Review: Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart

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My Interest

This novel was named one of the Best Books of 2018 by NPR. I had heard of one of the author’s earlier works, Absurdistan, but had not read it. Having spent a large chunk of my working life in law firms doing finance, securities, and banking law, I liked the SEC story from the start.

The Story

Hedge-hogger Barry Cohen has over $2 billion in assets under management in his hedge fund, This Side of Capital.  His much younger, but only, wife, Seema (a name, I imagine chosen to evoke the fluid a male dispenses in the procreative act as that substance carried the defective gene related to Barry’s age) now have a little son just-diagnosed as “On The Spectrum.” Meanwhile, the SEC is hot on Barry’s heels over some questionable decisions he has made in running his fund. So, Barry takes off on a Greyhound, throwing away his phone and credit cards by schlepping along a wheelie-case of exotic high-end watches–his passion. His road trip, seemingly modeled on something by Hemmingway that I haven’t yet read, becomes cathartic and helps him to work out who he is and what his purpose is. Predictably, along the way, he meets many “colorful” “real people” who live “authentic” lives. I.e. the poor.

Running behind all of this is Seema’s own disillusionment, her overwhelming anxiety about their son and the necessity of getting him every possible therapeutic assistance available. And, of course, the election. You remember the election, I’m sure?  The one with that man and that woman–neither of whom gave me all those feels? Yeah. That one.

My Thoughts

Road trip novels are always great fun, especially in the summer. Overall I enjoyed the book. I am well-versed in the smaller city versions of Barry. I was pleased to find him asking why people who weren’t uber-rich staying in Manhattan when they could “live like minor dictators in the rest of the country”–something I’ve long wondered about. It was refreshing, too, to see Barry connect with his friend’s son, to share his own childhood obsessions (a nice coincidence, admittedly) with the awkward boy.

I always like finding genuine cross-generational couples and Seema and Barry, in spite of their age difference, had, well had had, a real marriage–a first marriage for both. Finally, I was pleasantly surprised by the non-cliche ending (to be honest, I knew this author would not and could not produce a cliched rom-com type ending.) That was a nice, unexpected, moment.

What I couldn’t stand was the author’s obsession with men giving women oral sex. A slurp-by-gulp description of each act was about the grossest thing I’ve read since Outlander. Nor did I need to know that she bent over so they could have sex. Really?? These ADD to the story?? How? Of course, Barry is shallow, but we don’t really need to know his oral fixation to understand him–especially not in such a graphic way.

One silly thing: Who the heck makes cucumber sandwiches for kids  in El Paso?? That was just “off.” Funny, but off.

A Note on the Audio Version

Probably due to the election story, my mind kept hearing President Josiah Bartlet of The West Wing for the reader sounded so much like Martin Sheen!

My Verdict

3.75 Stars

Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart

 

For Another Greyhound Road Trip Novel see:

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Greyhound: A Novel by Steffan Piper. My review is here.

 

 

Review: The Only Story by Julian Barnes

My Interest

I discovered this book on Powell’s Books website.

The Story

19 years old, home from college and bored, Paul agrees in desperation to his mother’s suggestion of a summer membership to the local Tennis Club. There he meets the predictable “Carolines and Hugos” and Mrs. MacLeod (Susan). They play a mixed-doubles match together and start an affair that will affect the course of Paul’s life.

“Sometimes I forget about other people. About them existing. People I’ve never met, I mean.” Susan says early on. And she lives up to this well and truly.

Paul and Susan, at first, are giddy over their odd attraction to each other. Susan, long the wife of a sexless marriage and Paul, the young man eager for sex in a Britain not yet into the “real” 1960s and it’s sexual revolution, find they differ little from each other in terms of bedroom experience. They muddle on.

That’s one of the things about life. We’re all just looking for a place of safety. And if you don’t find one, then you have to learn how to pass the time.”

Only the time stops passing. It starts dragging. It stops. Totally stops as Susan either descends into alcoholism or Paul discovers her addition.

