Saturday, February 21, 2015

Scattered Thoughts about William Gass' In The Heart of the Heart of the Country

So, William Gass, a professor emeritus in Philosophy at Washing University in Saint Louis, Missouri, wrote three novels, published multiple books of essays, criticism, translations, and two collections of short fiction. I completed my first reading of In The Heart of the Heart of the Country twenty minutes ago. I have random thoughts about the five pieces of short fiction I read.

-Firstly, I greatly admire William Gass. I learned about him through my interest in David Foster Wallace several years ago. I take my time getting to different authors whose work I want to read, because I’m caught up reading another author. I spent a lot of my free time in 2014 reading the novels of Vladimir Nabokov in chronological order. I read some for the first time, re-read others, and will re-re-read his novels for many years. Among my weaknesses is a habit of buying books instead of borrowing books from the library. I bought every Nabokov novel I read. After that I decided to borrow. I scoured the library’s catalog, adding books to my favorites list, and through the library I read On Being Blue by William Gass, a 100+ page rumination on the color blue and its many shades. Well, I bought his two novels not soon after I completed On Being Blue. I read Omensetter’s Luck in October, and I read The Tunnel in November. Omensetter’s Luck fit well with the southeastern Pennsylvania autumnal season. The Henry Pimber section, which I read on a golden Saturday, particularly struck me. Omensetter’s Luck sort of lost me when Jethro Furber took over, in the beginning, but the latter half of his long section engaged me. The Tunnel intimidated me, but I plunged in, and I spent three or four weeks with Kohler in his lonely hell. I told a friend a work about reading The Tunnel. It’s blowing my mind, I said. David Foster Wallace remarked that Omensetter’s Luck is one of the saddest books written; however, The Tunnel is sadder than Gass’ debut novel.

-Sadness makes a good transition into In The Heart of the Heart of the Country. Published in 1968, its style and structure is similar to Omensetter’s Luck, with a tiny bit of what was to come in The Tunnel. Gass writes the saddest fiction I’ve read. Nabokov built his worlds from within the solitary confined souls of his overpowering narrators. Similarly, Gass’ stories move outward from within, from a isolated, insular style. The lonely I narrates four of the five stories. The exception is “Icicles”; however, Fender, like the other characters in the collection of stories, is alone and sad, without identity. His characters look out of windows at what’s happening around them, his characters act cruelly, judge, fight, tear down each other, hate, and hate hard. What’s the saddest story in the collection? “The Pedersen Kid”. It’s also the most haunting story in the collection. I consider it a masterpiece after one reading. Jorge hates the Pederson kid, hates his father, his mother, and Big Hans-though by the end he finds a unique affinity with the Pederson kid. The atmosphere of the story entranced me-the snow, the wind, the gray skies, the oncoming night in a cold, dark place where there’s threat of violence. The detail about the unlit fire in the Pederson home stuck with me. Jorge’s violent fantasies. William Gass does not bother with plot. He’s concerned with language and words, sentences, the musicality of the text. He uses plot, though. Something must carry the text forward. The Pedersen kid nearly froze to death, or did freeze to death, in the snow. Jorge thinks so; Big Hans doesn’t. The mystery becomes why Pedersen’s kid was far from home. What scared him away? Did he run from his drunken father? I felt an acute sadness reading about the Pedersen kid. All he is he is a solid frozen thing, an object, one of many objects in the collection. Other objects include houses, the dead beetles the woman wakes up to every morning, the objectified Midwest in the title story, Fender’s icicles, and more and more. There are lists of lists of lists in Gass’ writing.

-The middle three stories: “Mrs. Mean”, “Icicles”, and “Order of Insects” continued the isolation, the theme of good and evil, questions of identity, life and death, meaning, cruelty, hatred, anger. Stunning bursts of prose emerge from oblivion in Gass. The last section of “Mrs. Mean” is wonderful. “Icicles”, too, bursts with light through its opaque, gray glass in the third section. “Order of Insects”, the shortest story in the collection, departs from the dominant male voice. A woman tells the reader about her masculine fascination with insects. The way Gass builds his metaphors is exhilarating. I stop reading for a second to shake my head in admiration, thinking, “How do I even in the slightest emulate this?”

