Thumbs Down


By Paolo Giordano

I am a sucker. I have admitted this failing more than once before, but in this case there is a particular series of things which sucked me…

Err…

1) The Sale Table at Powell’s: I understand the object of the sale table at Powell’s is to attract suckers such as myself. And normally I would not fall for such an obvious ploy but for the fact that one of my favorite books of all time was obtained in such sucker-attracting fashion.

2) Trade Paperback: I am vain of my bookcase and and loathe to allow a regular paperback to stray onto my shelves. By the same token I have bought books for their shape, size, heft, and rough-edged pages to my literary dismay more than once.

3) Reviews (!!!): They comprise the bulk of this sucker’s complaint; if I see words such as ” luminous” or phrases like “Elegant and fiercely intelligent.” ( all of which I like to consider myself*) I will simply be unable to resist. I should know based on my own penchant for critical hyperbole that this is unlikely ever to be the case. But, particularly when combined with attractions number 1 & 2 I am hopeless.

As you might have begun to gather, I did not find this book either luminous or elegant and fiercely intelligent. Oh, la.

Giordano begins his narrative in rather uncomfortable territory; inside the zipped up snowsuit of young Alice, who desperately needs to pee. He manages to describe her ensuing ski accident with vivid detail and compelling language, but much like the rest of the novel, this seems to be tragedy without trajectory.

Our next vignette follows Mattia; our precocious boy hero with a mentally impaired twin sister. He resents the many ways he is hobbled by her deficiencies, and in an act both utterly natural and unquestionably brutal, abandons her in such fashion that she is lost forever.

We are meant to understand that these tragedies have formed Alice and Mattia in ways that will eventually magnetize them to one another. Though their trauma has manifested itself in different ways (Alice is inexplicably anorexic because of her accident, whereas Mattia cuts himself, more understandably, in his guilt) the way in which Giordano refers to these physical scars is always vague and shrouded in a thin and mewling sort of mystery; both unmoving as an emotional ploy, and ineffective as a means of creating suspense.

They carry on a stilted and unconsummated romance for most of their teenage years but ultimately move apart as adults. Mattia accepts a professorship in Northern Europe as cliche dictates for his super genius math skills and utter lack of social accumen. Alice becomes the spoiled and indifferent spouse of a physician who seems not to notice or make mention of the fact his wife is starving herself until she refuses to provide him with progeny. When this conflict brings her marriage to an end, she flailingly reaches out to Mattia, long since absent. He, in the aftermath of an awkward and semi consummated affair, inexplicably races home to her side.

Once he arrives, the motive which prompted Alice to contact him in the first place, the supposed sighting of his long lost twin sister, no longer seems a sufficient cause to trouble him and she says nothing about why she summoned him home. Without even the thinnest (rimshot) excuse to offer for the frantic demand he arrive, Alice feebly sends him away. More, Mattia goes without question or protest.

Now, apart from my considerable conviction that human beings would never behave this way, it also begs the question; what’s the fucking point? Such a seemingly dramatic crescendo all going nowhere.

Which is pretty much how this book felt from start to finish.

So, I got suckered, by something that ultimately had the gravitational pull of my bathtub drain. Boo.

 

 

* okay, okay obviously not elegant.


While sitting at the dr’s for something completely unrelated, I was sitting in the lobby at the doctor yesterday, when I suddenly felt like some cosmic force came out of nowhere to wallop me full in the face with the Nerf bat of sickness. And though I was there early (as is my wont) they were, of course, running late.

 So I am languishing in this grim waiting room slumping further into my cheap vinyl chair, eyes and nose streaming, sneezing explosively and repeatedly while people who arrived after me are being called first. It was like that scene from Beetlejuice; but with real snot. I wondered briefly if I was being punished for my waywardness…

My head reels, I’m exhausted, and I feel like I’m going to start hallucinating any second; and not in the fun way.

My misery was apparently evident; when I stopped to pick up some Thai food, the lovely girl behind the counter first offered me water while I waited, took a closer look at me and said

“Can I please make you some tea?”

The sweetness of this gesture mitigated somewhat, my dismay at realizing I must look as bad as I feel. 

The pad Thai was delicious, if much spicier than I anticipated… Oddly, it seemed to help; my sinuses were clear and the heat seemed to perk me up a bit, burning lips and all.

Unfortunately the relief was temorary. Looks like it’s going to be a Theraflu Thanksgiving!

