Sunday, September 30, 2007

Thoughts on the New TV Season, Part 2

A few more responses to the week's premieres:
  • Dirty Sexy Money: This year's winner of the Desperate Housewives award for worst series name revolves around an attorney, Nick George, who is persuaded to take over his recently deceased father's role as retainer, fixer, consigliere and confidant to a super-duper-wealthy Manhattan family--father, mother, and five supremely spoiled and screwed-up kids. It's an intriguing premise, and yet its execution is so dull. While the older generation of the Darling family are at least a compelling rendition of the cliché of how wealthy people behave--a mixture of graciousness towards their social inferiors and ruthlessness when their desires are thwarted--the kids are stock characters--the senatorial nominee who is having a tawdry affair; the older daughter who bounces from one fortune-hunting husband to the next; the drug-addled screw-up and the spoiled princess. The only breath of fresh air comes from the semi-deranged priest, who despises the protagonist and may have had something to do with his father's death. (It certainly helps that the actor portraying this character, Glenn Fitzgerald, is someone for whom I've had a soft spot since I saw him in the reality TV parody Series 7: The Contenders. In a neat in-joke, the actress who plays the mother of his character's illegitimate child in Dirty Sexy Money is Brooke Smith, the female lead in Series 7.)

    Even worse than the flatness of the Darling characters is the protagonist's almost total absence. At the end of the pilot, there's no real sense of who, other than a touchstone of normality against which the Darlings' dysfunction can be gauged, Nick is. We learn, for example, that the older Darling daughter has been in love with him since they were children (and that they were involved in their youth), but we have no idea whether those feelings are reciprocated or whether Nick truly loves his wife. The result is a show with no core--neither the protagonist's normality nor his charges' eccentricity are sufficiently lifelike to be engaging, which leaves us with nothing to watch for.

  • Life: Probably the best-made show I've seen so far, but one that has failed to engage me. This is a procedural whose hook is that the detective spent 12 years in prison for a triple murder he didn't commit. Exonerated by DNA evidence, and having undergone what was either a nervous breakdown or a spiritual epiphany during his incarceration, he is now back on the force--the Zen detective. Life is vaguely reminiscent of House in that its main character bucks against the stereotypical depiction of his profession--if House is a doctor without compassion, Life's Charlie Crews is a detective without the hardened exterior and jaded outlook we're used to seeing from TV cops. He walks around in a seeming daze, noticing details that other cops miss even as he's overwhelmed by the simple details of life that's he's forgotten, like fresh fruit. As I said, this is a very well-made show, and there are indications of an overarching plot arc--Crews is investigating the murder he was falsely convicted of, trying to determine whether he was the victim of bad luck or a frame-up--but in the end there isn't enough here to overcome my general lack of enthusiasm for procedurals. Life House, Life is the kind of show that I'd watch if I turned on the TV and it happened to be on, but I don't think I'm going to go out of my way for it.

  • Moonlight: The advance buzz and reviews were atrocious, but nothing could have prepared me for just how bad this vampire detective series would turn out to be. We're talking Torchwood bad. Not, thankfully, in the sense that the show confuses prurience with maturity (in fact, for a show about vampires, whose pilot revolves around a blood-and-sex cult, this is a remarkably sanitized series), but in the sense that almost every technical aspect--dialogue, acting, plotting, special effects--is downright amateurish. There have been a lot of jokes in genre circles to the effect that Moonlight's premise--a brooding, tortured vampire detective who loves a mortal from afar--is hardly innovative, but having watched the pilot I can almost believe that Moonlight's writers aren't even aware of Angel or Buffy's existence. They're not just painfully earnest about a mythology that long ago descended into cliché, but honestly seem to believe that no one has spun a modern take on that mythology in recent years--how else to explain the show's complete and utter failure to assert its own personality, to offer any kind of original take or innovative twist on such a hoary premise?

    The characters, protagonist included, are entirely forgettable. The biggest draw is Veronica Mars's Jason Dohring as the detective's amoral vampire friend, whose paranoia about being revealed to humanity extends to a willingness to kill anyone who gets too close to the truth, though he'd prefer a more subtle approach. The show comes closest to coming alive when Dohring is on screen, and he gets the best lines (after drinking from the detective's store of refrigerated blood, which he procures from the morgue: "What is this--low-fat, soy, vegan blood?"). On the other hand, Dohring is pretty much playing Logan without the emotional layers or the clever writing (even his physical tics are the same, which is either an indication that the director and writer are aiming for a Logan-ish character, or that Logan's flouncy hand-gestures were not so much an acting choice as an acting default on Dohring's part), and he's not on screen long enough to counteract the protagonist's blankness. Just about the only good thing I can say about Moonlight is that it's probably not going to last very long.
And that's pretty much it. Of the shows premiering this week, only Pushing Daisies sounds appealing, and I've already seen that pilot (it's absolutely adorable and almost certainly too cute to survive long as a series). Thus far, I've accumulated no new shows, and though I'm giving one or two the benefit of the doubt, this has turned out to be a very disappointing new season. Oh, well. I guess that leaves me more time to read.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Public Service Announcement

Hotel Chevalier, the short film that acts as a prologue to Wes Anderson's upcoming The Darjeeling Limited, is now available as a free download from the iTunes store (link from here, you'll need to have iTunes installed, but it is available for both Mac and Windows).

Though they are undeniably precious, I'm a big fan of Anderson's films. I can't help but wonder, however, whether he didn't peak with The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. The trailer for The Darjeeling Limited suggests that it's that preciousness (as well as his quirky visual sensibility) that Anderson is stressing in this film, and I have a strong suspicion that he is very close to going overboard with it.

Thoughts on the New TV Season

Due to a confluence of cancellations, odd scheduling, and dwindling interest on my part, there are only three shows--Heroes, Stargate: Atlantis, and Dexter--returning this month that I watch regularly. Never fear, right? With a dozen or so new shows starting up, there's bound to be at least one or two that I don't hate and that survive past six episodes. Well, I'm not certain yet, but here are my reactions to a few of this week's pilots:
  • Journeyman: Kevin McKidd is a journalist with a lovely wife and cute kid who begins randomly popping into the recent past. There he encounters his deceased former girlfriend (who, in the present, turns out to be very much alive, though traveling through time just like him) and discovers that it's his job to protect certain people--in the pilot episode, he has to first arrange for the birth, and later protect the life, of a young prodigy. Journeyman has very little but McKidd and its sumptuous production values to recommend it. There's been a glut of high-concept, quasi-SFnal shows over the last couple of years--mostly in the wake of Lost--and what almost none of them seem to get is that an inventive premise or structure won't get them anywhere unless a) they are super-duper-inventive (and most of the time they aren't) or b) the characters are interesting and appealing. Thus far, the only thing interesting about McKidd's character is the fact that weird shit is happening to him, and the show's promise to delve into his and his family's past--to answer, for example, the question of how his brother went from a smartly dressed up-and-comer to a scruffy borderline alcoholic, or how McKidd's character ended up marrying the brother's girlfriend--isn't particularly appealing given that none of these characters have developed a personality yet.

