Friday, April 30, 2010

The Friday 56


It's time for The Friday 56, where we share a sentence from the closest book to us.
Join in the fun!~

Rules:
* Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
* Turn to page 56.
* Find the fifth sentence.
* Post that sentence (plus one or two others if you like) along with these instructions on your blog or (if you do not have your own blog) in the comments section of this blog.
*Post a link along with your post back to to Storytime with Tonya and Friends at http://storytimewithtonya.blogspot.com/
* Don't dig for your favorite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. Use the CLOSEST.

HAPPY FRIDAY!

My book is Carol Burnett's This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection
(She's being chased by a mugger.)

My heart jumped up into my throat as I started to walk faster and faster. So did he. I turned the corner. He turned the corner.

OK, I'll tell you that she scared him away with her Tarzan yell, as only Carol could do.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

An American Childhood Gone, Well Wrong


Jason Mulgrew has a popular blog entitled Everything is Wrong With Me: 30, Bipolar and Hungry. He writes humorously about his life and reading his posts about the NCAA tourney, hanging out in bars, living in NYC, it reminds you of pretty much most guys you know in that age group.

Mulgrew is now a published author, which for the slacker that he describes himself as, is quite an accomplishment. Everything is Wrong Me: A Memoir of an American Childhood Gone, Well, Wrong appeals to anyone who grew up in a (slightly) dysfunctional family, which would be, like, all of us.

The photo on the cover is of Mulgrew as a young boy wearing a brown pinstriped suit, looking like he is ready to attend the Republican National Convention. Don't let the cover fool you (although you will laugh out loud at it!) There are many photos of Mulgrew and his family sprinkled throughout the book, it's like looking through a family photo album, with humorous asides from Mulgrew accompanying them.

Mulgrew grew up in an Irish working class neighborhood in Philadelphia. His parents play a big role in this memoir, particularly his longshoreman father, who worked hard, drank hard and got into many fights. His father loomed large in his life, even though he didn't live with the family for extended periods. (And surprisingly, it wasn't because he was in jail.)

Irish-Catholics will appreciate his description of his baptism party.
The interpretation of "big Irish Catholic party" varies, but basically there's a prayer at the beginning and then a lot of drinking until people fall down. Also there's some crying and singing involved and usually one relative will try to punch another. Then comes the falling down. Welcome to every family christening, birthday party, graduation and wedding I've ever been to.


Mulgrew tells stories of his childhood, many of the memories supplied by his Mom and Dad. Mulgrew uses footnotes as funny asides at the bottom of the pages to further explain the insanity. One of the funniest stories involves Mulgrew's scheme to sell fireworks not only to make some money, but to move up on the coolness scale. It's a genius idea, making good money until Mulgrew's partner, his pal David, decides to stop at home for a Lunchable and gets caught by his mom. It's the age-old story: a great career derailed by a Lunchable.

The book is filled with usual guy stuff- guns, alcohol, trucks, girls, running from the cops. Its universality is its appeal, along with Mulgrew's genial style of conversational writing. It will make a funny audiobook.

The best story of the book happens after Mulgrew has finally turned in his manuscript for the book after missing many deadlines. His father says to him, "Did I ever tell you how I was arrested for attempted murder?" The story that follows is fabulous, and it fits that his dad wouldn't tell him until the book was done.

While this book isn't for everyone, it would make a good gift for your brother, your funny uncle, or anyone who likes FX TV's It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Rating 3.5 stars of 5

Thanks to Harper Perennial for providing a copy of this book

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

If the Goldman Sachs hearings were fiction...


Watching the Congressional hearings into Goldman Sachs made me appreciate the prescience of Adam Haslett's brilliant novel, Union Atlantic.

Written in the year before the economic collapse of 2009, Haslett's novel features a young gun investment banker, Doug Fanning, whom we first meet in 1988 when he is stationed on a US naval ship that is escorting Kuwaiti tankers through the Straits of Hormuz. Fanning sees an unidentified plane on his radar, and alerts his commander. A decision is made to fire upon the plane and 290 people lost their lives as their Iranian Airbus passenger jet was shot down by the Americans.

The incident gets covered up, as well as the fact that Fanning failed to tell his commander that the jet was ascending, not descending as the commander was told. This incident and its aftermath leads Fanning to become the kind of man who later sets in motion a financial disaster that threatens the U.S. banking system.

Fanning becomes a big success as an investment banker at Union Atlantic. He takes risks there as well, and as long as he produces big profits for the bank and in turn himself, he can cut all the corners he likes. His boss is willfully ignorant of Fanning's schemes.

