy chair with the television on, at the very least for background noise. My wonderful new computer actually has better picture and sound than the television, but the problem is my desk chair isn’t as comfortable as my easy chair (natch) and my muscles again were all tense and knotted from stress and aggravation yesterday–they are still tight this morning, actually–and not only do I need to stretch them, I need a deep tissue massage. (Good luck with that right now, right? Sheesh. It’s too bad we couldn’t have evacuated to a spa hotel somewhere…sauna, steam room, and massage sounds mighty marvelous about right now, quite frankly) I was also a little too tired and loopy to focus on reading, so I didn’t pick up SIlvia Moreno-Garcia’s marvelous Velvet was the Night yesterday; I could reread my own works in progress without a great degree of difficulty or requiring a high level of focus or concentration, but not something new…interesting how I powered through all that reading when there was no power or anything to distract me, but as soon as I had television and Internet in the hotel, my reading came to a sharp halt.

Curious, indeed.

I am also exhausted this morning but not nearly as bad as yesterday. I think it all kind of came crashing in on me yesterday–all those nerves, stress, and tension of the last eight to ten days, and I was literally drained. I hate having lost the time–I’d hoped to be to at least to Chapter Ten of Chlorine by now, so I am behind. I am behind on everything, and now get to play catch up while tired and worn down. Ah, well, I know the drill–make a list, start crossing things off while adding more as you go–and so, I should probably get started on my work day.

Have a lovely post Labor Day, Constant Reader.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Ah, Venice.

I’ve always loved Venice: the idea of a city that exists in a place where no city really should but does anyway (like New Orleans); a city with a long and remarkable history that at one time was one of the major powers of the world, despite not really having much population yet somehow carving out an empire; and always dreamed of visiting there. When Paul and I lucked into our marvelous trip to Italy back in 2014 (I think it was 2014? I could be wrong, it may have been 2015 but it really doesn’t matter) I definitely wanted to include Venice in our itinerary. We wound up only being there for twenty-four hours, but I was enchanted (I was enchanted by all of Italy, really), and have always wanted to go back and spend more time there. We were incredibly lucky when we were there; it was the week before Labor Day weekend, and there were no real crowds there (I have since seen horrible pictures of crowds so thick you can barely move), and we just wandered around looking at beautiful buildings and crossing canals and going into churches and eating gelato–lots and lots of gelato (which was every day, everywhere, while we were in Italy–we even got some at the airport when we flew back out).

Venice is also the setting for my all-time favorite novella and movie based on it (Daphne du Maurier’s “Don’t Look Now”). I love the Katharine Hepburn film Summertime, in which a lonely unmarried teacher comes to Venice and is also enchanted by how gorgeous the city is, and also finds a bittersweet romance with a handsome Italian man. One of my favorite parts of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is set there. I finally read Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice” as part of my “plague days” reading last year when COVID-19 shut down the country; as well as Daphne du Maurier’s take on the tale, “Ganymede.” John Berendt’s City of Falling Angels, about the La Fenice fire and the insanity in rebuilding the fabled opera house, was a remarkably insightful look at how things work in Venice, as well as the restoration works on the city and its gnarled bureaucracy, as well as the blasé attitudes of the locals about how corrupt and insane everything is there.

It goes without saying that the similarities between Venice and New Orleans are striking, and run much deeper than the constant threat of water and Carnival.

I started writing a novella this year set in Venice–which I’ve wanted to write about ever since I visited–and at some point I will revise it to get it ready for publication; it’s on my to-do list–and so naturally, Christopher Bollen’s A Beautiful Crime was added to my TBR pile as soon as I knew of it.

And what a delight it turned out to be.

Down below the cry of gulls, below floors of tourists undressing and dressing for dinner, below even the shrinking figure of his killer. a man lies crumpled and bleeding. He’s been dead for only a few seconds. He’s sprawled on his stomach, his body twisted at the hips, his left arm hooked in a U above his head. From a distance, from high above, he looks almost as if he were sleeping. It’s the blood leaking through his pink shirt that gives the crime away.

