Pensive Prowler #3: Shut Up and Write!

Pensive Prowler #3 by Dmetri Kakmi

Shut Up and Write! 

I’m sick of the professional writing industry and, by extension, the role a writer is expected to play in society.

On the one hand professional writing courses churn out automata without individual style, and on the other hand celebrated names are trotted out to utter trite phrases best left to high school students and self-help groups.

Here’s an example from a contemporary. ‘We should always be evolving and searching for ways to keep opening our sense of literary possibility. The hope is that we will find expression of the full scope of our lives in fiction.’

There’s two sentences too many in that earth-shattering pronouncement. Whoever it was that said, ‘If it’s worth saying it’s worth saying briefly’ obviously didn’t shout loud enough for this fount of wisdom. We might add that if you have nothing to say, remain silent. Don’t blather. Leave room for solitary contemplation, a writer’s true luxury in these distracted times.

The problem is that platitudes like the above are flung at regular intervals before starry eyed hopefuls like fodder to sheep. They in turn rush to join writing classes, convinced of their inalienable right to express themselves and to be heard. There to create more vapidity. And on it goes in a never-ending cycle.

Harsh, I know. But I speak from experience. I’ve been at the coal face of writing and publishing for most of my life. As such, I can tell you that most people who seek the aid of an editor or a manuscript assessor don’t need an editor or a manuscript assessment. They need to learn how to write. They need to learn how to construct a sentence; they need to learn how words chime when placed next to each other; they need to learn about punctuation; and they need to learn how to present a manuscript.

If all this sounds trivial, a handmaiden to all-important story, think again. A display of these crucial elements puts out a clear signal. It tells a publisher how serious you are as a writer. How seriously you take yourself as a professional who shows pride in your craft; and, more importantly, if a manuscript shows promise but doesn’t yet come up to scratch, you have the wherewithal to work with an editor to make it work.

Most people who submit manuscripts for assessment don’t even know how story works. They don’t know how to construct scenes that move the narrative forward; they don’t know how to introduce characters and how to develop them; they don’t know how to write concise dialogue, or how chapters operate as individual units and how chapters function within the overall framework. I won’t even mention having an individual voice or style. And yet they’ve written a 1120 page magnum opus that has the loopy logic and halting flow of a Donald Trump speech.

It makes me wonder what they learn at all those amazing writing courses they attend. If they’ve attended one. A number people I’ve worked with don’t even read. Why? Because there’s nothing out there that appeals. How do they know if they don’t read?

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One student told me his novel will be better than ‘anything Nabokov ever wrote.’ And he hadn’t written anything yet. When pressed on the question of the great Russian, the champ admitted never having read Nabokov because ‘Lolita is child porn.’

Speechless.

One can only despair because, ultimately, you learn to write by reading. Lots. And then you augment that by writing. Lots.

It’s rare for new writing to hit you between the eyes, to leave you breathless and to make you feel as if you’ve been shot out of a cannon. It’s even more uncommon for that writer to have the nous to keep silent and let the book do the talking. That is after all what writing is about. Writing is communication. If the writer has to explain and answer at gab fests, the book has failed. And if the book hasn’t failed, everything else is sound and fury. It’s marketing.

Nowadays it’s not enough to write. A writer must be an intellectual, a stand-up comic, a sparkling personality. A book is no longer a book. It’s a ‘product’ that must move X number of units to justify existence. An author must have a ‘brand’. I tell you if I hear one more writer say they’re going to see their publisher about developing their ‘brand’, I will run screaming for hills that have pick axes in their eyes.

Oh, for the silence of the writer!

So few understand that the art of shutting up is paramount. Withdrawal to the mind’s private citadel affords the greatest luxury a writer can hope for: calm, peace of mind to work on the next novel, short story, poem or essay. The work that comes out of deepest self and not from Twitter.

That’s why I love Australian author Gerald Murnane. He’s written twelve novels in forty years.

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Readership is as low as acclaim is high. Public sightings are as rare as truffles on a Detroit kitchen table, and he does not travel outside his home state. He rarely appears at gab fests, he is not a social media sensation and the only time he makes a controversial statement is very likely when he judges the local yabby competition in the town of Goroke, where he lives. Perfect!

