Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

30 November, 2012

The Doctor Shall Fight in Hills, He Shall Fight in France - He Will Never Surrender!: Players

Earlier this month I began reading Doctor Who books again in anticipation of Chicago TARDIS. I jumped in more or less where I left off by reading the 6th Doctor adventure Players. It being a Terrance Dicks story I wasn't expecting anything mind-bending or a tale which would tweak the tried and true Doctor Whovery much, if at all. Having finished the book, I can say that I got pretty much what I expected.

Our story begins with Sixie and Peri on Rigel Seven which is a very rainy, muddy place. The pair make a quick escape but Peri decides she wants a change. "I want elegance!" she tells The Doctor. He replies, "Elegance you shall have, Peri." But, as is usually the case, The Doctor is unable to deliver. Instead of a nice respite in Victorian London they end up in South Africa with the Boer War raging. They meet up with a young Winston Churchill as well as a seemingly out of place assassin with a dark complexion. The Doctor, Peri, and Churchill survive a skirmish but end up being captured. A brief interlude in a prisoner camp includes the mysterious Captain Reitz who comes bearing faked orders to have Churchill shot when he tries to escape. Reitz turns out to be the wily assassin whose plan The Doctor had foiled earlier.

At this point in the book things are going well. Dicks didn't reveal the identity of the war correspondent until absolutely necessary, which is fun even though Churchill is mentioned on the back cover. We have a little action and some mystery and I kept envisioning a younger, thinner Ian McNeice in the part. From here, however, the book runs into a big problem. Our heroes escape the prisoner camp with a dash of derring do. Back at the TARDIS, The Doctor explains to Peri that he'd met Churchill previously and thinks that their current adventures are somehow related to events which took place during The Doctor's second incarnation. Peri gets her friend's memories beamed directly into her brain.

The flashback here takes place in France during World War I after the events of The War Games, the Second Doctor's final TV story. The Doctor hitches a lift in an ambulance driven by Jennifer Buckingham and finds that Lieutenant Carstairs is also a passenger. They run into a British staff car which had been ambushed only to find that it belonged to Churchill who was a major by this time. The future prime minister is rescued and they drive through the fog and take shelter at a chateau inhabited by a mysterious (again) Count and Countess...

The problem here is that, as I was reading the flashback sequence, I kept envisioning Sixie instead of Patrick Troughton. After a couple pages I realized that I was reading it all wrong and inserted the short, mop-topped vagabond into my brain. Dicks doesn't capture any of Troughton's nuances here in the flashback and instead what we get is a generic Doctor-lite figure. Too bad.

With this story done, The Doctor takes Peri to 1930s London as he is convinced that running into Winston Churchill was no mere coincidence. The Time Lord and his companion get wrapped up in the prelude to World War II which involves Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German ambassador to the UK at the time, King Edward VIII along with his mistress Wallis Simpson, and a band of conspirators culled from the English aristocracy who want the English Empire to ally itself with Nazi Germany. Oh, and the count and countess make a return appearance as well.

The London storyline takes up most of the novel and, while not perfect by any stretch, it was rather fun. For instance, there's a scene where The Doctor and Peri go to a bank where The Doctor has an account to withdraw some funds. The thing is, he made his initial deposit 120 years previously and interest has been accumulating. It was disappointing, though not unexpected, that Peri would jump headlong into the lap of luxury and become a conspicuous consumer. Another stereotype rears its head in the form of the private dick, Tom Dekker. A close call with a bomb convinces The Doctor to hire a bodyguard ("'Not a bodyguard,' said the Doctor. 'A security consultant!'"). While The Doctor doesn't let on that they've met before, Dekker has indeed run into the Time Lord previously – he even mentions Ace – though I'm not sure which story this refers to. Like Peri, Dekker is an American ex-pat but from Chicago. And being from Chicago can mean only one thing – Al Capone and his gangsters.

On the other hand, Dekker's partner, referred to only as "The Op" was interesting. Not a major character by any means but I liked how he was described as suddenly coming into view as disappearing just as quickly. I was wondering if something was going to be made of this but Dicks did not. The Op was a funny little diversion in a sea of stereotypes and middle of the road characters.

The Players are a race of beings that see everyone and all of history as a game, a chess match for their amusement. Their credo is "Winning is everything – and nothing/Losing is nothing – and everything/All that matters is the Game." What might be a fun conflict between a group of chaotic neutral hedonists and our lawful good hero turns out to be rather uninteresting. The story is peppered with brief interludes that take place at Players HQ on Mount Olympus or wherever they reside but they consist merely of a couple paragraphs of the Players being profoundly irritated with The Doctor. Dicks may have been trying to set up a future story in which the Players feature more prominently and get more backstory but, here as a standalone affair, what could be an intriguing set of villains is rather one dimensional.

Players has its moments, such as a car chase, and is endowed with plenty of intrigue, but it's bogged down by stereotypes and greatly underused villains. Also, I am flummoxed as to how Dicks was unable to write a credible Second Doctor considering that he wrote for the show back in the Troughton era. While there is some fun reading to be had, for the most part, Players is a disposable entry in the Doctor Who canon.
|| Palmer, 3:13 PM || link || (0) comments |

28 November, 2012

Ms. Carey Goes to Washington and Fresh Kottbusser Available Soon

New Glarus' founder and president, Deb Carey, went to Washington recently and met President Obama.

New Glarus Brewing President Deb Carey was one of several small-business owners who met with President Barack Obama at the White House on Tuesday to discuss the federal budget's "fiscal cliff."

"I got beer!" Carey told reporters as she left. "I got beer from the White House!"

Kinky Kabin looks to start bottling soon. Their first is going to be Naughty Wheat, an apricot wheat ale which is already on tap in the La Crosse area.

Sprecher is to release an IIPA called Citra Bomb because there just aren't enough IPAs around.

They also has a Pumpkin Spice brown ale available only at the brewery.

Sprecher along with Lakefront, Central Waters, Bull Falls, and South Shore were recently featured in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in an article about their respective wet hopped brews featuring all Wisconsin hops. Sprecher's Hopfuzion sounds just like their Wisconsin Fresh Hop Amber Lager from last fall.

Elsewhere in Wisconsin, Ale Asylum has started bottling again.

Lastly, down in Chicago ex-employees of Goose Island and Two Brothers have banded together to open a new brewery called Off Color Brewing. It sounds incredibly interesting.

So what will Off Color beer taste like? Not much like the barrel-aged Goose products — think Juliet, Madame Rose, Bourbon County Stout and its variants — that Laffler has worked on. The difference is clear as soon as Bleitner explains the types of beer that inspired Off Color: "Very bizarre beer no one has heard of or knows about."