When Fanning builds a huge McMansion next to property owned by Charlotte Graves, he underestimates her. The land was owned by her grandfather, and Charlotte believes his house is obscene. Charlotte, a retired teacher, is eccentric, slipping into insanity. She believes that her two dogs are the incarnated Malcolm X and Cotton Mather, and they frequently share their conflicting advice with Charlotte.

Charlotte ends up tutoring Nate, a teenage boy whose father recently committed suicide. Nate and his mother are barely existing together. He breaks into Fanning's home, and ends up in a dangerous sexual relationship with Fanning. Fanning wants Nate to help get Charlotte off his back, and he is willing to use Nate's vulnerability to get what he wants.

When a colleague working for Fanning runs a scheme that unravels, Charlotte brother Henry Graves, the president of the New York Federal Reserve, becomes involved in trying to keep this from ruining the entire entangled U. S. economy. (Hank Paulson, anyone?)

How Haslett weaves these stories together is a wonder. He doesn't write this novel, he crafts it. It took me along time to read this book because I frequently reread passages, they were that beautiful. Of Nate realizing that Charlotte needed him, he writes
These last many months the intuition of others' needs had become Nate's second nature, as if his father's going had cut him a pair of new, lidless eyes that couldn't help but see into a person such as this: marooned and specter-driven.

His characters are vivid and complex. Nate is flailing about, wanting to be loved and willing to debase himself to do it. Charlotte is a genius, bordering on insane, and Fanning is amoral, sinking further into the morass.

It is astonishing that a fiction writer created this dialogue in 2008, when Henry the NY Fed Chair says to the CEO of Union Atlantic
"Let me start by saying that if you or your board is under the impression that Union Atlantic is too big to fail, you're mistaken. There's no question here of a bailout. If you go under, the markets will take a hit, but with enough liquidity in the system we can cut you loose. I hope you understand that." This, of course, was a bluff. Henry has already begun receiving calls from the Treasury Department.

This novel is one of the best books I have read this decade. The story is relevant and the characters are powerful. Haslett is a true craftsmen. If you like good fiction, this is a book you must read.

Rating 5 of 5 stars

Thanks to Doubleday for providing a copy of this book for review.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Broadway.com | Stephen Sondheim Honored with a Star-Filled Gala at City Center

Broadway.com | Stephen Sondheim Honored with a Star-Filled Gala at City Center

I was lucky enough to get to see this celebration of Stephen Sondheim. So many highlights! Mia Farrow told a sweet story about Steve giving his goddaughter (Mia's daughter) a thesaurus for her 5th birthday. She in turn gave Steve a penny wrapped in toilet paper, which he promised not to spend in one place. Joanna Gleason sang from "Into the Woods", B.D. Wong sang from "Pacific Overtures", Len Cariou, Michael Cerveris and Alexander Germignani sang from "Sweeney Todd", Debra Monk's hilarious rendition of the Gun Song from "Assassins", Alexander Hanson, Len Cariou and Catherine Zeta-Jones sang from "A Little Night Music", (Catherine also sang the iconic "Send in the Clowns" beautifully and she looked fabulous), Donna Murphy sang from "Passion", Nathan Lane sang from "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum", Raul Esparza brought down the house with "Being Alive" from Company, and the great Angela Lansbury sang "Liaisons" from "A Little Night Music". Julie Andrews even sent a recorded message with her signing. We haven't heard her sing in so long, it was beautiful. What a glorious night!

The Queen of Palmyra


The Queen of Palmyra, the debut novel by Minrose Gwin, will find a welcome audience in fans of Kathryn Stockett's The Help.

Both books are set in Mississippi in the 1960s, and deal with the changing relationship between blacks and whites. While The Help is told from the viewpoint of four narrators, The Queen of Palmyra is told by twelve-year-old Florence Forrest.

Florence is the daughter of Win, a burial insurance salesman who also happens to be a rabid Klansman. Her mother Martha drinks to excess, and bakes cakes out their tiny home to bring in some cash to this poor household. Martha despises Win's racism, and her attitude is not appreciated by Win or the small minded people in their town.

Flo spends much of her time at her maternal grandparents, in the company of Zenie, the maid. Because Martha drank so much, Flo spent a lot of time with Zenie, even going home with Zenie when she finished work.

Zenie's young, beautiful, smart niece Eva comes to stay during her summer break from college. Eva is of a younger generation, and she has different ideas about her place in life. She gets a job selling burial insurance policies, which causes conflicts with Win. These conflicts turn dangerous, and Eva is attacked.