Murnane, I feel sure, has taken very much to heart Dorothy Parker’s dictum: ‘Hold your pen and save your voice.’

For me the ideal writer should not speak. He or she should be a silent watcher, lingering at the edges, like Nosferatu, and giving everyone the shivers. Not one word ought to come out of the mouth. Rather every thought ought to be put on paper and transmitted to the world, without once emerging through the natural vocal facilities. Because to understand silence is to understand how words work.

_______

dmetri-kakmi

Dmetri Kakmi (Episode 158) is a writer and editor based in Melbourne, Australia. The memoir Mother Land was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards in Australia; and is published in England and Turkey. His essays and short stories appear in anthologies and journals. You can find out more about him here.

Episode 243: Joy Harjo, Kim Addonizio, and Paul Lisicky!

Episode 243 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

In this week’s episode, I talk to the poet Joy Harjo,

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the poet and fiction and creative nonfiction writer Kim Addonizio,

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and the memoirist Paul Lisicky.

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TEXTS DISCUSSED

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Mortal Trash approved.inddthe-narrow-door

NOTES

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On Sunday, February 5th, The Drunken Odyssey will be hosting its annual erotic poetry night at Vinyl Arts Bar in Orlando, Florida. 7 PM.


Episode 243 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

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The Curator of Schlock #168:The Town That Dreaded Sundown

The Curator of Schlock #168 by Jeff Shuster

The Town That Dreaded Sundown

Beware of men who wear burlap sacks on their heads. 

I figured I’d do another slasher movie this week, not because I’m a particular fan of the genre, but because I know how some people get into a tizzy over slasher movies. We aim to make you uncomfortable her at The Museum of Schlock and can think of no better way than showcasing cinema featuring mask killers carving up victims in unusual ways. Here’s one that TCM must have aired during the wee hours of the morning back in October: 1976’s The Town That Dreaded Sundown, from director Charles B. Pierce.

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The movie starts out with a super serious narrator declaring that the following story is true. This makes me uneasy. How am I supposed to enjoy the fake massacre if I know it’s real people? That’s just perverted. Anyway, this true story takes place in 1946 in the town of Texarkana, Arkansas. There’s a killer on the loose targeting couples parked in lovers’ lane hotspots.  He’s known as The Phantom, but really he’s just a husky guy in overalls with a burlap sack covering his head. Not much of an imagination, buddy. 

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So The Phantom goes around murdering couples in parked cars. The local police take notice and try to stop the masked madman. Deputy Norman Ramsey (Andrew Prine) is lead on the case, but when he fails to catch The Phantom a second time, Texarkana PD calls on the expertise of Texas Ranger, M. T. “Lone Wolf” Gonzaullas (Ben Johnson).

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They’re joined by Patrolman A.C. “Sparkplug” Benton, a goofball character that Wikipedia claims is fictional and stuck in the movie for comic relief. Sparkplug is played by Charles B. Pierce, who happens to also be the director of this motion picture. 

This movie is rather bizarre. It tries for humor by having Sparkplug drive a police car into a swamp or by having him dress up as a woman in order to lure the killer out. Then we’re treated to scenes of the killer doing grisly things to his victims. He murders one girl by attaching a knife to the end of a tuba and…well…you don’t want to know the rest.

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Texas Ranger Gonzaullas and Deputy Ramsey have a final shootout with the killer, firing at him through a moving train. The Phantom is on the other side, you see. Gonzaullas wounds The Phantom in the leg, but the killer disappears before they can get to him. And that’s it. The killer is never seen again. The case goes unsolved.

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 The whole movie reminds me of a really long Unsolved Mysteries segment. Remember that show from the 80s, the one hosted by Robert Stack. They used to do segments on ghosts, UFOs, lost loves, etc. My favorite segments were always the unsolved crimes. I remember one about this mean old man who called up nephew one night, informing the nephew that he would be committing suicide in the woods. As the segment progresses, we come to find out that this mean’ old man had murdered his wife, burying her while pretending to dig a garden in the middle of autumn. The police hounds found no trace of his body anywhere near the property. On a Lifetime Channel repeat of this episode, it was revealed that the dogs hadn’t gone far enough into the woods. Than old man’s decomposing body was there. Mystery solved!

