Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta ✎ ✎ ✎ ✎

Updated with Author Dana Spiotta’s playlist

daeandwrite

homework-clip-art-for-kids-9

The late 60s and early 70s are hot in literary circles. I’ve read at least four novels this year that examine the events of the Age of Aquarius from the perspective of today and each of the following are reviewed on daeandwrite.wordpress.com: Manson (The Girls), Gen-X kids (The Nest), would’ve been rock stars who aged into generic suburbanites (Modern Lovers). In Dana Spiotta’s Eat the Document the focus is on war protestors: revolutionaries whose violent activities forced them off the grid, underground, and into new identities.

The first thing about the novel that puzzled me was the title: Eat the Document, comes from a documentary of Bob Dylan’s 1966 tour of the United Kingdom with the Hawks during which he transitions from folk singer to rock star. (The entire film is actually available to watch on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJWWEjyqI68.) So, there’s a documentary maker…

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The Last Painting of Sara De Vos, by Dominic Smith✎✎✎✎

Updated with a playlist and recipe for Dutch Apple Pie from the author Dominic Smith

daeandwrite

artists_palette

In 1957 New York, graduate student Ellie Shipley has been commissioned to paint an exact replica of the seventeenth century painting by Dutch artist Sara de Vos. “At the Edge of a Wood” has been in the de Groot family for three hundred years and Ellie is told the owner has supplied her with photographs for her work because he can’t bear to part with the original. Ellie is transfixed by the commission and willingly suspends her disbelief of the story in order to do the work.

She peeled back the antique canvas with diluted solvents, working in small circles, one inch at a time. She saved the old varnish as she stripped it off, squeezing the cotton swabs into a mason jar. To the naked canvas, she applied a thin coat of fresh ground but retained the surface signature of the original. Next, she sketched with pale…

View original post 2,350 more words

Eat the Document by Dana Spiotta ✎ ✎ ✎ ✎

homework-clip-art-for-kids-9

The late 60s and early 70s are hot in literary circles. I’ve read at least four novels this year that examine the events of the Age of Aquarius from the perspective of today and each of the following are reviewed on daeandwrite.wordpress.com: Manson (The Girls), Gen-X kids (The Nest), would’ve been rock stars who aged into generic suburbanites (Modern Lovers). In Dana Spiotta’s Eat the Document the focus is on war protestors: revolutionaries whose violent activities forced them off the grid, underground, and into new identities.

The first thing about the novel that puzzled me was the title: Eat the Document, comes from a documentary of Bob Dylan’s 1966 tour of the United Kingdom with the Hawks during which he transitions from folk singer to rock star. (The entire film is actually available to watch on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJWWEjyqI68.) So, there’s a documentary maker in Eat the Document (the novel) but he’s making anti-war films. And yes, Bob Dylan was anti-war, I just think the connection is tenuous. And I for one had never heard of the Bob Dylan Eat the Document documentary. I haven’t watched the documentary so I don’t know if there’s any explanation therein for the title.

spiottadana-by_-jessicamarx-900There are other questions I have. Luckily, Dana Spiotta is coming to my hometown this weekend (September 16-18, 2016) to speak and teach at the Kentucky Women Writer’s Conference. So I’m hoping to be able to bend her ear about a few of those.

Ms. Spiotta: I want to know what about this unique time period in American history grabbed you. Why did you choose to write about war protestors who go on the run. Are you as big of a fan of the Beach Boys as her character Jason. Did ______ and ______ meet at the _______ on ________. Do you most identify with Henry, as I suspect, or another character and why.

To begin, Mary and Bobby have done something. They must go on the run and create new identities for themselves, somewhat easier to do in the earliest 70s. The reader travels with Mary as she assumes new names, appearances and personalities. But Bobby disappears while Spiotta introduces us to Seattle in the late 1990s and a radical-ish bookstore run by a low-key guy named Nash. Mary — now known as Louise — and her teenage son Jason wind up in the Seattle suburbs as well. Jason is fifteen and has many obsessions: music, finding his mother’s secrets, competing with his next door neighbor. But none are larger than his self-obsession.

I am the center of the culture. I am genesis, herald, harbinger. The absolute germinal zero point–that’s me. I am the sun around which all the American else orbits. In fact, I am America, I exist more than other Americans. America is the center of the world, and I am the center of America. I am fifteen, while, middle class and male. Middle-aged men and women scurry for my attention. What Internet sites I visit. What I buy. What my desires are. What movies I watch. What and who I want; when and how I want it. People get paid a lot of money to think of how to get to me and mine.

Reviewing for the New York Times in 2006, the year Eat the Document was released, Michiko Kakutani said: “By cutting back and forth between Mary’s story and the stories of her son, Jason; her former lover and fellow fugitive, Bobby; and Bobby’s best friend, Henry, Ms. Spiotta has constructed a glittering collage of a book — a book that possesses the staccato ferocity of a Joan Didion essay and the historical resonance and razzle-dazzle language of a Don DeLillo novel.” http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/03/books/03kaku.html?_r=0

I listened to Eat the Document on audio driving back and forth to court in another city, but eat-the-document-9780743273008_lgI actually pulled over and stopped the car to write down my favorite line from the book.

