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Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Time Traveler's Wife (Part 2)

First the movie…. Then the book

A few years ago Mrs. T. and I went to see the movie The Time Travelers Wife.   Shortly thereafter, I reviewed it on this blog.   My critique was fairly roundly panned by a few of my favorite “commenters”.  A common theme was that if I had read the book first, I would have understood the movie much better. I filed that thought on the To Be Read List.  Here is what I wrote back then.  “Now I don’t mind "chick flicks" at all. That is especially true if their based on a bestselling, generally highly rated novel. Even though I hadn't read the book, I figured with a title like that it had to be something special. It was.  It's had all the scenes that make you want to tear up. The wedding where the groom is late, then suddenly arrives. There are two cute and precocious children. They were his daughter and his wife..... Oh wait a minute that doesn't sound good. Our hero, Henry the husband keeps skipping out at inopportune moments and then dies twice and...... Ooops , let me start over.  

Henry is a time traveler. That means he comes and goes in space and time pretty much at random. Claire meets and falls in love with him as a child. She grows up. They get married. This whole time travel thing is really really inconvenient but she has no regrets. I'm pretty sure she said that, although with all the jumping back and forth, time and space wise, it's hard to be sure. This is a Love Story. Nobody actually says "love is never having to say you’re sorry," from the movie of the same name. Actually Henry is sorry a lot.

Alright, you can see where I'm going. It's not bad. It's not awful but the whole thing is pretty silly, even, dare I say it, trite. The characterizations are minimal. Some will point to deeper meanings behind all this. Deconstructing it’s all obviously a deep metaphor for something else. Well, yes, life has its ups and downs. I even got a little wet around the eyes a few times .... but mostly, I had to work hard to stifle some serious giggles at what were clearly the wrong times. Mrs. T. didn't appreciate that.

Btw I asked Mrs. T.  if she would recommend the movie to her friends. She replied "yes, but only if they were fans of science fiction." I asked how many of those she had. "None," she replied. Maybe she was reluctant to use the word romance. For the male part of the audience, I think they could, at least, understand why Henry kept coming back. That Claire was well worth the effort.”

So. Finally I just finished reading the book. It was worse than the movie . Yes  is it was cleverly written and surely unique but in the end even more confusing than the movie. Perhaps,  I should stick to reading comic books. At least I can follow the plot….



Friday, August 23, 2013

The Amber Room

The book was published in 2003. I missed it having lost my fascination with the mystery thrillers of the 80’s.   Never wanting to be caught short of having several books in hand to read and waiting for my spouse to pick me up after a haircut, I ventured next door to the Goodwill Store and picked up several at bargain price. One was titled The Amber Room by Steven Berry.

“The Amber Room is one of the greatest treasures ever made by man: an entire room forged of exquisite amber, from its four massive walls to its finely crafted furniture. But it is also the subject of one of history's most intriguing mysteries. Originally commissioned in 1701 by Frederick I of Prussia, the Room was later perfected in Tsarskoe Selo, the Russian imperial city. In 1941, German troops invaded the Soviet Union, looting everything in their wake and seizing the Amber Room. When the Allies began the bombing of Germany in August 1944, the Room was hidden. And despite the best efforts of treasure hunters and art collectors from around the world, it has never been seen again."

With that brief historical background we’re introduced to some powerfully evil rich art collectors who will stop at nothing.  There killer operatives on the hunt for a long lost treasure and some innocent Americans innocently trapped in a maze of danger and deceit.

The Americans “Rachel and Paul realize they're in way over their heads. Locked in a treacherous game with ruthless professional killers and embroiled in a treasure hunt of epic proportions, they suddenly find themselves on a collision course with the forces of power, evil, and history itself.

Of course hackneyed and farfetched as it all is you are drawn into the story.  It’s why these kind of books are so popular. I can't believe I ate, I mean I read,  the WHOLE thing…..

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Alien Invasion

With the aid of my high tech 4X super duper point and shoot camera, I am finally able to reveal a recent approach of an alien space ship fleet making a near approach to earth itself.  Constant vigilance folks. They're checking us out. And coming.....
Ok. Sorry.  This was actually my sad attempt to capture some fireworks highlights from the 4th of July celebration in Rochester, Minnesota near the Mayo Clinic.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

You Can't Judge A Book By Its Cover


The cover had everything going for it. The subtitle of Kent Cowgill’s collection of short fiction, Sunlit Riffles and Shadowed Runs, is “Stories of Fly Fishing in America.” The jacket shows a beautiful stream setting very reminiscent of southeastern Minnesota’s Bluff country where the honored professor author and I both live. Sad to say this collection of sixteen short stories are really vignettes or slices of life with fly-fishing purely as background. There not about fly fishing; they’re abut fly fishermen.  And there’s the rub. I was misled by the cover hoping, perhaps, for another John Gierach. Still the stories are interesting and very well written. I’ve always maintained that books about or involving fly fishing are almost the only ones in the “huntin/fishin” genre which often rise to level of real literature. This one meets that test.

