Circling the Sun, by Paula McLain

The Sky Pilot

Beryl Markham’s extraordinary life in Africa at the outset of the twentieth century is the focus of Paula McLain’s novel Circling the Sun. When your subject is as fascinating as Markham —  a life full of adventure, achievement, challenge, tragedy, and romance — it would be difficult to write a novel that failed. And McLain has not. Circling the Sun is a great read.

Told in Markham’s voice, Circling the Sun begins with a prologue dated September 4, 1936, on the eve of her record-setting solo flight from England to North America. She was the first woman to fly the Atlantic east to west in a solo non-stop flight and and the first person to fly east to west from England to North America non-stop.

The Vega Gull is peacock blue with silver wings, more splendid than any bird I’ve known, and somehow mine to fly. She’s call The Messenger, and has been designed and built with great care and skill to do what should be impossible — cross an ocean in one brave launch, thirty-six hundred miles of black chop and nothingness — and to take me with her.

It’s quite a trick for McLain to choose and so successfully chronicle Markham’s life, in first-person no less. I say this because Markham herself was the author of a classic memoir West With The Night which essentially treads the same ground. I read West With the Night several years ago and remember it for her descriptions of the world below from the vantage point of her cockpit.

Beryl-markham-west-with-the-night-coverLike night, the desert is boundless, comfortless and infinite. Like night, it intrigues the mind and leads it to futility. When you have flown halfway across a desert, you experience the desperation of a sleepless man waiting for dawn which only comes when the importance of it’s coming is lost. You fly forever, weary with an invariable scene, and when you are at last released from its monotony, you remember nothing of it because there was nothing there.

From West With the Night

According to my memory, McLain might dwell a bit more on the romantic entanglements, multiple marriages and love triangle involving Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen who we know better as Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in Out of Africa. In McClain’s novel, Hatton was Markham’s one true love. In Out of Africa, Hatton was Blixen’s one true love. In real life, Robert Redford is . . . oh, never mind. Redford

Paula McLain wrote the wildly-successful book club choice The Paris Wife, about Ernest Hemingway’s first wife Hadley. On McLain’s website, she details how she came to choose to write Circling The Sun and what is different about her novel from Markham’s own book.

The flying stuff is wildly fun to read about in West With the Night, but in the end, I found myself most interested in how she became herself, that daring woman ready to tackle danger and adventure. And then there was the utter mystery of her inner life. In West With the Night, Beryl takes great pains to avoid anything too personal. She never mentions the mother who abandoned her, for instance, or so much as intimates that her father betrayed and disappointed her. She was married three times but doesn’t name a single husband, or speak of her son, Gervase, who she didn’t raise. Karen Blixen never appears, and Finch Hatton is only gently held up as a figure Beryl admires after his death. It was the draw of her enigma, then, of wanting to illuminate the parts of her life she herself avoids that had me fascinated and most activated my imagination. http://paulamclain.com/books/circling-the-sun/a-conversation-with-paula-mclain/

Circling the Sun is full of the scandal of Beryl Markham’s life, the thrill of being an English settler in a wild and exotic country, the challenges of being an adventurous woman at a time when women were not supposed to be. I enjoyed it and found lots of potential book club discussion points. I think you would enjoy it too.

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Dinner at Karen Blixen’s house included lightly breaded chicken in cream sauce, roasted vegetables with herbs, corn pudding studded with mushrooms and thyme, ripe cheese, and oranges.

A honeymoon dinner in Paris included escargot, choucroute garnie with springs of fresh rosemary. In Rome, spaghetti with mussels and black squid ink.

Karen’s dinner for visiting British royalty featured ham poached in champagne with tiny jewel-like strawberries and tart, plump pomegranate seeds, a mushroom croustade with truffles and cream. A dessert of browned rum baba.

And every encounter and meal included champagne.

MUSIC

There are dances at the Muthaiga Club for the white settlers and Kikuyu ngoma with drum music falling “in great and rippling crescendos, while male and female dancers flung themselves rhythmically.”

The soundtrack from Out of Africa includes everything from Mozart and Wagner to the Missouri waltz. It would be a good start.

