Random Places I Have Been in 2016

What stories do these wild Colonial Spanish horses (clearly plotting something) and ghost crab (what are you running from?) have to tell?

Wild Horses Plotting Ghost Crab

It’s the last day of 2016, so it’s time for the Spin to look back on travel throughout the year for our annual “Random Places I Have Been” series. Apart from holidays in New Orleans and Montreal (featured in blog posts earlier in the year), 2016 brought me to some unique local events including a Chinese Lantern Festival and the opening of a new Mormon Temple in Philadelphia, as well as family vacations to Massachusetts (where we soaked up some history in Concord and on Walden Pond) and the Outer Banks of North Carolina (where we saw wild horses on the beach, the Wright Brothers’ Memorial and took in as many sunrises, sunsets and lighthouses as the waning summer week would allow).

Work also brought me to Jacksonville, Florida (my first time in Florida!); Auburn, ME (my first time in Maine!); and Greenville, South Carolina (a homecoming of sorts, as I had interviewed for a job there nearly 15 years ago, but this was my first time back, and both the town and I have changed soooo much…for the better).  However, the top-secret nature of those trips prevented me from taking any pictures (just kidding…about the top-secret stuff…not about the absence of pictures though).

The Outer Banks (and those wild horses and ghost crabs in particular) also brought about the genesis of a potential new novel, a grand over-the-top Southern gothic melodrama, one that will be a joint effort between my wife and I. If you ever do time in the Outer Banks, definitely sign up for the Corolla Wild Horse Fund guided tour…it was truly inspirational. I already wrote the first chapter shortly after our return home. Now it’s my wife’s turn…not that I’m putting any pressure on her or anything…

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Is Less More in Ron Rash’s Above the Waterfall?

Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash

In Above the Waterfall, Les is a sheriff on the eve of retirement just trying to keep the peace…find some peace…in his small North Carolina mountain town. Becky is an environmentalist with the streak of a poet working as a park ranger and taking refuge in the natural beauty of her environs. While high-end resorts push natives (both human and animal) to the fringes, meth poisons the town’s less hardy residents. Ron Rash, while ever vivid in his descriptions of his Appalachian universe, attempts to go poetic minimalist here, alternating POV’s between Les’ fact-based fatalism and Becky’s yearning artistry. This attempt to balance timely sociopolitical commentary (meth came after the 2008 crash) with a timeless aestheticism (one wonders if Rash is working on an Appalachian Poetry side project) threads thin…the polar opposite of the epic gothic complexity of Serena.

Unlike the meth, much of the novel feels undercooked, as if it began as a short story that Rash later fleshed out, and those who enjoy his modern short stories will connect to this more than those who lean towards his period-piece and cross-generational novels (such as Serena, The Cove or his earlier One Foot in Eden). I fall into the latter group, and thus had mixed feelings for this effort, especially as it devolved into a not-so-compelling and seemingly manufactured “who-dun-it” concerning the poisoning of trout.

There were, of course, as is always the case with Rash, moments of genius that leave indelible marks.   Continue reading

Is Serena the Worst Book to Film Adaptation in the History of Cinema?

Serena

I picture the caption for the screenshot above to be something along the lines of, “Jenny, baby, look, we’re in one of the worst films ever made!”

I couldn’t help, while watching the travesty that is Serena, of the infinite monkey theorem (and believe me, thinking about the infinite monkey theorem is a better way to spend two hours than watching Serena), which states that if you sit 100 monkeys at 100 typewriters for an infinite amount of time, eventually their random keystrokes while churn out the works of Shakespeare…or any given text, really.  Any given text.  Like Christopher Kyle’s feces covered script for Serena.  Had monkeys actually written the script for Serena, at least we could’ve said, “Hey, 100 monkeys at typewriters wrote that?  That’s not too bad considering it was monkeys…but let’s not try this again…like, ever.”

But it’s not just the script for Serena that is so bad.  It’s everything.  Every damn thing is awful.  Continue reading

Random Places I Have Been in 2012

Ausable Chasm – Upstate New York -This past spring while up at Saratoga Springs for some R&R I took a scenic drive up I87 towards the Canadian border and stopped at Ausable Chasm.  I don’t recall much of this – only that there was a pretty cool waterfall…

Original Photograph by D. H. Schleicher

…that brought to mind a rather Twin Peaks-ian moment…

Original Photograph by D. H. Schleicher

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America, Jesus and Freedom in The Campaign

If this isn’t the funniest movie of the summer I will punch you in the face!

Like clockwork every two years near the end of summer a Will Ferrell vehicle arrives on the scene to make a case for the title of funniest movie of the year.  In 2004 it was Anchorman, in 2006 it was Talladega Nights, in 2008 it was Step Brothers and in 2010 it was The Other Guys.  Pretty much everything the SNL funny man has done in between these films (spare for the underrated dramedy Stranger than Fiction) has been crap.  Now, in 2012, here comes The Campaign.

Similarly like clockwork every year as we near November (and even more so in presidential election years) we are overwhelmed by negative campaign ads, increasingly absurd political wrangling and non-stop nattering idiots in the media.  It is this milieu that The Campaign wisely and broadly assails. 

