News of the World, Paulette Jiles

old news

At age 70, Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd has endured wars, a wife, the loss of her, two daughters, and has traveled the roads and byways of his native South. In Paulette Jiles’ 2016 National Book Award-nominated News of the World, this gentleman is now roaming Texas reading periodicals and papers to audiences so starved for news of the outside world they will pay a nickel a piece to hear it proclaimed.

Capt. Kidd seems content to  live life this way while waiting for his daughters to move back home to Texas. Jiles’ paints her gentleman newsreader as remote from the world of his audiences, saddened by the passage of time, impatient with the impatience of intolerance.

Captain Kidd laid out the Boston Morning Journal on the lectern and began to read from the article on the Fifteenth Amendment. He had been born in 1798 and the third war of his lifetime had ended five years ago and he hoped never to see another but now the news of the world aged him more than time itself. Still he stayed his rounds, even during the cold spring rains. He had been at one time a printer but the war had taken his press and everything else, the economy of the Confederacy had fallen apart even before the surrender and so he now made his living in this drifting from one town to another in North Texas with his newspapers and journals in a waterproof portfolio and his coat collar turned up against the weather. He rode a very good horse and was concerned that someone might try to take the horse from him but so far so good. So he had arrived in Wichita Falls on February 26th and tacked up his posters and put on his reading clothes in the stable. There was a hard rain outside and it was noisy but he had a good strong voice.

He shook out the Journal’s pages.

The Fifteenth Amendment, he read, which has just been signed between the several states February 3rd, 1870, allows the vote to all men qualified to vote without regard to race or color or previous condition of servitude. He looked up from the text. His reading glasses caught the light. He bent slightly forward over the lectern. That means colored gentlemen, he said. Let us have no vaporings or girlish shrieks. He turned his head to search the crowd of faces turned up to him. I can hear you muttering, he said. Stop it. I hate muttering.

He glared at them and then said, Next. The Captain shook out another newspaper. The latest from the New York Herald Tribune states that the polar exploration ship Hansa is reported by a whaler as being crushed in sunk in the pack ice in its attempt to reach the North Pole; sunk at seventy degrees north latitude off Greenland. There is nothing in this article about survivors. He flipped the page impatiently.

This moment presents Capt. Kidd with what is perhaps his life’s last great challenge. A ten-year-old girl has been “rescued” from her Kiowa captors. Kidd is charged with returning Johanna to her closest relatives, across Texas, fighting brigands, harsh countryside, and the girl’s own hysteria at being ripped from the only family she knew.

news of the worldBritt said, The Kiowa don’t want her. They finally woke up to the fact that having a white captive gets you run down by the cav. The Agent said to bring all the captives in or he was cutting off their rations and sending the 12th and the 9th out after them. They brought her in and sold her for fifteen Hudson’s Bay four-stripe blankets and a set of silver dinnerware. German coin silver. They’ll beat it up into bracelets. It was Aperian Crow’s band brought her in. Her mother cut her arms to pieces and you could hear her crying for a mile.

Her Indian mother.

Yes, said Britt.

Were you there?

Britt nodded.

I wonder if she remembers anything. From when she was six.

No, said Britt. Nothing.

The girl still did not move. It takes a lot of strength to sit that still for that long. She sat upright on the bale of Army shirts which were wrapped in burlap, marked in stencil for Fork Belknap. Around her were wooden boxes of enamel wash basins and nails and smoked deer tongues packed in fat, a sewing machine in a crate, fifty-pound sacks of sugar. Her round face was flat in the light of the lamp and without shadows, or softness. She seemed carved.

