Friday, August 31, 2007

Book review: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Many thanks to Annabee and Kevin C., both of whom recommended this book to me – you two need to give me more recommendations! Third book finished on vacation 08/22/07 (405 pp.).

I had no idea what I was getting into with The Sparrow. The various blurbs on the book jacket were a little hyperbolic: “startling … engrossing … important … moral …” Hold on - moral? I thought this was science fiction! Nonplussed, I settled in to read and quickly affirmed that yes, this novel is about establishing first contact with an alien race on their home planet. However, since the away team consists of four Jesuit priests (the theory being that since the Jesuits were notable explorers on earth historically, their missionary experience would come in handy in space) and four laypersons (including two women), clearly this wasn’t going to be your standard E.T. stuff. I was intrigued.

Russell employs two narrative threads: one recounting the ill-fated expedition via the memories of the lone survivor; the other limning the story of the survivor, Father Emilio Sandoz, and his physical and psychic struggles in the aftermath of the expedition. I liked the two-narrative structure; as a Lost and Heroes fan, I have a soft spot for flashbacks. However, I think the author spent too long on the pre-expedition story and shortchanged us slightly once we got to the new planet.

I did appreciate the time Russell took developing the friendships among Sandoz and the four non-Jesuits, providing the reader with interesting and sympathetic characters. Their interrelationships are finely and leisurely drawn, as we see Sandoz meeting and learning to love Anne (a physician who was a Latin student of the priest's), George (Anne's husband and an engineer), Jimmy (the gangly astronomer who discovered the alien life) and Sofia (a computer savant with a sordid childhood). But the other three Jesuit priests who are also on the expedition scarcely get introduced and, once the explorers land on planet Rakhat and things begin to fall apart, the story seems incredibly rushed. This, perhaps, is a device meant to demonstrate Sandoz's survivor's guilt and his need to not drag out the retelling of his painful tale, but I rather think it was more a case of a first time novelist realizing she had to wrap up an already lengthy book.

In addition to the compelling characters and adventuresome (if unevenly paced) plot, The Sparrow brings with it discussions of human nature and the nature of God, the impact first contact can have on an indigenous population (good intentions of the newcomers notwithstanding), and the dismantling of faith and of moral and cultural assumptions. I am not much for organized religion myself - although I can appreciate that others are - and I prefer to get my ecumenical education in doses like this: educated, entertaining and touched with the fantastical (i.e. not preachy).

Kevin C. has promised me that the sequel, Children of God, is an even better novel than this one, Russell having toned and tightened her writing style. I was impressed with this first attempt - now I'm eager to hitch a ride for the return to Rakhat.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Book review - H.P Lovecraft: Tales

Okay, so this collection was a bit of a slog and I didn’t actually finish it: I read seventeen of the twenty-two short stories, skipping four stories entirely and giving up on one before reaching the end. In hindsight, these may have been more enjoyable a few at a time and are not necessarily best read en masse: there is much repetition throughout these Tales, especially in the later stories, as Lovecraft develops his Cthulhu Mythos. I preferred his non-mythology stories: "Cold Air" and "Herbert West: Reanimator," both about reanimating the dead; "The Thing on the Doorstep," about a body-snatching succubus; and "Pickman’s Model," set in a very scary version of Boston’s North End.

A precursor to the modern horror writer, H.P. Lovecraft preferred the “tell” method of storytelling rather than “show,” which may have been a sign of those more innocent times (all these “weird stories” having been written between 1919 and 1935). Lovecraft’s influence on Stephen King is clear, however, and off the top of my head I can think of several short stories of King’s that actually incorporate the mythology invented by Lovecraft: "Jerusalem’s Lot" from Night Shift; and "Crouch End" from Nightmares and Dreamscapes. [Note: this post was originally written longhand on a piece of paper last week while I was far away from any Internet; this Wikipedia article, found just today, more than supports my King-loves-Lovecraft theory - see the Influences section.]

Random thoughts: I did find that I was able to guess the twist in many of these stories (he’s already dead! it was the doctor! the monster is real!) which is something I don’t usually do, preferring to go the “willing suspension of disbelief” route. Judging from the author’s photo on the book jacket, Lovecraft seems to have based many of his characters on himself: blond, blue-eyed, pale, slender, scholarly, reclusive (possibly more than a little odd). And, on a final note, a full seventeen of the twenty-two Tales in this collection were told in the first person. Now, that’s weird.

Second book finished/first book started on vacation, finished on 08/20/07.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Where's My Durn Sword?

I couldn't resist this what-book-are-you-? quiz. I blame Andrew Wheeler over here for encouraging such things.

You're The Mists of Avalon! by Marion Zimmer Bradley: You're obsessed with Camelot in all its forms, from Arthurian legend to the Kennedy administration. Your favorite movie from childhood was "The Sword in the Stone". But more than tales of wizardry and Cuban missiles, you've focused on women. You know that they truly hold all the power. You always wished you could meet Jackie Kennedy.

Take the
Book Quiz at the Blue Pyramid.

