The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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Posts from — August 2010


The song played itself
In a melancholy way
Till the spring wound down

August 30, 2010   Comments Off on 278

Secret Lives (2)

It’s never a good thing to have your worst enemy write the preface to your novel, but that is precisely what happened when Gore Vidal penned the introduction to the Modern Library’s edition of Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage. It’s funny in a way. The two men never got along—perhaps because each understood the other all too well—and it seems a strange kind of irony that Vidal was allowed to introduce Maugham’s famous novel. Because it’s Vidal, the comments are biting and nasty.

Consider this statement about Maugham’s prose: “…the plain style can help the dishonest, pusillanimous writer get himself off every of ideological or ethical hook. Just the facts, ma’am. In this regard, Hemingway, a literary shadow self to Maugham, was our time’s most artful dodger, all busy advancing verbs and stony nouns. Surfaces coldly rendered. Interiors unexplored. Manner all.” Or, consider this quote from Edmund Wilson, which Vidal throws in for good measure, in case anyone had any doubts about what he thinks of Maugham: “The language is such a tissue of clichés that one’s wonder is finally aroused at the writer’s ability to assemble so many and his unfailing inability to put anything in an individual way.” Truly disparaging stuff.

Of course, this accurately sums up Somerset Maugham’s writing style, but in a rather unflattering way. His prose is unadorned and plain to the point of being flat and ugly. No one is arguing this. Still, I think both Vidal and Wilson secretly admired Maugham because he managed to achieve something neither of them could—he was wildly successful as a writer and, consequently, lived exactly as he pleased.

Naturally, I don’t agree with either Vidal or Wilson. Just because Maugham had limited resources as a writer does not mean he wasn’t good. Quite the contrary. Despite his weaknesses in style and plotting and abundantly self-conscious workmanlike effort, Maugham was brilliant. His portraits of women, in particular, are inspired and complete—better than anything Henry James achieved—and his instinctive knowledge of the limitless capacity of human beings to cause harm (I’m thinking of Vidal and Wilson here) was something he knew his readers must never forgot.

August 29, 2010   Comments Off on Secret Lives (2)

Ode to a Nightingale

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call’d him soft names in many a musèd rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain…

This, of course, is an excerpt from John Keats’ famous poem, which I studied in college, and never quite appreciated until now. What a lovely dream…to die without pain at a time of one’s choosing. Unfortunately, this is not how it is in real life. Most of us die in extremis, having lived beyond any facsimile of functionality, heads leaning forward, mouths agape, slumped over in our wheelchairs.

August 29, 2010   Comments Off on Ode to a Nightingale


The bluebird boxes
Stand agape, their contents strewn
On late summer grass

August 27, 2010   Comments Off on 277

So Decide Already

Very amusing article in the Los Angeles Times today about Bob Bradley, the U.S. coach. The theme is “Will he go or will he stay?” The author of the piece, Grahame L. Jones, is very droll. He must be British. Mr. Jones criticizes U.S. Soccer for their misdirection, lack of direction, NSA-like secrecy, arrogance, and incompetence at handling the matter of rehiring Bradley (or not). It’s a fun read and even more fun to read this stuff in an American newspaper. It could as easily have come from The Guardian or the Telegraph. Maybe, soccer really is worming its way into the American consciousness after all.

August 27, 2010   Comments Off on So Decide Already


Keep it moist and clean
Until the fifth day, when it
Will be what it is.

August 26, 2010   Comments Off on 276


Impossibly gaunt
The old woman cuts me off
Fanning her red nails.

August 25, 2010   Comments Off on 275


I’ve always had a weakness for spy thrillers. Three Days of the Condor was and is one of my favorite films and The Third Man I consider one of best films ever produced. It is a difficult genre. Most spy films and novels, except for John le Carré’s, degenerate into farce rather quickly. I suppose this is why there are so many spoofs of spy movies.

AMC’s new series, Rubicon, attempts to bring the genre into the present day and does so with a fair amount of panache. It is about an intelligence analyst who stumbles upon a deadly secret that would be better left unpursued, but curiosity drives him forward. In the compartmentalized world in which he works, where everyone spies on everyone else, it is like playing cat-and-mouse with his own death.

It is an apt metaphor for our times. We live on an overcrowded, overheated planet with dwindling resources, increasingly incapable of supporting life. Fully cognizant of this fact and determined to be the last people on earth to succumb, our government has become paranoid, dysfunctional, and a purveyor of intelligence of a granularity so fine that we can strike at anyone anywhere in the world with relative precision. For example, imagine being in Julian Assange’s shoes. He eats raw fear for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and still pursues his dangerous game with a government infinitely more powerful than he.

Although many of us do not know it (though we dimly feel it), we are all in Assange’s shoes. It is this fact that makes Rubicon so interesting.

August 23, 2010   Comments Off on Rubicon

What was he thinking?

Footballers now decorate their arms from wrist to shoulder with tattoos. Some are better than others. In the match yesterday between Fulham and United, I noticed that Clint Dempsey now sports a tattoo of the state of Texas on his left arm (click the image and see for yourself). It reminded me of the bumper stickers I used to see as a kid glorifying the Lone Star State. You know, “Everything’s bigger in Texas,” and “Don’t mess with Texas.”

Though not surprised, I was disappointed.

August 23, 2010   Comments Off on What was he thinking?


With wings aflutter,
The flies copulate, heedless
Of the matron’s heel.

August 22, 2010   Comments Off on 274