American Gods, the Rewatch

I started re-watching American Gods (Starz). It’s probably too early and I may need to re-watched it again (three-watch it?) because Season Two will probably debut in April, 2018.

So far I’m up to Episode 4, “Git Gone”, better known as “The Laura Episode.” I have still not warmed up to this interpretation of Laura even though the writing is great and the actor playing her is simply excellent. I appreciate Ep 4 without loving it. More on that in a bit.

Re-watching, even the early eps, I’m startled at how much I’ve forgotten. I forgot that Orlando Jone’s blazing monologue as Anansi came in Ep 2. They don’t give Emmies for single monologues, but it they did, Jones would have one for the lilting, smiling spider god, his humor a sleek varnish over a finely honed steel blade of rage. Of course you don’t varnish steel, but go watch the episode and you’ll know what I’m talking about.

(“Angry is good. Angry gets shit done.”)

I remembered loving the Zoraya sisters and Cernobog, and on re-watch, I love them as much. Cloris Leachman, playing the oldest Zoraya sister, looks at Shadow’s coffee grounds to read his fortune. (“Tea is disgusting,” she says.) She and the middle daughter exchange a glance, then:

Zoraya:  You will live long life, get married. Have many children.

Shadow:  Really, it’s that bad? (Pause.) Is there any good news in there?

Zoraya:  You mother, she die of cancer?

Shadow: [Nods.]

Zoraya: Good news. You no die of cancer.

Cernobog was a big player in the books, and I hope we see much more of him, and I hope we meet his brother before the story finishes up. Because the series has rejiggered the time-frames, it seems that we cannot possibly meet him the way we do in the books, which is a shame.

Episode 4 is completely about Laura. We understand her pretty well by the time Shadow comes on the scene. I like the grace-notes. I like that the only thing that gives Laura joy is the feel of the playing cards. That is taken away from her at the casino by the implementation of an auto-shuffler. It is the first thing that gives her joy about Shadow, that he does card tricks and trick shuffles.

It’s great to see Ricky Whittle play a different aspect of Shadow. Perhaps it’s as simple as Before and After—before and after prison, before and loss. Our Shadow is quiet, wary, a man who keeps things to himself. Laura’s Shadow is verbal, smarmy and almost charming, a man who shows his feelings to her. On first watch, I thought making Shadow an unsuccessful thief was employing a racial stereotype, and perhaps a little lazy. On re-watch, I decided… well, I still think it’s a racial stereotype, but now I wonder if it isn’t a sideways glance at Shadow’s heritage. His real heritage.

Emily Browning is indescribably good in this role. And Browning, as back-from-the-dead Laura, and Betty Gilpin as Audrey, the betrayed best friend, are priceless. There is no plot reason for Audrey to return after the end of Ep 4, but I keep wishing that somehow she will, because when she does it is just so good.

And watch for the ravens in Ep 4. They’re there.

And, on re-watch, the same kinds of thing irritated me that did the first time. Yes, water, important. We get it. Fire, important. We get it. Every rainstorm. Every bathtub. Every stove burner. Will someone PLEASE buy dead Laura a cigarette-lighter so I don’t have to watch the slo-mo flare of every single match head?

In Ep 4, one of the critical moments in the show is hand-waved. Audrey tells Laura that she didn’t love Shadow, at least not the way he loved her. Laura argues, doing a great job of delivering a series of lines that go something like, “I love Shadow. Loved Shadow. Love Shadow. I love Shadow.” This is a critical moment… Laura loves him now. No matter how beautifully Browning enunciates, these lines fall flat. To be fair, it was never clear in the book either why Laura’s loyalty to Shadow was so intense, except that she felt genuinely guilty for cheating on him. Still, when the writing is excellent, false notes are even more annoying.

Another thing I still don’t like, even though I do understand it; the show curtails the delightful road-trip aspect of the story to the point of killing it. We get a map overlay; we get shots of lovely back roads, we get one roadhouse with character. Part of the joy of the book was Gaiman’s joy in America’s weird roadside attractions and back roads. We’re not going to have that here.