There’s the terminally ill angler who, on what he knows will be his last visit to the stream, faces his mortality sooner and more suddenly than he expected when he’s trapped by a flash flood; the college professor who blithely cancels his afternoon classes so he can sneak out on the last day of the trout season only to find his best friend’s van—and his wife’s Honda—parked at his secret spot; the young soldier on weekend leave who, parched after a long day of fishing in the summer heat, begs a drink at a ranch house and is invited in by an emotionally vulnerable woman who’s clearly thirsting for something herself; the angler on a much anticipated trip to a famous Western trout stream who finds himself caught in an episode of “river rage,” the consequences of which are uglier and more far-reaching than anyone could have foreseen.

The book though does have some lighter moments.  Here’s an excerpt from the book’s first story, “Day of Mourning,” in which the fishing buddies of a deceased friend suck up to his widow in the hopes off getting their hands on his prized Payne fly rod:

“He was a fine man,” Hap offered, his voice the texture of sawdust.

“None better,” Barry added.

“He was an asshole,” the widow said.

Hap nodded awkwardly. “That too,” he mumbled, swallowing. “A man of parts.”

The evening I read Cowgill’s book that afternoon I’d crash and burned on a local bike trail falling in the process onto the mother lode of biting chiggers.  Not much interested in a book that dealt with the human condition at that point I would have preferred a  fly-fishing book that dealt with fly-fishing.

Troutbirder on his first ever fly-fishing trip to the blue ribbon trout streams of Montana circa the the late seventies. . He didn't know what he was doing at the point as evidenced by the old black rubber fireman's boots a retired friend had given him. :)

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

'Blood and Beauty: The Borgias,' by Sarah Dunant

Oh my what a collection of vices and desires. Lust, ambition and corruption, passion and the power of the church and state all wrapped inside fortune born and obtained.  The Borgias are arguably the most intriguing and ruthless family in all of history. They make the Tudors look like choirboys.

Still according to the Sarah Dunant, “more than many in history, the Borgias have suffered from an excess of bad press. While their behavior – personnal and political- was often brutal and corrupt, they lived in brutal and corrupt times: and the thirst for diplomatic gossips and scandal, along with undoubted prejudice against their Spanish nationality, played its part in embellishing what was already a colorful story. Once the slander was abroad, much of I was incorporated into the historical record without being challenged. Spin, it seems, was a political art long before the modern word was introduced.”

In the five centuries since Rodrigo Borgia’s death in 1503, his family name has become synonymous with poison, incest and violent intrigue, and has inspired a host of biographies, paintings, operas, novels, movies and television dramas. In “Blood and Beauty,” Dunant follows the path set by Hilary Mantel (one of my favorite writers of historical fiction) with “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies.” Just as Mantel humanized and, to an extent, rehabilitated the brilliant, villainous Thomas Cromwell and the court of Henry VIII, Dunant transforms the blackhearted Borgias and the conniving courtiers and cardinals of Renaissance Europe into fully rounded characters, brimming with life and lust. Here they provoke, if not exactly empathy, then a new understanding, grounded in the context of their brutal times.

One of the problems that confront any writer of historical fiction is how to portray the actual person as characters, which is to say, to portray them as people. Non-fiction treatments of history do not deal with the emotions of the major players of any event, (perhaps) rightfully arguing that emotion clouds objectivity, and though history cannot be truly and completely objective, there must at least be an attempt to be so as much as possible. Historical fiction, however, must treat historical figures in a far more different manner: as realistic and believable characters, whose reasons for making the decision that they do, making the choices that they do, likely lie in a far more complex web of emotions, motives, and relationships.

Take the plunge into the European Renaissance of high art,  saints and sinners and Machiavellian politics.  You could well be appalled at what you find……. but never bored.



Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Greatest Swordfight Of All Time

I remember Robin Hood taking on The Sheriff of Nottingham and Darth Vader versus Luke Skywalker but this quite simply is the greatest swordfight of all time.....  Take a look.