Cold Comfort Reading with Canada, Deep Winter and The Kept

 

It’s been a brutally cold, occasionally wet, often frozen winter here in my next of the woods, though a far cry from the polar vortexed permanently deep snow-covered winter of last year.  It’s made for a great winter for reading…and my chapped hands found their way to three novels cold as ice, though only one, The Kept, haunts the imagination.

Winter Books - Canada

Things started out with a banal, arduous thud that was the literary equivalent of traipsing 100 miles uphill in three feet of snow to the top of a mountain with a horrible view.  Richard Ford’s Canada is a long drawn out affair (it’s not until about 300 pages through the 500+ page tome that we actually get to Canada) that tells you exactly what happened in the very first sentence and then proceeds to elaborate on it ad nauseam in repetitive memoir style. Twin brother and sister, Dell and Bern, at age 15, are thrown into a maelstrom after their previously thought to be stable and clear-headed parents rob a bank in a pathetic act of desperation. Bern runs away, while Dell (our narrator) is shuffled off to the middle of nowhere Canada where he meets some unsavory characters and witnesses a murder. Getting to the bank robbery was painful and lacked even a modicum of suspense, and I don’t know how many times the narrator had to remind us of his naivety (while Bern was more wild and worldly) as he goes from one horribly boring existence to the next shaped by brief criminal acts and the occasional weirdo. I’ve never met more boring characters or read about more bloodless crimes. Continue reading

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Thunder and Lightning in The Place Beyond the Pines

The Place Beyond the Pines

If you ride like lightning, you’re going to crash like thunder.

Those words are spoken by auto body shop owner and bank robber Robin (the superlative Ben Mendelsohn).  He’s the colorful character who gets all the best lines and spouts all the wisdom in Derek Cianfrance’s epic generational Upstate New York melodrama that spans fifteen years and is told in three parts.  He says these words to small-time hood, motorcycle carnival trickster, blue-eyed and tattooed baby boy Luke (Ryan Gosling – aka The Gos, in his wheelhouse) who Robin has recently taken under his wing for a couple of bank jobs.

And no words spoken were ever truer.  Luke has just found out that a former fling named Romina (a smoldering Eva Mendes who first appears on-screen in a t-shirt with no bra underneath like KAPOOYA!) had his baby – but she’s trying to move on, do right, and has shacked-up with a real man.  Robin convinces Luke that his particular skill set (riding fast) would be best suited for crime and that is the best way to win back his woman and provide for his family.  But even Robin knows there’s such a thing as riding too fast. 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

Continue reading

Of Baseball, Beer, Bats and Caves

Well, I just got back from another successful excursion to Upstate New York for some much-needed rest & relaxation, and I even got some writing done while up there, too.  The weather was perfect – sunny with patchy clouds and blue skies, a cool breeze and mid-60 degree temperatures – and the water was high and gently rushing down the mountains from the recent thaw.  The roads and hills were once again open for the taking.

Some highlights from this time around included: Continue reading

Eat Explore Gamble

While Cooperstown has become a second home to me, I thought it was about time to explore other areas of Upstate New York.  As a last-minute autumnal getaway, I ventured up to the Adirondacks as far north as Lake George while also stopping in Glens Falls — home to the Hyde Collection — and Saratoga Springs — home to one of the friendliest casinos I have ever been to.  There’s something inherently adventurous when driving up a highway that has signs for Montreal — less than two-hundred miles away — and this civilized wilderness boasts some of the oldest settlements of both Native American and European origin.  The drive up marked the first time I was ever able to leave New Jersey without paying a toll — quick, someone fact check this…is the 287 the only way to get out the Garden State by car for free? — and the Catskills and Adirondacks unfold in gently rolling forms on the horizon as one heads up I-87N.  It’s astounding to think these now weather-worn and inviting mountains were at one time higher than the Himalayas.  Taking in all the gorgeous lakes and interconnecting canals and creeks flowing into the Hudson and eventually down to NYC, it’s no wonder the French, English and Indians all wanted to not only live here, but also control it.  Archaeological sites like Forts William Henry, Ticonderoga and Edward beckon us to stare into our Pre-Revolutionary past and see why this land…this wilderness was the first to be conquered. 

The fresh air is meant to be drunk…the humble expanse breathed in…the fall colors tasted…. Continue reading

Upstate Royalty

The Proctor Boys are a strange lot – three grizzled old men who have spent their entire lives in stifling isolation on a dairy farm in Upstate New York.  When the eldest, Vernon, winds up dead one morning in the bed all three shared, the youngest, Creed, gets swept up into accusation while the emotionally crippled simpleton (and middle brother), Audie, barely grasps the gravity of the situation.

Jon Clinch’s second novel, Kings of the Earth, was inspired by actual events.  Clearly fashioning himself a 21st century William Faulkner, Clinch spans his book across generations and voices.  Each chapter is titled by a year and a character’s name – with POV’s shifting from 1st person to 2nd person to 3rd person, but never omniscient – eerily reminiscent of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury.  Those not familiar with the style may find it a challenge, while fans of Faulkner will probably favor it as a nice homage, but it pales in comparison to the master.  This isn’t to say Clinch hasn’t achieved something memorable nearing mythic stature here. Continue reading

Autumn in Cooperstown

As not only the birthplace of baseball but also the birthplace of the American novel, Cooperstown, New York (named for the family that spawned America’s first great novelist, James Fenimore Cooper) is an endless source of inspiration.  After last year’s visit in early Spring, I decided I wanted to make a yearly pilgrimage to the place of Glimmerglass and Doubleday, leaves and lakes, ballplayers and writers, Coopers and Mohicans.  Mid-Autumn is an intoxicating sight to behold in Cooperstown and around Lake Otsego.  It’s the time of year when the “off season” is just beginning, part-time locals are enjoying a less crowded hamlet before retiring to warmer climates, year-round natives are still enjoying the nicer weather, the last shot of selective tourists leisurely ascends into town for fall foliage or in honor of the baseball playoff season, the few remaining sailboats glide over Glimmerglass, and the wildlife still roams freely but sleepily as they settle in for their upcoming long winter’s nap.  Hibernation, ice and loneliness await as the leaves slowly dance down from the treetops and cover the sidewalks as a colorful precursor to the white snow that will blanket the area all too soon.

Naturally, one can’t help but snap as many pictures as possible.  Continue reading

Cooperstown Travel Log

In honor of the opening week of baseball season, I took a road trip with my brother and a friend up to Cooperstown, NY to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame.  It was the first time I had been back since I was a child.  Though cold (and rainy on the last day), it was the perfect time of year to go to avoid the crowds that typically swamp the small village nestled below the mountains beside Lake Otsego during the summer months.  The quaint town was practically all ours for the taking (spare for some bus tours and kids at the Hall of Fame), and it was great to be able to mingle with the genuinely friendly and sometimes eccentric locals (especially on the first night at the only two bars in town open past midnight).

Below are some of the images and landscapes I was able to capture during my brief stay.  Continue reading