Kind of anticlimactic if you ask me.

That’s real life for you.

_______

Jeffrey Shuster 3

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

Episode 242: Ann Hood and Art Spiegelman!

Episode 242 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

In this week’s episode, I talk to fiction writer Ann Hood,

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and the graphic novelist Art Spiegelman.

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TEXTS DISCUSSED

book-that-matters-most
an-italian-wife si-lewens-parade Maus.jpgFilm Music and Other Scores

NOTES

Monica Crowley, Donald Trump’s choice for senior director of communications for the National Security Council, is a plagiarist

Erotic Poetry Night 5.png

On Sunday, February 5th, The Drunken Odyssey will be hosting its annual erotic poetry night at Vinyl Arts Bar in Orlando, Florida. 7 PM.


Episode 242 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

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The Curator of Schlock #167: Friday the 13th Part 3

The Curator of Scholck #167 by Jeff Shuster

Friday the 13th Part 3

I didn’t watch it in 3D. 3D is stupid.

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I have the strangest sense of déjà vu. I feel like I’ve tried reviewing this movie before. What movie? 1982’s Friday the 13th Part III from director Steve Miner. Since today is Friday the 13th, it behooves me to cover yet another chapter in the saga of Jason Voorhees. I think the last time I tried reviewing this movie, I got an intense headache and took the week off .

Truth is, this is not a good movie, but it does mark the first time we see Mr. Voorhees don the titular hockey mask.

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Frankly, I think the burlap sack was a better choice.

Where do I begin? The movie starts out showing us the last ten minutes of Friday the 13th Part II (in case we’d forgotten). That’s the part where our heroine, Ginny (Amy Steel), tricks Jason by pretending to be his dead mother, Mrs. Voorhees, by wearing his mother’s sweater and speaking assertively Jason falls for it and she hacks at him with a machete, but he gets right back up after she makes her escape.

The next day, we’re introduced to the owners of own some kind of convenience store/rabbit farm. The husband is a bit of a schlub. The wife is a bit of a nag. He eats too much junk food. She has curlers in her hair. He drinks beer while pooping on the toilet.

Jason murders him.

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Jason murders her.

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I don’t care about either of them. I would like one of those chocolate donuts the husband was eating. Mmmmmmmmm. Chocolate.

We’re then introduced to a third set of characters. There’s Chris (Dana Kimmel) and her boyfriend named Rick (Paul Kratka). They’re joined by their friends, Debbie (Tracie Savage) a young woman who happens to be pregnant along with her boyfriend, Andy (Jeffrey Rodgers). There’s also a couple of pot smoking hippies named Chuck (David Katims) and Chili (Rachel Howard), a prankster named Shelly (Larry Zerner), and Shelly’s blind date, Vera (Catherine Parks).

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Let’s talk about Shelly and Vera. I haven’t witnessed a love story so depressing since The Last American Virgin. There’s no delicate way to say this: Shelly is lacking in the looks department. Vera is played a Miss America runner up. Will she look past his looks and find the real beauty within? No. Why? Because Shelly is an obnoxious loser. He’s the Ducky of horror cinema.

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Shelly is insecure so he pulls pranks like playing dead with a rubber hatchet and fake blood dribbling down his forehead. Everyone thinks he’s been murdered until Andy tickles him revealing a Shelly that’s very much alive. The group hates him now. They don’t find his jokes very funny. He tags along with Vera over to a local convenience store, peruses some dirty magazine until Vera demands that Shelly pays for her stuff at checkout. Some gang members who look like they stepped right out of Death Wish 3 accost them. Shelly manages to run over their motorcycles with Rick’s car.

