A Fraction of the Whole

Brilliant and hilarious, snippets of philosophy carrying you floating across the story.
It got off to a bit of a rocky start, with a wee bit confusing beginning. But this sets the tone for the rest of the work, madcap crazy philosophy adventures of Martin Dean, Jasper Dean (Martin’s son), and Terry Dean (Martin’s brother). Set in Australia with tiny pieces in Paris or Thailand, Martin’s story of growing up in a small bush town, being in a coma from age 4 to age 8, waking out of coma to meet his 4 year old brother Terry, seeing Terry excel in sports (which goes tragically wrong once Terry gets a knife in his leg defending Martin from bullies) then turn to a life of crime, seeing Terry begin to get bored with his two-bit hoodlums so Martin devises a plan to get a mentor for him at the local prison which was built by Martin’s father. Enter Harry, the prophetic prisoner who has done everything except rape or white collar crime. Harry bends Terry’s ear about how to go about the criminal lifestyle, do it democratically with no set leader for them to go after. Harry then summons Martin for further philosophizing. Martin creates the suggestion box for the town, placing in suggestions like creating an observatory on the hill, which they do.
Terry becomes a killer, murdering sportsmen who cheat. Eventually, he’s caught, imprisoned in his home town prison. Martin’s mom begins to poison him with rat poison fearing that he will leave her. The day Martin struggles away, a bush fire overtakes the town, burning the jail and his house, killing his entire family. He escapes to Paris, meets Astrid, fathers Jasper, meets Eddie the Thai protector who always secures jobs or money for him. Astrid blows herself up on a boat involved in gang warfare. Jasper and Martin head back to Australia. That’s only the first half.
I felt that it got a bit much in the last 100 pages (this is a 530 pager), things might have been wrapped up earlier. Not sure Terry needed to be reincarnated as Tim Lung, the secretive Thai businessman who had been funding Martin’s activities for awhile. Martin battles cancer, dies on the boat trying to sneak back into Australia. Jasper heaves his body into the sea, and begins his narrative from the immigrant prison he is thrust into upon arrival.
Martin, on seeing the universe during his coma:

I saw all the dawns come up too early and all the middays reminding you you’d better get a hurry on and all the dusks whisper “I don’t think you’re going to make it” and all the shrugging midnights say “Better luck tomorrow.” I saw all the hands that ever waved to a stranger thinking it was a friend. I saw all the eyes that ever winked to let someone know their insult was only a joke. I saw all the men wipe down toilet seats before urinating but never after. I saw all the lonely men stare at department store mannequins and think “I’m attracted to a mannequin. This is getting sad.” I saw all the love triangles and a few love rectangles and one crazy love hexagon in the back room of a sweaty Parisian cafe. I saw all the condoms put on the wrong way. I saw all the ambulance drivers on their off hours caught in traffic wishing there was a dying man in the backseat. I saw all the charity-givers wink at heaven. I saw all the Buddhists bitten by spiders they wouldn’t kill. I saw all the flies bang uselessly into the screen doors and all the fleas laughing as they rode in on pets. I saw all the broken dishes in all the Greek restaurants and all the Greeks thinking “Culture’s one thing, but this is getting expensive.” I saw all the lonely people scared by their own cats. I saw all the prams, and anyone who says all babies are cute didn’t see the babies I saw. I saw all the funerals and all the acquaintances of the dead enjoying their afternoon off work. I saw all the astrology columns predicting that one twelfth of the population of earth will be visited by a relative who wants to borrow money. I saw all the forgeries of great paintings but no forgeries of great books. I saw all the signs forbidding entrance and exit but none forbidding arson or murder. I saw all the carpets with cigarette burns and all the kneecaps with carpet burns. I saw all the worms dissected by curious children and eminent scientists. I saw all the polar bears and the grizzly bears and the koala bears used to describe fat people you just want to cuddle. I saw all the ugly men hitting on all the happy women who made the mistake of smiling at them. I saw inside all the mouths and it’s really disgusting in there. I saw all the bird’s eye views of all the birds who think humanity looks pretty active for a bunch of toilet heads…

At the observatory, observing the townsfolk, Martin sees:

People began with some marvelous understatements of the universe, such as “Pretty big, isn’t it?” But I think they were purposefully laconic. they were filled with awe and wonder, and like a dreamer who has woken but lies unmoving in bed tring to return to the dream, they didn’t want inadvertently to shake themselves awake. But then, slowly, they began to talk, and it wasn’t about the stars or their place in the universe. I listened with astonishment as they said things like
“I should spend more time with my son.”
“When I was young, I used to look up at the stars too.”
“I don’t feel loved. I feel liked.”
“I wonder why I don’t go to church anymore.”
“My children turned out differently than I expected. Taller, maybe.”
“I’d like to take a holiday with Carol, like we did when we were first married.”
“I don’t want to be alone anymore. My clothes smell.”
“I want to accomplish something.”
“I’ve gotten so lazy. I haven’t learned anything since I was at school.”
“I’m going to plant a lemon tree, not for me but for my children’s children. Lemons are the future.”