The trick is making such beers accessible, and based on the tastes I had of Off Color's two year-round beers, the early returns are encouraging.

The lighter was in the gose style, called (for now) Ampel Weiss ("ampel" is German word for traffic light). The hazy, golden wheat brew is easy drinking, but it is also refreshing, lightly tart, mildly funky and among the most interesting low-alcohol beers (4.2 percent) imaginable. It should appeal to both seasoned beer drinkers and those looking to move on from, say, Blue Moon.

The other is a kottbusser — a style even rarer than gose — that doesn't have a name yet. It's a brown wheat beer made with honey and molasses that finishes dry, with just a light, gentle sweetness. It's another deft easy drinker.

"We're releasing near-extinct German beers at a craft beer six-pack price," Bleitner said.

Can a Broyhan be far behind?

I look forward to drinking their near-extinct German beers and feel jealous of our neighbors to the south. Nicht nur will they have fresh local gose und kottbusser, sondern auch Metropolitan for non-extinct German styles, Pipeworks' Berliner Weisses, and I'll throw in 5 Rabbit because their cerveza kicks ass.
|| Palmer, 1:06 PM || link || (0) comments |

If Idris Elba is to be James Bond...

...can we have Richard Ayoade as Q please?

(Via the world is my oysterrr.)

|| Palmer, 9:36 AM || link || (0) comments |

New & Improved Baldur's Gate - Now With 50% More Adventure

I had no idea that the venerable Baldur's Gate was being overhauled. Baldur's Gate: Enhanced Edition is out today. It features the original adventure plus Tales From the Sword Coast and some new characters, a new adventure, and hundreds of tweaks/enhancements.

|| Palmer, 9:21 AM || link || (0) comments |

27 November, 2012

Some New Brews

I was recently in the Chicago area and picked up some interesting brews. It's not exactly Berliner Weisse season but a blueberry Berliner Weisse just sounds so tasty. How will Schlägl Roggen Gold compare to Scott Manning's roggenbier? I shall find out.

|| Palmer, 10:12 AM || link || (0) comments |

26 November, 2012

In Business Madison Profiles Ale Asylum

|| Palmer, 12:50 PM || link || (0) comments |

21 November, 2012

Robin Shepard Profiles Capital's Brian Destree

That's Brian Destree, the new production manager of Capital Brewery who took over after Kirby left last month. Robin Shepard has a profile of him (and that's where the photo came from as well) up at The Daily Page.

Look at the guy. He has the face of someone who lugs around sacks of grain and manhandles barrels all day. It was nice to read:

Destree describes his personal approach to brewing as old school with an appreciation for lagers. He doesn't plan to make any dramatic changes in the brewery's well-known lineup of beers, especially brews like its popular Supper Club. "I appreciate what it takes to make them, but we are also going to step outside those boundaries," he says.

I was relieved to hear that the emphasis on lagers isn't going to go away, although if Supper Club disappeared, you won't hear a complaint from me. It's also good news that he is looking to step outside Kirby's legacy as well as he has proven with Pumpkinataur Wrex*** as I thought it was an excellent beer.

The article notes that Eternal Flame 2.0 comes out next month and will be in bombers as the initial sortie in the Capital Square Bomber Series which will feature a new brew every 2-3 months. After Eternal Flame comes a beer called Jacked Maibock. What is that to be? Maibock aged in Jack Daniels barrels? Destree also says, "I'd like to make a beer that puts the hops forward, and that may shock the Capital faithful." It will be very interesting to see what he comes up with. An IPL like Coney Island's Sword Swallower?

Capital seems to be in good hands.

***Shepard reviews Pumpkinataur Wrex in the new Isthmus although the review is not online yet. He gives it 3 out of 4 bottle openers and says, "Pumpkinataur is best on its own as a dessert beer." I respectfully disagree. Personally I thought Pumpkinataur was much better than Lakefront's Pumpkin Lager which Shepard gave 4 bottle openers to. It doesn't attempt to be pumpkin pie in a bottle by de-emphasizing the spices and so would go well with a pork-apple combination or a cuisine that doesn't treat allspice, nutmeg, and cinnamon as the exclusive province of autumnal pies. Think curry.
|| Palmer, 4:41 PM || link || (0) comments |

Former U.S. Marshall and DEA Agent Notes Racism Inherent in Drug War

Listen to Matthew Fogg, a former U.S. Marshall discuss the racism behind the Drug War. If you go and bust poor colored people, that's OK. But if you mess with the white folks out in the suburbs, well, that's just going to cause trouble.

|| Palmer, 3:48 PM || link || (0) comments |

Oliver Stone Takes On American History

Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States debuted last week. From what I'd read about it, it wasn't going to be a conspiracy-laden look at The Great Satan or any such thing but rather a look at the history of the United States post-WWII that isn't widely known and that doesn't feed into the myths we tell ourselves about American exceptionalism. I have watched the first episode and can say that it was not a menagerie of conspiracies. It was apparently Stone's intention that the series start in the late 19th century and cover World War I but there just wasn't enough money to do more than ten episodes. That and he didn't want to overwhelm viewers with context, thusly the series starts with World War II.

Stone*** opens the show by stating his intentions and his disappointment that the history lessons his kids received in school consisted of the same schlock that he was taught. Hence this program which he hopes can contribute to a better understanding of history and provide direction and hope for change.

In a bit shy of an hour, Stone gives us an overview of World War II. The narration is his and there are no talking heads. Although quotes and the text of some speeches that were never recorded are heard here, there are also no recognizable celebrities doing the deed. Stone is avoiding the Ken Burns pathos trap here. (And I have to wonder if some of the maps that look like they were lifted from an old newsreel were, in fact, newly created.) After Stone's prologue we get a very brief look at the Manhattan Project, mainly Trinity. An interesting choice as it merely foreshadows later episodes in the series.

When the show finally does get moving with WWII, it starts in a way that is foreign to a lot of people. Stone says that it started in 1931 when Japan invaded Manchuria as opposed to Germany's invasion of Poland in 1939. It's really a semantic issue with Stone declaring an act that is generally considered to be prologue to be part of the war proper. But it does set up America's entrance into the war. It's also worth noting for conservative-minded Stone haters out there that the program didn't do much to cover the imperial ambitions of the United States. Thusly we are told about Japan's encroachment in the Pacific but the Spanish-American War is not covered so no explanation is ever given for why places thousands of miles away from North America such as the Philippines, Guam, Midway Atoll, Wake Island, and Hawaii were "ours".