 

It is sometimes the case that after you imagine something for a very long time, when you finally experience the reality it far exceeds everything you had hoped for. Having dinner at the Columbia Gorge Hotel was not one of those times.

Simon Benson, of Benson Bubbler fame, built this hotel on the site of an old shipping lodge once used by the sailors moving freight upriver. When he started construction he envisioned a place decidedly up market of its former incarnation, and commissioned the art deco mediterranean style hotel. Its grandure was famous enough to attract Hollywood types during the golden age seeking a secluded getaway nestled in the majestic beauty of the Columbia River Gorge.

The drive was absolutely beautiful on a hot summer evening. The setting for the hotel is similarly spectacular. Perched on a cliff in Hood River it commands a vista unrivaled. My companion and I arrived near sunset and it was the ideal time of day to enjoy the light playing on the butter colored stucco. The grounds are lush and beautifully landscaped with native trees and plants. The lawn and garden area seem ideally suited for an intimate romantic wedding.

The hotel still retains much of its original glamour. Sadly this glamour is covered with a patina of exhaustion. To be fair, it is the off-season so the hotel was nearly deserted, and it might be that they make a slightly less valiant effort of polish the silver on account of it. After a brief wander around the grounds we made for the restaurant, which had virtually no patrons, and were seated on the terrace which afforded us a lovely view of the river and a pleasant breeze.

Unfortunately that is the sum of anything positive I can say about the experience. The service was terrible bordering on ridiculousness. Our server told us midmeal that he was the bartender and thus couldn’t answer basic questions about the menu, and didn’t know what the special was. He also forgot to bring me the glass of wine I ordered until I reminded him, didn’t ask if we wanted soup or salad but assumed salad and when this was pointed out brought the soup in addition unasked for. Between that, the omnipresent yellow jackets, and the pile of used dishes he opted to stack behind us rather than clear away I was quite unimpressed..

And then the food. Mine was merely unremarkable. A Cobb Salad isn’t exactly rocket science, so I’m not giving that much credit for failing to ruin it. Though I will say the dressing was vaguely cloying. The calamari was tolerable, at best. However, my dinner companion’s entree was downright vile. Good fish properly prepared has a delicate overtone of the sea; this tasted like the underside of the harbor dock.

On the whole, I am pleased that I made the effort to go, but it was almost entirely for the sake of going, rather than any part of the experience being worthwhile. The spectacle of the setting is hard to compete with, but much like the Lodge at Multnomah Falls, I feel this is an example of lazy proprietorship; relying on the natural beauty of the surroundings to counter an unremarkable menu, poorly executed.

Thumbs Down.

By Curtis Sittenfeld

went away without a book to read and plucked this off the shelf where i was staying. i finished it in less than 24 hours and it left little impression on me. i have the distinct feeling that if i were to fail to write this review promptly, i would forget what i thought altogether.

having attended public school for the length of my primary education, i can’t speak to whether this portrayal of a private boarding school back east really captures what it is like to attend one, but i can say this with utter surety; i was most definitely at one point a teenage girl, and i do not feel this novel in any way even captures a glimpse of what it was like to have been one.

i was actually turned off from the opening line, which is trite to the point of pain;

I think that everything, or at least the part of everything that happened to me, started with the roman architecture mixup

 

this novel is a first-person account given by one Lee Fiora the adult of her time at Ault, a boarding school outside Boston. while i am usually a fan of this first person voice,  the narrative in this case  seems self-indulgent without the concomitant indulgence. none of what happens to this character takes on any color, texture, or temperature. there is a strange sense of both being unable to see past the end of Lee’s nose, but there being nothing of consequence going on behind it.the fundamental premise is that Lee, a heretofore successful public-school student from a working-class family has managed to win a place and scholarship to a school that would otherwise be socially and financially far beyond her scope. once she arrives she is totally unprepared, academically, personally, and emotionally for the experience. while the plot lacks much in imaginative originality, handled properly it could still have been a rich vein through which to explore alienation.

however, this character displays a degree of ambivilence about her life and surroundings i found utterly disingenuous.  teenagers may feign this much detachment, but i have never known one that actually felt it. especially not when they are surrounded by so many people so fundamentally different from themselves, and completely without a social network of any strength.

