Hello. I’m Jay Ruud and I’m glad you’re here.

Jay Ruud Blog

Jay Ruud’s Reviews

I go to a lot of movies. I also read a lot of books. So I figure, why not talk about them here? Which I do. A lot.

RUN -- They say you can never escape a mother’s love... but for Chloe, that’s not a comfort — it’s a threat. There’s something unnatural, even sinister about the relationship between Chloe (newcomer Kiera Allen) and her mom, Diane (Sarah Paulson). Diane has raised her daughter in total isolation, controlling every move she’s made since birth, and there are secrets that Chloe's only beginning to grasp. From the visionary writers, producers and director of the breakout film Searching, comes a suspense thriller that shows that when mom gets a little too close, you need to RUN. Chloe (Kiera Allen), Diane (Sarah Paulson), shown.  (Photo by: Allen Fraser/Hulu)

Run

Run

Aneesh Chaganty (2020)

The mental disorder generally known as “Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy” seems to be having a moment in popular culture. The term describes a condition in which caregivers deliberately report nonexistent symptoms or, more alarming, cause deliberate harm to a child or, on occasion, an elderly person in their care. In 95 percent of the known cases of Munchausen by Proxy, the perpetrator is the child’s mother. Most often this is done in order to draw attention or sympathy or even praise to the caregiver as someone bravely coping with such difficulties. Thus the term “Munchausen,” alluding to the German cavalry officer Baron von Munchausen, who was famous for telling wildly exaggerated stories about his adventures in order to court attention.

Thus director Aneesh Chaganty (Searching) is only the most recent of a plethora of film and television producers, directors and writers to have tapped into a contemporary obsession. Just in the last few years, the Hulu series The Act, the HBO series Sharp Objects, the thriller flick Ma and the Paul Thomas Anderson film Phantom Thread have all dealt with the phenomenon. Prior to that, though, on-screen depictions of the disorder were not unknown. Perhaps the earliest was the 1994 movie A Child’s Cry for Help, but it was seen as a subplot in 1999’s The Sixth Sense, and is a major plot element in the 2003 Japanese horror film, One Missed Call. The 2013 TV movie The Good Mother also deals with the syndrome.

What makes this syndrome so fascinating to filmmakers and audiences, especially at this particular moment in time? Of course the overturning of our expectations and our ingrained conditioning to associate mothers and similar caregivers with loving concern for their children feeds our shock and horror when the opposite turns out to be the case. But what bolsters the current trend of these movies may also be the controversy surrounding the syndrome. Although it was first identified in 1977 by a British pediatrician, neither the medical nor the legal community actually recognizes “Munchausen syndrome” as a condition, preferring to lump it under what is called Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another, or FDIA. The World Health Organization described FDIA in 1993 (the year before A Child’s Cry for Help), and in the United States, FDIA was officially recognized as a psychological disorder in 2013 (the same year as The Good Mother).

What distinguishes Chanty’s Run from many of these previous depictions of the syndrome is that in some of those previous portrayals, it is not the child’s mother but some other caregiver or parental substitute who is guilty of the crime. Or, if it is the mother, she has some possibly nefarious but explicable motive for her actions, or else she simply wants to have complete control over the child. In a 2019 Vanity Fair article author Patricia Dunlop suggests that this is mainly because we just don’t want to believe what is most often the real motive:

“I just think that concept of a mother torturing—methodically torturing their children over decades—because they want attention is so horrific, and so hard for people to wrap their heads around, that I think they try and find these other reasons where they can still have the mother be ultimately loving.”

This is what Chaganty, more than his predecessors in this business, gets right. Sarah Paulson (from TV’s American Horror Story and Ratched) is the earnest, struggling mother Diane who convinces everyone that she is the world’s greatest Mom. “Everything I do is for you,” she tells her wheelchair-bound daughter Chloe, while imploring the one person willing to help Chloe, “believe a mother when she tells you that her child is sick.”

We first see Diane in a hospital, looking at her newborn infant girl, born prematurely and struggling with a number of issues. Will she be all right, the new mother is asking of the apparently dead newborn. On the screen flash five title cards that describe serious medical conditions: arrhythmia, hemochromatosis, asthma, diabetes and paralysis.

Flash forward seventeen years, and we see Diane in a meeting of home-schooling parents, where she tells the group proudly that she has no worries at all about sending Chloe off to college the next year, since, because of her various ailments, Chloe has been through more in her seventeen years than most people experience in their entire lives, and so will be more than ready for a transition to college. Clearly, she is gratified to be able to pose as the heroic mother who has successfully maneuvered her real daughter through a rocky childhood.

When we first meet Chloe (played by Kiera Allen, who actually does use a wheelchair, in a very impressive first screen role), she is waiting for the mail, which her mother always brings in, hoping that an acceptance will come from the University of Washington or one of the other colleges to which she has applied. Diane has promised to let her open any such letter, but we begin to suspect she’s filtering them out. Chloe uses an inhaler and takes a range of medications, all carefully supervised by Diane. As the film goes on, we learn that Chloe is not allowed to have a cell phone, and is only allowed to use the internet under her mother’s supervision. The two live in a farmhouse in the country outside of Seattle, and have no close neighbors. Chloe has always been home-schooled, has no friends her own age, and spends all of her time with her mother.

Things begin to come apart when Chloe notices that one of her bottles of pills is actually prescribed in her mother’s name. When she learns that the pills are not what the label says they are, she tries to determine what the drug actually is, and her isolation from the world is driven home to us when she is forced to randomly dial a number and ask a complete stranger to look up the drug on the internet for her.

Now things start to unravel for Diane, and she struggles to keep her loving face pasted on while she schemes to stop her daughter from finding out the truth or telling anybody about her abuse. I can’t really tell you anything more about the plot without including spoilers, since there is revelation after revelation as Chaganty’s (and co-writer Sev Ohanian’s) screenplay moves on in fits and starts from one suspenseful “OMG is her mother going to catch her?” scene to another. Suffice it to say that this film will keep you on the edge of your seat.

And maybe that’s enough, especially since this in many ways may be the best of the recent films dealing with this form of abuse. And yet when all is said and done, it probably won’t take you long to start seeing holes in the plot, or noting places in the script where your willing suspension of disbelief was stretched to the breaking point. This may even occur before the movie is over, since the ending really stretches the bonds of credulity—for me, enough to make me throw up my hands.

Ultimately, it must be affirmed that both Paulson and newcomer Allen give impressive performances, and the film is good if you’re looking for an entertaining thriller (or as my wife says, it’s good for what it’s good for), but for me it just didn’t hold up. Two Jacqueline Susanns and half a Tennyson for this one.

NOW AVAILABLE:

ToTheGreatDeep_Front-4-1

To the Great Deep, the sixth and final novel in my Merlin Mysteries series, is now available from the publisher, Encircle Publishing,  at http://encirclepub.com/product/to-the-great-deep/

You can also order from Amazon (a Kindle edition is available) at https://www.amazon.com/Jay-Ruud/e/B001JS9L1Q?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1594229242&sr=8-1

Here’s what the book is about:
When Sir Agravain leads a dozen knights to arrest Lancelot in the queen’s chamber, he kills them all in his own defense-all except the villainous Mordred, who pushes the king to make war on the escaped Lancelot, and to burn the queen for treason. On the morning of the queen’s execution, Lancelot leads an army of his supporters to scatter King Arthur’s knights and rescue Guinevere from the flames, leaving several of Arthur’s knights dead in their wake, including Sir Gawain’s favorite brother Gareth. Gawain, chief of what is left of the Round Table knights, insists that the king besiege Lancelot and Guinevere at the castle of Joyous Gard, goading Lancelot to come and fight him in single combat.
However, Merlin, examining the bodies on the battlefield, realizes that Gareth and three other knights were killed not by Lancelot’s mounted army but by someone on the ground who attacked them from behind during the melee. Once again it is up to Merlin and Gildas to find the real killer of Sir Gareth before Arthur’s reign is brought down completely by the warring knights, and by the machinations of Mordred, who has been left behind to rule in the king’s stead.

101-best-books-of-all-time-from-fhelessons-wordpress-com_

A Book a Day: The 365 Greatest Books of All Time

Ever wish you had a different book for every day of the year? Me neither, but I created this list anyway. I went down a rabbit hole looking at the Modern Library’s list of the “100 Best Novels of the 20thCentury” and comparing it to Time Magazine’s “100 Best Novels Since 1923,” and decided they were too modern-biased and too American-biased and too English language-biased and started looking at other lists and ended up combining six of them. So here they are, incorporating “100 Best” lists from The Guardian and from The Observer in Britain, a list compiled by readers of Penguin Classics, and finally (to get a non-English perspective), a list compiled by Norwegian book clubs affiliated with the Norwegian Nobel Institute in 2002. There are 365 separate works on the combined list (I left out nonfiction classics). In the following list, alphabetized by author, I have underlined books mentioned on at least four separate lists, There are two books that were mentioned on all six lists (i.e., Nabokov’s Lolita and Orwell’s 1984). Have fun counting how many you’ve already read, and which ones you’d like to read. You’re welcome.

Key:    #= book on Modern Library list

*= book on Time Magazine list

^= book on Guardian list

+= book on Penguin List

@=book on Observer list

!=Norwegian Book Clubs, with the Norwegian Nobel Institute, 2002.