Still, there's more of a sense of the war as being the product of geopolitical maneuvering than you often times get.

The second aspect of the program that caught my eye was the emphasis put on Roosevelt's anti-imperialism. He and Churchill are generally looked at as being good buddies but, at their meeting in August 1941 in Newfoundland which produced The Atlantic Charter, Roosevelt was rather antagonistic. He told his son before the meeting, "We've got to make clear to the British from the very outset that we don't intend to be simply a good-time Charlie who can be used to help the British Empire out of a tight spot, and then be forgotten forever." Churchill, presiding over the British Empire, couldn't have been too enthusiastic about the egalitarian tone of the Charter. But he needed the U.S. to enter the war.

The final element of the episode that I want to note is that Stone eschews delving into the Battle of Midway, D-Day, the Battle of Britain, et al and focuses on the eastern front. Russia's role in the war is front and center. There was certainly much enmity towards the USSR on the part of Western leaders and Stone asserts that they were happy to let the Soviets bear the brunt of the German war machine for a time. For his part, Stalin was quite paranoid. Russia and the UK had been enemies for some time and Stalin didn't forget that the U.S. support the whites during its civil war. After describing the horrors endured by the Soviets – the Siege of Leningrad and the Battle of Stalingrad, for example – Stone declares that it was really the Soviets that deserve credit for defeating the Nazis.

All in all, I thought this first episode was interesting. My father was a very big WWII buff so most of this was old hat for me but I get the impression that much of this history doesn't make it into schools. That the Allies were allied against the Axis powers but that there was infighting and distrust amongst them is not a common refrain. We seem more interested in simple opposites like Hitler bad and Allies good and overlook just how complicated things really were. Plus, no doubt in large part to Stephen Ambrose, we almost fetishize D-Day and ignore most of the rest of the conflict.

I was surprised at how little attention was paid to American imperial ambitions here. FDR is portrayed in the sequence at Newfoundland as being anti-imperialist with him noting that the Philippines were due to become independent in 1946 in addition to bargaining with Churchill. And, as I noted above, nothing is said about how all those islands in the Pacific came to be under American control.

I have read some criticism of the show by people who have watched the first few episodes and I don't doubt that some of it is warranted. But it amazes me that critics think they're scoring points against Stone by noting that nothing here is truly "untold". I agree that the title is hyperbole and, sure, historians and people well-read in the subject aren't going to be wowed by any revelations here, but the show really isn't aimed at them; it's for high school students and adults who know only the basics of the story. Having only seen the first episode I can only say that it serves to complement, not supplant, more "traditional" or more common histories.

Lastly, it should be noted that this program has stuffed 14 years of conflict into just less than an hour. A fair amount of ground is covered but it goes by quickly. Having it on your DVR will serve all viewers well but those for whom this is unknown territory will especially benefit from being able to rewind. We're back to familiar early-90s territory here with lots of quick cuts. Whomever was tasked with seeking out all those old newsreels and stock footage deserves a medal. Ditto for editor Alex Marquez.

***While the program bears his name, Stone wrote the program with historian Peter Kuznick and one Matt Graham who is, as near as I can tell, a TV/film writer.
|| Palmer, 3:40 PM || link || (0) comments |

This One's For Samara Kalk Derby

Required reading for Samara "choice white meat" Kalk Derby - "The Unbearable Whiteness of White Meat":

White meat turkey has no taste. Its slabs of dry, fibrous material are more like cardboard conveyances, useful only for transporting flavorsome food like stuffing and gravy from plate to mouth. It's less a foodstuff than a turkey app, simulated meat, a hyperlink to real food.
|| Palmer, 10:40 AM || link || (0) comments |

19 November, 2012

Where Are the Curses? - Toil & Trouble Gruit by Vintage and Sweet Mullets

Last week The Dulcinea and I went to the Vintage for dinner. We were seated by the host but, before our waiter made his way to our table, I looked up from the menu to discover that brewmaster Scott Manning was placing two sample glasses of this year's Tippy Toboggan roggenbier down. He knows I think the stuff is the nectar of the gods. A nice way to start my night.

I didn't know that TT had just been tapped and so I had a different goal in mind. Spin down the ages...

It's the year 700 C.E. and you live in a Bavarian village. Let's say you're the blacksmith. What do you with your buddies the baker, cobbler, and tanner when it's quittin' time? You reach for a cold one, of course. The thing is, hops are about 100 years off. Hopheads haven't been invented yet. Instead you're drinking gruit which is basically beer before the introduction of hops. Your brew might have had a combination of bog myrtle, rosemary, yarrow, woodruff, and other herbs and spices. Coriander found its way into beer occasionally. The ancestors of all those crazy Norwegians in Stoughton are using juniper in their gruit while sweet gale was popular in Denmark and areas of Scandinavia.

I had come to the Vintage for this:

That's Toil & Trouble, the gruit brewed by Scott and Mark Duchow of Sweet Mullets in Oconomowoc. It was a nice reddish brown and slightly cloudy. The aroma was slightly sweet with a fairly strong herbal component. The brew was made with heather tips and mugwort and, to my nose, it smelled like heather. I say this because I've had Fraoch Heather Ale and T&T smelled like it tasted.

T&T also tasted a lot like Fraoch in so far as the heather was very prominent. Think floral. I can't tell you what mugwort tastes like but I believe the floral aspect of the brew comes from the heather while the slight bitterness was from the mugwort. In an effort to make something akin to a period brew, Messrs. Duchow and Manning used some peat-smoked malt. All malt was smoky back then as you dried the stuff over a fire because the use of indirect heat and pale malts were still centuries away. They didn't use a lot of the smoked malt here as its flavor was subdued and instead blended well with the herbs and malt. Also in the mix are wild yeasts which yield a prominent sour flavor. In the end you get a drink that has a nice blend of malt sweetness and heather with some smokiness that yields to a pleasant tartness and a bit of bitter. There is a helluva lot going on here and everything is balanced really well. Considering the base is that of a Scotch ale, T&T does not have a heavy mouthfeel. Indeed, it is very quaffable and, weighing in at 7%+ ABV, it can be dangerous.

Other than Fraoch Heather Ale, the only other commercial gruit I know of is Professor Fritz Briem 13th Century Grut Bier and I just happen to have a bottle of the stuff in my cellar. Perhaps I can bust it out soon and do a gruit comparison.

Junk food pairing: Pair Toil & Trouble with Frytor of Erbes. A judicious selection of herbs and a drizzle of honey on the frytor will complement the gruit's own herbal flavor and sweetness.

