Marie’s Reading: “French Exit: A Tragedy of Manners” by Patrick deWitt

51kVJ27KveL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_There’s something about this novel that reminds me of S.J. Perelman’s The Swiss Family Perelman and Westward Ha!.  It might be the deadpan absurdity, or the quirky characters, or the witty and sometimes twisty turns of phrase.  Probably all of that.

French Exit is about Frances, a wealthy woman in her sixties who is bankrupted after her husband’s death.  She and her deadbeat adult son Malcolm decide to move to Paris to live in a friend’s apartment.  They bring along their cat, Small Frank, and set out for Europe.

The characters are nuts in the best way, the way that recalls screwball 1930’s comedy.  Frances is absurd and not very nice at all, a wealthy beauty who truly enjoys running from “one brightly burning disaster to the next.”  Malcolm is next to useless, a sad and self-centered manchild who manages to evoke a little pity, given his parents.  And the cat is not just a cat–he’s the vessel for Frances’ late husband’s soul.  Once the family gets to Europe, even more oddballs are added to the mix as Frances plans her grand exit.

French Exit is a quick and entertaining novel full of sharp observations and wit, humor and depth, incredibly quirky characters and situations, and some surprising turns.

–Marie

 

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Halloween Watch: “What We Do in the Shadows”

What the what?  What We Do In the Shadows didn’t win the Bram Stoker Award?  Seriously?

I hope this fawning blog post is some small comfort to all those involved with the film.

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To be fair, technically the Bram Stoker award is for a written screenplay, not just a really cool, original, and funny idea.  If there was an award for that, this movie would win.

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What We Do in the Shadows is a mockumentary about four vampires in Wellington, New Zealand.  As one of them explains, not all vampires like to live in spooky old castles.  Some prefer a flatting situation with other vampires in small countries like New Zealand.  There’s a loose plot, involving the lead-up to a big vampire social event, but mostly the movie is a documentary film crew following the vampires around as they go about their business, eventually including an accidental new recruit.  And a pack of werewolves.  And a nemesis simply called The Beast.

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It’s hilarious and charming, and looks fantastic–the vampires’ flat is kind of shabby and old and filled with antiques.  The characters are wonderful.  The flatmates include Viago, an uptight 18th century dandy; Vladislav, a vampire since the Middle Ages who once had a thing for torture; Deacon, the “young bad boy of the group” at 183; and Peytr, a Nosferatu-type who is 8,000 years old and rarely leaves the basement.

Really, this is the cutest vampire comedy you will ever watch.  Every bit of blood and every horror trope is played for laughs. Give it a try at this year’s Halloween party!

You can watch the first couple of minutes on YouTube for a sense of the style and humor!

Marie’s Reading Again!

So last time we met I was talking about how I wasn’t able to settle down to anything.  I had piles and piles of books that I just couldn’t get into.  And then, bam! Two in a row!  Two novels read in as many days because I found I just couldn’t put them down.

ramblersThe Ramblers by Aidan Donnelley Rowley, about a trio of thirty-somethings in contemporary New York City finding love and friendship and coming to terms with their families and relationships, is far from my usual.  But I was intrigued from the get-go.  I liked the style, the characters, and the depiction of New York City.

At its core, this is a novel about how we’re all a little bit broken in different ways, and about coming to terms with that brokenness and learning to thrive.  It’s also a love letter to New York–to the people, the history, the architecture, the culture.

The writing is skillful and insightful, and there are some great comedy bits.  The characters are extremely well-fleshed out and three-dimensional in their yearnings and challenges.  This novel really reminded me of a wistful, older romantic comedy.  These characters aren’t in their twenties anymore, and it shows.  Setting the story in the week of Thanksgiving is a nice choice–it’s a time which traditionally lends itself to confronting complicated family dynamics, and Rowley does that really well.

girl in the red coatThe Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer, on the other hand, is much more typical of my usual reading fare. Eight-year-old Carmel gets separated from her mother, Beth, at a storytelling festival, and disappears.  The alternating narratives, one from Carmel’s point of view and the other from Beth’s, tell the story of Beth’s search and where Carmel has disappeared to.