“We identify ourselves by what moves us.”

That seems not only true, but aspirational.

Would your book club enjoy Eat the Document? It was a National Book Award finalist and certainly worthy of that honor. It is meaty, slightly twisty, intriguing. An insightful look at the 70s and how the events of that decade linger on through our present. Publisher Simon and Schuster provides a reading group guide on its website if you want more information. http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/Eat-the-Document/Dana-Spiotta/9780743273008/reading_group_guide#rgg

MENU

As easy as the music selections were to list for Eat the Document, the menu is tougher and I find this always to be more true when listening to a book on audio versus holding a tangible object and marking it as I read. I think I remember a reference to lasagna, there’s definitely a breakfast with pancakes and bacon.

Mary/Louise is actually a cook and works at several diners and so I’m sure I have missed lots of the food references. Nevertheless, at times like these, I go for the pun. So my menu will include:

Roasted root vegetables — “underground” food

As a main course, I might actually serve the pancakes and bacon. There’s nothing as good as breakfast for dinner. Or make a lasagna.

Ice Cream Bombe for dessert. This is an incredibly fabulous looking dessert but relies on store-bought ice cream and pound cake. Using coffee ice cream would give a nod to the Seattle locale of Eat the Document. Here’s a recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/coffee-coconut-ice-cream-bombe-recipe.html

MUSIC

beachboys_smile_cover

Eat the Document’s musical references are multiple and varied:

Roxy Music

Little Feat

Allman Brothers

Whiter Shade of Pale, by Procol Harum (Incidentally the best name for a rock group ever)

Roberta Flack

You could also feature Bob Dylan songs from the documentary Eat the Document, including:

Tell Me, Momma

I Don’t Believe You

Ballad of a Thin Man

One Too Many Mornings

But Jason’s truest love is bootlegged versions of The Beach Boys’ albums with particular focus on Pet Sounds and Smile.

UPDATED: Largeheartedboy.com has solicited a playlist from Dana Spiotta — http://www.largeheartedboy.com/blog/archive/2007/01/book_notes_dana.html — and in her own words, here’s her playlist:

Eat the Document has many music references. Much of the book takes place in the 70s, so much of the music is from that era. The contemporary part of the novel largely concerns a music-obsessed 15 year-old who is under the sway of PET SOUNDS and SMILE. The book is also about people living underground, about secret identities and so on, and the title comes from the unreleased documentary by and about Bob Dylan. Much is made in the book of “lost” albums and unpopular albums made by popular musicians.
I don’t listen to music when I write, but I listen to music when I am not writing. When I am walking, driving my car, doing housework, staring into space, and generally thinking about the book. The tracks I picked are either cited in the book specifically, or they give a feel for things in the book.

1) “Our Prayer”
The Beach Boys, SMILE

When I started writing the novel, the Beach Boys’ SMILE was still unreleased. Then Brian Wilson decided to put out a version. Although they are very close, I prefer the version of “Our Prayer” from my bootleg: short, heavenly, wordless. But I admit I am biased in favor of the more obscure thing.
2)“Little Hands”
“Diana”
“Weighted Down”

Alexander Spence, from OAR

OAR is one of my favorite albums. Skip Spence was first in the Jefferson Airplane and then in Moby Grape. OAR is his only solo album—it was made between hospital visits. One of the characters in Eat the Document discusses OAR as an example of an essential “lost” album. It is a very sad record, but quite beautiful and naked sounding. “Diana” has so much longing in the singing and the slightly dissonant guitar. “Weighted Down” is about feeling the burden of your past—a theme that resonates in my novel. If you dig that slightly off feeling, if you like Nick Drake, well, this sounds to me like Pink Moon Nick Drake combined with the Velvet Underground.
3)“Maggot Brain”

Funkadelic, from Maggot Brain
This song keeps coming up in the novel. I really tried my best to describe what listening to this song feels like. It connects the mother to the son in this odd way. The mother hears it on a commune from a white woman who apparently thinks she is black and only listens to heavy funk and black music. It unnerves the mother. There is a spookiness to it that is beyond mere sadness. I also think listening to guitar-heavy music in the middle of the woods can freak you out a little. I wrote this novel in an old farm house in central New York. Some of the music I am listing sounds downright ghostly, particularly “Maggot Brain.” It also features a famous long and gorgeous guitar solo by Eddie Hazel. The story is that George Clinton told Hazel to play as though his mother just died. And so he did.