And… I’m still captivated. Can’t wait to watch a few more next weekend.

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Fiction: Counting the Ripples

[This is original fiction by Marion Deeds. If you want to link to it, fine. If you quote it, give me credit.]

“I can’t talk to you right now,” Shillaylee said as the volunteer brought Heather into the empty garage. Shillaylee was striking poses under a “Shillaylee for City Council; We Fight Change,” banner, fluorescent light glaring off her blond hair. “I’m developing a new signature gesture.”

“You’ve missed our last two meetings,” Heather said. “And I’m confused by your slogan. Since when do you fight change?”

“‘We fight for change.’ I always fight for change. Geez, Heather, where’ve you been?”

“That’s not what it says.” Heather pointed.

Shillaylee turned around and stared at the banner. Heather saw her lips moving, and then the slender, athletic woman whirled and sprinted toward the door. “You guys! The sign is wrong! It’s wrong!” She disappeared into the other room. Heather tapped her fingers together while she waited for her client to come back.

“Thanks for pointing that out,” Shillaylee said, reentering the garage.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“Running for office. Making a difference. Fighting for change.”

“It’s marginally better than sitting around reminiscing about the dystopian governments you’ve toppled, I guess,” Heather said, “but you don’t stand a chance.”

Shillaylee straightened up and pushed back her shoulders. She raised her chin. “I never stand a chance, Heather, but I fight. I fight and I win. Things are bad here. There’s something dark and rotten at the heart of this city council, and it’s going to take us, the people they don’t even look at, to—”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know. Shillaylee, no offense, but you’re thirty-three. You aren’t a scrappy, charismatic young teenager fighting an evil government anymore. And not everything’s a dystopia.”

“Oh, yeah? Have you seen what this city council did to that homeless encampment? They bulldozed it! It’s just wrong.”

“It takes money to run for office,” Heather said, infusing her voice with as much reasonableness as she could. “It takes name and face recognition. It takes a last name. Do you have one?”

“Jones. Shillaylee Jones. I fight for change.”

Heather closed her eyes and ran her fingers through her short graying hair. “You couldn’t even get your first banner right. Have you researched your district? It had sixteen percent local turnout at the last election.”

“I’ll rally the people.”

“By tossing your hair and striking fight poses?”

Shillaylee’s shoulders hunched a little. “It used to work.”

“It’s time to give it up, Shillaylee. I’ve worked with you for ten years now. You’ve been a good hero but you have to face facts. This thing just isn’t in your skill set.”

Shillaylee delivered one of her signature glare-with-sneer looks. “I thought the Champion Recruitment Agency never gave up on a hero. You sound just like the President and the Council back home. I led the revolution that toppled them, remember?”

“That’s where I found you, hungover and moaning about the good old days. Do you remember?”

“Well, whatever. You’ve let me down.”

“Sorry to disappoint, Shill, but you can’t win this. Even if you did, you wouldn’t know what to do. You’d be a useless dupe.”

“That’s not true! I’ve been – talking to people! I’ve been listening in coffee shops and laundromats. I know what the issues are.”

“You don’t have a platform.”

“Stop bulldozing homeless encampments!”

“Great start,” Heather said. “How long before you start dating someone in your opponent’s campaign, and then wondering if you can trust them? How long before you’re up on some rooftop staring at the sunset and brooding when you should be at the debate?”

Shillaylee gulped. “There’s a debate?”

“And what about those volunteers in there? Are you really going to disillusion all six of them, ruin their dreams, when you’re crushed on election day?”

Shillaylee stared, her thick lashes quivering over her blue eyes. “Someone got to you,” she whispered. “I can’t believe it. The Hero Recruitment Agency has been co-opted.”

“I know you don’t believe this,” Heather said. “But I’m trying to help you.”

Shillaylee stretched out her arm, her fingers curled, her index finger pointing at the door. “Get out!” she said.

“Sweetie—”

“Out!”

Heather sighed and turned away.