“[It] is a narrow but exquisite book about the joys of freedom (experienced even by a raging river threatening to overrun its banks); the discovery of unexpected, proprietary love between two people who have never experienced anything like it; pure adventure in the wilds of an untamed Texas; and the reconciling of vastly different cultures (as when Kidd has to explain to Johanna, who is all set to collect a white man’s scalp, that this “is considered very impolite” and simply isn’t done). That’s a lot to pack into a short (213 pages), vigorous volume, but Ms. Jiles is capable of saying a lot in few words.” https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/13/books/news-of-the-world-paulette-jiles.html 

paulette_jiles-400Obviously Jiles is a writer of immense and immediate talent. She places each word, showing as well as proclaiming herself a poet, novelist and memoirist. Her website, http://paulettejiles.com , contains numerous blog posts enlivening the writer’s work with insights into her life and thoughts and writing processes. I learned that she is, like me, an alto who enjoys singing the low line but occasionally resents the showier sopranos.

I truly enjoyed this book, found it haunting and beautiful and lyrical. Capt. Kidd and Johanna’s growing relationship, their fierce-now-lost world, are with me, thought it’s been several weeks since I’ve read the Jiles’ novel. It is now out in paperback and I heartily endorse the choice for your book club.

MENU

From the novel: Brisket barbecue, divinity candy, taffy, Alsatian noodles with lamb and cream.

I have never tried a beef brisket but I love eating it. I think this novel may inspire me to try. My good friend Monica — a book club member — does her briskets in a “Big Green Egg” but since I don’t have one of those, I will try this Southern Living endorsed, Texas brisket recipe on a grill: http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/fiesta-brisket . My mouth is already watering.

When I was a child, one of my favorite parts of Christmas was the tray of homemade candies my grandmother would bring out on Christmas Eve. And my favorite part of that tray was the divinity candy. Here’s her recipe:

  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup white corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup cold water
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla
  • 2 cups chopped pecans

Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.

In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stir together the sugar, corn syrup, and water until sugar dissolves. Without stirring further, cook until mixture reaches hard ball stage.

Use a slow pour to stream syrup into egg whites beating constantly at high speed. Add  vanilla and continue to beat until mixture holds its shape, approximately 5 minutes. Stir in pecans.

Using 2 spoons, drop the divinity onto waxed paper, using 1 spoon to push the candy off the other. If the candy becomes too stiff, add a few drops of hot water.  Cool on racks.

MUSIC

Jiles’ website says she is a choir member and the music sprinkled throughout News of the World reflects a deep knowledge of a Southern hymnal and folk music.

It is Well With My Soul

Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross

Come to the Power

Black is the Color

Yellow Rose of Texas

MOVIE CASTING

redford

Apparently Fox 2000 bought the movie rights to star Tom Hanks as Capt. Kidd. Which to me is a durn shame.

 

Robert Redford is the perfect Capt. Kidd.

Happy Reading!

 

 

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The Freedom Broker by K.J. Howe

tomb raider       eartha kitt       Athina-Onassis-aristoteles-onassis-34494050-450-340

Thea Paris, the clever, action-packed protagonist of K.J. Howe’s thrill-a-minute debut novel The Freedom Broker, is sort of a cross between Tomb Raider, Catwoman, and Athina Onassis. Her father is a Greek oil magnate, she’s special ops trained and apparently, a vixen in high heels. Her only weakness: she’s diabetic and doesn’t want anyone to know, which can be problematic when you are one globe-trotting, kidnap-victim-rescuing, corporate-negotiating, rock-of-the-family babe.

KJSeriously, nearly every page of The Freedom Broker has some mortal danger on it. K.J.  Howe, a fabulous writer, world-traveler and adventurer in her own right, is the Executive Director of ThrillerFest, an annual gathering of several hundred international thriller writers. It’s not surprising K.J.’s first book is such a great read.

[Thea] tapped her smartphone to call up her glucose reading: 105. Monitor batteries fully charged. Perfect. Nothing could screw up a mission more than low blood sugar. She slipped her phone into her tactical vest beside her glucagon kit. Rif was still watching her as she adjusted her vest, and she wondered if he knew. She’d done her best to keep her condition a secret, but he didn’t miss much. It probably wouldn’t change anything, but she didn’t want anyone on the team thinking she wasn’t up to the job.

The pilot’s voice crackled in her earpiece: “Three minutes to touchdown.”

“Roger that. We’re green here.”