However, the Kenyan music I searched for is really fun and bright and upbeat and would provide a soundtrack so great you might find your book club dancing instead of talking. The following site has links for good Kenyan music:

http://worldmusic.about.com/od/venues/tp/KenyaMusicPlaylist.htm?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=shareurlbuttons via @aboutdotcom

MOVIE

MarkhamBeryl Markham — Tilda Swinton  tilda swinton

 

 

 

denys-finch-hatton-01Denys Finch Hatton — Tom Hiddleston  tom-hiddleston

 

 

 

Happy Reading!

P.S. It made my day to receive a kind note from author Paula McLain about the post on Facebook. I thought I’d share it with you: “How fun is this, Pamela?! Wow. Thanks for featuring the book!!”

If you enjoy reading daeandwrite.wordpress.com, please become a follower and share it with your friends!

 

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The Gap of Time, Jeanette Winterson

gap of time

The Hogarth Press, founded in 1917 by no less than Virginia and Leonard Woolf, announced an audacious plan in 2015: to rewrite the works of Shakespeare as novels “retold by acclaimed and bestselling novelists of today.” The Gap of Time, a rewrite of The Winter’s Tale, is the first of these retellings, published in the fall of 2015.

As regular readers of daeandwrite.wordpress.com know, there is also an on-going project to rewrite the works of Jane Austen. Here’s a link to my review of Curtis Sittenfeld’s rewrite of Pride And Prejudice Eligible:  https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2016/07/17/eligible-by-curtis-sittenfeld/.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the two cover versions that I’ve read. Hogarth has published three Shakespeare-inspired novels so far and revealed eight authors and the plays they chose to interpret. http://crownpublishing.com/hogarth-shakespeare/ I’m quite looking forward to Gillian Flynn’s Hamlet, and I’m listening to Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl, a rewrite of Taming of the Shrew, right now, so keep an eye out for that blog post in the near future.

bearThe Winter’s Tale, written near the end of Shakespeare’s life, is most well-known for a stage direction. In Act 3, Scene 3, which takes place in “Bohemia. A desert country near the sea,” character Antigonus is directed to exit, “pursued by bear.” It is irrelevant that no bears have been mentioned prior to this direction. Perhaps it is one of Shakespeare’s jokes on the future. How to get a bear on stage? How to teach it to pursue Antigonus? Why does it matter?

In any event, Winterson introduces no bears in The Gap of Time. Within the text of the novel, she explains her choice to rewrite The Winter’s Tale, not the best-known, best-loved, or most-understood of the Bard’s works.

I wrote this cover version because the play has been a private text for me for more than thirty years. By that I mean part of the written word(l)d I can’t live without; without, not in the sense of lack, but in the old sense of living outside of something.

It’s a play about a foundling. And I am. It’s a play about forgiveness and a world of possible futures — and about how forgiveness and the future are tied together in both directions. Time is reversible.

The Gap of Time’s plot is so complex I’m not sure it’s worth it to even summarize. Suffice it to say, there’s a man and a woman who have a child and the child is lost and adopted by another family and then grown, the child returns. But it’s not a book about a plot. Winterson’s novel is about ideas and time and regret.Rockwell clock

Sometimes it doesn’t matter that there was any time before this time. Sometimes it doesn’t matter that it’s night or day or now or then. Somewhere where you are is enough. It’s not that time stops or that it hasn’t started. This is time. You are here. This caught moment opening into a lifetime.

The Gap of Time tells a classic story in an innovative way, slicing narratives, transforming locations, infusing characters. Violent, bold, imaginative, wistful — yes. Though The Winter’s Tale is sometimes called a romance and sometimes a comedy, The Gap of Time‘s humor seemed to me minimal and the “happy ending” suspect. This is not to say I didn’t like it or enjoy it, I did. It is a meaty book — some of the scenes have stayed with me for several weeks. I can recommend it for you or your book club with only a cautionary reservation that the language could prove off-putting for some readers.

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Perdita’s family lives by the sea and her brother Clo has made her shrimp chowder when Perdita returns home one night.

Shrimp Chowder

  • 2 tablespoons butter or margarine
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 (10 3/4-ounce) cans cream of potato soup, undiluted
  • 3 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds medium-size fresh shrimp, peeled*
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • Garnish: chopped fresh parsley
  • Oyster crackers (optional)

Preparation

Melt butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat; add onion, and sauté 8 minutes or until tender. Stir in cream of potato soup, milk, and pepper; bring to a boil. Add shrimp; reduce heat, and simmer, stirring often, 5 minutes or just until shrimp turn pink. Stir in cheese until melted. Garnish, if desired. Serve immediately. Serve with oyster crackers, if desired.