 This doesn’t win Vera over as she flat out rejects him later that evening. Shelly wears a wetsuit and hockey mask in an attempt to scare her. He doesn’t understand why she doesn’t like him, why she can’t look past his looks. He leaves in a huff. Vera feels bad, but is angered when Shelly returns wearing that hockey mask and pointing a harpoon gun at her. She realizes that isn’t Shelly under that hockey mask. It’s Jason Voorhees. The harpoon shoots out toward Vera. A horror legend is born.

_______

Jeffrey Shuster 1

Photo by Leslie Salas

Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

Aesthetic Drift #14: I Read Ethan Frome Every January

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Aesthetic Drift #14 by Scott Hoffman

I Read Ethan Frome Every January

For the past decade or so, I’ve read Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome every January. I’m still trying to figure out why.

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The story is simple. (I suppose I should announce “spoilers alert!” here, but we’re all adults.) Ethan is a hard-scrabble farmer trapped in a loveless marriage. His wife Zeena is a hypochondriac who bitterly questions and criticizes his every move. Her obsession with her health slowly drains the couple’s resources as the farm falls deeper and deeper into disrepair. They live among the granite outcroppings of Western Massachusetts in an isolated village aptly named Starkfield, where it always seems to be winter but never Christmas. Into this tense, claustrophobic situation enters Mattie, Zeena’s orphaned cousin, an attractive, sunny young lady left alone and impoverished by her parents’ death. With nowhere else to stay she becomes the couple’s “girl,” but she doesn’t know much about farm life and is little help. Zeena despises her. Ethan is smitten. So is Mattie. The story tracks the final days of their furtive, cautious relationship as Zeena maneuvers to send her rival away into a life of poverty and desperation. Ethan tries to escape with Mattie, but finds himself trapped by poverty, the past, and a tattered sense of loyalty to his wife. The two desperately attempt suicide only to survive, their bodies mangled, still trapped in Starkfield. The story is told by a visitor who, decades later, finds the three on the farm barely scraping by. Little trace of the love once shared by Ethan and Mattie lingers, just bitterness and poverty.

Bleak. Yet, I read Ethan Frome every January. I’ve even developed a ritual around it. At one point in the story, a cat shatters a red pickle dish deeply prized by Zeena, but used surreptitiously by Mattie when eating supper alone with Ethan. It marks the beginning of the downhill slide to the lovers’ doom. As soon as I finish reading that passage, I text one of my best friends in Boston, excoriating the damn cat for breaking the damnable dish. She waits for the text every year, noting that I get to that point quicker each time.

I read Ethan Frome each January. I am somehow drawn to relive that bitter winter in Starkfield. Perhaps it’s the environment. Wharton makes palpable the snow-bound oppressiveness of Starkfield, the chipped, threadbare poverty of the Frome farm, and the brilliant flashes of red that relieve the gloomy whiteness whenever Mattie appears wearing that color of joy and lust. Often, when reading the book, I’m startled to see that the sun is shining through my window. Or perhaps it’s the characters that Wharton draws. Ethan Frome could be read as a fairy tale among the Berkshires: a hero, a heroine, and a witch. But Ethan and Mattie and Zeena have more depth than that. Living in a land where silence reigns, each reveals their desperation quietly. Wharton’s characters express more in a simple glance than pages of dialogue.

I’m most drawn to Ethan himself. Not the young Ethan of some twenty years earlier, that desperate, trapped Ethan who cannot find it within himself to really assert himself before Zeena and who thinks death is the only way out. Instead, I find myself admiring Ethan in his later years when the visiting Narrator first encounters him at the village post office. This Ethan bears the hideous scars of his “smash-up” with Mattie, when they tried to take their lives. One side of his body is a mangled, tortured mess. Mattie’s scarf and Zeena’s dish have become a red scar across his forehead. Ethan’s “A” perhaps. He limps painfully from his wagon to the mail and back again. All of Starkfield views him with pity, an emotion that New England reticence cannot allow them to express, except perhaps when gossiping behind drawn curtains. Yet the Narrator describes him as “striking,” with “a careless, powerful look.” Soon the Narrator hires Ethan to drive him to the nearby train station, a regular assignment, which the farmer takes pragmatically because he clearly needs the cash. But Ethan quickly proves to be as curious of this outsider as the Narrator is of him. Perhaps he is the first outsider that he’s encountered in Starkfield for years. They share an interest in engineering, which Ethan had studied in his youth, never completing his degree. As a driver he proves to be faithful, showing up at exactly the time he is needed and delivering his passenger right on time. Perhaps the Puritan work ethic and the need for a dollar makes him so punctual, but I suspect his curiosity and possibly a sense of friendship with the stranger drives such dedication. When a winter storm blocks their path one afternoon, Ethan generously offers the Narrator his home and a share in his meager supper until the storm blows over. And in crossing the threshold into the Fromes’ battered kitchen the Narrator puts together the clues he has learned about Ethan into a vision of his life.