    Journeyman
    's character arc is clearly trying to recall The Time Traveler's Wife--the onset of his time-traveling excursions causes tremendous strain to the protagonist's marriage, which he finally resolves by proving to his incredulous wife that he is telling the truth and promising her that "[he]'ll always come back"--but like that book, it prioritizes the romance over the people experiencing it, and is therefore, to my mind, unsatisfactory.

  • Reaper and Chuck: I'm listing these two together because they essentially tell the same story. A twentysomething underachiever--21-year-old Sam Oliver and 25-ish Chuck Bartowski, respectively--and college dropout is working a dead-end job at a big box hardware store and living with his family, when a superpower is dropped in his lap. Sam discovers that his parents sold his soul to the devil and that, for the rest of his life, he is going to be collecting the souls of hell's escapees, aided by special powers such as telekinesis, and a handheld vacuum cleaner that sucks up the truant souls. Chuck receives an e-mail from his college roommate containing the encrypted sum total of the NSA and CIA's intelligence, which lodges itself in his brain, turning him into a walking, talking computer. Now, as both men continue their humdrum existence, working their pointless jobs, lusting after a pretty girl they don't have the guts to approach and hanging out with their obnoxious, dorky best friend, they also moonlight as superheroes--Sam is keeping us safe from demons, Chuck from terrorists. It's an extension, I suppose, of the recent and much-discussed trend of films about geeky, average-looking (for Hollywood, that is) underachievers making it with hot chicks.

    The two shows aren't entirely alike. Reaper has more of a fantasy vibe (in the mainstream TV sense, which means that no attempt has been made to establish a coherent alternate or underlying world) and its most obvious inspiration is Wonderfalls, with a hint of Beetlegeuse as well (especially in a scene late in the episode, in which Chuck delivers his captured prey to one of hell's branches--a DMV office). Chuck is more SFnal, and clearly takes its cues from Alias, to which it owes both plot and visual debts--several pulse-pounding, though ludicrous, action scenes punctuate the pilot. It also seems to have a more developed backstory than Reaper. The pilot raises and leaves unanswered several questions, mostly about the person who sent Chuck the information--we're told that he got Chuck thrown out of university and stole his girlfriend, but we don't know exactly what happened, and, of course, we don't know why he chose Chuck as the recipient of his e-mail. There are also unanswered questions about Chuck's friendly CIA handler and his not-so-friendly NSA handler (the omnipresent Adam Baldwin, giving this show a slight edge though thus far his utilization has been minimal).

    Both shows are comedic, but Chuck tends more towards naturalistic humor whereas Reaper's is more staged (again, think Alias and Wonderfalls). Nevertheless, I thought Reaper had a more hefty emotional core. There are several scenes in which the horror and despair of Sam's situation peek through the show's mannerisms--when Sam's guilt-stricken mother tells him to send the hounds of hell to her when they come for him, or Sam's stunned silence when the devil shows him the gruesome cost of refusing to do his job. I guess you could say that Chuck has more brains, but Reaper has more heart. This is, of course, speaking relatively--neither show is fantastic, and although I'm willing to give both a week or two more, I'm not in love with either.

  • Bionic Woman: This is a bit of a milestone for me. There's been a glut of remakes, reboots and reimaginings of older shows over the last couple of years, but Bionic Woman (for some reason, the show's producers have opted to drop the definite article) is the first such instance in which I was actually a viewer of the original incarnation, which I watched in reruns as a child. In its own cheesy, oblivious, late-70s sort of way, the original Bionic Woman was a proto-feminist show, which makes it all the more dispiriting that the new version, in spite of its shrill protestations to the contrary, is such a throwback. How can you seriously claim to be telling a story about female empowerment when your pilot episode starts with a woman, stained with the blood of her victims, tearfully telling her lover that she can't control herself? She then begs him to tell her he loves her, which he does--but only after he's put a bullet in her chest. So, OK, I told myself, this is the bad guy (there's been so much publicity for this show that I practically knew the pilot's every plot twist in advance, including the fact that Katee Sackhoff plays the first, psychotically evil, bionic woman), and while it's obviously disturbing that she's being portrayed as deranged rather than just immoral (and that, as we later see, she is now doing the bidding of another lover rather than acting on her own behalf), perhaps Jaime Sommers will come as an antidote.

    No such luck. On top of being physically augmented, in this version of The Bionic Woman Jaime has had a chip placed in her brain that turns her into a super-soldier, and she now requires training in order to control her own strength and keep herself from following in her predecessor's footsteps. So, yes, a lot of lip service is payed to the notion that female empowerment is good and cool, but in the end this is still a story about a woman being afraid of her own strength (though it's perfectly understandable that Jaime is initially horrified by what's been done to her body, shouldn't we have also seen her rejoice in her new abilities and the pleasure of using them?), and needing the help of men to use it properly.

    As a piece of storytelling, the pilot gives off the impression of having been cut down from a 90-minute version (which, given the rumors about trouble on the show's set and significant network meddling, may very well have been the case). It's rushed and disjointed, leaving us very little time to get to know the characters, or even grasp the magnitude of what's happened to Jaime--she's pregnant, she's engaged, she's been in a catastrophic accident, she's lost her baby and been turned into a cyborg, she's a prisoner of the organization that developed the bionic technology, she's a superhero, she's in a pitched battle against Sackhoff's character--before the next plot twist hits her. Michelle Ryan won me over with her performance in Jekyll (though her character was wasted, and the show itself imploded rather spectacularly about halfway through) but she's given so little to work with here that, beyond a bit of spunk and sass, we have hardly a hint of what kind of person Jaime is. I was hoping Katee Sackhoff would get a meaty role to sink her teeth into, given that she's clearly capable of so much more than the self-destructive wreck that Starbuck has become, but the amusingly named Sarah Corvus is nothing more than a garden variety sexy lunatic, complete with quasi-lesbian overtures towards Jaime herself. I wasn't expecting great things from the new Bionic Woman, but I certainly wasn't expecting to be this thoroughly disappointed.
Not a very promising beginning. Here's hoping there's something better in store. For another perspective, check out TV writer Saxon Bullock, who's been gearing up towards the new season all summer. Here are his writeups of Journeyman (plus Life), Chuck (plus Flash Gordon), and Reaper and Bionic Woman (plus The Sarah Connor Chronicles).

