Sara

Sunday morning, and the time change has me bleary-eyed and irritated. I hate losing an hour, absolutely hate it, and would gladly give up that extra hour of sleep in the fall that makes up for it being taken away now. It’s always disorienting, and it’s been hard enough recovering from the one-two-three punch of the Great Data Disaster of 2018 followed by the weeks of Carnival followed  by the Laptop Death of 2019. Seriously, I am so not in the mood for this.

But I suppose it’s a sign that spring is on its way, with the blasting heat of the summer right behind. I need to get caught up on my homework for the panel I’m moderating–I did have a lovely experience yesterday at the car wash while reading Alafair Burke’s The Better Sister while I waited for them to finish cleaning my car. I spent most of yesterday being a trifle on the lazy side; I was worn out and the rest was kind of necessary, although I probably should have read more. I did do the laundry, ran the errands that needed running, and wound up back home extremely worn out, and made the perhaps not good decision to simply relax and rest for the rest of the day rather than doing anything constructive.

I watched American Graffiti again Friday night for the first time in decades; it’s available on Starz, and as I scrolled through the available options I thought why not? The movie itself, which was a huge deal when released, made a fortune, and got a number of Oscar nominations (including best picture), was one I remembered a bit fondly, and in all the hubbub of George Lucas/Star Wars, people tend to forget American Graffiti was the hit movie  that actually made him, and made Star Wars financing a possibility in the first place. I think he was even nominated for best director? I don’t recall. But American Graffiti was notable to me as a young teenager because it triggered a nostalgia wave for the 1950’s at the time; the soundtrack was hugely successful, and anthology albums of hits from the 1950’s became all the rage. (The irony that the film was actually set in 1962 was lost on everyone.) It’s actually kind of a dark film, really; while it reintroduced Chinese fire drills and cruising and sock hops and the music of the period to teenagers (the Beach Boys also came back to prominence; their double album greatest hits compilation Endless Summer was released during this nostalgia craze) rewatching the film now, the darkness is plain to see. Vietnam is on the horizon, and the ‘innocence’ of these teens, on the brink of adulthood, isn’t all that innocent, really. There wasn’t really a cohesive plot; it was just a mishmash of interconnected characters with their own stories sometimes bisecting others–very Robert Altman-esque in that way.

And as I said earlier, it did lead to a 50’s nostalgia craze, which eventually led to shows like Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley, which also wound up starring Ron Howard and Cindy Williams, as the film did. Richard Dreyfuss also has a lead, and this was before Jaws and his Oscar for The Goodbye Girl and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The movie kind of launched quite a few careers. It was also one of the first “teen movies” to be quite so dark, a big change from the silliness of the Disney films for teens at the time or the beach movies of the 60’s. An argument could, in fact, be made that American Graffiti set the stage for the 1980’s teen movies that redefined the genre.

I’ve also always kind of thought that the kids from Graffiti who went off to college became the adults in The Big Chill, but that’s just me. (There was a sequel, More American Graffiti, that was made in 1979, but the less said about that the better.)

I also rewatched Play Misty for Me, which is also available on Starz. Play Misty for Me was the original Fatal Attraction, also was Clint Eastwood’s first film as a director (he also starred), and scared the crap out of me when I was a kid; we saw it as a family at the drive-in, part of a triple feature with another Eastwood film, High Plains Drifter (which I think is his best Western), and a really bad low-budget movie starring country singer Marty Robbins called Guns of a Stranger–which was so laughably bad it became kind of a benchmark/joke for my family for years. I’ve never seen Play Misty for Me again, and so was curious; I remember Jessica Walters played Evelyn Draper, the “Alex Forrest” of the movie, and was absolutely terrifying as the psycho woman obsessed with Clint Eastwood’s Carmel deejay (I also recognized a lot of the locations as the same ones used for Big Little Lies). It doesn’t hold up as well on a rewatch some forty years later, alas; it has a lot of “first director-itis”, and kind of has a “made for TV” feel to it, but it was a pretty adequate little thriller, and was groundbreaking in its way–it was really the first movie to deal with a stalker situation.

I seem to have also developed some kind of a strain in my right calf muscle; I’m not sure what that’s all about, but it’s not incredibly painful or anything; but I am always aware of it when I’m walking. Crazy.