It was at this point the book seemed to just fall apart for me. I understand the premise–the tone and tenor of the book are meant to mimic and mirror the slow descent into the death of the relationship. But it did not work well to me. It was like reading a hastily scribbled draft. I felt like whatever is before a Beta reader. I lost all interest in the characters at this point and, though I finished it, I never regained my initial interest in them. Maybe that was par to of the author’s plan? I have no idea.

I often write about my fondness for sincere older man, younger woman relationships (not the Sugar Daddy/Gold digger variety) and so, reading the premise of this novel, I thought I’d enjoy it. I didn’t. He looked foolish and she buffoonish by the end. He could be forgiven due to his youth at the onset of the relationship. She was just a bored housewife and deserves the negative connotations of that term.

My Verdict

The title comes from the premise that: “Most of us only have one story to tell….only one finally worth telling.” Once the newness wore off, I’m not sure that was true of Paul’s story.

2.5 stars

The Only Story by Julian Barnes

Review: Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and Their Muses)

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My Interest

I saw this book and instantly thought, “That’s the home for me in a few years.” It sounded like a great place–and I wasn’t wrong.

“Keeping secrets after all was more about keeping them from one’s self than the world that most likely guessed long ago or didn’t care.”

Bar Harbor Retirement Home…

The Story

Three very elderly distinguished writers and an editor they’ve all know who now has early-onset Alzheimer’s are all waiting out their days at the majestic Bar Harbor Retirement Home, once the mansion-home of another great writer, and now home to elderly and a few intriguing staffers. A younger woman, an orderly with the beautiful name of Cecibel, becomes the unintentional “muse” of one of the writers–Alfronse. Together the writers and the editor produce a “book within the book” that is equally compelling.

Three Nice Surprises

I expected this to be largely a writer’s version of the Maggie Smith movie, The Quartet, but it wasn’t. That was the first nice surprise (even though I loved that movie). The characters, especially Alfonse and Cecibel, were very well developed. I loved that a real romance developed and was shown between those two, even though consummation was not the goal. The love and respect that led to those feelings were so real. That was the second nice surprise.

I wasn’t so sure, at first, about the story-within-the-story, but it worked well. I became as invested in it as I was in the “real” story. This is a plot device that, in my experience, rarely works well so this was a  third very nice surprise.

Tiny Picky Picky Faults

I did find the over-use of the terms, “my/his/a heart stitched”  to be annoying . And, no spoiler (this is a blip in the story),  I didn’t buy that Cecilia, almost surely a Catholic, had received that prescription from a doctor at the date in the story–very unlikely since it was not yet prescribed for that use.  I’m pretty sure a Navy man would have had the obvious solution in his wallet. That’s my historical pickiness is all it doesn’t impact the story, I bring it up because fact-checking got a good discussion in the story.

My Verdict

Definitely want to read more by this author!

The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (and Their Muses): A Novel by Terri-Lynne DeFino

If You Liked This Book

If you like the idea of an older man having a younger woman as his last muse, then check out this nonfiction book about Ernest Hemingway and his last muse. My review.

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Autumn in Venice: Ernest Hemingway and His Last Muse by Andrea di Robilant.

If you dream of maintaining a creative life into advanced old age, watch Maggie Smith in The Quartet.

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Finally, if you like real older man–younger woman romance, see this blog’s sidebar tag cloud for Cross Generational Romance” and see all of my posts on real life and fictional couples of this type.

Cross-Generational Romance in Jane Austen? The “new” Darcy!

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 Illustration credit: (Nick Hardcastle/ UKTV) in Smithsonian Magazine

If you’ve read this blog very often you’ll have learned that I’m a fan of truly romantic, loving older man–younger woman couples (not Sugar Daddy relationships). So when I read the story in Smithsonian about Mr. Darcy being “redesigned” I thought, what if he was older? What if this was him but with his real hair–not a powdered wig?