P.S. – we got a mispour so, in addition to the very tasty sour barrel aged Pumpkin Disorderly, we also got a free Alpentraum, a rauch weizenbock. All four beers we tried last week were very tasty but think the roggenbier needs to mellow a bit.
|| Palmer, 12:38 PM || link || (0) comments |

Lakefront's 25th & WI Foodie Visits New Glarus

Lakefront will be turning 25 on 2 December and to celebrate their silver anniversary they are going to be releasing a series of four beers starting with an Imperial stout.

Next year we can expect a bourbon dopplebock, saison, and a brandy barrel-aged pumpkin ale.

The Wisconsin Foodie TV program recently profiled New Glarus Brewing. The hop garden is just waiting to be planted in the spring. They visit the House the Spotted Cow built - the Carey's home, where you can witness the very kitchen where Moon Man was developed. Oh, and don't believe Dan when he says people only drank beer during the Middle Ages. They drank water from wells and collected rain in barrels just like my hippie neighbors.

|| Palmer, 11:00 AM || link || (0) comments |

The Day The Earth Stopped Masturbating

Guy #1: "How many times would we have to jerk off to kill all the guys on Earth?"

Guy #2: "But that would make us monsters!"

Guy #1: "No. It would make us gods!"

|| Palmer, 9:56 AM || link || (0) comments |

What's the Sticke?

It's nice to see that Port Huron is brewing an altbier and that Robin Shepard reviewed it last week for Isthmus. I look forward to trying it. Three beer nerd observations:

1) Shepard writes: "Altbiers are ales conditioned at cooler temperatures for longer periods, in a way similar to how a lager is made."

German brewing tradition pegs it as a lagerbier, albeit one that is top-fermenting, and not an ale. Different brewing traditions. How did we Americans get in the habit of classifying beer as either an ale or a lager? I wonder if it's something we inherited from the British. Then again, they didn't think of stouts and porters as ales as late as the early 20th century. Perhaps it is a more recent distinction resulting from Charlie Papazian and the homebrewing revolution. And when we use the ale vs. lager distinction, are we really talking location of the yeast or the temperature at which the yeast works its magic?

Where does the California common fit in? I've read (probably at Ron Pattinson's blog) about the German practice of mixing top and bottom-fermenting beers in years where there's a shortage of ice. How do you classify these beers? If your weizen has more than 50% wheat or if you ferment only wheat as in a grätzer/grodziskie, is it even beer? Or a roggenbier with more than 50% rye? Is kvass beer? What about gluten-free brews like Lakefront's New Grist?

2) "The stronger, darker and richer version is called Sticke, which means secret, a reference to brewers' habit of providing few details as to the beer's recipe."

I always thought the secret wasn't the ingredients - it's an altbier, for starters, and, after 1870 or so*** (see Ron Pattinson's comment below), they would have been Reinheitsgebot-compliant - so I can't see why people would have shrouded the beer's recipe in mystery. Instead the secret was when the barrel would have been tapped. A brewer would mismeasure malt and have to add more hops to compensate so you got a bigger alt. From the German Beer Institute*** (see Ron's comment again):

The news of a brewmaster's mistake, of course, normally would get around quickly among the initiated, who would pass the secret by word of mouth, behind cupped hands, in a "stickum" or "sticke" sort of way... and to be in on the secret was quite a privilege. It is said that this "stickum" hot tip, shared among the aficionados, then became the origin of the beer's name. Nowadays, however, Sticke brewers have abandoned the secrecy sourrounding the unveiling of the Sticke.

This is what I've always heard. The secret is when the bier would be unveiled, not the recipe.

3) "Alt Bier is traditionally served in a narrow 200 ml (about 7 ounces) glass called a Stange..."

I thought you drank your Kölsch out of a stange but your altbier from a becher which is cylindrical like a stange but shorter and wider. See Wikipedia, for example. Or, better yet, look at photos taken by beer nerds in Düsseldorf. Those aren't stangen.

Not that it really matters to we Americans as tend to put everything shy of 10% ABV in a pint glass, although it may be a point of contention if you hail from Köln or Düsseldorf.
|| Palmer, 7:29 AM || link || (8) comments |

16 November, 2012

A Real Horror Show: The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

The Wasp Factory is Iain Banks' first published novel. Not having read anything by him previously, I can't really say how it compares to his later work. However, I am game for reading more by him now that I've completed this book.

The story concerns Frank Cauldhame, a 16 year-old who lives with his rather dour father, Angus, on an island that lies somewhere just off the coast of Scotland. Frank narrates and begins his tale rather enigmatically by saying, "I had been making the rounds of the Sacrifice Poles the day we heard my brother had escaped. I already knew something was going to happen; the Factory told me." The book had been recommended to me on the basis of it having an unreliable narrator but it's not completely true. It's not that Frank lies to the reader; it's more that he delays providing explanations for his cryptic story.

These first sentences get the reader asking what these Sacrifice Poles are, wanting to know about Frank's brother and from where he escaped, and just what the nature of the titular factory is. We immediately learn that the poles are sticks on a dune that hold the corpses of various animals and insects while the other questions are answered later. Frank spends his time amongst the dunes and roaming about the island that is his home being a menace to the fauna. When Frank is not out hunting rabbits with a wrist rocket, he can often be found in an old World War II bunker where there are more animal heads on spikes and he can perform sacrificial rites. Back at home, the attic serves a similar function and houses the Wasp Factory, a massive clock that once adorned the local branch of the Bank of Scotland but has been refitted for a more sinister purpose.

Frank is a lot like his father. Angus is either going into town or locked away in his study which Frank has never even peered into much less stepped inside of. While the son is sadistic, the father is very strange. He commits household measurements to memory and expects the same from Frank.

We eventually find out that Franks brother, Eric, has escaped from a mental institution. He was sent away after his behavior moved from stuffing the mouths of local kids with worms and maggots to setting dogs on fire. Eric's presence is felt mostly over the phone. He calls Frank frequently to say that he is making his way home and will be there soon. Frank describes his older brother as crazy but loves him anyway. The return of the reprobate revenant hangs over the proceedings. When will he pop up? Is he looking to exact revenge on his family?

Banks does a great job here of slowly revealing the story of Frank's life. Little details emerge that are only explained later. For example, Eric notes that he does not officially exist. No birth certificate and the usual panoply of government records are absent. How could that be? Banks also drops in bits of foreshadowing such as when Franks says, "I represent a crime, and if Eric was to come back stirring things up The Truth About Frank might come out." And the truth about Frank does come out eventually.

