But what do you call the thing beneath it?

Just when I was wondering what to blog about, Loren Eaton at I Saw Lightning Fall uses… that word!

He links to an interesting book review by Newsweek’s Jennie Yabroff, dealing with the thorny subject of… subtext!

The title in question is Joshua Ferris’ The Unnamed, a novel about a lawyer struggling with an undiagnosed compulsion to endlessly walk until he keels over. An odd and evocative premise, one that Yabroff wrestles with mightily. She initially wonders if the affliction may be a metaphor for environmental destruction or the search for the divine or the nature of addiction, but concludes that it doesn’t really matter. “What if the book is about nothing more than a man who takes really long walks?” she muses before launching into a discussion about the dangers of overanalyzing….

This leaves me no choice but to quote one of the best movies of the 1990s, Whit Stillman’s brilliant Barcelona, the story of two American cousins grappling with cultural differences, sexual mores, love, and anti-Americanism in 1980s Spain. This movie contributed one of the greatest bits of dialogue ever placed in two actors’ mouths:

FRED: Maybe you can clarify something for me. Since I’ve been, you know, waiting for the fleet to show up, I’ve read a lot, and–

TED: Really?

FRED: And one of the things that keeps popping up is this about “subtext.” Plays, novels, songs–they all have a “subtext,” which I take to mean a hidden message or import of some kind. So subtext we know. But what do you call the message or meaning that’s right there on the surface, completely open and obvious? They never talk about that. What do you call what’s above the subtext?

TED: The text.

FRED: OK, that’s right, but they never talk about that.

Note to self: Must get the DVD.

Film review: Gone Baby Gone



Gone Baby Gone
is my favorite of Dennis Lehane’s novels, which is saying a great deal. Fan of series that I am, I especially enjoy his series books about detectives Patrick Kenzie and Angie Genero, of which this one is (in my opinion) the best. I missed the movie when it was released (briefly) in theaters, but I finally rented it from Netflix and watched it this past weekend.

The movie is very faithful to the book. Kenzie (Casey Affleck) and Genero (Michelle Monaghan) are called in by the family to investigate the high profile disappearance of a little girl, kidnapped while her drug user/alcoholic mother was distracted. In cooperation with the police, they follow various leads, trying to pry the lid off a story that seems at once too neat, and infested with too many loose ends. The final payoff prompts a heartbreaking choice for Kenzie.

It’s a well-done movie, worthy of its source. The performances are excellent, the Boston locations perfect. I think (my memory may be fooling me) that the final crisis may have been presented with more ambivalence in the book. As it stands here, Kenzie’s ultimate decision seems a little hard to understand.

I don’t remember the language in the book being as rough as it was in the movie. I suspect that’s only because it’s less jarring on the page than when the words actually fall on your ears in your own living room.

But I wonder if that didn’t contribute to the movie’s lackluster box office performance.

Somebody (it may have been Michael Medved, or one of his guests) has pointed out that there’s really no economic incentive for film makers to use a lot of profanity in their movies.

Other vices have (let’s admit it) market appeal. A sex scene with a nude actress will admittedly sell tickets. Extreme, graphic violence will put lots of bodies in theater seats.

But nobody thinks, “Boy! I sure want to see this movie! I’ll get to hear a lot of F Bombs!”

I suppose the makers of Gone Baby Gone would have felt they were selling out if they’d toned the language down. But I have an idea they might have made money by it.

Film review: How to Train Your Dragon



As announced last week, the other Vikings and I were on hand Saturday morning for a sneak preview of the new Disney animated flick, How to Train Your Dragon. We posed for pictures, gave away stickers and temporary tattoos to the children, and terrified people with our impassioned denunciations of horned helmets.

This was the big IMAX theater out at the Minnesota Zoo, in Apple Valley. The theater people couldn’t have been nicer, and we got in to see the film for free (I marched past the ticket takers brandishing my sword, crying, “THIS is my ticket!”).

How did I like the movie? Well, it’s complicated.

One of my companions put it well when he said, “I’d have loved this film when I was eight.” It’s a well-done and clever movie, with interesting characters, good dialogue, and outstanding visuals (we saw it in 3-D, which made it even better). If you’re thinking of taking your kids to it, I won’t tell you no. It was lots of fun, and pretty harmless.

And yet, I have objections.

And it’s not just to the horned helmets. Continue reading Film review: How to Train Your Dragon

Hacks! All of Them!

