The Man From Primrose Lane by James Renner

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Man From Primrose LaneThe au­thor of this book, James Renner, is a friend of mine.

Reading this book is like watch­ing a freight train bar­rel to­ward you and be­ing un­able to move, while re­mem­ber­ing a time in your past when you watched a freight train bar­rel to­ward you, on­ly to wake up to find out there’s a freight train bar­rel­ing to­ward you.

This is the kind of nov­el that should ap­peal to any­one, and the in­gre­di­ents it con­tains that aren’t to your taste should be more than made up for by the things that are. There are three acts with a few in­ter­ludes, and by the third act, I was so hooked that I read the last 100 pages in a sit­ting.

It is a deeply per­son­al, emo­tion­al­ly-charged mur­der mystery/​thriller about an in­ves­tiga­tive journalist/​writer and his search for a se­r­i­al rapist & mur­der­er of lit­tle red­head­ed girls. Sorta. If Raymond Chandler had writ­ten it, that’s all it would be about. It’s al­so a nov­el about how in­ter­nal dark­ness cre­ates ex­ter­nal demons. Partially. If Stephen King had writ­ten it, that’s what it would be about. But James Renner wrote this, so it’s about those things, and much more; ob­ses­sion, re­demp­tion, fate, phi­los­o­phy, fu­til­i­ty and hope in the face of it. There are al­so plen­ty of east­er eggs for folks who live in or are fa­mil­iar with Northeast Ohio.

This isn’t nor­mal­ly the kind of nov­el that I read, so it took me awhile to get in the groove with the in­tri­cate de­tail and char­ac­ter­i­za­tion sup­plied dur­ing the ini­tial ex­po­si­tion. I found my­self won­der­ing if all this de­tail was tru­ly nec­es­sary (it is), then that ground­work starts pay­ing off over and over again. I had to keep putting the book down to calm down, such was the deeply per­son­al im­pact that the char­ac­ters ac­tions have up­on each oth­er. The struc­ture of the ex­po­si­tion places events that oc­cur at very dif­fer­ent mo­ments in the past and fu­ture con­cur­rent to each oth­er. This re­sults in two things: 1) over­whelm­ing dra­mat­ic irony and 2) the nov­el be­comes some­thing akin to time trav­el, ini­tial­ly sim­i­lar to the way that Gene Wolfe’s Peace is a time trav­el nov­el.

So if you want your heart-strings tuned, some ex­er­cise for your adren­al glands, your tear ducts flushed, your ac­tion packed and your food thought­ful, read this book.

Quotes from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Saturday, 29 October 2011

“A ra­tio­nal an­ar­chist be­lieves that con­cepts such as ‘state’ and ‘so­ci­ety’ and ‘gov­ern­ment’ have no ex­is­tence save as phys­i­cal­ly ex­em­pli­fied in the acts of self-re­spon­si­ble in­di­vid­u­als. He be­lieves that it is im­pos­si­ble to shift blame, share blame, dis­trib­ute blame… as blame, guilt, re­spon­si­bil­i­ty are mat­ters tak­ing place in­side hu­man be­ings singly and nowhere else. But be­ing ra­tio­nal, he knows that not all in­di­vid­u­als hold his eval­u­a­tions, so he tries to live per­fect­ly in an im­per­fect world…aware that his ef­fort will be less than per­fect yet undis­mayed by self-knowl­edge of self-fail­ure.”


“My point is that one per­son is re­spon­si­ble. Always. […] In terms of morals there is no such thing as ‘state.’ Just men. Individuals. Each re­spon­si­ble for his own acts.”

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein pp 84 – 85

I’m struck at how very ex­is­ten­tial­ist that quote is. Just as I’m struck at how very apro­pos the fol­low­ing quote is to the #oc­cu­py move­ment.

“A man­aged democ­ra­cy is a won­der­ful thing […] for the managers…and its great­est strength is a ‘free press’ when ‘free’ is de­fined as ‘re­spon­si­ble’ and the man­agers de­fine what is ‘ir­re­spon­si­ble.’”

