Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wallflower

Tonight, we head to Clark's house to ring in 2010 with a big dinner, a few movies, and watching the ball drop on TV. And I'm okay with that: I've known tonight's guests for at least 10 years each, and that familiarity allows me to drop my social wall for a time. We will gossip, talk trash and enjoy a wonderful evening together.

I'm not always like that.

Take Tuesday night, for example. We were invited to a cookies and champagne get-together at the home of some friends in Signal Hill. Other than the hosts and one or two other guests, neither of us knew anyone so we both hung around the food table, then sat talking to one another. He gets up to refresh his drink, and I sit with the empty plate on my lap, bottled water in hand, gazing up and down at the Christmas tree while party-goers flow in and out of the room. One guest mentioned the movie Nine, and we briefly talked about the movie and the musical upon which it was based, while another person joined in the conversation. Then those two started talking, and I faded into the chair as any comments I happened to toss into the conversation were ignored.

I'm not a mingler and tend to grow quiet in gatherings like this. Self-conscious? Definitely, because I don't consider myself a good talker and don't think people are interested in hearing what I have to say. Especially people I don't know. Am I going to say something stupid if I open my mouth? Why even bother? Just focus on the cookies or the drink and soon it will all be over.

Thankfully, I'll be with good friends tonight and conversation won't be a problem. If only more parties could be like that....

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Top 10 Movies of 2009

In my opinion, at least. As I mentioned in my last post, 2009 nears its end so the Favorite and Best of lists should start appearing at any moment. So I'm going to join in (as I always tend to do) beginning with the list of my 10 favorite films of 2009. Disclaimer: I'm only naming films that were both released in 2009 and for which I bought a ticket so more than likely I will omit quite a few since I don't have the funds to see every single film. (Though a boy can dream....)

10. Coraline
9. Paranormal Activity
8. Zombieland
7. Where the Wild Things Are
6. (500) Days of Summer
5. The Princess and the Frog
4. District 9
3. Los Abrazos Rotos (Broken Embraces)
2. Up

And my pick for the top spot....

1. Away We Go

Perfect cast. Perfect script. Perfect direction. An all around great and charming film (with a great soundtrack album, too).