When she won't back down and leave town, race relations come to a boil. Zenie and her husband Ray fear for Eva, and for themselves, as the Klansmen become bolder in spreading their violence and hatred.

Because Flo is a young girl, she doesn't completely understand what is going on. She loves Zenie and Eva, and her parents, and as children are want to do, speaks her mind. She can't reconcile why people she loves can't get along.

The author does a good job describing the atmosphere in this small town at the time, and the scene where Win takes his daughter to a Klan meeting is frightening and veers into creepy as Win puts his daughter in a robe and hood, and various men try to grope her. It is very disturbing.

I also thought that the complicated relationship between Zenie, Ray and Flo was well done. Zenie and Ray were frequently exasperated at having to care for a white girl who had been abandoned by her mother. While The Klan was terrorizing the black community, Flo would show up at their doorstep and not understand why she was not welcome.

The novel is filled with tension- between Win and Martha, Martha and her parents, blacks and whites, Zenie and Eva. The characters are believeable, people just struggling to live life as best they can under the circumstances. Some succeed (Zenie) but for others, life is too difficult (Martha).

Having Flo narrate the novel echoes Scout, the narrator of the classic To Kill a Mockingbird, but that also has it drawbacks. Questions go unanswered, such as why Flo did not attend school, and what happened to them during the year she and her family "disappeared". I found that not knowing these things distracted me.

The Queen of Palmyra is a dark book, but it gives the reader a real look at the what life was like at that time in small town Mississippi. The turbulent relationship between blacks and whites, and between a young daughter who just wanted the love of her very different parents is hard to look at, and yet it gives the reader a real sense of empathy.

Rating 3.5 of 5 stars
Thanks to Harper Perennial for providing a copy of this book.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Sean Hayes is perfection in PROMISES, PROMISES


Sean Hayes (Jack from TV's Will & Grace) shines in his Broadway debut of the musical revival Promises, Promises. As the curtain rises, he is seated onstage at his desk, eating his lunch, a lonely office worker circa 1962.

Chuck Baxter is a single guy, looking to impress his boss and work his way up the ladder at Consolidated Life. He has no friends, and a crush on Fran, the cute little blonde who doesn't know his name and works in the cafeteria, played by the incomparable Kristin Chenoweth.

But Chuck's biggest asset is that he lives in an apartment on the Upper West Side, a place where the married horndogs at Consolidated Life want to take their girlfriends for an hour or two before going home to the wife. Reluctantly, Chuck gets dragged into this arrangement, promised a big promotion by the upper management types who use his apartment.

When the big boss, well played by Tony Goldwyn, gets wind of this, he tells Chuck to dump the other guys and just let him bring his girlfriend there in exchange for a promotion. Chuck agrees, but is heartbroken when he discovers the boss's girl is his beloved-from-afar Fran.

Hayes' comic timing is perfection, and he excels at the physical comedy. The scene where he tries to sit in a modern chair in the boss's office is genius, and his comic asides to the audience make everyone feel an important part of the show.

The second act opens with the highlight of the show- a Christmas Eve bar scene between a drunken, heartsick Chuck and Marge McDougall, a blowsy widow, brilliantly played by Broadway vet Katie Finneran. Finneran and Hayes' drunken, flirtatious repartee leads to a hilarious dance scene, and Hayes could barely contain his laughter during the scene. It reminded me of Tim Conway cracking up his costars on The Carol Burnett Show, and the audience ate it up.

Another Broadway vet, Dick Latessa, turns in a fine performance as Chuck's neighbor, a doctor. Latessa, Finneran, and Hayes all have razor-sharp comedic timing in their scene in Chuck's apartment.

Chenoweth has a less comedic role, but the chance to hear her sing such Burt Bacharach/Hal David classic songs as "I Say a Little Prayer", "A House Is Not a Home" and "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" gave me chills. Her lovely voice is so pure, I had goosebumps.

Surprisingly, Hayes has a sweet singing voice too, and he shines in the quieter songs, especially the duets with Chenoweth. The choreography by Rob Ashford, and the dancers add a vibrant note to this production.

Promises, Promises is a charming, funny, retro musical that surprisingly has some relevance in today's society, with it's storyline about men who cheat on their wives (Tiger, Jesse, and the rest). Hayes' charismatic performance ensures that he will not just be known as Jack McFarlyne for the rest of his long career.

If you are headed to NYC and want to see a fun, charming musical, don't miss Promises, Promises.