4) “The Castle”
Love, from 
Da Capo

“Alone Again Or”
Love, from Forever Changes

The band Love figures prominently in the novel. In fact, Arthur Lee and Bryan MacLean actually appear in a crucial “lost” film a couple of times. Anyway, this is an actual hit song, a classic, but it is obscure none the less. Arthur Lee is the proto 60s black rock-n-roller, and he doesn’t seem to get his do. In any case, “Alone Again Or” was written by Bryan MacLean. It has these grand horns and kind of gentle acoustic guitar. It creates something specific in you as you listen. And if you get your hands on the first album (or DaCapo) on vinyl, you should hold it in your hands and stare at it while you listen. They had a singular style and presence.
5)“River Song”
“Hello, My Friend”

Dennis Wilson, from Pacific Ocean Blue

“Lady”
Dennis Wilson, from Bamboo (Or as a Beach Boys B-side, on the Sounds of Free single)

Here are three songs by Dennis Wilson. I also took the liberty of having Dennis Wilson make a cameo appearance in my book. His two solo albums are hard to find. They are the very essence of the California come-down of the mid seventies. Dennis Wilson was one of the saddest guys around, and he had a lot of drama and irony built into his short life. It is hard to resist. In my novel he puts Procol Harum on the jukebox and dances barefoot with a girl who is willing to buy him a drink. “Hello, My Friend” is about taking the long, slow, low road.
6) “If You See Her, Say Hello”
Bob Dylan, from Blood on the Tracks

“If You See Her, Say Hello” is here because he wrote a lot of songs about leaving your love (and the things you love) behind, and I may as well pick this one for the sorry days of 1975.
7) “Cabin Essence”
The Beach Boys, from SMiLE

Another one from the SMiLE bootleg—it is has that child-like Wilson radiance.
8) “Hot as Sun/Glasses/ Junk”
Paul McCartney, from McCartney

This is from Paul’s home-recorded low-fi album. It creates a real after-the-fall ambiance, but it isn’t about devastation like SHOOT OUT THE LIGHTS. It’s more about the melancholy of dislocation. I listened to this record all the time when I was working on EAT THE DCOUMENT. It is really low-key and very anti-pop. McCartney is a bit like Brian Wilson—people are familiar with their perfect pop songs and melodies, and they don’t get credit for some of the formal experiments that made them rebellious in their way. The segues and juxtapositions on this album are as interesting as the songs.
9) “The Bridge”
Neil Young, from Time Fades Away

Neil Young sort of belongs in my novel even though he isn’t there. I could pick any of a dozen Neil Young songs, but I thought I should pick an “unreleased” song. A ballad, because I’m not a rock anthem fan. I do love Young’s songs about lonely love—or being lonely inside your life—much more than the ones about the culture at large.
10) “I Shall Be Released”
Gram Parsons/ Flying Burrito Brothers, from Farther Along

Okay, we end with a snippet of a version of Dylan’s classic song sung by the wistful-voiced Gram when he was in the Flying Burrito Brothers. I picked this, although it isn’t in my book, because it is beautiful and incomplete (it breaks off half-way through), because we all can imagine what might have been—and we should try—and because we all shall be released, which is a consolation of a kind.

MOVIE CASTING

Mary/Louise: Mary describes herself as wispy, forgettable. It would be a trick to play someone 20 and the same actor play her as a 45 year old mom. Anne Hathaway did a pretty good job of it in Brokeback Mountain. I’m thinking Kiernan Shipka has the right vibe for a young Mary, but not sure about the older one.

Bobby:  Lenny Kravitz.

Jason:  Jack Kilmer maybe? Struggling with this one.

Henry:  Steve Buscemi

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

The Last Painting of Sara De Vos, by Dominic Smith✎✎✎✎

artists_palette

In 1957 New York, graduate student Ellie Shipley has been commissioned to paint an exact replica of the seventeenth century painting by Dutch artist Sara de Vos. “At the Edge of a Wood” has been in the de Groot family for three hundred years and Ellie is told the owner has supplied her with photographs for her work because he can’t bear to part with the original. Ellie is transfixed by the commission and willingly suspends her disbelief of the story in order to do the work.

She peeled back the antique canvas with diluted solvents, working in small circles, one inch at a time. She saved the old varnish as she stripped it off, squeezing the cotton swabs into a mason jar. To the naked canvas, she applied a thin coat of fresh ground but retained the surface signature of the original. Next, she sketched with pale chalk before dead coloring with raw umber used with black. The actual painting was slow and painstaking — a week on the woods, a week on the sky, two weeks on the frozen river and ice skaters. Each passage had its own technical puzzles. The bright yellows flecked into the scarves of the ice skaters were oddly textured and she eventually decided on mixing a little sand into chrome yellow. After the transparent glazes, she bleached the painting under an ultraviolet light for a week and cured it for a month in the furnace room below the basement stairs of her building. She worked a spiderweb of cracks into the canvas from behind, using a soft rubber ball. She used a spray gun to mist the picture with the antique varnish she’d set aside.

