Love my woman, love my baby, love my biscuits sopped in gravy.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Dogmata

One clear fall morning a woman was walking her dog in the park when she saw another woman approaching, following her own dog on a leash. The first thing she noticed was that dog the stranger led was a pink toy poodle, smaller than her German Shepherd, and perfectly groomed with an expensive collar.

As the woman with the poodle neared, the woman with the larger dog critically eyed the smaller dog.

"Why on earth would you ever own a fancy little thing like that?" the first woman said.

"Excuse me?"

"Obviously, your so-called dog is inferior to mine. German Shepherds are guard dogs and police dogs, and very well behaved." She jerked the leash and said, "Sit, Gunther." The dog immediatly sat, looked at its master, licked its venerable chops, and began to pant.

"Well," said the poodle lady, "This little dog has served me well. She's very friendly, and people seem to like her. She sparks a lot of conversations, and she also brings me my slippers every evening."

"Hmph. Gunther is good at keeping cats out of my house. Just last week he brought me the cutest little cat named Snowball. We buried it in the back yard. Such a good boy," she said, stroking the dog's head. The shepherd closed his eyes in pleasure. "And a few months ago, he cornered a man in the grocery store who brushed against my purse. He has a good eye for criminal activity. I'm not even sure that thing qualifies as a dog." She tilted her head and added, "I haven't seen you at the Kennel, either."

"No, it's a dog alright. Papers and everything," the poodle lady said. "Anyway, I did try out your club, and they almost ate Peaches here. So, I go to a different club, more for people who are just starting to be interested in dogs. It's kind of new."

"A dog must be brown with a black saddle, and bred for strength and intelligence. Tall, too. Your animal is short and pink for crying out loud. It can't be a dog."

"Do you really want to argue about whether or not the poodle is a dog?"

"I've heard that the Chihuahua is actually a breed of rodent. It's probably true for your little rat, too."

The woman went on to list five points that make dogs distinct from other four legged mammals, and the poodle lady gently showed that her poodle indeed met the criteria. The poodle, meanwhile, sniffed a tulip.

Still convinced that the small animal couldn't be a dog, the woman with the German Shepherd tried a new tact.

"I've heard about your club. Everyone there brings in all sorts of animals, and they all claim to have dogs. I read about a man who brought in a pair of conjoined parakeets, and calls it a dog." The German Shepherd growled at the poodle.

"Well, it's an informal club," the poodle lady said, drawing the poodle near her, "and just because someone brings an animal doesn't mean they're bringing a dog. We like to talk about dogs, swap dog stories, and hope potential dog owners will think about adopting a dog."

"Captain Max von Stephanitz never mentioned poodles, and I've got all of his books, notes, and memoirs indexed and alphabetized at home."

While the poodle lady contemplated this, a young mother came up holding the hand of a young girl in a pink dress. The girl was about three and excited at the sight of the dogs, began to pull away from the lady to touch them. The mother tried to restrain the girl, but the determind daughter slipped her hand from her mother's grip and ran up to the closer, and more colorful little poodle. The poodle was excited by the girl, and danced on it's back legs, and started licking the little girls face.

The mother began to apologize and pull the little one away, but the poodle lady insisted that it was alright, and that the girl was in no danger. Meanwhile Gunther and her owner watched with interest.

As the little girl played with the poodle, another man briskly approached. He was tanned, with white hair and thick glasses, wearing a velour warm up suit and velcro tennis shoes. Ignoring the child and the poodle, he broke his stride and stopped in front of the German Sheperd. He held out the back of his hand for the dog to sniff and addressed the owner.

"Beautiful dog. I bet the Kaiser would have loved to have had a dog with this form." The owner stood a little taller, partly from pride in her dog and partly, perhaps subconciously, to match the man's military bearing.

"Thank you," she said. "He's won many awards. Best in show three times running at the state level."

The dog respected the older man, and had warmed up to him quite nicely. The man was running expert hands over his coat and peering in the dog's ear.

"I can see why," he said. "I used to run a kennel with just German Sheperds. They're my favorite dog," he said, rising. "But my wife was a poodle woman, and always loved the little yippers." He nodded toward the poodle with the little girl. "They're great little dogs, too."

The man lifted his sleeve and glanced at a gold wristwatch, nodded at the ladies, and resumed his walk at a good clip.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Road

Cormac McCarthy has never been as readable as in The Road, his latest book about a post-apocalyptic world involving a man and his young son.

My first exposure to McCarthy was All the Pretty Horses, and he's one of the few authors I look forward to reading as newer books are released. I bought the hardcover version of No Country For Old Men but held out for a paperback of The Road, which was pushed earlier than expected since Oprah put it as a choice for her book club. I was with a friend in Seattle at a bookstore looking looking for a how-to-deal-with-a-teenager book (for him, thankfully) when I saw The Road propped up on the information desk with an Oprah sticker on it. I am very suspect of stickers and badges that promise great content since trusting a book called American Pastoral by Philip Roth that had a Pulitzer sticker on it. ("Kiss me like you kiss mother" still makes me cringe.) After Lonesome Dove, which deserves a gold sticker, I felt betrayed, but I knew McCarthy and in spite of the endorsement by the O, I snatched up The Road. I peeled the sticker off before I started reading.

Between the years that All the Pretty Horses, the Crossing and Cities on a Plain came out, I tried a few other McCarthy books. He has been consist ant in his crazy run-on style, stripped of punctuation, letting the words themselves keep the cadence of inflection and emphasis, but the earlier works were at times hard to muddle through. I can recall scenes in The Orchard Keeper, but can vaguely remember the plot.