I found Carmel’s storyline to be far more interesting, but that could just be because she gets the bulk of the plot.  Beth, her mother, is left picking up the pieces of her old life, remaining stagnant until well into the final third.  The more I consider it the more I think this wasn’t by accident.  But the why of Carmel’s disappearance is out of the ordinary, and it’s incredibly refreshing to read.  I won’t spoil it here, but it makes for a riveting story.

Though billed as a thriller, I hesitate to call it that.  The pace never quite gets intense enough.  There’s also not quite enough tension for suspense.  However, both Beth and Carmel have distinct voices and they both grow and change in believable ways.  The writing is compelling, leaving you wanting to know when and if the story threads will all come together in the end.

–Marie

The Cabin in the Woods

The CPL Readers Corner is devoted to books and reading, but I’ve been known to bend the rules considerably during Horror Month.  I like to take a broader, more all-collection view of scary anyway.  You frighten reach more people that way.

Besides, movies are written.  This particular screenplay won a Bram Stoker Award.  So it counts.  And really, it’s less of a stretch than my post about The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror.

So let’s explore Drew Goddard’s 2012 movie, The Cabin in the Woods.

 

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Spotlight On: Humor!

Preeeee-senting the “Spotlight On!” Display!

Every month we’ll dedicate one of our display spaces to a different genre or topic.  This month it’s HUMOR!

The joke is that it took me forever to find this picture.
The joke is that it took me forever to find this picture.

Humor is very subjective.  What makes one reader shoot milk out of his or her nose might leave the next stony-(and clean)-faced.  Some people enjoy satire, some enjoy situational comedy.  Subtle or over-the-top, puns and sight-gags and pratfalls to wordplay and references and wit.  There are so many different ways to make people laugh.

If we were to define humor as a genre of fiction, I would say that the point is to make a reader laugh, to entertain and amuse.  Yet there’s always another layer to great comedy, and that is to make you think–whether about society, politics, or the human condition.  Humor is, and always has been, a way to point out hypocrisy in politics and power, as well as to examine the sheer absurdity of some (if not most) aspects of life.

Wouldn’t you know, I could not find a professional Readers Advisory definition for humor or comic fiction.  Perhaps because it overlaps with so many other genres?  Maybe.  Here’s a great list, subdivided by genre, from the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilon County.  It ends with a list of recommended authors, and includes many different kinds of humor!  Psychology Today also has a list, compiled by Gina Barreca.

I’ve made a list of a few of my personal favorite comedic authors.  They’re all funny in different ways, for different reasons, and to different ends.  Perhaps you’ll get a chuckle, a knowing nod, or a wry smile out of them as well.

(EDIT: I’ve finally put up a list of my own, find it here, under Suggested Reading)

Christopher Moore
For zany, goofy, screwball comedy with lots of farcical elements, he’s your man.  My favorites are A Dirty Job, The Stupidest Angel, Lamb, and Fool.

S.J. Perelman
If you’re a Marx Brothers fan, you must read his work.  Wordplay, satire, general wackiness…it’s a Marx routine in prose form. Most of the Most of S.J. Perelman is a good start.

P.G. Wodehouse
Witty and fun, every piece of his is a gem!  The anthology Weekend Wodehouse is great.

Terry Pratchett
The Discworld novels employ every kind of joke that exists.  Really, they do.  With the added bonus of smarts, heart, and great characters.  Try Unseen Academicals, Eric, or Hogfather.

Jasper Fforde
In-jokes and referential humor ahoy! Plus wordplay, clever plots, and some great situational comedy.  The Thursday Next books are my favorites, but The Big Over-Easy is lots of fun, too.

I should also mention Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, Helen Fielding, Bill Bryson, A.J. Jacobs, Charles Dickens, Shakespeare, and Dorothy Parker as writers who amuse me to no end.  What books or authors never fail to make you laugh?  Tell us in the comments!

Stay tuned for next month, when we’ll have the spotlight on something new!

–Marie

P.S.

I’ll just leave you with a little something that makes me cry with laughter every time I see it.  Maybe you’ll like it, too.  From the BBC show QI, wherein Stephen Fry has a spot of trouble telling us something interesting about the Acropolis, where the Parthenon is.