Monday, December 28, 2009

Le Cinéma

The year's end is quickly approaching, and soon I'll be creating my "Best Of" lists. Before that can happen, however, I feel like writing up a few last-minute quickie reviews of the movies I've seen since Saturday. A whopping three movies in three days!!!
After a failed attempt at seeing a movie on Christmas Day, thanks to the throngs of hundreds of people at the local theaters, we tried again on Saturday. I drove us behind the Orange Curtain for one of the few local screenings of Almodóvar's latest film, Los abrazos rotos (Broken Embraces). In the movie, the now-blind screenwriter Harry Caine has almost completed his next script when the death of a former film producer fleetingly sparks past memories to resurface. Soon afterward, a young man named Ray X on his doorstep, wanting him to write a screenplay. But not just any screenplay -- one that revolves around getting revenge on a father who despised his son's homosexuality and exposing the father's involvement in the death of a young actress. Despite being blind, Harry knows immediately who it is, and those memories he's tried to erase -- about his affair with the producer's lover Magdalena, about her death in a car accident, about what caused his blindness -- force themselves out in a confession to his screenwriting assistant, Diego. With a wonderful script and fine direction from Almodóvar, the story of Broken Embraces slowly unfolds like a good Hitchcockian thriller. Penelope Cruz gives a wonderful performance as Magdalena, the center of a tumultuous love triangle between Harry Caine (Lluis Homar, also a fine performance) and Ernesto Martel (Jose Luis gomez). Though I think the ending left a bit to be desired, I still consider this one of the best films of 2009.
Sunday I headed for Disneyland to get another use out of my Annual Pass before it expires in January and caught a showing of The Princess and the Frog. Take the classic tale of a cursed prince being turned into a frog with the only way to change him back being a kiss from a princess and set it in New Orleans around the Jazz Age with a little bit of voodoo, and you have a new classic film from Disney. (And that it's hand-drawn animation rather than CGI makes it all the more wonderful!) Prince Naveen, lazy and interested in nothing but music and having a good time, finds himself in New Orleans, cut off from his family fortune but hoping to come into his own by marrying into the wealthy La Bouff family. He gets sidetracked from Dr. Facilier, a dark voodoo man, who changes Naveen into a frog and imprisoning him in a jar in order to take La Bouff's fortune for himself. Naveen manages to escape and hops into Tiana, a waitress borrowing a gown and tiara from her childhood friend, and Naveen mistakes her for a real princess, coaxing her into kissing him to break the spell like in the fairytale. But things don't turn out as either of them plan, and Tiara discovers that she's turned into a frog as well. The hunt is on, and Dr. Facilier will do whatever evil deeds necessary to capture Naveen before he can reach the voodoo priestess Mama Odie in the Bayou. I loved this movie, from the voices of Anika Noni Rose and Bruno Campos as Tiana and Naveen and Michael-Leon Wooley as the jazz-trumpet playing alligator Louis, to the jazzy music of Randy Newman, to the marvelous detailed images on the screen. Some of the Dr. Facilier scenes I thought might be a bit too scary for younger kids, much like the Pink elephants from Dumbo, but this is still a fantastic film with a good story and lots of charm.
This morning, we headed to Hollywood to catch a screening of Avatar at the Cinerama Dome. Neither of us had ever seen a movie there -- and at $18.50 a pop, you can understand why. But we shelled out the money for the movie, the 3D glasses and the assigned seating, and the experience was so totally worth it. Corporal Jake Sully takes his brother's place on a mission to the planet Pandora to help negotiate a trade with the natives, the Na'vi. It turns out that Pandora is a rich source of a mineral known as unobtainium that sells for nearly $20M per ounce back on Earth. To negotiate such a trade agreement, the Earthmen use avatars -- genetic replicas of Na'vi -- that are powered by a mind link between human and avatar. Long story short (possible spoilers): Sully, once confined to a wheelchair, thrives in his avatar, being taken into the Na'vi family while spilling location and other fundamentals to the mean Colonel Miles Quatrich and the slimey Parker Selfridge (who doesn't give a damn about the natives who are blocking the path to the unobtainium). Sully has a change of heart and fights against the Earth military saving the planet. I do this because it's a story that has been told and re-told over and over again. What makes Avatar so good, though, is the visuals. Director James Cameron crafts an amazing world filled with wondrous creatures, illogical landscapes that work and a whole new language -- something truly amazing to see on the screen. And I even found myself caught up in the story, almost verging on tears when certain characters died, cheering for the Na'vi as they fought back against the Earthmen. I walked into the theater thinking "Dances with Smurfs" and walked out truly enjoying the film.

But unobtainium? Really?

Really?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Your Neon Lights Will Shine

I took Christmas Eve off from work, the beginning of a much-needed five-day weekend. Sleeping in until 9am was a wonderful treat, but not half as much fun as what my Dad and I did a little later in the afternoon.

A little tradition I started with my Mom a few years ago -- the two of us attending a play or a musical together for Mothers Day -- has grown to include taking my Dad to a show for Fathers Day. However, earlier this year, they both became fairly ill, forcing me to postpone any trips to the theater until they both felt better. Back in September, my Mom and I saw Putting It Together; Christmas Eve was my Dad's turn. I made the trek to Laguna Niguel well before noon, visiting with The Folks for a few minutes before packing my Dad into the car and heading for the Orange County Performing Arts Center. My Dad's hearing isn't quite what it used to be so when we see a show, I try to find something recognizable, either music, story or both; this year, I chose Xanadu.

He LOVED it. The singing, the acting, the roller skating. He laughed the entire time and clapped along with the titular song at the end. Best of all, he asked me to buy one of the Xanadu shirts declaring it my birthday present to him. (His birthday's near the end of January.) When we returned home, he hurried to the bathroom before greeting my Mom, and when she demanded to know how the show was, he rounded the hallway corner wearing the rainbow-colored shirt trying his best to sing like Olivia Newton-John. My Mom started giggling as they briefly danced in the living room.

