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