Outside, the sun is setting on what is unarguably the most beautiful city on the planet. There are a lot of dead bodies in this town. Upstairs in the man’s room, an English guidebook recommends taking a boat out to San Michele to visit an entire island of them. Among the legions buried there are the composer Igor Stravinsky, the ballet director Sergei Diaghilev, and the poet Ezra Pound.

The city is sinking and has been for centuries. Enjoy it while you can. The blood is pooling around the body. Screams are blaring from all directions. The killer is making a run for the exit.

But none of this has happened yet.

I don’t think I’d heard of Christopher Bollen before I heard about this book; I may have read some of his work (he writes for both Vanity Fair and Interview magazines), but I was not prepared for how good this book would be.

And the really good news is its his fourth; he has three more books for me to read and cherish and enjoy. Huzzah! (It’s always delightful to discover a new-to-you writer you love, isn’t it?)

The premise behind this book is pretty genius: a young gay couple who have fallen quickly and madly in love with each other, come up with a “foolproof” plan to con a wealthy douchebag out of enough money for the two to ride off into the sunset together after paying off their unsurmountable debt…and Venice is where the action happens. Bollen spent time in Venice interning at the Peggy Guggenheim museum, which pays off in this complex and riveting noirish thriller. Bollen brings Venice to life in a way that few other writers have; you can smell the canals, taste the food, enjoy the bite of the liquor and savor the wine and the spellbinding beauty of the city through the eyes of his characters.

Our young, intrepid gay couple are Nick Brink and Clay Guillory. Nick came to New York to escape his sterile and stale childhood home in the Midwest, and soon has a very well-to-do older man in love with him; Ari, who is an expert in antique silver and runs one of the few silver businesses left in the country. Nick loves Ari, but it’s not a deep passionate love; it seems more like gratitude and appreciation more than anything else. Ari does love Nick, but his plans for their future (he also employs Nick at the silver shop, which is pivotal to the plot of the book) are making Nick claustrophobic and feeling trapped. Nick looks at the years ahead with Ari (and possibly a child) and is terrified of what his life will become; while this is stable and nice and everything he could have possibly wanted…now that he has it, he’s not sure it is what he wanted after all.

Clay is the surviving companion of an older gay man, Freddy van der Haar, last scion of one of the first families of New York (going back to the days of New Amsterdam and the Dutch settlement); Freddy was one of the last surviving colorful characters of the wild and crazy Bohemian artist scene in New York, and had the wealth to really pursue the kind of life and lifestyle that no longer seems possible or to exist anymore. Everyone, of course, believes Clay is a gold digging conniver who may have even murdered Freddy for the inheritance. But the truth is not how it appears on the surface; there was no money left, and Clay has even gone deeply into debt taking care of Freddy as he declines slowly into death. Clay owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to student loans and medical bills, and doesn’t see any way out of his situation.

The two meet by chance at Freddy’s memorial service; Ari knew Freddy, of course, and Nick doesn’t want to be there. He slips out for air and meets Clay on the steps–Clay isn’t attending (he knows very well what Freddy’s friends think of him) but just wants to make sure that the flowers he ordered arrived. They encounter each other again shortly thereafter, when Clay brings in the last of the van der Haar silver collection for appraisal and possible sale; unfortunately it’s all worthless junk. But the mutual attraction is there, and soon Nick is slipping away from work and his shared apartment with Ari for afternoon trysts at Clay’s inherited brownstone in Brooklyn, which he is selling to help pay down the debts of Freddy’s estate as well as his own.

And the two lovers come up with a plan: part of Clay’s inheritance is a small piece of a palazzo in Venice which the van der Haars once owned completely. The rest of the palazzo is now owned by a wealthy investor named Richard West (whom Freddy despised), who has an obsession with the van der Haar family and wants to possess some of their silver. Why not have Clay try to sell the junk to West, and have Nick–who works for an antique silver firm, after all–falsely authenticate it so they can pay off all that debt and live happily ever after? West is a major scumbag, after all, who fucked Clay over once already; and is it really a crime to fuck over someone who is so awful? Not only will their debts be paid but Clay will finally have vengeance against the man who cheated him out of his dream job…and so begins the game of cat-and-mouse.

