Walk Like an Egyptian

Monday!

Hilariously, when I was writing my blog entry yesterday, I couldn’t remember what I’d watched on Saturday before moving on to Batman v. Superman, and I actually was thinking, I couldn’t have been streaming music videos all that time, could I? And then I remembered, last night while we were getting caught up on Animal Kingdom (which is awesome), that I’d discovered some of the old ABC Movies of the Week on Youtube, and watched two of them, back to back: The Cat Creature and Crowhaven Farm.

When I was a kid, I loved the ABC Movie of the Week. Some of them were good, some of them were awful, and it was interesting to see whether two of the ones I remembered so vividly held up; a while back, I’d discovered The House That Wouldn’t Die on Youtube; it starred Barbara Stanwyck and was based on my favorite ghost story of all time, Barbara Michaels’ Ammie Come Home. I saw the movie before I read the book–and I’ve reread the book any number of times over the years because I love it so much. I was very excited to watch the movie again..and it holds up pretty well (and BARBARA STANWYCK, for God’s sake), but it made significant changes from the book, obviously, and wasn’t quite as good. But it did hold up, and I am sure, were I not such a fan of the novel, I wouldn’t have had those issues with it.

the cat creature

The Cat Creature holds up fairly well, for a television movie made in the 1970’s. For one thing, the story was developed by Robert Bloch (if you don’t know who Bloch was, shame on you–but he wrote the novel Psycho, which became the film, and was one of the great horror writers of the 50’s-80’s) and he also wrote the screenplay. I think part of the reason I loved this movie so much was because it was based in Egyptian mythology (I suspect the ‘history’ was invented for the purpose of the film; you’ll see why as I move along). The movie opens with an appraiser arriving at the estate of a now dead, wealthy collector, and he has been brought in to appraise the ‘secret collection’ of the collector–which includes a lot of Egyptian antiquities (which, obviously, must have been purchased on the black market). There’s a mummy case, which he opens, and the mummy is wearing a strange amulet around its neck, a cat’s head with heiroglyphs on the back. A burglar breaks in, takes the amulet, and then the appraiser is murdered off-camera–but you hear a lot of screaming and animalistic growling, and of course, the shadow of a cat on the wall. The long and short of it is, the cult of the Egyptian goddess Bast, based in the city of Bubastis in Egypt, was supposedly suppressed and all of its priests killed–the mummy is one of them–and there are legends and stories that Bast’s followers could turn themselves into cats that drank human blood for eternal life; kind of like shapeshifting cat vampires (I am certain this is all fiction without having to look it up). Eventually the ‘cat creature’ is captured, the amulet put back around its neck, and the strange murders all solved. Meredith Baxter (before she added, then subtracted, Birney from her professional name, and before she was a lesbian) starred; it also featured Gale Sondergaard, who won the very first Oscar for best supporting actress, as a shady magic shop owner. It was kind of cheesy on a rewatch as an adult, but it could be remade easily enough and could be quite chilling.

cat shadow

The sad thing about rewatching, though, was realizing that an idea I have for a book was liberally borrowed from this story. Heavy sigh; guess it’s a good thing I never wrote that book.

movie of the week

Crowhaven Farm also holds up for the most part. The movie terrified me when I was a kid, and I watched it whenever it re-aired. It’s also a supernatural story, about reincarnation, ghosts, and revenge from beyond the grave. It starred Hope Lange, who inherits Crowhaven Farm when a distant cousin dies, and the original inheritor is killed in a fiery car crash caused by a mysterious young girl. Lange and her husband, an artist, move to the farm, and on her very first day there she remembers things she couldn’t possible know; how to open secret doors to hidden rooms, where the old well is, etc. She continues getting flashes from a previous life, and begins to fear that not only is she the reincarnation of Margaret Carey, who lived there in the seventeenth century, but was someone who was accused of  witchcraft but turned in a coven of witches, who were either hanged or pressed to death. After she finally has the baby she had been longing for, the past and the present collide and she is confronted by the reincarnations of the coven she betrayed, who want her soul for Satan and vengeance. Instead, she turns over her husband to save herself–much as she betrayed the coven in a previous life–and runs away from Crowhaven Farm with her baby. In the final scene, she is in Central Park with her baby when a mounted cop stops to check on her and the baby, and then he reties a baby ribbon in the strange way her now dead husband used to tie bows. She remarks on it, and he just smiles at her and says, “Well, I’ll be keeping an eye on you now” and rides off…and terrified, Maggie quickly pushes her baby carriage down the path, looking back over her shoulder as the credits roll.

crowhaven farm

Not as scary as it was when I was a kid, but still, not bad; and it, too, could use a reboot.

