Monday, February 27, 2012


Another lovely weekend. Saturday morning was brunch with a charming family - I often forgot there was a two-year-old at our table, and higher praise for her company manners I have none. After brunch I headed off to a nearby town, which was the only place I could see "Coriolanus". After some happy browsing in a used bookstore right next to the movie theater, I bought my ticket and settled in.

I found it fascinating. Of about thirty people in the audience, ten walked out. I don't know what they were expecting - did they do so little research that they didn't know they were about to see an R-rated modern-dress version of a very difficult play? Perhaps they weren't able to giggle their way past Fiennes' performance, as I was. This is the danger when an actor directs him/herself: apparently no one dared to say, "Um, Ralph, your face is two inches from a camera; you don't need to play to the last row of a packed theater." He did very well in a couple quieter scenes - when he had to ask the mob for their approval it was perfectly cringe-inducing - but every time he got worked up it was far too much and I actually lost words here and there. But I thought that any other flaws were the fault of the play, and that it couldn't have been adapted for the screen any better. For the most part it was British actors who know what they're doing speaking Shakespeare, and that delights me. Brian Cox, especially, put the movie in his pocket and walked away with it.

Sunday I puttered and read. Finished The Devil Amongst the Lawyers, which was not up to Sharyn McCrumb's usual standards. It is ostensibly about the trial of a young woman for murder in 1935 Appalachia, and I anticipated the hypnotic creepiness of her other "Ballad novels", as they're called, but this followed the journalists who had come from New York to cover the story, and was a strange attempt to combine an indictment of sensationalist journalism with a re-creation of the Algonquin Round Table. The journalists - including a woman who is Dorothy Parker under the thinnest of veils - sit around uttering witty bon mots and drinking too much, and then start saying heavy-handed things about how Truth Is What We Tell Our Readers It Is, and Someday A President Will Be Chosen By The Press Coverage, and my eyes roll back in my head a bit. A shame.

Then I read The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom. It's the story of an indentured Irish girl brought to Virginia in 1791 and placed in the slave quarters. I found it uncomfortably reminiscent of The Help with its "white people fight racism!" plot, although this did a better job of showing a world in which a white person helping a black person doesn't mean all racism is conquered forever. In this book, white people give slaves their freedom, and life doesn't really get any better for the former slaves, which is probably historically accurate. The heroine is profoundly stupid and a Mary Sue, which is unfortunate, but I did whip through this almost in one sitting. In three weeks I will probably have forgotten I read it. It's that type of book.

Now I'm reading The Assassin's Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln by Kate Clifford Larson. A little dry so far, but interesting.

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