what’s more, the way Lee interacts with her peers seems to fly in the face of expectations. she holds on to a strangely aloof demeanor, despite her professed loneliness. she regards all friendliness on the part of her fellow students with bewilderment. not a healthy skepticism, which would at least seem more reasonable, but rather a complete lack of comprehension about any gesture made toward her other than open hostility. what’s more, she seems to lack any real sense of herself in a way i also find somewhat difficult to understand. i may not have been the most self-aware person out there, but i certainly had a self-image, even if it wasn’t accurate or nearly complete. this character almost never mentions how she views herself; not the complicated question of her place at Ault or what things she has going for her, nor even the most mundane sense of how she looks or feels about her appearance in anything more than the most cursory way. i usually have at least some sense of the physical attributes of my main character, but in this case i barely have a sense of what her insides are like, let alone her outsides.

a disproportionate amount of time is spent remembering the first half of freshman year and the last half of senior year whereas the rest of Lee’s time at Ault seems to pass in a indistinct haze. what’s more, the promise of that oh-so-trite first line is never actually realized; nothing really happens to Lee. she goes to school, she makes a handful of friends, though only one of any real import, she performs with a remarkable lack of distinction academically and fails to create much of an impression of her time at Ault, or of Ault itself.

there are any number of leading comments that would seem like foreshadowing, except that the author follows up on none of them. any reference to her adult self is utterly self-contained and discrete. no real hints about Lee’s future are contained in these asides, but they are frequent enough to become somewhat pestiferous when details about her actual thoughts and feelings and impressions of Ault seem so sparsely populated and lacking any vibrancy.

the author’s description of Lee’s lone passionate preoccupation, one Cross Sugarman, also lacks a certain veracity. she experiences a fleeting and totally unconvincing infatuation with a girl in her freshman year and then becomes indistinctly obessed with Cross after a strangely tender, but wholly isolated encounter at the local mall. though her intensity of feeling for him seems genuine enough, her behavior as a lover defies logic. teenage girls are not well known for their self-control or for their willingness to accept being nothing but a sex object for a person who shows up at random in their dorm room one night after 3 years of having virtually no contact. perhaps the strangest part is that Cross himself seems willing to genuinely like Lee, but her own lack of sensitivity seem to undermine any possibility that she could sense or accept this on any level apart from being receptive to his sexual advances.  and just at the moment she might begin to want more from him than a fumbling encounter in the spare dorm room up the hall, he disappears. unaccountably she becomes suddenly but sporadically emotional enough to seek him out for the very first time, (the only action of hers in this entire scenario that resonates with any sense of truth) only to recoil when he is on the verge of telling her that he cares about her more than she seemed willing to let him.

all of this happens in tandem with a somewhat sudden plot development the subtext of which, very much in bright red letters was “this is meant to be the climax of the story, and it is DRAMATIC!” Lee is asked because of her status as a scholarship student to consent to an interview with a reporter from the NYT. the interview is conducted by a caricature of a latina reporter with a chip on her shoulder who through hard work and spunk made her own way through Harvard! this character has an agenda that is painfully transparent to everyone except Lee, who then says a variety of things which are then used in an article which humiliates her and Ault and everyone there.

or, at least, that’s what we are expected to believe. but her dramatic and embarrassing behavior results in a completely passionless reaction from almost everyone and has no discernible consequences other than that the people who already didn’t like her very much, now they like her somewhat less.

i found this novel dull, flat, and lacking in any emotional resonance or intellectual veracity.

boo.

by Stephen Hunt

i would like to start out by saying; this book fucking tricked me.

it was a snatch & grab on the way through the fantasy section at Powell’s. by the look of this cover i was expecting a somewhat whimsical tale about orphans travelling around in a hot air balloon that they procured in some no-doubt-amusing manner and all the hilarity that would ensue as they floated around about the landscape all willy nilly. tra-la-la!

no-eh.

this is instead, a dark, scary, complex politico-philsophical rant of epic proportions.  it’s kinda like Dune, but with hot-air balloons instead of the Guild. plus also a lot less good.

we have: robot-people, crustaceous folks, the Fey-breed (ironically named since their traits are due to environmental exposure and not genetic in nature), worldsingers who ostensibly keep the Fey-breed in line cause they (the Fey) have scary magic-type powers and would run amok wanting… like freedom otherwise, the aristocracy, the guardians, the titualar court of the air, wolftakers,  a vallianous force to the south the “Cassarabians”, and an armless king. and i’m definitely forgetting some stuff. oh yeah, the scary locust guys who can only come through a tear in the fabric of reality when people start eating each other.

lost yet??

