The Unfinished Novel and Other Short Stories by Valerie Martin – A Book Review

Without trepidation or hesitation, I declare this a very good short story collection and wholeheartedly recommend it to devoted lovers of art and literature.

In The Unfinished Novel, Valerie Martin not only displays expert craftsmanship, but she also concocts truly identifiable, interesting characters with extremely engaging plots.

It’s rather common knowledge that hardcore bookworms have flirted either with the idea of writing something themselves or with some other artistic endeavor.  This makes The Unfinished Novel the perfect collection for such insatiable readers.  Each story focuses upon an artist of some sort – whether it be a painter, an actor, a novelist, or a poet – and each artist struggles not only with life and its challenges, but also with their craft.

Martin composes eloquent, vibrant sentences with powerful diction, and she also comprehends what it means to be a creator, thus presenting authentic, flawed characters for whom we have no trouble imagining and owning.

My only complaint with The Unfinished Novel is that Martin tends to end her stories on an abrupt, often haphazard note.  She lays such solid foundation that I found myself surprised when her endings came out of nowhere and, in some cases, seemed to exist independently from the preceding plot.  In most cases, this was a forgivable offense, but with the story entitled “The Bower,” it really ruined an otherwise exceptional tale.

That being said, the installment titled “The Unfinished Novel” is one of the best short stories I’ve ever read, and I assure you, that’s not hyperbole.  Making up most of the book’s content, this short in particular is worth the purchase price alone.

Like I already said, if you love art and literature, appreciate fine writing and astounding vocabulary, and can’t get enough of realistic, captivating characters, then The Unfinished Novel and Other Stories is a must-read.

The Rocker – A Movie Review

Within the first ten minutes, the creators of The Rocker make it readily apparent after Rainn Wilson punctures the top of a van with his drumsticks that you better relax and take this movie for what it is – a nonsensical farce attacking rock band cliché after cliché and offering a few catchy songs in the process.

Rainn Wilson, he of Dwight Schrute fame, plays Robert Fishman, the drummer of a band about to break it big in the early … Eighties?  As you can imagine, they have to dump him in order to get the huge record deal, and so they do.  Cut to Fishman twenty-some years later, still raging about the slight and going nowhere.  As fate would have it, he must move back in with his sister, and she has a socially awkward son who just happens to need a – wait for it – drummer for his band’s gig at the school dance.

Through a series of misadventures, including a YouTube video featuring Wilson’s naked butt, he and his teenage band mates have to hit the road in order to promote an unlikely hit song.

Wilson takes this as his chance to finally live the life of a rocker, but (of course) eventually learns a few life lessons with the help of Christina Applegate – the lead singer’s improbable mom – and has a chance to outdo his original band, the one that dropped him all those years ago.

This is not meant to be anything but a circus, but there actually were a few good laughs amongst all the pratfalls and the young actors playing the band members did a nice enough job of keeping up with Wilson.  There were also cameos galore from all the usual suspects.

Here’s the problem with actors playing eccentric characters on hit shows releasing movies – you can never quite differentiate between their television character and the character they play in the movie.  Oh, sure, once actors move on and years go by, you forget they were ever even on a TV show such as with Tom Hanks, George Clooney, and Clint Eastwood.  However, you also have those such as Michael Richards who will forever be Kramer no matter what he does.  Steve Carell also seems to suffer from this ailment.  No matter what movie I see him in, he’s the same guy to me.  Anyway, Rainn Wilson does an adequate job of taking a role that allows him to play to his strengths, but the character is also quirky enough that you don’t see a carbon copy of Dwight Schrute.  Perhaps a character who could be a distant relative of Dwight Schrute, but not Dwight himself.

So would I recommend The Rocker?  If you’ve got nothing else to watch or have a burning desire to see more of Wilson’s naked body than anyone should, you could watch worse movies.  And despite myself, some of the songs the fictional band performed were actually catchy.

The Easter Parade by Richard Yates – A Book Review

In The Easter Parade, Richard Yates delivers a well-crafted and well-written novel with the bluntness and mercy of a rusty scalpel.

Yates allows us to follow the life of Emily Grimes all the way from childhood into her fifties.  Her mother is a reckless, distracted woman who divorced Emily’s father when Emily was just a child.  Her older sister, Sarah, has a promising beginning but soon enters a marriage that is unsatisfying.

Believing herself to have escaped the dull lives of her sister and mother, Emily becomes a working woman throughout the Forties, Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies.  She falls into one affair after another, moving on when the relationship becomes stale, and sometimes even endures one-night stands.