Monday, September 24, 2007

Self-Promotion 15

My review of two novels, Ice and Guilty, by late and little-known author Anna Kavan, appears in today's Strange Horizons. These are creepy, disturbing novels, and well worth a look.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

They Made Him Do It

Via Israeli film critic Yair Raveh comes the trailer for Richard Kelly's upcoming Southland Tales. Kelly burned off a lot of my goodwill with the agonizingly awful director's cut of Donnie Darko, and Southland Tales's by-now infamous reception at last year's Cannes festival (which necessitated a radical recutting of the film into its present form) reinforces my suspicions that Kelly needs a strong hand to steer him away from his tendency towards pretentiousness. That said, the trailer itself gives off the same impression of grandeur and profundity that made me so eager to see Donnie Darko after watching its trailer, and which the film itself came very, very close to delivering. I am, in spite of my reservations, eager to see this.

In other movie-related links, Kit Whitfield's reading of Brad Bird's The Incredibles offers a compelling explanation for all the skeevy quasi-fascist undertones in that film (link via Torque Control), and this humorous (I hope) take on the Star Wars universe attempts to reconcile the original trilogy and the prequel films, and ends up concluding that Chewie is the puppet-master orchestrating events throughout A New Hope (via).

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Least-Liked Austen: Thoughts on Emma

I don't know if this is still the case, but when I was growing up it was customary to give books as Bar- and Bat-Mitzvah presents. These were usually of the 'serious' variety--handsome coffee table books and hefty reference volumes. I got my share of each, and leafed through the former and used the latter for schoolwork, but the gift that has proven the most enduring, and from which I've gotten the most use and the most pleasure, was a set of six unassuming paperbacks--two Wordsworth Classics and four Bantams--of Jane Austen's novels. I think every voracious reader can name several books the gift of which opened their eyes to a new literary vista and shaped them as a reader, and for me this was one of those occasions. I made my way through the six Austens over the next five or six years. Some of them--Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion--have become staples of my reading diet, books that I return to periodically to discover new aspects or take pleasure in the ones I already know. Others are ticks on my ever-lengthening to-be-read list. 2007, however, seems to be the year in which I return to my less-beloved Austens. A few months ago, I reread Mansfield Park, and found it to be sharper and funnier than I had remembered, though by no means without flaws. Now it's time for Emma (which, I suppose, means that Northanger Abbey is next).

I first read Emma while on holiday in Sweden when I was fifteen, and found it a hard slog. At the time, I had trouble explaining my resistance to the novel, and ultimately settled, somewhat reluctantly, on the title character, whom Austen herself famously described as "a heroine whom no one but myself will much like." Arrogant and self-important, Emma is a sort of feminine Mr. Darcy. Like him, she has been "given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit" (although, unlike Mr. Darcy, Emma's attempts at ordering the world according to her own notions of what is right and proper are rarely successful, and in fact often have the opposite result of the one she intended). Emma is supposed to be the narrative of its heroine's moral and emotional growth, but I found her--and therefore the novel--unsatisfying. Ten years later, I expected to have more sympathy for Emma Woodhouse, and a greater appreciation of the novel which bears her name, but instead I found myself nearly overwhelmed by Austen's treatment of a secondary theme which I had, almost inexplicably, managed to overlook in my first reading--the theme of class.

Class is central to Emma in a way that far outstrips its importance in Austen's other novels. The most obvious example is the sub-plot involving Harriet Smith, a young woman of no family and very little education whom Emma takes under her wing, and Robert Martin, a farmer who is in love with her. In spite of his many qualities--he is described as intelligent, serious-minded, and conscientious, and Mr. Knightley, Emma's mentor and the novel's moral center, holds him in very high esteem--Emma is brutally dismissive of Robert Martin because of his class.
"The yeomanry are precisely the order of people with whom I feel I can have nothing to do. A degree or two lower, and a creditable appearance might interest me; I might hope to be useful to their families in some way or other. But a farmer can need none of my help, and is therefore in one sense as much above my notice as in every other he is below it."
Emma's animosity towards Martin is motivated in part by her belief that Harriet can do better. Partly out of blind affection, and partly out of a desire to gratify her sense of her own importance, Emma schemes to attach Harriet first to the local vicar, Mr. Elton (who has set his sights on Emma instead), and later to her neighbor's son, Frank Churchill (who is secretly engaged to another young lady, Jane Fairfax), in spite of Mr. Knightley's assertions that Harriet has nothing more than good looks and a pleasant nature to recommend her.

Emma's coming to accept Harriet and Robert's marriage at the end of the novel is motivated not by her learning to look past his class and to value him for his character and abilities, but by a clear-headed evaluation of Harriet, and the realization that she possesses very little of either. This reevaluation comes about when Harriet, encouraged by Emma's bolstering of her self-esteem, sets her sights on Mr. Knightley. An oblivious Emma has, of course, been in love with Mr. Knightley all the time, but beyond this personal reason to object to a match between the two, we are also told that "It was horrible to Emma to think how it must sink him in the general opinion, to foresee the smiles, the sneers, the merriment, it would prompt at his expense". At the end of the novel Emma, now happily married to Mr. Knightley, is drifting away from Harriet, and the novel treats this cooling of their friendship as something inevitable and desirable.