I suppose we could debate the causes of Ethan’s tragedy. Does it lie in his character flaws? His inability to defend himself against the domineering, harping Zeena? His romantic vision of love that somehow escaping with Mattie will solve all his problems? Or in the empty circumstances of his life? The harsh social order and poverty of Starkfield that prevents him from escaping anyway. Either or both lead him to end the pain in his life by ending his life altogether. Wharton does not allow him such escape. Rather he must endure crippling pain in a mangled body and the pity and whispers of the village. But I find hope in Ethan’s response to the aftermath of the smash-up. When the Narrator enters the Fromes’ kitchen he finds Zeena and Mattie there. Zeena doesn’t greet the visitor, but silently goes about preparing supper with “pale, opaque eyes that revealed nothing and reflected nothing.” The mild surprise that she registers suggests that later she might berate Ethan for violating their privacy. Earlier we learned that Ethan still picks up patent medicines for her at the post office, indicating that she still suffers hypochondria. It seems that Zeena has changed only little. Mattie on the other hand has changed the most. The girl who once reveled in red is now “bloodless and shriveled,” with a “witch-like stare that disease of the spine sometimes gives.” Ethan and his visitor walk in on her in mid-rant, complaining about Zeena in a “high thin voice.” Her charm and warmth are long gone, understandably so. Clearly Zeena spends her days caring for Mattie, but the animosity that was once hidden between them is fully in the open now, catching Ethan in the middle. He himself however has a different response. He does not remain relatively unchanged, like Zeena, nor does he succumb to bitterness like his one-time love, Mattie. Ethan endures. His is one of those everyday Americans who rises each day to the tasks at hand and, despite pain and disappointment, puts his hand to them. He continues to scratch out a living among the granite outcroppings of the Berkshires in the face of great hardship. Perhaps this is simply his New England pragmatism, but I see something heroic in his quiet refusal to simply quit. He once tried to escape the pain of his life through death, now his body bears that pain, no doubt it reminds him of it each morning, but now he does not quit. He continues. He endures. How many of us in our comfortable first-world lives would have the strength, the fortitude to do that?

Yet Ethan does more than simply endure. When he encounters the Narrator, he could easily take the stranger’s money and drive him to the train station and back with only the most necessary of words. It takes a certain remarkable decency for someone who has so little to offer what little he has. It also takes a certain strength. Despite his despair, his pain, the smash-up has brought out that core of decency and fortitude that exists inside Ethan. To me, that is perhaps the best response to disappointment and tragedy in our lives.

I read Ethan Frome every January. But this January, January 2017, I am of two minds about reading it again. We’re living in a world that seems much starker, colder, and more unjust than Starkfield. That feeling of being trapped and desperate is all too palpable. Or, with my hand lingering over the red-bound volume on my bookshelf, I might just read it again and go on to bear life’s scars, like Ethan, like all of us, to endure another winter and rise each day to try to work a little more good in the world. We could all try that. It is the decent thing to do.