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein pg 256

Advertising ver­sus Lyric Poetry

Monday, 26 September 2011

“There are on­ly so many peo­ple ca­pa­ble of putting to­geth­er words that stir and move and sing. When it be­came pos­si­ble to earn a very good liv­ing in ad­ver­tis­ing by ex­er­cis­ing this ca­pa­bil­i­ty, lyric po­et­ry was left to un­tal­ent­ed screw­balls who had to shriek for at­ten­tion and com­pete by ec­cen­tric­i­ty.”

Mitchell Courtenay in Frederick Pohl & C.M. Kornbluth’s The Space Merchants

Old and Young and Old

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

I re­mem­ber when I was a bat­tal­ion in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer in World War II, in Northern Italy.


We were pass­ing through these lit­tle old towns. The hous­es weren’t big, but all the gen­er­a­tions were there. The old weren’t put out to pas­ture. They were our best means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. They were what civ­i­liza­tion is about: hu­man his­to­ry, work, gen­er­a­tions. Old ones, grand­par­ents, even great-grand­par­ents, talked to the lit­tle ones, and fas­ci­nat­ed them. It was the oral tra­di­tion, gen­er­a­tion af­ter gen­er­a­tion. Instead of watch­ing tele­vi­sion, the child lis­tened to the old one, learn­ing his his­to­ry of dreams and won­der.

Our young haven’t lost their his­to­ry, it was tak­en from them. We’ve stuffed them in­to a pro­crustean bed. Remember him? Procrustes? If the guest didn’t fit, he’d cut him or stretch him. That’s what we’re do­ing to our young, mak­ing them fit.

Here is a child, born with a sense of won­der, ready to ad­mire and love what is seen and ex­pe­ri­enced. We say, “Watch it now, a lit­tle bit less, cool it, cool it,” un­til this ex­tra­or­di­nary sense of won­der is re­duced to noth­ing.


If the old per­son can’t lis­ten any­more, he per­pet­u­ates the er­rors of his an­ces­tors. You don’t need him. You need to say, “All right, Grandpa, when did you last change your mind about any­thing? When did you last get a new idea? Can I help you change your mind while you help me change mine?”

David Brower, as quot­ed by Studs Terkel in his book of oral his­to­ry, Coming of Age


Thursday, 15 July 2010

I talk about Walter Benjamin’s The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction too much. By too much, I mean every cou­ple of years. I re­al­ly should read some oth­er stuff that he’s writ­ten, so I don’t get too pseu­do-in­tel­lec­tu­al­ly schol­ar­ship-boy­ish. Like I’m about to.

I col­lect stuff, not a lot, but stuff nonethe­less. It used to be base­ball cards, then Tolkien books, then good sci­ence fic­tion in gen­er­al and now beach glass, good movies, and lo­cal mu­sic para­pher­na­lia. I used to col­lect things as if the things them­selves were pre­cious. Benjamin would call this the au­ra of the art ob­ject. He posits that orig­i­nal works of art have greater val­ue than re­pro­duc­tions. That’s the kind of rea­son that peo­ple go for mint first edi­tions, signed copies, &c. There’s noth­ing wrong with that. I would still love to get my mitts on a first edi­tion Starship Troopers with the awe­some dust-jack­et, but my collector’s cri­te­ri­on has changed over the years.

I no longer col­lect things as if the things them­selves were pre­cious, I col­lect them be­cause of what they con­tain. So now when I’m at Half-price Books, and I see a hard cov­er of LeGuin’s Lathe of Heaven with the orig­i­nal dust-jack­et cov­er art, I don’t care that its just the book club edi­tion, I care that it is hard-bound and there­fore more durable than my pa­per­back ver­sion. The dura­bil­i­ty mat­ters be­cause it pro­tects what is re­al­ly im­por­tant about the book, the sto­ry it­self. So I’ll pick up an Asimov om­nibus and get rid of my an­cient pa­per­backs (which are worth more than the om­nibus) be­cause the om­nibus will last longer.