The stormy sky hid the second helicopter from view. Thea wiped her damp palms on her fatigues. Rain rattled on the chopper’s fuselage, and the turbulence unsettled her stomach. Flying had never been her strong suit. The poor visibility would allow them to fly in under the radar, but the cloying humidity and heat could degrade the chopper’s performance. They’d reduced its fuel load to stay as light as possible, but that left only a minimal buffer if they ran into problems.

Rif shifted to face Brown and Johansson. “Okay boys, let’s grab this Oil Eagle.”

Thea and Rif, childhood friends, are part of a private military-style organization that rescues kidnap/hostages when governments do not, cannot, or will not. But after rescuing the oilman in The Freedom Broker’s opening sequence, Thea and her team have to find the one hostage she can barely begin to think about: her father.

I met K.J. at the Salt Cay Writers Retreat a couple of years ago, and I was able to persuade her to answer a few questions for daeandwrite readers.

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There are some fabulous champagne-drenched parties detailed in The Freedom Broker. According to K.J. Howe, Thea Paris’ favorite food is “baklava, but she has to watch her carbs because of her type 1 diabetes.”

I’ve never made baklava, but I’ve tried making some dessert using phyllo dough and I’m going to go to the bakery on this one. I lack Thea’s courage.

MUSIC

From KJ: “I listened to Gavin DeGraw’s Soldier, as it reminded me of the relationship between Thea and Rif.  In the childhood scenes from Nikos point-of-view, I listened to K’Naan’s Waving Flag.  That song gives me chills.”
My Playlist
Soldier, Gavin DeGraw
Waving Flag, K’Naan
Akon, K’Naan
Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Graceland, Paul Simon
freedom broker
MOVIE CASTING
K.J. shared her ideal cast — here’s hoping you get that sale of The Freedom Broker‘s movie rights, friend!
Mehgan Heaney-Grier is an incredible talent, and I see her as Thea.  Mehgan holds the world record for free diving, 165 feet.  Would love Phillip Winchester as Rif, Rupert Friend (plays Peter Quinn on Homeland, brilliant actor) as Nikos, and Selma Hayek for Gabrielle.
I predict The Freedom Broker will be one of summer’s hottest beach reads. Happy Reading!

Idaho, by Emily Ruskovich

Visit-Idaho-Logo-Blue

Books recommended by people who love books always seem to be among my favorite reads. Especially when the person who recommends is also a writer whose work I enjoy and appreciate. That happened with Idaho, Iowa Writers Workshop grad Emily Ruskovich’s debut novel.

Sarah Combs, author of Breakfast Served Anytime [https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/with-a-side-of-warm-southern-wit-please-breakfast-served-anytime-by-sarah-combs/]  and The Light Fantastic, raved about Idaho during a writing workshop. So I picked it up on audible.

Audible is great. It allows me to “read” novels while traveling between home and work and on those long distance rides to various cases across the state. But sometimes, and I suspect this is one of them, I don’t experience the fullness of the language as I would have in the written version.

Idaho begins in 2004. Ann and Wade live on a mountain in Idaho. They are alone and self-sufficient. Ann, a former music teacher, has her piano and Wade his work, crafting hand-hewn handles for knives. Ann worries about Wade’s hereditary and increasingly-apparent early-Alzheimers (he is only mid-50s). And she worries about the tragedy.

truckNine years ago, when Wade was still married to Jenny and both of his daughters were still alive, a mouse had crawled along the top of the truck’s exhaust pipe into the engine compartment and built its nest on the manifold. She thinks of how strange it is that Wade probably remembers that mouse, remembers the sound of it skittering under the hood, and yet he’s forgotten his first wife’s name. Or so it seems sometimes. But the mouse — the mouse is very much alive in his memory.

A few years after Ann and Wade married, Ann found a pair of deerskin gloves in a toolbox high on a shelf in a closet. They were much nicer than the work gloves Wade usually wore, and seemed to be brand new except for the odor of something burned. That was how she learned about the mouse in the first place. She asked why he kept the gloves in the closet instead of using them. Wade told her that he wanted to preserve the smell.