(Honestly, I would have thought I'd be more along the lines of Watership Down ... I'm pretty sure I never cared much about Jackie-O.)

Monday, August 27, 2007

Book review: The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins

I am not a Charles Dickens fan. I could scarcely drag myself through his books back in high school and the fact that I was no longer required to do so was one of my primary joys upon graduating. It was much to my surprise, then, that I loved The Woman In White, written by Wilkie Collins, a good friend and contemporary of Dickens. TWIW, although long and overwritten in parts, is in sum a remarkably paced, labyrinthinely plotted melodrama, packed to the gills with complex and fascinating characters.

In the broadest strokes, this Victorian thriller tells the story of a young and beautiful heiress whom her husband locks up so that he can steal her fortune. The heroine (said heiress) and her hero (the young drawing teacher who loves her) are actually the blandest of the novel’s characters, and are much less compelling than the friends and foes by whom they find themselves surrounded.

The story flies along using a fairly modern device, first-hand reports by a succession of different narrators: the hero of the piece, the family attorney, the heroine’s homely but charismatic and intelligent spinster half-sister, the eccentric invalid uncle (who is peevishly hilarious!), the housekeeper, the melodramatic Italian villain, and so on. Each narrator moves the plot forward, uncovering some twist that the prior narrator was not privy to. We are treated to secret loves, unwanted marriages, illegitimate offspring, lunatic asylums, European spies, mistaken identities, murdered puppies ... it's all very exciting!

I’ll admit that at 613 pages this novel is a little long. Collins clearly loved to hear himself speak (figuratively). But when The Woman In White was first published in serial form in 1859, people lined up to buy the next installment and, as Julian Symons points out in my copy’s Introduction, William “Gladstone canceled a theater engagement to go on reading it.”

I can certainly understand that Victorian readers would have gobbled up this tale of madness, greed and lost love, having finished it at a bit of a gobble myself. In fact, I’m planning to pick up Wilkie Collins’s most famous and even better received book, The Moonstone, which is said to be the first modern detective novel. Who knows – if all continues to go well for me in Victorian England, I may have to have another go at Dickens.

First book finished while on vacation, 08/19/07, although not technically a "vacation book" since I started it several weeks ago.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Drought Is Over

I know, that's not particularly funny given the horrendous torrents of rain the Midwest has been getting. But I was referring to the fact that I'M BACK!, and not being glib about meteorological disasters.

I am back, and posting again - thanks to all who visited while I was away. I only managed to read six books this week (a new all-time record low), although said books did total 3,147 pages. The book reviews will be forthcoming shortly, just as soon as I clear a path through the acres of laundry that needs doing.

In the meantime, thanks for stopping by and come again soon. And go see Superbad - I can't wait to see it!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Fables: Animal Farm

This book holds the second story arc in Bill Willingham's Fables series: the Farm Fables, who cannot pass for human, are mad as hell at being stuck out in the middle of nowhere and are not going to take it anymore. Led by Goldilocks (who can actually pass for human but chooses to stay nearby her Three Bears ... and who may be sleeping with Baby Bear, I'm not sure) and two of the Three Little Pigs, these Fables are planning a rebellion to retake their Homelands, and perhaps knock off a few of the leading Fable politicos in the process. It's up to Snow White, Deputy Mayor of Fabletown, her sister Rose Red, and the sassy fox, Reynard, to put things right.

Whatever I said here about the illustrations, etc., ditto. Plus, the sheer numbers of recognizable characters this time is amazing: Puss-in-Boots; the Walrus (but not the Carpenter) and the Playing Card Soldiers from the Red Queen's Court; Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit; Chicken Little; the Tortoise and the Hare; Shere Khan, Bagheera, Kaa and King Louie; the Three Blind Mice (who pop up in nearly every panel); the Old Woman in the Shoe and all her attendant Children; Cock Robin; Tom Thumb and Thumbelina; Badger, Toad and Mole (from Wind in the Willows); and the Billy Goats Gruff ... those are just the ones I could identify. There's dozens more. So cool.

Willingham and his team are either huge faerie tale fans or really, really thorough in their research. I am just in awe of these books. The only problem I have with them is that I only bought the two and it's going to be a while before I can go get more.

P.S. I'm not sure how much I'm going to be able to post in the next week or so due to over scheduling of my precious free time, but I'll do my best.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Taste of Chicago: Italian Beef

I come from a family of transplanted Midwesterners who moved from the greater Chicago area to New England some 35 years ago. Other than growing up as lonely supporters of da-Bears, da-Bulls and da-Cubbies in a sea of Patriots/Celtics/Red Sox fanatics, we didn’t miss the flatlands very much. Except for this: Italian beef sandwiches.

Utterly unheard of in New England, this is a local sandwich closely associated with Chicago, possibly originating there as a means of making tough cuts of meat from the stockyards edible. Although the specific recipes vary from purveyor to purveyor – and are likely very closely guarded - the basic sandwich consists of thinly-sliced beef, which has been simmered until tender in a broth with garlic and other herbs and spices, served on crusty bread, and then dipped or soaked in the broth. Crusty bread is necessary because of the dipping; a lesser loaf will get far too soggy to support the filling. Hot peppers can be added, and I hear cheese is an option, although I’ve never ventured so far afield. This sandwich is, undoubtedly, ambrosia for meat-eaters.

