Friday, September 28, 2007

THE LOVED ONE by Evelyn Waugh

The Book: Evelyn Waugh, THE LOVED ONE. Dell paperback reprint, 1974. Book is slightly warped and age-stained, but intact.
First read: 1982
Owned since: 1982

I don't remember when I bought this book, but it was probably another Field Day acquisition. I do know that I saw the movie version first, at the Naro Expanded Cinema, though I no longer remember whether I saw it with Adrienne, Steve, Gary or some other group of friends.

Anyway, The Loved One is a satire of mid-20th century Los Angeles that is so sharply observed it's hard to tell what's an exaggeration. Out-of-work British screenwriter Denis Barlow takes a job at a pet cemetery, the Happier Hunting Grounds, that models itself on Whispering Glades, a thinly-disguised Forest Lawn. By strange coincidence, Dennis meets and falls in love with Aimee Thanatogenos, cosmetologist to the dead and apprentice to Whispering Glades' mortician, Mr. Joyboy. Things don't end well, but do they ever?

I had a couple of hours to spare in Westwood yesterday afternoon. Since I'd never been there, I wandered over to Westwood Memorial Park to visit Marilyn Monroe's tomb.

Many of Los Angeles's dead and famous are in Westwood Memorial Park. Don Knotts lies in the shadow, literally, of the Armand Hammer Family crypt. Truman Capote is off to one side, appropriately. Dean Martin and Oscar Levant's tombs face each other across one small columbarium. Walter and Carol Matthau lie side by side. Most disconcerting is a headstone for Ray Bradbury, still very much alive, next to that of his wife, Maggie, who died in 2003.

I have signed my organ donor card and told people that I want to be useful after death. If scientists can do something with my remains, they can have them. But I do see the value of having, at least, a plaque somewhere that reminds survivors of one's time on the planet.

In lieu of something more sentimental, maybe my plaque could read, "Now she knows."

What I Read This Week

I worked on the plane instead of reading, so this week's list is abbreviated.

Joe Hill, 20th Century Ghosts. I liked Joe Hill's first novel, Heart-Shaped Box, and was baffled when a friend gave it a scathing review. As it turns out, this friend had read 20th Century Ghosts first -- and had high expectations for Heart-Shaped Box as a result. I get that, because 20th Century Ghosts, a collection of short fiction, is one of the best books I've read this year. The pieces range from classic ghost stories ("20th Century Ghost") to hard-core horror ("The Black Phone"), to indefinable, joyous surrealism ("Pop Art," a story I loved so much I want to keep it like a stuffed animal). Run, don't walk, to buy this book.

Sarah Langan, The Missing. The evil unleashed in Langan's first novel, The Keeper, spreads to the next town -- and perhaps to the whole world -- in The Missing. The residents of the prosperous central Maine city of Corpus Christi (fictional, though it shares some characteristics with Waterville) become infected with a virus that destroys their souls but not their bodies. It's much more than a zombie novel, and Langan delivers on the promise she showed in The Keeper.

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