Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A Jamesean Portrait of a Typewriter

Michael Heyns' knowledge of Henry James is evident in The Typewriter's Tale. It is not biographical historical fiction as much as fiction inspired by The Master.

In 1907, twenty-three-year-old Frieda has finished typewriting school and is hired to work for the novelist Henry James. Frieda has literary aspirations and is familiar with James' work, but he does not hold it against her; a typewriter is expected to be a mere mechanic, a conduit between the dictator and the machine.

Life in Rye working for James is dull but agreeable. James is strapped for cash and working on a new issue of his work. Frieda waits as James composes in his head then dictates. He rewards her with chocolate bars left on her typewriter, which she connects with the biscuits James tosses to his dachshund Max.

A visitor arrives at Lamb House, a Mr. Fullerton whom James insists has been a friend for many year but only in letters. Fullerton is charming, handsome, and notices James' amanuensis. He arranges to meet the girl with a request: he wants to steal back letters he has sent to James, for fear of their discovery after his death. Fullerton also beds Frieda, who imagines a love affair.

Over the next two years, Frieda is a typewriter for her employer. She believes she is a spiritualist typewriter, transmitting messages from Fullerton.

James is visited by Mrs. Edith Wharton and a quiet man, Walpole, who asks Frieda to warn her employer about gossip concerning his involvement with illicit going-ons between Wharton and Fullerton. She stands up for James' privacy but secretly does not believe Fullerton could be involved with Wharton, sure he loves her.

Caught between her loyalty to James and her desire to be with Fullerton, Frieda comes to understand how the world works, the vagaries of love, and the trust of friendship.

The novel is written in the style of Henry James, which will delight his fans but may put off the general reader. Frieda's internal world and moral education about life and the climax of the book may lack the fireworks required by many but the book left me satisfied, contemplative, and eager to revisit the author's work.

The Typewriter's Tale
by Michael Heyns
St Martins Press
Publication Feb. 29, 2017
$25.99 hardcover

Sunday, February 26, 2017

A Talk with Philllip Lewis, Author of Debut Novel "The Barrowfields"

I was pleased on January 5, 2017 to talk to Phillip Lewis about his first book The Barrowfields.

The Barrowfields propagandist Henry escapes an unhappy home life with a distant, alcoholic father with failed literary aspirations. But Henry discovers that to be free of the past one much confront it.

The book is full of the presence of author and North Carolina native Thomas Wolfe, the father's idol.

Lewis grew up in Northwestern North Carolina, close to Virginia and Tennessee, but only a few hours away from Wolfe's hometown of Asheville. "I've spent a lot of time on Mr. Wolfe's porch, I can tell you," Lewis admitted.

We talked about Wolfe's fall from off the radar; the writer who influenced such diverse writers as Ray Bradbury, Maya Angelou, Pat Conroy, Betty Smith, Philip Roth, John Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson (who lifted 'fear and loathing' from Wolfe) is rarely read today.

"I think Wolfe is difficult for a lot of people to read compared to most commercial fiction these days," Lewis commented, adding "I find that so often, but not always, the books I truly enjoy and want to return to are the more difficult, are challenging books. For example, Blood Meridian [by Cormac McCarthy] is a book that I am proud to have read and finished partly because it was so challenging to me...You really have to concentrate on what he's saying or you can miss so much. But you feel like you've grown somehow by the end of it. It's really and extraordinary book, but it's not an easy book."

I told Lewis that I had read that Wolfe commented that his books all were about the search for the father [http://ow.ly/QB6i307PQ6W] and I saw that theme in The Barrowfields.

Lewis: "That was definitely an important theme for me," he replied. "I had a very complicated relationship with my father, and still do. This was the genesis of much of the material in The Barrowfields. He has suffered from a combination of alcoholism and depression for a number of years. He is also quite a literary fellow himself...I think he is a true writer but his struggles with other things have made it difficult for him to do much with it (other than inspiring his children, perhaps.)"

Nancy: "This explains why Henry the father is such a vividly drawn character."

Lewis: "For me the goal was to address or exorcise certain demons and to do so in an emotionally honest way--without writing an autobiographical account. In other words, you take an experience or amalgamation of experiences and examine the emotional toll, and then try to articulate that in some way with the written word that accurately depicts the emotional toll but does not reflect actual experiences.

"So everything in the book comes from a very emotionally honest place, and it was extraordinarily difficult and often painful to write for that reason.

"It's always impossible to know how all of that is going to translate to readers--because I think it is easy to assume that you're reading a book that's just been written for commercial enjoyment. But so far I've seen a few reviews by people who seemed to find aspects of it resonant with their own emotions."

Nancy: "That's when a book really gets to you when the author says things you cannot put into words yourself. I'm pretty blown away right now. The courage, as a writer, to struggle with demons!"

Lewis: "It truly was a very difficult process for me. And of course, it is a very lonely process, too. You spend a hell of a lot of time sitting somewhere trying to write what it is that's inside of you, and all the while not having any idea whether anyone other than you is ever going to read what you've written!"

Nancy: "In your book the son escapes the past but realizes he must return and confront his past. Is that what your book is--confronting the past?"

Lewis: I think that is an accurate description. Henry, our narrator, is in large part coming to terms with all that has transpired. He's somewhat of an expert at repressing past events, I think.

Nancy: "Yes, even abandoning Threnody." [Henry's sister].

Lewis: "Exactly."

Nancy: "I was thinking about Poe being another of the father's favorite [authors]. I just read in Mary Oliver's Upstream her essay on Poe. She says "life grief was his earliest and deepest life experience" and it made me think about Henry's father and what ghosts he was struggling with."

