Current Distractions, July 2013 Edition

This month: treading water, not that successfully. Let's just say I'm very glad that I have a bit of a buffer of posts, and decided to only post one per month. However, I'm writing this from the past so that I don't need to worry about posting while I'm on my sweet vacation road trip as you read this (or don't read it, but whatev), so maybe when I return I'll be all fixed. Unlikely.


I managed to see a couple of movies in the theatre this month.

The first was The Heat, which was decent but not amazing. What I mean is that I didn't like it as much as I liked Bridesmaids. In fact, I think both movies made one major misstep each, which was the oddly graphic scenes where Sandra Bullock attempts a tracheotomy and all the women get food poisoning, respectively. I feel like these were attempts to be like "ladies can be gross, too!" but mostly they were just gross, and blood is intrinsically less funny than shit apparently. Anyway, I've just been wanting to get that off my chest.

The second was Pacific Rim, which I haven't seen yet. I will fill in this blank when I have:
_____OMFG SO AMAZING_____.


ALL THE PODCASTS. Chiefly How Did This Get Made?, which is about so-bad-they're-good movies, and makes me lolirl. I can't stop listening to it. They did an episode on The Room featuring SESTOSTERONE himself, which is enlightening and also a great way to psych yourself up for reading his upcoming book, The Disaster Artist.


I continue to procrastinate on the List books, although I swear I'll read The House of Mirth after my vacation. I'm still reading other stuff as usual, though. Most intriguing from July was The Fifty Year Sword, by Mark Z. Danielewski. I think House of Leaves is still by far my preferred work by him, but The Fifty Year Sword is a great atmospheric scary story with beautiful illustrations that I definitely see myself digging out on multiple Halloweens from now on.


I left the most important thing for last. My Pépé (grandpa, that is) died on July 6. He hadn't been well for a long time, but it was still unexpected. My Pépé was a complicated man, but a good one, and I have a lot of fond memories of riding in combines with him, or going out checking crops and looking for wild animals, singing "A-Hunting We Will Go." And speaking of singing, he loved music and song especially, and I think my best memories are of his voice: joyful harmonies and forceful solos at Midnight Mass for so many years. He will be missed.

This isn't really the place for me to wax poetic about anything, though. I feel strange grouping it in the same post as my thoughts on gross-out scenes in funny movies and a spooky book, except that death doesn't care much where it shows up, so I suppose it fits here as well as anywhere.

71. A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes

Uncomfortable Plot Summary: SPOILERS!! A group of children traumatize a ship full of pirates almost as much as the pirates traumatize them.

Year Published: 1929
Pages: 284
First Sentence: One of the fruits of Emancipation in the West Indian islands is the number of the ruins, either attached to the houses that remain or within a stone's throw of them: ruined slaves' quarters, ruined sugar-grinding houses, ruined boiling houses; often ruined mansions that were too expensive to maintain.
Rating: 3/3 (read it!)

What with coming so close on the heels of A House for Mr Biswas, I didn't have high hopes for A High Wind in Jamaica. Based on the title and what I've come to expect from The List, I figured that this book would be Wide Sargasso Sea narrated by some whiny dude.

Boy, was I ever wrong. This book is awesome.

In order to summarize it I have to spoil one pretty amazing gag in the book, so if you want to go in fresh then stop reading this right now and go read this book instead. The rest of us will proceed with the review.

The book begins with an introduction to the Bas-Thornton children, Emily (the semi-main character, 10 years old or so), John (slightly older), Edward, Rachel, and Laura (each, respectively, younger than the last, and all younger than John and Emily—Laura is 4). They are English children living with their parents in Jamaica somewhere in the middle of the 19th century. After establishing the setting, Hughes abruptly knocks it all down with a hurricane, and Mr and Mrs Bas-Thornton decide to send their children back to England where they'll be safer.

Their voyage, on a sailing ship, has barely begun when the ship is boarded by pirates who kidnap the children so that the other crew will cooperate. Thanks to a healthy misunderstanding, the captain of the non-pirate ship believes that the pirates killed the children. Blah blah blah the kids end up on a pirate ship, ok? There are antics.

The genius of this book is that it is both very dark and very funny. The style is something along the lines of J. M. Barrie with all of the fantasy stripped away. The humour is mainly in the very astute details of the children's behaviour, while the darkness lurks on the edges of things. The story of Margaret, a girl somewhat older than John, who, along with her brother, is travelling with the Bas-Thorntons, is the most horrific of all, for reasons that you can probably guess.

Hughes juggles the seven children as characters pretty well, although they function best as an ensemble. He does an excellent job conveying the heat of the setting, too. I could praise him considerably more, but instead I'll just say that I'd be more than happy to read something (anything!) else he's written (a la Wallace Stegner, who I unfortunately still haven't managed to read more of yet).  Definitely take a bit of time to check this one out.

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For, only a few yards up, there was a Frangipani tree: a mass of brilliant blossom and no leaves, which was almost hidden in a cloud of humming-birds so vivid as much to outshine the flowers. Writers have often lost their way trying to explain how brilliant a jewel the humming-bird is: it cannot be done.
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If it would have surprised the mother, it would undoubtedly have surprised the children also to be told how little their parents meant to them. Children seldom have any power of quantitative self-analysis: whatever the facts, they believe as an article of faith that they love Father and Mother first and equally. Actually, the Thornton children had loved Tabby first and foremost in all the world, some of each other second, and hardly noticed their mother's existence more than once a week. Their father they loved a little more: partly owing to the ceremony of riding home on his stirrups.
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