  1. Achebe. THINGS FALL APART by Chinua Achebe*+@!
  2. Agee, A DEATH IN THE FAMILY by James Agee*
  3. Alcott, LITTLE WOMEN by Louisa May Alcott^+@
  4. Amis, K. LUCKY JIM by Kingsley Amis*@
  5. Amis, M. MONEY: A SUICIDE NOTE by Martin Amis^*@
  6. Andersen, FAIRY TALES AND STORIES by Hans Christian Andersen!
  7. Anderson, WINESBURG, OHIO by Sherwood Anderson#
  8. Atwood, THE HANDMAID’S TALE by Margaret Atwood+
  9. Atwood, THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood*
  10. Austen, PERSUASION by Jane Austen+
  11. Austen, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen+!
  12. Austen, EMMA by Jane Austen^@
  13. Auster, THE NEW YORK TRILOGY by Paul Auster@
  14. Bainbridge, THE BOTTLE FACTORY OUTING by Beryl Bainbridge@
  15. Baldwin, ANOTHER COUNTRY by James Baldwin+
  16. Baldwin, GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN by James Baldwin#*
  17. Balzac, LOST ILLUSIONS by Honoré Balzac+
  18. Balzac, THE BLACK SHEEP by Honore de Balzac@
  19. Balzac, PERE GORIOT by Honore de Balzac!
  20. Barrie, PETER PAN by J. M. Barrie+
  21. Barth. THE SOT-WEED FACTOR by John Barth*
  22. Beckett, TRILOGY: MOLLOY, MALONE DIES, THE UNNAMABLEby Samuel Beckett@!
  23. Beckett, MURPHY by Samuel Beckett^
  24. Beerbohm, ZULEIKA DOBSON by Max Beerbohm#^
  25. Bellow, HENDERSON THE RAIN KING by Saul Bellow#
  26. Bellow, HERZOG by Saul Bellow*@
  27. Bellow, THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH by Saul Bellow#^
  28. Bennett, THE OLD WIVES’ TALE by Arnold Bennett#
  29. Blume. ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME, MARGARET by Judy Blume*
  30. Boccaccio, DECAMERON by Giovanni Boccaccio!
  31. Borges, COLLECTED FICTIONS by Jorge Luis Borges!
  32. Bowen, THE DEATH OF THE HEART by Elizabeth Bowen#*+
  33. Bowen, THE HEAT OF THE DAY by Elizabeth Bowen^
  34. Bowles, THE SHELTERING SKY by Paul Bowles#*
  35. Bronte, C. JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte^+@
  36. Bronte, E. WUTHERING HEIGHTS by Emily Bronte ^+@!
  37. Buchan, THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS by John Buchan^@
  38. Bulgakov, THE MASTER AND MARGARITA by Mikhail Bulgakov+
  39. Bunyan. THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS by John Bunyan^@
  40. Burgess, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE by Anthony Burgess#^*
  41. Burroughs, NAKED LUNCH by William Burroughs*
  42. Butler, THE WAY OF ALL FLESH by Samuel Butler#
  43. Byatt. POSSESSION by A.S. Byatt*
  44. Cain, THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE by James M. Cain#
  45. Caldwell, TOBACCO ROAD by Erskine Caldwell#
  46. Calvino, IF ON A WINTER’S NIGHT A TRAVELLER by Italo Calvino@
  47. Camus, THE PLAGUE by Albert Camus@
  48. Camus, THE STRANGER by Albert Camus!
  49. Capote, IN COLD BLOOD by Truman Capote^+
  50. Carey. OSCAR AND LUCINDA by Peter Carey@
  51. Carey, TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG by Peter Carey^
  52. Carroll, ALICE IN WONDERLAND by Lewis Carroll^+@
  53. Carter, WISE CHILDREN by Angela Carter@
  54. Cather, MY ANTONIA by Willa Cather+
  55. Cather, DEATH COMES FOR THE ARCHBISHOP by Willa Cather#*
  56. Celan, POEMS by Paul Celan!
  57. Celine, JOURNEY TO THE END OF THE NIGHT by Louis-Ferdinand Celine@!
  58. Cervantes, DON QUOXOTE by Miguel de Cervantes @!
  59. Chandler, THE BIG SLEEP by Raymond Chandler^*@
  60. Chaucer, THE CANTERBURY TALES by Geoffrey Chaucer!
  61. Cheever, FALCONER by John Cheever*
  62. Cheever, THE WAPSHOT CHRONICLES by John Cheever#
  63. Chekhov, SELECTED STORIES by Anton Chekhov!
  64. Chekhov, THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS by Anton Chekhov!
  65. Childers, THE RIDDLE OF THE SANDS by Erskine Childers@
  66. Coe, WHAT A CARVE UP! by Jonathan Coe+
  67. Coetzee, DISGRACE by J.M. Coetzee^
  68. Coetzee, WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS by J.M. Coetzee@
  69. Collins, THE MOONSTONE by Wilkie Collins^@
  70. Conan Doyle. THE SIGN OF FOUR by Arthur Conan Doyle^
  71. Conrad, HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad#^+
  72. Conrad, LORD JIM by Joseph Conrad#
  73. Conrad, NOSTROMO by Joseph Conrad#@!
  74. Conrad, THE SECRET AGENT by Joseph Conrad#
  75. Crane, THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE by Stephen Crane^
  76. Dahl, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY by Roald Dahl+
  77. Dahl, THE BFG by Roald Dahl@
  78. Dante, THE DIVINE COMEDY by Dante Alighieri!
  79. De Laclos, DANGEROUS LIAISONS by Pierre Choderlos De Laclos@
  80. Defoe. ROBINSON CRUSOE by Daniel Defoe^@
  81. DeLillo, UNDERWORLD by Don DeLillo^
  82. DeLillo. WHITE NOISE by Don DeLillo*
  83. Dick. UBIK by Philip K. Dick*
  84. Dickens, A CHRISTMAS CAROL by Charles Dickens+
  85. Dickens, A TALE OF TWO CITIES by Charles Dickens+
  86. Dickens, BLEAK HOUSE by Charles Dickens+
  87. Dickens, GREAT EXPECTATIONS by Charles Dickens+!
  88. Dickens, HARD TIMES by Charles Dickens+
  89. Dickens, DAVID COPPERFIELD by Charles Dickens^@
  90. Dickey, DELIVERANCE by James Dickey#*
  91. Diderot, JACQUES THE FATALIST AND HIS MASTER by Denis Diderot!
  92. Didion. PLAY IT AS IT LAYS by Joan Didion*
  93. Disraeli, SYBIL by Benjamin Disraeli^@
  94. Doblin, BERLIN ALEXANDERPLATZ by Alfred Doblin!
  95. Doctorow, RAGTIME by E.L. Doctorow#*
  96. Donleavy, THE GINGER MAN by J.P. Donleavy#
  97. Dos Passos. U.S.A. (trilogy) by John Dos Passos#^@
  98. Dostoyevsky, CRIME AND PUNISHMENT by Fyodor Dostoyevsky+!
  99. Dostoyevsky, THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV by Fyodor Dostoyevsky+@!
  100. Dostoyevsky, THE IDIOT by Fyodor Dostoyevsky!
  101. Dostoyevsky, THE POSSESSED by Fyodor Dostoyevsky!
  102. Dostoyevsky, WHITE NIGHTS by Fyodor Dostoyevsky+
  103. Dreiser, AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY by Theodore Dreiser#^
  104. Dreiser, SISTER CARRIE by Theodore Dreiser#^
  105. Dumas, THE COUNT OF MONTE CHRISTO by Alexander Dumas+@
  106. Durrell, THE ALEXANDRIA QUARTET by Lawrence Durrell#
  107. Eliot, DANIEL DERONDA by George Eliot@
  108. Eliot, SILAS MARNER by George Eliot+
  109. Eliot, THE MILL ON THE FLOSS by George Eliot+
  110. Eliot, MIDDLEMARCH by George Eliot ^+!
  111. Ellison, INVISIBLE MAN by Ralph Ellison#*!
  112. Ellroy, LA CONFIDENTIAL by James Ellroy@
  113. Euripedes, MEDEA by Euripedes!
  114. Farrell, THE STUDS LONIGAN TRILOGY by James T. Farrell#
  115. Faulkner, ABSALOM, ABSALOM by William Faulkner!
  116. Faulkner, AS I LAY DYING by William Faulkner#^@
  117. Faulkner, LIGHT IN AUGUST by William Faulkner#*
  118. Faulkner, THE SOUND AND THE FURY by William Faulkner#*!
  119. Fielding, TOM JONES by Henry Fielding^@
  120. Fitzgerald P. THE BEGINNING OF SPRING by Penelope Fitzgerald^
  121. Fitzgerald, F. TENDER IS THE NIGHT by F. Scott Fitzgerald#
  122. Fitzgerald, F. THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald#^*+@
  123. Flaubert, A SENTIMENTAL EDUCATION by Gustve Flaubert!
  124. Flaubert, MADAME BOVARY by Gustave Flaubert@!
  125. Ford, F. PARADE’S END by Ford Madox Ford#
  126. Ford, F. THE GOOD SOLDIER by Ford Madox Ford#^@
  127. Ford, R. THE SPORTSWRITER by Richard Ford*
  128. Forster, A PASSAGE TO INDIA by E.M. Forster#^*@
  129. Forster, A ROOM WITH A VIEW by E.M. Forster#
  130. Forster, HOWARD’S END by E.M. Forster#
  131. Fowles, THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN by John Fowles*
  132. Fowles, THE MAGUS by John Fowles#
  133. Franzen, THE CORRECTIONS by Jonathan Franzen*
  134. Gaddis. THE RECOGNITIONS by William Gaddis*
  135. Galsworthy, THE FORSYTE SAGA by John Galsworthy+
  136. Gaskell, NORTH AND SOUTH by Elizabet Gaskell+
  137. Gibbons, COLD COMFORT FARM by Stella Gibbons^
  138. GibsonNECROMANCER by William Gibson*
  139. GILGAMESH, Anonymous!
  140. Gissing, NEW GRUB STREET by George Gissing^
  141. Goethe, FAUST by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe!
  142. Gogol, DEAD SOULS by Nikolai Gogol!
  143. Golding, LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding#^*@
  144. Grahame, THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS by Kenneth Grahame^+@
  145. Grass, THE TIN DRUM by Gunter Grass@!
  146. Graves, I, CLAUDIUS by Robert Graves#*+
  147. Gray, LANARK by Alisdair Gray@
  148. Green, LOVING by Henry Green#*
  149. Green, PARTY GOING by Henry Green^
  150. Greene, THE END OF THE AFFAIR by Graham Greene^
  151. Greene, THE HEART OF THE MATTER by Graham Greene#*
  152. Greene. THE POWER AND THE GLORY by Graham Greene*
  153. Greene, THE QUIET AMERICAN by Graham Greene@
  154. Grossmith, A DIARY OF NOBODY by George and Weedon Grossmith+@
  155. Hammett. RED HARVEST by Dashiell Hammett*
  156. Hammett, THE MALTESE FALCON by Dashiell Hammett#^
  157. Hamsun, HUNGER by Knut Hamsun!
  158. Hardy, TESS OF THE D’URDERVILLES by Thomas Hardy+
  159. Hardy, THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE by Thomas Hardy+
  160. Hardy, JUDE THE OBSCURE by Thomas Hardy^@
  161. Hartley, THE GO-BETWEEN by L.P. Hartley+
  162. Hawthorne, THE SCARLET LETT ER by Nathaniel Hawthorne^@
  163. Heller, CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller#^*+@
  164. Hemingway, MEN WITHOUT WOMEN by Ernest Hemingway@
  165. Hemingway, THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA by Ernest Hemingway!
  166. Hemingway, A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway#
  167. Hemingway, THE SUN ALSO RISES by Ernest Hemingway#^*
  168. Hinton, THE OUTSIDERS by S.E. Hinton+
  169. Hodgson, THE SECRET GARDEN by Frances Hodgson+
  170. Homer, THE ILIAD by Homer+!
  171. Homer, THE ODYSSEY by Homer!
  172. Hughes, A HIGH WIND IN JAMAICA by Richard Hughes#
  173. Hugo, LES MISERABLES by Victor Hugo+
  174. Hurston. THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD by Zora Neale Hurston*
  175. Huxley, BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley#^+@
  176. Huxley, POINT COUNTER POINT by Aldous Huxley#
  177. Ibsen, A DOLL’S HOUSE by Henrik Ibsen!
  178. Isherwood, A SINGLE MAN by Christopher Isherwood^
  179. Isherwood, THE BERLIN STORIES by Christopher Isherwood*
  180. Ishiguro. NEVER LET ME GO by Kazuo Ishiguro*
  181. Ishiguro, AN ARTIST OF THE FLOATING WORLD by Kazuo Ishiguro^@
  182. James, THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY by Henry James@
  183. James, THE AMBASSADORS by Henry James#
  184. James, THE GOLDEN BOWL by Henry James#^
  185. James, THE WINGS OF THE DOVE by Henry James#
  186. Jerome, THREE MEN IN A BOAT by Jerome K. Jerome^@
  187. JOB, Anonymous!