Shillaylee called after her, “You know what? I’m going to start looking stuff up. I’m going to read up on the city council and what they do. And I’m going to start having town meetings! I’m going to win!”

Heather walked through the living room where a volunteer was saying into a phone, “For change. It’s Fighting for Change.” Outside, she turned left and headed down the cracked sidewalk past the shabby houses with their neat stoops, until she came to a local coffee shop. Lucas sat at a table near the back, pulling up data on his phone. “You owe me a coffee,” she said.

“She did not pick Jones.”

At Heather’s grin he shook his head and went to get drinks. Delivering them, he said, “How’d it go?”

Heather sat down. “Perfectly. The projections?”

“Worst case, she’ll get six percent of the vote, but best case, she’ll get twenty, this time. And she’ll inspire a bunch of people. In four years, when she runs again?” He raised both hands in a cartoon shrug. “Maybe she even wins.”

“All the people she inspires,” Heather said. “We’re always counting the ripples.”

“Did she give you a hard time?”

“It’s Shillaylee, what do you think?”

“Were you worried about overplaying it?”

Heather shook her head. “She’s so oppositional-defiant, overplaying would be almost impossible. I’ll go back in a month, tell her I was wrong, that I’ve seen the light…”

“And yada yada ya,” Lucas said. He sipped his drink. “Do you ever miss Intake? I remember thinking, back in those days when I was chasing down champions who needed more challenge, how much I’d like case management. It seemed so easy. But all this manipulation… Is it worth it?”

Heather looked around, as the proud, shabby neighborhood that deserved a change. It deserved a champion. “Yeah,” she said. “Definitely worth it.”

 

 

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Cat Person; Damn Fine Fiction, or Fat Shaming? I Don’t Know

The New Yorker has a short story called “Cat Person,” written by Kristen Roupenian. Margot, a college sophomore, meets Robert at the cinema where she works at the concession stand. They get off to a bad start, but later they are texting, and Robert is witty and funny. The texting part of the relationship is fun, and soon Margot has a crush on him. As their involvement changes to dating, things get awkward as Margot confronts the things that she was studiously looking away from. Margot’s denial, and the ultimate shredding of that denial, is nicely written and, in a few places, incandescently honest. It’s a good story.

It’s gotten some backlash, too, because Robert is described, deep into the story, as being fat, and folks are shouting “Fat shaming! Lazy writing!”

I’m not sure I understand the argument. I’m fat, or at least overweight. I didn’t feel that Robert’s description was merely a stand-in for bad behavior. Margot notices that his shoulders slump forward and he’s a little heavy when they first meet, but then it drops out of the story for quite a while. For me, I checked off about four other serious red-light check-boxes before the searing, honestly uncomfortable sex scene in which Margot begins to obsess over Robert’s weight (and what a bad time she is having). Robert hit Passive/Aggressive, Controlling, Too Old and Probably Dishonest long before I remembered that, oh yeah, looks like he has a pot belly.

Roupenian brilliantly captures Margot’s conflict. Robert wants her to be what he imagines. Margot wants to be what he imagines. She spends their first date trying to read his mind, trying to figure out what he wants, and trying to be that. It was heart-breaking to me that a woman coming of age now, in 2017, is still trapped in this behavior. The use of texting (texts are described, mostly, in the first half of the story) remind us of what we already know, if we think about it – online, or on-text, we have time to think, to compose, to edit, to make ourselves look good. The very name of the story indicates how fundamentally shaky Robert’s persona is, how big the gap is between what he texts and who he is.

The fact that Roberts knows her age and she does not, until much later, know his, is another power imbalance addressed in the story.

When Margot initiates a sexual encounter based on a moment of arousal, she soon realizes that things are increasingly awkward, and she is not having a good time. This is not a rape or a coercion. Margot is going to go through with a thing she no longer wants to do because it would  be impolite to stop. In one split second, Margot’s reaction to one of Robert’s controlling questions obliterates the illusion; neither of them can deny what is going on and how badly mismatched they are. Neither can ignore the fact the Margot is not Robert’s perfect imaginary girl—and that is what Robert seems to want, an imaginary girl.

