Monday, June 25, 2007

Monday Morning Reviews, With 180% Less Drama

There has certainly been enough of all that anyway, which is probably why I have read so much in the past few days. We take our escape routes where we can find them, I guess. Went on something of a book bender again.

Books (3):

Ivy Briefs, by Martha Kimes. Kimes writes a popular blog that I found courtesy of another popular blog.

Ivy Briefs is one small town girl's experience at a big city, big league law school. I sailed through it rather quickly, and even though I was a worldly girl at a small town law school, I found myself laughing and nodding along during almost every chapter. The law school experience is just....the same, no matter where you go. The same cast of characters appears, including the Gunner (man, the one at my school was a walking testament to the justifiable use of torture), the Slacker, the law review brigade - all of it. I don't care if you were at a top 10 or bottom tier school, I am convinced that the promise of the practice of law draws certain personality types, and some are more memorable than others.

Like the author, I had a decent time in law school, all things considered. Made some lifelong friends, met some people I hope to permanently forget and studied and partied more than I should have. Law school also tends to attract that certain student that could whip out a term paper the night before and get an A, just because we know how to use the five dollar words that impressed our college professors. All of us were utterly humbled during that first year and your first B in law school. Grimes does a great job of explaining how a B - something you could almost brag about in college, given the effort you put into the class -- how it was the hallmark of failure in law school.

One of my favorite part of her tale was the description of the students post-final exam. There were these certain students - awful, wretched human beings - who wanted to dissect the entire exam and point out to you their brilliance and superiority in catching the most obscure issue in the whole four page fact pattern (N.B.: you didn't get an A for catching the obscure points. You got an A for gettign the big picture and actually writing it down). You only needed to engage in one of these conversations before you learned to get the fuck out of the building as soon as your ink was dry. I had a great friend in law school named Chris (who will be governor of Michigan some day. I met the future governors of Michigan and Indiana, but that is another story), who was a post-test talker. I loved Chris - he liked movies as much as me and thought nothing odd about a late night conversation about our unabashed love for most Julia Roberts movies (yes. I know. Sorry. In my defense, I didn't see Mary Reilley or Mona Lisa Smile). But Chris and I had exactly one of those post-exam conversations and we freaked each other out with our perceptions and discoveries. He scared the shit out of me and I rattled him.

After that, after every single exam during law school, Chris and I would walk wordlessly to his car, drive to the theater in silence and have a single conversation about which flick to watch. During the winter, we would sometimes go ice skating, which was some bizarro thing I loved to do, having grown up in the desert. The theory, which proved truthful in its application, was that after a movie or a session on the ice, we would be less inclined to rehash an exam that was already written and couldn't be improved upon.

In any event, I loved the book, loved her narrative style and would recommend it, not just to anyone who has ever been to law school, but also to anyone who is curious about the dynamics of future lawyers, especially the pre-burnout years. It should be noted that the author no longer practices law.

Rules for Saying Goodbye, by Katherine Taylor.

An unfortunate title for me, I found this book courtesy of Gawker, a truly entertaining and wry site about Manhattan, the media and everything else. The author had made a comment about how another (male) author's book was ridiculously simple, which probably wasn't intended to be the slight the male author perceived. In any event, I understood her point to be that almost any memoir-style novel penned by a female author is classified as "chick lit," while similar styled musings from male authors (Here's looking at you, Eggers, Burrows, Vachon, et al) are Important.New.Novels. That is kind of bullshit, and labeling something as "chick lit" immediately catapults its literary value into something approaching beach reading.

I am a proud consumer of what most literary types would consider chick lit. I like the female voice. I liked The Devil Wears Prada, A Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing, almost everything Jennifer Weiner has written, and Emily Griffin, whose latest book is the subject of my final review. I don't do romance novels or heaving breast or anything of that realm of fantasy. I read books without regard to the gender of the author, as it is the subject matter that attracts me. I have never been into science fiction or fantasy or historical novels. I seem to like the stories about the here and now, told with wit, clever and honesty.

As for the book, I thought it was really well written and poignant. What struck me the most, however, was how disconnected I felt from the protagonist. It wasn't that I didn't relate to her, as I most certainly did. But she didn't get under my skin or in my bones the way I usually find myself understanding a character. I think, but may be wrong, that this was intentional, but in any event, I closed the book with an appreciation for the writing style but no lasting connection with the protagonist.