I don’t mind that my Egon Schiele came from All Posters or that the Death of Marat in my bath­room (which nev­er fails to make me act dis­gust­ing­ly smug) came from the same. If my art se­lec­tions are con­sid­ered a col­lec­tion, I have what I have be­cause I like it, not nec­es­sar­i­ly for its ex­trin­sic val­ue. I try to col­lect ex­pe­ri­ences, emo­tions and mo­ments of com­mu­ni­ca­tion now, not every last edi­tion of the Lord of the Rings. (Although if you want to hook me up, I won’t com­plain).

Gormenghast Weekend

Monday, 14 December 2009

I’ve ei­ther got what Bram had, or some­thing from a cowork­er. Christmas shop­ping is fin­ished, though I al­most got in­to a fight at the liquor store buy­ing some­thing as a part of my se­cret san­ta gift ex­change at work. All that I have left to do is fur­ther bak­ing. Apparently, choco­late-dipped pret­zel sticks are a hit with a teething 18-month old and his moth­er. The first batch I made has dis­ap­peared.

We fin­ished up watch­ing the Gormenghast minis­eries last night. It’s based on a fan­tas­tic cou­ple of books by Mervyn Peake (the third book, not so much), and the BBC did an ad­mirable job trans­lat­ing the thick, dusty and some­times de­lib­er­ate­ly turgid sto­ry in­to 4 hours on screen. Jonathan Rhys Davies is an im­pres­sive (if far too pret­ty-look­ing) Steerpike, and while Gormenghast cas­tle is the main char­ac­ter in the books, some­thing that is near­ly im­pos­si­ble to trans­late on screen, who­ev­er did the set de­sign had a keen and in­no­v­a­tive eye for com­mu­ni­cat­ing the age, im­men­si­ty and de­cay of the cas­tle. It ap­pears that all of the ac­tors in the minis­eries had a blast por­tray­ing Peake’s car­i­ca­ture char­ac­ters, who are sil­ly goth­ic grotesques, one and all.

The bus routes changed over the week­end, so I have to leave the house 20 min­utes ear­li­er than usu­al. Hopefully my tim­ing won’t be too far off, or else I’ll have to wait a half hour for the next bus.


Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Here’s a great ex­cerpt from the book I’m cur­rent­ly read­ing.

“This af­ter­noon Sallie’s three youngest pups, Sue’s Sirius, and Mrs. Chippy, the carpenter’s cat, have to be shot. We could not un­der­take the main­te­nance of weak­lings un­der the new con­di­tions. Macklin, Crean, and the car­pen­ter seemed to feel the loss of their friends rather bad­ly. We pro­pose mak­ing a short tri­al jour­ney to-mor­row, start­ing with two of the boats and the ten sledges. The num­ber of dog teams has been in­creased to sev­en, Greenstreet tak­ing charge of the new ad­di­tion­al team, con­sist­ing of Snapper and Sallie’s four old­est pups. We have ten work­ing sledges to re­lay with five teams. Wild’s and Hurley’s teams will haul the cut­ter with the as­sis­tance of four men. The whaler and the oth­er boats will fol­low, and the men who are haul­ing them will be able to help with progress, but each mile counts. Crean this af­ter­noon has a bad at­tack of snow-blind­ness.”

The weath­er on the morn­ing of October 30 was over­cast and misty, with oc­ca­sion­al falls of snow. A mod­er­ate north-east­er­ly breeze was blow­ing. We were still liv­ing on ex­tra food brought from the ship when we aban­doned her, and the sledg­ing and boat­ing ra­tions were in­tact. These ra­tions would pro­vide for twen­ty-eight men for fifty-six days on full ra­tions, but we could count on get­ting enough seal and pen­guin meat to at least dou­ble this time. We could even, if progress proved too dif­fi­cult and too in­ju­ri­ous to the boats, which we must guard as our ul­ti­mate means of sal­va­tion, camp on the near­est heavy flow, scour the neigh­bour­ing pack for pen­guins and seals, and await the out­ward drift of the pack to open and nav­i­ga­ble wa­ter.