Their happiness filtered through the rest of the evening as my Brother and Sister-In-Law arrived with my Aunt and Uncle close on their heels. We mingled and chatted, feasted on barbecued pork loin and homemade potato salad, then gathered around the tree to open gifts.

I think that was one of the best Christmas' our family's experienced.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Night at the Theater

We'd purchased tickets months ago for two shows at the Music Center, knowing that our friend was visiting from Las Vegas sometime during the month of December. We just didn't know when so rather than hold out until the last minute, possibly losing out on tickets, we bought them. When our friend finally told us the dates of his trip, also mentioning that he wanted to see Mary Poppins -- one of the same shows -- during his time with us, we had to break the news that we were already seeing it the week before. He bought a ticket anyway, and it turned out to be a good thing because the second show for us, Palestine, New Mexico, was playing in the same theater complex.

Both shows were scheduled to start at the same time so our friend made a quick call to his family, and we met a few of them for dinner beforehand at Philippe's. Philippe's has been around since the 1920s and has been dubbed the Home of the French Dip. And that's all you see on the small menu when you first walk in the doors of what was once a warehouse: Beef, Lamb, Turkey, or Pork dipped sandwiches. The display cases in front of the counter girls also hold cole slaw, custard, jars of eggs pickled in some reddish-purple juice, sliced meats and other goodies, but the 5 lines of people only wanted a French Dip -- and perhaps a bowl of chili. We picked the line closest to the entrance, and it moved fairly quickly. We had our food -- I ordered a more traditional beef sandwich, double dipped (the au jus on both piece of bread) with a slice of American cheese oozing over the crust; Caesar chose the turkey; our friend chose the lamb -- and found a few tables in a small side room in less than 15 minutes. Yet the door constantly opened and closed with the flow of those waiting to eat and those already pleasantly stuffed.

After dinner we headed for the nearby Music Center with about 30 minutes before showtime. We agreed on a place to meet once the shows were over and went to our separate theaters.
The production Caesar and I were seeing -- Palestine, New Mexico -- took place on a reservation (the Rez) which the set designers brought to life with a desert mesa jutting into the audience and pushing back against the stage wall with a scraggly, red rock cliff. The story centers on Captain Catherine Siler who makes her way onto the Rez in order to deliver the final letter of a fallen soldier under her command in Afghanistan. That soldier, the Chief's son, Private First Class Raymond Birdsong, died alone under strange circumstances, and that troubles Captain Siler , driving her to find out exactly what happened, believing it may have something to do with an argument Private Birdsong had with his father. The answer may be in that last letter and may also have something to do with another soldier named Suarez who came from the same reservation. Captain Siler's pressing of the issue forces the tribe to examine the ideologic differences they've had for years with another part of their tribe. (Take a close look at the cactus in the picture. I didn't notice it until after the show.)

A strong play examining family relationships, death, the politics of war on both the homefront and abroad, the story ultimately focuses on the role religion plays in the way we think about ourselves and others. Richard Montoya's script blends comedy and drama with actual events to create an intense piece of theater. Much of the credit for this amazing show goes to all the actors, especially Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas and Herbert Siguenza -- collectively known as Culture Clash -- who bring much comic relief to the stage, especially when they appear as three Native American war veterans. Kirsten Potter also turns in a strong performance as Captain Siler. And, of course, Russell Means was spot on as Chief Birdsong, dealing with both his son's death and how it affects the future of his tribe.