Baby Proof, by Emily Griffin.

Griffin is yet another former lawyer turned author, but easily one of my favorites. She wrote two other books (Something Borrowed and Something Blue, which sounds much cheesier than it is. Griffin is a born story teller with a really sophisticated way with words, and I loved both of her previous books.

Baby Proof is about a woman who wants a life that rattles both sexes uncomfortable - one without kids. I know from experience how uncomfortable that makes people, especially parents and even more especially, other mothers. I find that dynamic utterly fascinating, even if it is rather simple on its face. Mothers - and I believe this is true of every mother I know - they are defined by that role, and in a very admirable and understandable way. Parenthood is the ultimate sacrifice and, most likely, the greatest reward, and parents know that. They know a secret that the childless among us don't, and, conversely, the childless among us know a secret they don't, either. One experience isn't necessarily better than the other, they are just different. I suspect that people have children for as many varied reasons as those chosen by those who don't, but the procreators are uncomfortable with the non-breeding types.

I don't know where I fall into this category. I wanted kids. I think I still do, but I don't long to be a mother the way some of my friends did. Part of it is that I don't know if I would be good at it, and not being good at it has a very real effect on the child at issue. Part of it is wanting to be defined by who I am and who I become as a person, which, if I understand the argument correctly, is what parenting types call "selfish." On the other hand, watching another person grow up, develop, build character, make mistakes and learn from them? And when that person has some of you in them? Yeah, I get that in my bones, too. I don't know a parent who regrets having children, even if the sacrifices for their kids has devoured a huge part of who they hoped to become or the life they always wanted. I am getting too old to be ambivalent about this, but have to believe that things will just work themselves out.

Egad. Weird tangent. Griffin has written a story that resonated with me, who can see the pros and the cons. Her central character married the love of her life, who shared her outlook on having children, but then changed his mind and it became a deal breaker. Her aftermath, the divorce, the longing, the work and extracurricular distractions -- all of this was told in such an engaging story that I want her to write another one. I know that plenty of high minded literary types would classify her stuff as chick lit, but that classification pretty much underscores the point made by Taylor. It isn't irrelevant or mindless or unimportant because it narrates the tale of a woman's struggle. Maybe her titles don't add to the equation, but I thought about this story long after I shut the book.


Mr. Brooks, starring Kevin Costner, William Hurt and Demi Moore.

I probably shouldn't even opine on the film, as my mind kept wandering out of the theater, despite the dizzying plot twists of the film. I found myself thinking, more than once, "Wow, Kevin Costner is knocking it out of the park. William Hurt is stealing the show. Fucking A, does Demi look amazing and it is great to see her."

It was entertaining and a great distraction for me, notwithstanding the wandering mind. I was truly surprised to learn, during the credits, that this wasn't based on a novel. That is how it felt - trying to stuff into a motion picture, all of the elements in a book. Nope. It was written by the director, and apparently, intended to be one of a three part series. They certainly set it up as that.

A good friend told me, very recently, that there aren't many bad Kevin Costner pictures, and he was right. Costner nailed this role and, if the writing can hold up, I hope he has a franchise on his hands. Thing is, they do need to get the writing tighter. Too many competing plots, too many twists, too much was going on to fully engage me, although I did have a more compelling plot line running through my brain. I couldn't figure out why they were trying to do so much and introduce so many competing plot lines. Less is almost always more, and sometimes? You need to keep it simple, stupid. I found myself, at the end of the movie, wondering how ugly the fights got in the edit room.

I will watch this movie again, probably on HBO, and again reiterate that Costner and Hurt stole the show. Demi looks great -- insanely and impossibly great -- but this was Costner and Hurt's movie and they rocked their performances.


Norm said...

I liked Mary Reilly.

But the Malkovitch level was up to 11 on that one. If you can't handle that, avoid.

cornutt said...

I can always handle the Makovitch level. The more, the better, not unlike wasabi.

Hell, I liked Something To Talk About. Am easy peasy like that.

Talix said...

I liked Something to Talk About because I always said Kyra Sedgwick and Julia Roberts should play sisters, and there they did.

I also liked Mona Lisa Smile, but I attribute that to my Julia Stiles thing, which I got from Save the Last Dance for Me. I love that movie somewhat unreasonably.