Tuesday, June 21, 2016

LIZ SMITH: Speaking of books

by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

Take a Trip to Christopher Bollen's "Orient" — if You Dare! ... The pulp fiction treasures of John D. MacDonald ... All the "Penny Dreadfuls" Feel JUST DREADFUL! (But I Have to Admit, If Vanessa Ives Had To Go, It Was a Fabulous, Fitting Exit.)

"EVERY TIME Beth visited over the past few years, her mother appeared less like the woman she had known since birth and more like a coquettish alien, a Mylar-balloon rendition whose trick for eternal youth was to confuse people so thoroughly about which parts of her face were real that they gave up guessing her age in frustration (it was fifty-eight.)"

That's a bit from a fabulous book I read over the weekend in one lip-smacking gulp. It came out last year from HarperCollins, titled "Orient," and written by Christopher Bollen.

I love my thrillers, along with history — to be honest, I love anything with words, period! — but "Orient" is a thriller with a difference. It's literature; something in the neighborhood of Donna Tartt, but a bit more accessible.

"Orient" tells a twisted tale of art dealers, land-owners, despised "summer people," dissatisfied wives, husbands and lovers,  suspicious sea-creatures, murder most foul and betrayals most astonishing. The action — which never stops, one way or another — happens in the town of Orient, situated on Long Island's North Fork.

It is gorgeously written (I'm stealing that description from USA Today's review, because I can't think of another word to describe author Bollen's prose — lush and sensitive while staying tightly wound and grounded to the characters and plot — of which there is a lot!)

It's heady, improbable. The situations are insane, the motivations, once we arrive at the denouement are implausible. The murders occur with more frequency than a weekend visit to Cabot Cove! But suspend disbelief, because "Orient" is written with such care for its major characters, and such realism in how an innocent — if troubled — stranger can make the wrong moves, create an unpleasant sensation; be a scapegoat. (You might think twice the next time "a friend" invites you someplace you've never visited!)
I put "Orient" down twice, once to snack, and once to visit the "en suite" as it is always delicately described on the HGTV channel. It's that compelling. The main protagonist — sensitive, edgy, looking for love and security — haunts one long after you've closed the book. If I ever meet Mr. Bollen I'd insist he tell me what he thinks happens after the final heartbreaking two words that conclude the 600-page saga, and could there ever be a sequel?

In truth, the end of "Orient" is perfect, but it still broke and chilled my heart.

Mr. Bollen is an editor-at-large for Interview magazine, he's written freelance for various publications and his first novel, "Lightning People" which I missed, is already on my "To Read" list this July, when we go on vacation for a couple of weeks. He's a New Yorker, and a damn good writer!
Bug Lighthouse, Orient Point.
SPEAKING OF books, which we never tire of here, while flipping through the current issue of Esquire (Viggo Mortensen cover) I came across Dwight Garner's article on the short, pulpy novels of John D. MacDonald. This author, who died in 1986, wrote 21 books featuring detective Travis McGee. Garner advises that these thrillers are so good that "in the spinner rack in heaven's drugstore, these are the books I hope to find." Travis McGee is a "salvage consultant" who finds and fixes things that innocent (or mostly innocent) people have lost or mislaid. Not having read these books, I assume sometimes Mr. McGee is taken for a ride. He gets beat up a lot, and gives as good in return, too.

Esquire's writer, Mr. Garner, enthuses so adroitly about these novels, sprinkling his article with many quotes from the books and the hero, that I am determined to pick up a few for this summer's beach reading (an umbrella and sunscreen are de rigueur if you want to save your skin!) or just curled up on the couch, unnaturally air-conditioned.

"The main reason to read the McGee books is MacDonald's sentences, which are as fresh and acidic as the lemon rained down on an oyster," says Garner.
John D. MacDonald.
As for wisdom from McGee himself, I liked this, about taking off in a plane: "The tin bird whoofed down the runway and lifted sharply, while everybody played the habitual game of total indifference which hides the shallow breathing and contracted sphincters of the Air Age."

Oh, and we are told that Christian Bale is looking into playing Travis on the big-screen. I hope Bale does "The Lonely Silver Rain" or "The Deep Blue Good-Bye." I have no idea what these books are about, but I love the titles!
FANS of the Showtime series "Penny Dreadful" had a pretty dreadful shock Sunday night at the very end of the two hour season finale. The words "The End" came up on screen and with the apparent death of the show's long-tormented heroine, Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) that seemed that, and thousands of "Dreadfuls" (as devoted fans refer to themselves) felt like tossing themselves right into the ground with Vanessa!

The finale, The End, was beautifully done, with Miss Green at her usual level of intensity and Billie Piper as Lily delivering a heart-stopping, Emmy-worthy monologue (in an attempt to convince Dr. Frankenstein not to tame her rage, not to allow her to forget who she was before he created her.)
Lily (Billie Piper) — "An eternity wihout passion? Without affection? Caring for nothing?"
I've loved this series from the start, with its quirky, dark melding of so many famous literary "monsters" — Dracula ... the Wolfman ... Dorian Gray ... Dr. Frankenstein ... his Creature ... Dr. Jekyll (although, alas, we won't see any more of the sexy Shazad Latif, who appeared as Jekyll only this season) and Lucifer was always hanging around, being naughty.

The center of the show, always, was Vanessa, who just couldn't pass a demon without becoming possessed. It was pretty heavy stuff and perhaps more than anything else, actress Eva Green, after three seasons of agony, had had enough?

The series creator, John Logan, refers to Green as his "muse" and an artist who has inspired him more than any other. He says he always had a plan, where to take the character of Vanessa — to her grave and peace at last, apparently — and he said going on without her, or bringing her back to life (hardly an unusual concept in this series) would be an act of "bad faith."
Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) in death — "Oh, Ethan ... I see ... our Lord."
Having enjoyed "PD" so much, I can't say I'm as totally at peace as Vanessa Ives. There were dangling storylines, but in as much as — in this delicious monster mash — everybody lived through and for Vanessa, her death simply frees them to wreak havoc, or live peacefully or do themselves in.

Many fans are angry at being unprepared for The End, but in knowing that, they might have expected more, or not appreciated what was done to finish off Vanessa. So, I think I'll get over it, myself.
I wasn't much aware of Eva Green before this show but I've looked at more of her work, and she is mighty impressive, always. Although, for her own sake, I hope she finds a comedy to do next! "PD" resurrected the talented, charismatic Josh Hartnett (Ethan/Wolfman) and I hope he gets more solid work. Everybody was splendid — Reeve Carney (Dorian Gray) ... Timothy Dalton (Sir Malcolm) ... Harry Treadaway (Dr. Frankenstein) ... Billie Piper (Lily) ... Rory Kinnear (John Clare/Creature) and all the guest stars, including most recently an electric, caustic Patti LuPone as Dr. Seward.

I am going to miss "Penny Dreadful" but bravo to the creators of the show, for going out when we who admire it could still, realistically, beg for more. And you know how that usually turns out. Yes, I'm looking at you, "Dexter." Among others.

RIP Vanessa Ives. You deserve your eternal rest.

Contact Liz here.