I started rereading The Great Gatsby again yesterday, and am starting to remember why I didn’t care for it so much; none of the characters in it are particularly appealing. Tom Buchanan is kind of a dick, Daisy’s not much better, and Jordan is kind of a snob…and Nick himself isn’t particularly interesting. The writing is good enough, though–but I rolled my eyes when I got to the end of the first chapter, when Nick sees the green light on the dock on the other side of the bay and witnesses Gatsby standing in his yard, his arms outstretched in the direction of the light, and remembered how my American Lit teacher went on and on and on about the symbolism of the green light.

Christ.

It’s also kind  of weird to be reading a book about rich white people in the 1920’s so soon after reading about poor white people in the present day in Tomato Red.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Hazy Shade of Winter

Saturday!

I drove over to the West Bank this morning to get the car serviced (its very first oil change!) and then made groceries on the way home.  Paul gets home this evening, and there’s some light cleaning that needs to be done. Once that’s finished I intend to spend the day finishing Daniel Woodrell’s Tomato Red; I got further into it at the Honda dealership while I waited for the car, and it really is something. I mentioned the other day that I thought of it as Southern Gothic more than anything else; but truth be told, I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything quite like it before. It makes me think of Megan Abbott (not just because she wrote the intro to this edition), and Faulkner, and James M. Cain’s The Butterfly, and even a little bit of Harper Lee. It’s truly extraordinary.

 I think I’ll reread The Great Gatsby next; then I am going to take a stab at some Hemingway, just to see. I’m also going to read some short fiction–I’ve got Bracken MacLeod’s collection Thirteen Views from the Suicide Woods, and Laura Lippman’s Hardly Knew Her, and some anthologies lying around that I really should read more of; short stories are always a pleasant respite, I find, and since I am planning on working on short stories for the next week or so while the WIP rests, reading some great short stories seems to be in order, doesn’t it? I had a great idea for another story last night while watching clips of old LSU games on Youtube last night; kind of inspired by Tomato Red, if I am going to be completely honest. I really do think I should start writing about Alabama some more…and my old ghost story y/a that’s been brewing in my mind since I wrote the short story in 1989 might just be the ticket.

I also got some new books: Nick Cutter’s Little Heaven, Mary Stewart’s Rose Cottage (one of hers I’ve not read), Phyllis A. Whitney’s Amethyst Dreams (one of her later novels; I stopped reading her around The Singing Stones),  James Ziskin’s Styx and Stones, and Tim Blanning’s Frederick the Great King of Prussia. I’ve been wanting to read a bio of the most successful gay European monarch in history for quite some time; this biography is rather acclaimed and also openly explores the Great King’s homosexuality in great depth, apparently–previous biographies glossed over his relationships with men, and other ‘interesting’ bits like banning women from his court, making his Queen live elsewhere, never having children, etc etc etc. I first read of Frederick when I was a kid, in Genevieve Foster’s George Washington and His World, and deeply empathized with the young Prussian prince who just wanted to read and study music and art and philosophy, but was forced by his father to be ‘more manly’, and was miserable as a result.

I could relate, even at eight years old.

But I am really looking forward to reading this; I may make it my non-fiction read once I finish The Affair of the Poisons. Frederick was fascinating in many ways; he was considered one of the three ‘enlightened despots’ of the late eighteenth century (the others being Joseph II of Austria and Catherine II of Russia), and he made Prussia into the preeminent military power of Europe–yet was still cultured, loved music and reading and poetry and philosophy and art.

And now, I suppose I should get that cleaning done.

Here’s a hunk for you for Saturday:

 

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I’m a Believer

Thursday!

