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!

 

 

 

My Reading Year

calendar

“Overdue Book Calendar” auntjune’s Etsy shop.

As the New Year approaches, I have begun a review of this one. What did I accomplish, what did I fail to accomplish, what is worth remembering and what would I rather forget? I’ve had the pleasure of traveling to the San Miguel Writers Conference, attending the Carnegie Center of Lexington’s Books in Progress Conference, the Kentucky Women Writers Conference and the Appalachian Writers Workshop. I met and learned from a number of wonderful writers, including: Rosalind Brackenbury; Jacinda Townsend; Marie Manilla; Hannah Pittard; Ronni Lundy; Scott Turow; Rebecca Gayle Howell; Robert Gipe; and David Joy. Most overwhelmingly joyously, I signed with Folio Literary Management’s Senior Vice President Erin Cartwright Niumata for representation. My website is up and running, pameladae.com, and Erin has my novel “After the Race” out to multiple editors and publishers for sale. It’s been a busy, exciting, successful year and I am so thankful for all those who have helped and guided me.

And I’m thankful for you readers. On average, about 100 people read this blog daily. I hope you have found a book you weren’t aware of, or a recipe, or maybe a playlist. I hope it’s made you laugh, or curious, or on occasion, thoughtful.

Today, I’m providing an overview of the books read in my book club. Tomorrow, I’m going to reveal my best reads of 2015 — not necessarily published in 2015. And as always, I’d love to hear what your book club is reading, what your favorite book of 2015 was, what you’re cooking or listening to while you read.

Book Club 2015 Reads

I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzal. Published in 2013, this is the autobiography of the teenage Nobel Prize winner. Our hostess served a Mediterranean platter of hummus, tzitaki, vegetables and pita.

A Dog’s Purpose, Bruce Cameron. See my earlier post: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2015/02/18/a-dogs-purpose-is-apparently-to-make-me-cry/

Delta Scarlett

A Touch of Stardust, Kate Alcott. This novel, published in 2017, is supposed to be about a young woman from Indiana who becomes involved in the lives of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard during the filming of Gone with the Wind. It was simplistic, a bit silly, and our book club was not impressed.

The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins. This book was a success with everyone. See my earlier post: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2015/01/27/crossing-the-tracks-girl-on-the-train-by-paula-hawkins/

Life after Life, Kate Atkinson. Also a big success. I’ve posted about Life After Life and Atkinson’s follow-up A God In Ruinshttps://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2015/06/06/as-the-world-re-turns-life-after-life-and-a-god-in-ruins-by-kate-atkinson/

Saint Monkey, Jacinda Townsend. Whenever we can find a novel that has a Saint Monkey covertie to our locale, we certainly try to read it. Townsend’s Kentucky to New York odyssey had us in thrall. See my earlier post: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2015/11/05/growing-up-saint-monkey-by-jacinda-townsend/

We Were Liars, E. Lockhart. A Kennedy-esque mystery of sorts. https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2015/08/10/kennedyesque-we-were-liars-by-e-lockhart/

archie ap comicUnbecoming, Rebecca Scherm. Another guessing game involving a triplet of would-be thieves with literary undertones and one of our favorites. I need to blog about this. Author Rebecca Scherm, as I understand, went to the same high school as I did.

Black Chalk, Christopher J. Yates. Another twisty page-turner that I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about! Look forward to that one.

Under the Wide and Starry Sky, Nancy Horan. The author of Loving Frank, which we all loved, followed up with this novel about Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife, which we did not love. See my earlier post: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2015/11/18/rls-under-the-wide-and-starry-sky-and-treasure-island/

Logo_-_MameMame, Patrick Dennis. Who doesn’t love Auntie Mame with her outrageous clothing, behavior, match-making and travels? It was a perfect, classic to end the year.

 

So there’s our year of book club reads. Tomorrow, my favorite reads of 2015.

Happy Reading!