I wondered at the actions of Margot’s room-mate a bit later in the story, but I didn’t wonder about the change in the tone of Robert’s texts. As soon as he is forced to confront the reality of the actual woman he was having sex with, his tone becomes punishing.

I did not enjoy this story. Enjoy is not the right word for what is depicted. I think it’s a strong story, and important story. I do not see how Robert carrying a few extra pounds is lazy writing, or a stand-in for his other behavior, but if you do see it that way, I am eager to read your reasons and your opinion.

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Opening December 16; Second Chances Used Books

Update: Sometimes a typo takes on meaning. I wrongly titled this “Second Changes,” originally. While I like that, it’s not the name of the store.

Brandy is opening a used bookstore in the location of the old Mockingbird Books. Brandy sold her share of Mockingbird and went on to work at Copperfield’s for several years. The two remaining partners of Mockingbirds opened a second Sonoma County location in Guerneville which is still in operation, then moved the Sebastopol store to Tracy, California.

When Brandy found a way she could open her own business, to her surprise, the front suite of the original location was still available to rent.

The day the bookcases and the counter arrived!

The day the bookcases and the counter arrived!

This makes Second Chances Used Books a much smaller store than Mockingbird, but I can already see that the inventory is carefully curated. Book lovers and discriminating gift buyers will always be able to find something here.

Unlike Mockingbird, Second Chances plans to buy books from customers as well, and I know Brandy will be keeping an eye on the inventory to see what turns over. For example, she and I were just talking about Elena Ferrante the other day. The Ferrante trend seems to have cooled, but will the announcement of a new book coming out change that?

Brandy has a lot to do before Saturday! A large part of the labor will be getting cleaned, listed books onto the shelves. I’ve offered to help but I hope a few other of her town friends can pitch in. The other retail tasks are daunting: setting up a credit card service; keeping track of the progress on her beautiful sign; making all the necessary connections with Amazon because she will be listing and selling online… it’s quite a list.

At times, it seems  like there are lots of books. At others, it is clear that the books she has now will not fill the shelves she has now. And it’s clear she could use some more bookscases.

She has some lovely overstuffed chairs that we’ve dubbed The Three Sisters, because this is the kind of store that invites you to sit down and read.

I’ve observed an interesting phenomenon; seeing empty bookcases lining the walls, and orderly stacks of books on the floor, people come and knock on the door. They say, “You’re closing! It’s so sad!” It’s as if they walked past the empty suite for three months and never noticed everything. This isn’t bad; it gives the proprietor a chance to say when she’ll be opening, but it’s interesting. The other day a young man said he only comes up to Sebastopol two or three times a year, and clearly Mockingbird was still in place that last time.

Some days it seems like many books; some days it does not.

Some days it seems like many books; some days it does not.

I’ve been helping clean books and already I’m having the same problem I had in the previous store; I can’t touch a stack of books without finding ones I want, immediately. Even when it’s a topic that isn’t important to me, I still find them. Yesterday I was cleaning a batch of cookbooks and food books, and there were two gluten-free books, one atop the other. I know just who could use those.

I can’t wait for the opening. This is a rumor only, but there might be cake. I’m just saying.

Later that afternoon, from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm, I’ll be at the Sebastopol Library, 7014 Bodega Ave (corner of Bodega and High Street) helping with free gift wrapping for the gifts you bought downtown, like, maybe, at Second Chances!

The shop’s address is 6932 Sebastopol Avenue, Sebastopol, between The Toyworks and the ceramics and fused glass shop… half a block from Screamin Mimi’s.Here is the Facebook page. Come check the shop out this weekend! There is no sign yet, but you’ll know it from the whimsical decorations in the pop-out window.

These ornaments and more adorn the window.

These ornaments and more adorn the window.

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The Rule of Five, The Rule of Four

My doctor and I recently discovered that I had very high blood pressure. That’s putting it politely. To put it accurately, my blood pressure was in “holy shit” territory.