Until about the time of World War II (an era way beyond the time of Pride and Prejudice) young women were often courted by and then married to older men. I’ve covered some of them in this blog, From Anthony and Clarissa Eden to Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall to Jefferson and Varina Davis to Lord Harewood (Lascelles) and Princess Mary, all had successful marriages. So why not, Elizabeth Bennett and Fitzwilliam Darcy?

It makes an amount of sense. An older Darcy would be settled, will have sowed his wild oats and will be able to support a wife. Pemberly is, therefore, not in danger of having to be sold. An heir, however, might be needed. What is more, he is mature and confident and can handle a strong-willed lady in his life without being threatened by her. See? It makes sense.

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Photo credit: BBC Colin Firth as Darcy in BBC’s Pride and Prejudice

 

So Elizabeth Bennett would find an odler Darcy…attractive? She was the sensible one, remember? Sure she’d nearly die of lust if Colin Firth emerged from the pond, but as a  husband the older Darcy would be the better catch in every way to a sensible girl. And, no, I don’t think she’d run off and play Lady Chatterly with the gamekeeper, either! Unless he was Colin Firth…or Laurence Olivier. Well, Olivier might get away with being a butler, but I can’t see him as the sexy gamekeeper.

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Laurence Oliver as Darcy

To me, the idea of Darcy as an older man makes the story much more interesting!

 

 

Review: Across the River and Into the Trees by Ernest Hemingway. Cross-Generational Romance in Fiction

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I’m late to liking Hemingway. I finally discovered I could stand him reading  A Moveable Feast in college, then The Green Hills of Africa pre-Peace Corps and finally A Farewell to Arms with my son about a decade ago. Today I’m a fan, thanks to the book I’m reviewing today.

The Story

Back in post World War II Italy, real-life Hemingway bet a beautiful young Italian aristocrat–Adriana.  A short while ago, I reviewed the non-fiction book on this relationship, Autumn In Venice: Ernest Hemingway and His Last Muse. This then is Hemingway’s not-very-fictionalized version of the story.

Colonel, formerly Brigadier General, Richard Cantwell is a mid-life, 50, no longer married, no children.  He has an injured hand and arm, but the arm still works.  He falls for the beautiful Renata–just 18 years old. (In aristocratic circles this has never been a big deal. He was not seen as “grooming” her or as a pervert or anything.) She enjoys his attention and begins to fall in love. He calls her “daughter,” which is a tad cringe-worthy, but he only did so in private or with trusted friends. Yes, I know, I know, but times were different.

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The real “Colonel” and the real “Renata”

My Thoughts

Her head was on his chest now, and the Colonel said, ‘Why did you not want me to take off the tunic?’

‘I like to feel the buttons. Is it wrong?’

I loved their romance. I loved that Hemingway, the classic man’s man, could be tender in his thoughts. I have to believe their conversations in the story were largely those of the real couple–certainly the Colonel’s emotions HAD to be Hemingway’s own. The sweet, silly things they said–the way she has him tell her about the war as they lie down together. The joy in holding each other. The gondola rides. It was all like being on the best date ever. I wanted to be Renata, I wanted to feel those military tunic buttons, wanted to be engulfed in the scent of this real man–a man who would never wax anything or anywhere but a car!

‘Kiss me first.’

She kissed him kind, and hard, and desperately, and the Colonel could not think about any fights or any picturesque or strange incidents. He only thought of her and how she felt and how close life comes to death when there is ecstasy. And what the hell is ecstasy and what’s ecstasy’s rank and serial number? And how does her black sweater feel? And who made all her smoothness and delight

But….

‘Is she really dead?’

‘Deader than Phoebus the Phoenician. But she doesn’t know it yet.’

‘What would you do if we were together in the Piazza and you saw her?’

‘I’d look straight through her to show her how dead she was.’

‘Thank you very much,’ the girl said. ‘You know that another woman, or a woman in memory, is a terrible thing for a young girl to deal with when she is still without experience.’