Sherry reposted a collection of authors commenting on other authors, like these:

William Faulkner on Ernest Hemingway: “He has never been known to use a word that might send a man to a dictionary.”

Ernest Hemingway, in reply: “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think emotions come from big words?”

I wonder what the living authors are saying about each other.

Stephen King said: “The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good.”

Mr. King also said: “Somebody who’s a terrific writer who’s been very, very successful is Jodi Picoult. You’ve got Dean Koontz, who can write like hell. And then sometimes he’s just awful. It varies.”

It’s going to take me a while to find more of these, so I’ll have to leave it for now.

Long Lost, by Harlan Coben

Long Lost

I didn’t much care for the first Harlan Coben book I read, and it was part of the Myron Bolitar series. But Coben—and the series—have been growing on me, and I liked Long Lost

very much.

Coben, apparently, has decided to take the series (which has been pretty conventional mysteries up to now) in a new direction—to international thrillers. It would seem a stretch to make a sports agent (that’s Bolitar’s profession) a spy chaser, but Coben accomplishes it pretty deftly (I thought), by the wisest course possible for a writer. Instead of adding novel elements to the formula, he takes an underutilized character he’s already established, and gives her a back story that rears its ugly head to take her (and our hero) into fresh territory. Continue reading Long Lost, by Harlan Coben

Fess Parker is gone

Toy Gun

The morons at PicApp didn’t have a picture of Fess Parker, so I had to settle for this. My Davy Crockett cap was way better than this one.



This is a big one in my odd little universe. I achieved sentience just about the time the Davy Crockett craze hit America, and (although it’s embarrassing for a Christian to admit), ol’ Davy (as portrayed by Fess Parker, who died today at 85) loomed about as large as Jesus there, for a while.

And in my obsessive way, I’ve remained not entirely unfaithful to the Crockett cult. I’ve read a couple books on his life, and checked out the web sites. I once visited a house “Colonel” Crockett built and lived in, near Rutherford, Tennessee. I met a guy who’d played tennis with Fess Parker once, and he could have borrowed money from me if he’d wanted to.

It always irked me that I didn’t have an ancestor at the Alamo. That was actually one of the things that bonded me with Erling Skjalgsson, hero of my novels. I hope it’s not too much of a spoiler (anybody who’s read Heimskringla knows about it) to say that Erling died a death not dissimilar to Davy’s. Because generations of my ancestors lived in Erling’s neighborhood, it’s a statistical impossibility that I didn’t have an ancestor or two who fell with Erling (I might even be a descendant of Erling himself).

So without Davy Crockett, I might have never written the books I’ve written. (“And what a loss that would have been to the world,” he whispered to himself, very quietly.)

In any case, rest in peace, Fess Parker.

The Social Cost of Pornography

A study by the Witherspoon Institute gives us the terrible social cost of porn.

From their website, they give this answer to the question of free speech and the first amendment:

In a series of cases decided since the middle of the twentieth century, the Supreme Court has narrowed the definition of what counts as obscene, and society has simultaneously grown more permissive regarding explicit portrayals of nudity and sex in magazines, in film and on television. Nevertheless, material that meets the Court’s definition of obscenity – that appeals to the prurient interest, that is patently offensive, and that lacks serious artistic, social, or scientific value – can be suppressed, while material deemed indecent though not obscene can be regulated as to the time, place, and manner of its availability. There is little question that hard-core pornography does not receive constitutional protection, even though many jurisdictions now permit its dissemination.

In their report, they give evidence for the rise in crime, trafficking, and family disruption due to our casual acceptance of pornography.

She’s Broken. We’ve Known It for Years.

Lawrence Meyers is writing about what’s wrong in Hollywood this week and next.

Here’s the diagnosis regarding Hollywood’s present malady:

1) Movies operate in a statistical environment of extreme uncertainty


2) Uncertainty creates fear


3) Fear creates a desire to control


4) Desire to control has resulted in a multi-layered, needlessly expensive studio bureaucracy, resulting in sub optimal risk management.


5) The goal of each individual level of the bureaucracy is to insulate itself from criticism from the layer above it.


6) This results in the hiring of the most expensive, but not necessarily most talented or suitable, creative team
to manufacture product that audiences are losing interest in and are not designed to achieve maximum ROI.

Book Reviews, Creative Culture