For a while my family would impose upon friends to bring back frozen Italian beef whenever they visited from Chicago. They usually brought us Novi’s beef; a recent online search I did came up with well over 150 possibilities in greater Chicago, so it’s easy to find a favorite – if you live in Illinois. When you live elsewhere, however, you have to get creative and make it at home.

I make it at home a lot: during the long winter months my husband requests it weekly*. I may get in trouble for giving away a secret family recipe (from my aunt Terry), but surely only good can come out of sharing Italian beef with the rest of the world:
Pat a pot roast (+/- 2.5 lbs.; chuck roast or bottom round roast) with dry Italian salad dressing mix. Place seasoned roast in a crock-pot. Add two cups of water, two beef bouillon cubes, and one jar of pepperoncini peppers with the juice (I like to de-stem the peppers first). Cook on High for an hour, and then Low for 6+ hours until the meat falls apart.

To serve, remove the meat and pull into shreds. Serve on crusty bread or crusty rolls, with the pepperoncinis, dipped or not according to taste.

* Mr. Mouse would like to point out that although he requests this dish weekly, I do not make it weekly, a wrong he would very much like redressed at once.

Monday, August 13, 2007

What I [hope to] read on my summer vacation – by FM

It’s that time of year again: before summer's end, the Mice will be heading to the lake for a week of fishing, beer-drinking, sunning and reading on the dock. I haven’t had a full week’s vacation since last August: I am in desperate need of a break. As I’ve done every lake-week for the last five or so years, I’ve collected a stack of books from the library and from hoarding any recent purchases. Mr. Mouse usually gets through 1-2 books during vacation; my current record is 17. [To clarify: (a) he is a lot more active than I tend to be on vacation and (b) I read really quickly.] Here is this year’s list: 18. I’ll reconvene after we get back and report on how many I actually got through.

  • The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins (1860). This one scarcely counts as I only have 200 pages to go.
  • Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett (1989). From my friend Kevin C. It’s about dragons – I love dragons.
  • Gates of Fire, Steven Pressfield (1998). Since I’ve already read about the Battle of Thermopylae in the original Greek and in Frank Miller’s graphic novel (not to mention seeing 300), this should give me the last point of view I need.
  • Eats, Shoots & Leaves, Lynne Truss (2003). About punctuation. Right on!
  • Portrait in Sepia, Isabel Allende (2001). Translated from the Spanish, this one was a gift from my mom.
  • A Good Dog, Jon Katz (2006). It’s about dogs. Impulse buy (3 for 2 table) at Borders.
  • The Summer of My Greek Taverna, Tom Stone (2002). $4 table at Borders.
  • Long Ago in France, M.F.K. Fisher (1991). Ditto $4 table.
  • The Best American Short Stories – 2003. Ditto $4 table. I don’t read many short stories so I figured this would be good for me.
  • The Children of Hurin, J.R.R. Tolkien (2007). Finished posthumously by Tolkien’s son. How could I not?
  • Mike and Psmith (1909) and Enter Psmith (1935), P.G. Wodehouse. I read a mention of the Psmith books a while ago which said they were very funny. I’m a sucker for British murder mysteries of this era so I thought I’d branch out.
  • Blandings Castle, P.G. Wodehouse (1935). Six short stories.
  • Tales of H.P. Lovecraft (collection, 2005). I’ve never read any Lovecraft: the book jacket calls him “the 20th century successor to Poe as the master of ‘weird fiction'.” I like weird.
  • The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell (1996). This book was mentioned on this blog (which I think is very funny and a great source of information). That’s all I know.
  • Archer At Large, Ross MacDonald (omnibus, 1970). Three Lew Archer novels.
  • Quicksilver, Neal Stephenson (2003). Other than TWiW and the Archer omnibus, this is the only really big book I’ve got this time: 916 pp. As I mentioned, I read quickly so big is good. Plus it’s the start of a series so I hope I like it.
  • Cell, Stephen King (2006). This one I’ve read before once so it’s my emergency book in the event I get through all the others.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Stardust - mini-review

What would you get if you took LoTR, one of those Pirates movies, a Harry Potter flick and Witches of Eastwick, and put them all in a blender? You might get something similar to Neil Gaiman's Stardust. Gaiman has done a lovely job of presenting a fantasy world that probably 98% of the movie audience knows nothing about and making its mythology accessible [Ahem, M. Night? You taking notes?] and, in fact, I'm now quite interested in reading the novel from which the movie was adapted. The movie is quite gorgeous visually: costumes, locations (all over Great Britain and also in Iceland); the story has a lot of heart and is a much sweeter tale than fantasy fare of late. It does seem a little confused at times, though, unable to decide between wanting to be a serious quest film and or a funny one. It absolutely has lighthearted moments and I chuckled out loud a couple of time, but it's no Princess Bride.