‘There isn’t any other woman,’ the Colonel told her, and his eyes were bad and remembering. ‘Nor is there any woman of memory.’

‘Thank you, very much,’ the girl said. ‘When I look at you I believe it truly. But please never look at me nor think of me like that.’

‘Should we hunt her down and hang her to a high tree?’ the Colonel said with anticipation.

‘No. Let us forget her.’

‘She is forgotten,’ the Colonel said. And, strangely enough, she was. It was strange because she had been present in the room for a moment, and she had very nearly caused a panic; which is one of the strangest things there is, the Colonel thought. He knew about panics. (Hemingway, Across the River and Into the Trees)

I do have one small complaints–you knew I would, right? He used his then wife as the Colonel’s ex-wife, right down to her coming to bed with her hair pinned into pin-curls. That was a cheap, mean shot. Otherwise, I loved every word.

Across the River and Into the Woods is available on Project Gutenberg/Canada for free here. Or, for the book on Amazon click the linked title. Remember, I do not make any money off this blog–not even when you click on a link I provide to Amazon for your convenience.

 

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Read the nonfiction account of the romance that sparked the novel–Autumn in Venice: Ernest Hemingway and His Last Muse. My review is here.

 

My Mind Wandered….

…as is often the case, to my favorite fictional older wounded man (likely a colonel, too) and his younger woman: Sir Anthony Strallan and Lady Edith Crawley of Downton Abbey.  I know, I know, but that was Julian Fellowes doing–Sir Anthony would NEVER have been so unchivilrous! And, yes, I also know, that in the end Edith got to outrank Mary by being a Marchioness–and that is all that really matters….

A Cross-Generational Romantic Gem–Review: A Virtuous Woman by Kaye Gibbons

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“Oh, it’s no crime to want and need somebody to love and to be loved by and to go and do what you need to do to have that, but its certainly a pity when you want it so badly you’ll let it be anybody.”

Kaye Gibbons “might could of” written the definitive story of Cross-Generational Love. Jack and Ruby are a couple for the ages! I missed this book when it was released thanks to being in the Peace Corps in Malawi and the Gulf War getting in the way of everything. I finally caught up with it and I’m so glad I did! Just as well I didn’t see that it was an Oprah Book Club selection or I might have skipped it. After all, no one dies in the first sentence, there’s no incest or anything like that. I AM grateful to Oprah for getting our country to read, I just don’t always find her picks to be anything be depressing. This one is a very good exception to that perception.

The Story

After a youthful mistake of epic proportions, Ruby finds Jack, an older man from a different socio-economic class. Ruby wants someone to take care of her. Jack wants to take care of Ruby. And they lived happily ever after–for the most part.

What I Loved

This story is so real–so believable. To me, that’s the test of good fiction. I loved the way Gibbons tells the story exactly as real-life people from the time and place would have told it in a conversation. “Might could” is a regional expression, but there’s much more to it than a simple phrase. The dialogue is full of Ruby and Jack and the other’s emotions and humanity.

Ruby, the title’s virtuous woman, understands life like few women ever have–but it’s real that she does so. She understands that Jack needs her to take care of him, too. And, she understands that she must speak carefully–she adheres to James 1:19, “...let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”

“You can’t just throw words out. They have to land somewhere.”

This, and the quote at the top of the post, are the most beautiful things I read in this book. The beautiful feelings of this book are love, acceptenceand protection. Sweet.

A Virtuous Woman: A Novel by Kaye Gibbons

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If you enjoyed this book you likely will enjoy Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night, too. You can read my review here  (scroll down to the correct review).

Review: Varina by Charles Frazier, Cross-Generational Confederate Romance in Fact and Fiction

 

A Little Backstory

I was a Civil War freak first, then became attracted to Older Man–Younger Woman romances. If you are reading this between the lines, it is screaming Scarlett and Rhett! Yes, I was a Gone With the Wind Addict in Middle School. Much later I learned that none other than that former U.S. Senator and Secretary of War, turned traitor aka, Jefferson Davis, was himself the husband to a much younger bride. So, when I read of this novel’s publication I knew I’d devour it. And I did.