 

 

Reunion, by Hannah Pittard

brother and sis

No one knows how to punch a button better than a sibling. Whether it’s referring to the younger sister as “Pooh,” her hated childhood nickname, or reminding the know-it-all older brother how he failed Calculus thirty years ago, siblings have a knack being a best friend, sometimes an only friend, and worst enemy. In Hannah Pittard’s second novel Reunion, the Pulaski siblings are alternately all of these and more to one another.

Kate Pulaski is flying home, stranded on the tarmac waiting for a storm to pass so she can get home to her estranged husband. She’s trying to figure out if her affair was a cause or a result of problems in her marriage and what exactly she does and does not want to do about it. She gets a message telling her that her father has died. The message, a voice mail, happens to be on speaker phone and Kate as well as all those in hearing distance hear older brother Elliott Pulaski tell his sister that their father has walked onto his porch in Atlanta and shot himself in the head. Then, he orders her to come home.

Delta Airlines vintage advertisement

Delta Airlines vintage advertisement

Home . . . in Atlanta . . . Kate, Elliott and Nell, the three siblings of Frank Pulaski and his first wife, must confront the succeeding four wives and each of their progeny. It’s failing screenwriter Kate’s worst nightmare: she hates all of the wives, is keeping the secrets of her impending divorce and financial crisis secret from her full siblings and would rather never see again any of the half siblings all while confronting her emotions about her father’s death . . . and life.

Reunion ups the ante on your normal holiday get-togethers by adding death and an inordinate number of spouses and siblings. But Hannah Pittard pinpoints with heartbreaking specificity the underlying crucible of drama, superiority, inferiority, love, hate, judgment, forgiveness and understanding — those elements which underlie both the smallest family holiday and the circus of Reunion.

I had the pleasure of participating in a two-day workshop led by Hannah, a professor at the University of Kentucky, during the Kentucky Women Writers’ Conference last month and thoroughly enjoyed her class, the women writers I met in it, and Hannah herself. That’s not why I read Reunion though. Hannah’s first novel, The Fates Will Find Their Way, was one of the most compelling novels I read last summer. https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2015/06/26/shes-gone-the-fates-will-find-their-way-by-hannah-pittard-and-everything-i-never-told-you-by-celeste-ng/ And I look forward to reading Listen to Me and Atlanta, 1962 which should be coming out soon.

Reunion was named a Millions‘ Most Anticipated Book, a Chicago Tribune Editor’s Choice, a BuzzFeed Top-5 Great Book, a Best New Book by People Magazine, a Top-10 Read by Bustle Magazine and LibraryReads, a Must-Read by TimeOut Chicago, and a Hot New Novel by Good Housekeeping.  Kirkus Reviews called it “well-written, with a clear narrative voice.” https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/hannah-pittard/reunion-pittard/

Anyone who has ever wanted to use a sibling as a dart board will love it.

MENU

There are several scenes of cooking. Southern family and funeral, food is inevitable. I asked Hannah what she would suggest and here’s her answer:

Hannah Pittard

Hannah Pittard

I imagine the meal the characters are cooking the second night in Atlanta (when Nell’s in the tank top and jean shorts) to be some sort of tomato-y Italian deliciousness. Eggplant parmesan? Lasagne? Something filling and family-style. You know? My husband is the chef in this house, otherwise I’d provide a recipe!

What I can give you is the recipe for a super stiff, super fresh, super dry margarita, which is my go-to drink while writing or when watching my husband cook us dinner.
Per drink, here’s the recipe. Super simple:
2 ounces tequila (I love Milagro silver)
1 ounce fresh lime
just shy one half ounce Pierre Ferrande Dry Curacao
Fill a shaker with the above ingredients and tons of ice; shake the sh*t out of it; serve over ice with a fresh lime. Don’t bother cleaning anything because you’ll be making seconds before you know it!

Whenever there was a death in my family, a casserole or two would fill the bill.