As we exited the theater, Mary Poppins had just begun its intermission. We poked around a few of the restaurants on site to find a bit of dessert, but $9 seemed a bit steep for a bowl of ice cream. Instead, we cruised along Sunset Blvd., winding up at Skylight Books in Los Feliz. And yes, I did purchase two more books to add to my ever-growing pile. By the time we were headed back tot the Music Center, Mary Poppins had finished. Our friend was waiting for us with bags of show souvenirs and ecstatic memories of the show.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Book Review: Whores of Lost Atlantis
Julian Young has been struggling for quite some time to get his one-man show off the ground, performing in small theaters across the country. At one booking in Boise, Idaho, his frustration at playing only in smaller theaters finally comes to a head when a fire rips through the Way-Off-Broadway Theater, and he's forced to head back to New York. Not content to keep at the temp jobs that fill his days, he convinces long-time friend Joel Finley to help him stage one last show -- Whores of Lost Atlantis -- at a trendy East Village theater known as Golgotha. Assembling a cast of inexperienced actors and casting himself in the lead as Milena, the play becomes an underground hit.

The novel follows Julian and his troupe -- The Imitation of Life Players -- as they make their way from a cult hit into a possible run off-Broadway, maneuvering through the ups and downs of intricate relationships, AIDS, a disgruntled diva by the name of Kiko, Julian's new-found stardom as a drag performer, and a love interest for Julian with the charming and mysterious Don Caspar.

It's very easy to see find a comparison between the character Julian Young and the author Charles Busch. Julian speaks and acts like one of the grand ladies of film from the Golden Age of Hollywood, a role very similar to Busch in one of his films such as Die, Mommie, Die! or Psycho Beach Party. That no-nonsense strength that Julian finds from those ladies slowly builds and changes him as he begins to grow accustomed to his new female persona, and at times it frightens and confuses him as he sometimes can't distinguish between the two himself.

But it's the stories about the relationships that the actors form as the story progresses -- the romances between fellow actors, coming up with new shows every week, taking care of one of their own when he becomes very ill -- that move this story along. And I like that Busch doesn't focus solely on Julian. None of the characters in the novel Whores of Lost Atlantis is a secondary character; each one depends upon the others to not only get the shows running but to keep their lives in order. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know this group.

Busch's underground theater world of the East Village is also vividly drawn, from the darkened interior of Golgotha to the characters themselves. He totally enveloped me in that world, making me feel I was sitting in the audience as the troupe performed their risqué pieces or following them through the city as they searched for costume pieces or sponsors for their potential off-Broadway run.

Whores of Lost Atlantis is a fun romp through the world of theater, and fans of both theater and Charles Busch should definitely read this one.

Friday, December 18, 2009

And the Winner Is....
Congratulations to Mikerzz. He's the winner of the Sherrilyn Kenyon book, and I learned from the publisher that it will be Born of Night, the first book in her "The League" series.


Thanks to everyone who participated!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Relief

Way back in June, I spent some time with a cardiologist because I had a minor episode which required a visit to the E/R, a hook-up with a heart monitor and other fun stuff like that. The cardiologist ran a series of CT scans, an ultrasound and the dreaded treadmill test (with radioactive isotopes!) and determined that my heart was in tip-top shape. One of my lungs, however, showed a 7mm dark spot. Concerned that it might -- might -- be cancerous, he scheduled another CT scan for December to determine whether or not the dark spot had grown or changed shape.

That follow-up occurred on December 4th, lasting all of two minutes. Lay on a table, arms over my head, in and out of the machine twice, and I'm done. Barely missed any time off from work. The technician told me that the doctor should call me with the results by the following Tuesday. Which was last week. And he didn't call.

So I took it upon myself to give him a ring and was lovingly transferred back and forth between his two offices and six of his wonderful staffers. The last woman, his Nurse Assistant I think, said that the results were in, but the doctor hadn't reviewed them. She would place them on his desk with a note to call me about them the next day. Which he didn't.

Nor did he call the next day. Or the next.

As the old saying goes, "No news is good news". Yet, I still wanted to know for certain if anything were wrong with me. I called the doctor's offices again yesterday, keeping myself in check so as to not totally fly off the handle, and was re-directed immediately to the doctor's Nurse Assistant. Apparently, the doctor didn't review the results until the day before but noted in his comments that I didn't need a follow-up. Everything appeared fine, the spot hadn't changed or grown or mutated.