_______

 

Scott Hoffman

Scott Hoffman (Episode 66, 241is an independent scholar and native Austinite living and working in his hometown. He earned his Ph.D. in American Studies from Purdue University in 2005 and is currently revising his manuscript Haloed by the Nation: Popular Martyrdom in Contemporary America. In 2008, he was nominated for a Lone Star Emmy for researching and writing The World, the War and Texas, a public television documentary about Texans during the Second World War. His publications include “How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria? St. Maria Goretti in the Post-Counter-Cultural World” in The CRITIC and “Holy Martin: The Overlooked Canonization of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” and “‘Last Night I Prayed to Matthew:’ Matthew Shepard, Homosexuality and Popular Martyrdom in Contemporary America,” both in Religion and American CultureThis year he completed compiling an LBGT Resource Guide for the Austin History Center. In his spare time Scott likes to sing like nobody’s listenin’ and dance like nobody’s watchin’, which means he tends to wail and flail his arms a lot…

Buzzed Books #48: Vu Tran’s Dragonfish

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Buzzed Books #48 by Shawn McKee

Vu Tran’s Dragonfish

Dragonfish

Vu Tran’s debut novel, Dragonfish (2015), reads like a neo-noir, existential thriller. The characters are calculating, the dialogue sharp, and the narrative immersive and intriguing. Tran gives these characters a sense of displacement and a yearning to connect with the past, despite the traumas awaiting such nostalgic endeavors. This is a novel of fragile emotional reconciliation where resolution is as foreign a concept as transformative redemption. Here, the search for answers is an endless venture not relegated to conventional standards.

Robert Ruen, or “Bob,” is a middle-aged Oakland police officer. He is enlisted to aid in a most unusual task by the very man his wife married after leaving him. Robert’s narrative voice is spoken with isolated cynicism, resembling the reluctant anti-heroes who permeate modern-day noir. But this isn’t only his story. His estranged ex-wife, Suzy, a Vietnamese refugee, dominates nearly every page, from jarring flashbacks to first-person italic-laden entries to her equally estranged daughter, Mai.

In hauntingly lyrical fashion, Suzy represents the object of psychological desire for most of the characters. Robert struggles with the reasons why she left him eight years prior and into the arms of a Vietnamese smuggler and gambler named Sonny Nguyen who lives in Las Vegas. Memories of his volatile relationship with Suzy fill Robert with guilt over his failings as a husband and the verbal and physical violence that often brewed to the surface between them. That was all in the past, until Sonny’s henchmen arrive at Robert’s apartment, holding him at gunpoint for answers. Suzy has disappeared, and Sonny wants Robert’s help in finding her. Playing detective for a dangerous, unpredictable man of wealth and with no shortage of hired thugs on his payroll is a risky move for sure, but Robert discovers that he is every bit as concerned for Suzy’s whereabouts as is his nemesis.

And so begins a dysfunctional effort between two foes who soon discover that they may have more in common than they initially believed or ever wanted to consider. Robert’s journey through the seedy underbelly of Las Vegas brings him to several disturbing realizations about the past, and the threat of violence from Sonny or his thugs, if he should fail, is always prevalent. Perhaps the most troubling self-discovery Robert arrives at after days of frequenting pitiless casinos and shady clubs is that his marriage from Suzy was doomed from the start. She was and always would be an enigma:

“We were always going to fail,” he says. “On our honeymoon, I knew it. There was some denial there, but really I knew it was just a matter of time.”

Suzy’s story is delicately intertwined within the mystery narrative in the form of letters to the daughter she abandoned. Presented as whole chapters, Suzy’s words reveal a tragic upbringing in her Vietnamese homeland. She met her first husband, a captain in the air force, at seventeen. After she become pregnant with her daughter, her husband was ordered to Communist re-education camps, eventually never to return. Suzy’s given name, Hong, travels with her to a Malaysian refugee camp, following the fall of Saigon. It is there, we learn, where she first met Sonny Nguyen and his young son. Her letters reveal a conflicted soul, driven to near madness, but strong and determined to find a better life for her daughter. Persistence is a virtue evident in Hong’s Vietnamese culture, and the refugees who surround her share similar desires in finding a new and better life abroad:

“But that is another story,” she writes her daughter. “I have twenty years’ worth of stories I can tell you, each one inevitably a shadow of the other. Which ones do I tell you now?