Emma's inability to accurately gauge Harriet's value, both in terms of her class and of her abilities, is part of a larger theme of social and personal blindness within the novel. Emma, obviously, suffers most egregiously from this failing--she doesn't realize that Mr. Elton is interested in her, and unwittingly encourages him while believing him to be in love with Harriet; she falls for Frank Churchill's pretense of infatuation, which in reality is a blind meant to conceal his attachment to Jane Fairfax; she is fooled by Jane and Mr. Knightley's reserve, and fails to realize where either of their affections truly lie. But Emma is far from being the only blind person in the novel--the entire cast blunders about, groping helplessly before them and constantly coming to the wrong conclusions about their friends and neighbors. Mr. Elton believes that Emma reciprocates his affections. Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax are certain that the entire neighborhood is on the verge of discovering their secret, and that Emma has already worked it out and given them her tacit approval to use her as a beard. Harriet thinks that Emma is encouraging her to pursue Mr. Knightley, whereas Emma is actually talking about Frank Churchill. Even Mr. Knightley initially fails to recognize even those modest qualities Harriet possesses, and he also shares in the common misconception that Emma is so in love with Frank Churchill that the revelation of his engagement to Jane Fairfax must break her heart. As the narrative tells us just at the moment in which Emma and Mr. Knightley realize that the object of their affection returns it, "Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised or a little mistaken".

Were Harriet and Robert Martin's sub-plot the only reference to class in the novel, it might be easier to conclude that it is introduced in service of this greater theme of blindness, but there are other references to class in Emma that are not so easily disposed of:
  • Emma is scandalized by Mr. Elton's presumption in proposing to her--"Perhaps it was not fair to expect him to feel how very much he was her inferior in talent and all the elegancies of mind. ... but he must surely know that in fortune and consequence she was greatly his superior. He must know that the Woodhouses had been settled for several generations at Hartfield, the younger branch of a very ancient family, and that the Eltons were nobody."

  • When Frank Churchill proposes holding a ball in the local inn, Emma tries to persuade him that there aren't enough families of sufficient rank in the neighborhood to make up a sizable crowd--"The want of proper families in the place and the conviction that none beyond the place and its immediate environs could be tempted to attend were mentioned; but he was not satisfied. ... Of pride, indeed, there was, perhaps, scarcely enough; his indifference to a confusion of rank bordered too much on inelegance of mind. He could be no judge, however, of the evil he was holding cheap. It was but an effusion of lively spirits."

  • "The Coles had been settled some years in Highbury and were very good sort of people, friendly, liberal, and unpretending; but, on the other hand, they were of low origin, in trade, and only moderately genteel. ... The Coles were very respectable in their way, but they ought to be taught that it was not for them to arrange the terms on which the superior families would visit them."

  • When Mr. Elton does marry, the woman he chooses is wealthy but unrefined, and the narrative lambasts her for her belief that her nouveau-riche relatives are the equals, and perhaps the superiors, of the old, landed families in Highbury. Mrs. Elton figures quite prominently in the latter half of the novel, and in most of her appearances she is consumed with elevating herself to a position which, we are told, neither her rank as a vicar's wife nor her family connections entitle her to.

  • In the only instance in any of Austen's novels of a physical assault against a character, Harriet is accosted by gypsies violently demanding charity, and has to be rescued by Frank Churchill.
Emma's personal growth over the course of the novel doesn't extend to rejecting her snobbery. Although it is somewhat tempered by a sense of obligation to her social inferiors--one might argue that the infamous scene in which she callously mocks a silly, impoverished neighbor and is later rebuked by Mr. Knightley is the beginning of a realization on Emma's part that her class prejudices often spill over into cruelty--at the end of the novel Emma is, if anything, even more firmly ensconced in her belief in her inherent superiority than she was at its beginning, and ready to fill the role of civic leader. Her failure, we must conclude, was not in assuming that she is superior to her neighbors, and therefore capable of and entitled to order their affairs, but in failing to do so wisely and respectfully, and in being motivated by a desire to feel important rather than to be genuinely useful.

Obviously, it should come as no surprise that Jane Austen, an author who hewed so closely to a conservative worldview in other respects, was nothing like a radical when it came to class. Her main characters are all gentlemen and ladies, and although they don't always marry within their exact level their chosen mates are usually gentlemen and ladies as well. Nevertheless, in her other novels there is at least a sense that, although she frowns on social climbing in general, Austen has a grudging respect, even an admiration, for those who practice it. In Persuasion, Anne Eliot is warned that her sister's friend Mrs. Cole, the daughter of Sir Walter's lawyer, is trying to win Sir Walter's affections and make herself the new Lady Eliot. The narrative rewards Mrs. Cole for her troubles, however. Sir Walter's heir, recognizing a formidable opponent, essentially makes her his ally by marrying her--she can no longer threaten his claim to Sir Walter's estate by producing a nearer heir, and he will one day make her a baronet's wife. Sense and Sensibility's Lucy Steele is one of Austen's most fascinating creations--an intelligent, calculating young woman, more chaotic neutral than villain, whom Elinor Dashwood herself calls "better than half her sex."

Mrs. Elton is very much in the vein of these characters. In spite of her coarseness and presumption, she is clearly intelligent and accomplished, and yet, with the exception of Mansfield Park's ghoulish Mrs. Norris, she is Austen's most objectionable creation, whose attempts to place herself in a position of authority within Highbury society--taking on, unasked, the roles of hostess and patroness in communal functions--are viewed with disdain by the narrative and the novel's right-thinking characters. One of the positive results of Emma's marriage to Mr. Knightley at the end of the novel is that it gives Emma the crucial advantages--she is now a married woman, and mistress of the largest estate in Highbury--which allow her to regain the position from which Mrs. Elton ousted her, as Highbury's social leader.

Emma's emphasis on class distinction is also unusual because unequal marriages are so common in her other novels. In Austen's world, husbands and wives can be unequal in their character, class, or wealth, and in her other novels an equality in the first sense, and not the latter two, is held as crucial to the success of a marriage. Anne Eliot, the daughter of a baronet, can marry Fredrick Wentworth, a sea-captain and the son of no one at all, because he is her intellectual and moral equal. Elizabeth Bennet makes a much better wife for Mr. Darcy than Caroline Bingley, in spite of the fact that Caroline has tons of money and Elizabeth is poor and not very well connected, because she is Caroline's superior and Darcy's equal in terms of character.

In Emma, the situation is reversed. The three marriages agreed upon at the end of the story are equal in terms of class and wealth--the gentleman farmer marries the illegitimate daughter of a merchant; the poor young people raised by wealthy relatives marry one another; the landed gentry marry each other--but unequal when it comes to character--Mr. Knightley, Jane Fairfax, and Robert Martin are superior to their chosen mates. In another Austen novel, we'd expect Knightley to marry Jane, Emma to marry Frank Churchill, and Harriet to... well, not to exist. Though Austen is a deft hand at writing persuasive romantic relationships, it's hard for a reader versed in her novels to forget all those instances in which a person marries their moral or intellectual inferior hoping to teach and better them, and ends up being dragged down to their level. Are we really supposed to believe that the same won't happen to Mr. Knightley and Jane Fairfax?

