Cuyahoga River

Cuyahoga River
Cuyahoga River in the Valley

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Blue Shoe

Anne Lamott’s Blue Shoe was so much fun to listen to on tape because it was clearly written and well read. I’m a huge Anne Lamott fan, and it was really cool that we watched the documentary about her when we were in Lakeside last weekend. Her story of dealing with single motherhood and alcoholism is one of finding strength within and becoming a good and peaceful person. That’s what Mattie Ryder’s story is about too. Mattie is the newly-divorced mother of two living in her mother’s home with lots of unanswered questions about her life—in fact, it’s not too much different than my own Daffodils and Fireflies, there’s so many questions. It’s a “quiet” book, the kind I’m drawn to, like Sarah Willis’ novels. A new guy in her life doesn’t cause her to go crazy with passion—she’s too reluctant to go there.


As in my novel, clues emerge, in the form of a blue shoe and a key from a paint can. Now she knows why her aging mother is so crazy and why her father was so mysterious. What Mattie needs is honesty and intimacy, which she’s always lacked, and she finds that when she falls in love with Daniel. The blue shoe resides with each person in the story at different times. It was like the piece of bread social workers gave to orphans: “piece of bread was just to hold on to, to reassure the children through the night that they were safe now, that there would be bread to eat in the morning."

Mattie’s mother was good to everyone else but her own children, most likely because of her husband’s philandering, which made affection difficult. This was the direct result of knowing her husband loved another woman. Mattie does sort of the same thing, sleeping with her ex-husband Nicky even after he married someone else—this seemed to come from a need for love, not from a desire to get together with him, and her disgust for herself was the first step in the right direction. The reason she and Daniel fall in love is because of her honesty with him, and he falls away from his own wife because of a lack of intimacy. It was surprising to me that Mattie took pride in winning Daniel away from Pauline, sort of like she did better than her mother in winning her man and it somehow vindicated her father’s lying to them. Mattie’s faith is tested, but not so much the “religious” part, but her own God connection. By the end of the book, she’s at peace with who she is and the decisions she’s made, and has made her God connection.

Father Candy Book by Les Roberts

Retreating Again . . . at River's Edge

On the second day of the Skyline Retreat at River's Edge, I woke to think about when to go to breakfast and the heated therapeutic pool and when to do yoga and take pictures. It’s my nature to know there’s not enough time to do all those things and to make that my concern. I know, though, that morning time is writing time, and that’s what I’m here to do; everything else will fall into place. I dressed, then went into the chapel to say my prayers and meditate on carved Christ on the wall, then I made my way slowly down the halls to get a cup of coffee, reading about the programs and looking at the art on the walls. A watercolorists’ framed originals and prints are along the main hallway, and some are good, some not, and I think about how I should get out my paints and about Joan’s upcoming watercolor program at the Idlewyld. There’s a spiritual retreat coming up near my birthday that seems to be right up my alley, and I’m thinking about going to it. All these thoughts flittered in my head as I made my way to the dining room for coffee, which I’m sipping and noticing how different the flavor is, coffee that’s much better than Maxwell House and mellower than Starbucks, with a hint of cinnamon, which doesn’t bother me. Then I noticed a display about human slavery all over the world, which we talked about yesterday because I just finished the book “A Cup of Friendship,” and I thought about how I want to help with that cause, especially when I read that the CIA thinks 50,000 people are either brought to or through the US every year to become prostitutes, domestic slaves, field hands, etc., and they’re kept like prisoners.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cleveland's East Ohio Gas Blow-Up

Don Robertson’s book The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread was fun to read. He has these terribly long run-on sentences that I love. Those run-on sentences are one of the reasons why I need to get a new writing group. They don’t get that they’re all right.


I have to admit that I skipped around in this book, read the first 30 pages and skipped to the middle of the book, and I read the last half of the book in about two hours or less. I had to have it done for book group, and Ms. Roberta did a wonderful job of showing us where Morris Bird III walked and what the places that were blown up look like today. She even did a trifold board with photos she collected from the internet and took herself. We met at Lynn’s place, her comfy little haven, and had chicken salad with rosemary bread and rosemary butter, chocolate covered strawberries and shortbread cookies, and bread pudding. Very well done.

Don Robertson wrote 18 novels during his lifetime and he was from Cleveland. He took the night shift at his newspapermen’s job (he wrote for both the PD and the Press) so he could write novels. This book was written in 1965 when he would have been around 36 years old, and there are two other books with Morris Bird III in them. The New York Times said, “Delightful . . . universal enough to send a twinge of nostalgia through any ex-boy.”

The best part of the book was the end when Robertson captured what it was like to be in the Hough area when the gas tanks blew—I couldn’t put it down. We like this kid described in third person and always by his full name—Morris Bird III. “He had never seen Suzanne Wysocki cry. Veronica Lake had revealed herself to him. Suzanne Wysocki had never revealed a thing—except, of course, her interest in babies and death and all that sort of beeswax.” He loves a real girl and he loves Veronica Lake and Robertson says things like “beeswax,” which cracks me up. He keeps a picture of Veronica Lake hidden in a copy of a book about baseball, a picture he crooked from Woolworth’s. People tell him he has a good mind, and there are a whole mess of items in his head like “When you pitched baseball gum cards against a walk you got two for leaners” and “Republicans were terrible people. Everyone said o. Or anyway, almost everyone” (this one I particularly loved.) How about the word “tiddlelump”? The time is 1944, and we’re there with Morris and his little sister Sandra and a wagon with the words “NOSMIRC KAERTS” on it “hauling Sandra and the alarmclock (what’s with the combining of words like that?) and the jar of Peter Pan Peanut Butter.”