Michelle Pfieffer gives the Wicked Witch of the West a run for her money in the competition for Best Movie Hag: she is stunning and hideous and scary, and clearly enjoying the heck out of this role. Young Charlie Cox does a fine job of carrying the film and Rupert Everett made me giggle each time he was on screen. I think Claire Danes may wish to try a movie where she doesn't have to do an English accent; she was fine but I found the accent incredibly distracting, just as I did in Stage Beauty. And it will be a long, long time before I purge the image of Robert DeNiro in a pink feather boa out of my head [shudder ... and hee!].

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Fables: Legends in Exile

I just now finished reading Bill Willingham's Fables: Legends in Exile, a collection of the first five issues of the Fables comic book series - wow! I'm a comics-neophyte, having just come to realize that my three decades old assumption that comics were just about superheroes in capes and tights is completely incorrect. After reading this first Fables book, I'm now pretty confident in the books I've chosen with which to educate myself.

The premise behind this series is that all the denizens of the Lands of Make-Believe, both human and non-human were - hundreds of years ago - under attack by some mysterious adversary. After this Adversary decimated the Land of Oz and and the Land of Narnia, the rest of the faerie tale folk found an escape from their worlds into our mundane world, and they now live in New York. Those who can pass for human [Cinderella, Pinnochio, the witch from Hansel and Gretel, Bluebeard, etc.] live in Manhattan; those who can't [elves, trolls, faeries, three pigs, blind mice, and so on] live on farms upstate. These comics tell the tales of the Fables trying to live in our modern times.

The illustrations are simply amazing, far surpassing anything I could have expected. Each panel is so detailed, rife with fantasy references - total eye-candy to a faerie tale fan like me. The story arc of this first collection seemed to fizzle out slightly at the final reveal - these are fantasy folks and I wanted a fantastic climax! But the whodunit turned out to have sprung from the characters' mundane motivations and I guess that fits better, given that these Fablefolk are trying to fit into a mundane reality.

No matter. I adore faerie tales (I have a copy of The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm which is a treasure - 279 tales in 729 pages and so much bloodier in the unabridged version!) and I am thrilled to have discovered a whole new venue in which to indulge. The second collection, Animal Farm, is lined up and ready to read next. I can't wait!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Deadwood recap – “Sold Under Sin” (S1E12)

The dropping: We bid farewell to Reverend Smith; Bullock gets up close and personal, first with the father, then with the daughter; Sol, Charlie, Joanie, Eddie and E.B. have scarcely anything to do; and Al actually gets to tie up some loose ends for once.

Al is back on the balcony, staring into space as Dan brings him a cup of joe. I bet he’s thinking about Reverend Smith. And like magic, we cut immediately to the doctor’s hovel where an oddly clean Doc is tending to the poor reverend. His body is twisted and he’s raving blindly. Taking a break in his doorway, Doc observes the cavalry riding into camp. Al sees the same thing: “Tell Johnny to brew some coffee and open some peaches.” Magistrate Claggett is accompanying the soldiers and he brings General Crook to meet with Al. The general, played by gravelly voiced Peter Coyote, has brought his troops into camp for some R&R. He seems like an upright guy and wearily acquiesces when Al says the camp will want a parade from the cavalry. Al then asks Claggett to pause a while, wondering if he’s spoken to Adams. The purported answer is no. Al tells Claggett to screw off with respect to the extra extortion money he’s demanded; Claggett thinks Al is being imprudent.

Doc comes into the Gem, grumbling “fuck the cavalry.” When Trixie appears to greet the doctor, Ian McShane, standing with his back to them and facing the camera, has a lovely little moment. He refuses to look at Trixie as he heads upstairs - he's in such a pout! Doc has brought a homemade brace for Jewel but he insists that she must immediately report to him any discomfort, numbness, pain or pressure in her leg. He is adamant about it and she eagerly agrees, asking him to help her put it on. Doc is so good to her and the reverend - it must be so hard on him to have to see good folk suffer when so many bad people thrive. Later, Doc comes to see Al, saying the reverend is “past my arts, if I have any.” Al assumes that the doc is asking him to put the reverend out of his misery, but Doc wants one of the Gem whores to look after the reverend until he dies, taking her fees out of the Doc’s pay. When Al grumbles about having to hold the bag of shit, the doc completely loses his composure, vehemently shouting “fuck you, Al!”, and Al turns back to him, surprised. But he gets it and says he’ll send someone to pick up the reverend. Hilariously, Al is continuing to refuse to call Trixie by name, referring to her instead as “that other one.”