So, I have lots of plans for today now that my coffee is starting to kick in; I’m looking forward to doing some cleaning today, writing some, and of course, reading. Alafair Burke’s The Better Sister is quite good, and I can’t wait to get caught up in it later today when I finish my chores and to-do list.

And on that note, ’tis back to the spice mines with me.

Hot-Guys-In-A-Speedo-1-

Our House

..in the middle of our street.

We will not be discussing the embarrassment that was last night’s LSU “game.”

Friends are in town, and we had lunch with them at Commander’s Palace yesterday, which was lovely. I didn’t read the menu carefully and got something that had fried eggs on the top–which ran with yolk when you broke it; shudder–but I simply pushed them away with my fork and ate everything else. I was very tired after that, and came home, worked for a little while, and then curled up with Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret. I had read Big Little Lies concurrently with watching the HBO series, and enjoyed both the book and the show, so wanted to read another one of her novels. I wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting with this one–the jacket blurb mentioned that a wife finds a sealed envelope addressed to her from her husband, with the words To be opened only in the event of my death.

I would have opened it immediately, of course.

the husband's secret

It was all because of the Berlin Wall.

If it weren’t for the Berline Wall, Cecilia would never have found the letter, and then she wouldn’t be sitting here, at the kitchen table, willing herself not to rip it open.

The envelope was gray with a fine layer of dust. The words on the front were written in a scratchy blue ballpoint pen, the handwriting as familiar as her own. She turned it over. It was sealed with a yellowing piece of sticky tape. When was it written? It felt old, like it was written years ago, but there was no way  of knowing for sure.

She wasn’t going to open it. It was absolutely clear that she should not open it. She was the most decisive person she knew, and she’d already decided not to open the letter, so there was nothing more to think about.

Although, honestly, if she did open it, what would be the big deal? Any woman would open it like a shot. She listed all her friends and what their responses would be if she were to ring them up right now and ask what they thought.

Liane Moriarty is compulsively readable. And that’s not a quality in an author that should be dismissed lightlyAs I mentioned the other day with Louise Penny, it’s hard to classify Moriarty’s work; there’s a crime involved, but is it really crime fiction? I’m not sure it’s marketed that way; this book has a jacket blurb from Anne Lamott, for example, rather than Sue Grafton or Sara Paretsky. She is an enormous bestseller; which is no small feat for an Australian writer to accomplish in the United States, particularly when she is writing about Australia (although Colleen McCullough was quite successful in the US with The Thorn Birds, before she turned to ancient Rome). She structures her books around three women as the main characters; and she writes about the issues that concern women–I suppose, in a way, her novels could be classified as modern domestic suspense. Like the previous masters of domestic suspense (a classification title I am still not entirely convinced I like), she writes about every day women thrust into extraordinary situations, and she also shoehorns in some brilliant social commentary along with social issues, like Margaret Millar and Charlotte Armstrong and Dorothy B. Hughes did. The books are, as I said, compulsively readable and hard to set aside until you’ve reached the end.

Women writers, no matter their success, are rarely taken as seriously as male writers. I’m not sure if it’s because women writers tend to focus on women and issues that affect them while men, in theory, tackle larger themes. Male characters written by men are off saving the world in genre fiction, bedding fabulous babes and getting into fistfights, surviving by their skills or because their masculinity is superior to that of the bad guys. Or the male characters are finding dissatisfaction and misery in their maleness (I’m looking at you, literary fiction), prisoners of societal expectations of manliness and resenting putting aside their fantasy of what their life should be and having to settle for something that is less than that fantasy. Rarely do you find male characters (I’m not saying they don’t exist, so don’t come after me; I am fully cognizant of the fact that these are all incredibly broad generalizations) who are struggling with the work/home balance, juggling having to have a career and an income with finding time to be participants in their children’s lives or even, for that matter, simply helping around the house.

Men do not drive the story in Liane Moriarty’s novels, but they do impact it. They serve as catalysts for her stories, but her books are about the women whose lives are impacted by the men in them.