-“In The Heart of the Heart of the County” is concluding story of the collection, the title piece, and a wonder. The narrator explores the heart of the heart of his Midwestern country. What is the heart and how is it kept? The heart is many places, many people, and it is alone, cast out, behind walls, beaten, abused, an abuser, a hater. Loneliness and sadness. His prose is mesmerizing, like watching snow fall by a street lamp, or the flames of a fire on a cold and lonely night. A stunning sentence: “Billy closes his door and carries coal or wood to his fire and closes his eyes, and there’s simply no way of knowing how lonely and empty he is or whether he’s as vacant and barren and loveless as the rest of us are-here in the heart of the country.”

-I’d love to write about The Tunnel but I need to read it two or three more times before I’d write a worthwhile observation about. “In The Heart of the Heart of the Country” seems a precursor to his second novel. The narrator remembers the rivers of his former lover’s body, characters are covered in the coal, the dirt, and the dust of the Midwest. It consumes them. It is them.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Vampire Diaries "Let Her Go" Review

The golden beauty of “Stay” lingers for one more scene. The flashback to Caroline riding a bike for the first time without training wheels while her mother watches concludes. Caroline fell off the book, scraped her knee, her elbow, and she thought she’d die from the fall. Liz tells her daughter that she won’t, which leads to Caroline wondering if her mother will die. Yes, Liz says, but not for a very long, long-time, not until Caroline’s grown up. Caroline replies, but I’ll always need you, Mom. Alas Children, no matter how old, always need their mother and father.

Damon’s best dialogue of the episode was during the teaser. The eulogy he wrote for Liz represented him completing the eulogy he didn’t finish for his mother. He gave a gift to Caroline, which he did not give to his brother. Damon’s dialogue shined in the teaser and resonated more than a repetition of a scene the audience saw a week earlier. Caroline goes for a glass of water. Damon sits at a table, stumped about the eulogy. Caroline doesn’t want to bond with him on the worst day of her life. Damon cautions her that the day of her mother’s funeral won’t be the worst day of her life. The day of the funeral and the day after are filled with friends, family, well-wishers, and no one wants to make her feel alone. The weeks after are when she’ll feel it the worst. Caroline eventually turns off the switch so that she won’t experience the worst parts.

Julie Plec and the writers divided “Let Her Go” into three separate parts that did not cohere. The A story follows Caroline’s mourning for her mother, the funeral, her feelings about Stefan, Stefan’s uncertainty about her, Elena’s concern for Caroline; The B story involves Kai asking his sister for her magic because he doesn’t want to die, and he knows she doesn’t want the coven to die with him; the C story involves Bonnie trying to leave the hell loop dimension, and she’s randomly thrown back to 1903 to meet Damon’s mother. Damnit. His reminiscence always leads to a long-dead character becoming a thing for him.

The A story celebrates Liz’s life. The police department honors her. Matt cries and feels inspired to join the police force. Caroline struggles to keep it together. Stefan’s reluctance to tell her what she wants to hear further motivates her decision to turn the switch off. The story is a progression of Caroline’s grief and it culminates in her snapping Elena’s neck. Before she left for her house, she told Elena that she’ll never forget what she did for her. Elena realized her friend wanted to turn it off. Caroline shoots back at her, during the solo intervention, about Elena turning off her switch and about Elena wiping her memories during her most trying times. That’s the only way that scene could go. Caroline choosing to mourn the hard way has great narrative potential, but Plec and staff chose the other option. Caroline without the switch should be fun for an episode, but the ‘turn the switch off’ story isn’t engaging long term.