i will admit, the book was pretty engrossing in parts. in other places, it was just gross. like where we encounter the underground fields of people been grown for food. soylent green anyone?

mostly, it was top heavy and too ambitious for its own good. i feel like this was an epic in three parts smooshed into one overlong novel of questionable absorbability. i found myself getting to the middle of the page and saying “whaaa?” not because i couldn’t keep track of the 18 simultaneous plot lines, but because i just wasn’t interested enough to bother trying.

also, it is very clear that this author REALLY REALLY thinks socialism is a BAD THING. also, religion. and government in general.

i did make it through the whole thing, but it really became about showing this book who was boss, not because i had any real desire to see how it all turned out. and perhaps unsurprisingly, nothing really got resolved and there was a clear implication that more was to come. mercy.

this book would have been vastly improved to have lost about 9 or 12 of the subplots and just stuck to the 6 or 7 reasonably interesting main-ish plots. complexity of tale does not automatically = epic in the way that was clearly intended. creating an unnecessarily byzantine network of politico-religio-philisophic-psycho-sexual happenings & characters does not make you seem like a more gifted author capable of vision of enormous scope. it just makes you seem like you are trying REALLY HARD to look like one.

thumbs down

it is too damn hot.

let us all pause a moment to pity this sweaty bastard

let us all pause a moment to pity this sweaty bastard

i have just never been in a situation where i felt it was necessary for temperatures to exceed 84° which is; hot enough for lounging, the enjoyment of various bodies of water (man made or natural!), and the consumption of mojito (or the mint-based alcoholic beverage of your choice) but not hot enough to cause unsightly dampness to spread across the backside of portly strangers with that special brand of virulence reserved for days they choose to wear shorts.

i went outside at lunch for a brief moment of respite from the insistent crankiness of the overheated myopics and was SMITED by the temperature. i’ve been sitting on front of my gigantic window ever since dreading the moment when i go reclaim Klaus from his exceedingly sunny parking spot to go forth from here.

can it be fall now?

i’m generally pretty tolerant of hodie’s wardrobe choices; clothes need to be clean, free from rips or holes, and fit properly. the only issue on which i am a stickler is an appropriate amount of exposed flesh. i’m not raising a prostitot, thanks much.

as a result of this, i sometimes don’t immediately register what she’s wearing. like the day she ended up going to school in what i thought was a white dress which, in reality, was an underslip. whoops.

yesterday when i got home however, something seemed awry. she was wearing a black garment which didn’t as far as i could tell, resemble anything i had ever seen before. it was almost tunic length, but ragged about the edges, with one sleeve longer than the other, and a neckline that extended past her breastbone. she dressed herself after i left for work, so i hadn’t seen her outfit all day, but the longer i looked, the more obvious it became that i knew that neckline from somewhere…

because it belonged to my favorite shirt. sonofabitch.


turns out, she found it in a box of things she thought belonged to someone else, and decided to alter the shirt to her very particular, if bizarre, specifications. what i object to most (apart from the fact i have no hope of replacing this profoundly soft, exquisitely cut & clinging top) is that she decided to execute her design vision without permission. with scissors. normally, if the garment is hers, and she asks, i’m actually happy to let her have at it, or if not, offer something else she can alter. this time, without consulting me, she laid waste to one of my favorites. this did not equal happiness. also a source of consternation, her father’s total lack of attention to the fact that she was wearing this ragged, ill-fitting thing that left her exposed almost to the navel. his response when i asked him about it: we didn’t leave the house, i didn’t think it mattered what she was wearing.

oh, how i recall why he is my former spouse.

so. this little outcome made for a cranky me. the top is irreplaceable. i got it over a year ago and banana republic isn’t exactly archiving their work. frustrated, i abandoned my plans to take the child swimming and instead ditched her to go shopping to salve my wounded wardrobe.

my initial plan was to try and find something similar, but hodie wrecked my shirt out of season. it was a spring weight sheer long sleeve t, and we are full on summer stock at this point. setting the task of replacing this sad lost friend for the moment, i returned to another long standing search: finding the heirs of my lamented steve madden heeled sandals. i misplaced them after a trip to chicago almost two years ago, and haven’t been able to find anything to rival them. i had very particular elements i was looking for in the shoe: narrow heel, open toe, buckle at the ankle, and a degree of strappyness that isn’t quantifiable per se, but like obscenity: i know it when i see it.

