Sunday, January 31, 2010
JD Salinger's death could be the beginning of a mini gold rush for the beleaguered American publishing industry. Although Salinger published nothing after 1961, in her memoir Dream Catcher, his daughter Margaret says that her father was extremely disciplined, writing every single morning, sometimes remaining in his study all day typing and editing. When she asked what he was doing he told her that he “was working on my books.” Occasionally he would even show her completed manuscripts, although he wouldn’t let her read them. What were these mysterious books about? It’s impossible to say but my guess is that they mostly concerned the Glass family, the heroes of his story collections: Nine Stories, Franny and Zooey and Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour and Introduction. Margaret Salinger says that there were dozens of notebooks all over the house about the fictional Glasses that traced their connections, noted their likes and dislikes, and detailed their habits. Salinger was always referring to the notebooks and may have been using them to plot full length novels about the Glass kids.
The Glasses were a large, self obsessed group of children who grew up in New York in the 1930's and who, in Salinger’s universe, appeared on a radio quiz show called It’s A Wise Child which made them famous. Like Salinger they had a Jewish father, a Christian mother and were smart beyond their years. They’re an interesting bunch certainly but to me at least the Glass family short stories which appeared in the New Yorker are not as warm or as interesting as Salinger’s great novel The Catcher in the Rye about another precocious youth, Holden Caulfield. Still there are some beautiful Glass family tales and A Perfect Day for Bananafish about World War Two veteran Seymour Glass’s breakdown and suicide is a classic. Full length novels about Seymour or Zooey or Buddy or any of the Glasses would certainly be fascinating.
The “manuscripts in a safe” story was given credence by The New York Times who claim in their Salinger obituary that there are at least two manuscripts sitting in a bank vault in Cornish, New Hampshire; but my guess is that there are many more. Salinger wrote relatively quickly and surely in fifty years he produced more than two books. And yes, Salinger became increasingly eccentric as the decades went on and there is a possibility that these manuscripts are stuffed with mad ramblings or like Jack Torrance in The Shining filled with the same line repeated over and over. I don’t think so. In Ian Hamilton’s biography In Search of JD Salinger, Salinger is lucid, canny and clever well into the 1980's and only last year his lawyers stopped the publication of a Swedish “sequel” to Catcher in the Rye on the instructions of their client.
Salinger himself several times referred to his unpublished books and gave directions that they should be published unedited after his death. This will be exciting few weeks, for although the aloof Glasses are not everyone’s cup of tea there could be other stuff in there too. Before his half century long hermitage in New Hampshire Salinger had an intriguing life. A platoon sergeant who landed at Utah beach he fought with his troops throughout the Normandy theatre and took part in the capture of Paris, where he had a drink with Ernest Hemingway in the freshly liberated bar of the Ritz Hotel. Sergeant Salinger was at the rough end of the dreadful battle of Huertgen forest and he apparently was also present at the liberation of at least one concentration camp.
After the war Salinger met all of New York's literary elite and was widely celebrated and well travelled. It was only following the publication of Catcher in the Rye that he began to be pestered by adoring fans and decided to withdraw from the world to the relative obscurity of a house in Cornish, New Hampshire. (I say ‘relative’ obscurity because everyone in Cornish knows where Salinger lived and it is very easy to find his house.) Salinger embraced Eastern religions, meditation, vegetarianism, and apart from writing did not appear thereafter to do much of anything. He had no comment when Mark David Chapman said that Catcher in the Rye inspired him to shoot John Lennon in 1980. He refused every plea to turn Catcher into a film, turning down Spielberg, Francis Ford Coppola and others.
My guess is that the film will now happen and we are certainly going to see many authorised and unauthorised biographies too. I suppose in a few months information will start to leak out about the manuscripts in the safe, but since all of Salinger’s books have sold in the millions, one thing is clear: whether they are good or bad, about the Glasses or about Holden, or even the War, they are all going to be best sellers and the publishing house who prints them is going to make a fortune.