*1 1/2 pounds frozen shrimp, thawed; 1 1/2 pounds peeled crawfish tails; or 3 cups chopped cooked chicken may be substituted.

I would serve this with a nice, simple green salad, good bread and dessert. There’s a scene in the book with a pot of scalded milk and I looked for a dessert recipe to bring in this plot point and found this recipe from tasteofhome.com for Hot Milk Cake.

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2-1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/4 cups 2% milk
  • 10 tablespoons butter, cubed

Directions

  • 1. In a large bowl, beat eggs on high speed for 5 minutes or until thick and lemon-colored. Gradually add sugar, beating until mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla. Combine flour and baking powder; gradually add to batter; beat at low speed until smooth. 
  • 2. In a small saucepan, heat milk and butter just until butter is melted. Gradually add to batter; beat just until combined. 
  • 3. Pour into a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking pan. Bake at 350° for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.Yield: 12-16 servings.

MUSIC

Although The Gap of Time’s characters Mimi and Perdita are singers, I couldn’t fathom what time of music they might sing. I would set my Spotify to play Bohemian music. I have no idea what would come up: gypsy folk music? Pete Seeger? La Boheme? In any event, whatever it was there would be an underlying echo of it in The Gap of Time.

Happy Reading!

Eligible!, by Curtis Sittenfeld

engagement eligible

Gentle reader, imagine my delighted surprise. I was driving along, returning to my home from an out of town visit and listening to a book on tape, (Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld) when the narrator mentioned Doodles restaurant in Lexington, Kentucky. A place of business less than a stone’s throw from my own back door. If only I could have stopped the narrative, run from the car, and found female readers’  own favorite protagonist — Lizzie Bennet — having lunch as described! The questions I would ask her! The advice I would offer! The friendship we would develop!

Alas, as all inBenethomcarnations of Elizabeth Bennet inevitably are, this one too was fictional. But what a great fiction. In Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld has written a Lizzie Bennet for the modern American woman. This Liz lives in New York and writes for “Mascara” magazine but hails from an upper middle-class family living in a deteriorating Tudor in Cincinnati’s tony Hyde Park neighborhood. Her mother is an annoying shop-aholic with a penchant for seeing all five of her girls married well; Mr. Bennet is a dry, history buff, who has recently suffered a health scare bringing Liz and her older sister (nearly 40) Jane home from New York where sisters Mary, Lydia and Kitty greet their two older siblings with something less than unadulterated enthusiasm.

Lydia and Kitty as obsessed with their paleo diets and CrossFit, Mary is working on her third post-grad degree on-line and refuses to leave her room, beautiful Jane is a yoga instructor who has grown tired of waiting for the right man and decides to try artificial insemination. And Lizzie — our Lizzie! — is having an affair with a married man. NO, NO, NO: say it ain’t so. But it is: one Jasper Wick.

During their summer in Cincinnati to help care for Papa Bennet, all of the girls are invited to a Fourth of July barbecue where they meet: Chip Bingley, E.R. doc and recent contestant on reality romance show (a la The Bachelor) “Eligible;” Chip’s sister Caroline Bingley, his agent and a miserable, albeit attractive, snob from the moment we meet her; and — wait for it — ahhhhhhh! Yes! YES! YESSSS! Dr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, handsome, eligible, cross-training, Skyline Chili-loving, Cincinnati-hating, Liz Bennet-insulting millionaire –our hero! Fitzwilliam Darcy.

firth_2696575b Matthew Sam-Riley-as-Mr-Darcy-in-Pride-and-Prejudice-and-Zombies Olivier

In fact, all of our favorites are present in Eligible, just adapted (sometimes only slightly) for the present day.

YOUR MOTHER HAS shared a tragic piece of news about Cousin Willie with me,” Mr. Bennet said when the family was assembled for dinner. “He’s coming to visit.”

“Really, Fred,” Mrs. Bennet said, and Jane said, “Dad, that’s an awful way to set us up.”

Mr. Bennet smiled as if he’d been doubly complimented. “As you all know, my sister is flying out next week, to check if I still have a pulse and, in the event that I don’t, to take possession of our mother’s silver. For reasons that elude me, her stepson has decided to accompany her.” Liz swallowed a spoonful of the gazpacho Jane had prepared and said, “I know you all find this hard to believe, but Cousin Willie is kind of a big deal.”