PSAs and ad campaigns talk about hypertension as “the silent killer” because you can be quite free of any secondary symptoms, and in my case that was true. I had a couple of symptoms, and given my family history, I had an idea it might be high. I didn’t know it was that high.

Right now we are still in the calibrating-medication stage. The pills have lowered it from the you-can-have-a-stroke-at-any-moment levels, but it’s still not quite where my doctor and I would like it to be. Clearly life-style and diet changes are in my future, but right now I’m not devoting a lot of time to making those changes, except for two small ones.

This is because I know myself and I know if I tackle a wholesale change the odds are very good I won’t stick with it. I might stick with a few small changes though. While we get the meds to help consistently, I have identified two things I want to do. I call them the Rule of Five and the Rule of Four.

I thought that in my day-to-day life I walked a lot. I will walk three miles at a stretch sometimes. While I can walk a good distance, lately I hadn’t been walking frequently. Sometimes I was only getting out for a serious walk once a week. I thought about it, and decided I really missed the daily walks, especially ones in the morning. I know myself well enough to know if I said, “I will walk every day,” and then I missed a day, I would be disappointed in myself, and I would bag the whole project, so I’m going to take a short walk, about one mile, five days a week. If I take a longer walk that day because I walk down to the bookstore or to the grocery store, that’s fine. If I miss a day, that’s fine too, because I only have to make five. Right now, when it’s not raining, walking is pretty easy, but I already have a plan to drive to one of the malls if it’s raining hard, and walk around inside there.

It helps that I can take pictures when I’m walking in the nearby park.

The Rule of Four is harder.

I have one cup of caffeinated coffee a day. I begged my doctor to put that at the bottom of the list of things I have to give up. She didn’t seem concerned about it. I also have at least one decaf coffee drink, filled with sugar and fat, nearly every day. It started with one or two a week, then slowly crept up because I can afford it, and I’m self-indulgent. Am I going to give that up? Probably not. I am going to try to cut back to three a week, though. This will actually require strategy and decision-making. It’s a lot harder than grabbing my camera or my phone and going out for a walk.

(Talk about a first-world problem; having to cut back on a luxury food product. Oh, the humanity!)

I know there will be other changes, and I know this isn’t the only health challenge I will face, it’s just the first one. I’m taking it pretty easy on myself, and I hope I can keep to these two rules. Wish me luck.

UPDATE: Today, (Thursday, December 7, 2017) I had my pressure checked at the doctor’s office and it was a personal best. When I check it at home, daily, I am getting slightly higher readings, but I am pleased with today’s results. I’m moving in the right direction.

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The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

The Alice Network is great for any reader who loves women’s fiction, historical novels or spy stories. Kate Quinn smoothly blends all three for a gripping page-turner about women spies in World War I, revenge and atonement, with a nice love story sprinkled in.

The story follows two women; Charlotte, an American heiress in 1947, and Evelyn Gardiner during World War I. Charlotte is traveling with her mother, heading to Switzerland for an “appointment” to clear up a “little problem,” but her real concern is the disappearance of her French cousin Rose during World War II. Charlotte evades her mother in England and tracks down someone she thinks will be able to help her; a drunken, foul-mouthed, bitter woman whose hands are badly deformed. This is Evelyn, or Eve, Gardiner. Once she sobers up, Eve grudgingly agrees to help for money. She Charlotte and Eve’s loyal driver Finn set off from England to France.

From here we begin to get the story of Eve’s early years as a spy in northern France during World War I. The characters’ points of view alternate, until they converge around a particular villain who affected the lives of both women.

Quinn did research on the spy networks during the first World War, and especially a secondary character (who was real) Louise de Bettignies, also known as the queen of spies. Quinn’s descriptions are thorough and harrowing, and characters are well-drawn, often with just a few lines of choice dialogue. After World War II, Charlotte still faces discrimination and the diminishment of her rights because of her sex and her age. The three main characters all have to address mistakes they’ve made, and they all have to acknowledge how deeply damaged they are.

The sections in France during the war are nail-bitingly suspenseful.