And what a delight it is. Bollen is a terrific writer–his gift for sentences and paragraph construction is amazing–and his characters all seem quite real. He peoples the book with a terrific supporting cast, all of whom are actualized; from Daniela the transwoman (who is old school; refuses the term “trans”) with whom Nick stays in Venice, to Freddy himself to West and his entourage. As the deception goes deeper, the pacing also begins to pick up, as well as the sense of dread as they change and adapt their plan and decide to go for even more money…and like the best Hitchcock films and all great noirs, the deeper they get into the deception, the more dangerous the game becomes.

Venice itself is a character; Bollen writes about the city with such love and affection that it becomes impossible to imagine the book being set anywhere else–and he also addresses the primary issue in Venice: the crowds of tourists and the outsiders buying apartments to rent out as Air BnB’s, thus driving up the cost of real estate and living in the city that is forcing the locals out (just like New Orleans! Something else the two have in common!)–and this also plays an integral part in the story.

I loved this book, and even though for a while it was making me think I need to scrap my Venice novella…I soon realized I don’t have to. My novella is in the perspective of a tourist falling in love with the city, whereas Bollen’s is written from the POV of someone with intimate, personal knowledge of the city that comes from living there and truly experiencing what it is to be a Venetian.

Highly recommended; it’s a great read.

Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted

Labor Day, and Lord, did it ever feel fantastic to sleep in my own bed again.

God, how well did I sleep last night? I didn’t want to get out of the bed this morning–not unusual, but I was awake and felt like getting up as there are all kinds of things to do today. It’s Labor Day; what would have been Southern Decadence weekend were there no pandemic nor Hurricane Ida, so I am not going to be overly concerned about some things; it can all wait until tomorrow. Today is about figuring out where I am and where I was at before the power went down; Paul and I were both commiserating about this very thing last night. We both were in really good places before the power outage; I was on a roll with my work and getting ahead and on top of everything as well as my working out (which I was also starting to see the results of, finally), and he was much the same with work and the gym and everything else. I still feel a little unmoored from my life and reality; like I have somehow become untethered and need to start feeling for the ground again with my toes so I can grab hold of it and anchor myself again.

It’s also lovely to be sitting here at my computer this morning, drinking my own coffee and looking out my own windows, clouded with condensation; Scooter is also very happy to be back at home. I washed all the dirty dishes last night, laundered all the dirty clothes and bed linens, and put things away. I was exhausted, bone tired; the release of all the mental stress built up into my joints and muscles being released the moment we pulled up in front of the house and started unpacking the car. I am still rather physically tired this morning, but that’s okay. I am going to putter around today, trying to get some sense of where I am and what I need to be getting to work on. The disruption has really messed me up; it seems like last weekend was months ago, and I have some vague recollections of things I need to be doing…I do have the last to-do list I made (which needed to be updated before the disruption) which will work as a starting point. I also kind of need to stay motivated while I go–but the being tired/exhausted/drained thing will undoubtedly prove to be a problem for me today. I think I am going to do some kitchen cabinet purging as well as book purging; and I do want to spend some time with SIlvia Moreno-Garcia’s Velvet Was the Night. Oddly, once we were in the hotel and I had access to the Internet and a television to watch, I didn’t do very much reading…so with Cox still down here at the Lost Apartment, I don’t have television to distract me…although I can probably stream things to my computer or iPad.

Another thing I need to do is figure out what all I ordered and was expecting in the mail before the disruption; I know Rachel Howzell Hall’s book was coming, and I had ordered ink for my printer (which won’t connect via my hotspot to the computer, so I can’t print or scan, which is frustrating–but I will try again later). I also am not sure what the mail situation is here, either–so I will undoubtedly spend some time today trying to figure that out. Paul’s medications also come in the mail, so there’s that pressing need as well (and yet another reason I refuse to have my prescriptions mailed to me. I can stop at CVS and pick them up in person, thank you very much). I also want to do blog posts about all the great books I read when we were without power; I’ve already done Megan’s today, and it would be great to get the rest done as well, but I also want to do them justice. I am still rather in awe of all the good reading I did during the power outage, frankly, and really need to dedicate some time every day to doing some kind of reading.