Banks seems to be saying something about how our environment shapes us, especially our parents. Frank is not a particularly sympathetic character. He strangles a rabbit with the elastic sling of his wrist rocket, is deeply misogynistic (“My greatest enemies are women and the sea. These things I hate. Women because they are weak and stupid and live in the shadows of men and are nothing compared to them."), and confesses to having murdered three children when he was a boy. But we learn that he was abandoned by his mother and Angus is not exactly the paragon of parenthood. When The Truth About Frank does get revealed, it's obvious that many adults in the boy's life failed him. And they failed Eric as well.

The problem is that both Frank and Eric are such repulsive characters that it's difficult to see them as victims of forces outside their control. You can add Angus to that list as well. Three monsters. The story gives a point at which these people snapped, essentially – the point at which they started to become monsters – and shows how external forces, i.e. – other people, helped make these individuals what they are. Unfortunately Banks doesn't dramatize the environmental factors enough. The act of killing the rabbit is elaborated upon as are the plans Frank hatched for killing the three kids but the incidents that drove Frank, Eric, and Angus to be what they are get short shrift. They're mentioned almost off-handedly so the causal connections aren't given enough emphasis and so the focus mostly remains on the atrocious protagonists.

The Wasp Factory has a lot of good ideas in it – the effects we have on one another, de-romanticizing childhood, and perhaps even mocking religion – but, in the end, I think A Clockwork Orange, while not covering the exact same ground, did this kind of thing better.
|| Palmer, 1:33 PM || link || (0) comments |

Polish Film Fest Starts Tonight With 80 Million

Madison's Polish Film Festival kicks off tonight with 80 Million.

A new film by Waldemar Krzystek. Poland, Lower Silesia, the beginning of a very cold winter 1981. After the series of entrapments by the Security Service a confrontation between the opposition and the communists seems to be inevitable. Just before the proclamation of martial law a group of young Solidarity activists decide to play va banque and organize a rash action to take out 80 million of the Union money from one of the Wroclaw's banks before the account would be blocked. Security Service officers follow their steps. It's the beginning of a gripping tournament in which also priests and curb dealers will play their parts. Each side has aces up their sleeve.

It looks like I'll be seeing it with a friend who grew up in Poland at this time so I should get some interesting bonus commentary.

|| Palmer, 9:36 AM || link || (0) comments |

15 November, 2012

Capital Looking to Brew an IPA?

The final nail in the coffin of the Kirby Nelson era at Capital Brewery looks as if it is being pounded in:

Kudos to Capital for moving forward (step one was brewing a pumpkin beer). But do we really need another IPA? (This assumes, of course, that this tweet is indicative of Capital intending to brew one.) I fear Dark and Pilsner will be gone soon.
|| Palmer, 8:57 AM || link || (0) comments |

14 November, 2012

The Old Fashioned to Become Demi-Brewpub

Apparently The Old Fashioned is no longer content with merely serving beer brewed by every brewery in the state and has decided to start brewing its own. The grapevine says that Ashley Kinart is to be the bierbrauer. She looks to be Madison's first female brewmaster, at least of the modern craft beer era.

Some new labels:

I haven't seen this around though you'd think it would have been available for Halloween. Perhaps a limited edition brew only available in the Milwaukee area.

Due in 10 days.

A new Kölsch. The style is catching on. Somebody get me a Kölsch-Kranz for Christmas.

Louie's Demise aged in bourbon barrels. They've even produced a video.

And from south of the border:

Pipeworks is out of Chicago but it's a raspberry Berliner Weisse and should be mentioned. It's the follow-up to Blue Lady, a blueberry Berliner Weisse. I am am going to be in the Chicago area over Thanksgiving weekend and am hoping the nearest Binny's has it in stock.

The latest entry into Wisconsin's craft beer scene is the Pigeon River Brewing Company. It's a brewpub located in Marion. The lone brew of their on tap right now is an oatmeal stout but more are to come and their selection otherwise is good. If you ever find yourself in Waupaca County, stop in.

Lastly I'll note that Vintage has their seasonal roggenbier, Tippy Toboggan, available. Brewmaster Scott Manning knows I think it's one of the best beers in the entire universe and so he brought us samples last night. The stuff is still a junge at only 2 weeks old so let it mellow a bit.

Oh, and there's a beer tasting at the Vintage this Sunday. Don't worry - the start time was moved to after the Packer game. And the adjuncts here aren't rice or corn but rather things of a botanical nature. Expect a pumpkin beer, Goose Island's Sofie, and more.

|| Palmer, 5:35 AM || link || (0) comments |

13 November, 2012

We're Ready for the Zombie Apocalypse

I never knew my employer had a disaster recovery plan until this morning when I saw this sitting next to our UPS:

Apparently we're supposed to cover our equipment if a pipe springs a leak or some such thing. If any electronic equipment is threatened with a large amount of water, I am out the door. Trying to grab some plastic sitting next to a UPS during an indoor flood is well above my pay grade. Where were the disaster recovery people when the tape backup system was down for weeks?
|| Palmer, 1:34 PM || link || (0) comments |

Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters Trailer

I'd never heard of Gregory Crewdson before seeing this trailer but have discovered that his work is really neat. The one with the baby lying on the bed reminds me of Nighthawks. Good stuff.

Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters will be screening here in Madison on 18 January courtesy of UW Cinematheque.

|| Palmer, 1:11 PM || link || (0) comments |

Vanishing Waves Trailer

This looks like a pretty hoopy flick from Lithuanian director Kristina Buožytė.

Lukas (Marius Jampolskis) is assisting a scientific research team by functioning as a patient in a series of heavily monitored (and medicated) sensory deprivation experiments wherein he is attempting to make some form of contact with the subject, Aurora (Jurga Jutaite), a young woman who has been locked in a comatose state for some time. Doctors initially hope for just a vague reaffirmation of consciousness, but the experiment takes an unexpected twist when Lukas and Aurora actually develop a strong psychic link in their mutually altered forms of consciousness…and their link quickly evolves into a romantic, sexually charged relationship.

|| Palmer, 10:18 AM || link || (0) comments |

George Takei's Biblical Exegesis

|| Palmer, 9:27 AM || link || (0) comments |

Hummingbirds Snore. Who Knew?

I found this at Boing Boing but the story is here.

Hummingbirds have incredibly high metabolic needs. To do all that buzzing around and to keep their tiny bodies warm, they eat the human equivalent of a refrigerator full of food every day, mostly in the form of high-energy nectar and fatty bugs. Because of their small size, they also lose a lot of body heat to the air. In order to preserve energy on cool nights, they have the ability to enter a daily, miniature hibernation called torpor.