“And if I were an insomniac,” Mr. Bennet replied, “I’d like nothing better than to hear him explain why.”

“Maybe he can tell us why the Internet in this house is so slow,” Kitty said.

“Or teach Mom to use her cellphone,” Lydia suggested.

“His start-ups have made millions of dollars,” Liz said, and Mr. Bennet said, “Yet he doesn’t know how to put on a pair of trousers.”

“That was 1986,” Jane said.

With each new chapter, I was delighted again by how true Sittenfeld’s Eligible is to the character and detail of each element of Pride & Prejudice while updating the story to our time. Of course Liz would be a journalist. Of course, Kitty and Lydia would be obsessed with Cross-Fit and paleo. Of course, Chip Bingley would be the eligible bachelor choosing among vying beauties on a reality television show.

Setting the Bennets in nearby Cincinnati was a charming bonus. Even the day trip to Berea that included a stop in Lexington. Darcy hails from California and hasn’t seen his Stanford classmate Jasper Wick until he bumps into him at Skyline with Liz in Cincinnati. Jane retreats to upstate New York for a while during a bit of confusion with Bingley. Caroline Bingley wants to be a television star herself.

In the audible book version, the reader gave an inexplicable Valley Girl accent to Liz, which really annoyed me. A midwestern accent does not sound like a Valley Girl. And I wondered why Sittenfeld chose to end the novel where she did with a chapter about Mary that reads almost like a separate story than a conclusion to Eligible. I’ve reached out to the author via twitter and hope I can provide a supplement that answers that question, and perhaps more.

I give Eligible my highest recommendation. I’m actually choosing it for my turn to host book club next month. It’s the perfect, fun summer read. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

MENU

There are lots of mentions of food in Eligible, everything from Skyline chili to macrobiotic gazpacho. However, my menu will include appetizers from a wedding reception and the menu Darcy served to his guests at Pemberley.

Bruschetta with goat cheese & sundried tomatoes spread

Stuffed mushrooms

Grilled zucchini, portobello mushrooms. Brush with good olive oil, salt and pepper and grill.

Grilled steak

Hazelnut Torte, recipe from Epicurious. http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/chocolate-hazelnut-torte-10876

MUSIC

Though Liz runs with earbuds, Sittenfeld doesn’t list much, if any that I can recall, music. Here’s my playlist:

For Jane, some Enya.

For Darcy, Taylor Swift‘s State of Grace is rumored to be about him. And Carly Simon‘s You’re So Vain, not for Darcy, but quite appropriate.

For Chip Bingley, Isn’t It Romantic. I like Chet Baker’s version.

For Caroline Bingley, Bitch by Meredith Brock.

For Lydia, anything you’d hear in Cross-fit, but I’m putting Blackeyed PeasMove It” on mine.

For Mary, Eric Carmen‘s “All By Myself.”

Bruno Mars, “Marry You.”

Colbie Caillat, “Bubbly.”

Delbert McClinton‘s Two More Bottles of Wine — in celebration of Liz’s appearance on Eligible.

MOVIE CASTINGsittenfeld_eligible3.jpg

Jane: Diane Kruger

Elizabeth: Natalie Portman? Katherine McPhee? My first pick for a modern actress to play Liz would be Emma Stone but she’s too young for this Liz.

Mary: Zooey Deschanel

Lydia: Sarah Hyland

Kitty: Ashley Benson

Chip: Chris Evans

Darcy: (OK, you know I have to do it) Ryan Gosling

Happy Reading!

If you enjoy daeandwrite.wordpress.com, please share it with a friend! You may also follow me on twitter @daeandwrite.

UPDATE: 9-8-17: Apparently ABC is investing in Eligible! and turning it into a “soapy drama series.” (Perhaps Deadline Hollywood hasn’t read Curtis Sittenfeld’s original work, full of humor.) Anyway, I’ve proposed a cast . . . let’s see if ABC takes my advice.

