Thursday, September 25, 2008

Hills Like White Elephants: Justin Quarry

"Their trough is empty except for pieces of orange rind strewn like busted taillights."

from an excerpt of "Heart Farm" by Justin Quarry

Monday, September 22, 2008

Some Came Running

Aaron Burch at the Hobart blog already put his seal of approval on the Frank Sinatra/Dean Martin/Shirley MacLaine movie, Some Came Running, but I finally saw it this weekend and, man, it's awesome.  Shirley MacLaine from 1955 (The Trouble with Harry) to 1963 (Irma la Douce) is the most beautiful and winning Hollywood actress I've ever seen and this role is maybe her best. Her performance is heartbreaking and nuanced, the engine that keeps the movie running.
That said, the most memorable moment for me was the strangeness of a scene where Frank Sinatra leaves the bar after first meeting Dean Martin and tosses a tip to the bartender, saying, "Buy yourself a Quonset Hut."  I did a little searching on Google Books for any other instances of this phrase but couldn't find it.  Was this a common phrase for the time period or something cooked up by James Jones (the author of the novel) or John Patrick and Arthur Sheekman (the screenwriters)?  My search did lead me to a book called How Nashville Became Music City, USA by Michael Kosser that has a quote from Lou Bradley (a music producer who helped create the "Nashville Sound") discussing the acoustics of the studio (a Quonset Hut):  "The floor was not totally dead.  The ceiling was the most dead thing there."
So, I started out wanting to steal that line from Some Came Running but now I'm going to steal that line about dead floors and ceilings.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Hills Like White Elephants: Cecily Parks

"No matter/how dearly I willed my floodgates/shut, I took on water like a buckshot/dory..."

from "Beast-Lover Variations" by Cecily Parks

Monday, September 15, 2008

Incarnations of Burned Children

So, David Foster Wallace.  It's so awful to think about and so many other people are saying better things than I could hope to, so I won't go spend a lot of time talking about how David Foster Wallace was a writer I went crazy over in college, lugging Infinite Jest around sophomore year, having little to no experience with contemporary fiction, just losing my mind over how amazing it was, messy and flawed and yet so much fun to read.
Two weekends ago, I went to Atlanta to watch the Braves get hammered by the Nationals (the Nationals, for crying out loud).  My wife and child stayed with her aunt during the game and when I came by to pick them up, I found a stack of Esquire magazines from 2000 in the upstairs living room.  No other magazines in the house, just this stack of eight-year-old Esquire magazines.  I flipped through them and found DFW's "Incarnations of Burned Children" which is not a typical DFW story in terms of style, but, aside from "Lyndon", it's the one story by Wallace that I most vividly remember.  I first read the story in Esquire when it came out and was so terrified by the intensity of the story and that same feeling returned as I scanned the story.  Aside from the misstep of a single line, "If you've never wept and want to, have a child," it's perfect.  It's a ragged, exhalation of a story that is impossible to forget.
I have neglected Wallace's more recent work and aside from teaching some stories from Girl with the Curious Hair, I haven't found a way to introduce his work to my students, but he is a writer that meant a lot to me and helped shaped some of my sensibilities regarding fiction.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hills Like White Elephants: Seth Fried

"He told us about some prophet who got teased by some kids for being bald, which pissed the prophet off so bad he prayed about it until two bears came out of the woods and started smacking the kids like trout."
from "Crimes of the Century" by Seth Fried

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Word: Calenture

I read a fantastic poem a month ago called Grass Widow by Isabel Galbraith and found a word I'd not seen before. Calenture. The poem answered my questions about the word, "Sailor's delusion/The sea a green plain" and so I didn't go any further with it. Then I came across a not-so-great album by the Australian rock band, The Triffids, which was titled, Calenture. So, through Google Books, I went to the Lexicon Medicum: Or, Medical Dictionary from 1829 and found this wonderful line: "A febrile delirium, said to be peculiar to sailors, wherein they imagine the sea to be green fields and will throw themselves into it if not restrained."

I looked around some more and found reference to calenture in Moby Dick, thanks to the William Gilbert Homepage. It reads:
"These are the times, when in his whale-boat the rover softly feels a certain filial, confident, land-like feeling towards the sea; that he regards it as so much flowery earth; and the distant ship revealing only the tops of her masts, seems struggling forward, not through high rolling waves, but through the tall grass of a rolling prairie: as when the western emigrants’ horses only show their erected ears, while their hidden bodies widely wade through the amazing verdure."

So I wanted to say thank you to Isabel Galbraith for making me spend nearly an entire day of work reading about crazy sailors.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Black Angel

Watching the 1946 movie, Black Angel, last night, it took me more than an hour to realize that I had seen it before. And I had no memory of the surprise ending. This is due to the fact that, while I lived in Florida, my apartment was across the street from the Alachua County Public Library and I checked out and watched, on average, two videos a day. I saw hundreds of movies and they all blur together, especially the film noir which had similar plots and a lot of the same actors.
Nevertheless, it's a good movie, though very different from the novel by Cornell Woolrich (an awesome short story writer) that serves as the source material. Anyway, Dan Duryea (also memorable in Criss Cross with Burt Lancaster) is great as the male lead, Marty Blair. In his other films, he is the poor man's version of Richard Widmark.
And that's the only reason I wrote this entry, to say that he is the poor man's version of Richard Widmark. Oh, and that I find Peter Lorre in Black Angel to be incredibly cool and even, hmm, sexy. Peter Lorre, the rich man's Sidney Toler.

Hills Like White Elephants: Errid Farland

"Drunk Billy protected his good cave, defended his cave against interlopers with a club; with a club hit a bobcat square on the head once, like a home run. Like a home run’s how he hit the bobcat’s head."
from "Drunk Billy in a Cave" by Errid Farland