Just before morning, their natural circadian rhythms kick in and they start to thaw out, like heating a car engine on a cold day. What we see in the video is probably a bird coming out of torpor (which is what the scientists in the video were studying), starting to breathe in more oxygen to raise its body temperature, and making that adorable snoring noise.

|| Palmer, 9:19 AM || link || (0) comments |

12 November, 2012

That's Entertainment?

The hostility of Madison's city government to hip-hop is well-known and has been an issue for several years. The music remains stigmatized and some venues refuse to host hip-hop shows. Taverns owned and heavily frequented by black Madisonians are rare. R' Place on South Park garnered a lot of mostly negative publicity for the violence that took place around the establishment and was shut down. A civil rights lawsuit filed against the city was dismissed. Such events generate much light but very little heat. The topic is raised, conferences are held to discuss the issues but, as near as I can tell, very little is ever done.

Today I read that the Madison Equal Opportunities Commission and the Alcohol License Review board "are working to expand access and opportunity in local entertainment" for people of color. Emily Genco of Madison Commons has the story.

In a city where 86 percent of the population is white, according to a 2011 estimate from the American Community Survey, bars and other entertainment venues can expect a fairly uniform clientele. But after notable closures of popular venues that attracted African American patrons and enforcement of restrictive entry policies at others, diversity – or lack thereof – in the city’s entertainment scene has drawn concerns. Both the Equal Opportunities Commission and Alcohol License Review Committee are working to expand access and opportunity in local entertainment.

Bars and clubs serve as community centers, where people come together. Without access, groups in the community are marginalized and their quality of life diminished, said Brian Benford, president of the Equal Opportunities Commission. “If you take that [access] away in entertainment, that’s a huge part of the fabric of the community, and that is missing. There’s no doubt about it.

Let me start by asking: where did this 86% white statistic come from? Wikipedia confusingly has two stats. One is that Madison is 75.66% white while the other, presumably from 2000, is 83.96%. The racial breakdown of our city according to the 2009-2011 American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates at census.gov is around 80%. There's no doubt that Madison is very white but we're talking a potential 10% difference here which translates to thousands of people.

Numbers aside, the article does a decent job of describing the problem. But it's too bad the problem is defined so narrowly here. It's about the decline of black-owned clubs and bars as well as the well-worn territory of hip-hop. While these issues contribute to a lack of diversity in entertainment options here in Madison, they are too often portrayed in the media as the only issues. More clubs like R' Place and more hip-hops shows around town would be good things but they wouldn't in and of themselves rid Madison of a lack of diversity.

The article doesn't mention a lack of venues for Madison's Latino community nor our Asian community. Or any other racial minority besides African-American. The president of the EOC, Brian Benford, is quoted as saying, "There’s a lot of things we need to talk about as a community, but in the beginning let’s talk about the lack of venues, the lack of diversity within venues." The emphasis is mine here. If you're interested in providing diversity of cultural and entertainment opportunities in Madison, you have to look beyond black vs. white, beyond bars & clubs, and beyond hip-hop as being the ultimate barometer of a Madison's diversity on this front. Being an alabaster bohunk, my first-hand knowledge about this issue is spectacularly limited but let me offer a few anecdotes.

My father-in-law, who is black, traveled to Milwaukee last year to see a production of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. Although it was staged here this past spring by the UW, there's no way he could have known that (and I think he had every right to be skeptical that it would ever be performed here) and so he traveled 90 miles one way to take in a play about the African-American experience. How often do Madison's theatre troupes perform plays with people of color as lead characters and their experiences given center stage?

Movies. Tonight at 9:15 there will be a screening of the Tamil language film Thuppaki at Eastgate. Movies aimed at Madison's Desi community are brought here monthly, if not more often, yet you'd probably never know it if you didn't look at the Mad Indians site. While I'm not expecting Rob Thomas or the rotating cast of movie reviewers at Isthmus to get a screener copy of Thuppaki, it deserves to be listed. It's even going to have English subtitles. Hell, even Marcus' website doesn't have it. (Oddly enough, 77 Square lists a Hindi language film, Jab Tak Hai Jaan as opening here tomorrow.)

At Mexican restaurants in Madison I've seen handbills for music events featuring Mexican and Mexican-American bands –at a club in McFarland. I can't seem to find anything online about this, unfortunately, but I'd swear to this. But I don't recall seeing these events publicized in the major arts & entertainment rags in town.

In the end, I think there's more – much more – to diversifying entertainment options in Madison than having hip-hop shows downtown. It will take efforts on the parts of performing artists, venue owners, patron, the media, the city - everyone - to create a truly diverse palate of entertainment here in Madison.
|| Palmer, 4:34 PM || link || (10) comments |

Near East Side Homebrewers and Vegetable (Ahem) Growers Rejoice

I see that Brew & Grow is opening a store on the 1500 block of Williamson, right across the street from Mickey's Tavern in the old vacuum cleaner supply store. Will this be Madison location #2 or are they moving from the southeast side?

|| Palmer, 8:52 AM || link || (0) comments |

Retro Tech: 16th Century Clockwork Monk

This is pretty hoopy - a self-acting automaton of a monk from circa 1560.

In the Smithsonian Institution is a sixteenth-century automaton of a monk, made of wood and iron, 15 inches in height. Driven by a key-wound spring, the monk walks in a square, striking his chest with his right arm, raising and lowering a small wooden cross and rosary in his left hand, turning and nodding his head, rolling his eyes, and mouthing silent obsequies. From time to time, he brings the cross to his lips and kisses it. After over 400 years, he remains in good working order.

|| Palmer, 8:29 AM || link || (0) comments |

11 November, 2012

The Attack of Horrible Beer Names: Pumpkinataur Wrex from Capital Brewing

In what I hope is not a portent of names to come, Capital recently debuted a pumpkin beer called Pumpkinataur Wrex. It's draught only so I grabbed a glass yesterday at Capital Tap Haus. ($7)

I want to admit from the outset that I am not a huge pumpkin beer fan. Mostly this is on the grounds of taste as pumpkin beers tend not to taste like gourd but rather like nutmeg and cinnamon. (And partly because I object to the American/modern culinary notion that spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, and mace are only to be used in the autumn and for pumpkin pie and other sweets but rarely savories.)

Even though it's not apparent in my rather poor photo, Pumpkinataur is a gorgeous copper color and my pour came with a nice frothy head. As I was sitting in a restaurant with the scent of food wafting about, I didn't get a good whiff. But, from what I could tell, the stuff smelled sweet with faint hints of spice, especially nutmeg.