The Husband’s Secret,  like Big Little Lies, tells the story of three women whose lives intersect due to a private grammar school, St. Agatha’s in Sydney. Rachel is the aging part-time school secretary, widowed and haunted by the unsolved murder of her teenaged daughter many years before. The loss of her daughter has embittered her, and the only thing she basically has to live for is her grandson. Her story is set into motion when the perfect daughter-in-law she doesn’t much like and her son tell her that Lauren, the daughter-in-law, is being sent by her company to New York for two years, taking the only thing in her life she cares about–the grandson–away from her; just as her daughter was taken from her some twenty-five years or so earlier.

Tess’ world has just been ripped apart by the announcement by her husband and her best friend/first cousin that they are in love and want to be together–but out of respect for her having consummated the relationship. Her cousin, Felicity, is like a sister to her; their mothers were twins and they were born within days of each other. Felicity also used to be overweight; over the past year she has lost weight and become beautiful. Tess, betrayed and hurt, uses her mother’s recent accident in which she broke her ankle as an excuse to grab her son Liam and leave Melbourne, returning to Sydney to sort out her life and her future–enrolling young Liam in St. Agatha’s.

Cecilia, the third woman, is like Madeline in Big Little Lies; married, highly competent and efficient, the organizer that winds up running everything and basically being Supermom. She married a handsome rich man, and they have three daughters together. She’s hardly as confident as she seems; it’s a veneer to protect her and hide her own insecurities as she ruthlessly organizes her life and tries to put the world in order–one of those people who are basically exhausting to talk to; who leave you tired and drained when you finish speaking with them and you aren’t sure why.

Their lives intersect primarily because of the letter Cecilia finds in her attic, although Tess is less involved with the other two women, only peripherally floating into their orbit through the school, but the book’s theme is grief and motherhood and how these three different and incredibly complex women deal with both. What sacrifices do mothers have to make for their children, and what do they owe themselves? What is too far, too much, and where do you draw the line? Rachel’s life was decimated by her daughter’s murder and the lack of a conclusion to the story; to the extent that she walled herself up away from the rest of her family, and her relationship with her son has suffered–it is only through the events of this book that she finally realizes that her son is suffering not only from the loss of his sister and the loss of his father but from the loss of his mother. What does Tess owe to her young son in the wake of the apparent end of her marriage, and the horrific betrayal by her husband and her cousin? Does she try to ride out this love affair, rise above her own hurt and anger and put her child first? Is it better for Liam if she ends the marriage or tries to get past everything and forgive him, if that’s the option? She also is forced to take a long hard look at her own life at who she is and who has become as a person, and who does she want to become?

Cecilia’s journey is, of course, the most shattering. Her husband’s secret, contained in the letter, turns her world upside down and inside out; nothing is what she thought it was, what she believed, and she too is faced with a horrible choice: any decision she makes is going to be incredibly difficult to live with–but what can she live with for the sake of her daughters?

There is some reader manipulation; it’s important for the narrative that Cecilia not read the letter until a certain point, and when she does, the chapter ends with her starting to read–which felt unfair, particularly as the book shifted to another viewpoint in the next chapter. It would have been just as effective, I thought, for the text of the letter to appear and not show Cecilia’s reaction before shifting to the other viewpoint; that’s the editorial and/or authorial I would have made. It just kind of felt manipulative.

The book is very clever, certainly smart–I enjoy the way Moriarty writes, and she has a great way of finding the word rhythm that works, slightly altering those patterns as she shifts from viewpoint to viewpoint to give the reader a stronger sense of the character and their voice; a nice hat trick which is not easy to pull off. The decisions the women make–all affected by the letter Cecilia finds–may not be happily ever afters, but are all things they can, they find, live with. They can go on, they can endure, they can survive.

And maybe that is a happily ever after, after all.

After finishing this, I started reading Lisa Unger’s In the Blood, which immediately grabbed my interest; it was hard to put it down in order to get sleep.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Cry Like a Baby

Well, I finished my essay for Sisters in Crime finally yesterday and got it all turned in. Woo-hoo! That’s something–the first thing I’ve really finished this year since turning in the last manuscript, and I am going to ride that particular triumph all week, and hopefully get the other things I want to get written finished this week as well.

I can hope, at any rate.