On Martin’s first date with Astrid, in Paris:

She asked me how tall I was. I shrugged this off w/ a sneer – every now & again someone asks me this asinine question & is flabbergasted that I don’t know. Why should I know? What for? Knowledge of your own height serves no useful purpose in our society other than to be able to answer that question.

Martin’s antisociability:

It’s a shame you can’t go out and see people for just ten minutes. that’s all the human contact I need to carry me through life for three days– then I need ten minutes more. But you can’t invite someone over for ten minutes. They stay and stay and never leave, and I always have to say something jarring like “You go now.” For many years I tried the favorite, “I won’t keep you any longer,” or “I don’t want to take up any more of your time,” but that never worked. There are far too many people who don’t have anything to do and have nowhere to go and who would like nothing better than to squander their whole lives chatting.”

My Life in France

Lovely trip through Julia’s years in France; first posted in Paris for Paul’s diplomatic duties post-WWII, then to Marsailles, then briefly Germany before calling it quits in Oslo. While in Paris, Julia takes cooking classes at the Cordon Bleu, then sinks deeper into the culinary world than she ever would have imagined, creating a school of her own (the School of the Gourmettes, then the School of the Three Great Eaters), then collaborating on a cookbook with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle (although from her own descriptions it sounds as if she was the only one doing the heavy lifting). Eventually the glorious Mastering the Art of French Cooking was published in 1961. As part of the publicity tour for the book, Julia did cooking demonstrations on TV shows across the country, and the audience clamored for more.
A very tender look into a remarkable woman’s life. Her estranged father with this über-Republican pro-McCarthy ideas grated against her and Paul’s nerves, almost a relief when he passed. Julia jumped head first into any new situation, learning along the way, picking up languages, meeting people.

Going In Circles

Oh, Pamie. Heartbreak and roller derby packed into a tight mass media sized 300 pages. Charlotte/Char/Broke Broke/Hard Broken leaves husband Matthew after he comes back from leaving her, 6 months into their marriage, after he smashes some of her miniatures and derides her “little hobby” which was getting her art gallery attention at the time. Charlotte starts hanging with Francesca/Blowin’ Past’er/Pastor who heals her from within, takes her to roller derby and converts her withering depression into kicking other girls on their keisters night after night.
A quick read, consumed in a few hours. Not as rollickingly funny as Why Girls Are Weird.

Cloud Atlas

A “sextet for overlapping soloists” as Robert Frobisher describes his own composition, Cloud Atlas Sextet. Six stories, breaking into each other, crescendoing into the nonsense of Sloosa’s Crossing, then returning to each story to finish it out. Delightful writing, standing O from this reader.
The stories:
* Adam Ewing’s seafaring diary of 1849; a notary from San Francisco, slowly poisoned by his friend the doctor in order to take over his treasure. Saved by the savage whom Ewing had saved when castaway aboard the ship.
* Letters from Zedelghem were composed by Robert Frobisher (the musical composer as well), to his friend Sixsmith. RF attaches himself to the aged composer Ayrs, leeching off his hospitality in exchange for musical secretary work. RF liberates a few volumes of Ayrs’ library for spending money, has an affair with his wife, then falls deeply and humiliatingly in love with Eva, the daughter. RF finds Adam Ewing’s journal in the chateau.
* Sixsmith is a character in the Luisa Rey Mystery, an elderly gent who gets trapped in an elevator with Rey. She investigates a local corporation for covering up its secret plan to create uranium. Definitely the fasted paced story of them all.
* The manuscript of Luisa Rey Mystery is mailed to Timothy Cavendish, the hero of the next story, who is tricked into an old folks home by his brother when thugs are after him for the royalties of their jailed brother’s novel (after he hurls his critic out the window to his death, sales skyrocket). Cavendish escapes, and his story is apparently made into a movie
* The Cavendish movie is a last request of Sonmi, the heroine of the Orison of Sonmi 451, a robot turned human.
* Sonmi is then the connection to Sloosha’s crossing, the future of the future, where redneck tribes scrape out an existence on the remaining habitable parts of the world.
Timothy Cavendish yearns for a cloud atlas:

Three or four times only in my youth did I glimpse the Joyous Isles, before they were lost to fogs, depressions, cold fronts, ill winds and contrary tides… I mistook them for adulthood. Assuming they were a fixed feature in my life’s voyage, I neglected to record their latitude, their longitude, their approach. Young ruddy fool. What wouldn’t I give now for a never-changing map of the ever-constant ineffable? To possess, as it were, an atlas of clouds.

In the Luisa Rey mystery, the joke, “Can you loan this guy $70?” from the wife of a pimp when she spots the enormous schlong on her john.
Sonmi’s first glimpse of the ocean, “… the brite spring sky’s sediment had sunk to a dark band of blue. Ah, it mesmerized me… like the snow had done. All the woe of the words “I am” seemed dissolved there, painlessly, peacefully. Hae-Joo announced, ‘The ocean.’ ”
The only part I liked in Sloosa’s Crossing was the narrator saying his voice was like a duck fart in a hurricane. Too much gangly dialect, rednecks of the future.
Robert Frobisher, the composer of Letters from Zedelghem:

Gardener made a bonfire of fallen leaves – jast came in from it. The heat on one’s face and hand, the sad smoke, the crackling and wheezing fire. Reminds me of the groundsman’s hut at Gresham. Anyway, got a gorgeous passage from the fire – percussion for crackling, alto bassoon for the wood, and a restless flute for the flames. Finished transcribing it this very minute. Air in the chateau clammy like laundry that won’t dry. Door-banging drafts down the passageways. Autumn is leaving its mellowness behind for its spiky, rotted stage. Don’t remember summer even saying good-bye.