Want some more information about Pride and Prejudice? http://www.pemberley.com/janeinfo/pridprej.html

http://www.bookdrum.com/books/pride-and-prejudice/9780141439518/index.html

 

The Girls, by Emma Cline

hippie girl

In one week, I read from one side of the Sixties, to the other; from the East Coast to the West; from the top 1% to near the bottom. Both reads feature a group of women and a charismatic man.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue, by Melanie Benjamin, explores the New York of Truman Capote and his coterie of ultra, well-heeled women friends. https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2016/07/09/the-swans-of-fifth-avenue-by-melanie-benjamin/

The next book I picked up was another of the summer’s barn-burners: The Girls, by Emma Cline. Evie Boyd is a 14-year-old Californian, somewhat adrift due to her unhinged mother’s attempts at rediscovery and dating and her father’s departure for a young girlfriend. On her own, Evie spots a threesome of girls — dirty, beautiful, alluring — and soon finds herself accompanying them to “the ranch,” the place where the girls live, devoting themselves as acolytes to demi-god Russell.

The Girls reimagines the Charles Manson tribe, the Tate-LaBiance murders, and Manson himself, setting the scene in Northern California. A Beach Boy-like musician, Mitch Lewis, first encourages, then extinguishes Russell’s dreams of stardom. The girls sexually service Russell and anyone he gives them to for use. They steal for him, clean for him, starve for him.

Charles-mansonbookingphoto

How often I replayed this moment again and again, until it gained a meaningful pitch: when Suzanne nudged me so I first knew the man walking toward the fire was Russell. My first thought was shock — he’d looked young as he approached, but then I saw he was at least a decade older than Suzanne. Maybe even as old as my mother. Dressed in dirty Wranglers and a buckskin shirt, though his feet were bare — how strange that was, how they all walked barefoot through the weeds and dog shit as if nothing were there. A girl got to her knees beside him, touching his leg.

Evie is used by Russell, but more she becomes enamored in a breathless, devoted, do-anything-for-you way with Suzanne, one of Russell’s girls. Evie can’t stay away from Suzanne and Suzanne can’t stay away from Russell. Cline uses an adult Evie forced by young visitors who know of her infamy to tell and reflect on young Evie’s journey through the ranch.

I’ve always avoided Manson-alia. I haven’t read or seen Helter Skelter. I missed the original press coverage and trial. Reading The Girls did not make me regret that earlier decision. But, at least according to the New York Times’ review of The Girls, that though the stories are similar, there are elements omitted, and for that I am sure I am grateful.

But Cline withholds the truly vicious Manson who kept his followers paranoid, awaited a race war, sodomized a 13-year-old girl in front of the others, beat some girls and used others for knife-throwing games and ­traded their bodies like currency. This keeps Evie sympathetic. If she doesn’t glimpse pure evil, can she be blamed for signing on? It’s also conceivable that Cline flinched, for in not pushing Evie to the edge, she eludes a harrowing, possibly profound exploration of her soul.

What results is a historical novel that goes halfway down the rabbit hole and exquisitely reports back. Then it pulls out, eschewing the terrifying, fascinating human murk.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/05/books/review/the-girls-by-emma-cline.html?_r=0

The Girls is also the second book I’ve read recently where food becomes a clear economic mandarinsymbol. Evie’s mother cooks meatballs and Chinese spare ribs and McCalls’ mandarin orange dessert. Russell’s girls dumpster-dive for old chicken, frozen cake, brown vegetables. Evie’s unexpected guests bring a store-bought frozen pizza, the good kind — “expensive.” Though Russell is referenced singing his songs and playing his guitar, badly, there’s no particular music invoked. I pictured it as sort of Bob Dylan meets John Denver.

I can’t unreservedly recommend The Girls. It has been highly praised by The New York Times among others. My hesitation comes in two forms: one, I was just flat uncomfortable reading this. Two, I don’t know. How hard it is to be creative when the whole plot is laid out for you? Maybe I’m not being fair, but Cline seems a bit opportunistic to me. Either write a history or write a novel and change things up a little bit more.

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This is a tough one. First of all, the whole book sort of takes away your appetite. They were drinking, drugging throughout, definitely at the ranch, but even adult Evie was smoking pot with her unexpected guests. It’s not the kind of book you can plan a fun menu around. I would serve anything but chicken! Maybe pizza, maybe spare ribs, maybe cocktail meatballs. Definitely steer away from any of the ranch food.

MUSIC

A little Beach Boys, a little Jefferson Airplane, the Beatles’ Helter Skelter.