The writers contrived to get Caroline to the right emotional state. Stefan had to doubt. She had to feel alone. The Stefan thing services a certain segment of the fanbase. His great love in The Vampire Diaries was Elena. Elena’s love for Damon was explained by her vampiric transformation. Stefan did not transform. If he feels love for Caroline, his insane fanbase will think he didn’t truly love Elena. Shipping for characters isn’t an issue, but a writer directly writing to a particular shipping subset is bad. Stefan needed to hear Caroline sing to know. He’s too late, of course, because she already snapped Elena’s neck and flipped the switch (plot contrivance, delay what fans want, blah blah).

Bonnie came home at episode’s end after traveling between time. She experienced two recurring cosmic events within minutes: the wondrous northern lights and the eclipse. Oh, the eclipse. Bonnie endured a stretch isolation, she almost died, she broke two toes, and had an ear infection. She tried to kill herself until her broad-chested bodybuilder boyfriend rescued her before disappearing into the toxic gas that accumulated in the garage. Bonnie accidentally filmed Damon’s mother from 1903 because why not. I expected his mother to transport to the present with her. She probably did. Bonnie’s the most badass independent character on this show.

The Kai storyline took a not wholly unexpected turn. The magic merge still affected him. The side effects include vomiting blood, in addition to the empathy he developed. Jo healed him. Alaric didn’t interfere. Jo didn’t question or look sideways at her brother. Kai explained the stakes clearly: he dies, she dies, they all die. The decision to give Kai more power did not bother Alaric. Alaric stood by as a protective boyfriend would, but he only wanted to keep an eye on Kai in case of murder. Alaric and Jo didn’t bother to discuss the inevitably that Kai will cease to feel emotions soon and how that will indeed be a very bad time for them and everyone they love. Perhaps it’s not a matter. Jo gave to Kai the only thing he wanted: magic.

Kai parts with good news for Jo and Alaric. Alaric, between helping Jeremy begin a clandestine vampire hunting life, impregnated Jo. Pregnancy storylines seem a bad idea in a soap, especially a teenage supernatural soap, but Alaric committed to Jo. He proposed. She accepted. Meanwhile, Caroline’s about to change her hair style and get all switched off.

Other Thoughts:

-Gosh, what a terrible last sentence to the review.

-The title was reflected in various parts of the episode. Caroline had to let go of her mother. Elena had to sort of let go. Hell loop dimension had to let go of Bonnie. Kai, in a way, let go of Jo. Stefan began to let go of his love for Elena for a chance to experience love with Caroline. Tyler did not let Liv go.

-Tyler looked perplexed when Matt handed him an application for law enforcement. Matt’s first move could be not taking Enzo’s shit.

-Julie Plec wrote and directed the episode. It was her directorial debut. I’d like for more creators/co-creators to write and direct multiple episodes a season. Joss Whedon did it. Greenwalt did it, too, for ANGEL. Let’s go, Plec.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Grimm "Trial By Fire" Review

Who else didn’t remember Peter Orson? I ask the question as if people far and wide will read my review for “Trial By Fire”. The most die-hard Grimm fans must remember Peter Orson, the bauerschweinn from an early season one episode that involved Monroe, his ex-girlfriend, her brothers, and death. Oh, so much death. I barely remembered Peter Orson from “The Three Bad Wolves” episode. I’ve written about almost every Grimm episode, so boy is my face red.

There’s an arsonist in Portland. Nick and Hank investigate the case and, soon, enlist, Peter Orson to assist. Orson almost had the guy identified before he killed two of Angelina’s brothers. The arsonist burned a business down after the future owner of the business hired him. He did not want to stay in the family business. Two employees died in the fire, which brings Nick and Hank into the investigation. Peter Orson’s addition to the case helps lead the detectives to the wesen arsonist, but he also very briefly affects the group dynamic. Monroe refused to work with Orson, the man responsible for bad things that happened to a woman he cared for and her family. Rosalee wanted to help two dead kids and asked Monroe to move past the wesen-on-wesen hate. Monroe leaves in a huff, returns two scenes later, and agrees to work with Orson. So, that was that.