  188. Jones, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY by James Jones#
  189. Joyce. A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN by James Joyce#+
  190. Joyce, FINNEGANS WAKE by James Joyce#
  191. Joyce, ULYSSES by James Joyce#^+@!
  192. Kafka, THE CASTLE by Franz Kafka+!
  193. Kafka, THE COMPLETE STORIES by Franz Kafka!
  194. Kafka, THE TRIAL by Franz Kafka@!
  195. Kalidasa, THE RECOGNITION OF SAKUNTALA by Kalidasa!
  196. Kawabata, THE SOUND OF THE MOUNTAIN by Yasunari Kawabata!
  197. Kazantzakis, ZORBA THE GREEK by Nikos Kazantzakis!
  198. Kennedy, IRONWEED by William Kennedy#
  199. Kerouac, ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac#^*@
  200. Kesey. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST by Ken Kesey*+
  201. Kipling, KIM by Rudyard Kipling#^
  202. Koestler, DARKNESS AT NOON by Arthur Koestler#
  203. Kosinsky. THE PAINTED BIRD by Jerzy Kosinski*
  204. Kundera, THE BOOK OF LAUGHING AND FORGETTING by Milan Kundera@
  205. Lawrence, THE RAINBOW by D.H. Lawrence#^@
  206. Lawrence, SONS AND LOVERS by D.H. Lawrence#!
  207. Lawrence, WOMEN IN LOVE by D.H. Lawrence#+
  208. Laxness, INDEPENDENT PEOPLE by Halldor Laxness!
  209. Le Carre. THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD by John le Carre*
  210. Le Carre. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY by John Le Carre@
  211. Lee. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee^*+@
  212. Leopardi, COMPLETE POEMS by Giacomo Leopardi!
  213. Lessing, THE GOLDEN NOTEBOOK by Doris Lessing^*!
  214. Lewis, C.S. THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE by C.S. Lewis*+
  215. Lewis, S. BABBIT by Sinclair Lewis^
  216. Lewis, S. MAIN STREET by Sinclair Lewis#
  217. Lindgren PIPPI LONGSTOCKING by Astrid Lindgren!
  218. London, THE CALL OF THE WILD by Jack London#^+@
  219. Loos, GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES by Anita Loos^
  220. Lorca, GYPSY BALLADS by Federico Garcia Lorca!
  221. Lowry, UNDER THE VOLCANO by Malcolm Lowry#^*
  222. Lu Xun, DIARY OF A MADMAN AND OTHER STORIES by Lu Xun!
  223. MAHABHARATA, Anonymous!
  224. Mahfouz, CHILDREN OF GEBELAWI by Naguib Mahfouz!
  225. Mailer, THE EXECUTIONER’S SONG by Norman Mailer@
  226. Mailer, THE NAKED AND THE DEAD by Norman Mailer#
  227. Malamud, THE ASSISTANT by Bernard Malamud*
  228. Mann, BUDDENBROOKS by Thomas Mann+!
  229. Mann, THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN by Thomas Mann!
  230. Manzoni, THE BETROTHED by Alessandro Manzoni+
  231. Márquez, LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA by Federico Garcia Lorca!
  232. Márquez, ONE HUDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE by Gabriel García Márquez+@!
  233. Maugham, THE RAZOR’S EDGE by Somerset Maugham+
  234. Maugham, OF HUMAN BONDAGE by W. Somerset Maugham#^+
  235. McCarthy. BLOOD MERIDIAN by Cormac McCarthy*
  236. McCullers, THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER by Carson McCullers#*
  237. McEwan, ATONEMENT by Ian McEwan*@
  238. McGahern, AMONGST WOMENby John McGahern^
  239. Melville, MOBY-DICK by Herman Melville^+@!
  240. Miller, TROPIC OF CANCER by Henry Miller#^*+
  241. Mitchell, GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell*
  242. Mitford, THE PURSUIT OF LOVE by Nancy Mitford@
  243. Moore. WATCHMEN by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons*
  244. Morante, HISTORY by Elsa Morante!
  245. Morrison. BELOVED by Toni Morrison*+!
  246. Morrison, SONG OF SOLOMON by Toni Morrison^@
  247. Murdoch, THE SEA, THE SEA by Iris Murdoch+
  248. Murdoch, UNDER THE NET by Iris Murdoch#*
  249. Musil, THE MAN WITHOUT QUALITIESby Robert Musil!
  250. Nabokov, LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov#^*+@!
  251. Nabokov, PALE FIRE by Vladimir Nabokov#*
  252. Naipaul, A BEND IN THE RIVER by V.S. Naipaul#^@
  253. Naipaul, A HOUSE FOR MR BISWAS by V.S. Naipaul#*
  254. Nemirovsky, SUITE FRANÇAIS by Irene Nemirovsky+
  255. NJAL’S SAGA, Anonymous!
  256. O’Brien. AT SWIM TWO BIRDS by Flann O’Brien^*
  257. O’Connor, WISE BLOOD by Flannery O’Connor@
  258. O’Hara. APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA by John O’Hara#*
  259. Orwell, 1984 by George Orwell#^*+@!
  260. Orwell, ANIMAL FARM by George Orwell#*
  261. Ovid, METAMORPHOSES by Ovid!
  262. Peacock, NIGHTMARE ABBEY by Thomas Love Peacock^@
  263. Percy, THE MOVIEGOER by Walker Percy#*
  264. Pessoa, THE BOOK OF DISQUIET by Fernando Pessoa!
  265. Plath, THE BELL JAR by Sylvia Plath^
  266. Poe, THE COMPLETE TALES by Edgar Allan Poe!
  267. Poe, THE NARRATIVE OF ARTHUR GORDON PYM OF NANTUCKETby Edgar Allan Poe^
  268. Powell, A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME (series) by Anthony Powell#*
  269. Proust, IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME by Marcel Proust@!
  270. Pullman, NORTHERN LIGHTS by Philip Pullman@
  271. Puzo, THE GODFATHER by Mario Puzo+
  272. Pynchon, GRAVITY’S RAINBOW by Thomas Pynchon*
  273. Pynchon, THE CRYING OF LOT 49 by Thomas Pynchon*
  274. Rabelais, GARGANTUA AND PANTAGRUEL by Francois Rabelais!
  275. Rand, ATLAS SHRUGGED by Ayn Rand+
  276. Rhys, WIDE SARGASSO SEA by Jean Rhys#*+
  277. Richardson. CLARISSA by Samuel Richardson^@
  278. Robinson, HOUSEKEEPING by Marilynne Robinson^*@
  279. Rolfe, HADRIAN THE SEVENTH by Frederick Rolfe^
  280. Rosa, THE DEVIL TO PAY IN THE BACKLANDS by Joao Guimaraaes Rosa!
  281. Roth, H. CALL IT SLEEP by Henry Roth#*
  282. Roth, P. AMERICAN PASTORAL by Philip Roth*@
  283. Roth, P. PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT by Philip Roth#^*
  284. Rulfo, PEDRO PARAMO by Juan Rulfo!
  285. Rumi, THE MATHNAWIby Jalalu’l-Din Rumi!
  286. Rushdie, MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN by Salman Rushdie#^*+!
  287. Rushdie, HAROUN AND THE SEA OF STORIESby Salman Rushdie@
  288. Saadi, THE ORCHARDby Sheikh Saadi of Shiraz!
  289. Salih, A SEASON OF MIGRATION TO THE NORTHby Tayeb Salih!
  290. Salinger, THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger#^*+@
  291. Saramago, BLINDNESSby Jose Saramago!
  292. Scott, STAYING ON by Paul Scott+
  293. Sebald, AUSTERLITZ by W.G. Sebald@
  294. Shakespeare, OTHELLO by William Shakespeare!
  295. Shakespeare, HAMLET by William Shakespeare!
  296. Shakespeare, KING LEAR by William Shakespeare!
  297. Shelley, FRANKENSTEIN by Mary Shelley^+@
  298. Shikibu, THE TALE OF GENJI by Murasaki Shikibu!
  299. Smith, D. I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith+
  300. Smith. WHITE TEETH by Zadie Smith*
  301. Solzhenitsyn, ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH by Alexander Solzhenitsyn+
  302. Sophocles, OEDIPUS THE KING by Sophocles!
  303. Spark, THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE by Muriel Spark#^*@
  304. Stead, THE MAN WHO LOVED CHILDREN by Christina Stead*
  305. Stegner, ANGLE OF REPOSE by Wallace Stegner#
  306. Steinbeck, EAST OF EDEN by John Steinbeck+
  307. Steinbeck, THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck#^*+
  308. Stendhal, THE CHARTERHOUSE OF PARMA by Stendahl@
  309. Stendhal, THE RED AND THE BLACK by Stendhal!
  310. Stephenson. SNOW CRASH by Neal Stephenson*
  311. Sterne, THE LIFE AND OPINIONS OF TRISTRAM SHANDY by Laurence Sterne^@!
  312. Stevenson, DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE by Robert Lewis Stevenson@
  313. Stevenson, KIDNAPPED by Robert Louis Stevenson^
  314. Stoker, DRACULA by Bram Stoker^+
  315. Stone, DOG SOLDIERS by Robert Stone*
  316. Styron, SOPHIE’S CHOICE by William Styron#
  317. Styron, THE CONFESSIONS OF NAT TURNER by William Styron*
  318. Süskind, PERFUME by Patrick Süskind+
  319. Svevo, CONFESSIONS OF ZENO by Italo Svevo!
  320. Swift, GULLIVER’S TRAVELS by Jonathan Swift^@!
  321. Tarkington, THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS by Booth Tarkington#
  322. Tartt, THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt+
  323. Taylor, MRS. PALFREY AT THE CLAREMONT by Elizabeth Taylor^@
  324. Thackeray, VANITY FAIR by William Makepiece Thackeray^+@
  325. Thompson, LARK RISE TO CANDLEFORD by Flora Thompson+
  326. Tolkien, THE LORD OF THE RINGS by J.R.R. Tolkien*+@
  327. Tolstoy, ANNA KARENINA by Leo Tolstoy+@!
  328. Tolstoy, THE DEATH OF IVAN ILYICH by Leo Tolstoy!
  329. Tolstoy, WAR AND PEACE by Leo Tolstoy+!
  330. Toole, A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES by John Kennedy Toole+
  331. Trollope, BARCHESTER TOWERS by Anthony Trollope+
  332. Trollope, THE WAY WE LIVE NOW by Anthony Trollope^@
  333. Twain, THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain^@!
  334. Taylor, BREATHING LESSONS by Anne Tayler^
  335. Updike, RABBIT REDUX by John Updike^
  336. Updike. RABBIT, RUN by John Updike*
  337. Valmiki, RAMADAN by Valmiki!
  338. Virgil, THE AENEID by Virgil!
  339. Vonnegut, BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS by Kurt Vonnegut+
  340. Vonnegut, SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut#*
  341. Wallace, INFINITE JEST by David Foster Wallace*
  342. Warner, LOLLY WILLOWES by Sylvia Townsend Warner^
  343. Warren, ALL THE KING’S MEN by Robert Penn Warren#^*
  344. Waugh, A HANDFUL OF DUST by Evelyn Waugh#*
  345. Waugh, BRIDESHEAD REVISITED by Evelyn Waugh#*+
  346. Waugh, SCOOP by Evelyn Waugh#^+@
  347. Wells, THE TIME MACHINE by H. G. Wells+
  348. Wells, THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY by H.G. Wells^
  349. West, THE DAY OF THE LOCUST by Nathanael West#*
  350. Wharton, THE AGE OF INNOCENCE by Edith Wharton#^+
  351. Wharton, THE HOUSE OF MIRTH by Edith Wharton#
  352. White, E.B. CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E.B. White@
  353. White, P. VOSS by Patrick White^
  354. Whitman, LEAVES OF GRASS by Walt Whitman!
  355. Wilde, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY by Oscar Wilde^@
  356. Wilder, THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY by Thornton Wilder#*
  357. Wodehouse, THE CODE OF THE WOOSTERS by P.G. Wodehouse+
  358. Wodehouse, JOY IN THE MORNING by P.G. Wodehouse^
  359. Woolf, ORLANDO by Virginia Woolf+
  360. Woolf. MRS. DALLOWAY by Virginia Woolf^*+@!
  361. Woolf, TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf#*+!
  362. Wright, NATIVE SON by Richard Wright#*
  363. Wyndham, THE CHRYSALIDS by John Windham+
  364. Yates, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD by Richard Yates*
  365. Yourcenar, MEMOIRS OF ADRIAN by Marguerite Yourcenar
51ysjenJxfL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