Happy Reading!the girls

 

 

The Swans of Fifth Avenue, by Melanie Benjamin

louis-icart-leda-and-the-swan-prints-and-multiples-etching-engraving-aquatint

Leda and the Swan, Louis Icart

How glorious it must have been. Debuting designer gowns. Two standing appointments each week with New York’s most sought-after hair stylist. Two, three, four homes, fully-staffed. A private plane — or yacht — or both. In Melanie Benjamin’s The Swans of Fifth Avenue, the lives of the rich and famous (and infamous) in New York’s City Golden Fifties and Sixties swim to magnificent, and at first, enviable life.

Author Truman Capote brings the swans together prior to attaining his own literary fame. He is a young man about town, with golden hair, a unique accent, and a way of looking at life completely new to his lady friends. And what friends. Chief among them:

35-barbara-babe-cushing-mortimer-paley-theredlist

Paley

Babe Paley, wife of CBS Chairman William S. Paley. A great beauty, fashion model, and Mr. Blackwell’s lifetime achievement award winner.*

Slim_Keith

Keith

 

Slim Hawks Hayward Keith, the original California girl; wife of Howard Hawks and inspiration for Lauren Bacall.*

Gloria Guinness, “La Guinness,” born in Guadalajara, La Guinness used marriage to make her way up to contributing editor of Harper’s Bazaar, wealth and the best dressed list. * gloria-guinness-avedon

Pamela Rutherford Churchill Hayward Harriman, of most recent note, funpam harrimandraiser extraordinaire for the Democratic party, stealer of Slim Hayward’s husband, mistress to the rich and famous.

Enter Truman Capote.

Slim’s hands shook as she spilled a packet of menthols all over her plate. . . . “I’d like to know who the hell it was who befriended that little midget in the first place.”

“It wasn’t I,” Pamela insisted. “I never did like the bugger.”

“Oh, no, it wasn’t me — I warned you about him, didn’t I?” Gloria asked rhetorically, those Latin eyes flashing so dangerously, it was a good thing there were only butter knives on the table.

“I don’t believe it was me,” Marella murmured. “No, no, it was not.”

“It sure as hell wasn’t me.” Slim spat it out. “And if he’s not convicted for murder, I’m going to sue him for libel, at the very least.”

The Swans of Fifth Avenue begins and ends with La Cote Basque, 1965, a scandalous story Capote published in Esquire magazine, after Breakfast at Tiffany’s, after In Cold Blood. The middle of the novel circles through Capote’s complex relationships with these fabulously wealthy and beautiful women: the symbiotic relationship he had with many, and the parasitic turns it took. Along the way, the reader is treated to delightful descriptions that read like Page 6 from 1965. I kept putting the book down to look up photos of the characters and was never disappointed.

We even get to attend Capote’s legendary black and white ball in November of 1966, the swans-fifth-avenue-225-shadowparty to end all parties.

. . . This was a palace, and the ballroom was fit for a fairy tale, with crystal chandeliers, masses of flowers, parquet dance floor, and gilded mirrors on the wall. There was a small orchestra — Truman had whispered “Its Peter Duchin!” earlier . . .

And everywhere you looked, there was somebody famous! Lauren Bacall! Joan Fontaine, so big on the movie screen but so tiny in person! Margaret Truman and Alice Roosevelt Longfellow and Lynda Bird Johnson, swapping confidences about what it was like to live in the White House!

Of course there were so many Vanderbilts and Astors and Whitneys that the Deweys simply couldn’t keep them straight, so they didn’t try.

black and white ball

Glorious, divinely glorious, and oh, so fun to read. My book club read it this month. Reading the Swans of Fifth Avenue sounds more sophisticated than, but has the same impact, as rummaging through your neighbor’s dirty laundry. Read it. You’ll like it.

MENU

So, of course these women don’t eat. They smoke stacks and stacks of cigarettes and drink Cristal. But William S. Paley eats and Babe does her durndest to make sure he enjoys it. “Lamb chops — so tender you can eat them with a spoon! — and these adorable baby vegetables I found in the city, and brought out with me today in a little wicker basket. And potatoes, new and succulent, with butter and rosemary picked fresh just an hour ago.”

Even after that divine dinner, Paley is hungry and makes himself a footlong salami sandwich on rye.

