Monday, June 15, 2009

Lonesome Dove


So I'm 20 years behind on this phenomenon, but it has waited patiently for me. What a fine book! Not fancy except in its panorama, not sophisticated except in its characters, not exotic except in its elevation of the cliched American West. I recall shunning Larry McMurtry because he was too popular. Ah, youth. I can't imagine writing a novel this profound and this popular, this accessible. Every character grows over time, and eventually shows even a sliver of humanity or fatefulness that allows the reader to empathize with them (except, perhaps, Blue Duck, the murderous, rapacious soulless Indian outlaw, who kills everything in his past).

About halfway through the book I started sensing there was something beyond cowboy camraderies to Call and Gus' relationship: it is essentially a chaste gay marriage that they call the Lonesome Dove Ranch.

The TV mini-series is wonderful, too. Producation values are a little tacky, a little late-80s, but what are you going to do with on a mini-series budget? Robert Duval absolutely nails Gus, and Tommy Lee Jones is excellent as the stony, silent Call. Ricky Schroeder (!) is impressive as the young boy Newt.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

California Sorrow by Mary Kinzie, Tyrannosaurus Rex Versus the Corduroy Kid by Simon Armitage



In California Sorrow, Mary Kinzie writes in free verse, and not just any old free verse, but open field, fragmented, white-spacey free verse. I like her 2007 book a great deal, find it oddly confessional ("First Passion" and "Privilege," for example) and plainspoken in places, from this sternest, most latinate and eytmologically-gravest poet. The marvelous prose poem, "The Poems I Am Not Writing," is a John Koethe-like discursion on the process and prayer of writing poetry, training oneself to write away from the center, to allow the poem to show itself despite your best efforts to cloud the issue with your conscious effort and ideas. She comes up with the phrase "windless bony dusk" in one of the prose sections, and then attacks it:
"'Windless, bony dusk' is rather good, but in prose it is just too pleased with itself. A poem I am not writing yet might chasten it."

Monday, June 01, 2009

A History of Cereal and Violence


Behind the times, as usual: just saw the sort-of gripping movie A History of Violence, which actually feels like a graphic novel without resorting to any animation whatsoever. Over the years, I'd seen the preview so often -- the loaded momentary truthfulness of Viggo Mortenstern's innocent life, the heavy foreshadowing (Ed Harris' scarred face and destroyed eye) that maybe old Viggo weren't so nice -- that I felt like I'd already seen the movie. Still, it's not far from being a pretty good movie -- how faintly can I praise it? Certainly, the sex scene with Maria Bello on the stairs (the two people I mentioned the movie to immediately referenced that), not to mention the 69 scene with her in a cheerleader outfit, are outstanding, and easily made the movie half its money. But what about the cereal box in several intimate breakfast scenes? I'm talking, of course, about Honey Bunches of Oats.
Why is Honey Bunches of Oats featured in at least two breakfast scenes? I can't think of a gentler cereal, it's almost Shakespearean in its sweetness:

Nay, though thou would run with me,
run down through thorn-scored hayricks in the crick,

shall I roll with thee in pearled honey bunches of oats.