Thankful for: On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

weddingIf there is a master of the novel in this 21st Century, by my reckoning it is McEwan. He of Atonement, Saturday, Amsterdam. And On Chesil Beach. On Chesil Beach, in 203 small pages, this tiny book deconstructs the first twenty-four hours of a marriage and traces the consequences of a great misunderstanding in the honeymoon bed. I believe it is a testament, ultimately, to the power of words, spoken and unspoken.

I love this book and have given it as a gift on occasion. It is a masterpiece.

They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible. But it is never easy.

Florence and Edward arrive at a hotel in Dorset, England in 1962. cliff house hotelAccording to a postscript by the author, the hotel “just over a mile south of Abbotsbury, Dorset, occupying an elevated position in a field behind the beach parking lot — does not exist.”

How did they meet, and why were these lovers in a modern age so timid and innocent? They regarded themselves as too sophisticated to believe in destiny, but still, it remained a paradox to them that so momentous a meeting should have been accidental, so dependent on a hundred minor events and choices. What a terrifying possibility, that it might never have happened at all. And in the first rush of love, they often wondered at how nearly their paths had crossed during their early teens, when Edward descended occasionally from the remoteness of his squalid family home in the Chiltern Hills to visit Oxford. It was titillating to believe they must have brushed past each other at one of those famous, youthful city events, at St Giles’ Fair in the first week of September, or May Morning at dawn on the first of the month – a ridiculous and overrated ritual, they both agreed; or while renting a punt at the Cherwell Boat House – though Edward had only ever done it once; or, later in their teens, during illicit drinking at the Turl.

Florence is a virgin and admits she is a little scared. Edward, a bit more experienced, has been restraining himself from “self-abuse” for a week in order to prepare for his wedding night. This leads to a disaster. And even though Florence and Edward try to discuss the incident on the stone-filled Chesil Beach, their mutual lack of understanding undercuts their ability to resolve the situation.stony beach

Ian McEwan’s website actually has a 26 minute film version of the story with McEwan’s reading accompanying the visual images. http://www.ianmcewan.com/bib/books/chesil.html

MENU

McEwan provides the exact menu of the honeymoon dinner over which things begin to unravel for Florence and Edward.

A slice of melon decorated by a single glazed cherry

Roast beef

Soft-boiled vegetables

Potatoes of a bluish hue

A white wine from France — “it would not have crossed Edward’s mind to have ordered a red.”

I would serve honeydew melon slices wrapped in prosciutto, roast beef, roasted new potatoes and roasted brussels sprouts.

MUSIC

The top hits on British charts in 1962 included an amazing number of songs that fit the theme of this novel (and they are just some great songs anyway!):

I Can’t Stop Loving You, Ray Charles

The Locomotion, Little Eva

She’s Not You, Elvis Presley

Dream Baby, Roy Orbison

Stranger on the Shore, Mr. Acker Bilk (?)

The Young Ones, Cliff Richard

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do, Neil Sedaka

Twistin’ The Night Away, Sam Cooke

You Don’t Know Me, Ray Charles

The Party’s Over, Lonnie Donegan

The Wanderer, Dion

MOVIE CASTING

Edward: Jeremy Irvine (from War Horse)

Florence: Lily Cole

chesil beach
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Vacation: My Dog’s Life

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At the invitation of my dear friend, I recently escaped the polar vortex to spend a week basking in the South Florida sun.  We left with new snow on the ground and a temperature of 28 degrees and arrived in the full sun of a luxurious 75 degrees.  What divine goodness it was to sink into a lounge chair, the Gulf of Mexico foaming inches away, and feel my bones creak with thanks as they absorbed a dose of Vitamin D.  We slept in each morning until we felt like getting up, we took naps in the sun, we exercised as long as we wanted to and then walked some more.  We ate when we felt like it, not according to the demands of the clock or a social calendar.  Occasionally, someone even rubbed my back occasionally — with sunscreen.

In effect, for a week, I lived like my dogs do most of the time (lucky creatures).  Here is my own dearly departed basenji Cleopatra.  She loved basking in the sun, being scratched and running so fast she could not be caught.

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Coincidentally, while on vacation, I read The Art of Racing in the Rain, Garth Stein’s ode to the humanity of the canine; a book I had been avoiding for fear of crying unremittingly the whole way through.  By the end of the first page, I was sure my reluctance had been well-founded.  Enzo, the motley mutt with a man’s mind, begins the book by telling the reader he is about to pass into the great doghouse in the sky.

 

Enzo has gestures, he tells us, gestures only.  As much as he would love to be able to speak in words or write, he has never language nor opposable thumbs.  But Enzo speaks loudly through his gestures.  Through physical gestures Enzo is able to share comfort, enthusiasm, acceptance, and once, notably and hilariously, his disdain. I won’t ruin the surprise for you, but let me just say this:  never give a dog a pepperoncini.

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Enzo himself is full of love and wisdom, many times eclipsing the humans in his life.  The only difficulty I had with this concept was in the vein of “how can those two villainous humans refer to Enzo as a dog?” To me, a long-time dog devotee, it is clear dogs are semi-human or perhaps even super-human.  Science is coming to terms with the reality as well.  For more information on a relevant study see:  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1751-9004.2008.00087.x/abstract;jsessioni.

Read the book.  I give it two opposable thumbs and eight paws (the combined total for my housemates Abra and Eliza) up.  Enzo’s introduction serves as much as a benediction and blessing.

“This is what I love.  I love to run in the wet grass, keeping my snout low to the ground, so the sparkles of water cover my face.  I love to run and smell all the smells.  All the life.  When I return to this world, I will be a man.  I will walk among you.  I will shake hands with other men, grasping firmly with my opposable thumbs.  And when I see a man, or a woman, or a child in trouble, I will offer my hand to him, to her, to you, to the world.  I will be a good citizen.  A good partner in the endeavor of life that we all share.”  

Menu:

Hot dogs would be an obvious choice, but I can’t stomach hot dogs ever since reading The Jungle by Upton Sinclair in high school so I will suggest serving Enzo’s favorite two foods and have a breakfast for dinner party:  Pancakes with Bananas.  And here’s a recipe for Puppy Chow.

Ingredients
9 cups Chex cereal ( any kind)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or 6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter, melted
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 -2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
Directions
Measure cereal in large bowl.
Set aside.
Microwave chocolate chips, peanut butter and butter for 1 minute on high.
Stir.
Cook for 30 seconds longer or until smooth.
Add vanilla.
Pour mixture over cereal, stirring until coated.
Pour mixture into large Ziploc bag and add powdered sugar.
Shake until well coated.
Spread on waxed paper to cool.
Store in Ziploc bags or large sealed bowl.

Music:

If you have time, you could put together a really fun playlist of songs like:

Hound Dog, Elvis Presley

Hound Dog, Big Mama Thornton

Puppy Love, Donny Osmond (a personal favorite)

Dog Named Boo, Lobo

Dirty Old Egg-Sucking Dog, Johnny Cash

He’s a Tramp,  Peggy Lee

Throw in a little Cat Stevens for fun

Casting:

There is a movie in the works with Thomas Bezucha hired to direct.  Originally Patrick Dempsey was to play Enzo’s owner Denny the race car driver and since Dempsey is a race car driver he would be perfect.  As to Enzo, I think Eliza my dog would be perfect too.

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