MUSIC

Hannah provided me with her playlist created for the LargeHearted Boy music blog: lhbhttp://www.largeheartedboy.com/blog/archive/2014/10/book_notes_hann_3.html

What I love about this exercise is that it asks me to do what I’m almost always doing in my head at any given moment of the day. As I kid, I was such a romantic. I desperately wanted to live my life inside a John Hughes movie. I didn’t just want the happy ending. I wanted the heartache that led up to the happy ending. The closest I could come to living inside a movie was through music. Even when it wasn’t playing, I pretended it was. And often — this is embarrassing, but… — often I’d even pretend there was a camera on me. So while my parents might have been minding their own business – sitting in the front seat on a drive across town to eat Chinese, say – I was probably in the back seat, imagining what I looked like on screen to all of my viewers and imagining also what mournful (always mournful) song they might be listening to as I went on with my listless life. In many ways, I’ve been waiting to be asked for this playlist since the day I hit puberty.

“The Only Living Boy in New York” – Simon & Garfunkel

This might seem like an obvious pick because the song is about a plane ride, and my book begins on a plane, but it’s also the perfect opener 1) because of the tone (a magical combination of hope and despair) and 2) because it’s the song I’ve listened to the most number of times in my life, on planes and off them. It’s a song that feels both like the beginning and the end. And because http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0989360466/ref=nosim/largeheartedb-20″>Reunion is my most autobiographical novel (side note: I have never cheated on my husband, but I have been in epic credit card debt), I am giving this song to Kate, my narrator, who, as the novel begins, is sitting on an airplane with news that her father has just committed suicide.

“Common People” – Pulp

Kate’s a mess. She’s also in debt. She and her husband have a wicked fight early on in the novel. “Common People” is my go-to song when I need to run a 7-minute mile. Kate doesn’t need to run a 7-minute mile, but after the argument, she’s filled with a similar sort of energetic rage. Since she and her husband are in public (at the airport) when the fight goes down, Kate can’t scream. But I can totally see her finding a bathroom stall, putting in her earphones, and dancing the shit out of this song afterwards.

“The Nights Too Long” – Lucinda Williams 

I’m a Lucinda Williams nut, but somehow I only recently discovered this song and, as a result, it’s been on heavy rotation in my home. It’s the story of Sylvia, who says, “I’m moving away, I’m gonna get what I want… I won’t be needing these silly dresses and nylon hose ‘cause when I get to where I’m going, I’m going to buy me all new clothes.” Sylvia is both optimistic and doleful. She is aching for life, for experience, for something bigger and better than what she has. So is Kate. (So are we all? Sometimes? Most of the time?)

“On Saturday Night” – Lyle Lovett

It’s a song about getting high with your family, which happens – in life and in this book.

“Rewrite” – Paul Simon

This song is playing as Kate drunkenly sets the table for dinner. It’s apt since she’s a failed screenwriter who might very soon be looking for work at a carwash.

“Corpus Christi Bay” – Robert Earle Keen 

This is a lugubrious, earnest snapshot of brotherhood and drunkenness. If it’s a love story, it’s a love story between two brothers: “We were bad for one another, but we were good at having fun.” http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0989360466/ref=nosim/largeheartedb-20″>Reunion is, in its way, a love story between siblings. But what makes this song so perfect is that Kate, the narrator, is pining for a time that no longer exists. Her siblings have moved on; they’ve grown up. But there’s also a clarity towards the end of the novel that Kate is moving towards. Alcohol is the least of her troubles (maybe not least?), but this song certainly hints at her nearing epiphany: “If I could live my life all over, it wouldn’t matter anyway because I never could stay sober…”

“Most of the Time” – Bob Dylan 

It’s morning, the day of the funeral, and Kate gets a phone call from her husband that she’s been both expecting and dreading. The sound of the song fits the mood of the moment beautifully, but so do the lyrics. “Most of the time she ain’t even in my mind… I don’t pretend. I don’t even care if I ever see her again. Most of the time.” Kate’s a liar who’s been trying to come clean about her feelings, but that’s a hard thing to do when you disagree with your own heart.