Lewis: "I have the sense that certain people experience anguish and tragedy in a different way than perhaps others do."

Nancy: "I wanted to say that two scenes from The Barrowfields that stay with me are the book burning and Henry and Story and the horses at night."

Lewis: "Thank you. I think those were probably the scenes that took the longest to write, and required the most effort.

"In regard to the horse scene, we had horses growing up and we were fortunate enough to have a good-sized field for the horses to enjoy. And one of my favorite things was when all the horses would take off running through the field and thunder away and then come charging back up the hill. And so I had memories of that, and that is what I drew on to describe that scene."

Nancy: "So, putting a memory into words, getting it just right--it's a lot of pressure."

Lewis: "It really is. And imagine this: my mother had horses from the time she was a child, and still does. I was writing those scenes with the horses knowing that she would be reading it, and knowing that it had to be just exactly right.

"I think authenticity is so incredibly important when you are writing fiction. And above everything else, I wanted The Barrowfields to be authentic. I wanted the characters and the scenes and the events to be authentic and deeply real. The horse scene late in the book, in addition to the horses, was also partly for the purpose of describing that part of the country at night--which I believed was important, or even critical, for that sense of authenticity."

Nancy: "There is a strong sense of place in your book, whether the mansion on the hill, so Gothic and dark, or Henry's university days, where it felt so contemporary and modern."

Lewis: Sense of place has always been important to me as a reader. Have you ever read a book, and in the book is a scene, and you're reading along and you realize that you have no idea where the charterers are, or what it looks like?"

We chatted about books we had read or were planning to read. Lewis' TBR shelf includes The Nix by Nathan Hill, Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, and Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleeve. Books he recommended to me include The Tinkers by Paul Harding, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and James Salter, "who has his own writing style." He also enjoys J. R. R. Tolkien and fantasy novels.

Lewis is a working dad who spent five years working on The Barrowfields which is coming out in March 2017.

Read more about Lewis at his website http://www.philliplewisauthor.com/

from the publisher:

The Barrowfields is a richly textured, deeply transporting novel that traces the fates and ambitions of a father and son across the decades, centered in the small Appalachian town that simultaneously defines them and drives then both away.

Just before Henry Aster's birth, his father--outsized literary ambition and pregnant wife in tow--reluctantly returns to the remote North Carolina town in which he was raised and installs his young family in an immense house of iron and glass perched high on the side of a mountain. There, Henry and his younger sister grow up in thrall to their fiercely brilliant, obsessive father, who spends his days as a lawyer in town and his nights writing in his library. But when tragedy tips his father toward a fearsome unraveling, Henry's youthful reverence is poisoned and he flees, resolving never to return.

During his time away at college and then law school, Henry meets a young woman whose family past is shrouded in mystery and who helps him grapple with his father's haunting legacy. He begins to realize that, try as he might, he, too, must go home again.

Mythic in its sweep and mesmeric in its prose, The Barrowfields is a breathtaking novel that explores the darker side of devotion, the limits of forgiveness, and the reparation power of shared pasts.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Nancy Goes to Junior High

My first year of school in Michigan came to an end. Summer was long and boring--no Day Camp at Herbert Hoover Junior High School, no kids gathering for games under the streetlights, no friends, no cousins seen regularly. While my little brother had lots of kids his age on our street, there were only a few my age and they were either a few years older or a few years younger. The lack of a shared history and mutual experiences made it hard to connect.
Dad and I shoveling snow
I did still bike over to see Gail, even after my grandparents moved to another house a few miles away in Berkley.
Gail M. and Me
I had cousins but they were all younger than me. My mother's sister and one of her brothers lived in Metro Detroit.
Me and my Ramer cousins. I am on the left and my brother is in blue.
Seventh Grade meant a new school, Jane Addams Junior High, over a mile's walk away. We had to wait in lines outside the building for the doors to open. It was there I experienced bullying, albeit a mild sort.

I wore a  Mod cap hat. There was a group of girls called "greasers," dressed in black leather coats and sporting dark eye liner and teased hair. One decided to take my hat and toss it. I got mad. So of course, she did it again the next day.

My teacher Mrs. Green liked outgoing kids and was concerned about my shyness. Even in elementary school my teachers would say I was "coming out of my shell," but with the move and school change I was even more shy. Mrs. Green told my parents there was something 'wrong' with me and Mom got pretty upset. Actually there was something 'wrong'; I was depressed and homesick for Tonawanda. In November I wrote, "I wish I could go back to Buffalo--I miss the street, the houses, the people, the friends."

I was lonely and made up a friend, Homer the Ghost, who kept me company on my long walks to school. I made up a whole ghost family. I knew he was imaginary. When others learned about Homer they were not so sure.
Homer the Ghost
The school had Friday night Boy-Girl dances. I did not (would not) like rock and roll, I was a klutz and had no interest in dancing, and I did not like boys "that way." No, Friday nights were for The Man From Uncle, and I was a card-carrying member of the fan club. I wrote about it here.

A teacher asked who was going to BOGI, the boy girl dance; my hand stayed down. She decided to have a boy ask me to the dance. I was outraged. He was popular so I knew he could not really like me, the weird, uncool kid. Girls encouraged me to go, that he meant it, but I did not believe it. He tried again the next day, too. I never forgave or forgot that experience.

Later when that same boy learned about Homer he asked our art teacher if my ghost was real. She said, "Nancy's pulling the wool over your eyes." I didn't know what that even meant, but until graduation day that boy would ask me, "How's Homer?" with a knowing gleam in his eye.
Mom, me, Dad, and Tom 
What did change my life were the electives classes: a quarter year spent in sewing class, cooking class, art class, and music class.