Over in Chinatown, Leon is stirring up trouble with a Celestial under Cy’s urging and that doofus Con, in his capacity as sheriff, goes to calm things down. At the hotel, Alma, Otis and Sophia are in Alma’s room, Otis rather strangely touching his daughter’s shoulder and hair. She is clearly uncomfortable with his proximity. As they talk, she learns that he owes another $47,000 (!) after she cleared his old debts with Garrett money. Alma reluctantly agrees to bail her father out but says that he has to go back to New York and agree in writing to stay out of her affairs. Otis cavalierly says he’ll do no such thing and starts to play with Sophia. Alma becomes agitated – “Get away from her!” - and snatches up the little girl, rushing downstairs with her, scarcely able to breathe. She runs to the hardware store where she breathily asks for Bullock’s help, saying that no matter what view he formed of Otis, she knows her father better. Bullock gallantly promises to help her. We never know what exactly she says next, but soon an enraged Bullock is stomping towards to hotel, barking at Sol to get away from him. He catches up to Otis on the street; the older man glibly talks his way out of a street-beating, leading Bullock into the Bella Union.

All the characters not really given storylines in this episode contrivedly follow them into the saloon: Charlie, Joanie, E.B.; Alma comes into the saloon as well. Starting to play craps at Eddie’s table, Otis asks if Bullock was bullied as a youth, if that’s why he defends the weak in the camp. [Historical note: Bullock’s father beat him regularly and Bullock had run away from home twice by the time he was 16.] Finally, Bullock can’t take all the yap anymore (right around the time when Otis insinuates that he’ll implicate his daughter in Brom’s murder) and starts beating the shit out of Otis. Eddie makes me giggle when he says, “Gentlemen, watch the felt.” Bullock leaves off when Otis spits out some teeth and walks outside, dazed and horrified at what he’s done. Fairly calmly, all things considerined, Alma asks a Bella Union whore to “see to my father” and runs out.

The cavalry parade has started but a gunshot is heard over the racket. It’s Con, having shot the Chinese man that Leon had been goading. Mr. Wu is livid but Con claims jurisdiction as sheriff. As Bullock walks by, he notices Cy observing the situation. Bullock then pauses as General Crook speechifies but is distracted by a disturbed soldier ranting and mumbling next to him. I think the soldier reminds Bullock of his dead brother. Con sidles up to Bullock who is so not interested in listening to his bullshit: “Next murder you do on an errand, better take off the fuckin’ badge.” Con is too dumb to get it so Bullock yanks off his sheriff’s star and throws it into the mud. Tom Nuttal, standing nearby, grows a pair and spits that Con should just leave it there. Bullock picks the badge back up – Cy, Sol and Al are all watching him, he meets Al’s gaze steadily.

Bullock stomps into the Gem and gets up in Dan’s face. The gist of it is, if the man I just beat doesn’t die, he’s going to go to New York City and send people back here who will know that you killed his son-in-law. Dan is good at reading between the lines and asks if he should just take care of it. Bullock won’t condone that: “I don’t swim in that shit.” Dan skeptically looks at Bullock who is clutching at the sheriff’s badge and says, “You ought to just pin that on your chest - you’re a hypocrite not to wear it.” In the back of the Gem, Johnny drags Reverend Smith into the whores’ room where Trixie is standing by to take care of him. Al watches her then goes back into his office, slamming the door.

Bullock is beating himself up at the hardware store: “What kind of man have I become, Sol?” Sol replies, “I don’t know, the day ain’t fucking over.” After more brooding, Bullock shakes Sol’s hand and heads out. Al is regrouping with Dan, E.B. and Johnny, asking about the Chinatown scene. They determine that Con was put up to murdering the Chinese man. Al says, “That fucknut Tolliver is moving on Chinatown.” “Devious fucknut,” amends E.B. Hee. Dan says he can take care of Claggett, Tolliver and Otis Russell; Al urges him to moderation in all things, however. At the Bella Union: blah blah blah, Cy, Claggett and the general are having dinner; the general is proving incorruptible, to Cy’s dismay. Bullock barges in and asks the general to protect Otis; after hearing about Bullock’s deceased soldier brother, the general agrees. He also suggests that perhaps a former marshal should step up in a camp “where the sheriff can be bought for bacon grease.” Peter Coyote’s voice is great. An officer informs the general that the soldiers are cutting too loose in this Sodom of a camp, and the general gives the order to depart.

Joanie has brought Alma her father’s teeth. That’s funny. Alma admits that she asked Bullock to help her against her father. She’s preaching to the choir as Joanie then offers up her own history: her own father raped her, then pimped her and her sisters out to other men before finally selling her to Cy. They bond over their mutual abuse until Bullock comes pounding on the door. Joanie reads the situation correctly and skedaddles downstairs with Sophia. Bullock comes in, pausing at the threshhold. Oh, man, I don’t want this to happen. Alma is all breathy and annoying – speak up! I grouse just as Mr. Mouse complains that she’s too melodramatic. This show does not need Romance. But it’s too late: they smooch and Alma starts ripping open her own bodice. I’ll give her credit for pointing out that he’s being a prude. Bullock snaps to and they get down to it. Oh well.