Divided into five parts, just under three hundred pages, Vu Tran’s Dragonfish, is clearly as fixated on Suzy/Hong Thi Pham as the male characters driven to find her. We never get much in ways of Robert’s background beyond his all-American cop persona. Much of that, however, is the point of a novel that presents noir from an immigrant point of view. The challenge of assimilation is a consistent theme as is the search for one’s identity. Transcending classic noir trappings, most of the characters play against type.

Robert lacks a definitive character arc, which seems intentional, considering that his detective skills are not the main force behind the narrative. Sonny and his son, Jonathan, or Sonny Jr., are menacing as they partake in their own corrupt version of the American dream, but they are far from criminal masterminds and can be quite sympathetic at times, despite their impulses.

Suzy’s daughter, Mai, is strong-willed and independent, unshackled by American or Vietnamese culture. She plays neither Femme Fatale or damsel in distress. Victor, a henchman who defects against Sonny, and Happy, a close friend of Suzy’s who possesses her most intimate secrets, are both major players of the story who inadvertently provide Robert with some crucial answers throughout his serpentine quest, though he consistently remains an outsider, pleading, at one point, for both Happy and Mai to speak English during a heated conversation between the two.

The femme fatale, vengeful husband, and suitcase stuffed with stolen cash motifs are given a fresh, unique spin of dual narratives, redemptive and utterly soul-searching. When Robert attempts to understand the motivations behind Sonny’s search, Sonny Jr. cynically argues that Suzy was never Robert’s in the first place. Suzy/Hong, he explains, will always belong to them.

“America, Mr. Robert, is not the melting pot you Americans like to say it is. It’s oil and water. Things get stirred, sure, but they eventually separate and settle, and the like things always go back to each other.”

The frank refusal of integration and embrace of sameness speaks volumes of America today. Robert’s own bitterness about the cultural divide between him and Suzy erupts:

“You know why she married me? I was safe. I was a dumb American who would take care of her. Do shit for her. Protect her from whatever.”

In his debut novel, Tran plays the role of crime novelist well. His work echoes Walter Mosley, Mickey Spillane, and Sue Grafton, but it’s decidedly all his own. Such passages display his flawless establishment of mood, which is perhaps the story’s greatest strength: “As I tried to keep pace with Mai, a shiver of claustrophobia—of sudden loneliness—ran through me. Driving up into these casino garages, with their stark fluorescence and low ceilings, their serpentine corridors, felt more like a descent, a submersion into something airless.”

Dragonfish is a taut, poignant mystery that feels classic while transcending its genre conventions. Through its haunted visions, the world we know feels more vivid and real.

_______

Shawn McKee

Shawn McKee (Episodes 179184211, 229, and 230) is doing just fine.

The Rogue’s Guide to Shakespeare on Film #46: Henry V (2012)

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Rogues Guide to Shakes on Film 2

46. Thea Sharrock’s Henry V (2012)

Can Tom Hiddleston carry Henry V alone after we have watched him acting alongside Simon Russell Beale and Jeremy Irons in the two parts of Henry IV?

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Nope.

No.

Not really.

Hiddleston was excellent as the sleazy, wild Prince Hal, and was impressive in his coronation at the close of Henry IV Part 2. As the king in Henry V, his hoarse elocution is impressive, and if I were listening to this in the dark, I might like it fine. Hiddleston’s voice is quite an instrument.

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But his performance as king seems stiff, perfunctory, and a little sleepy. He seems rather lanky to be strong in medieval battle. His beard is thin and slender, perhaps in a laborious attempt to bring this play cycle full circle by making him resemble Richard II, which somehow makes the loss of Simon Russell Beale and Jeremy Irons more obvious. Because his father usurped Richard, Henry wishes to restore balance and credibility to the nobility of the monarchy.

More Richard II? No thank you.

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Besides trying to bring season 1 of The Hollow Crown to a close, this film is also competing with Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 adaptation of Henry V, which is simply one of the best films of all time, showing Branagh at his very best.

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Any other film (like Thea Sharrock’s) that attempts this play in an accurate historical setting will seem like someone trying to remake Citizen Kane.

John Hurt does give a touching performance as the Chorus.