I myself love those little baby vegetables. I boil water, stick them in there for about 2-3 minutes, just until a wee bit tender when pierced with a fork, then empty the pan and plunge the vegetables into ice water. It retains the color and flavor.

For the baby potatoes, I would roast them whole on 450 with salt and pepper and olive oil (not butter), turning them occasionally to make sure the outside gets nice and browned. When they are done, put a handful of fresh, chopped rosemary into a bowl and add the potatoes and mix gently.

Lamb chops — you’re on your own.

MUSIC

Frank Sinatra, baby. Frankie attended the Black and White Ball with his new bride Mia Farrow. Sinatra at the Sands was recorded live at the Sands Hotel (Vegas) in 1966, the year of the ball and has a lot of the classics you’ll want to hear.

I also found a Peter Duchin album on iTunes called Windmills of Your Mind with some 1960s classics as well.

Cygnus_atratus_%22Mulgo%22

 

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

*Paley and Guinness portraits by Richard Avedon.

 

Night Garden, by Carrie Mullins

night garden

Oxycontin, methamphetamine, teen pregnancy, predatory teachers, economic upheaval, poverty. The headlines of tragedy we’ve become far too accustomed to reading. Carrie Mullins tackles them all in her first novel, Night Garden, a literary cry for help for Kentucky’s small towns and their residents being ravaged by drugs.

Marie, Night Garden‘s protagonist, is a high schooler whose brother Shane has been involved with a teacher at the school since he was a sophomore. Shane’s leaving and Marie dreads being at home alone with her middle class parents. The night before Shane’s departure, the two attend a party.

Shane disappeared into the woods up above the fire, left with one of the Owens boys to get high. As soon as he was out of sight, Ms. Anglin put a champ chair beside Marie. She got a beer and some ice out of the cooler then sat down and showed Marie her finger. “So what’s going on with him?” she asked, holding the ice on her finger. “Does he have a girlfriend?”

“I thought you were his girlfriend,” Marie said.

. . .

“I know he’s screwing that Miller girl. Oh God, I love him.” Marie looked down at her hands in her lap, down at the ground, looked at anything except her journalism teacher. “I’m only six years older than him. That’s nothing. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a drip in the bucket.”

You’re a drip, Marie thought.

In Night Garden, ultimately, Marie has had enough and escapes her safe, middle class life to live with Bobo Owens, an exotic, attractive, charmer with a dream of owning his own kayaking business by saving from the proceeds of his family’s meth trafficking and bootlegging. Bobo and Marie set up house and soon, far too soon, Marie finds herself pregnant and Bobo a changed man: paranoid, emaciated, unfaithful, violent, and unsupportive.

According to the cover of Night Garden, author Carrie Mullins grew up and continues to live

Gurney-Norman-Photo-by-Tim-Collins-e1360956757688

Gurney Norman by Tim Collins

in Mt. Vernon, Kentucky. Night Garden is the first novel published by Old Cove Press, a literary publisher based in Lexington, Kentucky, and founded by noted author Gurney Norman and his wife Nyoka Hawkins. http://oldcove.comGurney Norman has been a member of the University of Kentucky Department of English since 1979 and currently serves as the department’s Director of Creative Writing. His first novel Divine Right’s Trip (1971) was published by The Dial Press, Bantam Books, and Pantheon Books of England.

Nyoka was kind enough to help me connect with Carrie for some q&a, food and music talk . . . and of course a recipe or two

Daeandwrite: The food in the Night Garden illustrates the socio-economic divergence between Marie’s family and Bobo’s. Was this a conscious decision?

Carrie: There are definite class and status issues in the book, and food is one way that plays out. The food was also a modern vs. old time divergence that I was thinking about. The food Marie makes for her parents early on – biscuits, sausage, eggs, fruit and coffee – that is kind of old school, and it takes time to make all that, especially the way Marie was making it (biscuits from scratch, she was not even using Bisquick). And then when she takes up with Bobo, it is mostly all convenience food, like we all eat now, pizza and cereal and honeybuns and all that, stuff that is easy to make and easy to eat but not necessarily very good food. With the exceptions of Marie making a cake from a box for Etta’s party, Etta’s actual party where they are working in the kitchen making potato salad and lunch for everyone, and being at Crystal’s house when she makes the casserole, there really isn’t any food that is “made” in their world.