Life and Death are Wearing Me Out

 Life and Death are Wearing Me Out

Mo Yan (2006)

Most American readers don’t really know much about contemporary Chinese novelist Mo Yan, or if they’ve heard of him at all it’s because they remember he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2012. He first gained international fame with the novel Red Sorghum, which was made into an award winning Chinese film the year of its release, and was translated into English in 1993. The film was an international sensation, and the novel established Mo Yan’s reputation as a writer in the “magic realist” style. Life and Death are Wearing Me Outstays in that magic realist tradition, and, like Red Sorghum, tells a family history over several generations, but it does so in a black humor style that makes it, despite its 540 small-print pages, a real treat to read, and an excellent introduction to Mo Yan if you’re looking to add contemporary China’s greatest living author to your circle of literary acquaintances.

The novel follows a particular family, the Ximen family, in Gaomi County of Shandong Province in mainland China, from 1950 (shortly after Mao Zedong established the People’s Republic of China in 1949) until 2000, nearly a quarter of a century after Mao’s death, and takes us through the various political upheavals during that time, focusing specifically on how those changes affected ordinary people in the small rural village of “Northeast Township.”  Mo Yan himself was born as Guan Moye in that same Gaomi County in 1955, and uses that setting he knows so well as the background of this novel. He adopted the pen name “Mo Yan,” by the way, because it means, in Chinese, “don’t speak”—which is what his parents used to say to him when he was growing up in the late 1950s and ’60s, when speaking your mind about politics in the hearing of neighbors could get you into trouble. When he began to publish stories and novels that reinterpreted his country’s history in the freer 1980s, he  adopted the advice as his pen name—and he has since legally changed his name to Mo Yan, since as it turned out he could not receive royalties under a pseudonym.

But Mo Yan doesspeak in this novel, about politics, social customs, and family ties, in a comic, ironic tone that has been compared to Kafka or Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut or Laurence Sterne, Rabelais or Jonathan Swift. The book begins during the Land Reform at the beginning of Mao’s tenure, moves through the  Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward, then through Mao’s death to the “Reform Period” and ultimately the “capitalism with socialist characteristics” of modern China, focusing on how all these developments play out among real people in the small country village of the novel.

The book opens as Ximen Nao, perhaps the wealthiest landowner in Gaomi county, is dragged out and shot by his neighbors, as his land is taken from him to be divided among his fellow villagers during the communist “Land Reform” of 1948. Ximen Nao insists that he does not deserve this treatment, that he has been a good man who has dealt honestly with his neighbors, his family (including his wife and concubines), his tenants and his laborers. But his protests are to no avail, and we suspect that, though he may not have deserved his treatment, he may not have been quite as perfect as he believes. In any case, he continues to dispute the justice of his fate even after he reaches the underworld, where Yama, the Lord of the Underworld in ancient Chinese mythology, cannot get him to stop his grousing and finally decides to send him back to earth—but as a donkey.