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And Mélanie Thiérry is wondrous as Princess Katherine. In fact, this version of Henry V actually redeems what I have long considered to be Shakespeare’s worst scene: the English lesson. Shakespeare perversely delighted in mocking the French accent long before Monty Python did so. Nevertheless, here, Thiérry  as Katherine asks her nurse for the English words for parts of the body in a way that really is about the subtext, which is far more interesting than the text. Katherine intuits that she may be wedded off to Henry should he be successful, and needs to know his language. The scene plays earnestly rather than comically. The scene is about her identity, her future, and, for all of its enumerations of parts of the body, whatever might count as her sovereignty.

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If only the play were about her.

Henry V works so well as a standalone play, so perhaps it is not surprising that it suffers from being the endcap to a quatrology of plays.

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John King (Episode, well, all of them) holds a PhD in English from Purdue University, and an MFA from New York University. He has reviewed performances for Shakespeare Bulletin.

Episode 241: A Craft Discussion About Jennie Jarvis’s Crafting the Character Arc, with Vanessa Blakeslee!

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Episode 241 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

In this week’s episode, I talk with Vanessa Blakeslee about Jennie Jarvis’s Crafting the Character Arc: A Practical Guide to Character Creation and Development.

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Plus Scott Hoffman reads his essay, “I read Ethan Frome every January.”

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TEXTS DISCUSSED

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Episode 241 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Curator of Schlock #167: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

The Curator of Schlock #167 by Jeff Shuster

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

Best movie Ninja Turtle movie of 2016. Hands down!

 As you know, I don’t like it when movie studios try to tap into my nostalgia for the 1980s. Last year, we had Pixels, a stupid movie about 80s arcade games invading the Earth. The aliens communicated to us through 80s icons like Max Headroom. I thought about how we could have gotten a Max Headroom movie instead of this crap. Then I started thinking about TRON and how we’ll never see a TRON 3. I got angry and put a moratorium on reviewing any movie made past 1979 for the rest of 2016.

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Last summer, the Hollywood studios made another play on my nostalgia for all things 1980s: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows from director Dave Green. I didn’t think the film would work. Okay. So Shredder shows up with the Foot Clan again. Oh, and they’re ninjas this time instead of mercenaries. Huh.

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Tyler Perry is playing Dr. Baxter Stockman. Woah. Bebop and Rocksteady are in this movie!

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The dude that plays TV’s Arrow plays Casey Jones? Krang is in this movie? Krang, the evil brain from Dimension X! Does the Technodrome show up? Does the Technodrome show up? The Technodrome shows up!

Your Curator of Schlock has a confession to make. He was a big Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan back in the day. I watched the cartoons. I played the video games. I ate the breakfast cereal. Yeah, they had Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles breakfast cereal.

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It consisted of marshmallows and sugar coated ninja nets (rice chex). My teeth would sting a bit after eating a bowl. It showed up years later as Spider-man cereal. You can’t fool me. 

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Anyway, consider The Museum of Schlock’s post-1979 boycott officially over. Dave Green, you had me at Krang! Unfortunately, I seem to be alone in my esteem of this fine film. I consulted Wikipedia (the acme of all knowledge and wisdom) to see what the critics thought and the results are not pretty. Lindsey Bahr of the Associated Press gave the movie one star, stating, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is a Saturday morning cartoon on Michael Bay steroids.” Lindsey, you say that like it’s a bad thing. Also, you gave Rogue One: A Star Wars Story three and a half stars. I’m sorry, but was I the only one who thought Peter Cushing’s performance was a little off in that movie? Stilted. Far from his best work.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS

Rotten Tomatoes expressed similar sentiments. The site’s critical consensus exclaims, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is a slight improvement over its predecessor, but still lacks the wit or anarchic energy of the comics that birthed the franchise.” I wouldn’t know anything about the comics because I don’t read comic books. I’m not a neeeeeerd. Also, how can a critical consensus make a singular statement? Is this a hive mind? I don’t care what they think. This was a worthy sequel and I look forward a third Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Oh, there’s not going to be a third movie. Box office wasn’t what the producers had hoped.

It’s TRON 3 all over again!

Nooooooooooooooooo!


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Jeffrey Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124, and episode 131) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.