but lo, in the mythical land of beautiful shoes (ie, Nordstrom) there they were…


and now, i am smiling again. if wobbling a little. we have a very high heel on our lovely new shoes. and the sucessful end to this search has given me hope that maybe someday, two or three years from now, i’ll find a new t shirt too.

with the surly people behind the counter at my local convenience stores? i’m accustomed to uppity waitstaff, i mean, i am from here. but this phenomenon is new. i am used to my clerk at the plaid being:

  1. drunk, intoxicated, or suffering the long-term effects of previous drunkenness/intoxication
  2. mentally challenged
  3. toothless
  4. persistently curious about my personal life/plans for the evening
  5. some combination of the above

what i am NOT used to is the not-so-subtly snide mien the handful of cashiers i have encountered lately have adopted.

few weeks back friends lyza, emma, & i wandered over to plaid to obtain milk duds for our popcorn. we were enjoying the fine pre-summer evening with a few cocktails, and we had all confirmed via emma’s snazzy personal breathalyzer unit that none of us should attempt to captain a vehicle of any kind, but we were merely enjoying our time together and the prospect of salty carmely chocolatey popcorny goodness. as we approached the counter, the fellow behind it got this look on his face like he thought our behavior could be favorably compared to dental work sans anesthesia. then, when i attempted to engage him in a little friendly banter to reassure him we were harmless, well…

“can i have one of those scratch its? (aside to e&l) these are really fun. (back to cashier) a friend of mine showed me how to do them. we all take turns. (smile)”

“that’s a riveting story”

WTF?

like, i wasn’t really looking for approval from this guy, but why the snark? we weren’t being unduly rowdy, we were making a sizable purchase, and, if i do say so myself, we are a group of lookers. what the hell?

then today, i go into the 7-11 so i can grab something for lunch. i decide on a clif bar, some trail mix, and a rockstar. my digestions have been a little off kilter of late so i wanted something relatively low key, but cheap and fast. i bring my whatnot to the counter and this guy gives me this look and says

“you know, there’s no FOOD in your food.”

i’m a little taken aback here so i don’t reply immediately. Then:

“well it suits me.”

“why don’t you go get yourself some crackers, or an orange. a sandwich for chrissakes.”

(pause to think of retort, think of one, begin to walk away)

“i will if you promise to shove them up your ass.”

no one saw fit to critique my purchases at freddy’s.

hodie and i went to Powell’s yesterday so she could obtain the spoils of blackmail. i owed her one, and she’s become extremely fond of these weird little Japanese dolls that have completely interchangeable parts. head, trunk, and legs can all be swapped out for one another…

whatever.

i was starving. we were in close proximity to many fine eateries, but i wanted something easy, kid-friendly, and comparatively low-cost. i wanted to go get beer cheese soup @ Henry’s but wasn’t sure i could take her into the bar and didn’t want to take her into the dining room. so.

the deschutes opened recently enough i hadn’t tried it yet (though my experiences in Bend were pretty uninspiring) and thought it should fit the bill nicely.

wandered over and saw Steve Novick inside. so, that was cool… we were seated and my immediate impression was lack of design vision married to noise. it was loud in there. much louder than one might expect for a monday afternoon. it wasn’t all that crowded, so i can only assume it was the “this used to be a repair shop” acoustics that were to blame. also, plaid industrial carpet? never a good call.

when i got a look at the menu it seemed like pretty typical pub grub, which was what i was after, but definitely upmarket in terms of price. not totally thrilled my reuben was going to cost me $11.95 i was downright flummoxed to see that the kids menu listed grilled salmon as one of its offerings. grilled salmon? seriously? if it cannot be formed into a patty or tot, my child is not interested. and i realize this is not true of all children, that some children are slightly more sophisticated in terms of their tastes, but i don’t think i have EVER met a kid who lwould look at their parents and say “instead of grilled cheese, can i have grilled salmon?”

anyway, we ordered. my sandwich was not-even-middling fair. the bread was awful (and NOT rye) and the dearth of dressing was criminal, to my mind. hodie’s burger was fine, according to her, but it was GARGANTUAN. there was no chance in hell she was going to be able to eat it all. the hand cut fries were passable, the honey mustard i sopped up with them was downright tasty. the “special rose festival pink lady” brew was less than thrilling, but potable.

this cost me about $30 all told. which is a lot for eating with the child. usually its closer to $20 for this type of meal in most eateries. i realize being in the pearl brings with it a premium, but usually that premium is married with a more satisfying experience all around.

next time i’ll just drag her to Henry’s and be done with it….