Friday, April 01, 2005

“May I admire you?”

The Movie: Pretty in Pink, 1986 (John Hughes, screenwriter; Howard Deutsch, dir.)
Who says it: Jon Cryer as Duckie and Molly Ringwald as Andie, two misfit high-school seniors
The context: Duckie and Andie say this to each other, to compliment their fashion choices.
How to use it: To compliment friends without embarrassing them.

Last night I ushered for the Gaslight Theater of Hallowell's production of Death of a Salesman, which was really a good production -- meaning, it was gut-wrenchingly painful. I'm ushering again tomorrow night, assuming that downtown Hallowell is not flooded, but I'm not sure I can watch the play again. I might just go out behind the City Hall and roll in crushed glass until it's time for the strike party.

The flood might happen, but the latest word is that the river won't crest until high tide on Monday morning. Dizzy and I walked down to Gardiner Landing this morning. The river's creeping up into the boat launch parking lot, but it's still within the bulkhead wall. We're in no danger, of course, because 1) this building is on a hill and 2) I live on the second floor. Waters would have to get seriously high before I started to worry. (My car, though... stop it, I'm not even going there.)

This week's reading list raises the question of expectations, which are always dangerous. It's impossible to approach a book without expectations, even if they're just from the cover. I've bought or checked out plenty of books just because the cover caught my eye, and discovered lots of great authors that way. But expectations are like light filters; without a doubt, they change the way we read a book.

One good thing about short story anthologies is that they short-circuit the expectation game. Any good anthology will include stories from writers you've never heard of, dropped in among writers you're probably familiar with. If you read the stories in order, a new writer might catch you by surprise. Even a familiar writer might be able to show you something you didn't think he or she could do.

So this week I read one book that exceeded my expectations, one book that disappointed me, and one short story collection that did all of the above. In reading order:

Gary Phillips and Jervey Tervalon, The Cocaine Chronicles. These short stories – as the title suggests – examine the allure and danger of the powder and crack. Laura Lippman stands out again, with “The Crack Cocaine Diet” – her novels, great as they are, only hint at the pitch-black sense of humor at work here. The emotional center of the book is a heartbreaking story called “Golden Pacific” by Nina Revoyr, whose novels I’m going to have to hunt down.

John Connolly, The Black Angel. This advance copy sat on my to-be-read pile for several days, although – or maybe because – the author’s a friend, and I think his books are brilliant. But my sky-high expectations didn’t come close to what Connolly achieves here: a gripping, hallucinatory synthesis of research, character, and theology that pulls together every loose thread in the earlier four books (and one novella) of this series. Private detective Charlie Parker is a man of constant sorrow, and in The Black Angel, we find out why. The search for a missing woman leads all the way back to a chapel of bones in the Czech Republic, and to the Book of Enoch’s story of how the angels fell. You can read The Black Angel without having read its predecessors, but you probably shouldn’t.

Christopher Fowler, The Water Room. Geriatric detectives Bryant and May, who head Scotland Yard's Peculiar Crimes Unit, investigate the death of an elderly Indian woman found alone in her locked townhouse, seated in her favorite chair -- with her lungs and nose full of brackish London river water. It's a clever puzzle and a fascinating look at London's underground rivers, but I liked these characters so much in their first outing, Full Dark House, that I resented not getting to know them better in this one. Still, I'd recommend this to fans of Agatha Christie, and particularly to fans of Ngaio Marsh.

The Cocaine Chronicles is available now, as a trade paperback original. The Black Angel comes out in the U.K. at the end of this month, and in the U.S. in June. The Water House is available now in the U.K., and comes out in the U.S. at the end of June.


Aldo said...

I've been waiting for the COCAINE CHRONICLES now for almost a year. When Laura was in LA we talked about this book and told me about who was putting it togehter. I got a hold of Gary and he told me who was in it and now finally it's here. I will have pics from the LA signing of this one.

As for our friend John, I haven't been able to get my hands on a copy of this yet. Now it looks like I won't have to wait long.

Floods? We have winds, down power lines, but no fires thanks to the rains.

AnswerGirl said...

In California, it's always something... although we had a small earthquake here in Maine a couple of weeks ago, bizarrely enough.

AnswerGirl said...

To the "very sad student" who left a comment here on December 15, 2006: I'm sorry, but I can't allow anonymous posts, nor is this blog a place to air private grievances.