The Kid Table

Books that make me laugh are hard to come by, but Seigel works her magic yet again with her latest tale of teenage love gone awry. The story follows a group of only-child cousins in their final year at the Kid Table, with Ingrid Belle (devastatingly charming, borderline psychopath to her family), Cricket (afraid of food, eating disordered but witty with quick verbal comebacks), Brianne (the oldest, college-aged who works her psychology course knowledge on the family and who brings boyfriend Trevor into the mix), Dom (desperately gay and waiting for his family to out him), Micah (Mr. Average who overcompensates for it by trying to be Mr. Wacky), and Katie (the precocious 4 year old who hurls flowers out of the basket come weddingtime, and who babbles insanely when she finds a sympathetic ear in Ingrid). Shadowing these young misfits are their parents and their adult mistakes.
I loved the writing, but there were parts that seemed over the top and made-for-Hollywood (shocker, the film rights have already been sold); e.g. the whole marriage interruptus as the end, turned gay outing, turned re-marriage. But those slight misfires were redeemed by hilarity like the droll “grown man in diaper” observation at New Years Party. Not so sure how I feel about the fact that Ingrid’s parents met on the TV show, “Love Connection” – seemed a bit of a stretch. Overall a quick and delicious read.
As proof of my epic narcissism, I also enjoyed this book since I was a minor character, the lifeguard with a scar on her foot. ” ‘What kind of name is Zander?’ ‘A last name,’ she said in a flat way.” Which is something I would absolutely say, in the exact same tone. My character gets hit on by sleazy Uncle Tobias, and I’m his date to Brianne’s wedding! Yay for vanity! Can it get any cooler than to be a character in one of your favorite living authors’ books?

The Magic Mountain (Der Zauberberg)

Mann’s writing was interrupted by WWI, making this a much more complex book than he intended to write. Published in 1929, he started writing it in 1912. Heralded as one of the most influential works of 20th century German literature.
Quick plot summary: Hans Castorp goes for a three week visit to his cousin Joachim Ziemssen at a Swiss sanatarium, and ends up staying seven years. Along the way he encounters the Italian humanist Settembrini, who acts as intellectual mentor to Castorp. Through Settembrini he meets Naphta, a Jew converted to Catholicism and Jesuit. Naphta and Settembrini get into furious intellectual quarrels, ending the book with a duel, S refuses to kill N, so N shoots himself in the head. Castorp falls in love with Clavdia Chauchat, the Russian lady of mystery who leaves the sanatarium only to return several months later with Peeperkorn, a boisterous and wealthy Dutchman. Castorp has one eventful night during Marti Gras where all rules are lifted and thus speaks frankly to Clavdia. He borrows a pencil from her, as he borrowed one from the Kirghiz-eyed classmate of long ago, Pribislav Hippe.
Castorp’s stay is prolonged first by catching a cold, and then when he is examined, they find “spots” on his lung, thus he becomes a full time resident, buying the fur lined blanket with which to wrap himself as he takes in the rest cure on his balcony in the fresh mountain air. Life at the sanatarium is decadent- five huge meals a day, followed by resting on comfortable chaise lounges on their balconies, with brief walks in the valley. Time becomes meaningless, seasons not guideposts since May contains more snow than October. Ziemssen heads down to the flatlands, rejoins his regiment happily. A few months later, he is back, in worse shape than ever. In the interim, Castorp received a visit from his uncle Tienappel, who wanted to know why Ziemssen had left but Castorp had not. The uncle was freaked out by the antipathy surrounding him in the high alpine air (“we’re never cold”), and flees for the flatland after getting an answer to his question about what happens when bodies decay. “First of all, your guts burst… you stink yourself out.”
Ziemssen then dies at the sanatarium, leaving Castorp alone. Years pass. The institution receives a gramophone which Castorp takes responsibility for. There are seances which summon dead spirits (when asked how long the spirit had been there, “hastening while”). Castorp takes up skiing.
Recurring ideas: Castorp’s notion of “playing king” as he daydreams in the green meadow, the constant referring to bareheaded men or men without hats– what is the significance? — this is a purely alpine tradition, as the lowlands men all wore hats. The concept of time – Mann mentions the trimming of nails bringing a heightened sense of time passing, something I myself have also noticed.

What people call boredom is actually an abnormal compression of time caused by monotony– uninterrupted uniformity can shrink large spaces of time until the heart falters, terrified to death. When one day is like every other, then all days are like one, and perfect homogeneity would make the longest life seem very short, as if it had flown by in a twinkling.

…she exuded bleakness of spirit the way a cellar exudes damp.