My agent Bob saw the piece above in The Times and emailed me this little postscript: "Adrian, years ago I had a two-too-many drink lunch with his agent Phyllis Westberg and she said that they had had discussions with him about the rules of what he was leaving behnd--and that he'd told them there would be plenty for them to deal with."
Friday, January 29, 2010
Several years ago, I wrote an article called "Blarney Stoned" for Movieline in which I attempted to determine which was the most absurdly stereotypical Hibernian film in the history of cinema. Basically, there were two kinds of motion pictures in this genre: those centring on the Irish Republican Army, and those focusing on the wee, canny, loveable Irish people who always have a bounce in their step and a song in their hearts. The first group included everything from The Informer to Odd Man Out to Cal to Michael Collins. The second group included The Field, The Legend of Roan Inish, The Quiet Man, Far and Away, and even The Commitments. By and large, the IRA films tend to be engrossing if predictable, while the second group tend to be sappy and even more predictable films in which the pipes, the pipes never stop calling from glen to glen, making anyone of Irish or Irish-American ancestry desperate to get the next plane out of Carrickfergus for Santa Monica.
Gotta love the Carrickfergus reference. And nobody, nobody ever seems to be able to get an Irish accent right except Miranda Richardson in The Crying Game. The worst Irish accent on film? Come on thats like shooting fish in a barrel. How about the worst Irish accent on film by a Scotsman who really should know better: My four finalists are Sean Connery, Billy Connolly, Ewan McGregor and Gerard Butler. I have to give the prize to Gerry Butler because at least he apologized.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Monday, January 25, 2010
"The Lovely Bones is a deplorable film with this message: If you're a 14-year-old girl who has been brutally raped and murdered by a serial killer, you have a lot to look forward to. You can get together in heaven with the other teenage victims of the same killer, and gaze down in benevolence upon your family members as they mourn you and realize what a wonderful person you were. Sure, you miss your friends, but your fellow fatalities come dancing to greet you in a meadow of wildflowers, and how cool is that?
The makers of this film seem to have given slight thought to the psychology of teenage girls, less to the possibility that there is no heaven, and none at all to the likelihood that if there is one, it will not resemble a happy gathering of new Facebook friends. In its version of the events, the serial killer can almost be seen as a hero for liberating these girls from the tiresome ordeal of growing up and dispatching them directly to the Elysian Fields. The film's primary effect was to make me squirmy. It's based on the best-seller by Alice Sebold that everybody seemed to be reading a couple of years ago. I hope it's not faithful to the book; if it is, millions of Americans are scary. The murder of a young person is a tragedy, the murderer is a monster, and making the victim a sweet, poetic narrator is creepy. This movie sells the philosophy that even evil things are God's will, and their victims are happier now. Isn't it nice to think so. I think it's best if they don't happen at all. But if they do, why pretend they don't hurt? Those girls are dead."
Brilliant, eh? Ebert's post on no longer being able to eat food or drink has rightly become a recent blogging classic. The fact that he mentions one of Cormac McCarthy's lesser known (and one of my favourite) novels Suttree in it is all to the good, although Roger and I are very different people - the scene that sticks in my mind from that book is the, er, incident in the melon patch.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Now that Coakley's lost the election the Democratic majority in the senate has sunk to a filibuster vulnerable 59 seats and Obama will not be able to pass many of the planks of his reform agenda. What a massive cockup. Couldn't the Democrats have found a candidate in Boston whose last name was Kennedy and who, oh, I don't know, likes the brews and an occasional visit to Fenway Park?
Because of the sock the game was lost, because of the game the ALCS was lost, because of the ALCS the World Series was lost, because of the World Series, the Presidency was screwed. (That and listening to the advice of Paul Krugman.) The Democrats of course have massive majorities in both houses but they are such lightweights they cant apparently do anything. I think its because they have no sock related icons of their own. Where have you gone Shari Lewis a nation lifts its lonely eyes to you.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Friday, January 15, 2010
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Saturday, January 9, 2010
In 2008 Iris Robinson, wife of Northern Ireland's First Minister Peter Robinson said that homosexuals were an "abomination" and "worse even than child molesters." She explained that as an MP and member of Northern Ireland's Assembly that it was her duty and the duty of all public servants to uphold God's law as exemplified by the 10 Commandments. (Not a big reader of Edmund Burke is Mrs R).