It looks like our office is still without power. Our gym emailed us last night with their temporary post-storm hours; which is also kind of cool. (I may go over there today; my body has really been missing the stretching and exercising, and, as I said, I had kind of gotten into a groove I’d like to get going again, especially since I am starting to see results from the regular visits; also, since I had to throw away so much food from the refrigerator/freezer, temptations have been removed and I can restock healthier food options…) I do have work I can do at home while we wait for the office to reopen, but I am going to allow my supervisor to have today free before I start pestering him about my work at home assignments; there are any number of things I can do in the meantime, of course, but I do wonder how long it will be before we are able to start seeing clients and testing them again. When will we get supplies? is the question.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines for a while. Have a lovely Labor Day, Constant Reader, and will probably be back later with another book post.

Do You Wanna Dance?

One of the (very very very very very) few benefits of losing power and all connection to the outside world is it gives you plenty of time to read. Our power went out, thanks to the outer bands of Hurricane Ida (in case you weren’t paying attention) at approximately eleven am in Sunday, August 29th–which also happened to be the sixteenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. (Another benefit of not having power and not being connected to the outside world–I didn’t have to see all the doom-and-gloom coverage, plus the constant Katrina references; I lived through it already, and have seen enough news documentaries about it; no thanks–especially with the added DISASTER glee of a NEW HURRICANE!!! EVEN BIGGER AND MORE POWERFUL THAN KATRINA!!!)

At any rate, in those days before we finally said no mas to the lack of power and fled for the wilds of Alabama, I managed to read a fucking lot.

The book I was reading before and during the storm–I finished with a flashlight as the winds and rains of Ida battered my house–was Megan Abbott’s The Turnout, which I couldn’t put down.

You see, I love ballet.

It’s something that I’ve rarely had the chance to see in my life until the advent of Youtube; I’ve while away many an hour down a ballet wormhole on Youtube, marveling at the insane way the dancers can twist, contort, and launch their bodies in ways bodies weren’t meant to twist or contort or launch; and yet not only can they do it–it’s breathtakingly beautiful to watch. It’s part of what drew me to gymnastics and figure skating, too–the amazingly difficult things these athletes (and don’t ever for a moment believe that ballet dancers are not athletes) can do with their bodies, and how easy and beautiful they make it look. When I was a kid, we watched The Nutcracker on television; I hated it (still do) but was nevertheless amazed at the dancers, how disciplined and beautiful their movements were, how they used every muscle in their body and somehow made it all look as easy as breathing, as blinking, as smiling.

I remember thinking, I want to do that.

Ballet wasn’t an option, needless to say–and I probably wouldn’t have been good at it; I was incredibly clumsy (still am, really, just have a better sense of my body and better spatial awareness) and uncoordinated…on the other hand, it might have been the perfect thing for me, may have made me disciplined, changed my perception of self and worth by working hard at something I would love…but what can you do now? I’ve always wanted to write a ballet noir about a gay ballet dancer–I had the idea back in the early 1990’s, wrote it all out, including characters and a plot synopsis (and yes, of course I have the title). The folder is in my file cabinet in the “maybe get to soon” drawer; I often pause on it when I go through the drawer looking for something else. Occasionally, as I watch the videos on Youtube (and they have stuff from Nureyev, who fascinated me and kind of still does, as well as Baryshnikov and many many many others), I think about it. I was watching a documentary about the acid attack on the enfánt terrible director of the Bolshoi when Paul came home one night, and he was startled to see me watching it. He had no idea about my affinity for the ballet; I told him about my book idea and how I’d always loved ballet–and he got me tickets to see the Royal Ballet Company of Monaco when they came to New Orleans for Christmas, as well as several autobiographies of dancers.

And as always, it’s such a joy to read a new novel from someone who will be considered one of the greats of our time–even though she has now set the bar so high for crime novels about ballet I may never dare to even think about writing one myself.