The loyalty of Peter Orson was in question. Renard threatened him to life without parole if he tried anything. During Orson’s encounter with the arsonist wesen he speaks as if he might turn. He chastises the villain of the week for being sloppy, but he’s out for redemption. The arsonist almost burns him alive. After Rosalee, Monroe, Nick, and Hank explode their perp Orson returns to prison. Inside the cell, he sadly grabs the bar of his cage. “Trial By Fire” was more about the redemption of Peter Orson than a story about Nick or Hank or Monroe or Rosalee. Detective procedurals can lose its central characters in the case. Nick and Hank do nothing but offer Orson a chance to do some good and to rectify the past. Perhaps that’s the most important thing any character does in “Trial by Fire.”

Elsewhere, Adalind and Juliette fought. The baby plot moves at the speed of a small beetle. Viktor uses a guy that works with Renard but also works for him. Adalind learns that Kelly used Juliette’s car. The viewer learns about the different car transactions since the baby disappeared. So, Adalind confronts Juliette in her home. Juliette kicked her ass. Adalind returned to her car and screamed. Later, Nick returned home. The house was in disarray. He drew his gun. Juliette sat in a room and, finally, showed him her secret.

I don’t know. “Trial By Fire” is a fine episode of Grimm. There’s a self-contained case with a feel-good element. The writers told another story within the case about a shitty son and his obtuse father. There’s never been much to Grimm episodes that necessitates weekly reviews. Habit and routine formed that pattern of mine. So, I don’t think I have many thoughts to share about Grimm. I’m my only reader of the reviews. I’m essentially telling myself this is (probably) the last Grimm review. I may feel different March 20.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Vampire Diaries "Stay" Review

The setting sun’s golden hues overwhelmed the frames in “Stay.” It was the dominant motif-the setting sun and things passing away. “Stay” is a beautiful looking episode. The scenes at the cabin, the memory Caroline and Liz share about Caroline’s bike ride, and the dimly lit office of the Sheriff with a glint of setting sun lighting her and Damon. The Walking Dead received praise for its Terrence Malickian fancy episode last Sunday, but “Stay” looked prettier. The irony of the title “Stay” is that the two characters the other characters wanted to stay do not stay. Jeremy leaves to investigate “animal attacks” in New Mexico. Liz lives on, flies on, in the reflected sky, the reflected sky itself the memories of those who continue to live for but where else will one experience life after death other than the memories of those who loved the deceased. She passes away after one final day in the office in which she tried to solve cold cases, half of which Damon solved because he committed the murder.

Liz fixes on the death of the Gilberts, the inciting incident of the series. The Vampire Diaries’ love several things: love triangles, themed parties, killing characters, setting the characters in a high school none of the characters attend, and retconning. The Gilbert case seems like an unnecessary retcon until Liz reveals to Damon her renewed interest in the case. The accident kicked off a never-ending cycle of pain, death, and loss in Mystic Falls. It ushered in violent supernatural psychopaths. Liz thinks the Gilberts death has an explanation. Humans fear death. It’s the great unspoken fear in western culture. Death is random, unexplainable, and people don’t understand why we die. Why does nature have of cycle of life, death, life death? It consumes itself. When Liz learns that the Gilberts planned a mock arrest thing for Jeremy, because he smoked pot, Liz despairs. The supernatural element in Mystic Falls is violent and insane but explicable. Liz hates that Elena and Jeremy lose their parents because of an accident-that a storm tore the down the power lines, closed the roads, rerouted the Gilberts to the bridge, and made the roads slick, that it killed the parents, and left her children orphans. More so, she hates that she lived a good life, kept law and order in her town, provided for her family, and still her cells went insane in her body. She hates that she’ll die before watching more of her extraordinary daughter’s life.