What smell is that?

The smell of a rodent’s nest that caught fire.

The last smell in his daughter’s hair.

According to her website, Ruskovich grew up on Hoodoo Mountain in the Idaho Panhandle. I think anyone who grows up on a mountain named Hoodoo would have to have a great imagination. She knows the territory of which she writes. The isolating, bitter winters of unremitting snow, the miraculous spring of flowers, flies, and sunshine.

With Idahoshe writes a story of one day and many decades. Her perspective moves from Ann to Jenny to Wade, to May and June — Jenny and Wade’s daughters, to Elliott — one of Ann’s students. We learn early on that Jenny, during a family outing to cut and clear timber, has killed her six-year old daughter May, striking her with an axe. June, then 11, runs away terrified and cannot be found. From this crucible, the novel moves forward with Jenny into prison, with Wade into dementia, with Ann who serves as surrogate for what the reader wants to know — why would Jenny do such a thing to her own child.

But, as multiple reviews have noted, that’s not what Idaho is about. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

Idaho novelOstensibly it’s a novel about a tragedy — young mother Jenny inexplicably kills her daughter May with a hatchet, while older daughter June vanishes into the woods. Refusing to explain her actions, Jenny is charged with murder and sent to prison. Wade, her grief-stricken husband, is punishingly alone, struggling until he eventually marries Ann, the local piano teacher.

You might think that the primary focus of the book is going to be a business-as-usual exploration of why Jenny killed May, or where June is and how they find her. But this novel is much more interested in a deeper, more haunting meditation on love, loss, forgiveness, time and memory.

Ruskovich’s website includes some thoughtful questions should your book club choose to read Idaho. I’ll add this one, from Sarah and me: what do you think Ruskovich intended with the two short passages, opposing but parallel, where Wade and Jenny encounter help from a childless older couple and where Ann seeks help from a family but doesn’t receive it?

Here’s the link to Ruskovich’s questions: http://www.emilyruskovich.com/book-club-questions/.

MENU

Another disadvantage of audible, I don’t have the opportunity to book mark passages with food. I do recall Wade, Jenny, May and June were drinking lemonade on the day of May’s death. Ann visited a farm specializing in ostrich products. Limited menu available from my memories, but I would serve:

Pink Lemonade Limoncello

Equal parts Vodka and Limoncello, splash of cranberry juice, sour mix and lemonade. Shake over ice.

Potatoes

Definitely something potato. I checked out the Idaho Potato Commission website and these Herb-Roasted Oven Fries look good: https://idahopotato.com/recipes/herb-roasted-idaho-potato-fries

Ostrich Steaks

I love ostrich meat. It’s lean, healthy and delicious.

Sautéed Ostrich Fillets with Green Peppercorn
Pre-heat pan to HOT. Add 2 TBS. of olive oil and a generous sprinkling of green peppercorns. Sear one side of the fillet for 2 minutes, turn fillet and cover the pan and turn off the heat and let rest for 4 minutes.

For dessert the best I can come up with is either black and white cookies from the store or these black and white cookie bars. For Jenny. In prison. http://www.bakeorbreak.com/2015/06/black-and-white-cookie-bars/

MUSIC

Ann is a piano teacher, in fact, she meets Wade when he comes to her for lessons. Music is at the crux of this novel, but it is not music that I can find reference to. As a substitute, I would find some folk songs on piano.

MOVIE CASTING

Ann           Rachel Weisz

Jenny        Jennifer Aniston

Wade        Dennis Quaid

Elizabeth Kristen Stewart

Happy Reading!

 

Imagine Me Gone, Adam Haslett ✎✎✎

boat

When the National Book Critics Circle Award Finalists for Fiction were announced, I’d read only one of the books: Commonwealth by Ann Patchett, https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2016/11/17/commonwealth-by-ann-patchett-✎✎✎✎/, and loved it. Since then, I’m through Moonglow by Michael Chabon, https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2017/01/21/moonglow-by-michael-chabon-✎✎✎/, and Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett. I have Zadie Smith’s Swing Time and Louis Erdrich’s LaRose in my near future.