“Keep Me in Your Heart” – Warren Zevon

This is non-negotiable. This is the song you should play as you read the final chapter. It’s a song I can’t listen to without crying. It’s a song I can barely think of without crying. I think first – because you have to – of Warren Zevon himself. It’s his song and it’s his plea: “I’m running out of breath. Keep me in your hearts for while. If I leave you, it doesn’t mean I love you any less…” It’s so sincere, so simple, so honest. So the words are his, yes, but they’re also the words of anyone who has ever been left or who’s ever leaving or about to leave. This song captures everything Kate can’t articulate.

“Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” – Arcade Fire

Finally, because this is a book about childhood and about family and, most of all, siblings, the song that you should listen to after you finish and – if I’ve done my job – while you’re still imagining Kate, imagining those next few minutes and maybe those next few hours, especially if you stay with the idea of her long enough to envision her on the flight home, this is the song. This is definitely the song that’s playing as the plane takes off.

MOVIE CASTING

Kate — Charlize Theron

Nell — Liv Tyler

Elliott — John Corbett

Peter — Jason Seagal

reunion

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Location, Location, Location: The Hundred-Year House, by Rebecca Makkai

hundred-year-house-cover

     “Home is the place, where when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”  Robert Frost’s poem resonates throughout the backward tale of Rebecca Makkai’s novel, The Hundred-Year House.  The tale opens in 1999 at Laurelfield, estate and former arts colony owned by the imminent Devohr family when Zee, a Devohr, and her husband move into the carriage house.  Mysteries abound.  What is that hole in the carriage house kitchen wall?  What’s in the attic of the main house?  Why do the eyes of the portrait in the dining room follow you?  Is the house itself trying to bring lovers together or force them apart?

    More secrets, mysteries and some answers are revealed as Makkai leads the reader from the most recent past through the decades to the past.  The second section of The Hundred-Year House backpedals to1955, the third in the 1920s and ultimately, to the conception and construction of the location in 1900.

     The Hundred-Year House, Makkai’s second novel, was on my list of best reads of 2014.  https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/12/28/2014-in-review/  It’s one of those novels that sort of defies an explanation.  The house is a character, much like Hogwarts is a character, that appears to precipitate action, even pulling lovers together.  It’s at times spooky, funny, contemplative, romantic.

     At the beginning of the novel, the inhabitants are stocking up for Y2K, semi-convinced that a basement full of canned goods and an old Chevy will allow them to reach the 21st Century unscathed.  At the turn of the 20th Century at the end of the novel, Augustus Devohr finds the land upon which he will build Laurelfield and decides that this is something “he’s always been meant to see. . . . ‘What is the opposite of memory?’ he wonders, “‘what is the inverse of an echo?'”  By reversing time in the narrative, The Hundred-Year House creates mysteries which can be solved by knowledge of the past.  Throughout, she muses on art, artists, identity, fate and love.

christmas-clip-art-love-pictures-black-and-white-vintage-ribbons-and-bows---free-clip-art-old-design-shop-blog-pictures

     Although Makkai’s prose consistently sings, my favorite passages are those about love.

What was all this, but a modern tower of Babel?  Here was someone speaking nothing but dance, and someone else speaking nothing but paint, and someone speaking poetry, and someone speaking music.  And what were they trying to express, but the inexpressible?  If there existed words, regular words, to say what they were aiming at, then why would they ever need to do what they did?  Why were they all living here, knocking so ineffectively at the doors of the palace?  The ink was as insufficient as anything else, but perhaps it was a start.  If he’d been a sculptor, he’d have sculpted it for them: Look! There!  Love.

   Rebecca Makkai visited my hometown for the Kentucky Women Writer’s Conference last fall and gave one of the best talks during the weekend on how to write a great novel ending.  I really enjoyed her talk, and I really enjoyed her book.  I think your book club would as well.