The Novel’s Story

The book is told in that conventional way of a “present day” [in this case, very early 20th Century] story and a remembered time. In this case, Varina Howell Davis is meeting with a man whom she had mothered for a few years during the Civil War when he was an abused child and she his rescuer.

Varina remembers her life as the daughter of a man who couldn’t hold on to money, of her arrival into the odd household of Jeff Davis’ older brother and then her life as Mrs. Jefferson Davis in all of it’s interesting forms.

My Thoughts

I was entranced by Frazier’s writing–this was my introduction to his work so I absolutely wrapped myself in his prose. It is so beautifully written. I was listening to the audio so the pages and pages of quotes I wanted to take down didn’t get written down, which is sad.

Here is the one I managed to write down in parking lot:

“Since then, South and North have been busy constructing new memories, new histories, fictions fighting to become facts…”

And one I committed to memory:

“…a genius at inflicting love….”

Beautiful, evocative, memorable writing like this tells the entire story.

 

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As I have read–devoured, really, Mary Chestnut’s Diary, I was very familiar with the war-time life of Varina Davis. Mary Chestnut and Varina were dear friends. I thought Frazier got these parts so right. I have read one biography (see below) of Varina as well. Frazier embodied her the way I had constructed her in my mind. Intellectual, but caring. Independent, but but not stand-offish. Her voice in this book was fully authentic to my ears.

I liked that Frazier gave Mary, the First Lady of the Confederacy, the same sorts of struggles all women faced–feeding the children, keeping her marriage going,  on stupidity of the war. She has to cope with situations that are far too trying for anyone. She also must deal with the almost total absence of her husband due to the war. With a large family of young children, this was very difficult. Opiates, so destructive today, are not new–women were often prescribed them for hysteria or melancholia. Varina having them in wine was a truthful reaction to the stress of a life she could not control. This was breathtakingly honest.

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I also liked (no spoilers) the end of Jefferson Davis’ life–when the ugly head of jealousy reared itself in Varina’s very independent heart. That was wonderul. As she said, elsewhere in the book, no one knows the real truth of a marriage but the two people in it. This beautifully illustrated that sentiment.

I was also struck again that a nation founded by “traitors” did not then execute the next generation of “traitors.” It occurred to me again, that this is the heart of America. Davis was imprisoned, but as is pointed out in the book, why hang him and have him become a rival martyr to Lincoln?

Trivia: Did you know that the first (childless) Mrs. Jefferson Davis was the daughter of President Zachary Taylor? True!

 

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Read more about the Davis children in this blog post.

 

What Troubled Me

I loved the book, but there were two things that troubled me just a little. Two tiny things.  I understand there have always been cynics, always been people who loathed organized religion or who went to church just to keep up appearances, but I found some of the comments made by characters in the book to be very 21st century in their stridency. I also felt that characters sometimes lapsed into well written prose rather than authentic speach. A few monologues or dialogues that were just a bit too well rehearsed for real life.

My Verdict

4 Stars

Her is an excellent biography of Varina (as well as of Mary Todd Lincoln)

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Crowns of Thorns and Glory…by Gerry Van Der Heuvel. It is out-of-print, but easy to find used. (The link is to used copies on Amazon.)

An article on Jimmy Limber

John Coski on Jefferson Davis and Jim Limber

Here is are two  interesting “What Ifs…”

 

 

If The South Had Won The Civil War by MacKinlay Kantor is the classic of this genre.

CSA: Confederate States of America A Novel by Howard Means, only got 2 stars from me, but it was still an interesting idea. It is set in a modern day Confederacy–everything is truly “separate but equal” for the both white and black.

