The Movie: Pulp Fiction, 1994 (Quentin Tarantino, director and screenwriter, from stories by Tarantino and Roger Avary)
Who says it: John Travolta as Vincent Vega, a thug recently returned from Amsterdam
The context: Vincent tells his partner, Jules (Samuel L. Jackson), how great Amsterdam is because of its liberal marijuana laws, and Jules vows to go there.
How to use it: To recommend something to a friend.
It's still a mystery: who called me this morning at 1:00? Whoever it was had blocked their Caller ID... so unless I hear from whoever it was tonight, I'm assuming it was a wrong number. The tendency to dial numbers incorrectly is one good reason not to call anybody at 1:00 in the morning.
This week's reading list feels short, but this is only because I have spent a great deal of time reading friends' screenplays, linguistics articles, and a novel that should probably be tackled only under professional supervision.
What I Read This Week
Neil Olson, Icon. If you get The Mystery Bookstore's monthly newsletter, you know this was my employee pick for May. It's a first novel, a thriller about the hunt for an icon that was stolen from a Greek village church in the Second World War and winds up part of a Swiss banker's estate. By coincidence -- or not -- the expert called into appraise it is the grandson of one of the men responsible for its original loss. The first third of the book is great; too much talk drags down the middle, but it ends strongly. Fans of Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon series should like it.
Newton Thornburg, Cutter and Bone. I recently watched the movie adaptation, Cutter's Way, because a friend had recommended it as a lost gem of 1970s cinema. It's relentlessly, shockingly bleak; the book, I thought, had to be a little less grim. Nope. Richard Bone has left his wife and two children to become a drifter and sometime gigolo in Santa Barbara. His only friend is Alex Cutter IV, a badly wounded Vietnam veteran who punishes Mo, the mother of his child, for continuing to love him. One night Bone sees a man dump a girl's body in a trashcan, and Cutter becomes obsessed with blackmailing the corporate titan who might have been responsible. Beautiful prose, vivid characters, but at the end I just wanted to go drink a bottle of Clorox.
Alain Robbe-Grillet, The Voyeur. Robbe-Grillet didn't lay out his ideas about the "new novel" until after he'd written this book, but it's all here: the non-linear narrative, the unreliable timelines, the equal weight given to physical setting and character. Mathias, a watch salesman, returns to the island where he was born to sell watches. He has six hours between ferries -- six hours to sell 89 watches -- and recurring fixations on a piece of rope he's found, and a young girl... I read this book for a client, and really, really wished I'd had a professor to guide me through it. An outline of the book I found online helped, and I felt as virtuous as if I'd just run ten miles. (Yes, that outline's in French. If you can't read it and you really want to know what it says, I'll tell you, just for the showing-off value.)
Don't be surprised if next week's reading list is nothing but People magazine. My brain hurts.