This installment: passion for Greek– and Greece (nf); Bergman meets Mozart (DVD); Hollywood, rehab, pissed off offspring—a romp (f); Michigan meets Hollywood with first magical, then peculiar consequences (f); haunting linked short stories based in SF (f); and Viorst on aging—funny and touching (nf).
Greek to Me by Mary Norris
Subtitled Adventures of the Comma Queen, dubbed as such for her position as a copy editor at the New Yorker. She loves language and manages to parlay this into an intense study of Greek, often in situ. I really enjoyed her lusty, vivid actual adventures but sometimes lost patience with her erudition (a too-smart-for-her-own- good phenomenon I’ve encountered on the page before). So I skimmed a lot but wanted to share it because I did have fun with it by picking and choosing.
The Magic Flute (DVD)
When sections of this opera popped up an old tape, I suddenly remembered Ingmar Bergman’s version from 1974 and wanted to revisit it. Good old Criterion—there it was in the library. What an utter delight, still surprising after all these years. I always watch the Special Features which is how I learned he thinks of the opera as family fare. Hence those utterly charming and ridiculous creatures, almost a touch of Disney. And the trio of boy sopranos who make appearances in a hot air balloon. A great pleasure, and I’m not exactly nuts about opera…
There’s a Word for That by Sloane Tanen
This is a pretty silly book, over the top at times, but I was ready for a romp and it certainly provided that. Marty, once a hot Hollywood producer, ends up in rehab. So does Bunny from England, a very successful children’s author. Turns out that they had been briefly married long ago, and these recovery-resistant scallywags reconnect. Offspring of each have their troubles as well, intensified by their struggles with Marty’s latest wife, the greedy, controlling Gail. Sly fun all over the place.
The Paper Wasp by Lauren Acampora
This is a peculiar, disturbing book that I initially resisted, but found it ultimately worthwhile. Abby from Michigan shows up at Elise’s home above Malibu—a total surprise. They’d lost touch but when they reconnect briefly at their high school reunion, Abby realizes her fate lies with her friend, now hot stuff in Hollywood. Abby’s artistic visions seem to dovetail with those of the rarefied Rhizome center which Elise frequents. Turns out Elise is an insecure mess. An unplanned pregnancy with her narcissistic, cruel boyfriend doesn’t help. The tricksy denouement almost seemed too much, but the author has prepared us with the story of the eponymous self-serving insect which does what it needs to do to survive.
The Fifth Woman by Nora Caspers
These brief linked stories keep returning to the teller’s lover, Michelle, who died in a bike accident. SF setting. Much of the material reflects on the surrealism of everyday life. The narrator plays attention to internal states and street scenes with equal intensity. Evocative and enigmatic.
Nearing 90: and other comedies of late life by Judith Viorst
We tend to associate old age with either Wisdom and/or Kvetching. Here Viorst certainly has dollops of both but leavened with lots of humor and tenderness. Poems, many of which rhyme—so deliciously old-fashioned. Many about a long marriage—very sweet indeed. So if you’re approaching this territory, here’s perspective and comfort. And if it seems like a long ways away, check in with Viorst for the best kind of preparation.
Back next week.