The difference, presumably, is that at the end of this novel, Emma and Frank Churchill know what they've got and how little they deserve it. Emma resolves to adhere more closely to Mr. Knightley's guidance and advice, and has even begun to do so at the novel's close. As I wrote in my essay about Mansfield Park, however, Austen doesn't usually go in for redemption by proxy. Guided by those good principles I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, Emma tries to reform several times over the course of the novel and fails. At its end, she is just at the beginning of a more comprehensive attempt, but I find it difficult to believe that her success, if it even happens, will be complete or long-lasting unless she sublimates herself completely to Knightley's guidance. I can't help but believe that Emma will always be driven, at least in part, by pride and conceit (and that Frank Churchill's impulsive nature will always drive him). More importantly, I don't get the sense that for Austen, the question of whether or not Emma has truly reformed is as important as the question of whether or not she marries Mr. Knightley.

Jane Austen's fans are always moaning about her works being mistaken for romantic fiction when, in reality, the romance is nothing but a delivery system for her moral ideas--the old-fashioned and objectionable ones as well as the universal ones. Rereading Emma, I can't help but feel that the main character's romantic triumph is given precedence over her moral growth. As opposed to Mr. Darcy, who has to prove that he's a better person through actions, at the end of the novel Emma gets Knightley without having done anything to earn him beyond realizing that she is in love with him. She's wiser, but not yet wise, and yet the narrative leaves her with what is, for Austen, the ultimate reward--marriage to a good man. I had hoped to come away from this reevaluation of Emma with a greater appreciation for it, but instead I like it less--it may be my least-favorite of Austen's novels, for the simple reason that I think it may actually deserve that ignominious moniker, the romance novel.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

An Idea Whose Time Has Come?

The Last Starfigher: The Musical

I know I'm far from being the only person with a soft spot for this cheesy Star Wars knockoff, but this is still a peculiar notion. I guess the idea is that the thrills which, in the film, were supplied by effects-laden space battles will be substituted by the thrill of watching energetic song-and-dance numbers.

I'm actually going to be in New York next month. I don't arrive until after the show's run ends, but if I had the chance I'd be sorely tempted to give this show a look.

(Via Ed)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Recent Reading Roundup 13

Lots of high-profile books on my reading list for the last few months, as well as a few that are older and less renowned. Here are some thoughts on the bunch, which has ended up encompassing some of the best and worst reads of the year.
  1. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson - Anderson's YA novel about slavery and the American revolution has received ebullient and ecstatic praise from sources far more prominent and noteworthy than myself, and I had been reading it for a while and enjoying myself without quite feeling that the fuss had been justified until somewhere around the halfway point, when I suddenly realized that my heart was breaking. The title character and his mother are slaves in the house of a natural philosopher in Boston, who is conducting an experiment to see how Africans respond to a European education--whether their 'natural predilection' for savagery can be taught out of them. The first half of the novel is mainly concerned with Octavian's slow realization of his status and limited options, and the second half with his ineffectual attempts to escape both (in the course of which he ends up being drafted into the revolutionary army). There's a sequel in the works, and the title suggests that some events of moment are in the offing, but ultimately plot isn't the most compelling reason to read Anderson's masterful novel.

    What Octavian Nothing does best is convey the crushing misery of Octavian's existence--not because he's mistreated (compared to other slaves and indeed other free people in that era, his lot in life is quite comfortable) but because through his education he comes to understand just how much of life he is going to miss out on because of his race, and to fully comprehend his helplessness in the face of the vast mechanism of the state. This is a wrenching, infuriating novel, and whether it's through descriptions of Octavian's mother being flogged for insolence, or her despair when British slaves are freed only months after she refuses a humiliating proposition from a British noble, or the shamefaced admission of Octavian's supposed benefactor that the ultimate purpose of his studies is to prove that Africans are inherently inferior to white men, you can't help but shake with rage while reading it. Anderson also weaves descriptions of the mess and confusion that accompanied the American revolution throughout Octavian's story, and stresses the primal importance of capitalist ideas even this early in the nation's history, with patriots rallying for 'liberty and property' (said property often including human beings). I was reminded of Barry Unsworth's Sacred Hunger (which I wrote about here), which touched on very similar subjects, although to a certain extent I think Anderson is the better writer--the prose in Octavian Nothing is rich and dense, and a very good simulation of 18th century writing.

  2. The Road by Cormac McCarthy - I doubt I'm the only one to make this my first foray into McCarthy's bibliography, given the hype and media frenzy surrounding this slim post-apocalyptic fable. I'd already read and heard so much about The Road before picking it up (including, in my corner of the blogosphere, much discussion on the question of whether it should be read as SF and whether mainstream reviewers denying this connection were engaging in garden-variety snobbism, as well as a tempest in a teapot over its alleged exclusion from this year's Arthur C. Clarke shortlist) that I feared my mind had already been made up, and in certain respects I think it was--I certainly knew the plot, what little of it there is, and had already been informed about some of the more memorable set pieces (including, yes, that particular culinary decision). As a result, I find that I can't really trust my response to The Road. I liked it very much--it's moving, well-written, and, within the confines of its bleak hopelessness, extremely tense in its descriptions of the protagonist and his young son's daily struggles for survival in a blasted, lifeless and increasingly lightless landscape. The two of them repeatedly teeter on the brink of devastation--when they encounter cannibals, when their belongings are stolen, or when they simply run out of food--and pull back just far enough to survive while still making it clear to the reader that their days are numbered.

    The transcendent reading experience that some of The Road's earlier readers reported, however, seems to be beyond me, and I half-suspect that this is because too much of my reaction had been determined before I even turned the first page--I was expecting to be blown away and therefore couldn't be. (On the Clarke issue, I certainly agree that The Road belonged on the shortlist--but then, one of the nominated novels is so horrible that just about any science fiction novel published in the UK in 2006 could legitimately have taken its place. However, quite apart from the fact McCarthy's publishers declined, or neglected, to submit the novel for consideration, I think that regardless of The Road's presence on the shortlist the award should have gone, as it did, to Nova Swing, so the question of McCarthy's nomination really isn't that important.)