I found a couple of anachronisms (Charolotte talks about “blowing off “ her classes at Bennington, in 1947) but overall the writing here is graceful and fluent. These are characters you want to root for, and another uncovered secret of the real roles of women in history. Buy it as a gift for someone, and then get a copy for yourself. You’ll want to read it more than once.

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Eligibility List: To my surprise, I have one.

Is it just self-indulgent ego-stroking? Am I writing it as practice for future years when I will have (I hope) a more realistic reason to post this, or am I just doing it because all the cool kids are? Whatever the reason, it did occur to me, after strolling through the Twitterhood the other day, that I had some publications in 2017, and they might be eligible for nomination for awards, and I could legitimately do an Eligibility List.

(Given my long career at the county, which started as an Eligibility Worker in the MediCal program, that phrase makes me snicker.)

I had three fiction pieces published this year. You all know about them because I yammered on about the endlessly. In case you’ve forgotten, though:

In late summer, the mixed-genre anthology Strange California came out. My story “Magpie’s Curse” is in it. I worked hard to write a story that had classical roots (The Goblin Market), and subverted them, but carried the stamp and flavor of a particular time and place in northern California. I think I succeeded. (You can also get the book at Powell’s, and they mention my story in the write-up.)

Flash Fiction Online published my short piece “Strays”, inspired by a writing prompt Marta Randall gave us, about the things we throw away, and the things that find us. It meant writing about something I thought I never would… fashion. And I tried for funny. I think I succeeded.

In April, 2017, Podcastle published “Never Truly Yours.”  This is a story in the form of a “Dear John” letter. I wanted to evoke an historical time and a magical place, and I wanted to explore the evolution of a character. I am the proudest of this story, but I can’t take the credit completely, because even though I captured the voice of my narrator thoroughly, and had some great descriptions, there was always a piece missing in this story and I didn’t know what it was until the Short Story group at Mendocino Coast Writers Conference workshopped it. Their questions, particularly Lori Ostlund’s*, helped me see what was missing. Suddenly, the story snapped into focus. I couldn’t have done it without them.

So, there are my meager offerings for the gazillion contests and Best of lists of 2017. I’m trying to think of it as novelle cuisine… You know, “A single shaving of truffle, garnished with a carrot spiral and one fresh pea; $125.”

*[Treat yourself and read Lori’s gentle, acerbic and beautiful novel After the parade.]

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Giving Tuesday, 2017

First, there was Black Friday. Merchants casually referred to the Friday after Thanksgiving as “Black Friday” for years; the start of the six weeks of the year that put small retailers into the black. Then popular culture caught onto it, and then the advertising mavens colonized it.

In 2008, when the economy cratered, social media and small-merchant groups invented what was first called “Small Business Saturday,” a campaign to get you out of the big-box stores and into the local shops and stores. It evolved into “Shop Small Saturday.”  In between that shift, Cyber Monday muscled its way into the line-up.

(Sunday, so far, as escaped. Stay-at-Home Sunday? Football Sunday? I don’t know.)

This brings us to the final of the newly named days; Giving Tuesday.

Maybe it’s about balance, or maybe we’re still puritanical enough as a culture to feel a nibble of shame at all our conspicuous consumption from Thanksgiving on, but there is a movement to make today, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, a day of donating to nonprofits.

If you want to participate in Giving Tuesday, and you don’t already have groups of your own (or even if you do) here are some who do good work and could use your help.

The Redwood Empire Credit Union is still collecting and disbursing money for people who lost everything in the wildland fires. You can designate which county you want your donation to go to, or let them decide what is needed.

The Ceres Project teaches cooking and nutrition skills to at-risk youth, while providing healthy fresh meals to folks who are housebound due to illness or disability. Ceres went into overdrive after the fires, providing meals for local shelters. They’re a great cause. They also allow you to choose whether you want your donation spent in Marin or Sonoma.

Meals on Wheels is another great program. This vital operation provides nutritious food to housebound people, and a crucial social link. It is a pair of eyes in the community, checking on an isolated person, often a senior. It is a sense of connection, a conversation, a check in. Here is the link to the national program, and here is Sonoma County’s program.

