Thursday, January 31, 2008

Missing in Action

Oh, how I've missed writing! I wake up in the early morning hours and compose fabulous posts in my head. Then I fall back asleep and by the time I've had my coffee and am up for good, my witty reviews and comments have been deleted from the memory bank.
So much has been going on at work that I think we're all feeling the crunch. Between committee meetings, writing deadlines, book discussions, the reference desk, I'll admit that April and May are going to look really good to me. Not that I want to wish my life away - I had another birthday recently (my last) and celebrated for a week so yes, I still have a life.

Anyway, I just finished listening to Middlesex on my mp3. I'm not sure why it took me so long to get to that book. We discussed it here years ago. It was interesting, not great, but passed the time as I trudged my way around my nightly 3 mile circuit. I'm now listening to Away by Amy Bloom and, though it started out a little slowly, it has now gotten my full attention. Barbara Rosenblatt, a well-known audio reader, has got the Yiddish thing down pat and it seems to me that it adds so much to the story to listen to it as opposed to reading it.
In keeping with my penchant for depressing reading material, Away fills the bill completely. The story is Lillian's, a victim of the pogroms perpetrated by Christians on Jewish towns in Poland and Russia. Lillian hides her daughter Sophie in a chicken coop as her husband and parents are slaughtered. A commanding officer's timely order enables Lillian to escape, scarred but strong, but believing that Sophie is dead. She finds her way to New York City where she garners the interest of Meyer and Rueben, a father and son who own the theatre where Lillian has copped a job as a seamstress.
Lillian's three way arrangement with the elderly Rueben and the dashing but very gay Meyer is fascinating to watch. Stories of what women will do to survive are as old as the hills and the story could be trite in another author's hands, but Bloom (a National Book Award nominee) endows Lillian with a street smart, wily streak that prevents readers from seeing her as a victim.
I'm still early on in this engaging novel. Our heroine has made her way to Seattle through a bribery system that immigrants used for cheap train travel, usually riding for hours in a broom closet and being fed garbage by the porters. Lillian has been told, by a less than trustworthy source, that her daughter is alive afterall, so she arranges to return to Siberia through the Bering Strait and reclaim the only true love she has ever known. I can't wait to see how this tough, resilient gal overcomes the rest of the obstacles that Bloom will throw in her way. I pray that Sophie is at the end of the journey.

To lighten things up a bit I decided to listen to Steve Martin's Born Standing Up as I drive around the county - back and forth to the wine store - oh, I mean back and forth to work. You'd think this would be funny, right? Those of you old enough to remember the fabulously irreverent Smothers Brothers Show, which finally fell to the CBS censors, must be able to picture Martin, that "wild and crazy guy" with the arrow through his head, who could make you laugh just to look at him. His life? Not so funny.
I've always been a little in love with Steve Martin. My imagination has always worked a lot of overtime and to me he seemed sadly vulnerable and very approachable. I used to think that, if he could just meet me, we'd be oh so simpatico. OK, this was a while ago, I admit. I was desperately unhappy in my marriage and pining for real romance. His movie, LA Story, just did me in.
Martin reads the audio version of his book and plays some banjo riffs to indicate chapter breaks. Strangely, for a comedian, his voice is very monotone, so when he speaks of his early gigs and tells you why they weren't that funny, you believe it! Then he'll suddenly say something that takes me back to the '60's/'70's and I just roar. He's a very generous man, mentioning by name practically every person who ever helped his career in any way, from Hollywood insiders to college friends, to parents of old girlfriends, and old girlfriends too. He still comes across as a truly nice, self-effacing guy with a lot more depth than some readers might expect if they're not familiar with his fiction writing. Shopgirl, in particular, cemented in my mind the kind of man I hope Steve Martin really is.
At this point in his book Martin is still a struggling stand-up comic opening for well-known acts around the country. We all know how the story ends but I'm glad I have a couple of more discs to listen to so he can tell me all about it.

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