Author Smith builds the layers of his novel — The Last Painting of Sara de Vos — with an equivalent exacting detail; the story’s base occurs in Amsterdam in the spring of 1636 when impoverished artist Sara de Vos, the first female admitted to the prestigious artist’s Guild, paints At the Edge of a Wood. He applies the color of 1957 Manhattan and Ellie Shipley’s forgery of that painting. And finally, in the year 2000, Smith brings in the bleaching of age and spiderweb of cracks: there is to be a Women of the Dutch Golden Age retrospective featuring At the Edge of a Wood in Sydney, Australia, curated by Ellie Shipley. Unfortunately for Ellie, two different versions of the painting appear.

the-proposition

The Proposition by Judith Leyster, most famous Dutch baroque female painter

Smith writes that his precise prose is due, in part, to his collaboration with art experts. The level of artistic detail the author applies and describes so aptly allows readers to see the images. On http://www.dominicsmith.net/the_last_painting_of_sara_de_vos.php, Smith writes:

More than any other novel I’ve written, this book relied on the knowledget of experts. I was fortunate enough to collaborate with Stephen Gritt, the head of conservation at the National Gallery of Canada. It was Stephen who first turned me on to lead-tin yellow and its fascinating history. Frima Fox Hofrichter, the preeminent specialist on Dutch women painters of 17th century Holland, answered my never-ending questions by email and by phone. And, finally, the master forger who described his career in Caveat Emptor, Ken Perenyi, was kind enough to vet my fabrications.

de-vosSmith’s website also features an interactive image where you can see how to forge your own Dutch masterpiece. (Good luck with boiling that rabbit pelt, btw.)

He came to the subject matter of the novel during time spent in Amsterdam. “There are all these missing layers of the Dutch Golden Age that most people don’t know about. By some estimates, there were 50,000 painters at work in the 17th century in Holland, and of that number, there were about 25 women who were admitted to the Guild of St. Luke’s, the main painters’ guild. We only have a small handful of paintings that have survived from them, and so I got really interested in this idea of lost painters of the Golden Age.” http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/books/ct-prj-dominic-smith-last-painting-of-sara-de-vos-20160331-story.html 

My book club is reading The Last Painting of Sara de Vos this month (September 2016) and I’ve heard a few grumble that it is slow moving, or not quite enrapturing. Part of that may be by way of comparison to Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch — a novel to which Sara de Vos is often compared but not really akin to. The artistic detail of Sara de Vos is minute, and I liked that about this book. The art crime is almost secondary to the process. And even if “the art” is not your or your book club’s thing, there is plenty here to discuss. A love story, three distinct time periods, female outliers, ethical dilemmas. I do recommend The Last Painting of Sara de Vos for your book club.

This post marks the beginning of a symbol system for daeandwrite.com. On a scale of one to five ✎, I will award ✎✎✎✎✎ for my highest book club rating and ✎ for the lowest recommendation. Let me know, as always, if you agree or disagree!

MENU

In 1637, Sara describes a meal of mutton with prunes and mint, minced ox tongue with green apples. In 1957, Ellie and Marty share a meal of peanuts, red wine and Tom Collins at a jazz club in Manhattan and they share a lunch of sandwiches and chowder during a weekend trip to Vermont. In 2000, Ellie serves guests a trap of olives, Marcona almonds, Dutch gouda and water crackers. At the premiere of the exhibition, there is a table of “highly salted” canapés and champagne.

My menu would include

Gouda and water crackers

Mixed nuts

New England Clam Chowder

Stroopwaffels. These could be homemade (if you are ambitious, here’s a recipe: http://www.holland.com/global/tourism/holland-information/dutch-recipes/stroopwafels-1.htm) but I would buy those little wafer cookies, pizzelles, and fill them with caramel sauce. Voila! Stroopwaffles.

Dominic Smith was kind enough to answer my email asking him for some suggestions and forwarded to me a recipe for Dutch Apple Pie which looks delicious!

Historical Dutch Apple Pie (appelltaart) from author Dominic Smith

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 50 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Yield: 1 9 inch pie

A 17th century Dutch Apple Pie (appelltaart) recipe from author Dominic Smith, paired with his novel, THE LAST PAINTING OF SARA DE VOS.

Ingredients

For the Filling
    • 4 tablespoons raisins
    • Juice of 1 lemon
    • 2 1/4 pounds tart apples
    • 4 1/2 tablespoons superfine sugar
    • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
For the Dough
    • ¾ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing the pan
    • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
    • ¾ cup self-rising flour (the wordsmith in me finds it interesting that Australians and Europeans call this self-raising flour) (see note)
    • ¾ cup superfine sugar
    • Pinch of salt
    • ½ teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
    • 1 large egg
    • 1 tablespoon water
    • 1 tablespoon dried breadcrumbs
For the Glaze
  • ¼ cup good quality apricot jam
  • 2 tablespoon white rum (or water)
  • Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, for serving
  • Ground cinnamon, for sprinkling over the top