Well we all knew what was going to happen next didn't we? Every single time one of those holier than thou uber-Pentecostal freaks starts blathering about gays and sodomy and God's law you just know that they are going to be found out as complete and utter twists trying desperately to weave a smokescreen. BBC Northern Ireland's excellent Spotlight programme discovered yesterday that Mrs Robinson had seduced a 19 year old graduate (well, a high school graduate) and had given him a wad of cash so he could open (only in Northern Ireland folks) a chip shop.
Of course now under God's law poor Mrs Robinson will actually have to be stoned to death. Her husband and all the members of the Stalinist-Gothic Metropolitan Faith Cathedral in north Belfast will have to dig a hole and bung her in it and chuck rocks at her Iran-style. This hardly seems fair. She's an attractive woman and Northern Ireland could always do with another chip shop or two. And if Peter Robinson resigns and the Northern Ireland Assembly falls apart and Ulster tumbles into civil war because of this I for one am going to blame the BBC. . . for not showing Mike Nichols's edifying masterpiece The Graduate often enough.
And speaking of edifying...here's that creepy/foxy chick from Pomplamoose Music with a nice version of Simon and Garfunkel's Mrs Robinson. The lyrics were never more appropriate.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
1. Pliny the Elder - IPA, USA
2. Westvleteren 12 - Trappist Quad, Belgium
3. Theakston Old Peculier - Trad. Ale, England
4. Dark Lord - Imperial Stout, USA
5. Fuller's London Porter - Porter, England
6. Rochefort Trappistes 10 - Trappist Quad, Belgium
7. Ayinger Celebrator - Dobblebock, Germany
8. Samuel Smith's Oatmeal Stout - Stout, England
9. Guinness Draft - Dry Stout, Ireland
10. Russian River Supplication - Sour Ale, USA
#1 and #10 on my list come from the great Russian River Brewing Company
Sunday, January 3, 2010
The New York Times has published an interactive murder map of New York City which incorporates comprehensive NYPD data for the last five years. The map is interactive because you can filter it by race/age/location etc. It makes for some interesting reading. I always thought it was amusing when I lived in Oxford that Inspector Morse stumbled across a murder every week when there hadn't been an actual murder in the city of dreaming spires in eight years. New York's plummeting murder rate has generated a similar dissonance. If you add up all the deaths on Law & Order, L&O SVU, CSI-NY etc. etc. there are easily 100+ murders in Manhattan every season and because most of the writers are white - and that's the demographic they skew to - most of the TV victims are also white. And this is where the dissonance comes in. If you look at the actual data around 90 percent of all murder victims in New York City are black or Latino. So far in Manhattan this year 4 white people have been killed. Four. Yes this is four people too many people and of course it still represents four tragedies but that's not my point. By several orders of magnitude there are going to be more white Manhattanite crime victims on network TV, movies and in crime novels this year than actually died in real life. I reckon three or four times as many white people will be killed on the Law & Order franchises alone than in the real world. Why is this? Well murder sells of course and I don't want to put a stop to that but why can't the networks tell us the real story that emerges from the NYT interactive map? The real victims of crime in New York are black and Latino and they live in places like Harlem, Washington Heights, the South Bronx, Bed Sty. Places where the actors, execs and writers never go. Maybe the studios are worried that those stories wouldn't play in Iowa. Well the success of The Wire proves that realistic crime dramas can work, but it's not easy, you can't just give people formula, you've got to write intelligent believable characters; in short the writers would have to exercise that big muscle between their ears and the networks would have to stop playing it safe. Would Inspector Morse have been as successful a show if he had gone after bicycle thieves and cocaine dealers? Maybe. Maybe not. But I think a little dose of reality might have been fun once in a while. Similarly with TV, films and crime fiction. Perhaps they could at least make an occasional attempt to show the reality of murder in New York. It's a reality that mostly exists across 110th Street way beyond the comfort zone of most of the creative types, who if truth be told probably all live in Santa Monica anyway.