Silas tells Al he didn’t get a chance at Claggett in Yankton but thought he’d catch up with him in Deadwood. Pondering this, Al excuses himself to go check on the reverend. He sends Trixie away; she touches his hand briefly as she leaves, taking in his hollow expression. Al calls Johnny into the room. Doc, kneeling in his hovel, has reached the end of his rope and is praying and screaming at God for making the reverend – and all the Civil War soldiers – suffer so much. It’s a little over the top and out of character, but I guess it’s to show how he copes. Back at the Gem, Al cradles the reverend gently in his arms, laying a cloth over the dying man’s face. He suffocates him, matter of factly explaining to a shocked Johnny how to do it - “like packing a snowball.” It’s over quickly, and Al murmurs “You can go now, brother,” as he embraces the reverend. Johnny has tears in his eyes. Al is gentle as he closes the reverend’s eyelids and lays him back on the bed. He has tears in his eyes too.

Al pulls himself together and brings Claggett upstairs to his office where Dan, Silas and the silent sidekick are waiting. Al questions Silas’s allegiance then asks Claggett what’s going on. Claggett says he has Al’s warrant in his coat pocket and suddenly Silas springs forward, cutting his former boss’s throat. After requesting that Dan stop pointing his two hidden guns at him, Silas hands the warrant over to Al. Looks like Silas has a new boss. At the sound of the cavalry mustering, Bullock rouses himself from Alma’s bed – gosh, that’s a long supper Sophia and Joanie must be having. Al brings the dead reverend back to Doc’s hovel and asks if the doc will “probe in his noggin now to see what went amiss?” Not tonight, says Doc, as he’s planning to get hammered. “Announcing your plans is a good way to hear God laugh,” states Al, not unkindly. He takes Doc back to the Gem, seats him in the barber chair and tells Dan to see that this man gets a shine. Dan hands over a huge cup of whiskey: “This’ll give you a shine.”

Bullock has come in to the saloon and he and Al go upstairs to talk. Jewel comes out and tells the doc she has no stiffness in her leg. “Give me a whirl,” she says. “No, no, no, no … “ mutters Doc, staring drunkenly at the floor. Upstairs, Bullock notices the bloodstain on Al’s floor. “Yeah, I’m gonna get to that,” says Al unconcernedly. I very much like how the two of them have switched from scarcely-contained mutual animosity to a guarded and grudging mutual admiration. Bullock says that Alma’s father is headed out of camp and, if he ever comes back, he’ll be Bullock’s problem: “I’ll be the fucking sheriff.” Al doesn’t believe him and wants to see the badge, which Bullock produces from his pocket with a glare. “On the tit,” requests Al. “I know where it goes,” sneers Bullock, but he puts it on and Al toasts him, “Huzzah.” Mr. Mouse pointed out that this was nice reversal to Bullock not wanting to be sheriff in the first episode; I’d add that it’s also a nice touch that Al is [currently and for who knows how long] in full support of Bullock, as a complete reversal from their first meeting when he worried about Bullock bringing the law to Deadwood.

In the final moments of the episode/season, Bullock and Alma stare longingly at each other from across the street. Jewel gets Doc to dance with her to the Gem’s damn new piano. Watching his joint, Al sees everything from the balcony, and when Trixie looks up at him and gives him a smile, he doesn’t look away.

Next episode/previous episode

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

108 Hours in Maine

Gosh, I'm really sorry it's been so long since my last post - my in-laws were in town for a long weekend and all the entertaining completely precluded any Mouseblogging. I feel badly about leaving my giant fanbase (that sounds better than just saying "fan") in the lurch. Tomorrow night: the Deadwood S1E12 recap, I promise! And I just picked up the BtVS S8E5 comic as well as Bill Willingham's Fables: Legends in Exile and Fables: Animal Farm, so I should have plenty to write about in the next few days.

What We Did On the Mouse-In-Laws' Summer Vacation: Thursday night dinner on the patio at the Foreside Tavern which was lovely until the mosquitos got hungry at sundown [Geary's Summer Ale on tap]. Friday, as Mr. Mouse went to work (ha ha!), the in-laws, Becky and I walked around Back Cove [3.5 mile scenic walking/jogging loop] and then stopped for coffee.

Saturday was Mr. Mouse's big race: 53 minutes in the Beach To Beacon 10K - which was wicked impressive, given his 9-week mid-training lapse. After a quick run home to shower and resupply, we made the 2:15 p.m. mailboat run. This is one of our favorite things to do, with or without out-of-town houseguests: a 3-hour ride on the ferry with potential stops at six Casco Bay islands to deliver passengers and freight; we fill a cooler with beer, sit in the bow of the boat and soak in all the cool coastal breezes. This trip, the highlights were (1) two portopotties being delivered to Long Island and (2) island kids flinging themselves off the top of the dock shack into the ocean at Cliff Island. [The FM photo was taken front of Cow Island, next to Great Diamond Island.]