MENU

   Thanks to The David Blagh for some ideas.  http://leitesculinaria.com/10348/writings-dining-through-the-decades-american-food-history.html,

   Since The Hundred-Year House visits from distinct time periods, I would create a menu from those four decades, moving from 1999 to 1900 as the novel does.

1999 — Appetizer

Cosmopolitans (thank you Carrie Bradshaw)

Low-Carb was the diet of the year in Time Magazine, so I’d serve chicken tikka skewers with peanut sauce

1955

I have a lovely old cookbook published in 1959 by the Louisville Courier-Journal entitled Cissy Gregg’s Cookbook, Volume 2.  My grandmother swears by two things:  the Bible and Cissy Gregg.  Most of the salads featured in this cookbook involve mayonnaise and/or gelatin but this recipe for Overnight Fruit Salad does not, and I believe I remember having it.

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Overnight Fruit Salad

1 cup seedless grapes, halved

1 cup cherries, pitted (CIssy notes she uses white cherries)

6 marshmallows, cut in eighths (of course, now we have mini-marshmallows — I’ll use those)

1/8 pound cashews, chopped

1 cup diced pineapple

1 egg

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons half and half

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped

Combine fruits, marshmallows and nuts.  Beat egg until light and foamy.  Add sugar gradually.  Blend in half and half and lemon juice.  Place egg mixture in a saucepan and cook over low heat or over hot water (in a double boiler) until the sauce is smooth and thickened, stirring constantly.  Cool.  Fold in whipped cream.  Pour over combined fruits and nuts and mix lightly.  Chill overnight in the refrigerator.

1920s

Martinis

Fingerfood.  The 20s were the birth of the cocktail party so I’d go to Trader Joe’s and snap up some goodies.

1900s

Brownie’s.  Here’s my grandmother’s recipe.

1/3 cup Crisco

1 cup sugar

2 well-beaten eggs

2 1 oz squares of chocolate melted

3/4 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup broken nut meats

1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream sugar and Crisco.  Add egg, beat well.  Add chocolate and blend.  Add dry ingredients and beat until smooth.  Stir in nuts and vanilla.  Pour into paper lied 8 inch pans.  Bake 350 degrees for 35 minutes.  Cut into bars.

MUSIC

1999, Prince and the Revolution

Rock Around the Clock, Bill Haley & the Comets (from 1955)

Rhapsody in Blue, Gershwin, 1920s

Swanne River, Stephen Foster (1900)

Here’s a few more top songs from 1900, since that’s pretty obscure.  http://tsort.info/music/yr1900.htm

Happy Reading & Eating!

Life After Life, by Jill McCorkle

toast

     Author Jill McCorkle spent the weekend in Lexington, speaking to the Kentucky Women Writer’s Conference and shepherding a group of 16 budding authors through a two-day workshop in how to “find the story.”  I was lucky enough to be among that small group; to sit with, talk with, learn from and laugh with the kind, gently Southern and very talented writer.  She shared with us how she found the story she wrote in Life After Life, a sweetly hopeful and melancholy tale of lives entwined in an assisted care facility.

    Life After Life takes the reader into the Pine Haven retirement center in Fulton, North Carolina:  a refuge for some of the residents and staff and a prison for others.  Rachel Silverman, a transplanted Yankee, stirs many a pot as does retired lawyer Stanley Stone.  Toby and Sadie comfort Abby, the child of a painful marriage, who likes to escape to visit the residents of Pine Haven.  Joanna, an employee of Pine Haven, gathers the stories of the residents in a central point.  Joanna’s mission having been given to her to “make their exits as gentle and loving as possible.”  She does, and thereafter collects the stories of their exits in her journal.