I was really happy when I tasted it because it actually tasted like the gourd and not a jar of pumpkin pie spice mix. Oh, the spices were there but relegated to the background. Instead it tasted like pumpkin. Smooth with the gourd complementing the malt extremely well. It was moderately hoppy with a nice spicy bitterness (think Hop Cream.) that added to a clean finish. The hops persisted through the aftertaste. Overall, it was a really nice balance of flavors. As I imbibed more and the beer warmed a bit, the pumpkin began to really shine through and it tasted almost velvety. Thankfully the spices retained their supporting role letting the gourd, malt, and hops take the spotlight.

Pumpkinataur Wrex joins the pumpkin brews of Vintage and Moosejaw as the only one's I'd purchase and potentially drink more than one of. It weighs in at 7.5% ABV but isn't heavy at all and is highly quaffable.

I wonder if this was Kirby Nelson's farewell brew of if it's the product of Capital's interim brewmaster, Brian Destree. I have to admit that I was really ambivalent when I first read about Pumpkinataur. On the one hand, I think it's good that Capital is expanding their range of brews; on the other I was a bit disappointed that they had jumped on a seasonal bandwagon - of a style that doesn't particularly appeal to me. Luckily it's a fine brew.

Junk food pairing: If I wasn't waiting for a bus, I would have paired this beer with some cheese curds. Smooth pumpkin flavor surely goes well with greasy curd.
|| Palmer, 4:27 PM || link || (0) comments |

Still Life With Books

My Doctor Who books came yesterday and as soon as the last one was out of the box, Grabby hopped in.

|| Palmer, 2:31 PM || link || (0) comments |

10 November, 2012

Capital Releases New Autumnal Brew

Capital has released what I believe is its first pumpkin beer: Pumpkinataur Wrex.

I am not a huge fan of pumpkin beers because they tend to emphasize nutmeg and clove over pumpkin and malt but this looks to be different.

No excessive spice veil obscures Wrex's pumpkinian goodness, the gourd is upfront and proud.

Sounds intriguing. Was this Kirby's farewell or is this a sign that Capital is moving in new directions now that the next chapter of their story is unfolding?

The brew is 7.5% ABV and is on draught only at select locations in the Madison and Milwaukee areas. If you're going to the book festival today like I am, you can find it at the Capital Tap Haus.
|| Palmer, 7:39 AM || link || (0) comments |

09 November, 2012

Many Pakistanis Not Thrilled With Obama's Reelection

The headline: "Obama victory infuriates Pakistani drone victims".

The roars celebrating the re-election of U.S. President Barack Obama on television give Mohammad Rehman Khan a searing headache, as years of grief and anger come rushing back.

The 28-year-old Pakistani accuses the president of robbing him of his father, three brothers and a nephew, all killed in a U.S. drone aircraft attack a month after Obama first took office.

"The same person who attacked my home has gotten re-elected," he told Reuters in the capital, Islamabad, where he fled after the attack on his village in South Waziristan, one of several ethnic Pashtun tribal areas on the Afghan border.

"Whenever he has a chance, Obama will bite Muslims like a snake. Look at how many people he has killed with drone attacks," said Haji Abdul Jabar, whose 23-year-old son was killed in such a bombing.

Obama got all teary-eyed while thanking his campaign staff. I wonder if he ever sheds a tear for any of the innocents his policies have blown to bits?


|| Palmer, 10:33 AM || link || (0) comments |

"Dewey Defeats Truman" Moves into 21st Century

Mitt Romney's staff accidentally published the wrong update of his website - the one which said he'd won the election - and this made for good photoshopping material.

(h/t to I Heart Chaos.)
|| Palmer, 9:33 AM || link || (0) comments |

You'll Need That Sunscreen If You're Going Near the Eye of Sauron

|| Palmer, 8:45 AM || link || (0) comments |

08 November, 2012

I Swear I Saw Your Face Change: Holy Motors by Leos Carax

As near as I can tell, Leos Carax's Holy Motors is about his love for movies. Or something like that. Or perhaps something completely different.

It begins with shots of an audience in a cinema. They are unconscious although the screening of what appears to be an Eadweard Muybridge motion study continues. Next we see a man in a bed in what appears to be a hotel room. There's a dog at his feet and he carefully gets up so as not to disturb the hound. He slowly wanders the room and lights a cigarette. Then he notices a noise – a repetitious mechanical one. It seems to be emanating from behind a wall that is covered in some really gaudy wallpaper with a forest pattern. The man discovers an inset in the pattern which hides what looks like a valve stem. A cut to the man's hand shows that one of his middle fingers has transformed into a socket driver which he inserts into the opening and turns. The wall opens to reveal a hallway. Entering it, the man eventually finds himself in the cinema we saw earlier. A naked toddler makes its way down an aisle followed by a dog.

From here we meet Monsieur Oscar. Clad in a suit, he is bidding adieu to his family as he walks down the driveway of his large modern suburban home. He makes his way to a stretch limo. The driver, an older woman named Céline, closes the door and they are off to the first of nine "appointments" which Mr. Oscar has on his calendar for the day. But instead of reading reports and preparing for a meeting with other rich men in fancy suits, Mr. Oscar applies make-up and a wig. His first assignment is to dress up like an old woman and beg out on a busy sidewalk in the middle of Paris. Then it's back into the limo where he removes that costume and prepares for his next gig.

With the make-up and wig safely tucked away, he puts on a motion capture suit. His next assignment sees him running and leaping against a green screen before a young woman in a similar suit enters. The pair writhe about only to have their mock lovemaking captured, digitized, and projected onto the screen in the room. Other assignments see Mr. Oscar transform himself into a madman who crashes a photo shoot in a cemetery and abscond with the fashion model, become a hit man whose job is to take out a man who is his double, pretend to be a young woman's uncle in a bizarre deathbed scene, and meet up with a former lover (played by Kylie Minogue) who launches into suitably saccharine song lamenting their relationship.

Each of these assignments is a short genre flick unto itself. You've got a musical love story, an action thriller, a melodrama, and a bit of Beauty and the Beast fantasy. At one point Mr. Oscar steps back into the limo to find a mysterious figure seated inside. The man would seem to be his boss and he tells Mr. Oscar that clients are becoming worried that his performances are not up to snuff. Mr. Oscar responds that he has difficulty acting these days now that cameras are so small. However much love Carax has for movies, he also seems to be expressing worry for his chosen medium. This scene perhaps laments the death of film and the rise of digital cameras. The scene where Mr. Oscar and the unknown woman slither around in their motion capture suits features his beastly CGI representation sporting an erection. This is echoed in the later assignment at the cemetery. First we see tombstones advertising the webpages of the deceased. Plus it ends with the model singing to the naked Mr. Oscar-as-beast who is also fully erect. A digital vs. a real phallus.