As she watches her mother and sister waste away, she believes she has made the right decision in what she’s done with her life.  The only problem is, she’s largely unhappy throughout most of it.

And this is what’s most troubling about Yates’ book – no one seems content with their lives.  I can only believe Yates’ is either making a social statement or an observation about the American people, especially the “working class.”

While The Easter Parade is a brief read, Yates composes elegant, yet frank, sentences that are smooth and enjoyable to read.  This is quite a contrast when compared to the dark, moody content of those words.

The Easter Parade troubled me for another reason, however.  Yates focuses primarily upon Emily Grimes – supposedly an independent woman.  However, Grimes seems to be at the mercy of her male lovers throughout the entire novel, even defining herself by them in some cases.  And while I don’t want to spoil the ending of the novel, Yates eventually places Emily in a position that in no way utilizes the independence she prided herself upon throughout the work.

Ultimately, this means one of two things – Yates wanted to use a character that confused sovereignty with aloofness in order to illustrate the danger of missing out on life for fear of being strangled by it, or he ultimately doesn’t believe women can truly operate at an autonomous level.

Whatever the case, this bleak, expertly written novel is both depressing and thought provoking.

Y: The Last Man: Whys and Wherefores by Brian K. Vaughan – A Graphic Novel Review

This final installment to the Y: The Last Man series left me both unsatisfied and disappointed.

Y: The Last Man started out as a fantastic series.  It was a high concept with excellent characterization and an epic, fascinating plot.

But, as the series wore on, it lost steam.  I assumed this was the lull before the storm; that Vaughan slowed things down a bit so he could hit us hard for the ultimate chapter.

He didn’t.

Whys and Wherefores should have been monumental.  Instead, it felt to this fan as though Vaughan simply went through the motions of getting all the plots tidied up and packed away.  When Beth and Yorick reunited, a moment for which we’d literally waited years, it lacked any real emotional intensity.  Agent 355’s final fate cheated both the character and her characterization.  Alter’s motivation turned out to be a cliché.  The only truly authentic scene involved Yorick and Ampersand, his pet monkey, both of whom are male.

Which leads me to an important distinction.  Y: The Last Man, while initially very good, also originally focused mostly upon Yorick.  As Vaughan spread out his cast of characters, most of whom are obviously women, the title lost some of its magic.  I applaud Vaughan for undertaking such a mammoth challenge: any man attempting to write an entire series about how women would remake the earth without men is either supremely confident or a little crazy.  But sadly, as the series wore on, his women felt less and less genuine and more like a male’s excuse for including lesbianism and girl-on-girl violence.  In other words, they seemed to become objectified, which is the antithesis of how the series started.  For the record, I would be supremely interested to hear a woman’s take on this series.

All in all, Y: The Last Man ended with a whimper.  Its characters were swindled out of what should have been a majestic goodbye, and its readers were left without much to celebrate or commiserate.  It simply read like an ending rather than a finale.

Baby Emma By Aunt Dixie

Several weeks ago we received a mysterious package in the mail.  I saw it came from my Aunt Dixie, a very talented artist who deserves far more recognition than she’s getting.  I opened it, and my heart just melted.  Aunt Dixie had drawn a portrait of our daughter based upon the Christmas cards we sent out!

Here is a picture of Emma sitting next to her picture:

portrait-by-dixie-month-6

Dixie Petticrew is an amazing artist and I hope you’ll check out her website at:

http://horsey90.tripod.com/id10.html

If you’d like to get in touch with her to commission a work or buy her preexisting art, just drop me a line at scottwilliamfoley@gmail.com.

The Book of The Unknown Tales Of the Thirty-Six by Jonathon Keats – A Book Review

This book originally drew me in because it is a collection of short stories following a particular theme.  These stories are based upon Jewish folklore, and while I don’t know the first thing about Jewish folklore, customs, or religion, my ignorance in no way hampered my ability to enjoy this book.

Jonathan Keats, the real writer, uses a fabricated author named Jay Katz to lend the twelve stories in this collection authenticity.  I won’t spoil any plot points, but I thought Keats used a creative way to set up the short stories in an important, and entertaining, context.  He even leaves open the possibility of a revisit since there are thirty-six stories in all that need to be told.

