checkmate, by dorothy dunnett

September 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve been sitting on my thoughts about this book for a while. It keeps bugging me. Like every time I think of this series I’m like — “ASGLKAJGLKAJGASGAJGLK BEST SERIES EVER!!!!!!!!!” but then I think of the ending and my face takes on this involuntary grimace and I feel horribly let down by it, as if by a extraordinarily precocious child prodigy who goes to college swearing to solve cancer and comes back a obese couch potato with his finger permanently inserted in a chip bag. Specifically, Marthe. Can I get a WTF, ladies? When I read it, I couldn’t put a finger on what exactly about Marthe’s ending – besides the obvious – made my mouth shrivel like a prune, but now I think I’ve got it. It’s that we’re made to feel relief at her death. After two books of investing our sympathy in this wonderful, horrible, faceted, mad, motivated, spit-in-your-face defiant woman, Dunnett has her decide to expose the family secrets. There’s a dramatic confrontation and a stabbing of the adorable Monseiur Hislop thrown in for good measure. Then she goes and rides off while vicious thoughts of vengeance condense in a miasma about her head and the reader is like “noooooo. don’t let this happen. STOP HER!” And she is stopped. In the most literal way possible. And then the reader puts down the book, blows out a breath that ruffles the bangs on her forehead, picks the book back up, and blithely forgets ALL ABOUT MARTHE when she returns to reading roughly twenty pages of Philippa and Lymond sexing in their blessed matrimonial bed.

As another review sniped, seeing a friend die horribly and graphically in front of you is a surefire way to make any rape victim horny again, I can tell you that.

Other than that I think I would’ve found this book extremely affecting if I hadn’t been already spoiled for about 80% of its developments. Sabina called the First Baron Culter/Sybilla connection. I knew Marthe was going to die because clodhead that I was, I tried to read fic before finishing the series. I still felt nauseous at Philippa’s sacrifice and my chest got all blocked up and my breath came faster. What else? I think another criticism that I’ve read elsewhere is spot-on. This last book is pretty much structured like a romance novel. Depending on your tolerance of Lymond/Philippa, this is either a great thing or a thing to make your gorge rise. Books 3 and 4 (still my favorites) were much more adventure-oriented, in that Lymond had an external enemy whom he pursued across several continents and eventually put to the death. But once the conflict guiding the narrative turned inward (books 5 and 6) — Lymond struggles with his pain and wants to kill himself, among other tiresome retreads — things get so much more soppy and ungainly.

Things that I liked: Lovely descriptions. And Adam and Danny. On the level of the writing, I thought Lymond’s discovery of Philippa post-Bailey was very well done. Once again, Dunnett excels at letting the reader realize on her own the horror of the unstated. Powerful technique.

And poor Jerott:

“As he watched, she bent her head and crossing her hands, slid them along her forearms to still them. Oh God, thought Jerott. Don’t let it happen. She doesn’t deserve the torment. The lifetime of waiting, in return for a handful of moments of ecstasy. And standing behind him, always, the ghosts of his other, experienced women. The thoughts he did not share. The knowledge that one had his total friendship but never the key to the innermost door. . . . And there was an innermost door, which Marthe did not have, and had never had, although his hopes of that, and that alone, had been his reason for marrying her.

Adam was looking at him. Stupid with too much wine and too much emotion Jerott turned his head, and so caught, without warning, the expression on Austin Grey’s face.”

Can’t remember anything else, it’s all been blotted out by the wtf ending.