I’m not really sure why I struggled so much with that essay; I’m not really sure why I am struggling so much to write in general since I turned in my last manuscript. Even this blog sometimes seems like a slog; although I do suspect in some ways it has everything to do with my usual inability to focus on what I am working on; deadlines can certainly make focus much much easier to deal with. But I really want to get these stories finished this week, and I am also wanting to get some editing done and some work on the book as well. Maybe I am overestimating what I can get done reasonably in a week, I don’t know. But it will be enormously satisfying, for example, just to get one of these stories finished. I actually was rereading one yesterday, also incomplete (“The Scent of Lilacs in the Rain”, for the record) and it’s actually quite good. It’ll probably need to be edited down some, but not bad–there’s about three thousand words or so already, and that’ll probably need to be sliced in half at the very least since there are at least several thousand new words needed to finish. I also have no idea where I would publish the story–I don’t know where I would publish any of the stories I’ve written/am writing. But I am enjoying working on them, so there’s that.

One of the things I am trying very hard to do is remember that I actually do ENJOY writing. It’s so easy to hate doing it, really–and that often has to do with the pressure of deadlines, or the frustration of it not going well, or it not going at all. I don’t miss the pressure of deadlines, in all honesty, but I am starting to get concerned about not getting enough done.

Heavy heaving sigh.

But we finished watching Big Little Lies last night, and got deeper into this final season of Bates Motel–which is so deranged it’s amazing! I am going to miss this show, and seriously, if Freddy Highmore is NOT recognized by the Emmys this year…I don’t know what is wrong with the Emmy voters. PAY ATTENTION.

I am still digesting The Underground Railroad (and the show Big Little Lies), but I hope to blog about both relatively soon.

And on that note, back to the spice mines!

Here’s a Twofer Tuesday hunk fest!


A Beautiful Morning

Well, I finished reading The Underground Railroad yesterday, and will most definitely be blogging about it, once I’ve digested it some and thought about it some more. It was, to say the least, very powerful, and not only did it made me think about the subject matter–it also made me think about a lot of other things, which I will be more than happy to discuss once I’ve digested them. I also started reading The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, which I am enjoying as well.

We were supposed to get heavy weather yesterday, but it arrived over night instead–everything out there is wet and dripping, which is always a joy. Ah, well.

I didn’t write yesterday, or at all over the weekend, which is, of course, terrible. I did get some cleaning done and some organizing–not as much as I would have liked–but we’re also working on getting caught up on our shows and I did want to power through and finally finish the Colson novel, which I did manage to do, and then we got caught up on The Walking Dead, watched last night’s Feud, and then it was bedtime.

I am greatly enjoying Feud, and am very impressed with how it’s taking on the issue of how Hollywood/entertainment treats women; which also, in some ways, goes along with another show I am looking to finishing watching–the season finale of Big Little Lies was also last night; which we will undoubtedly watch tonight as well as continuing to get caught up on Bates Motel (a show that is KILLING it now in it’s final season). The way two of my favorite old Hollywood actresses–Bette Davis and Joan Crawford–are being depicted is brilliant, and the two women playing them, Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon, are turning in stunning, award-worthy performances. Last week’s episode, in which both Davis and Crawford are still not fielding any offers before the movie opens–and then it becomes a huge hit–was particularly brilliant; the moment when Joan Crawford, leaving the theater after the preview of the film that ended with a standing ovation, is recognized in the lobby and then mobbed with fans–when this happens, the look on her face–surprise evolving into pure joy at being treated like a star again, is so poignant it’s heartbreaking.

Last night’s, Oscar night when Crawford was snubbed in favor of Davis, was also almost painful to watch; the naked need Davis had for that third Oscar, the pain and anguish Crawford felt about being overshadowed once again by her rival (the scenes where Crawford talks to Geraldine Page and Anne Bancroft, asking them if she can accept for them, and the pity and sympathy Page and Bancroft feel for her, agreeing to let her do it because she needs to…wow)–and Judy Davis is also killing it as Hedda Hopper.

And last night, for the first time, Catherine Zeta-Jones actually delivered as Olivia de Havilland.