Liz Forbes died in a hospital room, surrounded by the kids she helped protect, and while sharing an apropos memory with her daughter. Caroline spent the day preparing a cabin room for her complete with classic literature and bottles of alcohol. Stefan helped. They kissed during a beautiful golden sunset after conversing about why he helps her. Does he do it because Liz asked him to? No. He does it because her likes her, and he hated hearing that she hated him. The trip to the cabin evokes Caroline’s nostalgia. She finds her first bike. Her first bike ride without her mother involved another redolent sun set that cast the ground, the trees, the path, the cabin, Liz and her daughter, in gold, but nothing gold can stay. No, the past is irretrievable (that stumped a certain of writer of great fame: we can walk backwards in space, but we can not go backwards in time). Liz let Caroline go though Caroline felt scared. But she had to, she had no choice, and couldn’t do it without her mother slowly, gently, and lovingly letting her hands free from the bike, and watching her daughter pedal into the golden infinity ahead. It’s a heavy-handed metaphor that in a way cheapens the immensity of the loss. Adapting to life after a parent dies isn’t like riding a bike for the first time without training wheels, but TVD wants to convey a specific, complicated emotion to a broad young audience that can easily understand what happened through the image of mother, daughter, bike, and training wheels.

Liz’s last day had great touches. Damon’s presence, especially, was a wonderful touch. Liz was his closest adult friend in Mystic Falls, before Alaric. She brought the decent human side of him before Elena. Elena visited the sheriff’s office to help her put together the day of the accident. They reminisced about the days after when she helped Elena and Jeremy. Damon draws the mother parallel. He remembers his mother’s death because Liz was the mother of Mystic Falls. The other teenager characters didn’t have theirs. She was the constant in an entropic town populated by supernatural variables.

The Jeremy departure took a sixth or seventh act turn (I don’t count, but I assume TVD’s entrenched in the seven act structure) that’s better than the leaving for art school reason. Alaric disappeared for two episodes, during an intense time for his girlfriend, for mysterious reasons. Alaric’s preoccupation with animal attacks in the southwest of America did not cohere with his fervent concern for Jo, but, whatever, sometimes writers need to sacrifice character for plot. Jeremy’s the dude to investigate what’s happening. Before that turn in the story, he reminisced with Elena, smoked a joint with her, Enzo threatened to kill him, Enzo didn’t kill him, and he then took a bus to central New Mexico. Elena, Damon, Alaric, and Matt remembered for him and the audience the number of times he almost died, died, and became a bodybuilder with a chest the width of New Venezuela.

“Stay” dwelled in the iridescent past, the irretrievable and sad past, and it’s sad to say goodbye because a goodbye is an end, but also a golden beginning. Elena tells her brother he needs to leave, for normalcy, for a life without an Enzo to threaten him, and for a chance at happiness. Now, none of that happen will happen for Jeremy. It’s as tenuous and fading a hope of Elena’s as the sun. The sun doesn’t set, see; it’s merely our perception that it does. Make them think a rock’s soaring in the sky when it’s still on the ground.

Other Thoughts:

-The greatest line of the episode was Damon’s about Jeremy’s workout regimen. I’ve watched seven seasons worth, or 3000 plus minutes, of Steven R. McQueen acting. He was as scrawny as me once upon a time. Fare the well, Steven R. McQueen and your muscles.

-Margeurite McIntyre did a great job for nearly six seasons too.

-Caroline Dries & Brian Young wrote the episode. Chris Grismer directed this beautiful looking episode. Marc Pollon edited it.

-Jane Eyre’s not 600 pages. It’s a little over 500. A college course about Victorian literature became a Jane Eyre only class, and I now loathe the novel. Caroline brought 12 volumes of Shakespeare for her mother to read. Caroline would’ve identified with a line from Hamlet, “When sorrows come they come not single spies but battalions” or any of Lear’s after he experienced a tragedy so deep that not even Samuel Johnson could bear reading it again.

-I owe William Gass for the last line of the review (from his conversation with John Gardner).

-Michael Trevino didn’t appear in the episode. Jeremy, Tyler, and Matt used to bro around in seasons past. The budget constraints do not help the storytelling. Early in season 1, Tyler and Jeremy fought over Vicky Donovan.

About The Foot

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.