A huge relief to me, but I'm still a bit miffed that I had to call twice to get the results.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Practically Perfect

With the threat of heavy rains in the evening, Caesar and I left Long Beach early, hoping to navigate the traffic and the crowded LA freeways with just enough time to spare. Thankfully, the rain slowed to a drizzle as we cruised along the 710, the 5 and the 101 freeways and stopped altogether by the time we reached The Ahmanson -- an hour ahead of schedule. Who knew people would opt to stay home on a rainy Saturday evening?

After parking, we walked around the grounds of the almost-empty Music Center, checking out both the large tree that we could smell about 10 feet before we even neared it and the big, electric Menorrah with two "candles" lit. But the chill finally started working into my hands and feet so we headed for the warmth of the theater. Caesar headed for our seats while I added yet another souvenir program to my collection, this one filled with colorful images and snippets of lyrics from the evening's production of Mary Poppins.

At 7:40 PM, many of the seats still remained empty, and we both thought perhaps the show would start late due to the bad weather. Slowly, people filed in, filling the vacant spaces, and a few minutes after 8, the house lights dimmed, the orchestra eased into the recognizable strains of the Sherman brothers, and the curtain rose on what turned out to be one of the most delightful musical productions.

I think I had some preconceived notions about the show, having seen the Disney film many, many times. I wondered how they would handle the chalk drawing scene where Mary Poppins, Bert and the Banks children jump into the sidewalk drawing or the Bird Lady or even the dancing chimney sweeps. We'd also learned from earlier reading that one of my favorite songs -- Stay Awake -- didn't make the show so how the remaining music would be incorporated with the new material also had me wondering what would happen.

But I needn't have worried. Though scenes didn't happen quite as they did in the movie, the show's creators managed to incorporate the familiar songs with the new ones, crafting something entirely new and just as charming. The best example happened with Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. The song still popped up in the park, but rather than in the context of the chalk drawing, Mary Poppins takes the Banks children to visit Mrs. Corry's shop hidden in the park to buy a bit of conversation. Unfortunately, Mrs. Corry seems to be a bit short on conversation but does have some letters which Mary and the children use to create that amazingly long nonsensical word. Soon, everyone sings and dances (to some of the most brilliant choreography from Matthew Bourne) about how wonderful a word it truly is. It becomes even more magical and fun, and the intricate dance moves leave the audience breathless (and I'm sure would have earned a standing ovation, but the show plowed right on ahead).

The Step in Time scene also garnered thunderous applause, not simply because of the singing, dancing and staging. We weren't sure it would happen as the production ran into a scenery malfunction that would lead into the rooftop scene. Grinding gears stopped one of the set pieces from lowering completely to the stage, but the crew managed to right whatever was wrong in less than 10 minutes, and the show carried on as if nothing had happened. No one missed a note or a step. Which was great because Bert literally dance up the stage wall across the ceiling and down the other side. All the kids (and some of the adults) oohed and aahed when he tapped danced upside down along the ceiling.

The performances also made this an incredible production. Usually with a touring company, we get to see some fairly well-known names, and people who have played the roles on Broadway before, but this touring company boasted Ashley Brown who originated the role of Mary Poppins on Broadway and Gavin Lee who originated the role of Bert on both the London stage and Broadway. And they were both phenomenal, deserving all the accolades they received: Ashley was charming and gave Mary Poppins a sort of self-important feel that made for many ligt comic moments, and Gavin charmed his way through song and dance, making Bert both narrator and semi-love interest for Mary. We were also treated to Ellen Harvey who played Miss Andrew who was Mr. Banks' nanny and who brought a whole new twist on comedic horror. Frightening in her pasty face, black clothes and smoking bottle of Brimstone and Treacle for runaway children. When she belted her bombastic final note on Brimstone and Treacle, the cast leaned back, the curtains whipped back and forth and the windows shook -- literally -- as if hit by a gale-force wind. Aida Neitenbach and Christopher Flaim played the Banks children, Michael and Jane, like I always felt they should be: not-so-nice and not easily likable. Children who need a good spanking every now and then.

I loved the set, too. The large victorian house, white outlined in black much like a book illustration, opened as a dollhouse would. The entire set had that illustrated feel, as if everything jumped directly from the pages of Travers' books onto the stage.