Drawing exercise in Art Class 
My grandmother bought me a piano that year and my lessons resumed. I discovered I liked to sew and was good at art, and I was thrilled to be in chorus again. I drew a lot and kids asked for my pictures.
My horse drawings

Imaginary friends
Mr. Russell Henckel was our choir teacher. He was fun, but strict when the boys acted up. There was a paddle in his office and he was not afraid to use it. We listened to Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta Iolanthe in class while the words were projected on a screen. One day we arrived in class to see projected a note: "Help! I'm being held prisoner in the projector!" The next day there was a picture of the captive. We also studied Mozart; I wrote that he had a sad life with only his dog at his funeral.

On November 20, 1964 I started to read Jane Eyre and liked it. That fall I wrote my first poem, a very lousy poem called The Bat, and later one called The Poem.

On the anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy I wrote,
"A year ago today, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I remember walking down the hall and passing a class watching a TV--an educational channel. They were the first to know. Mr. Saffronoff and our class went to the library. Everyone was in a daze, no one knew really what happened. Only that the President was assassinated. Mr. S talked to us about how the President was assassinated and about the president. We couldn't accept the fact at first. I was confused. We went back to our room --Mr. S left us for a minute. Some didn't believe it--thinking it was a hoax. Others said the killer must be insane. I felt very sad, depressed, as I walked home alone; I cried. I didn't know much about him--I wasn't interested in politics. When I got home I acted naturally and all after that, like it seemed it didn't matter."
There was a Mock Election held at school. I was still clueless about politics. I was asked if I would vote for LBJ or Barry Goldwater. Then I was told about LBJ's Great Society and war on poverty. I decided to vote democrat. It was one of the few winning votes I have ever cast.

On November 25 I read The Lost Continent of MU, perhaps a book from my Grandfather Ramer, and Stop the Typewriters! about an eleven-year-old girl named Nancy who wants to be a writer.

Over Christmas break, my family returned to Tonawanda. We left December 31. I wrote it was a sunny, muddy day. I wrote about seeing a Glendale street and recalled the song 442 Glendale Ave. My brother said the twin Grand Island Bridges belonged in Ripley's Believe It Or Not.

We stayed with my Aunt Alice's family, which now included Grandma Gochenour. I have no idea how they fit us all in! We visited all our old friends and I saw all my cousins ("they act and mainly look the same but, boy, they have grown" I wrote) and we stopped at the Kuhn's house.

I spent a day with Nancy Ensminger and we had our photos taken in a photo both. Her mom fed us canned spaghetti.
Me and Nancy Ensminger

Nancy Ensminger, Christmas 1964
By spring I had made some friends, Dee and Diane, two girls whose families had moved from the South to Detroit for jobs. Dee and I just started talking on the long walk home from school. She lived a few blocks away. Diane lived next door to Dee.

I joined a Girl Scout troop, although I was disappointed the girls were more interested in watching Hullabaloo on television and talking about boys than scouting. But I was thrilled with our 'adventures,' like this one I wrote about in my diary:
"We sold calendars at Hollywood grocery. Betty Sue and Besty went to Edward's but were kicked out. The manager said they were bothering the customers. They went to Frentz & Sons Hardware, who bought two, one to hang in the store. At the Funeral Home--Spiller-Splater? Or is it Spitter-Splatter? Or Spiller-Splitter? Well, anyways, Betty Sue started to go in but Betsy said they'd better ring the door bell. Four or five rings later a very mad man answered. He took Betty by the collar and asked what she wanted. "I want to sell you a Girl Scouts Calendar," she said calmly. "I don't want any," was his answer and he turned away. Halfway, he came back. "OK--how much?" Betty Sue said he just didn't want the funeral home to have a bad reputation. At Rambler and Pontiac Betsy told a man that her brother bought a car from there and if he didn't buy a calendar he'd return it. "Get lost," was his affable answer. At Pontiac they were real nice and gave them some booklets, too. Lynn, Cherie, Cindy and me and Mrs. D stood at the entrance of Hollywood. One man said he'd buy one when he came out. We were there three hours and he never came back out! Another man answered no, but don't tell his wife he had a Playboy one already. A boy who worked there we asked every time he came by. Once, we didn't ask him and he looked surprised."
Already I was recording the life around me in detail.

I was invited to visit a church and saw an altar call. I saw people whose belief in God was so real they were crying. It made me consider issues of faith for the first time, and I committed to developing a believe in God.

My Grandfather Ramer took me with him to St. John's Episcopal Church.  Having grown up in the Broad Street Baptist Church in Tonawanda, with it's immersion Baptism and stained glass windows, being Episcopal was an adjustment. We genuflected, knelt, had responsive readings, plus the church was modern and huge. I had several schoolmates in the confirmation class, plus my friend Gail's family were members.  My first communion I sipped from the Communion cup as instructed. I hated the sour wine and I learned to dip my wafer into the wine!

St John's Episcopal Church, Royal Oak MI in the 1960s
I made friends in the neighborhood, including a boy named Mike D., a year younger than me. Mike and I took Dad's telescope into the back yard and looked at the moon and stars, making up stories about outer space. We enjoyed pretending stories about Homer the Ghost.
My imaginary gang, Homer the Ghost and friends
One day his younger sister asked if I would like her brother to be my boyfriend. I was upset. First, because I valued friendship above everything and had no interest in boys, and because, actually, I had a crush on him, too, but was not about to admit it. I alienated a friend, and then he and his siblings moved away. I was heart broken, having lost a true kindred spirit friend. But nobody knew.