They were dancers. Their whole lives, nearly. They were dancers who taught dance and taught it well, as their mother had.

“Every girl wants to be a ballerina…”

That’s what their brochure said, their posters, their website, the sentence scrolling across the screen in stately cursive.

THE DURANT SCHOOL OF DANCE, EST. 1986 by their mother, a former soloist with the Alberta Ballet, took up the top twofloors of a squat, rusty brick office building downtown. It had become theirs after their parents died on a black-ice night more than a dozen years ago, their car caroming across the highway median. When an enterprising local learned it had been their twentieth wedding anniversary, he wrote a story about them, noting their hands were interlocked even in death.

Had one of them reached out to the other in those final moments, the reporter wondered to readers, or had they been holding hands all along?

All these years later, the story of their parents’ end, passed down like lore, still seemed unbearably romantic to their students–less so to Marie, who, after sobbing violently next to her sister, Dara, through the funeral, insisted, I never saw them holds hands once.

Megan Abbott is one of my favorite writers, and is, in my humble opinion, probably one of the best publishing in our time. Her books just blow me away, every time–and I never know what I am in for when I start reading one, either, as far as character and subtext and story and the complex, layered, complicated relationships between her fully realized characters, who all live and breathe and have interior lives–including those who appear in just a scene or two. I don’t know how she does it–Abbott can do more with a sentence (as far as character definition, mood, setting–any aspect of good writing, really) than most can do with several paragraphs.

The Turnout focuses on the two sisters, and Dara’s husband, a male ballet prodigy whose career was tragically cut short by a vicious spinal injury. The three grew up together under their mother’s tyrannical rule, and there is an odd, group dynamic at play there, where Dara and Charles are almost, sort of like surrogate parents to Marie–who has an oddly childlike quality to her. The story of the novel plays out during their preparation for their annual production of The Nutcracker (because of course it had to be the one ballet I loathe, LOL–but let’s be honest, it IS the ballet the school would put on at Christmas every year), and while the three of them split up the work of producing the ballet and running the school, our primary point of view character is Dara. Her relationship with her husband has an odd touch of brother-sister to it; they grew up together, of course, and her relationship with her sister has many layers and undercurrents. Marie has often tried to escape the town they live in and the school–but has always wound up coming back home, more fragile than before she left. The sisterly relationship is as equally complex as the marriage, and the weird dynamic of the two sisters having a deeply close relationship to the same man, who grew up as basically a brother to them, raised all kinds of flags for me as I read. Marie has broken free from the complex menage a tróis; she has moved into the attic of the school to try to break free of the claustrophobic family ties. But a fire in one of the studios results in damage and the hiring of a shady contractor; who soon infiltrates the tight little family and all of the traumas, public and private, within the family begin to resurface when Marie falls for the man, whom Dara hates pretty much on sight. As the needs of the production begin to multiply the closer the show’s run comes, with the one studio under repair and seemingly more and more money falling into the contractor’s hands while the school inches ever closer to bankruptcy–and the fragile little family unit also begins to feel the pressure begin building to the breaking point as well, when Marie becomes sexually involved with the contractor and Dara begins to fear what else her sister is sharing with him other than her body…because the Durants have some deep, dark secrets Dara does not want anyone to know about.

Abbott’s writing style is not only cinematic–you can visualize easily everything she writes about, whether it’s a ballerina breaking in a new pair of pointe shoes; the smell of ointments to ease the ache of sore muscles and enflamed joints; the bitter rivalries and cruelties of young girls competing for the lead; the demanding entitlements of ballet parents; the awkwardness of a young man who dances ballet despite his father’s objections; or the experience of trying to work while construction is going on around you. Dara, the more confident of the two sisters, the alpha of the three in the little family group, finds herself lost, losing her stability, the solid foundation her life is build upon, and cannot really handle the shift in her little world, left unsure and unable to explain or understand her sister’s behavior–or the distance growing between her and Charles, which she is ill equipped to do anything about. That sense of things spiraling out of control, the inability to stop the out-of-control train plunging forward, contrasts beautifully with the art of ballet–where control is so important.

