Sunday, February 08, 2015

CSI: Shakespeare

I've been embarked on a reading project of Shakespeare since about September, when I decided to read back through all the plays, and catch what I had never read. The history plays have been fascinating. Right now, I'm through Part 1 and still reading Part 2 of  King Henry VI. In Part 1, Joan of Arc gets totally trashed. In Part 2, all the gears are in motion for the War of the Roses.

Henry VI's uncle, the Duke of Gloucester has just been dispatched by the Duke of Suffolk. Rumors are he has been murdered in his bed, but squeamish Henry can't bear to view the body of his uncle and Protector, who has been accused of treason by his enemies. So Henry asks the Earl of Warwick to have a look and report back. Oh, how I wish it was this awesome on CSI:
See how the blood is settled in his face.
Oft have I seen a timely-parted ghost,
Of ashy semblance, meagre, pale and bloodless,
Being all descended to the labouring heart;
Who, in the conflict that it holds with death,
Attracts the same for aidance 'gainst the enemy;
Which with the heart there cools and ne'er returneth
To blush and beautify the cheek again.
But see, his face is black and full of blood,
His eye-balls further out than when he lived,
Staring full ghastly like a strangled man;
His hair uprear'd, his nostrils stretched with struggling;
His hands abroad display'd, as one that grasp'd
And tugg'd for life and was by strength subdued:
Look, on the sheets his hair you see, is sticking;
His well-proportion'd beard made rough and rugged,
Like to the summer's corn by tempest lodged.
It cannot be but he was murder'd here;
The least of all these signs were probable.
Warwick don't need no stinking coroners! It's a slam-dunk:
Who finds the heifer dead and bleeding fresh
And sees fast by a butcher with an axe,
But will suspect 'twas he that made the slaughter?
When Suffolk dares refute this evidence, Warwick shoots back with the timeless "yo mama" insult:
But that the guilt of murder bucklers thee
And I should rob the deathsman of his fee,
Quitting thee thereby of ten thousand shames,
And that my sovereign's presence makes me mild,
I would, false murderous coward, on thy knee
Make thee beg pardon for thy passed speech,
And say it was thy mother that thou meant'st
That thou thyself was born in bastardy;
And after all this fearful homage done,
Give thee thy hire and send thy soul to hell,
Pernicious blood-sucker of sleeping men!
- King Henry VI, Part Two, Act 3, Scene 2 
It really is rather delicious.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Fourth of July Creek

I started off the new year right with my first book pick. I had read some pretty glowing reviews of Smith Henderson's debut novel, Fourth of July Creek, when it came out, but had kind of forgotten about it until it finally became available as an eBook from my library. It may be a first novel, but it reads like an instant classic -- a gripping story, great characters, and beautifully descriptive language that is lyrical and immediate.
Medallions from the quaking aspen lay about in a golden hoard, blowing up in parade confetti as he drove through them. A few Indian paintbrushes still glowed red like small tissue-paper fires at a grade-school play. Pete felt a homesick sorrow at the little differences, at time itself....The place looked shorn, fussed over like a toy dog.
The protagonist is Pete Snow, a social worker in northwest Montana, whose family life is almost as screwed up as any of the people he serves. The year is 1980 and the Reagan era is dawning. Pete becomes involved with an anti-government fugitive whose young son he is trying to help while also searching for his own runaway teenage daughter. He is an alcoholic and pretty terrible at dealing with his personal relationships, but at bottom, he is a good guy. Henderson brings Pete to life in all his failures, his noble attempts, his personal disasters, and his doggedness in pursuing a job that is mostly grim and thankless.

Henderson has an uncanny knack for capturing a character's inner voice, both adults and children, and his dialogue rips right along, natural and succinct. There are moments of humor and quiet beauty among the many dark corners of this novel as it subtly reveals a great truth -- even the most broken people can sometimes do good.

Finely observed and anchored in a very particular time and place, the novel also has some lovely descriptions of the rugged landscape near the Flathead River and Kalispell. I would place Henderson in the same literary space as Larry Brown and Philip Meyer. It is definitely one of the best first novels I've ever read.