The Movie: Manhattan, 1979 (Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman, screenwriters; Woody Allen, dir.)
Who says it: Mariel Hemingway as Tracy, a high school senior on her way to study theater in London
The context: Isaac Davis (Woody Allen), who had dated Tracy and then dumped her, pleads with her to take him back and not go to London; she refuses. This is the last line of the movie.
How to use it: To reassure someone you love – and yourself.
If I had to pick one favorite movie, this would be it. I saw it with my friend Gary at the Naro Expanded Cinema in the summer of 1982, and suddenly the world seemed enormous, and my opportunities limitless -- even if all I ever did was move to New York.
Despite everything that came later -- and everything we now know about Woody Allen, and wish we didn't -- I still love the world of this film, in which overeducated New Yorkers talk too much about their feelings and make decisions they know will lead to unhappiness. The answer, Woody seems to be saying, is to hang on to that sense of wonder and possibility, to believe that corruption is not inevitable.
My favorite daydream is an infinite number of parallel universes, in which an infinite number of parallel selves lead the lives we didn't choose in this one. As this blog ends, the unused quotations call to me from some of those other universes, and I wish I'd made some different choices, or watched some movies sooner.
In this universe, all possible choices distill themselves into only one set of circumstances, here and now. So let's move on to What I Read this Week.
Tess Gerritsen, Gravity. I picked up a nice first edition of this book at the Yarmouth Clam Festival, of all places, and got Dr. Gerritsen to sign it at a cookout last weekend. This was the perfect week to read it, since it's about an experiment on the International Space Station that goes horrifyingly wrong, and the shuttle flight whose astronauts may infect the earth with a devastating new organism. Absolutely terrific, not for the weak of stomach.
Reed Arvin, Blood of Angels. I keep saying I don't read legal thrillers, and then I keep reading legal thrillers that are so good I feel like a jerk. Arvin's third Thomas Dennehy novel finds the Nashville prosecutor grappling with the possibility that he sent the wrong man to his death, while he pursues a rape/murder case against a Sudanese refugee. I can't stand the phrase "New South" -- that's a rant for another time -- but this book is a fantastic portrait of culture clash and the limits of the legal system in today's South. I have not read the second book in this series, but remember being impressed with Arvin's debut novel, The Will.
A. J. Dunning, Extremes: Reflections on Human Behavior. This is a slim book of essays published in the early 1990s by a Dutch cardiologist; I pulled it off my shelf to answer a question for my friend Dan. As the title suggests, the essays explore the extremes of human nature. One compares Joan of Arc and her contemporary, Gilles de Rais, as examples of pure good and pure evil. Another looks at the history and nature of absinthe, and its effects on the careers of Baudelaire, Verlaine and Rimbaud. I consulted it for the essay on physical disorders related to shell shock, and wound up rereading the whole thing. It's that kind of book.
Gregg Hurwitz, Troubleshooter. Regular readers of this blog know that Gregg is a pal, and I'm a fan of his work. I admit I was a little wary of this one. The first book in this series, The Kill Clause, begins just after the brutal murder of Deputy Marshal Tim Rackley's six-year-old daughter. When Troubleshooter's jacket copy revealed that Rackley's wife, Andrea, is the victim of an attack this time, I thought, "Aw, Gregg..." I need not have worried. Troubleshooter is as close to perfect as thrillers get, and can be read without any knowledge of the earlier Tim Rackley books. Rackley and his colleagues chase down three escaped outlaw bikers, and his wife -- a sheriff's deputy -- is in the wrong place at the wrong time. What seems to be a biker gang war turns out to be something far more sinister, tied to the murders of several young Hispanic women and rooted in a scheme that stretches from Afghanistan to Mexico. Gregg could give lessons on research, and while this book is extremely violent, none of it feels gratuitous. As usual, Gregg does a particularly good job of making his villains real characters, behaving in ways they feel are understandable and even justifiable.