Daeandwrite: Marie bakes a chocolate cake from a mix for Etta’s birthday but yearns for her own grandmother’s version. Do you have a particular memory of a chocolate cake that inspired Marie’s memory? Do you have a recipe you could share?

hershey'sCarrie: My grandma Hattie made the recipe from the side of the Hershey’s Cocoa tin – cake and icing both. She made it in a bundt pan, and she made it for about every get together we had – Memorial Day especially when everyone would come home from Ohio to visit. She made the best chicken and dumplings, fried apple pies, slaw, everything. Even her hamburgers were different and delicious, she sliced up onions and put them right in the hamburger. In fact, all the women in my family, on both sides, were incredible cooks. They’d make a big tableful of food for every get together. I’m like Marie in that I’m pretty nostalgic for all that food and those times together.

Here is the Hershey’s recipe:

 

 

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • CHOCOLATE FUDGE FROSTING (recipe follows)

Directions

  • 1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.
  • 2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of electric mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water. Pour batter into prepared pans.
  • 3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out almost clean and the top springs back when touched gently. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost with CHOCOLATE FUDGE FROSTING. Makes 12 servings.
  • CHOCOLATE FUDGE FROSTING
  • 3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter or margarine, melted
  • 1 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1. Place melted butter in large mixer bowl. Add cocoa, stirring until smooth.
  • 2. Gradually beat in powdered sugar, milk and vanilla, beating until smooth. If necessary add additional milk, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, beating until spreading consistency. About 3 cups frosting.

https://www.hersheys.com/recipes/en_US/recipes/8421/really-chocolate-chocolate-cake.html

And my Aunt Iris Rose made a chocolate cake from the Settlement Cookbook, (1965), here chocolate cakeis that recipe:

Ingredients

2 cups cake flour

2 cups  sugar

1/8 tsp salt

1/2 cup butter

1 1/4 cup water

squares unsweetened chocolate

eggs – well beaten

1 tsp vanilla

2 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 325

Grease and flour 2 9 inch cake pans

Sift flour, sugar and salt together

Add butter and mix with fingertips or pastry blender to the consistency of corn meal.

Boil water and chocolate. Cool. Add to butter mixture. Beat very well.

Chill thoroughly.

Add eggs, vanilla and baking powder.

Pour mixture equally into pans and bake for 35-40 minutes, until cake tater or fork comes out clean when inserted in center.

https://cookpad.com/us/recipes/340844-chocolate-cake-from-the-settlement-cookbook-1965

Daeandwrite: Did you have music you listened to during the writing or editing process? Any particular genre or songs? Do you have songs you associate with any particular character?

Carrie: I listened to Gillian Welch quite a bit. She has a song “The Way It Goes,” that has the same sort of atmosphere as the book, I think. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiS37_EULj8  And everything by the Drive By Truckers, and Jason Isbell – his album Southeastern especially. The Dixie Chicks, Steve Earle, Gram Parsons and U2 are always on all my playlists. Shelby Lynne and Caroline Herring as well.

Daeandwrite: Why did you feel compelled to put this story on paper? What was it about this particular tale that you wanted to convey?

Carrie: People I cared about in my county, a whole generation it seemed like at one point, were really being devastated by drugs. Starting with oxycodone and then moving on to methamphetamine. I didn’t know how to fix it, but I could write about it. I guess I wanted to make a sort of “record” – fictional but near enough to true, to the time and the people of this time and place and what they were going through.

MENU

For my book club, I would make the breakfast that Marie fixes for her parents in Chapter 3. Homemade biscuits, sausage patties, scrambled eggs. And I would definitely make that Chocolate Cake!

MUSIC

Carrie said she listened to Gillian Welch quite a bit while writing Night Garden. “She has a song “The Way It Goes,” that has the same sort of atmosphere as the book, I think. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiS37_EULj8.” Carrie also suggested Drive By TruckersJason Isbell. The Dixie Chicks, Steve Earle, Gram Parsons, U2, Shelby Lynne and Caroline Herring.

Carrie Mullins will be at the Kentucky Book Fair in Frankfort on November 5 and the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville in October. Night Garden is available at Morris Book Shop, Wild Fig Books & Coffee, Carmichael’s in Louisville, and Amazon. It can also be ordered directly from Old Cove Press by emailing  books@oldcove.com  or by phone 859-361-0533

Happy Reading!