On a idyllic day on the Maine water, Imagine Me Gone finds British venture capitalist John takes two of his three children boating. Celia is the second-oldest of the three; ultra-responsible and caring, if a bit of a bore. Alec, the youngest, is a whiny, clingy child wanting always to be held. Once they are on the water, John leans back into the boat, closes his eyes and pronounces to his children: “Imagine me gone, imagine it’s just the two of you. What do you do?” Celia wishes for her stronger older brother, or to be stronger, or at the very least for her father to quit play-acting and help them get to shore.

But John doesn’t help. Arguably, John has never helped his wife Margaret or their three children. His career, which brought them back to America from Margaret’s preferred life across the pond, has tanked. His relationship with Michael is ineffectual. He and Margaret fight loudly every night, frightening Alec into hiccups.

John has chronic, clinical depression. It is a condition that materially affects every member of his family, each of whom has a compelling authorial voice in Imagine Me Gone.

From Margaret:

“I’m the only one who doesn’t always want answers. John may never articulate his questions, but they are with him, a way of being. And the children want answers to everything all the time. What’s for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner? Where’s Kelsey? Where’s Dad? Why do we have to come in? Why do we have to go to bed? Some days the only words I speak to them are answers, and reasons I can’t answer, and instructions in place of the answers they want.”

John:

“This is the thing: He isn’t calling about his exam. I don’t want to know that, but I do. He’s calling to be reassured about something he can’t put into words yet. I glimpsed it in him when he was young, but told myself, No, don’t imagine that. Children have stages; he’ll change. Then the words started running out of him in a torrent, and I knew they were being chased out by a force he couldn’t see. What was I supposed to say to Margaret? That I see it in him?”

Celia:

“When Paul drank more than a diabetic should or we argued about petty domestic things, I would employ a kind of preemptive nostalgia, filing the episodes away under the heading A Couple’s Early Years. This general retrospective of the present leaped ahead to forgive our moments of anger and doubt, and the occasional day when the frustration and recriminations between us became grinding. It helped alleviate my sense of having been duped into believing Paul would be the person to deliver me from my family, rather than imitate it. And really it was okay, and most often better than that, being the object of his desire, sensing he would never leave me. That we were safe.”

Alec:

As I stepped out of the cabin, whiteness blinded me. The snow-covered yard glistened under the full sun. Icicles lining the roof of the shed dripped with meltwater. The fir trees, which had stood motionless and black against the gray sky, appeared alive again, green and moist in the fresh light. The footprints that Michael and I had made on the snowy path were dissolving, fading into ovals on the flagstone. Beneath our tracks in the driveway I could see gravel for the first time since we’d arrived. For weeks it had been frigid cold, but now had come this December thaw. I wasn’t certain what day it was, or what time, only that it had to be well after noon already.

donna-summerBut perhaps it is Michael the reader hears most clearly, learns most deeply even through the mental illness that drives and disturbs him. We know of the path of devastation his love creates, his musical knowledge and reverence for Donna Summer, his humor, his lack of self-control. Even as he is annoying us with an exhaustive list, we are amused by him and wish him well. He’s trying to beat the beast, much more, we think, than his father ever did.

“I remember my first dose of Klonopin the way I imagine the elect recall their high school summer romances, bathed in the golden light of a perfect carelessness, untouched and untouchable by time’s predations or the foulness of any present pain. As Cat Stevens wrote, The first cut is the deepest, though I’ve always preferred Norma Fraser’s cover to the original (the legendary Studio One, Kingston, Jamaica, 1967). Stevens sings it like a pop song, but Fraser knows the line is true, that she’ll never love like that again. Her voice soars over the reverb like a bird in final flight. The first cut is the deepest. I’ve since learned all about GABA receptors and molecular binding, benzos and the dangers of tolerance, but back then I knew only that I had received an invisible and highly effective surgery to the mind, administered by a pale yellow tablet scored down the middle and no larger than an aspirin. There is so much drivel about psychoactive meds, so much corruptions, bad faith over- and underprescription, vagueness, profiteering, ignorance, and hope, that it’s easy to forget they sometimes work, alleviating real suffering, at least for a time. This was such a time.”