Maybe the simplicity of The Road is part of the appeal. It follows two characters, the man and the boy, on their journey to the sea through a grey world with no life left in it at all. But as with anything McCarthy seems to write, the prose is poetic and vivid. Check out the following:

"By then all the stores of food had given out and murder was everywhere upon the land. The world soon to be largely populated by men who would eat your children in front of your eyes and in the cities themselves held by cores of blackened looters who tunneled among the ruins and crawled from the rubble white of tooth and eye carrying charred and anonymous tins of food in nylon nets like shoppers from the commissaries of hell. The soft black talc blew through the streets like squid ink uncoiling along a sea floor and the cold crept down and the dark came early and the scavengers passing down the steep canyon with their torches trod silky holes in the drifted ash that closed behind them as silently as eyes. Out on the roads the pilgrims sank down and fell over and died and the bleak and shrouded earth went trundling past the sun and returned again as trackless and as unremarked as the path of any nameless sisterworld in the ancient dark beyond."

Pretty stark, probably even by Oprah's standards. There's no mistaking McCarthy for a romance novelist, but in the scale of violence that dominates most of his work, the damage in The Road has been done before the story begins. With the starkness of the setting the focus of the book is the relationship between the boy and his father. The boy is scared yet trusts his father completely, and the man does his part to care for the boy as best he can in the situation. There are a few fights and deaths along the way, but in the boy, there is hope. Throughout the story the boy and the man speak of how they are the last to carry the fire, which is never explained or dissected. The boy strives for hope, and seeks reassurance from his dad that they are the good guys.

The story is infused with the humanity of these two, and the humor is as realistic as the setting is nihilistic. In a scene where the they have found some cover and a chance for a soak in a tub, this made me laugh.

"It took a long time but he wanted it to be good and warm. When the tub was almost full, the boy got undressed and stepped shivering into the water and sat. Scrawny and filthy and naked. Holding his shoulders. The only light was from the ring of blue teeth in the burner of the stove. What do you think? the man said.

Warm at last.
Warm at last?
Yes.
Where did you get that?
I don't know.
Okay. Warm at last."

As the story ends there is some discussion of an afterlife, and the man seems to see paradise the closer he nears death. He leaves the boy with hope, and the ending is satisfying in terms of the story as it is presented. This is a story of the last few remaining good people left on earth, and thank goodness it is fiction. The real hope we have in a Savior is not part of this fiction, nor of the characters in the book. They are the playthings of a master puppeteer of words, but the reality of God and Jesus are not something they know about. In a way, it's a two-dimensional representation of a story that reads like a myth, with only a murky view of the spiritual third dimension that would give the story more depth and real hope. Still, it is an important book as literature, and as a view into the minds of those who seek hope with no direction.

Although I approach stickered and badged books with a raised brow and suspicion, The Road deserves a dozen of them, plastered all over the front so other skeptics will give this great book a shot. It is Cormac McCarthy though, so expect the violence, and enjoy the small hopes of a small boy.

9/10

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Gun Seller

Lately, I've had more time to read and the latest was a book by Hugh Laurie, of House fame, called "The Gun Seller."

The Gun Seller is about an ex-british forces soldier named Thomas Lang who lives in London and gets wrapped up in an arms deal initiated by people with money and connections to the US government. Things escalate, as you'd hope, and several beatings and a motorcycle wreck, Lang ends up turning the situation to his advantage.

This was Laurie's first attempt at novel, and to have it published he first submitted it under a pen name. When the novel was accepted, he allowed them to use his real name, since the material stood on it's own merits and not just as celebrity self gratuity. A classy move on his part, and it does add to the credibility of him as a writer, and maybe surprisingly, he delivers.

A look at his background and it probably shouldn't be surpising that he can write, and write well. He was educated at Cambridge and cites his favorite author as PG Wodehouse. That should not be a surprise, really, either, as he played Bertie Wooster, a Wodehouse character, to perfection in the BBC series Jeeves and Wooster. In The Gun Seller, Laurie has put the literary influence to paper and created a modern version of a Wodehouse-like book. Wodehouse created distinct and funny characters, and through the eyes and words of Thomas Lang, Laurie has done the same, in the form of a page turner of a mock spy novel.

The story clips along quite well, with occasional observations and asides that pace the action.

"She turned towards me and narrowed her eyes. If you know what I mean by that. Narrowed them horizontally, not vertically. I suppose you could say she shortened her eyes, but nobody ever does.

She narrowed her eyes."

There are some funny comparisons of what make men and women different, in a clever car metaphor, but the dialogue is at time prolific in the use of a vulgarities that Wodehouse managed to write without. I understand the argument that this is how real people like this talk, and that it is just part of building a character, but I found it over the top. I don't particularly like it anyway, but in this case restraint would have made it more palatable.

There's an interview in the back of the paperback with Laurie and he says he sold the rights to a screenplay version of the story to United Artists. He says that he would only do a walk on role, but I think that his years as Gregory House, MD have proven his ability to play a serious role with comic undertones -- especially since during a large portion of the story Lang has to fake an American accent.

It's much better fare than a typical airplane reader, and a good alternative to some of the more popular garbage that fills the supermarket paperback racks. If Wodehouse would have collaborated with Clancy, this might have been the result. A great first effort, and I hope Laurie decides to write more.

7/10

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