Abbott does a magnificent job of building tension, keeping the reader enrapt and turning the pages as everything starts to not only boil, but boil over–and her gift for language, for putting the right words together in a sentence that appears to be quite simple but actually conveys a multi-layered complexity, is extraordinary. Her keen insights into the incredibly complicated relationships between the two sisters and Charles, the tragedy of Marie’s loneliness and inability to break free of her past and her family because of her own fragility, are sharp as a syringe.

I loved this book, but hated to see it end…because now I have to wait for the next Abbott novel–and however long it will take to get a new one is far, far too long.

Singing My Song

And HOME.

HUZZAH!

I am very exhausted, but very grateful that my air is back and we have power. The Internet is down, but my phone’s hotspot is working–that won’t help with the cable, so no television till Cox restores service again–but that’s okay; I can use the time more productively writing or reading and trying to clean up the utter disastrous condition we left the Lost Apartment in. The refrigerator, while emptied of anything that would rot or spoil, needs a thorough cleaning, and of course there’s still debris outside that needs to be picked up. But I am home, and that’s really all that matters to me at the moment.

And we have power–glorious, glorious electricity.

And my next power bill should be significantly lower, right? It was out for almost a week.

I am running all the clothes we wore on the trip and the towels and clothes we wore during the hellish no-electricity phase of this process; after that, the sheets and bed linens definitely need to be cleaned, and like I said, this whole place is a mess–a thorough thorough mess. But I think I can be forgiven for sitting just a moment and relaxing at my desk, by my windows, and just having a moment to breathe, right? I am exhausted, seriously; I didn’t realize how much so until I got home. We bought some groceries in Greenville just to be on the safe side–nothing much; bread and cheese and so on–and I will probably make an exploratory trip to Rouse’s just to see what they have tomorrow–I don’t really want to get back into the car again, to be honest.

But home again, home again. I really do know what it means to miss New Orleans.

It’s been a while since we’ve evacuated; not quite so long since the last time a tropical storm of one kind or another knocked out power out in the heat of summer for several days. The disruption is inevitably unwelcome–I love New Orleans, but without air conditioning I could not live here, period–and now I have to try to remember where I was at and what I was doing and what I was working on before the Great Derángement (yes, I know, probably inappropriate to call having to leave because of a natural disaster the same name the Cajuns called their expulsion from Acadia by the British after the French and Indian War); and I also have to figure out how to function with my day job duties and how to get work hours in so I don’t have to burn off what’s left of my vacation time. The office still didn’t have power the last time I checked; tomorrow is Labor Day, and sorry–I am not going to worry about any of this until Tuesday, which is a work day. (I have data entry to do, and as long as my hotspot is working, I can work on that at home. I also have to throw away all the condoms I have here at the house; and strip them out of the condom packs here that I’ve made….if the office had power I could go there and start throwing away spoiled test kits and condoms and break down condom packs…but I can only access the building with my badge, which requires electricity to let me in…)

So, I am just kind of going to settle in here at the Lost Apartment today. I am going to get things cleaned and organized, have a few well-earned cocktails later (hello, big bottle of tequila!), and just chill out. The cable might be out, but we can also revisit some old DVD’s for entertainment purposes, if needed; good thing I didn’t throw them away on a purge (or did I?).

But most of all, it’s going to be absolutely marvelous to sleep in my own bed, drink my own coffee, and really…just be grateful this entire situation wasn’t worse. Ida was stronger than Katrina–thank God the levees held–and it’s going to be a hot minute before New Orleans is back to a semblance of normal. But this things, this unforeseen catastrophes, are really good about resetting priorities and recognizing what is important….and as I sip my margarita later this eve, I am going to put some more thought into that.

And thanks, everyone–for the encouragement and support over the last week. It was only a week ago Ida came ashore. Seems like it’s been an eternity, at least to me.

You Are Always On My Mind

Saturday morning and LSU football is back–playing UCLA in the Rose Bowl. GEAUX TIGERS! Will the Tigers go back to their usual winning ways after the disappointments of last season? I guess we will find out tonight, won’t we?