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blocked on all fronts until these cursed apps go out

September 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

“I want to write because I have the urge to excel in one medium of translation and expression of life. I can’t be satisfied with the colossal job of merely living…. Let me think clearly and brightly; let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences.”
— Sylvia Plath

“The work itself, you know—sentence by sentence, page by page—it’s much too intimate, much too private, to come from anywhere but deep within the writer himself. It comes out of all the time a writer wastes. We stand around, look out the window, walk down the hall, come back to the page, and, in those intervals, something subterranean is forming, a literal dream that comes out of daydreaming.”
— Don Delillo

“How to Save the Planet with Van Putten is another class which is actually very practical, with hard work and feedback on briefs, advocacy speeches, etc – I definitely worked harder at that class than any other in law school. I think the name of the class is gonna be changed though, because people complained it looked bad on their resume.”
— A. L. in an email about scumsucking law students

“my sparkle spout is broken :(”
– N. in a message about writing marketing copy

note to my inner reformist/advocate/embittered liberal/shit-stirrer

September 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

My brain is too shot to do anything but parrot things that other, wiser people say.

“Everyone wants to be Good. Everyone wants to believe in themselves, and that means believing that they are Good, however they define that. And so, in order to face herself every morning, every person chooses not to see certain things about herself. That time you genuinely wanted to kill him, for saying that to your face: You couldn’t have thought that, couldn’t have really wanted that, you’re not a monster, you were just a little upset. That time you undermined her, chimed in to make her feel less confident about her work or her clothes or her body, right at the moment she was starting to be successful, so that she’d keep needing your approval: You’re not a controlling person, you’re not abusive, you were just trying to help. That time you wrecked a person’s career or reputation: Not your fault, nothing that could have been done, you were just being honest. And on, and on.

This much is simple. But the next part gets complicated. Because there are two rules: First, whatever you’ve decided not to see in yourself, you will see just constantly in other people. And you will hate it. Everything you hate most in the world exists somewhere inside you. You hate her because she’s judgmental; you’ve really judged her to be the most judgmental person you know. You hate him because he’s a self-absorbed whiner; he never focuses on your problems, and you have so many huge problems, you’re in such pain and he just doesn’t care. You hate her because she’s mean; she’s so goddamned mean, you have to send her an e-mail right nowtelling her that what she said is mean and horrible and dicky, and maybe add in that she’s a bad writer. So far, so normal. But the second rule is more dangerous, especially if you’re a self-defined activist or crusader. Because the second rule is: The brighter the light, the bigger the shadow. Which is to say, the more time you spend chasing the Good, defining the Good, being Good and righteous and pure, the more unaware you become of these “bad” parts of yourself, and the more vicious they tend to get.

…It’s not about hypocrisy. It’s not even about seeing these things where they don’t exist: Odds are, once you’ve decided to hate “self-pity” or “cruelty” or “anger,” you will be able to find these things in a person who is actually a sad-sack or a jerk or a rage junkie. But it’s your job to find them in you. Because they’re there. And you can’t make them go away by clinging ever more tightly to the Good, by moving further and further into your own self-righteousness or into someone else’s rules. You’ll never become less self-pitying, mean, or angry, by doing that. You’ll just be a self-pitying, caustic, angry person who doesn’t know this about herself, and who therefore doesn’t take any action to control it.”

From this post at Tiger Beatdown.

links and such

September 22, 2011 § Leave a comment

China and India Making Inroads in Biotech Drugs: Cheap generics poised to flood the market — and all the handwringing over international patent laws that ensue.

Dear Important Novelists: Be Less Like Moses and More Like Howard Cosell.

The Shame of College Sports.

Paul Krugman is tired of trying to reason with you people.

low point

September 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve felt unspeakably dreary these past two days, and I don’t know why. Too little food? Too much? Creative uncertainty? All that comes from writing in a vacuum. Usually it’s enough to feel myself, appreciating myself, but sometimes it gets a little lonely. And a few days ago, of course, I was telling B. about former classmates of mine who had gone on to do — in fact still were doing — some interesting things, post graduation. The former EIC of the newspaper is now employed, in some unspecified but grand capacity, at the United States Senate. A writing workshop classmate of mine went from working at a D.C. think tank to working at the World Bank. A past housemate is employed at YouTube as a policy analyst and content monitor. Innumerable people are earning doctorates at great schools.

