Month: August 2015

Book Review – Lazlo Krasznahorkai: Seiobo There Below

Perhaps a better title for this offering from 2015’s Man Booker International Prize winner would’ve been Seiobo There Beyond Me as I struggled to follow this series of short stories that encompassed subjects from Japanese culture, Baroque music and the creative process that all artists work with and then the author added to that bizarre syntax, in fact even as a series of short stories comprised this book, I think the author only used two or three periods the whole time!? This made the reading very hard to follow both for content and presentation now that’s strange because the author repeated himself many times throughout the book which led to some dull reading and that could explain his liberal use of repetition but still I struggled to follow even though Krasznahorkai repeated himself over and over!? Funny I wrote that because one of the things that he really enjoyed overusing happened to be the !? punctuation mark and I don’t know why !? A period would’ve been nice once in a while but, this author for some reason disdains them for reasons known only to him, which is strange since I read myriad commas and semi-colons, that makes me guess the !? is more interesting looking in his mind and that’s his artistic call; since the book addressed numerous themes dealing with the arts maybe that works; well, whatever, that was almost the most engaging element of the entire book !? I know that’s mean, and not entirely fair since the author did have a few interesting lyrical flourishes, because of the book’s tone, the cryptic nature of all of them didn’t surprise me, such as “the Baroque is  the artwork of pain” (Page 354) and “he had attained what he dreamed of, and yet had not attained it at all” (Page 141) I’m not sure what the last one means, and from reading the context, I couldn’t figure it out which made me wish the author could have returned to that theme since he wasn’t averse to repeating himself in the book, oh yes, did  I forget to mention that !? Krasznahorkai repeated himself a lot, and I mean a lot, in Seiobo There Below which I suppose if he wanted to have sentences run on for pages that sort of thing is inevitable; but still Seiobo There Below made for extremely challenging reading between the esoteric approach to stream of consciousness writing and the obscure references that I knew nothing about; not that I should complain, the book kept me occupied for several days right up until every story’s Nihilistic end that came abruptly !?

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Book Review – Truman Capote: Breakfast at Tiffany’s

The narrator of Breakfast at Tiffany’s commented on “the inevitable sense of shortcoming” many writers experience. (Page 21) I wonder if Mr. Capote had these sensations when he finished writing this book. I wouldn’t even classify it as a novella. He took a series of clichés, added elements of salacious gossip and combined them into a book. The result was predictable.

From my reading of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I interpreted it at a character sketch of the protagonist presented through the eyes of the narrator. I couldn’t detect a plot. In essence, Holly Golightly shuffled through a series of unusual boyfriends. One worked as a horse doctor, another served as a Brazilian diplomat and yet another was an organized crime boss. While Holly’s unorthodox love life was interesting, I didn’t find it strong enough to sufficiently comprise a story.

I thought the narrator falling in love with her a very hackneyed story line. (I use the term ‘story’ loosely, here.) The two lived in the same building. He knew how frequently she changed men. She’d disappear for days. What caused the attraction?

On the same tangent, why did Holly keep moving from boyfriend to boyfriend? I understand she started out very poor (another hackneyed story line) and had aspirations of becoming a famous actress. (Once again, this story has been written myriad times.) Why? The depictions of her behavior suggested someone very flighty. It would’ve held my attention if the Mr. Capote presented some hints as to her motivations. “She grew up poor” just didn’t work for me.

To the extent Breakfast at Tiffany’s had a story I’m guessing one of the story sparks took place when…SPOILER ALERT….You know what? With all the clichés in this book, I’m sure readers already guessed by now: Holly’s long-lost husband showed up! Really? Truman Capote possessed skill as an author. I’m surprised that he couldn’t have come up with something more original here.

Since the author littered the book with clichés, I got the impression he saved all his creative ideas for the characters’ names. We encountered the protagonist, Holiday Golightly. We met a crime lord with a name that stuck terror into the hearts of his enemies. He went by the horrifying eponym: Sally Tomato. The author also introduced us to the narrator’s landlord named Sapphia Spanella. I didn’t find the book very good to begin with. The bizarre names just made it a caricature of itself.

At one point Holly told the narrator, “It’s better to look at the sky than live there.” (Page 74) I say looking at the sky is more entertaining than reading Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

In Memoriam – Pink Floyd

August 16, 2015 marks a time of “sorrow”, but a “great day for freedom” for David Gilmour, apparently. He decided it was “time” to “run like hell” from Pink Floyd; a band he’d played with for the last 48 years. “Wot’s…uh the deal?” I knew it had to happen “one of these days”, but I’m “lost for words.” He’s made similar comments before, but this time he says it’s “absolutely curtains.” I harbored “high hopes” the band would reunite following the release of 2014’s The Endless River: the first occassion we’ve heard “signs of life” from the group since Live 8. I’m upset that album will serve as “the final cut”.

Does Mr. Gilmour have “brain damage”? Dave, “hey you”! Before you “have a cigar” I “wish you were here” “in the flesh”. “What do you what from me?” you wonder. I’d like you to “take it back.” Alright, I need to “breathe.” I’ll get “comfortably numb” soon. For now, I have some things to say “on the turning away” from one of rock’s greatest groups.

Pink Floyd’s fans were like “sheep”. We’ll all “remember a day” we first heard them. From then on out it was “us and them”. Those were “the happiest day of our lives”. They were “one of the few” iconic bands of my generation. Their influence is undeniable; one can hear “echoes” of their sound anytime a guitar player picks the strings between the “empty spaces” on a Fender Stratocaster. “What shall we do now?”

We’ve been “round and around” this before. I hope Mr. Gilmour reconsiders before he goes to “the great gig in the sky”. “It would be so nice.” Maybe the band will be “coming back to life” at some point. While I think the guys are “poles apart” I’ll “keep talking” about how “the show must go on”. The way things look now, another Pink Floyd album won’t come out until we see “pigs on the wing”.

Book Review – In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Legend has it that while working on In Cold Blood Capote mentioned the title to an acquaintance. The person replied, “Does that refer to the murders or your writing about them?” After reading this book, I think Capote’s interlocutor was being generous. While this book came out in 1965, I found it much more sensationalistic and morbid than most modern tales about mass murder. I guess in one sense, the author deserves credit. That’s not an easy feat to achieve in America.

Capote referred to this book as a “non-fiction novel”. While I wished he’d have chosen a more pleasant topic, I agree with his assessment. The book included multifarious subject matter, all centered on the brutal executions of a family of four in Holcom, Kansas on November 15, 1959. (After reading In Cold Blood, that date will become fixed in your memory.) Capote detailed the Clutter family’s lives before that night, he described the man-hunt for the culprits and even the biographies of the killers themselves. I thought the last part rather unusual at first, but as the story went on, I understood: the author strove to portray them as people and not vicious monsters. I’d give Capote an “A” for effort on this. No matter what he wrote about them, I couldn’t sympathize with a sociopath and a pedophile.

It’s hard to find the words to explain the level of melodrama in this book. The author divided it into four sections. He titled them “The Last to See them Alive”, “Persons Unknown”, “Answer” and “The Corner”. The latter referred to the gallows’ nickname at the state prison. With regard to the first section: I obviously knew the Clutter family’s ultimate fate before I started reading. Did Capote really need to give readers a detailed account of each one’s last day?  And did he really need to describe teenaged Nancy’s laying out her clothes including, “the dress in which she was to be buried”? (Page 56)

Earlier I mentioned the question about the title’s meaning. I read several passages that showed author’s insensitivity. I don’t think it appropriate to quote them verbatim. He described in tacky detail the crime scene photos of the family. (Page 83) As if explaining the murderers shot each in the head with a shotgun didn’t get the point across.

Using creative license, Capote also took readers into the mind of one of the killers. The author provided us with his recollections of cutting one of the victim’s throats. (Page 110) The family had two surviving daughters. Out of respect for them alone, this passage shouldn’t have made it into the book.

While the author provided a strong case for the two killers’ death sentences, he argued for the contrary. Towards the end of the book, he summarized an article in The American Journal of Psychiatry from July of 1960. In it, several psychiatrists argued that some victims of abuse can be triggered to react violently. The person(s) they attack may “represent” the person(s) who wronged them. (298 – 300) In other words, these people suffer from a diminished capacity.

I’m not a death penalty supporter myself, but after reading this book I may need to re-evaluate. The author presented a detailed description of the two killers. He explained how they executed a family of four over less than $50.00. At no point did either express any remorse over the murders. Then he cited a professional study explaining that these people couldn’t control their impulses. I think he refuted his own stance on capital punishment.

The author performed copious research on this book. It enabled him to provide troubling insights into what happened and why. I wouldn’t want to read In Cold Blood again. It did make me wish Capote had lived long enough to compile a book on the Simpson trial, though.

Merrily We Roll Along Presented by the BCF Intern Company at Burlington County Footlighters

The opening scene of this musical took the audience to a party held in Frank Shepard’s honor. All the “movers and shakers” of Bel Air arrived to pay tribute to this towering titan of Tinseltown. As well they should have. While starting out as a small-time writer of musical scores, he’d achieved dizzying heights of prominence as a Hollywood movie producer. Everyone loved Frank; well, everyone except his ex-wife, his estranged writing partner and his life-long friend whom he drove to a life of alcoholism. For that matter, his ex-wife didn’t care for him, his current wife suspected him of infidelity, and potential wife number three had been attacked by wife number two. Merrily we roll along.

This annual installment of the Burlington County Footlighters Intern company served as an outstanding vehicle for these eager thespians. Director Kevin Esmond had a lot to work with here. The show featured numerous roles so that even the secondary characters had an opportunity to display their skills.  I’d especially give kudos to Mack Massey. He turned in a convincing performance playing a nine year old child.

The show featured an unusual time sequence. It began in 1976 and ended after Sputnik’s launch. Each act progressed backwards in time. We got to witness Frank’s rise to stardom in reverse. It’s difficult to keep an audience engaged with that structure. After all, they already know the ending when the play starts. Then again, in the talented hands of Stephen Sondheim and George Furth, I remained interested.

The musical centered on the interlocking lives of three friends. Franklin Shepard (played by Ryan Kiernan) the music writer, Charlie Kringas (Alec Hamilton) the playwright, and Mary Flynn (Daio Floyd) a novelist. The three had exceptional chemistry together. One highlight of the show came when they sang as a trio on the tune, “Old Friends”.  While pressed together on a small couch, they had to execute some tricky choreography, also. I didn’t hear any of them go out of key the whole time.

Sondheim likes trios, apparently. Another one featured Mr. Kiernan, Mr. Hamilton, and Sarah Peszka (as Beth) singing “Bobby and Jackie and Jack” in the 1960 scene. This homage to the Kennedy clan included a bit of a traditional Irish dance. It also required the three to rattle-off the names of everyone in the Kennedy family very fast while in unison. (Sondheim likes sixteenth notes, too.)  The fact the cast remembered the all the lyrics alone impressed me. (more…)

Restaurant Review Dredge Harbor Café, Delran, NJ

Of the many adjectives that come to mind when describing fine dining, the word dredge doesn’t make the top hundred.  I found the seating even less appealing. The white plastic chairs and long rectangular tables reminded me of a high school cafeteria. The building resembled a trailer one would see at a construction site. To express this as politely as possible, upon entering, the tide in the harbor reached higher than my expectations for a good meal. For that matter, I wondered if some of the ducks floating in the water were part of the menu.

I’ve never been so surprised. The Dredge Harbor Café treated me to the best dinner I can recall in recent memory.

I ordered the flounder. (I don’t have a copy of the menu, so I don’t know the precise cost.) It came with a choice of soup or salad. While I normally select the salad, I read “Ham and Cabbage” soup on the list. What an unusual offering. I never do enough to commemorate my Irish ancestry, so I opted for that.

The café served me the best soup I’ve ever had. It tasted very flavorful; that’s an accomplishment with cabbage. I could clearly discern both ingredients in the broth. They loaded an abundance of both them into the cup, as well. A bowl would’ve been adequate for a meal in itself.

Our server mistakenly brought over an extra salad for our group. Nonetheless, she placed it on the table and said we would keep it. Since no one else shared my passion for greens, I decided to treat myself. The quality of the lettuce and tomatoes impressed me. I eat a lot of salad, but it’s rare I have one as savory as this. I give the Dredge Harbor Café a lot of credit: the food they served in preparation for the main dish would’ve made for a quality dining experience in itself.

Then dinner came. I figured the main course would be a bit of a let-down after the soup and salad. Again, the Dredge Harbor Café astonished me. The flounder’s texture allowed me to cut it with a fork. It tasted delicious. The baked potato and broccoli I had with it were excellent as well. The skin on the potato had the same texture as the French fries. I sampled one of the latter from one of my dining companions. They tasted more like potatoes than any other French fry I’ve ever tried. I’ve eaten at several places that make their own. I give the kitchen staff credit for outstanding food preparation.

I also liked the deceptively large portions. When I received my plate I thought it smaller than those used by comparable eateries. Again, the café shocked me. I couldn’t complete the entire meal. Thanks to the people in my party, we had plenty of leftovers for my dog, Cinnamon. Now I need to put her on a diet.

I criticized the décor earlier. To be fair, the establishment treats patrons sitting outside to a view of the harbor. One gets to watch the boats leaving and returning with the waning light of the summer sun in the background; at least during the evening.

Everyone’s familiar with the business axiom, “location, location, location.” The Dredger Harbor Café is easy to miss for first time diners. One has to take a long, meandering road off of River Road in Delran to get to the building. As I wrote above, the facility’s appearance isn’t, well, eye catching.

Another unusual feature of the restaurant is its restrooms. One has to get a key from inside and then walk across the street to the facilities. Needing a “pass” for the washroom made me feel like I was still in high school. At my age, that might not be a bad thing, though.

I remember as a kid going to Dredge Harbor for ice cream. I’d eat it while watching the boats along the water. I’ve grown up and so has the Dredge Harbor Café. They treated me to a phenomenal fine dining experience. Even though duck didn’t appear on the menu, I’d strongly recommend to fellow gastronomes.