And let's not forget the opening of Holy Motors with a movie audience either asleep or dead as some of the earliest motion picture images go by onscreen. Is this a comment on the state of cinema today or on today's audiences? I am unsure but it would seem that Carax is looking for something new whether it be new moviemakers to enter the business or a change of mind by audiences when he has that child walk down the aisle towards the screen.

Whatever Carax meant or didn't mean to say about movies, Holy Motors is a lot of fun. Some of the assignments prove quite funny such as when the madman stomps around the cemetery eating flowers. The hit man scenario is oddly thrilling when the blood flows as you wonder whether reality has finally intruded into Monsieur Oscar's world. The scene about lost love with Kylie Minogue was a bit hokey for me as someone who really does not like musicals but it wasn't really overdone and was mercifully short. The poignancy of the situation is highlighted by reality finally intruding as Eva (Minogue) throws herself off of a tall building to her death. (Or was she "acting" too?) Denis Lavant stars as Monsieur Oscar and is a total treat. His performance is at times very physical yet at others relies solely upon facial expressions and tone of voice. He goes from an ornery woman to a dying man and hits all points in between seemingly with great ease.

While Holy Motors is surreal, it's not like getting lost in one of David Lynch's labyrinths such as Inland Empire. Just let the strange wash over you and enjoy the ride.

|| Palmer, 3:13 PM || link || (0) comments |

07 November, 2012

State Agencies Scrambling to Make Up for Lost Time

Since Scott Walker was confident that Romney would win the election and Wisconsin would not have to implement provisions of the Affordable Care Act, I am betting the folks at the Department of Health Services and the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance are pretty busy today scrambling to make up for lost time. Other states have been working on health care exchanges for two years so we're a bit behind.
|| Palmer, 9:17 AM || link || (0) comments |

05 November, 2012

Talgo CEO Has Some Choice Words for Scott Walker and State Republicans

Spanish train manufacturer Talgo, Inc. is now suing the state of Wisconsin for reneging on contracts. The company's CEO, Antonio Perez, had some choice words for our Scott Walker and his cronies.

"We invested in the State of Wisconsin by building a manufacturing facility in Milwaukee and creating manufacturing jobs. We built the trains and otherwise performed our obligations under our agreements with the State of Wisconsin. In return, rather than being 'open for business' the State used every conceivable excuse, whether fair or not and whether lawful or not, to ensure that Talgo did not receive what it bargained for, including by refusing to pay for the trains that Talgo completed. I don't see how any company would in the future choose to do business with the State of Wisconsin when the State has shown that it cannot be trusted to honor contracts that it signed."
|| Palmer, 1:47 PM || link || (0) comments |

02 November, 2012

Curiouser and Curiouser: The Ghost Writer by John Harwood

I came across mention of John Harwood's The Ghost Writer at a webpage discussing historical mysteries. The person recommending it described it as being good though not erudite or experimental book as were some of the other recommendations such as The Name of the Rose and An Instance of the Fingerpost. The commenter was correct.

It concerns Gerard Freeman, a rather meek librarian who lives in Australia. Dad died when Gerard was young but he is described as having more interest in model trains than of being a father and husband. Mom, originally from England, is paranoid and over-protective. This can perhaps be explained by the fact that her parents died when she was young. She and her sister were raised by an aunt and great aunt. Even as Gerard reaches adolescence, she becomes upset at the idea of her son deviating from his typical routine and (gasp!) walking through a new neighborhood. As a result Gerard is rather reclusive and socially awkward.

When he is a young boy Gerard goes snooping in his mother's bedroom and discovers an old photograph as well as a manuscript containing a story called "Seraphina" written by one "V.H." At 14 he acquires a pen pal, Alice, who lives in England and this greatly upsets his mother who seems intent on sheltering the boy from the outside world as much as possible. Alice was injured in an accident which claimed the lives of her parents and cannot walk. The pair confide in one another and make pledges of young love. As Gerard gets older, he becomes more inquisitive about his mother's childhood and her family and this reaches a peak when he is a young adult and she nearing the end. Even on her deathbed, Gerard's mother is reluctant to answer all of his questions and come clean on the secrets she's been hiding. Before her death she does reveal that her great aunt Viola wrote ghost stories like "Seraphina" and that "One came true."

Now a fully-fledged adult, Gerard saves money to afford a venture to England to investigate his mother's family, visit the house in which she grew up, and to finally meet Alice, his "invisible lover". In England, Gerard digs around to find out more about his mother's family and even receives word from an old family friend who gives him the keys to the old family home, now disused. For her part, Alice is always just out of reach. She is always in therapy or some such thing and misses Gerard's letters and emails guaranteeing that his requests to finally meet face-to-face cannot be fulfilled.

The answers to Gerard's questions come as he spends time poking around the old house in which his mother and her family lived.

The Ghost Writer is more of a multi-layered affair than my summary lets on. Gerard's description of his childhood give way to his pen pal/long distance relationship with Alice which Harwood gives over to an epistolary style. As his investigation in England moves forward, he discovers more letters and his aunt's diary which continue the style. Gerard also discovers more Victorian ghost stories written by "V.H." who turns out to be his great great aunt Viola. These Jane Austen-Turn of the Screw mash-ups hold their own as intriguing and very creepy stories in and of themselves. But they contribute to the sinsiter tone of the book as they depict events that Gerard's research proves to have happened. Overall, Harwood does a nice job of slowly ratcheting up the tension while keeping the menace lurking just out of our reach.

Thusly it was very disappointing to read the ending of the book. It was too short and felt hackneyed to me. A grand plan that was years in the making essentially goes Poof! in a couple of pages. Very unsatisfying. On the other hand, it did manage to emphasize was a pathetic figure Gerard is. As I read the book years go by – decades – and yet Gerard is still in love with Alice, or rather his idea of her. They have never met and he has never even seen a picture of her yet he is thoroughly committed to this idea that exists only in letters and e-mails called Alice. This felt wholly unrealistic. He wastes his whole life in pursuit of what is essentially a figment of his own imagination. Presumably Gerard's parents left him with mommy and daddy issues. So, while I felt the conceit here was almost absurd, I did get some satisfaction from Gerard's punishment.

Despite the ending, The Ghost Writer was enjoyable for its creepy mood (especially the parts with Gerard alone in the abandoned house) and a mystery that led me along by the nose. A good story for the Halloween season.
|| Palmer, 4:28 PM || link || (0) comments |

Triumph at the Final Presidential Debate

|| Palmer, 11:19 AM || link || (0) comments |