Mary Poppins was truly a remarkable and fun show. And "Practically perfect in every way" -- like Mary herself.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Who Wants a Free Book?

With all this holiday shopping draining cash from our wallets and adding charges to our credit/debit cards, who wouldn't want a free book?

New from St. Martin's Press is #1 New York Times bestselling author, Sherrilyn Kenyon's 3-book series, The League! With over 19 million books in print, Sherrilyn Kenyon is renowned the world over as "the reigning queen of the paranormal genre that she pioneered long before the world had heard of Twilight." All three books in the series are available now.


In honor of the series' debut, St. Martin's Press and Zeitghost Media, have given me the opportunity to bring some book-loving cheer to one of my blog readers: a copy of one of The League books - Born of Night, Born of Fire or Born of Ice. Cool, huh? All you blog readers need to do is to leave a comment to this post with your email address and the title of your favorite ghost story, tale of the supernatural, or any tale involving ghosts and ghoulies. Last date/time to leave a comment will be Wednesday, December 16th at 8PM Pacific Time. A winner will be randomly chosen from from all the comments.

The book will be provided by St. Martin's Press and Zeitghost Media. I've received a few books during the past year from St. Martin's Press to read/review -- Patient Zero, Hater, Personal Effects: Dark Arts, The Birthing House, and Bite Marks -- so a big thank you to them for the year of horror and for the free book to give away!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Long Beach Cuisine

We needed to use the remaining pack of chopped pork so I stopped by the grocery store after work, filling my recyclable bag with a sweet potato, a nice orangey-red roma tomato, eggs, and some shredded cheese before heading home. Once in the kitchen, I chopped the pork chunks into halves and thirds, starting browning it in a pan sprayed with Pam and peeled and diced the sweet potato into small cubes. Once the meat appeared cooked through, I added the potato then turned my attention to 4 large eggs, whipping them into a frenzy in a bowl and setting it aside. I dice up the roma tomato and set it aside, grabbed the bowl of eggs and dumped them into the pork and potato mix. When the eggs seemed scrambled enough, I piled the tomato on top and heated the whole mixture for a few more minutes. We scooped the finished product onto a couple plates, sprinkled them generously with shredded cheese and enjoyed.



Okay, so I'm no Julia Childs, but it tasted fantastic!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Writing

One of my New Year's resolutions -- one that keeps popping up year after year -- is to eventually have something published other than on this blog. At first, I considered the reviews I've been writing, but after reading other, more professional reviewers, that doesn't seem like a good idea. And now, after several attempts at writing a bit of fiction, I think that will go to the wayside, too. It's not that I can't find any inspiration; more like a lack of motivation. I started a story a few months ago, and just haven't been inclined to continue it. There's no drive creating the need to write something every single day, and yet when I do find the urge to write, my attempts at putting it on paper or on the computer come to no good. I self-edit. I find other distractions. I read a book instead.

I may post an occasional flash fiction piece on here, but the dream of becoming a real published author seems more and more like a dream.

Monday, December 07, 2009

It's in the Genes

One aspect of being gay is that we seem to have acquired the Theater gene -- not in the standing onstage and trying horribly to sing along to a Rent, but more along the lines of buying tickets to watch people who know what they're doing sing, dance, act, tell jokes, etc. Usually, we manage to control this by seeing a show perhaps once a month.

But something's happened with December.

We've somehow scheduled four shows this month, beginning this past Friday with the musical It's a Stevie Wonderful Life by the Troubador Theater Company. You heard that correct: it's a Stevie Wonderful Life. The classic film performed onstage as a musical, but with all the songs based on Stevie Wonder classics. A funky George Bailey with Chaka Khan hair. Clarence styled à la Edward James Olmos. Zuzu Bailey drunk from too much Nyquil. Acrobats, dancing improv, bad jokes, and a fantastic time. We laughed ourselves to tears over the crazy antics mixed in with the heartwarming story. Plus, the troupe involved the audience in the show by such things as stopping the production after 15 minutes when latecomers arrived and breaking into a rousing rendition of You're So Vain. And not to forget the 15-minute home video they created, sitting in the seats directly in front of us; one of the actors performed the funniest improv we've ever scene that had us in tears.