Instructions

  1. Prepare the filling: Soak raisins in a bowl with a cup of hot water. Let stand for 15 minutes
  2. Add the lemon juice to a large mixing bowl. Peel and core and chop apples, placing pieces into the lemon juice as you go. Stir occasionally. Drain raisins, squeeze out water gently, and stir into the apples. Mix in sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.
  3. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch spring-form pan. Preheat oven to 365°F.
  4. Prepare the dough: In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter on medium speed with a paddle attachment until softened and creamy, 1-2 minutes. Remove bowl from mixer.
  5. Sift flours into a large mixing bowl, and add sugar, salt, lemon peel, egg and water. Mix all ingredients with your hands; knead until it’s pliable dough. If it’s too dry, add a teaspoon of water. If it’s too sticky, add a touch of all-purpose flour. Cut a third of the dough and set it aside.
  6. Shape the remaining dough into a ball and place it in the middle of the spring-form pan.
  7. Press the dough over the bottom of the pan and up the sides, until two-thirds of the pan height is covered. Keep dough spread evenly. Sprinkle the base with the breadcrumbs. (They will soak up some moisture from the apples.) Stir the filling again and pour it into the pan, spreading evenly.
  8. Divide remaining dough into smaller pieces. Roll remaining dough into approximately ten thin strips and lay strips that will fit across the pan over the apples in a lattice pattern.
  9. Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 45-50 minutes, until the crust is golden brown.
  10. Prepare the glaze: Ten minutes before the pie is ready, place apricot jam and rum (or water) in a small saucepan. Heat the mixture over medium heat, until it comes to a boil and then immediately remove from the heat.
  11. When the apple pie is ready, remove from the oven and spread glaze immediately over top with brush. Allow to cool.
  12. Remove sides from pan and serve. Pie can be eaten warm or at room temperature. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, sprinkled with a little cinnamon.

Notes

Recipe adapted from My Little Expat Kitchen (http://mylittleexpatkitchen.blogspot.com/2011/11/dutch-apple-pie.html)

To make self-rising flour at home: Add 1-1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to 1 cup of all-purpose flour (use ¾ cup of this mixture for this recipe).

 

MUSIC

Charlie Parker – my original suggestion — glad to see it on author Dominic Smith’s playlist as well!

UPDATE 9/13/16: Dominic Smith was kind enough to answer an enquiring email from me and provided me with a link to a blogger named Largehearted Boy who solicits playlists from authors and then puts them together for readers. I’m going to get in touch with Largehearted boy! But for now, here’s Dominic’s playlist link: http://www.largeheartedboy.com/blog/archive/2016/04/book_notes_domi_1.html

In his own words, here’s Dominic’s explanation (again from Largehearted Boy)
At the center of my new novel, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, is a rare 17th-century Dutch landscape. We follow it through time, looking at the way it changes the course of three different lives, in three different centuries. We see the circumstances under which Sara de Vos paints it in 1630s Amsterdam, and the 1950s life of the wealthy Manhattan lawyer who inherits the painting, then has it stolen. We also witness half a century in the life of an Australian art historian who was paid to make a copy of the landscape in her twenties. Now, in 2000, in the prime of her illustrious career, both her forgery and the original show up for a Sydney exhibition she’s curating on Dutch woman painters of the Golden Age.

If there is a soundtrack to this novel, it contains three musical movements, from three different continents and time periods: European baroque music, 1950s American jazz, and Australian contemporary music. The first two are obviously iconic and brimming with classics. The last one is lesser known, perhaps, but there are some gems lurking there just the same.

ACT I: The Golden Age

Giovanni Pandolfi’s Sonata Op. 3, No. 1, La Stella

While the Dutch Golden Age sparked a deluge of prolific painters, the same can’t be said for classical composers. There aren’t really any Golden Age Dutch composers to rival the Germans or the Italians. Nonetheless, music was everywhere in 17th-century Holland—in taverns and music halls, and in the music rooms of the wealthy.

And we see musical themes in the paintings of artists like Vermeer, Rembrandt, Judith Leyster, and Jan Steen. What I like about the Italian composer Pandolfi is that he was largely lost for a few centuries before being rediscovered. This is exactly what happened to Judith Leyster, one of the first women painters to be admitted to a Guild of St. Luke.

Pinksterliedje – “Song of the Whitsun Flower”
While the wealthy might have been listening to a Pandolfi recital in a canal house, the poorer classes were more likely to be dancing and singing along to folk music in the taverns. Instead of the harpsichord, you were more likely to hear bagpipes, fiddles, the hurdy-gurdy and lots of clapping and foot stomping. Your average rabble-rouser knew dozens of songs and dances by rote.
PART II: The Sound of Jazz

Charlie Parker’s “Koko”
One of my main characters, Marty de Groot, is a jazz enthusiast who regularly goes out to a basement club in Manhattan of the 1950s. He recalls seeing Charlie Parker play in an earlier time and regrets that he abandoned the trumpet in high school, that he never explored his own musical potential. This tune is shifting and unpredictable, just like Marty de Groot’s life after he discovers that someone has swapped out the iconic landscape painting above his bed with a meticulous fake. Gary Giddins, who wrote a book celebrating Parker, said of this tune: “It’s like a ping-pong ball being blown by a fan in a very small room, where he changes the accents on every measure, on every phrase.” The same could be said for this period of Marty de Groot’s life.

John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”
Recorded in 1959 but released in 1960 on an album of the same name, this jazz tune feels like it ends one era and begins another. It’s a study in change and progression. By the end of the 1950s, two of my characters, Marty de Groot and Ellie Shipley, have burned certain bridges with the past but they’re also tied to it in a deep and abiding way. Jazz has always felt like that to me—something new emerges but it is inextricably tied to what’s come before.
PART III: The Antipodes

Paul Kelly’s “Before Too Long”
This is nominally a love song, but I’ve always found something unsettling in the lyrics: Before too long/He who is nothing/Will suddenly come into view. When Ellie Shipley’s past comes back to haunt her in Sydney in 2000—as the city embraces the world stage with the Olympics—it’s like a wrecking ball coming through the side of a house.