I got the idea for an essay yesterday about women’s fiction–using three novels to not only compare and contrast to each other but also to talk about how fiction by, for, and about women is so regularly disdained and dismissed as somehow lesser–the three being The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe, Peyton Place by Grace Metalious, and Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. I’ve been toying with the idea for quite some time, and I thought about it again yesterday, partly because of Feud, but also partly because of Big Little Lies. Of course, I have no idea where to publish the thing…and it’s not like I don’t have a million other things to write as well.

Heavy heaving sigh.

And on that note, back to editing.

Aquarius/Let the Sunshine

I stayed up late last night reading, and as such slept through my morning. When I got home from running errands yesterday I couldn’t find my copy of Peaches and Scream, which meant I either left it somewhere yesterday (the horror! It was signed) or I left it in the car–which I will check shortly–but while I was cleaning and doing laundry and all of that yesterday, I decided not to walk back out to the car but to just pick up another book–the next on the TBR pile–and I got very caught up in it, caught up so much that I wanted to see how it ended.

The book was Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.

“That doesn’t sound like a school trivia night,” said Mrs. Patty Ponder to Marie Antoinette. “That sounds like a riot.”

The cat didn’t respond. She was dozing on the couch and found school trivia nights to be trivial.

“Not interested, eh? Let them eat cake! Is that what you’re thinking? They do eat a lot of cake, don’t they? All those cake stalls. Goodness me. Although I don’t think any of the mothers actually eat them. They’re all so sleek and skinny, aren’t they? Like you.”

Marie Antoinette sneered at the compliment. The “let them eat cake” thing had grown old a long time ago, and she’d recently heard one of Mrs. Ponder’s grandchildren say it was mean to be “let them eat brioche” and also that Marie Antoinette never said it in the first place.

Mrs. Ponder picked up her television remote and turned down the volume on Dancing with the Stars. She’d turned it up loud earlier because of the sound of the heavy rain, but the downpour had eased now.

She could hear people shouting. Angry hollers crashed through the quiet, cold night air. It was somehow hurtful for Mrs. Ponder to hear, as if all that rage was directed at her. (Mrs. Ponder had grown up with an angry mother.)

I’ll be completely honest: I would have never heard of this book were it not for the HBO show, which Paul and I are watching. I primarily focus, when it comes to fiction, first on crime novels, followed by young adult, then horror, and finally queer fiction; as my reading time is relatively limited I can barely keep up with what’s au courant in crime, let alone anything else. Liane Moriarty, an enormously successful Australian novelist, is classified as chick lit, a term I’ve always found to be, at the very least, demeaning–not just to those who write it but to those who read it.

And there are a LOT of readers in this particular field.

The primary problems–which I will address now, before moving on to the things I really enjoyed–I had with this novel really are all about me, rather than the book itself. As someone who writes crime fiction, and therefore reads a lot of it, has edited a lot of it, has judged it for awards, Big Little Lies actually can be considered a crime novel, particularly if you look at the definition of the genre from Mystery Writers of America; because the book is about a crime, in a way; and the way the book is structured is a very much a crime trope: from the very beginning we know some kind of crime has happened, but we don’t know who or what or how. The book unspools by giving us all the backstory leading up to the commission of the crime, exposing all the secrets and lies involving a trio of three women, connected by having a child in kindergarten at one particular school, and then it gives us the crime itself, and it’s aftermath. There’s kind of a Greek chorus of voices at the end of each chapter, snippets from police or newspaper interviews, from various other characters but not the main ones, and Moriarty uses this device to not only build suspense but keep the reader hooked and intrigued and turning the page. The problem, of course, is that if you are a regular reader of crime fiction, many of the big surprises and twists to the plot…well, they aren’t shocking and surprising; in fact, I predicted every single one of them many chapters before the reveals. But I didn’t know who the victim would be, or how it would happen, or who would actually do it; Moriarty does an excellent job of juggling all the little threads and making you guess how it would all come down when you finally reach the climax of the novel, which kept me turning the page.