And the Carpenter Center was filled to capacity. I think that's the first time I've seen nary an empty seat in the theater since we started seeing shows there a few years ago.

That was show number one. Then on Sunday, we attended show number two: the Comedians of Chelsea Lately at The Grove in Anaheim. Featuring some of the staff writers and roundtable guests from Chelsea Lately on E!, we enjoyed two hours of jokes about why many lesbians think Jen Kirkman is a lesbian even though she just married a man, why she has trouble fantasizing, and gay marriage; Brad Wollack talking about being pasty white, marrying a hot chick, and gay marriage; Guy Branum confronting the insecurities with being a big gay man in a Teen People world, and gay marriage; and Jo Koy talking about his sleep apnea, his mother, and taking his son to the first day of school. Another evening of laughing ourselves silly, especially to Jo Koy. (If he ever has a show in your area, SEE HIM!)

This week, we finally get a bit of rest until Saturday, when we see Mary Poppins. The weekend after that, Culture Clash's Palestine, New Mexico. And then, on Christmas Eve, I'm treating my Dad to Xanadu.

Hopefully, that'll be it until 2010.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Book Review: Roadwork

When anyone hears the name "Stephen King", thoughts of vampires and axe-wielding lunatics and a telekinetic teenager wreaking havoc on prom night are probably the first things that come to mind. After all, King reigns as one of the premier tellers of horror tales today and with good reason as the majority of his stories will cause nightmares even for the hardiest of horror fans. I think quite a few readers out there don't realize that King's work isn't all horror. Remember the movie Stand By Me? That was based on a King novella called The Body, a story about 4 young boys who come across a dead body; it's more a story of childhood and growing up rather than a horror story. Same thing with Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption which became the film The Shawshank Redemption, a story about a man escaping from prison. Nothing verging on horror, the supernatural, vampires or what have you. And that's one thing I really enjoy about King's writing -- that he doesn't allow himself to write only one specific type of story, branching into good old drama without the scary hijinks.

Such is the case with and earlier book of his called Roadwork, written under his pseudonym of Richard Bachman.
In the early 1970s, during the height of the energy crisis, the government decides to extend a highway through an unnamed Midwestern city, claiming the right of Eminent Domain. Many homes will be torn down, businesses closed, people left hunting for jobs. And right in the thick of things is Barton George Dawes, tasked with trying to find both a new house for he and his wife and a new building for his company, an industrial laundry. But nothing goes smoothly for Bart, and the pressures to start over in a new place, the government's stepping in to take away what's his, and the too-soon death of his son to a brain tumor subtly start to take their toll on his psyche. He buys two guns, not sure what he plans on doing with them, but almost instinctually, he starts down a path pitting him against the new highway extension and the government and potentially destroying his once happy marriage.

Roadwork is a slow-paced story, with a surprisingly likable anti-hero. When Bart first made his appearance, his purchasing the guns is fairly innocuous -- a man walking into a gun shop to buy something for his brother, an amateur hunter. But I could tell something was off kilter with him, something not quite definable but it made me want to continue reading, to find out what exactly he has in mind when he buys the guns. I empathized with him as he struggled with the impending loss of his home and his job, with his trying to come to grips with his son's death. He also acted honorably when picking up a female hitchhiker, offering her enough money to get to Las Vegas and declining her offers to sleep with him for it. I found myself liking him more and more so that, by the time I understood just what he had planned -- even knowing the potential outcomes -- I was cheering for him.

For anyone who's never read anything by King because the horror factor keeps you away, this is a good novel to ease you into his work.

Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam

It had to happen eventually. I finally turned the word verification on for this here blog, thanks to the recent increase in spam bot activity. So, sorry to all those Russian ladies looking for love while their doctors prescribe Cialis to enhance their experience. It's time for you to look elsewhere....