Hoodoo Gurus’ “What’s My Scene”
When I was in high school in Sydney during the late 1980s, this song hit the charts. There’s a line that perfectly evokes Ellie Shipley’s fundamental dilemma throughout her life—I’ve been caught in someone else’s scene (but that’s not me). She’s someone who’s never quite found where she fits in, whether in New York, London or Sydney. That restlessness and searching quality is a core part of her character. I also love the fact that this song has two different choruses—a stylistic flourish that Ellie would appreciate given her training as an artist and historian.

MOVIE CASTING

Ellie Shipley — Mia Wasikowska

Marty de Groot — Jeremy Renner

Sara de Vos — Famke Janssen

Happy Reading & Eating!

 

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Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen

lbd doll

The power of the little black dress. “Invented” by Coco Chanel, that close-to-perfection black dress hangs in every woman’s closet along with her best black heels and strand of pearls. In Jane Rosen’s novel Nine Women, One Dress the LBD is elevated to perfection: this one dress introduces true love, banishes gold diggers, inspires burkha’ed teenagers, hides a celebrity and does all but banish the Wicked Witch of the West.

I listened to Nine Women, One Dress on audio tape and candidly, must to admit not much liking it. Generally, I avoid featuring books on daeandwrite.wordpress.com that I dislike, but the reviews for Nine Women, One Dress are so over-the-top fabulous, I wanted to write about it and hope that some of my readers will tell me what I missed. Maybe it was the audio?

Seriously, here are some of the reviews: Rosen book

Rosen’s debut novel is rich in relationships, written with clarity and humor and surprise twists that bring the tale to a satisfying conclusion. A pure pleasure to read. https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/jane-l-rosen/nine-women-one-dress/

This is a fun book, tightly plotted and perfectly timed for the summer season. http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-385-54140-4 

Rosen deftly peels back the layers and reveals the lives that inhabit the skyscrapers, brownstones, the department stores, hotels, and parks. Most of the time, it’s not pretty out there, and when it appears perfect on the surface, there is always, always, a story worth tellinghttp://www.townandcountrymag.com/leisure/arts-and-culture/reviews/a6422/nine-women-one-dress-jane-rosen/

First-time author Jane Rosen is a screenwriter and Huffington Post contributor according to her bio. She’s represented by a big-time literary agent, Alexandra Machinist at ICM Partners. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: I’m just trying to crack the code.

dressesNine Women, One Dress is a series of monologues of lives sewn together (see how I did that?) by their connection to one little black dress. As in one piece of fabric dress; not the same style dress owned by nine different people. This is like the traveling pants or King Arthur’s Excalibur. BE IT PROCLAIMED: SHE WHO PULLS THIS DRESS FROM THE RACK SHALL FORTHWITH GO FORTH AND HAVE INTERESTING EXPERIENCES. Along those lines.

And here’s another thing: listening to Nine Women, One Dress was like a six hour Bloomingdale’s ad. Love Bloomies. Love dresses. Love LBDs. Love books. Just sayin — the dress at issue comes from Bloomingdale’s and returns to Bloomingdale’s and the sales woman at Bloomingdale’s falls in love and the other sales woman at Bloomingdale’s maneuvers a couple into falling in love and a young woman hides out at Bloomingdale’s to wear Bloomingdale’s clothes and try Bloomingdale’s products  and take photos of herself in front of Bloomingdale’s displays. And sew on.

And another thing: Nine Women, One Dress opens with a prologue monologue from the point of view of an Alabama beauty queen turned runway model. Here’s a taste:vogue

“Every year there’s one dress,” she explained. “The front row people out there they choose it. See ’em?” She pointed to where two cavernous curtains met. . . . “Come fall those front row people are gonna put that dress on the covers of magazines, on red carpets, and in store windows. And it’s usually little and black, like yours.”

Her voice near bout erased her beauty. She was like one of those silent film stars my grandma used to go on about who went bust the day the talkies came out. She sounded so foreign to me. I reckon if I spoke with my southern drawl she would feel the same way about me.

I’ll just leave that there.

Nine Women, One Dress reminded me of Being Audrey Hepburn by Mitchell Kriegman, another book about an iconic dress that didn’t read as well as the idea of the novel sounded.

Are you reading it? Have you? What did you think?

MENU

Classic New York because I don’t remember any or much food in the book.

Bagels are definitely mentioned.

New York-style pizza

Big pretzels with mustard

MUSIC

It would be easy to go all-Frank Sinatra. Or you could do a New York mix. Or — from fashionable Marie Claire magazine — a playlist of songs about fashion. http://www.marieclaire.com/fashion/a11730/best-songs-about-fashion/

So, I always look forward to having comments from readers but I’m particularly looking forward to hearing your thoughts about Nine Women, One Dress.