Sunday we actually had glorious weather: clear, mid-70s and sunny. We rented a pontoon boat on Brandy Pond in Naples for 4 hours - superfantastic! fishing, swimming, picnicking - and then stopped at Bray's Brewpub on our way home. By Monday us younger folks had to go back to work, but Mr. Mouse had breakfast with his folks at Becky's and we all met up for dinner at Shay's [$4 house specialty pineapple martinis - yummy!]. My in-laws departed Tuesday morning, phoning in later in the day from the Long Trail Brewery in Bridgewater Corners, Vermont ... so clearly they weren't leaving the party just because they had to leave us, and I think that's just outstanding.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Deadwood recap - “Jewel’s Boot Is Made for Walking” (S1E11)

The dropping: Alma's good-for-nothing father arrives in camp unexpectedly. Trixie takes a busman's holiday with Sol. Deadwood gets a no-account for a sheriff, compliments of Tom Nuttal. Al - in a shocking turn of events - thinks Bullock should wear the badge but Bullock doesn't want to because, in case you hadn't heard , he's sent for his wife and child. [This episode was written by Ricky Jay (a/k/a “Eddie” from the Bella Union) – I’m not convinced he should write more.]

It’s morning and Al is chatting with his wife … I mean monologuing to Trixie. Trixie, who is staring out the window during his speech, tells him the comings and goings of campfolk down in the street. Oh, look – Jewel is heading out! They both pause to consider how that’s unusual. Then, Al, with a half-tender look he tries to hide, gives Trixie half a day off to go visit with Sophia. She’s surprised and says she will. Good, Al grunts, “Now, come back to bed.”

Jewel – in a scene that goes on way too long [she’s crippled; walking is difficult for her; we get it] - makes her way down the main street to Doc’s. She has brought him a book with a picture of a leg brace in it and wants him to make one for her. He’s skeptical that such a thing will be able to help her, but he keeps the book, since he’s such a good guy, and promises to take a look at it. Over in E.B.’s restaurant, it is super-crowded. Charlie and Joanie are breakfasting together; Ellsworth, Alma and Sophia are at another table. Joanie says that the backing for her brothel seems to be coming through; Charlie admits that he’s not making any friends in his role as fire marshal.

Ellsworth reiterates that Alma needs to start digging down into her claim as there is nothing left for him to find in the creeks. She insists that he stay on in a supervisory capacity, and she tells him that she enjoys his company. Cutely, he says he does too and when he admits “I’ll just say this once: I know I’m too old for you,” she has the decency to blush. Suddenly, her dandified (but not as dandified as Brom) father, Otis Russell, shows up. I distrust him immediately – he’s a snake, I can tell. Not wanting to intrude on the family reunion, Ellsworth takes his leave, and his plate, and his coffee, and his hat, and sticks his tongue out at Sophia in farewell. She returns the favor. I love Ellsworth. Andy Cramed stops by the pest tent as it is being dismantled and finds the preacher, who is much deteriorated. Andy feels lost – after surviving the pox he seems to be adrift – and is concerned that he’s backsliding into his former gambling ways. He asks the reverend if he will help him pray. The pathetic reverend is so pleased to help. He begins well but cuts the prayer short, forgetting his words. He staggers off.

At the Gem, Dan, Johnny and E.B. discuss how Al has warmed to Silas so quickly: Dan and Johnny are jealous, but E.B. (in his continuing role as Greek chorus) says that the warmth is counterfeit – Al is merely trying to figure out how he can use the magistrate’s bagman. Al and Silas talk about Silas’s prospects and Silas ends up agreeing to kill the magistrate (for $1000) and quash the outstanding warrant (for another $1000). He initially thinks such tasks are worth more money, but Al sweet-talks him. Jewel brings them coffee and Al asks her where she went (“Doc’s”) – and why she went: “I’m knocked up.” Hee hee!

Alma and her dad chat in her room. She brings him up to speed; he tells her that Brom’s family is saying that she had a hand in Brom’s death; he wants to see the actual gold from her claim; she shows him a chunk of quartz with gold in it. When he goes to wash up, Otis tries to make off with the gold but Alma calls him on it and he gives it back to her. [Remember: she married Brom for his money, to help her father pay his debts.] Otis says he wants to meet the people she’s trusting to help with her claim: he’s already met Ellsworth, so that just leaves Bullock. I think this actor looks a little young to be playing her father.

Fire Marshal Charlie is inspecting Tom Nuttal’s bar and finding the stovepipe in violation. Tom is quite discomfited by this, and feels like he doesn’t fit in the camp anymore: “That’s the kind of shit that ran me out of Wilkes-Barre.” Con Stapleton, one of Wild Bill’s poker buddies there in the bar, has a brilliant idea: Tom should suggest him to Al as candidate for sheriff! That way, the camp (and Al) gets a sheriff that isn’t too concerned with the law, and Tom gets a friend in high places. Dumb ol’ Tom agrees. This guy Con is a joke – just look at his hat!

At the Bella Union, Leon relates the plot of “Mister Wu” to Cy. Seeing an opportunity against Al, Cy tells Leon to start speaking out about the injustice of handing over a white guy to the Chinese. It’s good to know that Cy is a racist in addition to his regular general evilness. Tom meets with Al and stutters his way into suggesting Con Stapleton as sheriff. “I wouldn’t appoint that cocksucker to empty my spittoons,” scoffs Al. He is resistant and even offers Dan’s services to get rid of Con for Tom. The other saloonkeeper, nervous and jerky as he is, continues to plead his case until Al, who doesn’t really care, says it’s fine, “but no fucking paperwork!” “Well, I don’t even know if he can write,” replies Tom. It’s funny that Tom wears his apron everywhere he goes.

