Good Books, Bad TV

 I checked into the Breakers Inn on Friday, then I walked up to The Four-Eyed Frog and bought two novels, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and The Godfather of Kathmandu.

After wandering around Gualala photographing the awesome waves, I checked out the TV in my room. At first I thought that Breaker’s Inn no longer offered the Syfy—or “Siffy”—channel. This was a big disappointment. I had hoped to get to watch some science fiction shows; Doctor Who, Sanctuary, or especially Caprica. On Sunday, the Sig-O showed me all the channels in the 300 series that I hadn’t known about, including not one but two Syfy channels. So exciting! Eagerly I flipped to the Guide station to see what was available.

One Siffy channel had a show in progress. The other was just starting a movie called Boogieman. Here, roughly, is what the Zap2it Guide had to say about Boogieman:

Released in 2005, it stars Barry Waterson and Emily Deschanel; “a stylish thriller about a man who, as a child, may have been terrorized by a supernatural creature that lives in his closet”. . . or was he?

“Stylish thriller” means “better than we expected,” in the sense of writing, art direction, acting and so on. “Stylish” does fit this film. So does “slow,” since the suspense is largely psychological. Did the monster in the closet really snatch six-year-old Tim’s father, or did Dad just leave the family? Is Tim hallucinating during waking hours as well as suffering bad dreams?  (Spoiler alert—there is a boogieman.) I liked the non-linear time-and-space connection with the closet doors, but I didn’t really understand the ending. Why does he have to break all the toys he used, as a kid, to keep the boogieman at bay? Didn’t they protect him before?

After we came back from dinner I seized the remote. Sanctuary? Caprica? Doctor Who? Yes, Doctor Who! Only, no, sorry, it’s on BBC America which we didn’t get. On Siffy 1 is a movie called Lost Voyage. The other channel had. . . Boogieman.

Lost Voyage was released in 2001, but I’m guessing that it was made in the early 1990s and sat on a shelf for ten years. It’s a Bermuda triangle story. Has anyone done anything new with Bermuda triangle in the past 20 years? In this one, a cruise ship went into. . . a hell dimension! And it came back thirty years later! The usual assortment of troubled people flies out to the ship and boards her. Later some stuff happens. The Sig-O dosed off about fifteen minutes in, awakening only for the thrilling finale. He said he couldn’t understand it since he had been asleep. I told him I hadn’t been asleep and I couldn’t understand it either. He summed up the movie this way; “If evil calls, let the answering machine get it.”

I still had hope for Monday morning. Perhaps it would be a marathon day. Maybe Hangar 13? Maybe The Dresden Files? When the Sig-O got up I checked the guide channel again. Why, yes, Siffy did have something special, very special indeed; a V marathon—the original V from the 1980s, in which reptilian invaders take over earth by disguising themselves as aerobics instructors.

Pathetic TV, but a couple of great books:

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley. This is a 1950s-era Christie-style English mystery, and the intrepid village sleuth, Flavia de Luce, is eleven years old. The youngest daughter of a quirky, impoverished aristocratic family, Flavia loves chemistry above all else, and poisons above all other chemistry. Intellectually precocious, Flavia still has the sensibility and experiences of an eleven-year-old. Whether she is engaged in clandestine warfare with her two older sisters, racing about the countryside on her faithful bicycle Gladys, or surreptitiously searching the murder victim’s room, Flavia is observant, acerbic, honest and refreshing. The puzzle of the mystery is just complex enough to keep us interested, but Flavia’s life and her strange household grips us and makes us eager to read the next book in the series. As a role model, Alan Bradley is outstanding. He retired from his “day job” and published this in his seventies.

Godfather of Kathmandu, by John Burdett. This is the fourth in the Sonchai Jitpleecheep series, which began with Bangkok 8. The third book, Bangkok Haunts, terrified me. Somewhere along the way—it might have been with that book, but I think it was sooner—I got the impression that John Burdett secretly hates the Thai people he writes about so compellingly. I’m not sure what caused me to think that. It is certainly not that Sonchai is a stereotype. Sonchai, half-Thai and half-American; part cop and part crook, wannabe monk and genuine psychic, is an authentic character with a powerful voice. Still, I couldn’t shake this deep sense of dislike from the author. I picked up Godfather with some trepidation, but it carries none of that feeling. In this book, while Sonchai is reeling from the most devastating loss a parent can face, he is expected to help his boss, Colonel Vikorn set up the biggest heroin deal in Thailand’s history, and solve the bizarre death of a Hollywood movie director. The drug deal takes him to Nepal where he meets a Tibetan mystic turned freedom fighter and Tara, a woman who practices Tantric Buddhism.

Somehow, the flawless balance of Bangkok 8, the clockwork intricacy of comedy, mystery, danger, psychic phenomena and oh-wow mysticism is back, completely in place, in this book.

Television managed to redeem itself on Monday. It wasn’t Syfy, it was TNT, which hosted a Supernatural marathon. Those Winchester boys—some brains, some brawn, a muscle car and cool leather jackets. Yeah, and with the episode “Hollywood Babylon,” you almost won me back.

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3 Responses to Good Books, Bad TV

  1. Linda says:

    I’m reading “Bangkok Tattoo”, the second book in John Burdett’s series, and I had to quickly avert my eyes when you said of book 3 that Sonchai suffered the most devastating event a parent can experience. Sonchai” Parenthood? Wow! I humbly request that you announce your spoiler alerts before you make the spoiler comment! As far as book one, I thought very highly of it (I eagerly bought book 2, didn’t I?) except for the FBI woman who really embarrassed me with her assertive, self-centered, demanding aggression. She was difficult for me to believe. So could John Burdett secretly hate farangs?

  2. Marion says:

    Linda–My apologies! The series has been out for so long I forgot that Sonchai’s life has progressed and my comment would be a spoiler.

    I don’t think Burdett hates “farangs.” I think he is trying to write about a character in another culture, thinking about us. And I think in books 2 and 3 he started sounding more like Christopher Marlowe’s “Jew of Malta.” Book 3 was just downright scary. (You might remember I was reading it when we were in Honolulu waiting to go to your friend’s party.) Anyway, whatever was bothering me about the books, I didn’t find it in the most recent one. Maybe it is just a question of accessibility; maybe, since he lives in Thailand part of the time, he’s gotten more comfortable with the culture himself.

  3. Nice Blog ! Found it on google.It seems that you`re doing a great job… I`m going to save this to my bookmarks…

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