Maybe reading is a big thing of yours. Look for a local literacy project, or a local Friends of the Library. This is a national literacy program that could use your dollars.

Maybe you’d like to donate to a writers conference. Mendocino Coast Writers Conference offers a number of scholarships; in some cases they do matching grants to assemble full scholarships. The conference can use money for general expenses too.

For many women nationally, Planned Parenthood clinics are the only place they can afford to get health care, including but not limited to reproductive health. The program has been under continual assault with the election of the current president. Here’s a link to their donation page.

Just a few thoughts. You can also look around your city, your neighborhood and see who is doing good work. It might be a shelter or a meal kitchen, a homework-club, a volunteer choir or symphony. If you can, support them. You don’t have to give a lot. Just let them know that you see what they’re doing, and you care.

 

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Someone Always Knows, by Marcia Muller; Feels Phoned-In

Someone Always Knows is the 32nd Sharon McCone mystery, written by Marcia Muller. In addition to the McCone series which started in 1977, Muller has written several other series, including a history-mystery series co-written with her husband Bill Pronzini.

I started reading the McCone books in the 1980s, about the time I started reading Sue Grafton. Like Grafton’s female detective Kinsey Milhone, Sharon McCone was a distinct character. I liked her. I liked her roots and her values. In the first round of books, McCone worked as a legal investigator for All Soul’s Legal Collective, a legal aid office in San Francisco. The stories blended McCone’s investigations with tidbits about her eccentric San Diego-based family. McCone was also a pilot, so several books involved small planes and the details of flying.

I liked them a lot at first. After a while they ceased to be books I was on the lookout for, although when I saw a new one in paperback I would usually buy it. McCone has been investigating things for forty years now. A series can get stale.

I think it got stale for Muller, too, because she began making dramatic change-ups to the series. All Soul’s Collective disbanded and McCone started her own agency. Probably this was supposed to show her as an empowered woman, striking out on her own. Then, several books after that, McCone met and married Hy Ripinsky. Ripinksy was a pilot, an environmental activist, and a man with a shady past that garnered him a ton of political connections and a lot of money. With the marriage, the series definitely changed direction. Ripinksy ran an international security firm and was frequently jetting off to conduct hostage negotiations he couldn’t talk about. In one book, McCone rescues him after he’s been abducted. In the meantime, the parts of the book dealing with McCone’s brother, sister and various in-laws and former in-laws grew to take up more of the books.

About five books ago, McCone nearly died and then spent a book trying to recover from lock-in syndrome, a condition where the patient can make no voluntary movement. I didn’t read that one. I probably should. SPOILER ALERT: In a subsequent book, she fully recovers.

Somewhere midway through the series Muller revealed that everything Sharon McCone thought about herself and her family was untrue and that she was adopted, and (gasp!) half Native American. This contrivance allowed the series to have an investigation that involved tribal peoples. Fortunately for McCone, her Native American father is a rich, famous artist who chooses to live a humble life on the reservation. It’s not because he has to.

I did read The Night Searchers, the volume before this one, and found it a bit thin. Someone Always Knows is about 350 pages, which includes a short story and an excerpt from the next McCone mystery. I didn’t love The Night Searchers, but my sense of disappointment with Someone Always Knows is much, much deeper.

McCone and Ripinsky have merged their businesses, and they live in a multi-million dollar house in San Francisco. Ripinsky has every contact and resource you can imagine, and McCone has no trouble using them. She and Ripinsky are effectively one-percenters now (she drives to a stakeout in her red Mercedes and comments that it’s not a good stakeout car). While living in luxury, tooling around in private planes and expensive cars, McCone mourns the city that is her home, where rents are so high that families are getting pushed out; where her favorite dive bar or greasy spoon have been closed or purchased by developers. She fears it is changing for the worse, while never once stopping to consider that people like her and Ripinsky are part of the reason.

This sense of them being oblivious, privileged fat-cats is exacerbated by a mildly funny subplot about an atrocious sculpture they purchased for the front of their building, and a meaningless feud that McCone has with a far-right blogger. The blogger feud tries to win us over by making the woman be really catty and a right-winger, but the woman has a dinky publication that is being cancelled, and McCone’s attacks on her are clearly punching down. The sculpture is a classic example of what is wrong with McCone and Ripinsky now. They got scammed by a celebrity artist, but why didn’t they reach out to one of SF’s local artists? Why didn’t they give a gifted but poor artist a chance? This is what McCone would have done in the 80s. Now that she has money, it’s a different story.

As for the once-independent, strong, resourceful investigator, McCone now relies nearly entirely on Ripinsky’s resources.

To make that problem even worse, in this book McCone behaves stupidly in order for the plot to function. For example, on page 191 she is given an obvious clue about the identity of a particular character (the dead guy). It’s the name of a book character. After that, several times, she wonders again who the dead guy really was. The penny doesn’t drop for her for at least another sixty pages. She can’t figure out where the bad-guy is, (but we can), and when he gets the drop on her and tells his accomplice to get “the bracelets,” McCone doesn’t know what he means until he comes out with handcuffs. Really? I don’t think so.

As the case has been in several of the recent books, Ripinsky is conveniently off on a top-secret mission during most of this book. Ripinsky seems to exist to give McCone all the power and intell anyone could need; to often bring his seedy past into the present to fuel the plot (which is the case here) to buy her expensive presents and show up for romantic taco-night dinners and good sex. The rest of the time, he’s mostly away. This feels less like a marriage and more like fantasy wish fulfillment.

Apart from jerky and transparent plot manipulation, there is just writing that creates an impression of a draft that was dashed off with little revision. In the first half of the book, first-person narrator McCone recaps that adopted/Native American thing. In the second half of the book, when she goes to visit her brother in San Diego, he makes a snarky reference to tribal people and McCone tells the readers, “He said things like that because I was half Native American.” We know! A writer as good and as experienced as Muller should be able to trust her own words, and her readers, more than that. It’s as if she forget that she told us the whole thing a hundred pages earlier.

I’m not sure this series can be fixed. This book, more than any of the others, felt as if the author was phoning it in. As I said in the first paragraph, Muller is writing other series and other work. She may just be tired. Maybe McCone and Ripinsky could sale around the world on a yacht they acquire, and give themselves and their creator a much-needed rest.

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Things I’m Thankful For, 2017

2017 hasn’t been a great year in many ways. That makes it even more important that I take a few minutes to reflect on things I am thankful for.

  • I’m thankful for all the first responders who came to northern coastal California to help contain last month’s raging wildland fires.
  • I’m thankful to all the people who volunteered, helped, donated; who provided clothes, toys, food and shelter to those who lost everything. And I am very, very grateful that I live in a part of the county that was not touched directly by the flames.
  • I’m thankful for my friends. I was going to list names here; that quickly got out of control. I’m grateful for long-time friends, for writing friends, for photography friends; for travel friends and for internet friends. I count on you all. And when I talk about friends I’m including Spouse, my closest friend.  And I’m thankful for the zany bunch at Fantasy Literature, who fill my day with thoughtful reviews, magic and good fun.
  • I’m thankful for Taylor Maid Coffee, for providing a spot for a weekly writing appointment with Brandy Mow, which has boosted my productivity.
  • I’m thankful for books – and there were some great ones this year.
  • I’m thankful for doctors and medicine, because they both helped me get my health back on track this year.
  • I’m thankful for airplanes. Airplanes? Yes, airplanes, like the ones that carried me to Finland, Iceland and back home. I know that there were many elements to travel, but airplanes stood out.
  • I’m thankful for chestnut-backed chickadees, who show up about this time of year. Usually they stay for two or three weeks; this year they are staying longer. I like all the birds that come to my feeders, but the chickadees, with their bright colors, their energy and their swa-de-bee call, fill me with joy.
  • I’m thankful for squirrels. They provide hours of free entertainment. Hours.
  • I’m thankful for crows, because they are so interesting.
  • I’m thankful for dogs.
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