haslett

Adam Haslett

 

Imagine Me Gone was, for me, a strange book. Each of the five narrators is to a certain extent unreliable and the family picture comes together only when viewing all of the pieces together, like a work of pointillism. The writing is lovely as you can see from the pieces I’ve included here and the reviewers agree it’s a compelling work of fiction dealing sensitively with mental illness.

A review I read before I read the novel said this is a book about how far a family will go to help a family member with mental illness; how much of one’s own life is a person willing to cede to maintain some normalcy for another who could have little on his or her own. I suppose that’s true, but I thought it was more about family and expectations and loss and ultimately love.

imagine-me-gone

MENU

I can’t cite a menu from the book because I listened to it on Audible. I do remember Alec and Michael eating doughnuts every morning and Margaret’s frustration at going out for an overly-expensive dinner when she would have rather cooked at home. Perhaps if you want to replicate a menu from the book, you can look for that scene, somewhere around 2/3 of the way through.

I would focus on the environment of Maine and serve a blueberry dessert; maybe pie or cobbler. I would also pull in Michael’s life in London and serve a shepherd’s pie or maybe roast beef with potatoes so that I could have leftovers for the week.

MUSIC

This is the easy part. Just play Donna Summer all night.

MOVIE CASTING

John        Jude Law/Ewan McGregor

Margaret       This is a total Grace Kelly role. I can see Gwyneth Paltrow maybe.

Michael          Andrew Garfield

Celia                Blake Lively

Alec                  John Gallagher, Jr.

Happy Reading!

The Sport of Kings, C.E. Morgan ✎✎✎

horse-racing-neck-and-neck.jpg

Horse Racing Neck and Neck, public domain

My mom asked me what book she should recommend for her book club to read. I suggested The Sport of Kings, by Kentucky author C.E. Morgan. I hadn’t read The Sport of Kings, but I like to support local authors, I liked Morgan’s first novel All the Living and I had heard good things about The Sport of Kings. Two weeks later, the founder of my mother’s book club called and asked me to present the book for them.

I soon found myself studying this 500+ novel for themes, plot, structure, style, literary allusions . . . in short, I felt like I was back in my undergrad literary seminar and my grade was just as important! I didn’t want to let down my mom or the women in her group with a presentation on The Sport of Kings.

In the end, the women were lovely, appreciative, and I ended up actually quite enjoying the application of my college student skills.

In this age of twitter, Facebook, goodreads, tumbler, ad nauseum, C.E. Morgan is a c-e-morganthrowback: she’s an author who allows her writing to speak for itself, preferring to keep an exceedingly low profile. If she has a website, I can’t find it. In one of her rare interviews, she does admit to graduating from Berea College in Kentucky and Harvard Divinity School. Her novels are filled with the tones, colors, sights, and sounds of rural Kentucky as well as theological meditations.

I’ve read many of the reviews of The Sport of Kings. The word “sweeping” is used quite a bit. “Generational.” “Epic.” It is all those things and more: long, complex, contrary, palaverous, disturbing, beautiful. My personal theory is that The Sport of Kings is Morgan’s attempt to define Kentucky first, its people second, and the thoroughbred industry third in all of their beautiful cruelty. To do this, she uses individual allegorical characters. Back-to-nature Pen. Salt-of-the-earth-farmer-Jamie. Narcissistic-land-owner-Henry.
equestrienneAt the heart of The Sport of Kings is horse farm owner Henry Forge and his daughter Henrietta. Henry is obsessed with breeding: the perfect horse and the perfect progeny and will go to any length to achieve his goals. Henry believes he’s achieved at least one of his goals with Hellsmouth, a fiery filly. But when a recently released ex-con, Allmon, arrives to work as a groom on Henry’s farm, complications (as they say) ensue.