Those quibbles aside, Big Little Lies is compulsively readable. Moriarty does an excellent job of creating characters the reader can not only identify with but sympathize with, and there is also a lot of wit and sly social commentary in the book as well. As I mentioned earlier, the three main characters–Jane, Celeste, Madeline–are all connected by having a child in kindergarten. On the morning of kindergarten orientation, Madeline gets out of her car to lecture the teenaged driver of the car in front of her at a stoplight about texting and driving, only to turn her ankle on her way back to her car. Jane, new to the area, is in the car behind her and gets out to help her, and a friendship is born. Celeste is eventually drawn into their orbit, and we get to know these three women very well–as well as their secrets. Celeste is filthy rich, Celeste middle class, Jane borderline poor; Moriarty does an excellent job of showing the contrasts in their lifestyles as well as how those differences affect their behavior as well as their relationships. She also does an excellent job at showing the sensitivities and competitiveness between the moms who stay at home and the moms who work; Moriarty takes us into the world of women as mothers of young children and is very sly about the modern world of the helicopter parent; particularly on that first day of kindergarten orientation, when one of the children has been bullied and accuses Jane’s son of doing it, and how that accusation splits the school into two warring factions; of what it’s like to have your child accused of something heinous and the worry that comes along with that; the fierce desire to protect your child even if it means calling another child a liar; the terror that there is something psychologically wrong with your child. Moriarty is excellent at this; this women are incredibly real and fully developed and realized. She also writes with wit and flair and clever use of language; she has an innate ability to hook her reader and keep them reading.

It’s easy to see why she is an international bestseller.

I can highly recommend the book, despite the slight problems I had with it; it’s a great, enjoyable ride, and like I said to begin with, I stayed up until almost two in the morning reading it, and the first thing I did when I got up this morning, rather than messing about on-line and answering emails and reading social media, was get my cup of coffee and get back in my easy chair to finish reading it.

And that says a lot about Liane Moriarty as a writer. I do intend to read more of her work.

Telephone

The Carnival hangover continues.

I worked twelve hours yesterday, including bar testing last night, so that could account for feeling drained this morning. It’s probably a combination of the two–long day, post Carnival malaise–but I only have to get through today and tomorrow and then it’s the glorious weekend again, which is quite lovely. These abbreviated work weeks always feel somewhat off, much as I love long weekends. I started work on Crescent City Charade yesterday morning but didn’t get very far; I am thinking it wasn’t smart to try to get it going in the wake of Carnival–smart or not, I am not beating myself up because it didn’t come easy. I do have those days when nothing really comes out on the page, and it really can’t be forced. (I mean, it can, but it usually ends up being such garbage it has to be completely redone or thrown out; on the other hand sometimes when I force it, it’s hard going at first and then it truly gets going. I can usually tell the difference, though, and I could tell yesterday wasn’t going to be one of those good days of work.)

In other good news, my editor liked Wicked Frat Boy Games, which was absolutely lovely news to wake up to. Now I just have to go over her edits. Hurray!

Paul and I are watching Big Little Lies on HBO and we’re enjoying it so far; great performances not only by the actresses in the leads (Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shaillene Woodley, Laura Dern) but also good roles for the supporting males, and the kids are also pretty good. It’s beautifully shot, and the suspense is doing a slow build. Paul did comment that it seemed a little Real Housewives of Monterey-ish to him, but I suspect that any film or television vehicle driven by women interacting is going to feel that way for a while.

I do enjoy the Real Housewives, I’ve never denied that; it’s a fascinating phenomenon, and as ‘staged’ and manipulated as these shows can be (the Lifetime series UnReal did a really great job of tearing away the veil on these sort of shows; the first season was fantastic; I didn’t watch the second season but from everything I’ve read it wasn’t nearly as good as the first; I may go back and watch it at some point when I have time–I crack myself up); Alison Gaylin wrote a wonderful y/a ebook about a young girl whose family had a reality show called Reality Ends Here which I highly recommend. I explored the ‘real housewives’ in a Paige book called Dead Housewives of New Orleans (no longer available; long story) but because of rushing and publisher deadlines and so forth I wasn’t able to make that book all I wanted it to be, so I am rebooting the concept and making it the Scotty book I am working (or not working, as the case may be) on, but it will be vastly different in this incarnation. Pretty much the only thing that is going to stay the same is the background set-up of the book; a reality show about social climbing upper class New Orleans women. I really want to get this right, you know?

And on that note, I am going to get my day going.

Here’s a hunk for you, Constant Reader: