This week I wanted to talk about some new comedies that I have been enjoying. I'm just praying that they haven't been canceled between me writing and publishing this column. They're all shows with lots of lady characters, which is really nice after hearing so much jibber jabber about how women aren't and can't be funny. (Which is especially hilarious given that Carol Burnett just won the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.)
I'll start with a program that has three male leads, one of them who has also kept American laughing for decades, and two female. The Crazy Ones stars Robin Williams as Simon, the patriarch of a very successful ad agency. Sarah Michelle Geller plays his slightly uptight daughter Sydney. Supporting cast includes Amanda Setton as someone Lauren, James Wolk as Zach, and Hamish Linklater as Andrew. Zach and Andrew are coworkers with a sibling rivalry type of relationship. Robin Williams is in prime form as a barely in control super creative person. This show endeared me within the first few minutes of the pilot when Andrew told Robin Williams' character that he felt as though Zach was being given preferential treatment. For instance, the gift of a leather jacket after a photo shoot. When Robin William's character hears this he immediately apologizes and tries to make it right. In this case that means giving Andrew a a whole passel of ducklings to raise, which isn't really comparable to getting a leather jacket, but it is really nice to see a character who can see that he’s wrong and then fixes things, instead of getting defensive and obnoxious. Be sure to watch this show straight to the end as they run outtakes in the last minute or so. Those are particularly interesting because they are often doing very different things than what ends up on the screen.
Trophy Wife is another show that has kind of a terrible title that belies the content. It definitely would have put me off if I hadn't see previews that intrigued me. I think it's meant to be ironic as the third wife Kate (played by Malin Akerman), who is blond, young and beautiful, and married to Pete, (played by Bradly Whitford) does look like your classic trophy wife stereotype but her life is pretty complicated. Her husband's two ex-wives and three children keep her hopping, especially since the two exes feel perfectly comfortable behaving as though they still live in the family home.
Ex-wife number one, Diane (played by Marcia Gay Harden) is a doctor with a domineering personality. She has a strong desire for control and treats Kate like a child. Jackie, ex-wife number two (Played by Michaela Watkins) is on the spacey side. She has trouble with boundaries, is a little flighty, has started numerous businesses, which I believe have not been terribly successful. I'm sure her most obvious personality traits make ex-wife number one feel that her control of the family is absolutely necessary.
Oldest daughter Hilary (Bailee Madison) is pretty grounded, although in the pilot (I think it was the pilot) she sneaks vodka to school (I think it was school) in a water bottle, which the trophy wife has to drink to keep ex-wife number one from finding out her daughter is drinking. This does not help trophy wife's reputation.
Warren, (Ryan Lee), the older son is a little clueless, halfway between childhood and being a teen. In a recent episode he and his little brother Burt (Albert Tsai) fight over a teddy bear that he has donated to Burt, later regretting his generosity. This results in dad acting as a judge, holding a trial a la Solomon and the baby, to determine who gets custody. The humor in this show rises from characterization, as it does in virtually all good comedy. With so many divergent personalities trying to mesh, while members of the family try to break stereotypical molds, there is plenty of opportunity for laughs.
Super Fun Night stars Rebel Wilson as an attorney (another attorney!) who gets together with her two best friends and vows to go out every week and have some fun. In the first episode I saw they put lots in a hat to decide on their destination, which turned out to be a piano bar. Rebel's character, Kimmie Boubier, has terrible stage fright, but as an attorney she is going to be need to be able to get up in front of a crowd, so she decides to go through with it. Unfortunately for her a new coworker who is super competitive decides to come to the event and show her up. Not only does poor Rebel have to get up and sing but she has to to do it in the same manner which gave her a phobia in the first place; singing directly after someone who is gorgeous and kills it.
Do I even need to say Rebel Wilson is terrific in this? Her character is much more upbeat than in some of her recent roles such as in Pitch Perfect and Bridesmaids. Of course her character is going to have problems but her attitude is infectious and cheerful. In a recent episode she literally could not stop smiling, as she told the viewers of her video blog. My only real nitpick with this show is the incredibly annoying assumption that we the audience are going to find it hilarious when she loses her clothing. In the previews I think I saw her clothes falling off or giving her trouble several times, including catching her clothing in the elevator and her skirt being torn from her body. Also I really wish they would ditch the girdle or spanx or whatever it is they show her trying to struggle into. Who the heck wants to be uncomfortable all day at work or not have any room to breath at the piano bar? I got tired of fat jokes back in the seventies.
So now I'm out of space again, so maybe next week we'll talk about even more TV? Or maybe we'll talk about a book I just finished that I loved. Or maybe both? It's so hard to predict the future.
This week's bonus treat is very different from the usual fare. It's an essay from Sam Kriss called Book of Lamentations. It's a review of the new DSM-5, the book of mental illness diagnoses. But instead of reviewing it as a piece of medical information he reviews it as though it is a dystopian novel, which is both hilarious and heartbreaking. After a brief description of the sheer size of the "novel" the essay describes the manual saying "Not that this [the large size] should deter anyone; within is a brilliantly realized satire, at turns luridly absurd, chillingly perceptive, and profoundly disturbing."
Early this week I took the time to write a column about a memoir I had just finished. Sadly I had little positive to say about the book and in the end I deleted my column. It's kind of too bad because I thought the book was interesting but the author was just plain mean when maybe she thought she was being funny. (I don't think calling an older woman a 'wrinkled creature' is terribly amusing. Eventually, if we're lucky and don't conk out sooner, we'll all be old and wrinkled. And hopefully be having an awesome retirement.) For try number two I'll be slightly less negative while discussing a couple of television shows.
The Walking Dead – Carol
So a couple of weeks ago Rick tossed Carol out of the group, leaving her somewhere random. He says it's because she murdered two sick people and burned their bodies, but I think he did it because he's afraid she's becoming too much of a leader. Yes she did kill two people, in hopes of stopping the epidemic, but he's no moral compass with sparkling clean hands. He killed Shane in cold blood and he went a little nuts after Lori died. It's weird to me how people trust him to be in command when he was hallucinating to the point his companions were in danger.
On the Talking Dead, which runs after the Walking Dead and discusses the show, interviews actors and just plain gossips, they were discussing Carol and the likelihood of her returning to the prison. Both weeks they've discussed it they all decided no she would not come back, she would stay away. But I've never seen them ask a mother what she thinks.
Carol lost her little girl Sophie in a slow, grueling way. She had no idea of her child's fate but of course she agonized over what had probably happened the entire time Sophie was missing. She also lost her husband, although I say she's better off without him. Now she is a surrogate mother to the two little girls at the prison. She may have warmed one of them off, telling her not to call her mom, but it's obvious to me she cares deeply for them. She's also been reading to all the children and teaching them how to protect themselves. I can't imagine that she would willingly abandon them, especially in the care of a mentally ill, hypocritical murderer.
Furthermore the timing of her exile could not be worse. As an epidemic rages through the prison, dividing the populace into the very ill, the exposed, who are quarantined, and those who are healthy and trying to do the jobs of those who are ill or dead, the last thing they can afford is to lose a set of helping hands. When the very ill, possibly dying, are the ones who are operating the ambu bag for a patient in respiratory arrest you are in dire straits indeed. It was unfair to every person in the prison to get rid of Carol, who is strong, healthy, determined and tough. I hope she comes back and takes a stand.
Did I talk about this show yet? It's deranged. When I watched the opening scene of the pilot I thought it was a parody. I still think it's entirely possible that it is a parody but only the writing room is in on the joke.
James Spader plays an arch criminal who walks into the FBI office, kneels down in the lobby, puts his hands behind his head and waits to be arrested. Once their scanning system identifies him as a much wanted public enemy a million FBI agents surround him, both on the main floor and also on the mezzanine or whatever it is, and point their weapons at him. They're all in a circle so if they fire they'll likely shoot each other, but none of them seem concerned about that possibility.
Once they hustle him away and interrogate him he says he wants to work with a brand new agent called Lizzie something. He gets amnesty and Lizzie and they get his assistance catching a whole list of bad people. (One of them played by the every charismatic Isabella Rossellini.) Some of the casting for the villains is hilarious, such as casting Robert Sean Leonard, the actor who played Wilson on House, as the most dangerous man in the world. He doesn't look like he has a hostile bone in his body, making him a surprising villain. In other casting news I am once again baffled by the decision to cast actors who look as though they have had so much plastic surgery and/or botox that they'll never be able to move their faces again. When a character looks exactly the same no matter if they are supposed to be crying, joyous, frightened, or enraged there is a serious problem. I'm not going to name any names but if you watch this show for five minutes you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.
The very best thing about this show? James Spader's character's hat obsession. I have never seen so many scenes take place in hat shops before. He even bought two hats at the same time while chatting with the FBI. We could change the name of the show from the Black List to the Hattery List. The second best thing is James Spader himself, who totally seems to be in on the joke. Especially when he's rattling off a string of the most overused cliches in the book. If you like camp, which may not even be aware that it is camp, you should enjoy this one.
I meant to talk about a couple of more shows but this ran longer than I anticipated. So maybe next week.
This week's bonus treat is hopefully not a repeat. It's Mark Twain's brilliant take down of James Fenimoore Cooper's writing. In part of the essay he explains that in one portion of the Leatherstocking Tales a Native American is tracking someone and almost loses them when they take to a stream to hide their tracks. Not to be so easily misled, he gets the stream to leave its bed and is able to follow the tracks left by the refugees when they walked along the bottom of the creek. Because that's how it works. I can't count the number of times I've followed people by looking at the footprints they leave in water. A child could do it. http://twain.lib.virginia.edu/projects/rissetto/offense.html
The Walking People
I read and watch so much paranormal or spooky stuff that I sometimes tricked myself into looking for something that isn't there. Twisted, the TV show that premiered a few months ago, is about the assimilation of a murderer back into his society. He killed his aunt when he was very young and refused to say why he did it. Several years later he is let free and he goes on to high school, where he is called Socio, apparently a new twist on psycho, and viewed with extreme suspicion by almost everyone. His two friends from when he was younger are trying to stick by him but it's hard. And then a girl at the school is murdered and it all goes to hell, as you can imagine. There's some sort of important thing about a necklace and the protagonist protecting his family, which somehow led me to believe that he was going to say his aunt was a witch (the necklace would be a talisman of some sort) and he had to kill her to protect his family from her sorcery. I spent the whole season waiting for this to happen but nothing. It is apparently just a teen drama about some pretty deep subjects. How disappointing for me. (But it's well written and it held my interest so in reality it shouldn't have been disappointing at all. It's just my OCD that spoiled it a little.)
That same mindset got me into trouble again when I started reading The Walking People by Mary Beth Keane. In my defense I am taking that class on the Walking Dead, which is kind of giving a very specific meaning to words having to do with walking. The book begins with a man called Michael who is working on some insane underground project. (Take the highest building you've seen since you came to America a character in the book says. Now pretend it stretches down instead of up. That's how deep they dig.) He is headed to work, in a tunnel dripping with water, about to put in his final day.
When I mentally combine the elements of deep underground, water dripping, and last day of work of course I think there is going to be some disturbance from the digging and some creature buried millennium ago will stir and eat everyone, while simultaneously releasing pathogen after pathogen. Or at the very least there is going to be a terrible accident; a tunnel collapse, flooding, a murderous coworker, something. But I was dead wrong. The book is not horror and it's not a thriller. It's a a story about family ties, emigration, the pull of the old country, the hurt loved ones do to each other and the power, or lack of power, of old secrets.
The story begins in mid-century Ireland with a biggish family; parents, three sons and two daughters. Greta, the youngest, has a reputation for being a little out of it, not quite together, always getting lost. Older sister Johanna is more of a firecracker, a girl who sees the path she wants to take and takes it, regardless of how it looks or who it might inconvenience. The family lives on a beautiful, windswept piece of land that is slowly being abandoned. There is no work in the local area, or even in the larger, metropolitan area, and people have been leaving for America for decades until hardly anyone is left.
When disaster strikes the household, and the economic outlook gets even worse, Johanna, now in her later teens, decides she's going to New York, and wants a terrified Greta to accompany her. She also asks a young man called Michael to go and to her surprise her mother not only agrees to let her go but tells Greta she has to go along. Lily, their mother, has begun to fret about what the future of the family holds and decides that it is best for the girls, although very hard on Lily and the youngest son, to go away as so many others have.
Michael isn't just making a giant change by going from a farm to New York City; he is also leaving behind his family's life on the road. They are called tinkers, the walking people, Irish travelers, and a host of less pleasant names. Michael walked away from his family group, wanting to explore settled life, but did not plan on going so far as America.
Told mainly from Greta's perspective, The Walking People deals with culture clashes, generational conflict, family loss (and gain) and covers a span of more than fifty years. As she did in her novel Fever, which I discussed recently, the author writes a detailed story of working class people constantly adapting to big changes.
I had one little nitpick – because the story begins in the very recent past, as Michael is about to retire, there isn't much suspense. When things go wrong in a dangerous way, the reader is pretty sure that not only is he going to come through just fine, he'll still be able to do manual labor. It's like when you're watching a suspenseful show where someone may or may not be dead or injured and then they show the preview for the next episode, with the character doing back-flips or whatever.
But all that aside, The Walking People is a lovely read, especially for anyone interested in recent history. (Is recent history an oxymoron?) If you like reading about the “Madmen ere”, but don't like to watch obnoxious jerks with more money than sense, this novel should be extra enjoyable.
You can read an excerpt here, although you may need to click the excerpt link once you land on the page. It's on the About the Book tab, next to synopsis. http://www.bookbrowse.com/excerpts/index.cfm/book_number/2270/the-walkin...
This week's bonus treat is a poem from Australian poet Gig Ryan. From her book The Division of Anger this poem is called If I Had a Gun. It's powerful and to the point. If you're someone who is street hassled or treated like a child because of your gender/sexuality you will likely find much that echoes moments of your own life. http://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/poets/ryan-gig/if-i-had-a-gun-0531028
Hey, guess what started last Friday? That's right, NaNoWriMo, the write a 50 thousand word novel in 30 days challenge. Add that pressure to the eight classes I am taking and the end result is a column destined to be about twenty words long.
On Halloween, the night before the total madness began, I picked up a copy of a YA novel called Another Little Piece written by Kaye Karyus Quinn. I didn't get it because I thought it was going to be any good; I got it because someone was complaining that the book had too much violence (and profanity), something they absolutely did not expect. Since the title font looks like it could have been written in blood this seemed a little odd to me.
The horrible side of my personality thought I would check the book out of the library and decide if it really was impossible to tell if it held violence and gore. (I also thought the references to razors and mind control or whatever on the back cover might be a clue.) If there were plenty of clues I would think snarky thoughts about the person who complained. But all of these judgy plans went out of my head when I started reading the story. It was terrific.
A girl staggers up to a mobile home wearing a trash bag over her clothing. She has been drawn there by a feeling, a very strong feeling, an odd feeling. But even odder is her complete lack of memory and the fact that she has been missing for a year. But not just missing for a year; it's been a year since her bloody and screaming appearance at a party, where she showed up for moments before disappearing while all the lights went out.
The girl is quickly identified, as she has been missing for such a long time and there has been much attention paid to her case, but she feels no connection with her name or the people identified as her parents. (In fact she calls them the mom and the dad, but not to their faces.) When she gets back “home” she finds herself in the middle of a scandal at her high school, stalked by her nemesis and drawn to a boy with a horrible reputation.
On top of all of these problems she also deals with the fact that by all medical wisdom she should be dead. She has severe head injuries, including permanent brain damage. Her continued existence and ability to function at a high level baffles the experts. When some of her memories start to return things become even more confusing. Really beyond confusing as there appear to be supernatural elements to what is going on around her. What's a girl to do?
Another Little Piece is a book I meant to read for only a few minutes, while I was waiting for a file to load. Instead I ended up turning everything electronic off and doing nothing but read for the next few hours. I read it from cover to cover, stopping only to feed my pets.
The novel is thoroughly engrossing, with a badly flawed heroine who is extremely easy to identify with. There were some things that really rubbed me the wrong way, mostly towards the end, but not enough to make me put the book down. (This ties into my complicated feelings about bigoted behavior in fiction. Are we mirroring what is actually happening around us and calling attention to it? Or are we modeling violence and oppression, thereby inciting the very thing it is trying to spotlight? I remember watching a show that was supposed to be anti-bigotry, but the language that the characters used was so hurtful that I had to turn it off. I for sure would not have wanted my kids watching it when they were younger.)
Which reminds me, was there a lot of violence, gore and profanity? There was some. If you put Go Dog Go at one end of a line and American Psycho at the other this book would be much closer to the Go Dog Go end. I think I counted less than ten “swears” and the violence and gore is no more than you would expect from the cover.
You can read an excerpt, or maybe even the entire novel, here: http://browseinside.harperteen.com/index.aspx?isbn13=9780062135957&pg=1
This week's bonus treat is a series of (fake) fliers from Apple Cabin Foods. These aren't your ordinary foods, they have names like Jar Devils, Tidepoolers, and Cinnamon Johnnies. They are from the twisted mind of Sean Tejaratchi, who has a Tumblr called LiarTownUSA, which is not only not safe for work, it may be unsafe for anyone, at any speed. http://imgur.com/a/j4wzR
Still bogged down in school, taking eight classes at once. (I know, right? It looks like the same thing is going to happen in January. Maybe I need to narrow my areas of interest?) This week I read another entry in my witches, plagues and war in literature class. This one is called The Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. I absolutely loved this story. In some ways it reminded of the great Connie Willis' Doomsday Book. The idea for Year of Wonders was sparked by the existence of a village in England where many of the residents came down with the black death. (Plague, which some people say was bubonic plague and others say they are not so sure.) In the real village the residents cut themselves off from the rest of the country in order to keep from spreading the plague, remaining isolated for one year.
The book is from the point of view of Anna, a young working class woman who has struggled to support her small family following the death of her husband in a mining accident. She is delighted when a very pleasant tailor approaches her and asks if he can rent a room. Not only is his money a Godsend but he is terrific with her two boys, bringing laughter into their home again.
But her new happiness turns to ashes when her tenant receives a shipment of cloth from London; cloth that is infected with the black death. He quickly succumbs to his illness, instructing her to burn everything shortly before he dies. Anna wants to follow his instructions but the other villagers descend on her, demanding the clothing that was being made, no matter how far along in the process.
The plague spreads rapidly, turning an ordinary village into a rapidly emptying place of death. Anna has been working for the village rector, Michael Mompellion, and his wife Elinor, helping keep house and moonlighting at the local nobility's home. She adores her mistress, partly because Elinor treats her as a human being, not a creature barely one level above livestock, as the upper crust does. Elinor has also taught Anna to read, opening her world tremendously.
So when the village loses their midwife Anna reluctant allows Elinor to talk her into delivering the next infant. Anna is terrified when she discovers the baby is breech, but uses her experience birthing lambs, breathing a sigh of relief when mother and baby both come through in good health. As time goes by and more people die she and Elinor start learning more about herbs and ancient methods of healing. But as the village population continues to thin everyone who is healthy must take over empty jobs, or leave important tasks undone. It doesn't take long before everyone is exhausted, which, when combined with grief and fear, leads to a breakdown of social mores. After awhile there are behaviors that reminded of Lord of the Flies, albeit with older characters who were much more religious.
I particularly liked Anna's character. She is a smart, strong woman who tries to shield her heart in order to keep going in the absolute worst of times. She is stubborn and cranky, loving and brave, furious and looking for fairness in a fundamentally unfair world. I'm grateful this novel was a core reading choice for my class because otherwise I may never have noticed it. (I think it was published 12 years ago.) I liked it so much that I could read an entire Harry Potter length series about Anna and her character growth.
You can read an excerpt here: http://www.bookbrowse.com/excerpts/index.cfm/book_number/879/year-of-won...
This week's bonus treat is from a familiar source, namely XKCD, my favorite romance, sarcasm, math, and language based comic. This one hits the ball out of the park. Called 20th Century Headlines Rewritten to Get More Clicks, this comic hits all my pet peeves about modern click bait articles. (My philosophy is don't bother reading any article that starts with a number. Or anything billed as “must read.”) http://www.xkcd.com/1283/
Last week I mentioned I was taking eight classes at once and the columns would likely be shorter and more erratic than usual for a couple of months. Earlier this week I added another class, which is the act of a madwoman. In my defense it's a look at the Walking Dead TV show called Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC's The Walking Dead and taught by UC Irvine faculty, a title I couldn't resist. So far so good, I've been enjoying it very much.
In other news I'm practically drowning in reading material for the my plagues, witches and wars class. This week I read two books that featured witches, or at least accusations of witchcraft. One of them was also about the Black Death that decimated Europe for three hundred years or so. I hope to say a few words about that novel next week.
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe is an interesting look at the inter-generational impact of the Salem Witch Trials. Unfortunately the writing is not the best and there were some obvious things that baffled the protagonist, who is a Harvard historian grad student and should have had this stuff down backwards and forwards. For instance she and her adviser are baffled by the use of the word receipt, which is an older word for recipe. I knew this when I was still in grade school, so why didn't Connie, the historian in question? There are some other discrepancies like that, which pulled me out of the story every time. There are also plenty of little details that irked this reader such as repeatedly describing aspects of characters as glittering and phrases along the likes of The dog's ears crawled to the top of its head. Kind of a creepy image.
But if you can keep those kinds of things from bugging you, which isn't that hard, you'll find plenty to enjoy about this book. With the majority of the book set in 1991 the narrative skips around in time, following the histories of a succession of women dating back to Deliverance Dane, a woman accused of witchcraft during the Salem trials. As the summer begins Connie sets off to a small town near Salem to ready her deceased grandmother's house for sale. She doesn't have many hopes for the place, which has been empty for years, and discovers the house is in even worse shape than she anticipated. It's practically falling down, but oddly still in good enough shape for her to move in while she gets the house ready to be sold to cover back taxes. (This is the kind of thing that annoyed me; the floor is so rotted in spots that a big mushroom is growing but it's fine to stomp around the rest of the house? No other wood is rotted? All the mold in the house doesn't make it hard to sleep? In beds that haven’t been cleaned or aired in decades?) Meanwhile her adviser exhorts her to find a brand new primary source for her dissertation. Much to her surprise she finds something in an old family bible leads to a mystery. While she is involved in following clues she meets a young handsome fellow, deals with her increasingly strange mentor, and experiences inexplicable and frightening events. Despite my problems with the novel I did enjoy it, especially the fortitude of the women through the ages. You can listen to an excerpt from the audio book here: http://www.physickbook.com/about.html
This week's bonus treat is very different. It's an article from the CDC about using zombies as a metaphor for the spread of diseases such as rabies. “The reimagining of zombiism as a virulent, incurable disease makes it an effective analogy for understanding of and interest in other infectious diseases.” It doesn't just discuss the analogies between the two illnesses, it also gives a historical look at zombies in pop culture, going back several hundred years. If you aren't already familiar with the origin of actual zombies you should find this very interesting. http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/19/5/ad-1905_article.htm
I inadvertently signed up for eight classes that run at the same time, mostly because when I signed up the dates were all TBD, which means shorter and erratic columns for a couple of months. These classes are weirdly connected, with one about epidemics and one called Plagues, Witches and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction. In that class, which has a ridiculously long reading list, we're going to discuss a book called Fever, by Mary Beth Keane, which is a fictionalized retelling of the trials and travails of Mary Mallon, aka Typhoid Mary.
The story of Typhoid Mary is both tragic and fascinating. Most of what I have seen or read regarding her case is extremely unsympathetic, which kind of makes sense, given how many people got sick from the bacillus she was carrying. Recently I saw a photo set that included images of the hut that she lived in for the last decades of her life, after she had been quarantined for the second time on North Brother Island near Manhattan. Of course it has been empty forever, with the island now belonging to nesting birds, so some degradation is to be expected, but it is so forlorn and depressing that it made me feel even worse for Mary. But at the same time she is a woman who knew she was infectious and went back to work as a cook anyway, causing more deaths. How do you feel any empathy for someone like that?
Ms. Keane has done it in part by using Mary's own words, which are from a letter written while she was first imprisoned on the island, to infuse the feelings and thoughts of the fictional Mary she creates. She delves into much more than just Mary's imprisonment; also discussing her emigration from Ireland, her turbulent relationship with an alcoholic/addict, and her life in a New York City tenement, where the residents never quite make ends meet.
A Nova documentary, which is rather histrionically titled The Most Dangerous Woman in America, is pretty snide and says, “Lederle, however, did not help her train for another profession that would have provided her with the standard of living to which she had become accustomed.” (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/typhoid/letter.html) Ordinarily when someone says something about being accustomed to a certain standard of living they mean the person in question is or was living in the lap of luxury. If trying to feed your family and keep a roof over your heads is living in the lap of luxury then we're all incredibly pampered.
When Mary is released from her first incarceration on the island she is told she can't cook any more and to go and work in a laundry. Not only is this work harder and rougher on her middle-aged body but it pays a pittance, forcing her to rent a cot in someone's home instead of an apartment. Not only does she share the space with quite a few people, her cot is situated so that everyone else climbs over her body when they need to go in and out the place. Yuck. Maybe it's not so shocking that she went back to the job that gave her good wages and a sense of pride in what she did. How did she reconcile this with her infectious state? Fever gives an excellent look into the answer to this and other questions.
You can access an excerpt from the novel here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/123389211/A-Novel-of-Typhoid-Mary-FEVER-by-Mar...
This week's bonus treat is a comic from Boulet called Egg Surprise. It's about those little toys you get in chocolate eggs. Or at least you get them outside of the United States. Or maybe online? http://english.bouletcorp.com/2013/10/04/egg-surprise/
I recently saw a bit of Gone, which was interesting enough to make me want to watch the whole thing. But for some reason I thought it was part of the Taken films, the ones with Liam Neeson threatening to hunt people down and kill them. So I ended up watching all three of them, only to find out that they weren't related at all. Taken and Taken Two are both what I would classify as action films, with loads of punching and shooting, while Gone is more of a psychological thriller, with little to no gore or overt violence.
Taken stars Liam Neeson as an obsessed father who works as some sort of CIA master of mayhem and sneakiness. He goes into low key panic mode when his daughter asks for permission to go to Paris, then discovers after she gets there that she lied about her plans. Instead of going to museums and other sedate places she's going to follow a band around, which makes dad feel even less secure. Naturally this amps up his anxiety, which increases his need to be constantly aware of her location and actions. Whether from nature or from the circumstances of his job, he seems to be constantly expecting the worse.
As no doubt foretold by the title, his daughter is indeed taken by a bunch of scumbags, which leads to dad flying to Paris to lay waste to anyone or anything standing in the way of rescuing his daughter.
I was surprised by how much I like this film, which I expected to be awful. I liked the sequel even more, which involves CIA dad, his ex, and their daughter going on vacation to Istanbul. The father of one of the kidnappers from the previous film sends a goon squad after the entire family, in an effort to get revenge for the death of his son.
The best thing about this installment is a switch in rescuer and rescue. This time around dad and mom are spirited away, while the daughter is alerted to the danger by dad. She manages to hide from the intruders after she gets a warning call from dad. Then she gets some guns and grenades and goes to town. I really liked that the character that was extraordinarily passive in the first movie was now dynamic and heroic. (Heroic if you ignore the fact that she's blowing up half of Istanbul.)
Once I figured out that Gone wasn't part of the Taken franchise I thought it would probably be a terrible knockoff, but I was dead wrong. This might sound a little silly, especially given how many viewers have deemed the film unwatchable, but I thought it has almost a Hitchcockian feel. It's a psychological thriller with an unreliable narrator.
Amanda Seyfried plays a young traumatized woman called Jill who has PTSD from being kidnapped and nearly killed. She panics when she comes home from work and can't find her sister. She calls everyone who might know where she is, but from the moment she sees her sister's empty bed she is convinced that the kidnapper has come back to finish the job, adding the sister to the menu. But since the sister is an alcoholic and her purse is missing Jill immediately runs into skepticism when she tries to get help.
The evidence that Jill lays out to her sister's boyfriend is slim at best and when she goes to the police and presents the same evidence they make it clear that they think she is delusional. According to them she was never kidnapped or held hostage by a killer. There are not a series of dead women whose bodies have not recovered. To them every time someone goes missing Jill comes raging into the station demanding they do something about a killer that doesn't exist. My impression, or maybe they flat out said it, I can't quite remember, is that she was committed to a mental institution after the police looked for her kidnapper and found nothing. But one of the cops behaves in a very suspicious manner, which implies that maybe she is sane and is a victim of the “all women are hysterical” trope that has been around for centuries.
But then again as Jill starts to look for her sister on her own we see her tell a different story to every person she asks for help. She also behaves in a dangerous and reckless manner, although certainly no more reckless or dangerous than any other protagonist in an action film. (Does anyone leave a bigger mess than James Bond?) Is she a liar and a maniac? Does she need to be locked up again? Or is she a desperate person who is doing a difficult and frightening job with no assistance from those whose job it is to help?
It's this suspense that made this film intriguing for me. Also it has Jennifer Carpenter in it, who played Deb on Dexter, and I'll watch just about anything she's in.
I'm not sure I would pay to see any of these films, but they were nice to watch while I was trying to recuperate from a cold.
This week's bonus treat is an intimate personal comic from Noelle Stevenson, author of the amazing continuing strip Nimona. It's about an existential crisis, or at least that's how I read it. It's moving, intensely personal and something that is very easy to relate to. http://gingerhaze.tumblr.com/post/63521941567/i-took-the-day-off-to-draw...
This week we'll take a look at some Halloween themed food and drink, good for serving at a party or just adding some zip to your meals. We'll begin by looking at this ridiculously difficult Halloween gingerbread house. These things are always a little baffling to me, mostly because I want to eat them instead of building with them. I really like the looks of this one and wonder if you could get by with a mix instead of making the gingerbread portion from scratch. http://www.bhg.com/halloween/recipes/gingerbread-halloween-house/
This recipe for Layered Ooze looks a lot like the Slurpees my kids made when they were young. Frozen and with lots of different flavors. This beverage has grape juice, orange juice, limeade and soda to give it some bubbles. http://www.bhg.com/recipe/drinks/layered-ooze/
This drink can be made with either tequila or lemonade, which I did not know were interchangeable. Called Gremlins Rule I mostly picked this one because you get to make a fun face out of fruit, using kiwi, cherries and citrus peels. I also like the glasses in the image, but I don't have a recipe for those. http://www.bhg.com/recipe/drinks/gremlins-rule/
This one is pretty disgusting as it contains a frozen hand, one of the many things I don't want in my drinks. Made with pineapple juice, lemonade, orange slices and the hand of Satan this punch is pretty fast and easy to make. Once you have the hand that is, which is made by pouring cranberry juice into clean plastic gloves and freezing. So maybe not the hand of Satan after all, unless Hell really has frozen over. http://www.bhg.com/recipe/drinks/ghouls-punch/
For an even more vile and horrifying punch try this Eyeball Punch, which is just what it sounds like. (No, it's not what happens when you get into a bar brawl.) The floating “eye” in this punch is made from lychees (aka litchis) and cherries. They look pretty good if you ask me. I.e. they look repulsive. http://www.bhg.com/recipe/drinks/eyeball-punch/
Called Mr. Bones and Double Dip, this veggie dip comes in two flavors, both watched over by a skellington made of vegetables. The dips come in creamy avocado and smoky red pepper. You can use a bunch of different kids of vegetables to build Mr. Bones, whatever suits your fancy. http://www.bhg.com/recipe/mr-bones-and-double-dips/
This Slithering Snakewich looks as though it would be popular year round, especially with the younger set. It's essentially a pizza sandwich, with pimento eyes and a red pepper tongue. http://www.bhg.com/recipe/appetizers-snacks/slithering-snakewich/
Speaking of pimentos, these deviled eggs can be converted into spooky Night Eyes with the addition of a few vegetables, including one I had never heard of before. I wish I knew where to get the plates in the image, they remind me of Jeannie's eyes in I Dream of Jeannie. http://www.bhg.com/recipe/appetizers-snacks/night-eyes/
These Tipsy Tombstone Sandwiches are a cute idea. It's very important to ignore the part of the instructions that says to use rye bread as rye bread is awful. Basically you're going to make the bread into the shape of tombstones, make the sandwiches, add some landscaping and hey presto you're all done. http://www.bhg.com/recipe/salads/tipsy-tombstone-sandwiches/
If you'd like something gory and terrible to go with your hand infested punch you might like this cerebrum made from shrimp and various gooey substances. I'm allergic to shellfish so I can't even think about this dish or I'll burst into hives. http://www.bhg.com/recipe/appetizers-snacks/scary-cerebrum/
I like the looks of this Cheshire Cat Cheese Ball, but I would definitely not like to wake up to find it staring at me. It has eyes made out of apples, which I find particularly disturbing. On the other hand its teeth are made of almonds, which are not famous for chewing up souls, so maybe it is safe. http://www.bhg.com/recipe/appetizers-snacks/cheshire-cat-cheese-ball/
Here is a recipe for Creepy Bug Buns. They're stuffed with mozzarella and pizza sauce. I like the way they look like they burst open and oozed to death while in the oven. http://www.bhg.com/recipe/creepy-bug-buns/
This week's bonus treat is an image that is pretty cute. I'm not ordinarily a fan of animals in clothing, but these kittens are super cute. The pun is not bad either. http://instagram.com/p/e2voTbD0-b/
As promised last week I am continuing the Halloween theme, this time with pumpkin centered decorations, some of them for outside and some of them for outside. Just as I did last week, I ransacked Martha Stewart's website to find these fellows.
These instructions and templates for undead pumpkins work best with white pumpkins, which are not that hard to find where I live. I'm lucky enough to live near several pumpkin patches that offer a wide variety of contemporary and heirloom pumpkins. If you can't find the ones specified in this column go with what you have. You can paint them if you like or come up with another creative solution. This particular Jack-O-Lantern calls for some phony eyes, which should be available in plastic or as giant, bloodshot gumballs.
Fanged pumpkins, the tiny cousins of the undead-pumpkins, are made in a similar fashion, but with those plastic vampire teeth instead of gruesome eyes. Also they get some jolly red pushpins for eyes. Almost as good as the button eyes in Coraline. http://www.marthastewart.com/852771/fanged-pumpkins
This next one is so easy you could do it in your sleep, so long as you feel comfortable chopping things in half while you're snoozing. You take a biggish pumpkin, whack it in two, line the bottom half, then plop in some ice and some beverage bottles and whammo, you have a nifty ice bucket. Just make sure you chop the pumpkin horizontally, not vertically. http://www.marthastewart.com/268772/pumpkin-party-cooler
Spider squash sounds like a distant relative of Whack-A-Mole, but it's really a dark green type of squash. The spider shape really stands out against the dark background. This item requires the use of a linoleum knife, so keep that in mind if you're planning to make decorations with young children. http://www.marthastewart.com/268847/spider-squash
A long time ago, in a city far, far away, I won a category in a pumpkin carving contest by making a Jack-O-Lantern with a carrot for a nose. Now Ms. Stewart has come up with some that are similar, with a minimalistic face. I would make a bunch of these using different types of pumpkins and leave them scattered all over as though they just finished brawling. http://www.marthastewart.com/271908/carrot-nose-jack-o-lanterns
This mouse motel also reminds me of a prize winning carved pumpkin I made once. Mine was a cat pumpkin, with a little mouse on its head. The mouse was made from a radish, or maybe it was a beet? Anyway, these mice are rubber mice, no fuss no muss. http://www.marthastewart.com/269137/mouse-motel-from-the-martha-stewart-... I might be tempted to make a few of these in different types of pumpkins and put a different fake animal in each one. Snakes, bugs, worms; you get the picture.
This snake is a great way to light up your walkway without the use of fire, which can be a worry with small children running around. A string of Christmas lights run down the middle of a bunch of pumpkins, with their glow coming through small holes poked in the head and body. You need a drill for this one. Do drills mind being covered in pumpkin? http://www.marthastewart.com/264163/pumpkin-snake
If you're the type that doesn't want to hand out candy but still wants the kids to get some treats from your house, you might like this pumpkin that holds lollipops. Made from an artificial pumpkin it features holes lined up that hold the candy. You can just set the whole thing out on your porch if that's the way you roll. http://www.marthastewart.com/264575/lollipop-holder
This next item is more fall themed than Halloween. I think it looks great. Basically you lop the top off a pumpkin and drop some fall flowers in. The final effect is very autumnal. http://www.marthastewart.com/267886/pumpkin-cachepots
Next week maybe we'll take a look at some seasonal eats as we count down to the best holiday of all.
This week's bonus treat is a bit different from the usual fare. It's from Neil Cicierega's Tumblr and it's probably not safe for work, what with all the swear words and whatnot. It is a fake series of books for children that have the worst titles and tag lines ever. Example: Go Touch a Fire, Hogmap Burn your disgusting hand on a roaring flame. And that's one of the milder ones. They get funnier as you go through, probably because the shock doesn't wear off, it just gets stronger. http://neilblr.com/post/58897306390