Am I the only person in the world who wasn’t impressed with Inception? Dream-world concept notwithstanding, it’s full of bogus, clichéd character stakes: “I’ve got to break up the power monopoly to save the world,” “I have to get back home to my kids”, etc. I’ve never seen DiCaprio so easily upstaged before, but Tom Hardy does it without trying. I also couldn’t figure out why DiCaprio was being made to look like Orson Welles, Jr, but then came the rosebud-safe opening scene and all was made clear, to my chagrin. That one deserved a resounding "Boo!" At least Avatar, while it was only cowboys and Indians in space (but with the Indians winning), was a memorable visual experience.
The City and the Pillar by Gore Vidal (Random House 1995, orig. 1948)
It’s hard to believe this book caused such a furor on its publication in 1948. (Most major publications ignored it and then blacklisted Vidal’s subsequent books for the next six years; the NY Times refused advertising on its behalf.) Published the same year as the Kinsey Report, it must have seemed part of a concerted attack on American morals. In fact, it was the first notable volley of queer writing to appear in English by a respected author, and it remains one of the watershed novels of 20th century gay literature. Thomas Mann called it “noble” and “truthful.” In the original version, a teenager named Jim Willard has a sexual encounter with a fellow high-school student, Bob Ford. Bob leaves town to join the navy and Jim spends the next seven years trying to find him, which he does with tragic consequences. Vidal later revised the book, toning down the ending considerably in a version republished in 1965. While it has its charms, it’s not a very good book by any means, but back in the day it was the only game in town, so it’s not surprising so many gay men grew up on it.
The Pilgrim Hawk by Glenway Wescott (The Noonday Press 1990, orig. 1940)
This is my second reading of this short novel, given to me by my friend, the late Douglas LePan, who saw it as a book worthy of note. It’s a concise tale of two American expats in France in the 1920s, on a summer afternoon when a peripatetic and self-absorbed Irish couple, the Cullens, drop in and leave abruptly. The woman, Madeleine, carries a falcon everywhere with her, to the dismay of her drunken husband. The hawk becomes a prism through which the characters view the world and each other, as well as a metaphor for love that embraces captivity versus freedom, and the various appetites said to inform the need to be free versus the need to stay captive. The writing is graceful and delicate, but largely unmoving, largely because none of these characters is particularly admirable or even likable. Wescott has been called a low-rent Fitzgerald by detractors, while others have compared him favourably to Katherine Anne Porter.
Wow! Queen Elizabeth II, Elton John and Lady Gaga all in one week. Will my head explode? HRH took a stroll through Queen’s Park last Tuesday, while his Elton-ness attended Her Royal Gaga’s Monster Ball at the Air Canada Centre last night. Sad to say, the sound was terrible in the upper seats. I could hardly understand a word Gaga said, though the lower realms responded with something like ferocity at her every statement. I got a small taste of what it must have been like to experience Beatlemania, or perhaps a Nuremberg rally, but the frenzy was largely contained once the concert began and things began to feel more like a large house party with a very likeable, though rather ordinary looking hostess, apart from the fantastical costumes.
Starstruck? Moi? Not bloody likely. I’ve seen my share of stars in the entertainment world, and even worked with a few, but I feel no razzle-dazzle when I meet them. There are, however, a handful of celebrities I would go out of my way to see, and Queen Elizabeth II is one. Save your Kennedys, take your Tom Cruises and Julia Roberts—watching the queen descend the steps of Queen’s Park and stroll around the grounds greeting people today was real glamour. And while I may be part of a generation that has grown cynical of politics and figureheads, Queen Elizabeth has been a significant figure for my entire life. It was her picture on the walls I saluted in public school and her broadcasts I still listen for at Christmastime as part of a handful of traditions that hold meaning for me. Stoical, well-mannered, gracious, and seemingly indefatigable, at 84 she is the living embodiment of what a grand monarch can be. God Save The Queen!
Naming The Bones by Louise Welsh (2010 Canongate)
This long-awaited fourth volume by one of the more interesting contemporary writers is yet another deviation from her previous books. It seems everything Welsh sets out to write is a foray into fresh fields, as though each volume completes one journey and paves the way for another. In the current book, Murray Watson, a would-be biographer of a little known Scottish poet named Archie Lunan, tracks his long-dead quarry into the past and makes some startling discoveries. With its emphasis on atmosphere—ruined castles, semi-deserted islands, and even sinkholes—it’s more of a gothic novel crossed with an almost-traditional mystery. Almost, in that a good number of the mysteries are left inconclusive at the book’s end. There’s a bit of fun name-play—Watson, as in the bumbling Dr. Watson, Lunan as in poetic ‘lunacy,’ a mysterious former-mistress named Graves whose secret is literally buried, and even a foe named Baine. Frankly, I would have been tempted to dismiss this book early on if I hadn’t been aware of the incisive intellect behind it. It feels as though someone said to Welsh, “Enough with the brilliance, Louise; how about writing something the rest of us will understand?” I suspect with this book Welsh is heading stolidly toward the mainstream, and no doubt it will take her there, but it may leave fans of her previous volumes bewildered at best and disappointed at worst.