  3. The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macauley - Amazon has been plugging this novel, a travel narrative with a light dusting of story in which the narrator, his eccentric, missionary, proto-feminist aunt and her High Church minister friend run around Turkey and other spots in the Middle East in the early fifties, for several years, claiming that it goes well with Stella Gibbons's Cold Comfort Farm. It does not. Oh, there's a faint attempt at the kind of British social satire which probably went out of style about forty years ago (or, to be more charitable, which might appeal to readers who are English, Anglican, or upper class--none of which I am), especially in the novel's final fifty pages, after the narrator returns to England. But there's none of the bite, or the genuinely funny satire, that characterized Cold Comfort Farm. In fact, Macauley's barbs seem primarily directed at people who are never given a chance to defend themselves, within the book or (at the time the novel was written) without it. The level of condescension towards the local Turks the narrator and his companions encounter--almost none of whom are differentiated by name, appearance or occupation, as opposed to the myriad ex-pats, and the one or two Westernized, urban Turks, who accompany the travelers--is simply staggering, and while there are some indications that Macauley is aware of her prejudices (she occasionally makes fun of the aunt and the priest for theirs) she ultimately depicts Turkish society as backwards, superstitious, ignorant, and misogynistic (that last one may not be entirely off the mark, but Macauley's opinion of the state of women's rights in early fifties Britain is so hopelessly rose-tinted that it all but cancels out this valid criticism).

    The offensive cultural imperialism is interspersed with descriptions of the narrator's crisis of faith--brought on, we are told, by an adulterous relationship--which is so rooted in Christian definitions of faith and worship, and 1950s notions of morality and propriety, that I was incapable of empathizing with it (and Macauley certainly didn't work hard to get me to do so, assuming that her readers would be on the same page as her characters). At the very end of the novel, there's a tragic twist that comes out of absolutely nowhere, and which seems to be suggesting that homosexuals are better off dead. I have no idea whether The Towers of Trebizond is a bad novel, or whether it was simply written for someone so completely unlike myself that I could never hope to understand it, much less enjoy it. Either way, the result is the same.

  4. Madame de Treymes and Three Novellas and Old New York by Edith Wharton - Wharton was an exceptionally prolific author, with more than a dozen novels (though some of them are so short we'd call them novellas) and several dozen short stories in print over the course of her career. After sampling some of her short stories, I thought I'd sample her longer short work, with each of these collections comprising four stories. Like Wharton's novels, most of these stories deal with the tension between an individual's desires and personal morality, and old New York society's demand for conformity, and its communal sense of propriety. Madame de Treymes and Three Novellas is the less successful of the two collections--there's a sense that the three stories not mentioned in the title were slapped on as a way to pad the volume and bolster the more famous, but much shorter, title story.

    The first two stories in the collection, "Sanctuary" and "The Touchstone", solve the question of propriety vs. morality through a woman's self-abnegation. In the former, a penniless young man sells deeply personal love letters he received from a famous writer only a few years after her death, exposing her most intimate thoughts and feelings to a ravenous public. This allows him to marry, but he is wracked with guilt and self-loathing. Finally, he hurls his actions in his wife's face, wanting to debase her along with himself, but she forgives him, arguing that his guilt is an indication that he is finally worthy of the writer's love--this somehow validates not only the woman's posthumous humiliation, but also her life. In "Sanctuary", a young woman discovers that her fiancé made his fortune by cutting his profligate brother's widow and young child out of his will, and instead of throwing him off decides to marry him anyway because, and I'm not kidding here, she wants to make sure that his future children aren't brought up to be as unthinkingly selfish as he is. Twenty years later, her son is faced with a similar temptation, and she has to wait and see whether his father's nature or her moral nurturing will carry the day. Self-abnegation features quite heavily in Wharton's writing, but these mawkish tales bely her talent and acidic intelligence. I far prefer Wharton's version of self-sacrifice in works like The House of Mirth, whose protagonist is capable of one great act of selflessness, which dooms her, but not the many tiny ones that might have enabled her to live a good life, or in The Age of Innocence, in which the protagonist gives up his happiness for the sake of propriety only to learn, many years later, that this choice has so calcified his intellect and deeper feelings that he can no longer embrace that happiness when it is freely offered to him.

    Which is why the other stories in Madame de Treymes and Three Novellas are more successful. The title story is set in Paris, and is a fascinating portrait of Americans creating for themselves a sort of enclave in that city, and of the few brave souls who venture outside it. Their fate--in this case, the protagonist, and the former lover for whom he hopes to secure permission for a divorce--is a tragic one, as their puritanical morality and simplicity is crushed beneath the complexity governing ancient European aristocratic families. But the best story, to my mind, is "Bunner Sisters", an early and atypical work revolving around two impoverished spinster sisters, who eke out a modest, proscribed existence running a millinery store. When an eligible man appears on the younger sister's horizon, the older one instinctively makes way for someone she has come to view as a daughter. It's at this point that Wharton adds a twist on the familiar tale of passion stifled by self-sacrifice, when she reveals that, rather than securing her sister's happiness, the older sister has doomed her to misery with an untrustworthy man, and ultimately destroyed their idyllic existence. "Bunner Sisters" is brutal and unflinching, a depiction of economic and spiritual poverty from which the only escape is death.

    Old New York was originally published in its present form, with each of the four stories within describing New York society in a single decade of the 19th century, from the 40s to the 70s. The first story, "False Dawn", was a little twee for my tastes--it describes a young man sent to Europe on a Grand Tour, who is commissioned by his father to buy Old Masters paintings, which are at that point the height of fashion. The son, instead, develops an affection for religious painting and returns with a collection that reflects his own taste but is pooh-poohed by polite society, and is promptly disinherited and ostracized (which struck me as a little much). He spends the rest of his life hoping that someone will come along to view the pictures and understand their worth, but what he gets instead is a change of fashion. More impressive are "The Old Maid", about a woman who adopts her cousin's illegitimate child and spends the next few decades warring with her cousin for control of the girl, with neither one of them certain that they have the right or the capability to steer her safely through society and its rocky shoals, and "New Year's Day", about a woman so desperate to assure her dying husband that he can still provide for her that she takes a lover whom she can bilk for money. Both stories examine the corrosive effect of sacrificing oneself to an ideal or for the sake of another person, while still positing situations in which such a sacrifice is necessary. The last story, "The Spark", is once again twee, but it has the distinction of being the first instance I can recall in which Wharton acknowledges the Civil War in her writing, when she describes how a young man's wartime experiences change him so thoroughly that New York society finds him completely inscrutable, and dismisses him as a simpleton.