This begins a series of successive transmigrations of Ximen Nao’s soul through donkey to ox to pig to dog to monkey. As a donkey, he is born on January 1, 1950, on the land of his former farmhand Lan Lian, now married to Ximen Nao’s first concubine, Yingchun. Lan Lian (known as “blue face” because of an unfortunate birthmark) is something of a rebel against the collectivization of farming after land reform. Despite Mao’s expressed promise that all farmers had the right to remain independent farmers if they so desired, there is virtually irresistible public pressure to join the commune. Lan Lian, however, continues to resist, and is ultimately the last independent farmer in all of China. But this makes him a pariah in his neighborhood, and causes a rift in his family, with Ximen Jinlong, his elder step-son (actually Ximen Nao’s son with Yingchun), insisting on joining the commune while his own younger son, Lan Jiefang (inheritor of the blue-face birthmark) stays with his father, and with their one asset, Ximen Donkey.

The donkey stays with Lan Lian for ten years, and it is the donkey himself who narrates events, striking a comic balance between memories of his life on earth and adaptation to life as a beast of burden in the new China. But as the village suffers during demands for false and impossible production quotas during the “Great Leap Forward” and, as a result, is plunged into the great famine of 1959-61 in which tens of millions of Chinese starved to death, Ximen Donkey cannot survive the times. As Mo Yan describes it, “Then the famine came, turning the people into wild animals, cruel and unfeeling. After eating all the bark from trees and the edible grass, a gang of them charged into the Ximen estate compound like a pack of starving wolves”—an attack in which the donkey is killed for his meat.

Returned to the great god Yama, Ximen’s soul is sent back to earth for another try—this time as an ox. Again, he belongs to Lan Lian. Ximen Ox and his successor, Ximen Pig, retain their connections to Lan and his family, and while Lan holds on to his independent farm, his son Lan Jiefang deserts him and follows his brother Ximen Jinlong into service with the party as local officials. Eventually Lan Jiefang takes over some of the narration of the story, alternating with the animal incarnations of Ximen Nao.

In its later chapters, during the lives of Ximen Dog and Ximen Monkey, the narrative focuses more on Lan’s children, and ultimately on theirchildren, and we are able to witness how Lan Lian’s chief trait of stubbornness, like his blue birthmark, manifests itself in his son and in his grandson, both of whom, like Lan himself, pursue courses of action that ostracize them from the community. We also witness Ximen Nao’s son, Ximen Jinlong, repeating the sins of his own father, pursuing crazy capitalist schemes for personal gain.

Will Ximen ever break this cycle of reincarnation and attain human status once again? Presumably Ximen’s soul is refining itself through the many lives it lives, but it is also witness to the social upheavals of history that ultimately do suggest that his death in that land reform really was unjust, since his village ends up in a situation wherein wealth is inequitably distributed once again, and wherein those who hold it are far less ethical than he was himself.

As a side note, the post-modern, metafictional narration of the book includes a character named Mo Yan who pops up from time to time in the village. In a comic self-deprecating manner, the character of Mo Yan is untrustworthy and rather lazy: “Mo Yan was never much of a farmer. His body may have been on the farm, but his mind was in the city. Lowborn, he dreamed of becoming rich and famous; ugly as sin, he sought the company of pretty girls; generally ill-informed, he passed himself off as a knowledgeable academic. And with all that, he managed to establish himself as a writer, someone who dined on tasty pot stickers in Beijing every day.” As the book reaches its climax, the character Mo Yan takes a larger part and actually proves helpful to one of the major characters.

Overall, this book is a rollicking adventure that tells an epic tragic-comic story of one family caught in the great upheavals of history. Howard Goldblatt’s 2008 translation is highly readable, and includes a helpful list of “Principal Characters” at the beginning that you will probably need to refer to often. I would have welcomed a larger identifying list of characters: Since many of the characters’ names are similar, I was often unsure where I had seen this or that name before, but unless it was one of the major characters, I was stymied. But these are minor concerns. This is a novel of huge significance that is sure to make an indelible impact on your soul. You may even remember it in your next several lives. Four Shakespeares for this one.

NOW AVAILABLE:

ToTheGreatDeep_Front-4-1

To the Great Deep, the sixth and final novel in my Merlin Mysteries series, is now available from the publisher, Encircle Publishing,  at http://encirclepub.com/product/to-the-great-deep/

You can also order from Amazon (a Kindle edition is available) at https://www.amazon.com/Jay-Ruud/e/B001JS9L1Q?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1594229242&sr=8-1

Here’s what the book is about:
When Sir Agravain leads a dozen knights to arrest Lancelot in the queen’s chamber, he kills them all in his own defense-all except the villainous Mordred, who pushes the king to make war on the escaped Lancelot, and to burn the queen for treason. On the morning of the queen’s execution, Lancelot leads an army of his supporters to scatter King Arthur’s knights and rescue Guinevere from the flames, leaving several of Arthur’s knights dead in their wake, including Sir Gawain’s favorite brother Gareth. Gawain, chief of what is left of the Round Table knights, insists that the king besiege Lancelot and Guinevere at the castle of Joyous Gard, goading Lancelot to come and fight him in single combat.
However, Merlin, examining the bodies on the battlefield, realizes that Gareth and three other knights were killed not by Lancelot’s mounted army but by someone on the ground who attacked them from behind during the melee. Once again it is up to Merlin and Gildas to find the real killer of Sir Gareth before Arthur’s reign is brought down completely by the warring knights, and by the machinations of Mordred, who has been left behind to rule in the king’s stead.

71TAT2aBwKL

Bloomsbury’s Late Rose

Bloomsbury’s Late Rose

Pen Pearson (2019)

If you’ve never heard of the Edwardian British poet Charlotte Mew, you’re not alone. Mew is these days as little known as she was during most of her life. In Bloomsbury’s Late Rose—her fictionalized story of Mew’s life— author Pen Pearson laments that Mew’s poetry “remains underappreciated today,” and expresses her hope that her novel “leads readers to Mew’s poems and fulfills Thomas Hardy’s prophecy that Charlotte Mew’s poems will be read when other poets’ work is forgotten.”

So clueless was I about Mew’s career that I thought when I picked up this book, that I was going to be reading an imagined account of some incident in Virginia Woolf’s life, since she’s the woman I most associated with Bloomsbury.  Imagine my surprise when I met Charlotte Mew—whom Woolf herself called “very good and interesting and unlike anyone else.” The book opens with a prologue dated 1894, providing an account of the pact Charlotte makes with her sister Anne: Having seen both their brother Henry and their sister Freda institutionalized in asylums for the insane, the two sisters vow never to marry, since marriage is likely to result in children, and neither wishes to pass on the family curse to their offspring.

The first chapter begins fifteen years later: Charlotte and Anne have remained close, and have remained faithful to their vow never to marry, so at this point they are nearing forty and living with their ailing mother and her long-term maid in a house in the Bloomsbury section of London. Because their architect father Frederick Mew had died in 1898 and left the family in financial difficulties, they have been forced into the demoralizing step of taking in a tenant for their top floor. As the novel goes on and the family descends further and further into what at the time was called “genteel poverty,” more and more of the family home gets let out to boarders.

Those fifteen years since the Prologue have been discouraging in other areas as well. The aspiring writer Charlotte, who in 1894 had had a story published in The Yellow Book, had followed that up with only a few more stories five years later, but no great success. And Anne, who had had similar brief success with a painting early on, had nothing subsequently to show for it. Charlotte muses over her disappointments early on in the book—“Her  run as a fiction writer and essayist….That utter foolishness in Paris, not so long ago….It seemed now as if she were waiting, but for what?” (The “foolishness in Paris,” we gradually piece together, alludes to Charlotte’s relationship with Ella D’Arcy, the assistant editor of The Yellow Book, to whom Charlotte was strongly attracted and whom she followed to Paris in 1902, only to be soundly rejected). We soon realize that while Charlotte’s own preferences make her vow never to marry and have children less than onerous for herself, it is apparently far more difficult for Anne, who seems clearly attracted to a gentleman at their church—but never acts on that attraction because of her vow and her fear of the “family curse.”

We get a brief episode of Charlotte and Anne visiting their sister Freda in the asylum, a grim scene that underscores the necessary permanence of Freda’s confinement. Things take an optimistic turn when the sisters inherit a small stipend from a deceased relative—it amounts to little but is enough to rent for Anne a studio in which she can paint. Unfortunately, financial straits compel her to take a menial job that tires her out and leaves her little time for her art. The studio, however, becomes a kind of refuge for the sisters when their own home shrinks to only a few rooms surrounded by tenants.

Charlotte does finally begin to achieve some success in her writing, mainly through her poetry, which she turns to as her personal life begins its gradual decline. Her poems reflect the social and political concerns of her time as she begins to take part in a London salon convened by Mrs. Dawson Scott, a hostess with the provocative nickname of “Sapho.” Here she reads aloud her first important poem, “The Farmer’s Bride,” which had been published in The Nation in 1912 and thus drew Mrs. Scott’s attention. The poem, a dramatic monologue in the Victorian manner of Robert Browning, depicts a troubled marriage from the husband’s point of view and with a keen psychological insight. I should note that an appendix to the novel includes six more of Charlotte Mew’s poems that provide evidence of her skill as a first-rate modern poet.