I still listened to CKLW on the radio in bed at nights. In the spring of Seventh Grade I heard Stop! In the Name of Love by the Supremes. I liked it.

It was the beginning of the end of childhood. I liked a boy and I liked a rock and roll song. My long-held promise to my Grandmother Gochenour was being broken, for I was unable to be Peter Pan and avoid growing up.
Here I am at the end of Seventh Grade

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space RaceHidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read Hidden Figures for a local book club. I was in the minority for having finished the book. Most of the ladies went to see the movie. I gave the book five stars for the importance of the subject, new information shared, and for the author's extensive research. As a reading experience, I rated the book three stars; I did not have an emotional connection that compelled me to read on.

I appreciate the author's bringing these women to public attention. I liked how their story is presented in the context of the prevailing racial attitudes of their time.

The book is not a biography of a few women, as in the movie. It is a study in culture.

The bulk of the book covers the massive need for computers--mathematicians--during WWII, offering women and people of color unique job opportunities working for NACA. There were at least 50 black women who worked at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory between 1943 and 1980. President Roosevelt signed an executive order to desegregate the defense industry, creating the Fair Employment Practices Committee.

The African American women hired as computers were not only qualified, some had more education than their white counterparts. Their job opportunities and salary level had been limited, and landing a job at Langley allowed brilliant minds work equal to their ability. The women were dedicated, their high standards apparent in their dress and demeanor as well as in the excellence of their work. The high quality of their work brought respect from the engineers. At the same time, Virginia's segregation laws restricted the women to where they could live and what bathroom they could use.

The later part of the book covers the change of the NACA to NASA and the Space Race. I found it more compelling to read. The technology was changing to computers and the mathematicians had to retool their skills to keep up with the times.

My favorite story was about John Glenn's 1962 flight and how Glenn didn't trust computers to get him safely back to Earth; he said, "Get the girl to check the numbers. If she says the number are good, I'm ready to go." He trusted Kathryn Johnson, the human computer.

View all my reviews

Michigan Monsters and UFO Sightings in 1965

What was going on in 1965 that sent people off the deep end?

Sure, we had Vietnam, Civil Rights, and Gemini, The Cold War and "Unsafe at Any Speed" by Ralph Nader. We had The Sound of Music and Dr. Zhivago. President Johnson won the election. The Beatles were BIG.

And we had an obsession with UFOs and Bigfoot sightings.

The August 19, 1965, Royal Oak, MI Daily Tribune opinion page remarked, "This is flying saucer season, and the reports--along with those of a local "monster"--are coming in loud and clear." The writer believed that the Perseid meteor shower, aligned with the planet Jupiter, and compounded by atmospheric effects, were behind the sightings.

"Reports of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) have been coming in from Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas, which is par for the course. But this saucer season is something special. Further sightings have been reported in Nebraska, Minnesota, and Brazil." The latest report was from Hershey, PA; a man photographed the object but was afraid to show it for fear of being called "a nut." The writer reported that Carl Sagan dismissed such tales, but urged that myths and tales be reexamined for indications of visits from the past.

One news article reported that a man working at the Northville Ford generator plant decided to have some fun with a hoax photograph that earned a three column article. When he told his neighbor of his hoax, the neighbor "grew wildly indignant," crying, "I saw those saucers myself, plain as day!"

Stories came from around the world, A New Mexico policeman claimed to see a brilliant white object, marked with a red V with three lines through it, that had two figures in white overalls inside. The authorities found scorched grass and indentations where the policeman claimed to have seen it. Brits saw "the thing" several times, an orange cloud with a rising object, accompanied by a boom that broke windows. Four weeks of sightings were reported in Oklahoma. Meteors were sighted in Upstate Michigan.

And in Metro Detroit, a saucer landed near John R and Eleven Mile Road, near the Madison Heights' City Hall. "Apparently in search of our leaders, the glowing lights" disappeared just after midnight.

Flying Saucers were exciting! I loved the movie The Day the Earth Stood Stilll and was sure space aliens only brought good will.

Klaatu barada nikto

No---It was the monster sightings that scared me.

Dowagiac, Michigan reported the Monster of Sister Lake was on the prowl, a nine-foot tall, 500-pound creature covered in hair, with a leathery face and "banjo eyes like Eddie Cantor." Except these eyes shined.

Eddie Cantor eyes! I was scared silly. Who was Eddie Cantor? What were "banjo eyes"? I had no idea. I still don't know. (Time to Goggle Eddie...)

Eddie Cantor "Banjo Eyes"
Those are pretty creepy eyes.

They said the Monster whimpered, and when it walked, the earth trembled. The first reports were from several pre-teen girls, walking near a wooded road in Silver Lake Township, Cass County. The girls ran to a nearby house and the police were called. An armed search party went out but found nothing.

A later article reported, "Get Your Monster Kit $7.95."

It was thought the girls had seen a bear attracted to the fruit farms in the area.

Then came the Monroe Monster. It wore pants. "I knew it was a person with something like a fur coat drawn up over his head," the man reported. Then he said the monster "threw him around like a rag doll." A Monroe mother and her daughter also reported a monster attacked them in their car; they underwent a lie detector test.

Oakland County, MI then "built a better monster" by reporting an amphibious monster on Voorheis Lake, Orion Township. It looked like the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

An article reported that the Monroe Monster was "on the move," showing up in Gary Indiana, perhaps by hitchhiking on the Tri-State Highway. "Those truck drivers on I-94 are too friendly," one policeman said. "They'll give a ride to anybody--or anything." The police said the monster appeared in swampy areas where high weeds could "provide cover for any number of gorillas."

