This installment: a stark old classic (DVD); a tricksy new McEwan (CD); a fat novel about higher mathematics (f); and a bonbon books about very delayed gratification (f).
Titicut Follies (DVD)
I saw this back in 1967 when it was made and it’s stayed with me over the decades. So when it fell into my hands on check in, I had to revisit this amazing film. Ultimate cinema verite, so stark, so (often literally) naked. The inmates (I was going to call them prisoners because that’s what they are, at a “correctional facility”) are often stripped and herded around by beefy uniformed men and locked in equally bare cells. Some act out with garbled, furious rants. Others are sunk into deep depression, shuffling and slumping. The doctor with his German accent and constant cigarette. Indelible scenes: the fasting inmate force fed by tube, Christ-like, tears trickling down his stubbled cheeks. The guy standing on his head in the bleak, enormous outdoor space, singing a religious song. And those Follies that bracket the movie: performing inmates in white shirts and bow ties—heartbreaking. The director, Frederick Wiseman, told it like it was, no bells, no whistles, no crew. Just an unflinching witness. Very sad, but brilliant.
Nutshell by Ian McEwan
At first when I heard the sophisticated voice on the CD and realized it was Trudy’s fetus talking, I balked. But then I got caught up in the absurd yet compelling tale of a murder plot gone dreadfully wrong and just had to find out how it would play out. Trudy’s been canoodling with her brother-in-law while her poet-husband “gives her space.” The fetus, observant and articulate, narrates each lurching misstep until the inevitable denouement. Oddly, I somehow wanted the miscreants to get away with it. One of those tricksy books, and though it might not be the best of McEwan, I still couldn’t stop listening.
The Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin
Math—never my forte—yet this hefty book about a brilliant mathematician really drew me in. Truculent Milo, an alcoholic womanizer, solves an elusive conjecture and his reputation soars. But when a 14-year-old in Palo Alto harnessing nascent computer technology aces the next proof he’s been pursuing, it’s a rapid downward slide. The narrator, we learn halfway through the book, is his son. Domesticated Milo, fallen from grace and teaching at an obscure college, can’t sustain normal life and goes into funky seclusion until the end. Canin does an amazing job of describing these mysterious mathematical puzzles and dedication to pure thought. (Not that I could track the equations, but it gave me a taste.) During Milo’s dying days there is a sense of closure and forgiveness as members of his family, an ex-lover, supporters and rivals visit and make their peace. This is the kind of book that makes the reader feel smart.
Miss You by Kate Eberlen
A standard plot device in romances is when the lovers -to -be are thwarted though we know they belong together. In this bonbon book, Gus and Tess make brief, fleeting connections but here decades occur before they can reach their destiny. In the ensuing years we discover how each gropes towards fulfilling life, fraught with missteps including misaligned marriages Tess has a daughter on the spectrum and health challenges. Gus wanted to be an actor or a chef but ended up in medicine. A cozy read, set in England.
Back next week.