Cross-Generational Romance in Fiction: The Atomic Weight of Love

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The description of this book promises an older man-younger woman romances based on intellect. It delivers and then some. If you’ve read here for long you know that older man-younger woman romances (not “trophy wives,” but real romance) are my thing! My own books are all built on what I term cross generational romances. I run an occasional series of blog posts on such romances in real life, film and fiction–you can find them by clicking on the terms in the Tag Cloud in the right sidebar. So, on to this great book!

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Meridian (yeah, I winced at that, but really odd names in fiction are a pet peeve of mine) or “Meri” as she was often called, is a bright, ambitious young woman arriving at the University of Chicago just in time for the Manhattan Project to start plucking all the great physicists out of their ivory towers and secreting them away in the high desert at Los Alamos, New Mexico–then an unknown and undeveloped afterthought of U.S. geography. But before the fateful envelope arrives in the Physics Department, Meri develops a romance with professor Alden Whetstone (yeah, that one made me wince, too). A fairly typical student-prof romance at first, the young, fatherless girl hangs on her older mentor’s every brilliant word, while the professor looking at the downside of 40 is jazzed to have a fabulously smart young protege who also happens to adore him.

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The story really takes off after the war–when Alden and Meridian get married and settle into life in science community at Los Alamos.  Meridian finds other wives with science backgrounds and continues, at first, to think she will finish her education and become an ornithologist. Since this is the 1940s we can all make an intelligent guess that this isn’t going to happen.  Photo source

For some the words “marriage,” “spouse” and “till death do us part,” quickly stifle passion, growth and freedom. So it was for Meri who seemed to be a 1970s woman caught in a 1940s marriage. But, had there not been such women, we’d not now take for granted that women can be physicists, astronauts, and possibly even POTUS.

My own short-lived marriage came to mind as I read this story. Alden, a man of his time, took for granted that his bright young wife would find magically adjust to a life of baking cakes, playing bridge and ironing boxer shorts. Meridian, though, hungered for intellectual rigor and deep scientific discussions that had fueled their courting passion. Unlike wives in the rest of the USA, she couldn’t be a sounding board for her husband’s work dilemmas because all aspects of his work were highly classified. Her she was, a very capable scientist, drawn to her husband by his brains and now he cannot share with her, cannot teach her about it all now. Her role as his helpmeet was too narrow now, too confining. But, Elizabeth Church’s  writing made me feel the emotions of both characters. I could see the times Alden was making an effort and I rejoiced at the times when Meri realized it.

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This stifling life of no intellectual challenge is what led to the formation of the women’s movement, to consciousness raising, to the ill-fated E.R.A. and to so much more that women today take 100% for granted. Alden’s aging, his inability to see his wife’s side, his inability to give was matched by Meri’s equal self-centeredness and, in my opinion, her    refusal to grow up. What redeemed the story to me was her decision to care for Alden when he became so ill. She even dares to acknowledge a few things about him that were good. I’m glad. No marriage is all bad or all good. This one suffered more from selfishness than many, but in the end there was loyalty and caring.     Photo source

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Photo source

Sadly, there was one truly disgusting comment that shouldn’t have been in the book. That chapter was necessary, but it went a bit too far with one observation. But it’s a tiny nano-second of the book. So why mention it? So you won’t throw this otherwise excellent book away because of it. On the positive side, who wouldn’t love a book with chapters named for groupings of birds? A Parliament of Owls, indeed! I loved this. I do wish there had been notebook pages included from Meri’s observations though– her graphs and drawings, that would have been really fun to see.

I hope Elizabeth J. Church has many more novels to come. I can’t wait–that’s how profound this story was.  Amazing writing that deserves years of success.

Cross-Generational Cary: Day 5 of Cary Grant Week: Father Goose

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Universal

I cannot remember not loving Father Goose. It was a great favorite of everyone in my family. Personally, I think it is one of Cary Grant’s best roles. The dissonance of seeing the normally impeccably groomed Grant as the irascible Scotch-swilling Walter Eckland provides much of the appeal–it gives Grant better ground to show off than simply playing the same well groomed, witty charmer.