Monroe persisted that the monster had not left them. Coarse, dark hair was found on a car it had attacked. The car owner claimed to have been attacked by the monster when he and eight friends were in the car. "We all want to prove, once and for all, that there is no monster," stated the police. Another lie detector test was scheduled.

Apparently Michigan has a long history of Bigfoot sightings.

I eventually grew out of being afraid to look out the front door window at night, worried I would see "banjo eyes" looking in at me. I am still waiting for that space ship to come and save Earth from itself.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Little Sewing Going On

I have been working on Icicle Days from Bunny Hill Designs.  Embroidery will be added later. I am using the fabric I won from Quilter's Newsletter, Fontaine.

I have two of three February 1857 Album blocks finished.

I have not been hand quilting very much on my Austen Family Album... Too busy with doggies at night, and I have been working on the applique at my weekly quilt group.

But I did share my Album quilt with the weekly group, and shared it on Facebook quilt groups to much acclaim.

Album quilt by Nancy A. Bekofske
I finished it several years back. I used patterns from magazines and books and created several original patterns, including the Shiba Inu Princess Feather at the center top.
Four Shibas block by Nancy A. Bekofske
This is for our Shiba Inu pets Kili, Suki, Kara, and Kamikaze.
Kamikaze, a puppy mill breeder rescue

Suki, a puppy mill breeder rescue
Kara, a puppy mill breeder rescue. Our foster dog
of nine months. Died of kidney failure.

Kili, our first Shiba, lived 16 years.
My husband came up with the idea of the Dachshund bookends for our dogs Pippin and P.J.
in process block for Album Quilt

A Facebook quilt friend, whom I have yet to meet, quilts with the group I quilted with almost 30 years ago. She sent me this photo of Claire Booth, applique' and quilt artist extraordinaire, showing a wool quilt she made while I knew her.

Claire Booth
This is the wall hanging she designed and created for us when we moved in the late 1990s.
quilt by Claire Booth
I have been invited to go back and visit these ladies who taught me so much when I began quilting in 1991. I hope to arrange something this spring.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic

You know the film. Sheriff Kane has married a Quaker beauty and is hanging up his gun and turning in his badge to run a shop. Then Kane learns that a gang is out to get even--Kane's life to pay for his arrest of their leader, now out of jail.

Get out of town, everyone advises. This two-bit town wasn't worth dying for.

Kane knows you can't escape the past. He had to face the danger and end it once and for all. As he tries to form a posse Kane discovers he is alone; everyone else in town justifies retreating into their protective shells.

Clocks tick off the minutes until noon when the train carrying his nemesis arrives. Kane is left alone on the empty street of a town without moral conviction, friendless; even his pacifist wife is leaving town without him. It is Kane alone against four armed men bent on murder.

The simple song with the hoofbeat rhythm tells the story, and its melody morphs and evolves, becoming menacing and persistent, until it is High Noon.

Stanley Kramer owed United Artists one more film to fulfill his contract, then he could get on making movies under his own studio. Screenwriter Carl Foreman had been working on an idea for several years, High Noon. They secured the over-the-hill but still box worthy actor Gary Cooper to play the lead, and newbie Grace Kelly to be his wife.

No one thought the film would amount to much. Cooper's acting lacked oopmh, Kelly was too young, and, used to emoting to the back row in the theater, over-acted. The early film version was deemed awful and needed cutting and remaking.

I was thrilled to read Glenn Frankel's book High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic. High Noon is a favorite film in my household. I know it scene by scene. Frankel's account of how the film was made was fascinating and exciting. Frankel portrays Gary Cooper as a handsome Lothario, also described as one of the nicest, greatest guys; Carl adores Coop.  Frank Cooper was the son of a Montana lawyer who wanted to be an artist but could not afford art school. He went to Hollywood after learning they needed stunt artists. He was a quick study. His handsome good looks caught the eye of Clara Bow for her famous movie It. Gary Cooper was born.

What really makes this book relevant and important is learning how the Cold War fostered an era of fear that allowed wholesale persecution.

Before High Noon was complete Carl Foreman's name was given to the House Un-American Committee as a member of the Communist Party. Carl had been a member, drawn to its Anti-Fascism and promotion of the rights of minorities, Jews, immigrants, and unions. Carl had signed an oath in 1950 saying he was not (then) a member of the Communist Party.

The Communist Party of the early 20th c attracted progressive liberals and intellectuals who supported such 'un-American' ideals as unionizing and workers rights; their agenda did not include the overthrow of the United States. The Communist Party was seen as a social club, a place for making connections. When Russia became an ally against Hitler, Hollywood was called upon to portray positive images in films like Song of Russia and Mission to Moscow.

The House Un-American Committee 'quizzed' accused Communists, rewarding those who cooperated with reprieve, but not always forgiveness. Milton Berkeley gave the Committee 150 names and was their darling; yet when his son graduated from Yale he was denied acceptance into the Navy's Officer Training Program, blacklisted because his father had once been a Communist!

Carl could have played their game, admit his sins and name several Communist party members they already knew about. He'd be off the hook, perhaps with his career damaged, but not over. Carl would not bend his convictions; he'd rather go to jail. Alone and afraid he faced the tribunal. They were not pleased.

Carl was a liability. Kramer fired Carl; no studio could afford to be associated with Communism. Cooper, a Republican anti-Communist, believed in and supported Carl and wanted to help him start his own company; the deal fell through. Even Cooper couldn't defeat the HUAC and stand up to the threat of blacklisting. Foreman went to England and went on to write The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Guns of Navarone, The Mouse that Roared, Born Free, and Young Winston.