It is in this salon that Charlotte meets May Sinclair, a popular novelist, critic, and suffragette whose views certainly influenced Charlotte’s. Charlotte becomes a kind of protégé of Sinclair’s for a time, but as Pearson makes clear, her interest in Sinclair is not solely literary, and when Charlotte apparently misinterprets Sinclair’s attitude, it leads to a mortifying scene in Sinclair’s bedroom. It is about the last we see of Charlotte’s endeavors at true intimacy, except with her sister Anne.

Charlotte’s lesbianism is acknowledged by her biographers, though Pearson is quite restrained in its presentation (as Charlotte was herself). She describes Charlotte’s clothing in the style of her times: “Gone were the full skirts and crinolines, fitted bodice, and stiff, upright collar of the Victorian era. Today the fashionable Edwardian woman wore the less confining shirtwaist and a more fitted, ankle-length skirt, which was slightly less cumbersome than its predecessor.” But she stops short of depicting Charlotte’s attire as some of her biographers describe: “She was a tiny woman with short hair who wore tailored men’s suits and always carried a black umbrella,” says the Poetry Foundation web site. Perhaps Pearson thought such a description would be too stereotypical for the highly individualistic Charlotte she is creating in her novel.

But though personally distressing, Charlotte’s involvement in the salon ultimately leads to the publication of her first collection of poems, The Farmer’s Bride, in 1916, and although it fails to sell out the first printing, it does raise her visibility and when an American publisher picks it up and issues an expanded version under the title Saturday Market, she at last attains some recognition, even meeting Thomas Hardy, who champions her work. Still, her economic means continue to dwindle, so that in 1923, through the efforts of Hardy, Sydney Cockerell, John Masefield and Walter de la Mare, she receives an annual Civil List pension of £75, which keeps her and her sister from destitution.

I don’t want to fill this review with spoilers, but you can probably guess that the story ends tragically. As a fictionalized biography, it is difficult to give such a story a narrative arc, but Pearson manages to structure the book around two opposing forces: on the one hand Charlotte’s personal and social life, a trajectory complicated by her vow of marital celibacy, her economic circumstances, and her sexuality; and on the other hand her professional life, her craving for literary recognition and notoriety. As the novel progresses, the first of these arcs slides steadily downward, while the second gradually rises to undeniable success.

Pearson has obviously meticulously researched not only Charlotte’s life but the social and physical details of Edwardian London, including the position of British women in the age of first-wave feminism, so that a reader feels comfortably at home in Charlotte’s Bloomsbury. Those details construct a life story in which, to be honest, not a whole lot happens. But what Pearson contributes from her own imagination is the rich interior life she attributes to Charlotte—an interior life that can be inferred to a large extent from Mew’s surviving poems.

This is a book that, like the woman who is its subject, deserves more attention than it has been getting. Gracefully written, emotionally understated but powerful, this is a book that you will think of often long after you leave it. Four Shakespeares for this one.

NOW AVAILABLE:

To the Great Deep, the sixth and final novel in my Merlin Mysteries series, is now available from the publisher, Encircle Publishing,  at http://encirclepub.com/product/to-the-great-deep/

You can also order from Amazon (a Kindle edition is available) at https://www.amazon.com/Jay-Ruud/e/B001JS9L1Q?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1594229242&sr=8-1

Here’s what the book is about:
When Sir Agravain leads a dozen knights to arrest Lancelot in the queen’s chamber, he kills them all in his own defense-all except the villainous Mordred, who pushes the king to make war on the escaped Lancelot, and to burn the queen for treason. On the morning of the queen’s execution, Lancelot leads an army of his supporters to scatter King Arthur’s knights and rescue Guinevere from the flames, leaving several of Arthur’s knights dead in their wake, including Sir Gawain’s favorite brother Gareth. Gawain, chief of what is left of the Round Table knights, insists that the king besiege Lancelot and Guinevere at the castle of Joyous Gard, goading Lancelot to come and fight him in single combat.
However, Merlin, examining the bodies on the battlefield, realizes that Gareth and three other knights were killed not by Lancelot’s mounted army but by someone on the ground who attacked them from behind during the melee. Once again it is up to Merlin and Gildas to find the real killer of Sir Gareth before Arthur’s reign is brought down completely by the warring knights, and by the machinations of Mordred, who has been left behind to rule in the king’s stead.

Rebeccapic

Rebecca

Rebecca

Ben Wheatley (2020)

2 JACQUELINE SUSANNS

If you’re an Alfred Hitchcock fan, you know that the master of suspense, one of the most respected auteurs in the history of film, never won a Best Director Oscar, despite being nominated five times. He does have four films on the AFI top 100 American Movies list (two of them in the top 15), but the one movie he directed that won the “Best Picture” Oscar is not among them: That film was Rebecca, his 1940 adaptation of the 1938 worldwide best-selling novel by Daphne du Maurier. (In case you need the information for a trivia game sometime, Hitchcock lost the director Oscar that year to John Ford for The Grapes of Wrath.)

Still, Rebecca had eleven Oscar-nominations, with memorable (Oscar-nominated) performances by Lawrence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, and a spooky Judith Anderson as the domineering Mrs. Danvers. I offer all of this backstory as compelling evidence that, though it is 80 years old this year, this is a film that was in no need of a remake. I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that nobody remakes Citizen Kane next year for its 80th. And so director Ben Wheatley (High Rise) has the shadow of Hitchcock looming over him from the beginning of this remake, not unlike the looming presence that Rebecca herself casts on the marriage of the second Mrs. de Winter, the book’s unnamed narrator and protagonist.

That role is taken here by Lily James (Cinderella), who does a competent job as a woman thrust into a mysterious situation with an enigmatic, distant husband and a domineering housekeeper. The role of her husband, Max de Winter, is filled by Armie Hammer (Call Me by Your Name), who has the unenviable task of re-enacting a role originally created by Lawrence Olivier, perhaps the most venerated performer of his generation. Hammer always looks good in a part, though I can’t say that his performance here comes off as well as James’ does. It seems a bit wooden, perhaps without much direction, as he shuts his new wife out and leaves her to the mercy of Mrs. Danvers, played here by Kristen Scott Thomas (Darkest Hour, Gosford Park) whose insidious, scheming, undermining Danvers is easily the best thing about this movie.

One difficulty in the casting of Hammer and James is that anyone familiar with the novel (like my wife, a devoted Rebecca aficionado since her girlhood) knows that Max is supposed to be twice the age of the second Mrs. de Winter. In Hitchcock’s version, Joan Fontaine was 23 while Olivier was 33—but he was made up to look older, with graying temples and the like. In the two-part TV miniseries from 1997, Charles Dance (Game of Thrones’ Tywin Lannister) as Max was 51 while his Mrs. de Winter, Emilia Fox (from TV’s Silent Witness) was 23, so that worked. Here, Hammer is 34 (and looks it) and James is 31. My wife’s first reaction: “That’s not right.”

Still, for the most part, this adaptation remains quite faithful to the novel, at least through the first half. The narrator dreams she goes to Manderlay again, and then begins her story in Monte Carlo, where as a traveling companion to the overbearing Mrs. Van Hopper (Ann Dowd, one of the little gems in this production, as execrable as she is in TV’s The Handmaid’s Tale), she seems beaten down by life until she chances to meet the wealthy widower Maxim de Winter, who sweeps her off her feet with drives along the cliffside beauties of the French Riviera until, in defiance of her employer who wants to take her away from Maxim’s charm, she agrees to become the second Mrs. de Winter.

What this film touches on only slightly, both here and once the narrator is inserted in Maxim’s grand estate at Manderlay under the sway of the disapproving Mrs. Danvers, is the class distinction between the very common narrator and the aristocratic de Winter. Mrs. Van Hopper chides the girl, saying “Do you honestly think he is in love with you?” She’s only a “rebound girl,” Mrs. Van Horner says, and encourages her to come with her to New York, where there are plenty of boys—the implication being that they will be boys of her own class. Class is certainly one of the chief objections Danvers has to this upstart trying to take her beloved Rebecca’s place. Rebecca had all the poise and natural superiority of her class, Danvers implies with her every look, while this new wife, whom she takes for a former maidservant, is barely worthy of her contempt. What is perhaps more apparent here than in previous dramatizations is the sexuality in the obsessed Danvers’ devotion to her dead mistress. Indeed, it’s possible that that in itself provided the impetus behind this particular remake at a time when these implications will be more easily picked up by a more attuned audience.

But midway through the movie things go terribly wrong. And I’m not talking about the plot. In what is perhaps an ill-advised attempt to give the second Mrs. de Winter greater agency, screenwriters Jane Goldman (Kingsman), Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse (partners on Race and Seberg) turn her into Veronica Mars: When her husband seems implicated in Rebecca’s death, the narrator does some sleuthing of her own, but it results in no information that wasn’t about to be found anyway, so you have to wonder what that was about. Ms. du Maurier would have been scratching her head.

But as if that were not enough, at the end of the film the writers perform an even  more egregious faux pas. Don’t expect to see the iconic scene of Mrs. Danvers stubbornly dying in the fire that destroys Manderlay—the scene that every person who’s read the book or seen the Hitchcock movie is waiting for. I won’t tell you what does happen, but I will tell you that it sure as heck does not measure up. Ms. du Maurier is probably rolling over in her grave.

The film does look pretty. James has some nice-looking period pantsuits to model. And the vistas of the cliffs around Monte Carlo are impressive. Down is fun to watch, and Thomas as Danvers almost makes the film worth your time. But James and Hammer just don’t really click, and the absurd changes in the story turn it into something that really isn’t Rebecca at all. If you don’t actually know the story, you haven’t read the book or you haven’t seen the infinitely superior Hitchcock film, you might think this film is OK. You’d be wrong, but more power to you. Two Jacqueline Susanns for this one.