“This plan would avoid the grave dan­gers we are now in­cur­ring of get­ting en­tan­gled in im­pass­able pres­sure-ridges and pos­si­bly ir­re­triev­ably dam­ag­ing the boats, which are bound to suf­fer in rough ice; it would al­so min­i­mize the per­il of the ice split­ting un­der us, as it did twice dur­ing the night at our first camp. Yet I feel sure that it is the right thing to at­tempt a march, since if we can make five or sev­en miles a day to the north-west our chance of reach­ing safe­ty in the months to come will be in­creased great­ly. There is a psy­cho­log­i­cal as­pect to the ques­tion al­so. It will be much bet­ter for the men in gen­er­al to feel that, even though progress is slow, they are on their way to land than it will be sim­ply to sit down and wait for the tardy north-west­er­ly drift to take us out of this cru­el waste of ice. We will make an at­tempt to move. The is­sue is be­yond my pow­er ei­ther to pre­dict or to con­trol.”

That af­ter­noon Wild and I went out in the mist and snow to find a road to the north-east. After many de­vi­ous turn­ings to avoid the heav­ier pres­sure ridges, we pi­o­neered a way for at least a mile and a half, and then re­turned by a rather bet­ter route to the camp. The pres­sure was now rapid in move­ment and our floe was suf­fer­ing from the shakes and the jerks of the ice. At 3 p.m., af­ter lunch, we got un­der way, leav­ing Dump Camp a mass of de­bris. The or­der was that per­son­al gear must not ex­ceed two pounds per man, and this meant that noth­ing but bare nec­es­saries was to be tak­en on the march. We could not af­ford to cum­ber our­selves with un­nec­es­sary weight. Holes had been dug in the snow for the re­cep­tion of pri­vate let­ters and lit­tle per­son­al tri­fles, the Lares and Penates of the mem­bers of the Expedition, and in­to the pri­va­cy of these white graves were con­signed much of sen­ti­men­tal val­ue and not a lit­tle of in­trin­sic worth. I rather grudged the two pounds of al­lowance per man, ow­ing to my keen anx­i­ety to keep weights at a min­i­mum, but some per­son­al be­long­ings could fair­ly be re­gard­ed as in­dis­pens­able. The jour­ney might be a long one, and there was a pos­si­bil­i­ty of a win­ter in im­pro­vised quar­ters on an in­hos­pitable coast at the oth­er end. A man un­der such con­di­tions needs some­thing to oc­cu­py his thoughts, some tan­gi­ble me­men­to of his home and peo­ple be­yond the seas. So sov­er­eigns were thrown away and pho­tographs were kept. I tore the fly-leaf out of the Bible that Queen Alexandra had giv­en to the ship, with her own writ­ing in it, and al­so the won­der­ful page of Job con­tain­ing the verse:

Out of whose womb came the ice?
And the hoary frost of Heaven, who hath en­gen­dered it?
The wa­ters are hid as with a stone,
And the face of the deep is frozen.

The oth­er Bible, which Queen Alexandra had giv­en for the use of the shore par­ty, was down be­low in the low­er hold in one of the cas­es when the ship re­ceived her death-blow. Suitcases were thrown away; these were re­trieved lat­er as ma­te­r­i­al for mak­ing boots, and some of them, marked “sol­id leather,” proved, to our dis­ap­point­ment, to con­tain a large per­cent­age of card­board. The man­u­fac­tur­er would have had dif­fi­cul­ty in con­vinc­ing us at the time that the de­cep­tion was any­thing short of crim­i­nal.

Sir Ernest Shackleton — South: The Last Antarctic Expedition of Shackleton and the Endurance