Trixie goes to visit Sol at the hardware store. She gets right to the point: “Would you want a free fuck?” Astonished but interested, Sol asks, “Why would you say that?” “To know the answer,” is her reply. At first I didn’t think that Sol would go for it, but he sure does, closing the shop doors and leading her to the back of the store. There’s not much getting-to-know you in Deadwood - they get right to it … until Bullock walks in. Sol: “Seth, you remember Trixie?” Bullock is appalled and leaves at once, locking the doors behind him. They pick right up where they left off. Trixie, who looks like she’s actually enjoying sex for once, tells him to “kiss my neck or tits if you have to kiss something.” “I’m going to kiss you,” Sol says, and does.

At the Gem, E.B. swears Con in as sheriff. Bullock stomps up to the bar and grunts “whiskey.” When the assembled crew introduces Con as the new sheriff, Bullock notes that “we weren’t to have a sheriff … my wife and child are coming from Michigan.” He asks if Al is in. He is, but out on the balcony, drinking straight out of the bottle (which he doesn’t usually do) and watching the reverend ranting about circumcision to two oxen in the street. He lets Bullock in, who demands to know why Stapleton is sheriff. Al says it’s a ceremonial position to comfort Tom. “That job shouldn’t go to a shitheel,” snarls Bullock. Al thinks it’s a perfect job for a shitheel: he has little use for the law and relates as evidence the story of how the magistrate is shaking him down for extra money to get rid of the warrant. Then, lo and behold, he suggests that Bullock should be the law! “I think you’d be all right as sheriff,” drawls Al. Bullock doesn’t want the job because – for crying out loud, we know this already! – his wife and child are coming to the camp. “Listen,” snits Bullock as he leaves, “I’m only talking to you because my partner’s fucking that whore.” Ooh, you shouldn’t have said that. Even tenser than he was before, Al returns to the balcony and watches the reverend who is now preaching to random passersby, barely able to stand upright. Ian McShane is brilliant. He watches the reverend, his body tightening, and then he turns away, drinking and drinking. When he turns back, his eyes are shiny with tears even as his face is frozen.

Back at the hardware store, Bullock reminds a post-coital Sol of their agreement with Al that the hardware store is only for selling hardware. Sol promises that no more hookups will happen on premises. Alma’s dad stops by and invites Bullock to dinner. Doc goes to see Jewel and says that he won’t make that brace for her because he’s concerned it will impede what little mobility she already has. He will, however, try to make a different kind of brace for her. Doc is such a nice guy.

Al catches Trixie as she’s just coming to work, noting in a scathing tone that she looks "relaxed." He is still drinking straight from the bottle and starting to look a little drunk – Al is having a bad day. He tells Johnny “get that Jew over here” and when Sol arrives, Al says Sol owes him $5. Sol refuses to pay, saying the sex wasn’t for business. Al calls Trixie over and, after some rambling, points out that Trixie will pay if Sol won’t. Sol pays. Al snarls to Trixie to get back to work, and that she won’t be sharing his bed that night. He hands some of Sol’s cash to the bartender, getting another bottle. Oh dear, it’s a really bad day.

Dinner with Alma, Bullock and Otis at the hotel is a little tense as well. E.B. spies on them from the back and demonstrates himself as an accurate judge of character, noting that Alma’s dad is a charlatan, and is quite probably duping his daughter along with everyone else. After dinner, Bullock and Otis take a walk. Bullock does not like Otis either, especially when he insults Bullock’s integrity. Alma watches them from her hotel room, musing about women’s traditional roles indoors and away from the world. Apparently she likes being in charge of her own destiny out here in Deadwood. At the Bella Union, Cy and Eddie make up. On the other side of the room Leon is holding forth about how Al is siding with the Chinese and murdering white men; Cy coaches him a little. Joanie checks in with Eddie who reports that he’s already palmed a bunch of chips right under Cy’s nose. A little later, Cy draws Joanie aside and insinuates that some real estate in Chinatown might be opening up soon.

Bullock tells Sol that he thinks Otis is not here to help his daughter: he’s here to help himself to the gold. Sol has his own issues to stew over, bitterly saying that Trixie must have told Al about their rendezvous. Abashed, Bullock cowboys up and says he’s the one who told Al, so Sol shouldn’t be mad at the whore. “I used poor fuckin’ judgment,” he admits.

Now here’s the last scene, a bookend to the opening scene between Al and Trixie, and I have no idea how to recap it. It’s a four-minute drunken speech by Al to the replacement whore cowering on his bed. He starts on how sad and pathetic the reverend has become, and then segues into the story of his own life (abandoned by his mother at a Chicago orphanage) as the whore fellates him. By the end of it, we've gained a fair bit of insight into the root of Al’s control issues, his abandonment issues (oh, Trixie), his misogyny, his determination to never go hungry again, but it’s still not clear why the reverend’s decline disturbs him so.

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