NOW AVAILABLE:

To the Great Deep, the sixth and final novel in my Merlin Mysteries series, is now available from the publisher, Encircle Publishing,  at http://encirclepub.com/product/to-the-great-deep/

You can also order from Amazon (a Kindle edition is available) at https://www.amazon.com/Jay-Ruud/e/B001JS9L1Q?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1594229242&sr=8-1

Here’s what the book is about:
When Sir Agravain leads a dozen knights to arrest Lancelot in the queen’s chamber, he kills them all in his own defense-all except the villainous Mordred, who pushes the king to make war on the escaped Lancelot, and to burn the queen for treason. On the morning of the queen’s execution, Lancelot leads an army of his supporters to scatter King Arthur’s knights and rescue Guinevere from the flames, leaving several of Arthur’s knights dead in their wake, including Sir Gawain’s favorite brother Gareth. Gawain, chief of what is left of the Round Table knights, insists that the king besiege Lancelot and Guinevere at the castle of Joyous Gard, goading Lancelot to come and fight him in single combat.
However, Merlin, examining the bodies on the battlefield, realizes that Gareth and three other knights were killed not by Lancelot’s mounted army but by someone on the ground who attacked them from behind during the melee. Once again it is up to Merlin and Gildas to find the real killer of Sir Gareth before Arthur’s reign is brought down completely by the warring knights, and by the machinations of Mordred, who has been left behind to rule in the king’s stead.

WarLord

War Lord

War Lord

Bernard Cornwell (2020)

Ask anyone about the greatest battles in English history and the Battle of Brunanburh is not likely to trip lightly off their tongue. And yet without this battle there would have been no “England” at all.

The battle, as first recorded in Old English heroic verse as the entry for the year 937 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, was fought by Alfred the Great’s grandson Æthelstan

(king of Wessex, Mercia, Kent and East Anglia), against the combined armies of Anlaf (or “Olaf”) Guthfrithson, the Norse king of Dublin; Constantine II, king of Scotland; and Owain, King of Strathclyde, who had invaded Northumberland. It was a climactic battle in the history of the British Isles, since it determined that Æthelstanwould be king of Northumbria, and therefore the first king of a completely united England, thus bringing to fruition the precious dream of his grandfather. This climactic battle is the fitting and inevitable conclusion to Bernard Cornwell’s epic thirteen-volume series, the international best-selling Saxon Chronicles or “Last Kingdom” series.

From the beginning of this long life story of the pagan warrior Uhtred of Bebbanburg as a youth in the court of King Alfred, destiny seems to have been moving inevitably toward this point and this battle that would see Alfred’s dream fulfilled. “Wyrd bið ful āræd,” Uhtred thinks to himself constantly: “Fate is inexorable.” Cornwell’s novel clarifies the ambitions and motivations of the chief participants in the battle in ways that even scholars familiar with the Old English poem may only fuzzily grasp: Anlaf claims to be heir to the throne of York, and aims to establish himself as the Viking king of Northumberland. Owain wants to assert his authority over Cumbria, where many of his countryman have settled. And Constantine wants to avenge himself on Æthelstanfor having invaded Scotland in 934, and also wants to set up Anlaf in a buffer kingdom between his Scotland and Æthelstan’s England. These, at least, are the plausible motives Cornwell gives the characters.

That Brunanburh was the inevitable end of Cornwell’s series was apparent to medieval scholars who are entertained by his novels for at least the past two books prior to War Lord, ever since Cornwell introduced the character of Egil Skallagrimsson as a friend and supporter of Uhtred, from whom he and his brother Thorolf hold lands. In the important Icelandic text Egil’s Saga (attributed to Iceland’s greatest writer, the 13th-century Snorri Sturluson), the great Norse warrior and skaldic poet Egil takes part on Æthelstan’s side in the Battle of Brunanburh (which Snorri calls the Battle of Vin Moor). Although the details of the battle in Egil’s Saga (written 300 years after the fact) are not considered reliable, Cornwell has borrowed some of these details (for lack of any better guide) in his description of the battlefield: Snorri has Anlaf (“Olaf”) set up hazel rods to mark the boundaries of the battlefield, through which a river runs, and Cornwell borrows this detail. (He seems not to have been familiar with, or at least to have disregarded, other parts of Egil’s Saga, since he makes Egil a good looking man desirable to women, whereas Snorri pictures him as troll-like in appearance, and makes Thorolf Egil’s younger brother, where Snorri says he is older).

Cornwell has followed the most recent scholarship in placing the controversial site of Brunanburh on the Wirral peninsula in Cheshire. But the battle itself is, like all of Cornwell’s climactic battles in this series and his others, described in thrilling and precise detail. Cornwell’s knowledge of arms, of battle tactics, or fighting strategies, and his ability to depict the feel, sounds, sights and smells of battle, his bringing to life the precise method by which a man is killed in a shield wall, are second to none in all the literature of battles.

I spend so much time on the battle and its background because, as in his other books, the battle is the most important part of the novel. But fans of Cornwell’s series will find far more than this to praise in the book. The aged Uhtred has lost a step or two, but is still proudly pagan and still a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield, putting young whippersnappers in their place—though his longtime lieutenant, the Irishman Finan, and his son and heir, the young Uhtred, do their best to keep him behind the front lines. He’s still a supreme tactician and a canny judge of character, and he still is motivated more by his love of his home Bebbanburg and his desire to protect it from Constantine, or Æthelstan, or anybody else who might want to take it from him, than he is by ambition or greed. And the political machinations around Bebbanburg and its strategic location form the bulk of the plot here, ultimately forcing Uhtred to choose sides in a coming battle in which the fate of Northumbria will be decided: Does he go with Constantine, who offers friendship and reminds Uhtred that he actually has no allies at all, or does he go with Æthelstan, whom he once promised to protect and whom he himself put on the throne, but who has broken his oath to Uhtred by invading Northumbria? “He’s risen above me. He’s King of Britain and I’m old and irrelevant. He wants a new Britain dominated by England, and I’m a small pagan stone in his royal Christian shoe,” he tells his current woman, the Italian former slave Benedetta. “So what will you do?” she asks.  Should he just hole up in Bebbanburg for the duration and say, “A plague on both your houses?”

There is in War Lord, more noticeably than in previous novels in the series, an elegiac ubisunttone reminiscent of Old English poetry itself. Where have the old days gone, the narrating Uhtred seems to ask. He thinks back often on Alfred and his ambitions. He remembers many of the men he has killed and expects to drink and dine with when he meets them in Valhalla. He remembers many of the women in his life, including Æthelflæd, Alfred’s daughter and the lady of Mercia, to whom he had made the promise to protect her nephew Æthelstan. And we are also reintroduced to memorable characters from past books, including King Hywell of Wales; the stolid Steapa, great champion of King Alfred; and Uhtred’s first son, who scorned his father’s religion and his training as a warrior and became a Christian priest, to Uhtred’s perpetual fury. Now raised to Bishop by Æthelstan, his reunion with his father is one of the unforgettable parts of this novel.

If you are a devotee of this series, or if you’ve watched any of the BBC/Netflix series The Last Kingdom (now renewed for a fifth season), this book will not disappoint. Cornwell began the series after meeting his biological father, whose last name was Oughtred and who showed him a family tree indicating that his ancestors once owned what is now called Bamburgh Castle in Northumbria, a kernel that gave him an entry into the period. His interest was picqued enough to result in a thirteen-book story that has consumed most of his writing time for the past sixteen years. With War Lord, which just came out on October 15, he’s completed that story—and now says he will return to a character Cornwell fans feared we had seen the last of—Richard Sharpe. Yes, there is a new Sharpe novel in the works. It will be welcome, but even that may not make up for the sad demise of this great series. It almost feels like Ragnarok. Four Shakespeares for this terrific finish to a great series.

NOW AVAILABLE:

To the Great Deep, the sixth and final novel in my Merlin Mysteries series, is now available from the publisher, Encircle Publishing,  at http://encirclepub.com/product/to-the-great-deep/

You can also order from Amazon (a Kindle edition is available) at https://www.amazon.com/Jay-Ruud/e/B001JS9L1Q?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1594229242&sr=8-1

Here’s what the book is about:
When Sir Agravain leads a dozen knights to arrest Lancelot in the queen’s chamber, he kills them all in his own defense-all except the villainous Mordred, who pushes the king to make war on the escaped Lancelot, and to burn the queen for treason. On the morning of the queen’s execution, Lancelot leads an army of his supporters to scatter King Arthur’s knights and rescue Guinevere from the flames, leaving several of Arthur’s knights dead in their wake, including Sir Gawain’s favorite brother Gareth. Gawain, chief of what is left of the Round Table knights, insists that the king besiege Lancelot and Guinevere at the castle of Joyous Gard, goading Lancelot to come and fight him in single combat.
However, Merlin, examining the bodies on the battlefield, realizes that Gareth and three other knights were killed not by Lancelot’s mounted army but by someone on the ground who attacked them from behind during the melee. Once again it is up to Merlin and Gildas to find the real killer of Sir Gareth before Arthur’s reign is brought down completely by the warring knights, and by the machinations of Mordred, who has been left behind to rule in the king’s stead.

the-trial-of-chicago-seven-1200

The Trial of the Chicago Seven

The Trial of the Chicago Seven

Aaron Sorkin (2020)

Three Tennysons/Half Shakespeare

Just in case 2020 hasn’t given you enough images of civil disobedience, police brutality, and governmental abuses of power, Aaron Sorkin’s new film takes us back to the good old days of half a century ago, which, in case you’ve forgotten, were filled with civil disobedience, police brutality, and governmental abuses of power. Director and Screenwriter Sorkin, best known for The West Wing, is not going to surprise you as to which side he is on in The Trial of the Chicago Seven. The trial, which initially brought eight defendants into a federal courtroom in Chicago to face charges of conspiracy to incite riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, is presented in the film largely for what it was: a politically motivated trial intended to punish the ring leaders of the anti-war protestors whom the newly elected President Nixon had called “bums,” and to demonstrate to his supporters, the “silent majority,” just what a law-and-order administration would do to those who actually exercised their first amendment rights.