   Ms. McCorkle talked of visiting her own mother in a location similar to that of Pine Haven.  Of the hard truth that so much in such places is simply not nice, but staying in that facility willfully until some glimpse of humor displayed itself.  She mines the truth of the situation for gentle humor throughout Life After Life as well.  But in each life, a little rain must fall and as each residents’  story becomes known, the reader sees the tragedy as well as the comedy.

    One of my favorite characters was the character of Stanley Stone, who is suffering from dementia-turette’s syndrome and plays Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass’ vinyl recording of Whipped Cream “nonstop.”  He has the unfortunate tendency to walk into a room and make the most obscene outbursts.

Whipped-Cream-and-other-Delights-Herb-Alpert“You aren’t queer, are you, son?”  Stanley asked.  “Been a long time since I’ve heard of you getting a piece.”

    During her talk on Friday, Ms. McCorkle read a passage from what she called “Toby’s rant,” that is a good illustration of what the New York Times book review referred to as the “simple, often luminous moments this side of the great divide.”  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/12/books/review/life-after-life-by-jill-mccorkle.html?smid=pl-share

“I am a human, a woman; I was an English teacher and a bit of an amateur writer myself, but I’ll tell you things went so far off course I just didn’t even know where I was anymore.  I think it was the beginning of the end, too.  What once was generous compassion for high school students with all their angst and crap going on turned into pure agitation and fury.  I didn’t get frustrated by who I am; I got frustrated by what they were reading and wanting to write about.  I said, you’re too smart for all this shit.  Dwarves and wizards and gnomes and vampires — big blue aliens with tails like monkeys.  I said what I wouldn’t give for a good old-fashioned story about somebody losing his or her virginity or getting an abortion — Grandma died and for the first time I knew I was mortal or what about the one where the boy doesn’t want to kill a deer, but Granddaddy makes him so he can be a man.  I was wanting to write something myself and it was dying to get out of my head but couldn’t’ find the door it was all so plugged up with that malarkey.”

    Life After Life offers multiple lives, voices and topics for discussion:  senior care, adultery, dementia, creativity, artistry and of course, aging.  And like Jill McCorkle, you will leave Pine Hurst with a dose of gentle humor to leaven the sorrow.

MENU  hot diggity

    Pine Hurst employee C.J. runs a hot dog stand.  The stand features special like a German Shepherd with onions and sauerkraut.  I can’t stand hot dogs though, blame Upton Sinclair, so I would serve:

Sweet Tea/Bourbon Cocktail

Muddle one sugar cube with 2 oz lemon juice in low ball glass

Add two ounces of tea and two ounces of bourbon

Shake with ice cubes and serve

North Carolina Barbecue 

Baked Potatoes

Sweet Potato Pie — my good friend Denise Smith shared this yummy recipe with me.

1 1/2 cup sweet potatoes

1 1/2 cup sugar

1/2 stick butter, at room temperature

1 egg

1 unbaked pie shell

Preheat oven to 350.  Boil sweet potatoes in large Dutch oven until knife inserted goes through with complete ease.  Peel sweet potatoes as soon as they are cool enough to handle.  Beat in electric mixer until smooth.  Add next 3 ingredients and mix well.  Pour into pie shell and make the top of the mixture as smooth as possible.  Cover with glaze and bake for one hour and ten mites or until pie shell is golden brown.

Glaze

1 egg

1/2 cup melted butter

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Beat all ingredients together in electric mixer.  Pour over top of pie.

MUSIC

   Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass!  Whipped Cream.  Actually that album is one of my favorite childhood memories.  I think my mom played it non-stop as well.  Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba . . .  http://youtu.be/VFgKIz1SrlI

MOVIE

This would be one heck of a tale to tell via film.  But I’ll do my best with a few of my favorite characters:

Stanley Stone:  Clint Eastwood

Rachel Silverman:  Barbra Streisand(!)

Toby:  Dame Judy Dench

Sadie:  Sally Field

Kendra:  Julie Bowen

   Thanks again to Jill McCorkle and happy reading!

mccorkle life