Wednesday, August 30, 2017

How Many More Butterflies Photos can I show Them?

The Butterfly Hotel will be closing it's doors for the year soon. There is one more Monarch chrysalis which will probably become a butterfly tomorrow. I have two Black Swallowtails which are either dead or else "of the second generation", meaning they should be the first flight of 2018. I have to figure out a place to stash these outdoors; I don't want them to become butterflies in January inside the house!

Probably we have sheltered about 25 Black Swallowtails and likely at least a dozen Monarchs.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Last Novel: The Swansong of Barbara Pym, "A Few Green Leaves"...

Photo by Barbara Besler for "A Few Green Leaves"

As a reminder, a theme of my reading is to catch up on the works of writers that I have missed over the last decades of working outside the home and raising a family. In my 30's, I tried a novel by Barbara Pym, but due to my own immaturity, was unable to finish it.

Now it is different. Probably, Barbara Pym is a literary genre all her own. Her novels seem like "cozy, British small village tales", but there is quite a sharp edge to her prose! It's all about those original on-liner observations she writes, choosing just the right words. It reminds you a bit of Jane Austin.

Barbara Pym was British, she lived from 1913 to 1980; by profession, she edited academic papers, preparing them for publication. She did not plan to support herself with her own writing, but her first few novels were published and she started out with promise. In the mid-1950's, her work began to be rejected by her own publisher and others. I think she fell victim to a fast change in "public taste" that occurred about that time in the arts, music, films, literature and clothing styles (and probably other areas as well.) She kept on writing, since it was her life time habit. She was rediscovered again the the 1970's.

Unfortunately, by that time, she had breast cancer. In those days, the disease was nearly always detected with a lump; usually the cancer had spread and most people died of the disease eventually.
(Now, with earlier detection, the results are often better.) Barbara Pym completed this novel just a few weeks before her own death--the shadow was over her as she wrote about village church grave yards, etc.

The main character in the novel, Emma Howick, is a modern, mid-30's, unmarried academic who finds direction and decisiveness in the course of the story. She's been floating on the currents of her life all these years, but hasn't learned to stand on her own ground. There is a gauntlet of village characters, two possible males she could end up with. Though no resolution is reached, Pym leaves Emma (and us) with a calm feeling that Emma is going to be alright.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Two Authors' "First Novels": one Noir and one, just plain Dark


James Anderson is a regional, Pacific Northwest writer of fiction, poetry, reviews as well as an editor and teacher. "The Never-Open Desert Diner" is his first novel.

I have mentioned my local book exchange often provides 'uncorrected proof; not for sale' books for advance readers, reviewer and I guess, the library.  I love these editions and always give them "a look". I find authors I never would have.   This book was one of those.

The Hero, Ben Jones, has an interesting business: he has a short haul (200 miles round trip everyday) truck service over an isolated desert route in Utah, south of Salt Lake City. His route is so remote that the Majors in the business hire him to carry their packages. Often, he's the only vehicle on the road.

Against this blank desert canvas, Anderson begins sketching the outline of various weird, eccentric characters Ben supplies with the things they need to survive, packages, things he sells from the truck, etc. (He is not a drug dealer.) The plot centers on an old man who runs a small but notorious diner-style restaurant with a violent, tragic history; it has been used in Hollywood films, we learn, due to its evocative appearance and location. So old Walt, the owner, has friends among the stars.

There is an interesting mystery woman who plays the cello, a cute sassy young juvenile girl who will become Ben's sidekick later in the book (an probably in novels to follow; this novel is intended as the beginning of a series). I will not discuss much of that: spoiler.

The writing is good, the main character is likable and evokes our sympathy, the plot is a little contrived (but aren't they all?), the atmosphere is camp and kitschy, as advertised, so if a person enjoys modern, slightly off-beat stories, this would be a "first novel" to try. The publication date was March 2016.

Just Plain Dark:

The late Mario Puzo, I have read, thought that "The Fortunate Pilgrim" was his best novel; I agree. As everyone knows, his best known work was "The Godfather"; between the novel and the films, that story is an American Iconic Classic.

The book I read recently was his first novel, The Dark Arena. He certainly titled the novel correctly!

Walter Mosca, a former American GI, once repatriated to the US directly after WW II, is unable to settle. He cannot re-bond with his family or fiancee; he has been through too much to simply get a comfortable American job, marry and have kids, as so many did. He has an emotional connections still in Germany, we learn. His mother has received mail from a German girl.

Walter Mosca joined the Army at 17 and stayed for the duration. He is 22 years old when the plot of this novel unfolds. Walter had fought in real battles, he witnessed but did not participate in atrocities, he was nearly killed in a landmine explosion (though the scars cannot be seen when he is clothed.) The book was published in 1953; PTSD was not in the vocabulary in those days, but Walter was surely a victim.

He reconnects with friends from the service who are working in the German reconstruction effort; he signs on as a civilian contractor to work in Bremen, a large German city in the industrial region of Germany, totally destroyed by bombs. His job concerns relations with German civilians working for the Americans. Mario Puzo used his own war experience as basis for the location and atmosphere of the novel. It's bleak: a year after the War, bodies are still entombed in the rubble and place still smells a little of death.  About the only services available to the people is the street car line. It is winter and all is cold, grey and dark.

Walter is pulled into an illegal, Black Market money making scheme by one of his American bosses; Walter is used for "muscle" in this operation; it is dangerous.

But Walter has a love interest, Helle. She was pregnant with his child when he left Germany; she had resolved to wait a year or so for him, then raise the baby herself and find another mate. But she lost the baby and she has documents to prove to him she is telling the truth. The two love one another, so they rekindle their affection, live together (illegally). She becomes pregnant again. They are happy, with plans eventually to return to the 'States.

But this is The Dark Arena, after all. Forces, the dark forces of the post-war rules and the Black Market economy and deep, dark despair and desperation of the German people to survive close in upon them slowly, like a vise.

Of the two novels in this post, "The Dark Arena" is the better quality: the writing a very good, the scene and the characters seem so true; you are totally transported to this awful place and time. The book reminded me of "Lie Down in Darkness" by William Styron (not an enjoyable read, but well done) and Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury".

Monday, August 7, 2017

Still "Hier"!

Having a great summer, having parties (this one brought both of our sons home (at the same time) for the first time in 7 years; and their sweet wives; it was great!).

A few more butterflies are nearing readiness for release; a few little trips still to come--and working steadily on trim painting details, etc. on the house.

The Butterfly Hotel is open for business--and packed!

We started, several years ago, to assist the butterfly population by nurturing the young specimens indoors. It was slow going. But this...