Morgan’s style ranges from the scientific exploration of equine breeding, to bloated descriptions of natural phenomenon. At various points it takes her two pages to effectively cover one year in Henry Forge’s life and two pages to describe a sunset.

The corn spat him out. His face scraped by the gauntlet, he clutched handfuls of husk and stood hauling air with his hair startled away from his forehead. Here the old land is the old language: The remnants of the county fall away in declining slopes and swales from their property line. The neighbor’s tobacco plants extend as far as the boy can see, so that impossibly varying shades of green seem to comprise the known world, the undulating earth an expanse of green sea dotted only by black-ship tobacco barns, a green so penetrating, it promises a cool, fertile core a mile beneath his feet. In the distance, the fields incline again, slowly rippling upward, a grassed blanket shaken to an uncultivated sky. A line of trees traces the swells on that distant side, forming a dark fence between two farms. The farmhouse roofs are black as ink with their fronts obscured by evergreens, so the world is black and green and black and green without interruption, just filibustering earth. The boy knows the far side of that distant horizon is more of the bright billowing same, just as he knows they had once owned all of this land and more when they came through the Gap and staked a claim, and if they were not the first family, they were close. They were Kentuckians first and Virginians second and Christians third and the whole thing was sterling, his father said. The whole goddamn enterprise.

Truthfully, I found myself often bogged down in the vocabulary at times. But if you slog through these places, the plot holds.

Having now read the book, I do recommend The Sport of Kings but it is with reservation. Make sure your book club has set aside plenty of time to read. This is for book clubs that enjoy more challenging reads.

derbyMENU

There may be food described in the novel, but I wasn’t scouring the pages of The Sport of
Kings
for food references. This is a Kentucky novel, I am a Kentuckian, and I would fix traditional Kentucky food. So my menu would include:

Mint Juleps

Country Ham on Beaten Biscuits

Beer cheese with crackers and celery

Corn Pudding. This is my favorite recipe but there are many. It’s from ShakerTown at Pleasant Hill:

INGREDIENTS

    • 3 tablespoons butter, softened
    • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
    • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 3 whole eggs, slightly beaten
    • 2 cups frozen corn
    • 1 3/4 cups milk

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a large bowl, blend the butter, sugar, flour and salt.
  2. Add the eggs, and beat well with a rotary beater or mixer on low –.
  3. Stir in the corn and milk (if using frozen corn, chop it up a little first to release the milky juices).
  4. Pour the ingredients into a buttered flat 10×6″ casserole and bake at 325* for 45 minutes, stirring once halfway through the baking period.
  5. When done, the pudding will be golden brown on top and a knife inserted in the middle will come out clean.
  6. THIS MIXTURE CAN BE PREPARED AHEAD OF TIME AND KEPT IN THE REFRIGERATOR. STIR WELL, THEN POUR INTO A BAKING DISH AND BAKE AS INSTRUCTED.

Steamed asparagus

“Kentucky pie” aka the pie named after the Run for the Roses which name has now been copyrighted.

Recipes for Mint Juleps and Kentucky pie here: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/the-first-saturday-in-may/

MUSIC

Town & Country offered a Kentucky Derby playlist in 2014 that would work quite well for The Sport of Kings. You can find it here: http://www.townandcountrymag.com/the-scene/parties/a1923/kentucky-derby-party-music/

To their suggestions, I would add:

Run for the Roses, Dan Fogelberg

Blue Moon of Kentucky, Bill Monroe

Kentucky Rain, Elvis Presley

Kentucky Woman, Neil Diamond (I hate it but . . .)

Paradise, John Prine

MOVIE CASTING

Henrietta — Kentucky Girl Jennifer Lawrence, as if the book was written with her in mind

Henry Forge — Matthew McConaughey

Allmon — Jessie Williams

John Henry Forge – Sam Shepard

Happy Reading!

Don’t forget to like this post and share it!

 

 

 

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✎✎✎✎

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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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