Paul leaves this afternoon, so I will come home from work tonight to an empty house, a herd of hungry cats outside, and an incredibly needy one inside. Which is, of course, fine; I can handle Scooter’s neediness, and of course the herd outside just wants to be fed and petted on the head every now and then. But I am always somewhat amazed by how much space Paul takes up; the apartment always seems enormous, silent and empty when he’s gone. Ah, well. I can get started on the Cleaning Project tonight, while watching documentaries or movies on the upstairs television; the upstairs is Paul’s responsibility–so whenever he’s out of town I, of course, give it a thorough cleaning/organizing. After I get off work tomorrow I don’t have to be back at work until 3 pm on Wednesday next week; four-and-a-half glorious days of cleaning and organizing and writing and revising and reading and–let’s face it–being incredibly lazy and just sitting in the easy chair watching shit on television with Scooter sleeping in my lap.

There are worse ways to spend an evening.

I’ve been, alas, too tired when I get home the last few evenings–after making dinner and doing laundry and cleaning the kitchen. etc–to do anything other than sit in my easy chair and watch television, so I’ve not been able to get back to Daniel Woodrell’s amazing Tomato Red; hopefully I can spend some quality time with it this weekend and get it read. I think after that I am going to read a book by a woman; my reading has been overly male lately (other than that wonderful Lisa Unger Ink and Bone, which is going to be on my Top Ten list for the year, along with Dan Chaon’s Ill Will), but I am also thinking I might read The Great Gatsby next.

My Fitzgerald set arrived this week:

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Aren’t they lovely? I can’t wait for the Steinbeck set to arrive.

To be honest, I was stunned to pick it up and see how short The Great Gatsby actually is; it’s less than 200 pages. I should be able to read that relatively quickly.

So, anyway. Back to the spice mines with me.

Can’t Fight This Feeling

Saturday! Yesterday was so obnoxiously humid that I was completely exhausted when I finished all the running around I had to do yesterday; it was all I could do to stay awake. Regardless, I cleaned the kitchen–even doing the floors–and started work on the living room before collapsing into my easy chair with a book in the early evening and dozed off while reading Carson McCullers’ Reflections in a Golden Eye.

Not that it’s not a good book, but I was simply tired.

I often talk about how, despite my voracious habit that goes back as long as I can remember, that there are many classics of literature I’ve not read (including Huckleberry Finn). I was thinking about that this week, because I’d ordered two sets of books–a set of Hemingway and a set of Fitzgerald–that my dad owned, having gotten them from a book club, when I was a kid (I’d already found the Faulkner set on ebay; which is where I found these others as well). I don’t remember if it was the Literary Guild or the Doubleday Book Club or what, but my dad joined one of those mail-order book clubs and got those three sets of books–I suppose thinking that we needed nice copies of classic books by three of American literature’s most shining (straight white male) lights (I think he later added a set of Steinbeck, but I could be wrong; that might have been me in my teens.)

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I took an American Lit class my sophomore year in high school, and it’s from that class–as well as the American Lit class I took in college–that my antipathy to many classic writers was born. I think reading The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, Babbitt, The Old Man and the Sea, and A Farewell to Arms in high school, when I was too young to really appreciate them kind of ruined them, and those authors, for me. I’ve not reread the books, so I don’t know if I still wouldn’t care for them; but I do know that I’ve gone on to read other books by some of those authors and liked them (Steinbeck’s East of Eden is one of my favorite books of all time; Sinclair Lewis’ Elmer Gantry and It Can’t Happen Here are terrific; and I really enjoyed This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald). I’ve never revisited Hemingway, as my visceral response to the two books of his I did actually read was so strong. But I am going to give it another go; I am going to read The Sun Also Rises (my father thinks For Whom the Bell Tolls is the greatest American novel; but Dad and I rarely agree on anything cultural), and I am also going to reread The Great Gatsby at some point. I may even give The Grapes of Wrath another go; it actually kind of bothers me that there are ‘American classics’ that I didn’t like and may not have because I wasn’t old enough or mature enough, as either a human or a reader, to have enjoyed and appreciated.

But Christ, there is so little time to read everything!

Which is one of the reasons I am reading this McCullers novel (although calling it a novel is quite generous; it’s only 127 pages so it’s really a novella) is because I’ve not read much of McCullers (The Member of the Wedding in college, didn’t like it–but there is, I think, something about being forced to read something that makes me dislike what I am being forced to read; I should probably revisit Flannery O’Connor as well), and I am thinking that I probably should.

Ah, today’s storm is about to break, so I shall take that as indication that I should put on my helmet and get back to the spice mines.