In North Carolina’s Mayberry-esque 14th district, Cam Brady (Will Ferrell, doing a great riff on his previous Dubya impersonation crossed with the perfectly coifed sleaziness of John Edwards) has run uncontested for years on three simple words – America, Jesus and Freedom.  But that’s all about to change when the billionaire corporatist Motch Brothers (Dan Aykroyd and John Lithgow) see an opportunity to put up a puppet candidate who will help them bring Chinese slave labor to American shores.  In walks the incompetent Marty Huggins (Zack Galifianakis, perfectly embodying the oddly effeminate weirdo Southern mamma’s boy archetype) to run against Brady. Continue reading

Anticipation in Ron Rash’s The Cove

Anticipation.

Our sweet-natured, sad-soul heroine Laurel anticipating her life to begin after a string of bad luck toiling away in the gloaming of the titular cove. Waiting for love to find her.

Hank, Laurel’s brother who has returned home from Europe after losing his hand, newly betrothed and anticipating a fresh life to begin outside of the shadow of his cursed homestead.

The handsome flute-playing mute named Walter who finds his way into the cove and into Laurel’s heart always looking over his shoulder anticipating his good luck to run out and his past (and the authorities) to catch up to him.

A nation anticipating their native sons to return from a war-torn Europe to safer shores.

The reader anticipating something…anything…interesting to happen in Ron Rash’s lukewarm but evocative Southern-spun WWI-era gothic romance. Don’t worry…it does…eventually.

It’s telling that Rash would follow-up his masterpiece, Serena, with a novel drenched in atmosphere and taking place in a gloomy hollow, eternally in the shadows of the Appalachian mountains (the same mountains where in Serena the Pemberton timber empire loomed ominously and supreme) which cast darkness on the hearts of the inhabitants there. It’s almost as if Serena Pemberton is casting the greatest shadow, as Rash will never be able to conjure a character to match her nor can one imagine a follow-up novel that could scale the same mythic heights. Continue reading

Three for the Road

The dog days of summer bring endless balmy nights and I find my thoughts wandering down the road.

And no one rules the road like The Boss.

At my home in South Jersey I’m just a stone’s throw from the White Horse Pike and I find myself itching to hit the highway to chase storms and dreams along my own personal Thunder Road heading to Atlantic City. Continue reading

Carolina On My Mind

My Fall 2009 Travel Season came full circle.  In October, I visited upstate New York and the greater Cooperstown area where James Fenimore Cooper wrote and set many of his novels, most notably, The Last of the Mohicans.  In December, I visited North Carolina and the greater Asheville area where director Michael Mann and cinematographer Dante Spinotti used the vast wilderness of the Blue Ridge Mountains to double for upstate New York in their epic film adaptation of Cooper’s Great American Novel. 

It was quite a thrill to drive up those winding roads into the mountains to Chimney Rock Park and see that rock-face where Alice Munro (played by Jodhi May) achieved the pinnacle of old-school romanticism by flinging herself off the edge in Mann’s The Last of the MohicansContinue reading

A Review of Ron Rash’s “Serena”

With his ambitious novel, Serena, Ron Rash creates a new American legend.

The Great Depression enshrouds the nation.  In the Western Carolina highlands, George Pemberton and his indomitable new wife, Serena, are forging a powerful timber empire come hell or high water.  If someone or something gets in their way…there will be blood.  This is the milieu of dread where Ron Rash’s new novel, Serena, lingers.  Three things soon stand in Serena’s path:  her husband’s bastard child, Jacob; the child’s young mother, Rachel Harmon; and a groundswell of conservatism looking to incorporate the Pemberton timber tracts into a national park.  Thus two women come at a crossroads, both empowered by their innate wills to survive:  Serena feasting off her insatiable greed while Rachel is driven by the unstoppable love for her child. Continue reading

Travel Log May 2007

I’ve returned from my vacation to North Carolina renewed and refreshed.  During my time away…

1. I discovered Graham Greene makes for shockingly good beach reading.  His Tenth Man, with all its wartime noir and identity swapping, would’ve made a splendid plot for an Alfred Hitchcock film.

2. I grew closer to starting my next novel.  The change of scenery inspired some detailed outlining and the genesis of character names.  The opening line is just around the corner. 

3.  I nursed a bad sunburn on my forearms.  Ironically it was from time spent at a Phillies’ game the weekend prior and not from any time on the beach.

4. I traipsed around some old haunts with some old friends.  Thankfully that first place we erroneously stepped into on Wrightsville Beach was not our beloved Dockside, and that wonderful establishment still stands as is a few buildings down the road with a much improved menu.  It’s funny how memory plays tricks on you and you swear something was right here when in fact it was always over there.  Check out http://www.docksidelife.com for more on this great spot if you plan to visit the area.

5. I attended a lovely wedding with an overflowing open bar.  Jack Daniels, my old friend, it had been too long!

6. And divine joy of fast-food joys–I dined at Bojangles twice–gotta lotta flava’ y’all!

The following pictures were all taken at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina and the surrounding Wilmington area.  Continue reading