The HUAC's abuse of power was finally addressed by the Supreme Court in an a1957 ruling, stating that "There is no general authority to expose the private affairs of individuals without justification in terms of the functions of Congress. Nor is the Congress a law enforcement or trial agency." Senator Joseph McCarthy's fall also damaged the HAUC's credibility.

Carl Foreman had lost his job; his name was expunged in the credits of High Noon and The Bridge on the River Kwai; his passport had been revoked; and his marriage damaged. And yet years later, back in America, he ran into John Wayne, an ardent anti-communist. They embraced as old friends. When Carl asked how he could accept an old enemy so nicely he replied that Wayne was a patriot and had only been doing what he thought was right.

In times of national stress fear manifests in attacks against perceived threats, which in hindsight are seen as ill-advised, unconstitutional, and morally suspect. The red-baiting witch hunts of the 1950s were such a time. Frankel's book reminds us of the cost of allowing our fear to negate the rights guaranteed by our laws and warns against the misuse of power.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

High Noon
Glenn Frankel
Publication February 21, 2017
$28 hard cover
ISBN: 9781620409480

Sunday, February 19, 2017

You Must Go Home Again: The Barrowfields by Phillip Lewis

"O brothers, like our fathers in their time, we are burning, burning burning in the night." --Thomas Wolfe

Phillip Lewis's debut novel The Barrowfields is a remarkable story, beautifully written and wise. Henry's journey resonates with self-recognition and affirms that going home can open the path to the future.

The language is lush with a penchant for rarefied words, a nod to Thomas Wolfe's poetic and verbose style, and the novel is imbued with vivid descriptions and cinematic scenes.

The protagonist Henry Aster narrates the story of his family, beginning with the first settlers in Old Buckham. Settled deep in 'the belly' of the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina, "a town of ghosts and superstitions," and populated by under a thousand people, 'everyone else lived in the hills beyond.' His grandparents survived on little but were content.

Henry's father was considered "awful queer," a bookish boy who idolized Thomas Wolf. University provided an escape and brought him a love of Poe and Faulkner. After graduation he teaches while writing, winning early acclaim before faltering. He wants to write the great American novel--to prove his worth. Then he is called back home to care for his failing mother. The family moves into an abandoned mansion on a hill, a 'macabre' house with dark corners, haunted by ghosts. A lawyer by day, at night he retreats into a cubbyhole room to struggle with his unmanageable novel and his growing alcoholism.

"Aster's work, for all its brilliance, is impenetrable."

Henry had idolized his dad; they shared a love of books and music. But he and his sister Threnody watch their father retreat from the world until he is a 'ghost.' They pledged to always be there for the other. After the tragic death of a new sibling, their father succumbs to despair and deserts his family.

Henry leaves Old Buckram for university and law school. He falls in love with Story, a conflicted girl with her own father issues and a fear of intimacy. As he supports Story in her search for her father, returning to her home town of Lot's Folly, Henry realizes that he also must go home again and confront his past, and face the sister he abandoned.

" I suppose that one can never leave a place completely."
Wolfe's influence pervades the novel, from the setting and theme of the search for the father to the influence of  Wolfe on Henry and his father: just before Henry graduates from Chapel Hill he reads Look Homeward, Angel and You Can't Go Home Again and "never got over them entirely."

The role of books is hugely important. The Barrowfields is a 'wasteland of nothingness," a desolate opening in the woods outside of Old Buckham. When the town gathers there to burn Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, Henry implores his father to stop the book burning. In a frighting scene, his father stands up to the crowd to defend and protect the volume from the fire.

Our past leaves its scars and questions, and painful as it is, we become free by confronting it. Lewis has written a story that hearkens back to the great literature of the past while offering insight into the universal human condition.

You can learn more about Lewis and his debut novel in my interview with the author in my blog post on February 26, 2017.
Phillip Lewis

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

"Mythic in its sweep and mesmeric in its prose, The Barrowfields is a breathtaking debut about the darker side of devotion, the limits of forgiveness, and the reparation power of shared pasts." from the publisher's website

The Barrowfields
Phillip Lewis
Publication Date March 7, 2017
$26 hard cover

Whereas: Poems by Stephen Dunn

"What's a poet anyway but someone who gives/ the unnamed a name?"
Many years ago I came across Stephen Dunn's poetry. I thought I knew where but it turned out to be a false memory. It happens to me more and more often now, misremembering something vividly recalled, learning it didn't happen that way at all. I requested Dunn's new book of poems Whereas through Edelweiss because I recalled his name and wanted to read his latest poems.

Dunn begins with a poem on his seventy-fifth birthday considering "the movement from ignorance to astonishment" and the "strangeness, the immensity" of life. He ends with A Short History of Long Ago, recalling the simple things of childhood that brought contentment followed by adulthood's choices and desires, concluding, "A bad memory is the key to happiness./I apologize for everything I haven't done."

These poems written from the wisdom of maturity are thoughtful without being abstruse, universal by being personal. Duplicity and truth, the role of the storyteller, nature vs artifice, faith, and superstition, marriage and parenthood, the mystery of life--his themes are universal.

I read the poems several times, with certain lines resonating with me.

The Melancholy of the Nude considers an artist's model who lives in "a world where she was both woman and thing."

 In Be Careful you are warned not to look into the eyes of an animal, no matter how beautiful, for staring means aggression, and "Doesn't blood usually follow when language fails?"

