The Movie: The Letter, 1940 (Howard Koch, screenwriter, from the play by W. Somerset Maugham; William Wyler, dir.)
Who says it: Herbert Marshall as rubber plantation owner Robert Crosbie
The context: Crosbie has just learned that his wife, Leslie (Bette Davis) tried to seduce his colleague, killed the man when he refused her advances, and has now bankrupted her husband in order to escape a murder conviction.
How to use it: Love is blind.
Getting the car back wound up being more of a production than it should have been, but I did get it back -- and drove it from Cambridge to Gardiner -- and then drove it from Gardiner to Portland this morning, in a snowstorm. The snow made me miss my plane, but I did eventually make it to Virginia Beach, where I am now. All is well.
And I had lots of reading time in transit. This week's list includes two books I liked a lot, one book I thought was well-done but not my cup of tea, and one book I hated real hard. In reading order:
Joseph Finder, COMPANY MAN. This corporate thriller is well done, if a little humorless. Nick Conover, CEO of a large but struggling furniture manufacturer in Michigan, takes desperate measures to protect his family and save his company. Dogging his footsteps is Audrey Rhimes, an African-American homicide detective whose husband was one of the employees Nick laid off. I’m not the audience for this book; John Grisham fans will love it, especially those who find Mr. Grisham’s politics too liberal.
Rex Pickett, SIDEWAYS. I’m glad I saw the movie first. If I’d read the book first, I probably wouldn’t have seen the movie, and I loved the movie. The movie’s very faithful to the book’s plot; the difference is that Alexander Payne, Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church manage to do what Pickett can't, which is make the characters of Miles and Jack, having one last fling in wine country before Jack’s wedding, sympathetic. Also, some editor should have told Pickett that the best word for “said” is always “said.” Instead, Pickett’s characters implore, console, plead, smirk, advise, and at one point, even “decrescendo.” “Decrescendo”? And don’t even get me started on the profound misogyny at work here.
Olive Higgins Prouty, NOW, VOYAGER. I haven’t seen the movie; the book is a reprint by the “Women Write Pulp” imprint of the City University of New York’s Feminist Press. Charlotte Vale, recovering from a nervous breakdown, throws off the chains of society’s expectations and her mother’s disapproval. Extremely entertaining, and it feels modern even today.
Bill Fitzhugh, HIGHWAY 61 RESURFACED. Fitzhugh’s second Rick Shannon PI novel is – yes – a cat mystery! Of course, the cat’s a vicious, rheumatic kitten named Crusty Boogers… and the book is a loving tribute to the history of the blues, as Rick investigates two murders rooted in a 50-year-old crime. The Rick Shannon series, which started with last year’s RADIO ACTIVITY, is high-quality crime fiction, although neither book ever reaches the inspired levels of lunacy of Fitzhugh’s standalones.
Sideways and Now, Voyager are available in trade paperback; hardcovers of Company Man and Highway 61 Resurfaced are due out in April. Support your local independent bookseller!