  5. The Year of Our War by Steph Swainston - this is the first in a series of novels (there are by now two sequels) which take place in the Fourlands, an island on which sentient races--humans, winged-yet-flightless Awians and wolfish Rhydanne--battle against man-eating insects. The series has gotten a lot of positive responses, and for the life of me I can't figure out why. As far as I can tell, there's nothing here but a respectably New Weird-esque aesthetic, a Miéville-ian piling of weirdness upon grotesquery upon weirdness. The protagonist is an Awian-Rhydanne hybrid, the product of rape, a former drug dealer and current drug addict, whose ability to fly has earned him a spot among the Emperor's Circle--the best and most capable warriors in the war against the insects, who have been made immortal. In his drug trips, he travels to a parallel, and even stranger, world, and there discovers the source of the insect plague and possibly a way to beat them. Unfortunately, Swainston has nothing to offer beyond this inventiveness. She lacks Miéville's ability with action scenes and humor. There's about 200 pages-worth of plot in this 400-page novel, and that not particularly clever or exciting. The characters are thinly drawn, and even the ones we spend a lot of time with don't achieve much more than a second dimension, and their society is equally thinly sketched.

    Towards the end of the novel, the protagonist discovers that his mentor fathered an illegitimate child, and is scandalized to the point of repudiating the man, but nothing we've seen of the character or of the society he lives in believably justifies this response--it's as though Swainston expected us to take medieval notions of chastity and the importance of primogeniture for granted, though why she'd do so given that in her imaginary world women hold property, govern estates, and fight alongside men I have no idea. Later she recounts the protagonist's greatest crime--the borderline rape of a female Rhydanne. Once again there's a sense that Swainston is leaving the bulk of the work to the readers. She recites all the required misogynistic buzzwords--he has to possess her, how dare she deny him, she really wants it, etc.--but the result is hollow, the performance of a rape rather than the actual thing (it has none of the horrible sting of a similar revelation about a major character in Miéville's Perdido Street Station, for example) and ultimately it is hard to escape the conclusion that Swainston is trying to accrue transgressive cachet by having her protagonist do something just wrong enough for the readers to dislike him without actually turning against him. The result, however, is to make her seem gutless.

  6. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel - another highly-touted entry, and this time the praise is more than justified. This is a nonlinear memoir about Bechdel's relationship with her father, a distant, demanding perfectionist who was also, unbeknownst to her, a closeted homosexual. Not long after Bechdel came out to her parents (and learned about her father's orientation), he died in what might very well have been a suicide. Bechdel moves back and forth through her childhood and her parents' courtship and early marriage, charting her adolescence and developing sense of self and sexual identity alongside her father and mother's increasing disintegration under the weight of the lie they'd both chosen to live with. Throughout the story, Bechdel weaves in literary references--everything from the myth of Daedalus and Orpheus through Henry James and Oscar Wilde and culminating with Ulysses--in an attempt to impose a narrative on her father's life and her relationship with him, ultimately coming to the conclusion that not only is such an imposition impossible, but that she doesn't, and will never, know her father well enough to reach such definitive conclusions about his life and motivations. Fun Home is about the gap between father and daughter--a gap which might never have been bridged even if he had survived.

    My one criticism against Fun Home--though this is really more of an observation--is that I don't see how it benefits from the graphic format. Bechdel's drawings are clean and compelling, but they don't add much to the story. Fun Home is dominated almost entirely by Bechdel's narrative voice. Unlike other graphic memoirs, I can't see what the drawings' purpose is--they are not, as in Craig Thompson's Blankets or David B.'s Epileptic, aesthetically remarkable, and unlike Art Spiegleman's artwork in MAUS, they don't bring the audience closer to the horror being described in her narrative, or add an additional, unspoken level to her interpretation, as Spiegelman's troubling choice to represent nationalities as various animals does. I don't think Fun Home would have been any better as a prose narrative, but neither would it have been very different. As I said, this is more of an observation than a criticism. Bechdel is a cartoonist, and and it makes sense for her to work in that medium regardless of the story she's telling. She doesn't need to justify her choice any more than a prose writer needs to justify the choice not to use pictures in their work, and certainly there is never sense in Fun Home, as I sometimes got from Marjanne Satrapi's Persepolis, that the graphic format is being used to bulk up a narrative too slim to sustain itself unaided.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Spaceman Blues by Brian Francis Slattery

There are a lot of good things I'd like to say about Brian Francis Slattery's debut novel, Spaceman Blues, a lot of ways in which it is a successful and remarkable novel. But the one that stands out most prominently and impressively is the fact that this novel manages to do so much with so little. I've spoken about my admiration for short novels before, and specifically for the ones whose authors posses the ability to write essentially, to establish a sense of place with a page, a character or community with a paragraph, and a relationship with a sentence. Spaceman Blues, at a mere 219 pages, is one of those novels, with a breadth of scope and imagination that puts me in mind of the early novels of John Crowley (most especially The Deep). Like Crowley, Slattery knows how to colonize and infest his readers' minds, so that characters brought to life by a single sentence live, love, and grow old in our imagination. When a police detective is needled by his partner for maybe having a crush on a medical examiner named Gore, he evenly responds that "She is clever and bears her unfortunate moniker with grace." How can we help but imagine their tender love story, even if the two characters never meet again?

But before I get too carried away with telling you that Spaceman Blues is a fantastic novel because it's so short, how about describing some of the things that do happen in the novel? It begins with the disappearance of Manuel Rodrigo de Guzmán González, a well-connected party maven and shady operator in a New York that is only a shade more fantastic than the real thing. Manuel spends his last day in the city bouncing from party to party and imbibing heroic amounts of alcohol and drugs. Then he vanishes off the face of the earth. His devastated lover, Wendell Apogee, determines to find him, and is aided in his quest by several of Manuel's friends, acquaintances, and enemies, and by a man named Massoud, a former Lebanese fighter pilot who has sworn off violence, but who sees in Wendell the image of his dead brother, a mobster whom Massoud abandoned to his violent death, and the opportunity to make amends for this betrayal. Spaceman Blues is subtitled A Love Song, and that it is--a narrative of Wendell's love for Manuel as well as several other love stories between secondary and tertiary characters--but it is also a fantasy, a quest (complete with a descent into the underworld), a superhero origin story, and a story about an alien invasion and possibly the end of the world.