In Even the Awful he writes, "I would prefer an occasional bout of joy, which I could recover from in a day or so, and maybe even speak about, whereas ecstasy (that one time) made me silent." A deceased friend "just lay there, immobile, like a Calder without a breath of air to move it. In fact, he had become an 'it', and those of us who knew him noted how poorly itness suited him."

In Creatures we see him at the seashore watching a pelican following a dolphin, feeding on a school of fish and concludes that "to step out/of our houses any morning is to risk/being variously selected, and that nothing/like kindness of beauty of justice/will ever change the truth of some lives."

I keep returning to these poems. Each reading I discover something I had missed.

Dunn won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry

I received a free ebook from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Incisively capturing the oddities of our logic and the whimsies of our reason, the poems in Whereas show there is always another side to a story. With graceful rhythm and equal parts humor and seriousness, Stephen Dunn considers the superstition and sophistry embedded in everyday life: household objects that seem to turn against us, the search for meaning in the barrage of daily news, the surprising confessions between neighbors across a row of hedges. Finding beauty in the ordinary, this collection affirms the absurdity of making affirmations, allowing room for more rethinking, reflection, revision, prayer, and magic in the world.

Stephen Dunn
W. W. Norton & Company
Publication February 21, 2017
ISBN-13: 978-0393254679
ISBN-10: 0393254674

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Eugene Gochenour's Memoirs: Jokesters Join the Lab

Dad wrote about "New Blood" as the Air Conditioning Lab expanded in the 1980s, including two jokesters who loosened up the lab. These stories became legend in our family. 

Eugene Gochenour at work in the 1980s
"As the demand for air conditioners in automobiles increased, it became necessary to increase the size of our lab. The lab had always been serene, orderly, and fairly quiet (boring), but that was soon to change. One day two new mechanics transferred from another lab to ours.

Their names were Jim C. and Jay F. They were noisy and boisterous and not too respectful of us older mechanics. At first I resented their presence because they were so disruptive. Also, they were always thinking of ways to annoy me.

At lunch time I often took a nap since we had a 45 minute lunch break. Once when I awoke after the nap and tried to walk I tripped because they had tied my shoelaces together! If I removed my shoes while I slept they would hide them and when I awoke I had to walk around in my socks trying to find them.

Once when I was standing on my bench putting in a new light bub in a ceiling fixture and could not drop my hands, they loosened my belt and pulled my pants down. So, there I was, standing on my bench in my under drawers until I could finish what I was doing and pull my pants back up.

On the top of my bench was a small cabinet with drawers. It had many nuts, bolts, washers, and other small parts. Sometimes when they were both by my bench and I was talking to one of them the other would be dumping the drawers full of parts onto my bench. of course when I saw what they did, I chased the one who dumped the parts, but they both just laughed.

In the 1980s we got another new addition to our lab. Diana C. was an Electrical Engineer. She had graduated from the University of Michigan and was very sharp. Well, one of the mechanics had a small wooden statue of a naked man wearing a barrel that was hung from his shoulders by suspenders. it stood about six inches high and with his bare feet looked like some poor hillbilly. Some people would be inquisitive and lift the barrel, and when they did a huge penis wold pop out. We all got many laughs when that happened. But we decided to improve him. We drilled a hole in the penis and hooked up a hose and a water supply to it.
Jim C. and Dad in the lab
When Diana came into the lab one day we showed her the little wooden man and when she lifted the barrel we turned on the water and she got squirted. She was surprised and we all howled with laughter. Diana could have really raised hell for us, but she was a good sport, and never complained to our bosses. She learned fast what she was in for when she worked out in our lab.

One day a huge horsefly flew into our lab Jim C. chased it around until he caught it. He sprayed it with something from an aerosol can which knocked it out, then he came over to me and pulled a hair from my head. He put Crazy Glue on the hair and attached it to the back of the fly. He must have thought about this before because he had a small, quarter inch by three inch piece of toilet paper with the words "Eat at ARA" printed on it. The sign was attached to the other end of the hair on the fly. The ARA was of course the company that ran the Chrysler cafeteria.

Well, there happened to be a meeting going on at a conference room next to our lab with about ten people including our lab supervisor and some engineers and designers. When the fly revived, Jim opened the conference room door and set the fly loose.

So here's this fly cruising through the room advertising ARA with everyone watching and after a few trips around it land on the nose of Fred McC. who was looking up toward the ceiling. When Jim released the fly into the room it became quiet but soon after there was a roar of laughter. No one was ever reprimanded for this, but I think they knew who was responsible.

Setting on a cabinet by my bench was a small toy slot machine. Occasionally someone would come by and pull on the lever. The toy was at about face level and when the lever was pulled a little round funny head would pop up and squirt the person who had pulled the lever. There was always someone new to pull the lever so we got many laughs from it.

Even though we had a good time at work, everyone was a good worker and our lab accomplished much.

Jim C. was a hunter and he and I planned to take a weekend and go to my brother-in-law Don Ramer's cottage near Grayling, MI. I had spent a week helping Don and his wife Marie build the floor, walls, and roof panels of the cottage a few years before. Don had ten acres and his twin brother Dave had ten acres net to his. It was all heavily wooded.

After work on Friday, Jim and I loaded up the car with our guns and hunting equipment and headed north. When we were north of Bay City it was very dark. Parked at the side of the road was a van and as we approached we saw a man waving to us. So we stopped to see what he wanted.

The man told us they had hit a deer and heir van was disabled. He said the deer had a broken back and was lying by the road behind their van. He asked if we had a gun so we could stop the deer from suffering, and we said we did. Jim had brought along a pistol and he went and shot the deer. Then the man asked if we could run him into the next town for a tow truck. We, of course, said we would. There was another man and a woman in the van and they took down our names and our license plate number before we left. On the way to town the man said they had a load of apples in the van.