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The story is simple: Walter agrees to be a spotter on a deserted island, communicating with Royal Australian Navy officer Trevor Howard and his hapless junior officer by radio. Leslie Caron (often mistaken for Grant’s 4th wife, Dyan Canon, over the years) plays a proper schoolmistress caring for stranded pupils who, of course, end up on the island with him.

Caron, of course, is the romantic foil, the kids the comic foil. I especially like Harriett, who carries her cricket bat and insists on being called “Harry.” While Grant objected to the onscreen romance with Audrey Hepburn in Charade, he did not demur over the one in Father Goose with lovely young Leslie Caron. But then-girlfriend, soon-to-be wife, Dyan Cannon found their chemistry a bit much when she was on location with them in Jamaica. I must say they really do smolder on the screen. The prissy Catherine and the curmudgeonly Walter fall hard for each other but are both far too stubborn to say so!

This is such a fun movie! If you haven’t seen it, watch it soon–you won’t be sorry. Father Goose. Check out all the fun goof-ups in this film here. I love trying to spot these! I can almost always get silly historical mistakes, but now I want to re-watch it to see all the times the boat listed the “other” way from scene to scene.

Cross-Generational Cary: Day 3 of Cary Grant Week: The Grass is Greener

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Universal

It’s no secret that I’m sort of an Anglophile. I’m not blind to the faults over there and one of them is the class system, however broken “into” it may be, it is not fully broken down. Take teeth for example. William and Catherine have perfect teeth. Even today this is not the norm there. I could go on and on. And, the saying that the upper class has most in common with the lower class is pretty much true.

Take what they call “Deer Stalking.” It involves tweed, booze, rain, booze, old friends and booze. Here we call it “Deer huntin'” and it involves Day Glow Orange for obvious reasons–so they don’t shoot each other after freezing to death out there all day in camo and thick socks while drinking booze with old friends. But, occasionally, there is an aristocrat that has the best of the middle class mixed in with the best of the upper and lower classes. This, is Cary Grant in The Grass is Greener.

 

But first things first. The opening. It opens with one of Noel Coward’s best songs ever–the Stately Homes of England. And this helps with the irony-factor. Both Noel Coward and the man know professionally as Cary Grant are Englishmen, but in spite of accents and wardrobe, neither is from a stately home. Far from it, in fact. That makes the film that more delicious. Plus, what’s not to love about Noel Coward writing of “Lord Camp?”

Add in Robert Mitchum as the American tourist and Deborah Kerr as Cary’s Countess and you have a sparkling romantic comedy–and one of 3 movies this trio starred in together. Sellers, the butler, is also a huge part of it. Who doesn’t like a servant who is more regal than his boss? Who worries that he has nothing to do? I think he may have been Julian Fellows inspiration for Carson. Together the Ear and Countess and the Butler run the house on the profits from tourists and from the “mushroom money.” Deborah Kerr farming mushrooms is just such a lovely business idea!

Alas, even the best of marriages get a little stale in time.

The Lord and Lady of this manor are obviously still in love. They’ve come thru the war, had two lovely children and are discovering the job that is Stately Home ownership in the post World War II world. Like most, I imagine they’ve been savaged by death duties (inheritance tax) and have a never ending mountain of household maintenance tasks put off almost fatally long by war and rationing. So, when a square-jawed American enters their lives temptation raises its ugly head. But, this is a Deborah Kerr film folks–nothing tawdry, Victor and Hilary find their way back together and, I believe, will celebrate by sending Nanny and the children to the pictures while they climb into that marvelous bath tub and drink that last bottle of the really superb champagne. The dog will wait patiently in the corridor.  The Grass is Greener.

A special footnote to this film: The play on which it is based was written by Hugh and Margaret Vyner Williams –parents of actor Simon Williams that I featured in this post.