Victoria Jelinek


Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in their home in an attack dubbed by the press as “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” Libby and her then fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, survived, and it was Libby’s testimony that sent Ben to jail on a life sentence for the monstrous murders.

41x9l+9rpDL._SX302_BO1,204,203,200_As a youngster, Libby received a lot of money from strangers for having survived her ordeal (and for being cute). Twenty-five-years later, she’s broke, and hasn’t done anything with her life except grow angrier and more depressed. Then the Kill Club locates her. They’re a secret society obsessed with notorious murders, and they want to pump Libby for details because they believe Ben was wrongly convicted and want to find proof that will liberate him. In turn, Libby hopes to make a profit off of her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with people associated with that night and her family at that time, and report her findings back to the club. When Libby begins this journey, she’s convinced her brother is guilty. But as her search takes her from decrepit Missouri strip clubs, to deserted Oklahoma tourist towns, and back to the site of the fatal killings, the inconceivable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself back where she started – running from a murderer.

The novel is a complex character study and an evocative portrait of people on the fringe of society. Told in sporadic flashback, Libby narrates the present-day chapters in first person, while the flashback chapters are told in third-person, describing the actions and perspectives of several key characters on the days leading up to, and on the day that, the family was murdered. Libby is not a particularly likeable protagonist – she’s bitter, tough, and selfish. Even so, you root for her, and you’re sad about her horrifying childhood. Similarly, Ben isn’t particularly appealing – he’s awkward, shiftless, impressionable, and irrational. Like Libby, you feel immense sympathy for him. Each of the characters in the book are compelling, even if they’re not agreeable, and Flynn expertly weaves their stories together. The narrative is consistently developed, compelling, and absolutely suspenseful throughout (I had to resist reading the last chapters to find out how it ended!). The best aspect of this book, however, is in Flynn’s ability to create a vivid picture or a situation in a phrase or two, giving the reader a believable glimpse into a world we might never see otherwise.

This is an insightful, poignant, and well-written book. Its ability to affect its reader is also impressive. I was troubled for several days after finishing it – I found myself checking on my sleeping child in the night, hugging him more during the day, and double-checking that the front and back doors were locked when I went to bed. Would I read it again? Not for some years. Do I recommend reading it? An emphatic yes!

 

 

 

 



Jack Goes Boating

(Rendez-vous l’été prochain)

indexA limo driver’s blind date ignites a humorous and poignant tale of love, friendship and betrayal focused around two working-class New York City couples.

Jack (the late, great, Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a limo driver with vague hopes of getting a job with the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). He has an obsession for reggae that has inspired him to attempt to grow his hair into dreadlocks, and he spends most of his time hanging out with his best friend and fellow driver Clyde and Clyde’s wife, Lucy. Clyde and Lucy introduce him to Connie and they like each other. Being with Connie inspires Jack to learn to cook, to take swimming lessons in order to take Connie on a romantic boat ride, and to pursue a new career. Meanwhile, Lucy and Clyde’s marriage begins to disintegrate.

Hoffman’s directorial debut is a very independently spirited and produced film. Hoffman made a career doing interesting, indie films such as Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Capote, and The Boat That Rocked, among many others. During his career, he was the Artistic Director for an off-Broadway theatre company in NYC for ten years, which is where this play originated. In putting together this film, he gathered around him wonderful talent, both on-screen and off-screen, from both the theatrical and the cinematic world, both independently financed and studio financed. And, the result is a small, gently paced, gem of a film, perfect viewing during our days of confinement.

 

 



A Serious Man
April 16, 2020, 7:49 am
Filed under: Film reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

A potential film to watch while in confinement…

A Serious Man posterDid you like The Big Lebowski? Fargo? Raising Arizona? Oh Brother Where Art Thou? No Country for Old Men? Then you should watch A SERIOUS MAN by The Coen Brothers if you haven’t watched it already.

The setting is 1967 Americana suburbia: Larry Gopnik’s (Michael Stuhlbarg) life is beginning to unravel -his wife wants a divorce because his incompetent brother is sleeping on the couch and his son owes the school bully $20 for a bag of marijuana – and he just wants to know how it all went wrong and what he can do about it.

The Coen Brothers have made some great films and this one is marvellous – a suburban dysfunctional family drama meets metaphysical mystery that stands out as their most human and relatable film yet.



Shameless USA

ShamelessShameless USA is a family drama based on the UK’s long-running hit of the same name. William H. Macy leads the cast as the working class patriarch of an unconventional Chicago clan of six kids who, helmed by their eldest sibling, Fiona, keep their ramshackle home afloat while their dad is out getting blindingly drunk each day.