The first garage that we stopped at in the next town did not have a tow truck but they would take the deer. He said they lived on deer Up North. The next garage did have a tow truck, so we left the man there and continued on our way.

I don't know if it is legal to shoot an injured animal but we could not see it suffer.

On another trip, my son Tom, Jim C, and I stayed at Don's cabin to hunt.
Tom Gochenour and Jim C. at Uncle Don's cabin

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Who's Jim Hines? Life in Jim Crow Detroit

I met author Jean Alicia Elster at a books and writers fundraiser at Leon & Lulu's in Clawson, MI. I bought her book The Colored Car, which I reviewed here, and the next year brought home Who's Jim Hines?

Elster's books are drawn from family stories about their life in 1935 when her grandfather ran a business delivering wood.

In Who's Jim Hines? we meet twelve-year-old Doug whose father runs the Douglas Ford Wood Company from their Halleck Street home in Detroit. Every day his father collects wood pallets from the auto factories, breaks them down, and loads them into his truck. He saws the wood into pieces sized for his customer's wood burning stoves, which is then delivered by his employees. Doug's mother runs the office, taking orders and managing the paperwork while caring for her family.

Their neighborhood, and the men who work for Doug's father, include African Americans, many from the South, and Polish immigrants. The families help each other, especially Doug's father who is grateful for their financial security during the Depression. He looks the other way when children steal a bit of wood to fashion playthings, and exchanges wood for services. The Ford family goes to nearby Hamtramack to shop, then a predominately Polish neighborhood and today a diverse multi-cultural magnet.

This is the story is of a boy's idolization of his father as a man and provider. Doug wants to be like his dad, but Douglas Sr has other plans: he intends that his son become a doctor.

The tension in the story is provided by Doug's gnawing need to know 'who's Jim Hines,' the faceless employee his dad says makes his business possible.

Doug must help his dad in his work to pay for lost school books, discovering exactly what it means to be black when he leaves the shelter of his narrow world.

In her Epilogue, Elster tells that after WWII and the decline in wood burning stoves her grandfather worked for Chrysler (as did my dad) and her father Doug Jr did graduate from medical school.

Written for ages eight through twelve, Who's Jim Hines? is a gentle story that brings a place and time in history to life, addressing an issue that resonates to this day.

Who's Jim Hines?
Jean Alicia Elster
Wayne State University Press
Publication 2008
ISBN: 9780814334027

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

February 15, 1924 Vogue

Vogue Magazine February 15, 1924
Ninety-three years ago today Vogue offered A Forecast of Spring Fashions.

To put the fashions in context I researched what the world was like on February 15, 1924.

February 1924 events included the premier of  George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue in New York City. Gershwin's music melded popular music with symphonic music, starting a revolution. This year Leonard Slatkin of the Detroit Symphonic Orchestra has concentrated on the influence of Gershwin in a series called Gershwin and His Children. On October 3, 2016 we were at Orchestra Hall to hear Slatkin conduct Rhapsody in Blue--an amazing concert.

In Egypt, Howard Carter raised the lid of King Tut's stone sarcophagus revealing the gold mummy case.  Art Deco design was strongly influenced by Egyptian Art.

February 1924 saw the death of President Woodrow Wilson, the release of Mahatma Gandhi after two years imprisonment, and the birth of Margaret Truman to Harry and Bess and the birth of actor Lee Marvin. President Coolidge gave the first radio speech by a president.

1924 was the year Lenin died.  MGM and the National Hockey League, and the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade were born. J. Edgar Hoover was appointed head of the Bureau of Investigation. 

An immigration act was signed, severely limiting immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, severely restricting immigration from Africa, and banning Asians and Arabs. 

President Coolidge also signed the Indian Citizen Act and after 302 years the war with the Indians ended. 

Edwin Hubble announced that Andromeda was a galaxy, which like the Milky Way is one of many, changing how we Earthlings saw our place in the universe.

"The Silhouette is Short, Straight, and Slender" was announced in the Forecast of Spring Fashions.

That was great for young girls.

But how did more mature women cope? 

First, they had to choose their clothes carefully, as some fashions added bulk and others skimmed the body.

Otherwise, it was all about the undergarments.

A dancing corset for the woman who needs hops and back held flat

This flesh colored brocade is ideal for rather heavy older women who require stiff boning
but have rejected the old fashioned, high busted types. The brassiere is of flesh batiste and net.

A girdle and brassiere of flesh colored satin are designed for the slim girl.
If the undergarments failed to provide the proper silhouette ladies could always try other means.
Rubber Reducing Garments

Even Maternity Clothes could 'avoid the obvious'.

Four rules for maternity clothes: avoid draping over the belly bulge, avoid bright colors, choose cape backs, and forgo heels

Home sewing patterns from Vogue featured godets for 'graceful movement.'
Fashions featured scarfs and the cloche hat, dropped waists, and deep V-necks.

 And of course the magazine included countless ads and photos of fashionable women.

The stylish shoe of 1924.

 This year the Michigan State Museum had an exhibit on the cloche hat which I wrote about here.

Babies and children also needed to be fashi0nable.
an 80 piece layette

The fashionable lady traveled in a fashionable way.

And they drove to fashionable luncheons.
 Wearing the latest perfume.

And makeup.
Maids and nurses apparently put comfort and freedom of movement over fashion.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald was published in 1925 and is set in 1922. These are the fashions that women wore as he was working on the novel.