Happy Reading!

 

Slade House, by David Mitchell

creepy stairs

Slade House is David Mitchell’s follow-up to the very successful The Bone Clocks (also reviewed on daeandwrite). I read Slade House in conjunction with fellow blogger “Run Bob, Run” (http://bobparksjohnson.blogspot.com). Bob has guest-blogged here on daeandwrite before; this time, I envisioned a point – counterpoint kind of thing but we may agree too much for that. Following, you’ll find Bob’s commentary in bold, mine in normal font.

“People are masks, with masks under those masks, and masks under those, and down you go.”  vintage mask

 This little insight from Sally Timms, an overweight, under-loved co-ed unaffectionately known to her mean-girl classmates as “Oink-oink” is as good a summary as any for this haunting little novel from David Mitchell. Slade House is not what it appears to be but in Mitchell’s world, nothing is. There isn’t much a fan of supernatural horror won’t recognize. There’s an old dark house, exotically connected twins, a mysterious seductress, a mischievous younger brother, even a long winding staircase with ghostly portraits hanging on the walls. There’s an old family curse that recurs periodically of course, and an apocalyptic struggle between good and evil whose resolution is never really sewed up. Mitchell’s story did not strike me as particularly ground breaking.  The engine that keeps these 237 pages turning is not the plot, but the characters who drift into Slade House. (I would say “drift in and out,” but nobody ever drifts back out.) 

Mitchell is the author of Cloud Atlas as well as The Bone Clocks and was recognized by Time magazine in 2007 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. From the three works with which I am familiar, the author is drawn to mystical treatments of reincarnation, whether in the Hindu sense of rebirth or the Bram Stokerish vampirism. He’s a mean yarn spinner. And while Slade House may not be particularly ground-breaking, the addition of Mitchell’s extension of life theme raises the level of writing.

I was immediately drawn in by Nathan, the autistic child whose social-climbing Mum is trying to juggle her ambitions as a classical pianist with the challenges of single parenthood in the ruthlessly classist society of London in 1979. Mitchell lets us see the world as Nathan sees it. Our attention leaps from one distracting detail to another. A flight of magpies. A yapping dog. A dead cat in an alley. Mum struggles to teach her boy the rainbow spectrum of polite conversation when he can only perceive black and white, good and bad, lying and telling the truth. Nathan is a compelling rendering of a child with Aspergers, and his all too brief appearance made me wish the author had allowed me to linger a little longer with him.

It is through Nathan’s eyes, and description, that we first see Slade House and its environs.

Slade Alley’s the narrowest alley I’ve ever seen, It slices between tow houses, then vanishes left after thirty paces or so. I can imagine a tramp living there in a cardboard box, but not a lord and lady.

“No doubt there’ll be a proper entrance on the far side,” says Mum. “Slade House is only the Grayers’ town residence. Their proper home’s in Cambridge.”

If I had 50p for every time Mum’s told me that, I’d now have 3.50. It’s cold and clammy in the alley like White Scar Cave in the Yorkshire Dales. Dad took me when I was ten. I find a dead cat lying on the ground at the first corner. It’s gray like dust on the moon. I know it’s dead because it’s a still as a dropped bag, and because big flies are drinking from its eyes. . . . It goes straight into the Top Five of the Most Beautiful Things I’ve Ever Seen.

Nathan was probably my favorite of the narrators also.

Gordon Edmonds, on the other hand, is a recently divorced, slightly balding police inspector with a bad attitude, a racist streak, and a barely restrained libido that leads him straight into the  bed of a beautiful young widow whose motives are infinitely less pure than his own.

slade houseIt is through Inspector Edmonds’ eyes that we get to experience more of the sensual experience of Slade House. He is served some divine meals by his hostess, Chloe Chetwynd, before he himself becomes dinner.

Jonah and Norah Grayer are the heirs and residents of Slade House, and they entertain plenty of other visitors: the psychiatrist with a secret, the team of collegiate ghost hunters, the weird little old man with an unbelievable story to tell, and Maggs, the forbidding landlady behind the bar of the Fox and Hounds pub who warns the nosey reporter not to stir up ancient history. It all has the creepy familiarity of a Hammer Films production from the 1960’s. There are perfect roles for Christopher Lee or Barbara Steele. Vincent Price might be a stretch, but Diana Rigg would be perfect as the willowy villain who keeps the slightly rusty gears of the plot turning.  

What is it about twins that make a horror tale more horrific? These two — who must feed off the souls of an “Engifted” human once every nine years — are particularly revolting, self-involved, and co-dependent. In Norah’s words:

Now I think of it, the Cote d’Azur could be the right sanctuary for Jonah to spend a few weeks after nine static years in his wounded body. The Riviera has no lack of privileged hosts whose hair Jonah could let down, and I would enjoy the sunshine on a host’s skin after five days of this absurd English weather. A moon-gray cat appears at Bombadil’s feet, meowing for food. “You’re not as hungry as we are,” I assure it. The wind slams down Slade Alley, flurrying sleet and leaves in its roiling coil. I . . . think of sandstorms at the Sayyid’s house in the Atlas Mountains. How the twentieth century hurtled away.