Last night I actually fell asleep. I had slept better Thursday night than I had since the power went out, but it wasn’t the same thing–it was mostly half-sleep, but I felt rested, if on edge most of yesterday. Before I even tried to sleep last night, I realized how much stress and tension I was carrying in my back, shoulders, and neck–and so I did some serious, serious stretching to get it loosened up–and it was lovely feeling that tight tension leaving my body. And after I did that last night, I zonked out for real and went into an amazing, blissful, dead-to-the-world sleep and it was marvelous. Entergy is supposedly getting our power back today, so we can return tomorrow–we shall see. I am resisting going to the Entergy website and refreshing the outage page repeatedly; our landlady (who bravely stayed, but her office had power return so she’s been hanging out at her office every day and going home to sleep at night because of the curfew) has promised to call or text as soon as it does…but that will NOT stop me, you know. I am resisting the urge to go do it right this very minute, in fact–which is ridiculous, of course because I already checked before I started writing this.

Yesterday was a lost day, really. Despite being rested, my body was still messed up from the five days; not eating much and not sleeping will take a toll on you, and yesterday was one of those low energy/don’t feel like doing much days–something I’ve not really experienced in a long time, but not surprising, really. We spent most of the day in the room–there’s not much to do here–watching the US Open, scrolling through social media and so forth, and trying to get caught up on my emails. I think I have it mostly under control for now; I am probably not going to mess with email anymore until we get home and I can sit at my desk with my big screen desktop and go to town on it. Still not sure what’s going on with the day job; that’s all up in the air, but in emailing back and forth with my department head yesterday I began thinking of all the things that will need to be done around the office, despite everything, and so I should be able to get work done this week once the Lost Apartment has power again.

Scooter has finally adapted to this motel room and is acting like himself–demanding attention and hugs and back rubs, which is a relief. I was getting a bit worried about him, to be honest; but it just takes him a minute to adjust, I guess. It took me a day to get used to sleeping in this bed, after all, so why wouldn’t it take him a hot minute to get used to being someplace he had never been before, knew nothing about, and was filled with different and new smells and sounds? But he’s a sweet boy, curled up with Paul while they both sleep at the moment. I am making a list of things to pick up to take back home with us from the grocery store here–there’s no telling what the situation will be with the grocery stores in New Orleans, or when they will be restocked; I mean, if getting gas is an issue in Louisiana trucks are going to have problems getting in, aren’t they? I am definitely getting a cooler and some perishables to pack into it with ice, just to be on the safe side. It would completely suck to not have food–but then again, with power, I can cook the stuff in the cabinets, which could get us by for a while; although I am sure we’ll get sick of pasta pretty quickly.

And while I wait for the games to start today, maybe I’ll do some writing. Buried deep in my emails were all sorts of things I should have been able to answer leisurely and put some thought into earlier in the week; yesterday I had to scramble and my brain was already fried from everything, so the recipients of those emails will probably think what the hell? But I did explain the situation and hopefully they’ll understand and not think I am both unresponsive and insane.

And of course it’s Labor Day weekend, which I keep forgetting about. Ordinarily this would be Southern Decadence, which was theoretically canceled, I think, even before Hurricane Ida? (I still cannot believe we stayed and rode out a Category 4 storm; what the hell were we thinking? Well, yes, we didn’t really have much of a choice, but my God. That was definitely not something on my bucket list–and I doubt anything we will ever do again, given a choice. Then again, given a choice, we wouldn’t have stayed this last time, either.)

I think I am probably going to try transcribing that short story I started writing in my journal last weekend, “Parlor Tricks,” which I think could actually wind up being a pretty decent story–even if I don’t know where it’s going or how it’s going to end (which often happens with story ideas I have, but sometimes I can write my way through it)–while waiting for the games to start today; it’s definitely a way to pass the time. I may even (ha, as if) try writing some on Chlorine today–yeah, right, who am I fooling? But I will certainly read some more of Velvet Was the Night, which is very interesting; Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a very interesting writer–and prolific–and I am delighted to see her career taking off the way it is.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and hopefully tomorrow’s entry will begin with me announcing we are heading home!