While the original series, set in Manchester, is grimmer, grittier, and, arguably, more shameless than the USA based series, the American version is still good. Yes, even as the actors in the US version are more attractive, their teeth are good, and their home is larger and prettier than the British version (prompting the question of whether Americans are comfortable with the ugliness of poverty), their circumstances and behavior are similarly outrageous and touching. Sure, Americans don’t ‘do’ subtlety as well as the British, so much of the action is obvious and flat-footed (such as when young Debbie puts the pillow under the head of her passed out father, thereby showing us the acceptance and love that the family feel for him, rather than permitting the audience to discern that via observation), they are still an audacious, criminally-inclined family trying to survive without resources other than their wits and each other.

I came late to these series, which have both been running since 2004 and 2011*, respectively, but it’s never too late to watch entertaining television – particularly during confinement. Moreover, I have found that by watching these fictional families, which in many ways reflect the truth of poverty in that the people make perpetual sacrifices in order to meet the minimum needs of life, have to get by on practically nothing, and whose permitted aspirations are often little more than surviving, I have gained perspective about my own life’s desires and expectations. As I’m entertained watching this series, I’m also inspired and resolved to be more modest in general. And, at this terrible moment in our shared global history, that’s a good thing to learn and to remember as we face our collectively uncertain future.

*Ending in UK in 2013 and in USA in 2021.



XXII: Radio Play

We are taught to consume. And that’s what we do. But if we realized that there really is no reason to consume, that it’s just a mind set, that it’s just an addiction, then we wouldn’t be out there stepping on people’s hands climbing the corporate ladder of success. River PhoenixLove in Recovery

In my opinion, the best humor has a tragic core. And, what better source for dark and amusing material than addiction? Think of Carrie Fisher with her book (then film) Postcards from the Edge. Or Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Mall Rats, or Get Him to the Greek.

Addiction forms the setting for Radio 4’s fantastic six-part series Love in Recovery. It’s such a funny and interesting radio play that after a friend sent me a link to one show, I plundered the BBC I Player back catalogue. I have both laughed and cried on occasion while listening. It’s sharp and fresh, even as the story of immoderation in alcohol is age-old.

There are lines throughout that I have pondered after each of the 15-minute vignettes, such as, “The hardest thing in the world is just getting through…” Or, “I waited to feel better…it never came.” Or, “There is no cure. You will never be fixed. It’s horrible. But it’s just the way it is.” These motifs speak to me. The illogical sense of complete failure, disappointment, and a life full of more regrets than triumphs are familiar. That unhappiness, insecurity, and the sense that I’m not what I might have been had I been someone else (if that makes any sense to a rational person) is the albatross I’ll carry forever. That drugs and alcohol blissfully stop my brain from thinking too much. The characters in Love in Recovery feel much the same way. It rings ‘true’ to me. And it should. The writer, Pete Jackson, has an interesting backstory, which provides the lynchpin for the radio play’s authenticity.

Amidst the distress and pain is much humor. There is the subtle (sic) nod to the great British ‘art’ of “grumbling,” as well as slang, dialects, and cultural references that contribute to a sense of the everyday and the ‘everyman.’ Like Andy, for example, the needy group leader, who’s constantly offering cookies (biscuits) to the participants with the enticement that, “They’re from M&S.” And, as is often the case in the best Brits, humor coexists with self-deprecation and sadness. For example, one episode finds Julie (Sue Johnston) giving an unwaveringly powerful portrait of a woman who attempted to find happiness at the bottom of a glass after her husband of 40 years left her: “He went off with the cleaner, who ironically turned out to be a dirty bitch.”

All the actors are stellar. And, the sentiment resonates. It’s fundamentally about how even though you feel alone, that you have the worst difficulties, that you are the worst of the worst, you’re not. That even as you have some slim understanding that this vicious voice telling you these horrible things is false, and the facts belie this ‘self-speech,’ there are others who also find life hard. However, by sharing our stories, our difficulties, our successes, our failures and our disappointments, we can help one another take one day at a time. This works for anything, really, whatever the issue. Addiction takes many forms – alcohol, drugs, food, shopping, fornicating, exercise, and work. Or all of the above. Perhaps, as is the case for me, it’s ‘simply’ the compulsion to excess at all times, both ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Both substances and through actions. Big happy. Big sad. Big success. Big flop. For me at least, it’s comforting to know that I’m not alone in my current struggle for moderation. My own floundering objective to be ‘balanced’ also seems to reflect modern society’s own battle with itself, arguably making addiction a universal story. For me, listening to podcasts, reading books, watching films, and looking at paintings isn’t just for diversion. They provide insights into the human condition. And through this, greater understanding of the world we live in, as well as ourselves. It’s comforting to find a sense of propinquity in the world. And, one can find beauty in ugliness, just as there’s humor in the darkness.