The stories themselves are largely addictive.  With more hits than misses, Keats delivers tales of saints so saintly they don’t even realize they’re saints, thus retaining the capacity to sin advantageously for their fellow man.  Most of them are inviting, lively tales that subtly offer a lesson in morality and have no shortage of good humor.  However, a few of them fell a little flat for me; but, even with that being said, I’d recommend this book due to a majority of well-written, absorbing tales.

The LOST X-Man: A Brief Comparative Study of Wolverine and Sawyer

As a connoisseur of all things unimportant, I recently contemplated the similarities between The X-Men’s Wolverine and LOST’s Sawyer.  Here’s what I came up with:

  • Both men were born with the name James.
  • Both men have a predilection for beer.
  • Both men took the name of his father’s killer as an alias.
  • Both men think nothing of murder.
  • Both men have anger-control issues.
  • Both men tend to lust after his leader’s love interest.
  • Both men enjoy assigning unflattering nicknames.
  • Both men display amoral behavior.
  • Both men will assume leadership when the chips are down.
  • Both men killed his father’s killer.

Did I forget anything?  Feel free to add your two-cents.

“Cupid’s Conundrum” – My February News and Views Short Story

Cupid’s got a bit of a problem.  He now appears old and decrepit, and he’s lost his will to pair up lovers.  In fact, on St. Valentine’s Day, he’s content to merely mope on a park bench, sulking.  What has brought Cupid to this lowly state, and is there any way Bernie and Patti can reenergize him?  Find out by reading “Cupid’s Conundrum” in this month’s issue of News and Views for the Young at Heart.

“Cupid’s Conundrum” can be found in both the Peoria and Bloomington editions of the free periodical, News and Views for the Young at Heart.

News & Views for the Young at Heart is at virtually any Bloomington-Normal medical facility.  You can also pick it up at the following locations:

-Sud’s Subaru
-Busey Bank on Fort Jesse
-Kroger on the corner of Landmark and Visa
-Commerce Bank on the corner of Towanda and College
-Tuffy Muffler on Vernon
-Kmart behind Kep’s Restaurant on IAA Drive
-Eastland Mall at the main door between JC Penny and Macy’s
-Kroger on Oakland Avenue
-Schnucks
-Jewel-Osco on Veterans Parkway
-Borders
-Kroger on Main Street
-Bloomington Public Library
-Drop Off Laundry on Main Street, across from Kroger

Or, if you live in the Peoria area, get your copy at:

-CVS Pharmacies
-Borders at the Shoppes at Grand Prairie
-Save-a-Lot grocery store in Peoria Heights
-Hospital lobbies
-Barnato Pharmacy at Cub Foods in Peoria
-Kmart in Morton
-Methodist Atrium Building in Peoria
-Peoria Heights Library

The Peoria edition is also in most doctors’ offices and pharmacies in Pekin, Morton, Chillicothe, Lacon, Farmington, Canton, East Peoria, and Eureka.

If you have any comments about “Cupid’s Conundrum,” don’t hesitate to get in touch with me at scottwilliamfoley@gmail.com.

Appaloosa – A Movie Review

This western directed by Ed Harris stars both he and Viggo Mortensen.  It also costars Renee Zellweger and Jeremy Irons.  I remember aching to get to the theater to see Appaloosa when it came out and really regretting I never made it.  So when I finally got around to watching it on DVD, I had very high expectations.

Those expectations were severely uncalled for.

On paper, the acting alone should have made this a great movie, but it failed to impress.  Mortensen, as usual, delivered a subtle performance, but he seemed to suffer from the haphazard plot and script.  Renee Zellweger’s role encompassed every negative trait you could give a woman, and I just don’t buy Jeremy Irons as a cowboy.  Sorry.  But Ed Harris – oh, Ed Harris.  Shame on you, you normally fantastic actor.

Ed Harris adapted this movie from the novel and directed it, so the clichéd dialogue, slow pacing, and uninteresting characters (exempting Mortensen, of course), fell squarely on his shoulders.  Harris’ character obviously meant to come off as complex, but I found him inconsistent and silly.   And frankly, the movie as a whole came off the same.  I counted the minutes until it ended.

Appaloosa looked great in the trailers, but failed to entice when watched in its entirety.  Even the amazing Viggo Mortensen couldn’t save it.

Peter and the Wolf by Chris Raschka – A Book Review

This children’s book is based upon the original work of Sergei Prokofiev.  In it, Raschka creates three-dimensional images placed upon a miniature stage to illustrate the events of the story.  If you are unfamiliar with Prokofiev’s original version, I don’t see you enjoying this book.