The most heartfelt love song in the novel, however, is to New York itself--perhaps because on top of being an ode to the city, Spaceman Blues is also an elegy to it. Slattery's New York is an immigrant city. His story takes place in barrios and housing projects. There's a danger, when telling stories in these settings, of mythologizing and glorifying the bohemian lifestyle of their indigent protagonists, half of whom, in Spaceman Blues, are refugees or illegal immigrants working dangerous, dead-end jobs, and of portraying their rootless and sometimes extra-legal existence as hip and carefree--the Rent fallacy, in other words. At the other end of the scale are depictions of poverty in which happiness and fulfillment are unattainable pipe dreams. Spaceman Blues doesn't glorify poverty, but neither does it indulge in bleak realism--without ignoring the difficulties of being poor, non-white, and an immigrant in New York, it portrays a viable, vibrant community, through which the city is nourished and replenished.
It is cooler today; life grows in the neighborhood. The old Dominicans, the ones who were middle-aged before the crack wars, sit in plastic lawn chairs on the sidewalk. They drink beers from a stained Playmate cooler and argue about politics from Santo Domingo from forty years ago. The young ones stand near the walls of the parks, smile and call each other motherfucker, their arms around each other's shoulders. Cars pass with windows open, shaking merengue, and they whistle to the people in the apartments. For the first time in weeks, nobody is sweating through his clothes, nobody mops his brow. It is a good day, the best day of the year, people will say. Tomorrow we'll be sweating like you mother in heat.
In fact, therein lies Spaceman Blues's greatest strength--it is a remarkably good-hearted novel. I can't remember the last time I read a story this benevolent towards all its characters. Manuel turns out to have been involved in human trafficking, and Wendell encounters several of his former associates and rivals. Without ignoring the dangers, physical and spiritual, of this kind of life, Slattery portrays these characters as people in search of--and, more importantly, who are deserving of--the same kind of happiness we all want. Manuel's enemy El Flaco is pining after his estranged wife. As small-time Eastern European crook, elevated and made wealthy by Manuel, uses that wealth to "[buy] a house in Slovenia overlooking the Danube for his new bride, a seamstress and soccer player. He and his wife fixed up his car, considered buying a boat to moor along the valley when they were in need of romance." It's hard not to be won over by these relatively modest dreams, and by the genuine emotion driving them.

On the other hand, white, wealthy and law-abiding characters are also portrayed positively in the novel. Wendell's friend Robert Lord Townsend Jr., heir to a textile and real estate fortune, is a thoughtful, kind man who dreams of getting his company's board members drunk and showing them a good time. The humorously named detectives Salmon and Trout, assigned to investigate Manuel's disappearance, are conscientious and caring. Their relationship has been under strain for several years, since Salmon's belief in his ability to attach a narrative to a crime scene was shattered by the murder of a woman they were protecting. Since then, he and Trout have been at odds, their differing worldviews--Salmon believes in hewing slavishly to the evidence, accepting the simplest possible solution to any puzzle, whereas Trout still believes in mystery--causing tension between them, and their reconciliation is one of the novel's most important plotlines. Even the alien invaders benefit from the author's sympathy:
Nine years. Nine years the creature spent pulling through inky space to reach this place. It saw suns fall together, merge and explode in the brilliance of dying nebulae beyond; saw planets wheel out of orbit and freeze to death, or draw spirals of fire in their descent toward their mother star. It saw three ships fail, disintegrate in flight, thousands of its brethren tossed unprotected into vacuum; was almost lost twice itself to the work of stray debris, meteorites. It lay awake for days at a time, petrified of instant death, watched the same fear drive friends to murder and suicide, and at last overcame it, became something stronger. But now it lies scattered on a scrap-strewn pavement, calling in vain to arms and legs that are distant from it, a torso that cannot reply, for the organs are confused. They lie, nerve endings screaming and wriggling on the hard ground, searching blind for pieces that are gone far away.
An obvious danger with this kind of approach is that it can drain a story of tension. If everyone is a good guy who just wants to hug their loved ones and carve out their own slice of happiness, doesn't the novel devolve into a rose-tinted, fangless fairy tale? The answer is in the story's breadth. Slattery's New York grows fractally. Every character we meet has a backstory, a family history, secret hopes and ambitions, and we are made aware of all of them. In his search for Manuel, Wendell travels to Darktown--a secret underground city, suspended by steel cables from New York's underside, where lost things and people go (a sort of cross between Gaiman's London Below and VanderMeer's Veniss Underground), with its own permanent fixtures, neighborhoods, and sub-groups. The mythology and genesis of this city and its subdivisions are also expanded upon, as well as, once again, the hopes and dreams of its individual inhabitants. Spaceman Blues is, in other words, a novel that never stops inventing and showing us new things, and Slattery's gift is the ability to make us care about all the people Wendell meets.

The tradeoff for this breadth is a lack of depth. It's probably a good thing that Slattery moves so quickly from one character to another and from one setting to the next, as very few of them have the psychological complexity to withstand intense scrutiny. If we spent too much time with any of Wendell's acquaintances, we'd probably find them simple rather than charming. By the same token, the novel's plot doesn't stand up to much examination, and the weakest chapters are the ones in which Wendell learns what happened to Manuel and who the people pursuing him are. Unlike other short novels, which intensely examine a single character, setting, emotional tone or dilemma, Spaceman Blues touches on a myriad subjects, in each case very lightly.

Which is not to say that it is a shallow novel. In fact, what's most notable about Spaceman Blues is its intensity of feeling--of the characters towards one another, of the characters towards their city, and of the author towards both. Spaceman Blues is indeed a love song--an exuberant, exhilarating, captivating one, and one that as many people as possible should read and enjoy.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

I Promise Not to Make a Habit of This

But look! A puppy!


Her name is Luna. She's a mixed Pointer, about two months old. In the 30-something hours she's been in the house she's managed to steal two shoes and do something adorable about once every three seconds. She's also figured out what the kitchen is for, and has perfected her dinner-table mournful stare (sadly, to no effect). Adoptive big sister Belle is dubious about the entire exercise, but recognizes that the foolishness of humans is something to be tolerated. If the fish have an opinion they have, thus far, kept it to themselves.