I wasn’t crazy about Slade House, but I’m not prepared to call it a lousy book. It’s just a familiar and vaguely predictable ghost story with interesting characters and a cliff hanger of an ending that promises more of the same from a future volume. It might be a nice diversion for your October Book Club meetings.

I thought it was a quick, interesting character study read. Spooky yes. But more serious themes are there: what are we making of this life? What is the point of it? How would you use unlimited time? Given the medical breakthroughs on the horizon, all of these issues may become more pressing.

FOOD

The menu? Well, a roast beef appears at one point, and there is a mysterious herb called banjax that only the most impolite of hosts would place on the buffet. A generous plate of hash brownies plays an important role. And if it isn’t giving away too much, the specialty of the house involves the careful preparation and consumption of souls. I’m not sure how Martha Stewart would translate any of this into finger food.

HA!! My menu would be taken from a dinner Chloe Chetwynd serves Inspector Edmonds.

Roast beef with “red wine, rosemary, mint, nutmeg, cinnamon, soy.”

Roasted vegetables including parsnips, potatoes, carrots, cubes of pumpkin.

Rioja

Tiramisu

Picture shows TV Presenter Charlie Luxton

Picture shows TV Presenter Charlie Luxton

Given the setting and tone of the novel I suggest consulting Gordon Ramsay’s recipe box. A nice Beef Wellington seems like an appropriately costumed entree, with honey glazed parsnips and carrots on the side for a come-hither touch of earthiness. There needs to be lots of booze, of course, Slade House is not the place to stay sober. Dry Sherry before, Burgundy during, a nice port after. A slightly cloying and  intriguingly complex trifle would finish off the meal perfectly. In the den, with candles burning around the cracking fireplace, Moroccan coffee with a wittily ironic drop of Fra Angelico to intrigue the weary tastebuds and arouse the curious guests. 

MUSIC

Music? Anything with a theremin. Or if you want to go Longhair, slip Mussorgsky onto the phonograph. Pictures at an Exhibition might seem a bit grand by the light of day, but once your guests have enough beef and liquor in them, they’ll fall right into your trap.

Also mentioned in Slade House: Philip Glass’ soundtrack for The Truman Show, “Novocaine for the Soul” by Eels, “Caught by the Fuzz” by Supergrass, “Hyperballad” by Bjork, “Safe from Harm” by Massive Attack. The films Rocky Horror Picture Show and The Exorcist make brief appearances and their scores would add the perfect creepy touch as well.

Thanks to Bob for reading and writing along with me!

Happy reading!

 

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Reading for the Dog Days of Summer

good housekeeping

It’s hot. Hot hot hot everywhere. Too hot to do anything but sit by a pool with your favorite canine companion and read a book. Might as well read about a dog! or two!

Some of my favorite novels star dogs. And speaking of star dogs:

dog starsThe Dog Stars, by Peter Heller haunts me to this day. It’s not actually about a dog, but about a post-apocalyptic world where most everyone has died of an influenza.  It’s gorgeously written, stirring, and truly deeply madly sad.

daeandwrite featured The Dog Stars in September, 2014. Here’s the link for a menu and music and more information: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/09/04/the-dog-stars-by-peter-heller/

The Tale of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski, is another absolutely heartbreakingly edgar sawtelle coverbeautiful book of prose. Edgar Sawtelle is a child born mute; Almondine is his constant companion, interpreter, guide. She’s the best friend everyone wants. I love this book, though it is again, very very sad.

In the dog days of August, 2015, daeandwrite featured The Tale of Edgar Sawtelle, with menu, music and a movie cast: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/a-dogs-tail-the-story-of-edgar-sawtelle-by-david-wroblewski/

art of racing.jpgThe Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein. Oh wow. The dog is the narrator. And what a narrative voice. Brilliant, this book is. Enzo, the dog, is coach, grief counselor, and above all, extra human.

Since March of 2014, when daeandwrite first posted a review of The Art of Racing in the Rain, noting that Patrick Dempsey had signed on to play the human race car driver in Enzo’s life, Disney has bought the rights to make the movie and Dempsey is no longer involved according to the Hollywood Reporter: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/disney-picks-up-canine-best-858374. Here’s my original post, with menu and music choices for your book club: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/03/24/vacation-my-dogs-life/

book_cover_website_photo_0

A Dog’s Purpose, by Bruce Cameron, is another weeper. They all are! Yikes and yet I love
them all! Again narrated from the dog’s point of view, A Dog’s Purpose features one special dog whose soul mate is his human. One of my book club’s favorite reads ever.

An update to my original post regarding the movie — it’s expected out in 2017 with Bradley Cooper voicing the dog and Lasse Hallstrom directing. Here’s the original post: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2015/02/18/a-dogs-purpose-is-apparently-to-make-me-cry/

A few other ideas, books I haven’t reviewed but fit our theme:

Marley & Me, John Grogan (If there is anyone on planet Earth who hasn’t read it yet)

Cujo, Stephen King

The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Happy Reading & Stay Cool!  IMG_0115