Now in reality, things at the convention were not as black and white as Sorkin’s film depicts. There was certainly a good deal of taunting and name-calling of the police on the part of the protestors, and even bricks and other items thrown at them. Some of the protestors did apparently deliberately try to provoke the police. And they did break the law by trying to protest in front of the convention center, which they did not have permission to do (And they didn’t have permission because Mayor Daley wouldn’t grant them permission, since he didn’t want them visible to convention goers). And they broke curfew by not leaving the park they were occupying (though where exactly 10,000 people were supposed to go is questionable). However, the police outnumbered the protestors by several thousand, and were heavily armed, and many of them removed their badges and other identification when they waded into the protestors to crack a lot of heads, sending several hundred protestors to the hospital. When newsman Walter Cronkite called Chicago a “police state,” and when Connecticut Senator Abraham Ribicoff went off script in his nomination speech for George McGovern to say, “And with George McGovern as President of the United States, we wouldn’t have to have Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago” (a moment I’d love to have seen included in the montage that begins this film, but which sadly was not), they weren’t kidding.

The justice department under LBJ’s Attorney General Ramsey Clark looked into the riots, but determined—like pretty much everyone who saw the live TV footage of police clubbing protestors willy nilly—that the police were at least as much to blame as the antiwar demonstrators for the rioting. As Sorkin’s film makes clear, it was Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell (who was later to do prison time himself) who wanted to send a message that dissent would not be tolerated, who brought charges against the Chicago Eight. There is no evidence that Sorkin’s contention that Mitchell was doing this as a way of getting back at Clark is true. That is one of several inventions in Sorkin’s presentation of history.

After an opening montage, the film begins with Mitchell (John Doman from TV’s Gotham and The Wire) meeting with prosecutor Richard Schultz (Joseph Gordon Levitt of Snowden and Inception), who has no sympathy for the defendants but warns Mitchell that the trial will just give them a public forum. But Mitchell can’t be dissuaded and the trial goes on. It will go on before the bullying and capricious Judge Julius Hoffman (a dominating Frank Langella). We meet the defense attorney William Kunstler (Oscar-winner Mark Rylance from Bridge of Spies), who seems like a voice of reason trying to juggle the conflicting personalities of his clients while carefully presenting his case before the blatantly biased Judge Hoffman. And we meet the defendants: There is Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale (Emmy-winner Yahya Abdul-Mateen II of Watchmen), who was in Chicago to give a speech and was never anywhere near the convention or the park with the protestors, and who has never met any of the other co-defendants whom he is alleged to have “conspired” with.

There is Abbie Hoffman (a surprisingly effective Sacha Baron Cohen of Borat fame) of the Youth International Party (Yippies) whose antics threaten to turn the court room into a circus, and his Yippie co-founder Jerry Rubin (Emmy-winner Jeremy Strong of Succession), presented here somewhat unfairly as Hoffman’s less amusing sidekick. From the Students for a Democratic Society there is Tom Hayden (Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne of The Theory of Everything), author of the SDS founding document, the Port Huron Statement, who is presented in the film as one who wants to work within the system rather than bring it down, and who wants to take the trial seriously as a criminal trial rather than a political showcase. The SDS is also represented by Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp of The Hustle), who, again somewhat unfairly, has the role here of playing second fiddle to Hayden, though he seems most determined of all to remember the focus on ending the war, and keeps a journal recording the names of all American soldiers who die during the course of the trial. He also has a big scene when his own skull is bashed in by police.

David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch of Fargo), at 54 by far the oldest of the defendants, was chairman of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (Mobe for short) and a committed pacifist since the Second World War. He maintains a pacifist calm during the trial, though Sorkin has him striking a guard who is trying to force him to sit down when he rises to object to one of Judge Hoffman’s irrational rulings (this incident never really happened). The other two defendants—Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins from TV’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) and John Froines (Danny Flaherty from TV’s The Americans) seem to have been involved only in Mobe’s peaceful demonstrations, and seem to be included in the indictments only, as Hoffman tells them (Abbie, not the Judge) to give the jury someone to acquit so they won’t feel bad about convicting the others. They conclude that the trial is the Academy Awards of Protests, and it is an honor just to be nominated.

Sorkin’s script relies on actual trial transcripts for the scenes in the courtroom, so what occurs there is mainly accurate, most notably Judge Hoffman’s order to have Seale gagged and bound to his chair to prevent him from addressing the court—the judge had refused to delay his trial when his lawyer was hospitalized for gall-bladder surgery, and had refused Seale’s request to represent himself and quashed any attempts he made to cross-examine witnesses who testified against him. The only difference is that in real life, Seale was restrained in this way for days, not simply the one day Sorkin portrays it. Ultimately, Seale is separated from the trial (and was never brought to trial for this charge). Sorkin has prosecuting attorney Schultz recognize the inappropriate treatment by the judge and ask for a mistrial for Seale, but that is not how it actually came about. Other incidents in the courtroom are more or less accurate, except for the crowd-pleasing ending scene, which will make you feel good like a rousing speech from President Josiah Bartlet, but unfortunately it did not actually happen that way.

Sorkin takes more liberties in scenes outside the courtroom, especially in scenes between Hoffman and Hayden, the two rock stars of the trial, who he is at pains to put into conflict. Thus he exaggerates the differences between the two, having Hayden accuse Hoffman of not actually wanting to see the war end, because it would take away his celebrity, while Hoffman declares that if a movement has no money, it needs to draw attention to its cause through publicity stunts. Another of Sorkin’s inventions is Richard Schultz’s uncertainly sympathetic attitude toward the defendants. In reality, Schultz was a vicious attack dog for the government, and had no difficulty going along with all of Judge Hoffman’s peccadillos. As for defense counsel William Kunstler, far from being a voice of calm and reason during the trial, he seems to have done as much as his defendants to make the trial a political demonstration.

In the end, the film is a collection of stirring performances, particularly by Abdul-Mateen as the abused Seale, Langella as the abusive judge, and Cohen as the fiery Hoffman. It’s an embarrassment of acting riches and a feast for Oscar-hungry chops even before the appearance of Michael Keaton as surprise witness Ramsey Clark—who, as portrayed in the film, Judge Hoffman refused to allow to testify before the jury, but who did not in fact give the precise evidence that Sorkin has him give.

As a film, it must be admitted that the overall coherence of the narrative in The Trial of the Chicago Seven is not as strong as might be wished. Sorkin does try to tie it up with the internal Hoffman-Hayden rivalry and his appropriate but imagined ending, but too many things don’t fit very well. The entire Bobby Seale plot, though impossible to ignore, is at least structurally a distraction from Sorkin’s main plot—and perhaps deserves a movie of its own. And the historical inaccuracies are lamentable. But this is too important a movie to ignore. Three Tennysons and half a Shakespeare for this one.

NOW AVAILABLE:

To the Great Deep, the sixth and final novel in my Merlin Mysteries series, is now available from the publisher, Encircle Publishing,  at http://encirclepub.com/product/to-the-great-deep/

You can also order from Amazon (a Kindle edition is available) at https://www.amazon.com/Jay-Ruud/e/B001JS9L1Q?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1594229242&sr=8-1

Here’s what the book is about:
When Sir Agravain leads a dozen knights to arrest Lancelot in the queen’s chamber, he kills them all in his own defense-all except the villainous Mordred, who pushes the king to make war on the escaped Lancelot, and to burn the queen for treason. On the morning of the queen’s execution, Lancelot leads an army of his supporters to scatter King Arthur’s knights and rescue Guinevere from the flames, leaving several of Arthur’s knights dead in their wake, including Sir Gawain’s favorite brother Gareth. Gawain, chief of what is left of the Round Table knights, insists that the king besiege Lancelot and Guinevere at the castle of Joyous Gard, goading Lancelot to come and fight him in single combat.
However, Merlin, examining the bodies on the battlefield, realizes that Gareth and three other knights were killed not by Lancelot’s mounted army but by someone on the ground who attacked them from behind during the melee. Once again it is up to Merlin and Gildas to find the real killer of Sir Gareth before Arthur’s reign is brought down completely by the warring knights, and by the machinations of Mordred, who has been left behind to rule in the king’s stead.

Ruud Reviews Movie Rating Scale

4 Shakespeares

This is a great film.
You need to see it, or incur my wrath.

 

Tennysons

This movie is worth seeing.
I’d go if I were you. But then, I go to a lot of movies.

 

2 Jacqueline Susanns

If you like this kind of movie, you’ll probably be entertained by this one.
I wasn’t all that much.

 

1 Robert Southey

Skip it.
This one really isn’t worth your money. If you’re compelled to see it anyway, at least be smart enough to wait until you can see it for less money on Netflix or HBO. If you go see it in the theater, I may never speak to you again.