Characters are well drawn and they all run together in paragraphs, like on page 135 when we get “Mrs. Barbara Sternad sat down and had a cigarette . . . So what if she did sort of baby herself? . . . The Bernstein neighbor again telephoned Casimir Redlich. No, no sign yet of Irving . . . Mrs. Imogene Brookes gently soaped herself in her tub. She always was gentle with her body. Its measurements were 35-22-35, and she didn’t want to disturb anything. She was humming, and her head was full of visions of her passionate optician, her wonderful G. Henderson LeFevre . . . Now she was entrapped in a dreadful situation, and the awful part of it was—she was enjoying it. It was uncomfortable and it was preposterous, but she’d never enjoyed anything more. Never.” Later, on page 138, she reflects “But she wasn’t in her right mind. He was quite tall and think, and his shoulders were rounded, and he wore rimless spectacles that in no way concealed the fact that he blinked too much, but oh dear, appearances were so deceiving. She loved him. Truly she did. She had to. If she didn’t, what did that make her? Oh dear. Such a dreadful thought.”

The descriptions are as horrible as how horrible it must have been. And I didn’t even know this true East Ohio Gas event of blown tanks of natural gas that caused 5000-degree temperatures even happened. The places where the houses were is now owned by East Ohio Gas, Roberta reports.

Why did nine-year-old Morris do all this? Why take his sister in a wagon across town? "Selfrespect." And when he gets home, he’s going to get it.



Wednesday, January 4, 2012

North East Wine Country

On my last day at Mount St. Benedictine's, I drove east along the lake. Vineyards stretched out to the south of Lake Road as far as I could see, and to the north of me until the Lake stopped their March. It felt bountiful. At Courtyard Winery, owned by 4th generation growers, I had quite a long talk with the winery owner, who knows the Lake Erie Region in Ohio pretty well and has been all over the country learning about wines. He lived in California for a while and he highly recommends we go to Washington State and drive along the Joaquin River and loop around to the Columbia Valley and into Portland. He says it’s a beautiful drive and we’ll see some 500 wineries. He hoped I’d buy a case, but he understood me when I said my husband wouldn’t be happy if I did that without him—I purchased a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Courette hybrid wine, which were both good, but young, so they'll stay in the rack for a while.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Another Milan Jacovitch Book by Les Roberts

I want a cigarette because Milan smokes then so real in The Cleveland Creep. The book is tight, with no extra words at all. We immediately liked Milan and are drawn into the story from page 1: “A couple came into the bar and sat down next to me. They both had that kind of unremarkable, unmemorable face that you couldn’t identify ten minutes later, and the only reason I noticed them at all was that his head got in the way between me and the TV set at the far end of the bar.” There’s something about the way he talks that is very much Les’s voice, and I love it. I hear Les all the way through the book, and because I love Les, I love reading the story.

We learn about Milan gradually, but at the beginning of chapter two, we get “Maybe it’s the empty-bed syndrome after a lifelong marriage; maybe it’s just that I’m pushing forty and not terribly pleased with where my life has taken me,” which is followed by two paragraphs of his life story, his entire life summed up just like that and very naturally in the conversational tone that this first-person past-tense book does. While this is a book about solving a crime, it’s mostly about Milan, and I suppose that’s why people like it Les’ books so much. He has absurd conversations with people because he doesn’t hold back, doesn’t care much about what people think of him.

I find it interesting that he goes into discourses about art and places and it doesn’t bother me. For example, he gives a description of A Streetcar Named Desire and a critique of the actress’s performance, and it sounds like he’s just telling a story. On Cleveland locations, we recognize them: Sammy’s becomes Danny’s, and the Watermark becomes the Watershed. I’m glad Milan too Mary to the Watermark instead of to Sammy’s, which was always a bit obnoxious.

Descriptions. Get a load of this: “his face got tight like a woman’s leather clutch purse that had been stuffed too full with makeup and cigarettes and tampons and address books.” Since Milan is narrating this, that’s Milan’s description. Milan is smart. Some of the things he says, like “I’ll bet your dictionary of American clich├ęs is falling apart from overuse” are gems.

The plot is easy to follow and intriguing. I want to find out what happened to the guy who was murdered, and I want to find out what is behind it all. What are the reasons human beings do these things to each other? Greed, hate, jealousy, anger, all those negative things that make us human are the things capable of turning us to murder.
At the end of the book we’re in Milan’s personal life, and his relationship with Mary and his thoughts on the whole matter, which is exactly where the book should go to at the end because the book is about Milan and not about the murder he solved. There’s a long sentence there, but I like long sentences. “And afterward, after we had moved into the adjoining room for reasons of comfort and greater maneuverability, and we were each smoking a cigarette and sharing a Stroh’s, I couldn’t help reflecting on the nature of the universe, and how from death comes life, from destruction comes rebirth, and from a particularly messy and brutal case that had pretty much destroyed my faith in human nature came my first moment of real peace and happiness in a long time.”

He struggles with having chosen the private investigator line of work, and he ends the book with “And maybe, just maybe, it might not have happened to a greengrocer or a rack jobber or the guy who sells ads on the phone for the Plain Dealer. And that made it all okay.”