I try to tell myself that for every budding U.S. Senator, I know ten underemployed humanities majors doing drudge work at AnonCorp Inc; or winging it, with the help of wealthy parents, as a barely paid freelance writer. That helps.

I don’t think about my chances of being happy in law school if I can help it.

It’s probably not a coincidence that the night I have a nightmare about being chased down a narrowing stone alleyway by rapists was the same night I finished Dorothy Dunnett’s Checkmate. Actually, now that I think of it, the part of the dream where I hole up in a kind stranger’s house (the lady’s criminal husband from Drive?) was quite reminiscent of Philippa’s convalescence at Sevigny.

lindy k. lee-lovell

September 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

Very tired. Just came back from being pep-talked at a conference? powwow? self-help symposium? hosted by the Los Angeles chapter of WTS. This wouldn’t usually merit the attention of a post. But today when I walked in there, ready to share with the multitudes my usual number of cock-ups, tongue-slips, and slam-bang quips about the vagaries of L.A. traffic, I saw an unusual sight. A tiny Asian-American woman stood at the podium. She was so short you could only see her head and the upper half of her torso. Though she had been 28 years on the job she looked like a student. Yet with her round face and short stature and voice that cracked like an adolescent’s she was the second-in-command of Caltrans District 7 — the second largest in the state. Chief Deputy was her title. Compare her to the man from Jacobs who made me feel minnow-slight — dark evaluating eyes, an obtrusive foreign accent, a  forceful way of speaking. What did Lindy K. Lee-Lovell talk about? Well, she talked about making it. She made no mention of her own status — as a woman, as an Asian American — being several degrees removed from the Caucasian and male-dominated center of her chosen industry of work. She talked mostly about cataloging one’s faults and learning to overcome, minimize, or supplement them with friendly sales or HR personnel. She presented to the room a taxonomy of her best traits and her worst. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, she called them. She made a joke every other minute, most of which provoked only a smattering of laughter throughout the room. She said it took her ten years to make the leap to management. She had almost given up.

One suggestion of hers that I liked was the slide about identifying your best traits and areas of expertise, and then increasing your influence in the community by teaching those skills, or growing those traits, in others. Increased visibility will cause others to come to you, and perhaps view you as a figure of authority.

notes from august 17, 2011

September 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

Jim’s Famous Quarterpound Burger in Monrovia. Zucchini fries: sweetly mellow inside, batter-fried outside. Avocado cheeseburger? Coulda used more salt.

The Arcadia arboretum is a 127 acre preserve that I’d never heard of prior to googling for things to do in the area on Saturday. They have peacocks! Trees whose trunks look like spiked clubs, topped with incongruously frilly flowers! Greenhouses! Areas of plants divided by continent! An herb garden! The peacocks were the highlight of the trip, though. And the wedding parties. The groom in a white suit posed with his dudely family and friends, all in matching black tuxes, rowdily laughing and joking. The bridesmaids in satin, coral pink. I felt so glad for them.

Watched Drive, starring Ryan Gosling as Pinochio. Isn’t it ironic that a story about an emotional idiot savant’s reintegration into society as a feeling human being turns on the one act that would normally sever a person from all his relationships and expel him from civilization in handcuffs — murder? Have mixed feelings about this movie, tipping towards a positive reaction. I think it was overegged in some parts — the soundtrack, the liberal usage of slow mo, not to mention Refn clearly has a raging hard-on for Gosling’s face, as half the movie is composed of shots of Gosling’s profile bathed in various intensities and gradients of light — but still I liked it. The first scene is a tension-building wonder. The family dinner +1 (toasting each other with sippy cups!). I don’t believe that any man who looks like Gosling could have lived such an emotionally sterile and isolated social life, to the point where a kid and his deadbeat mom end up being the “best thing to have ever happened to him”, so for now I’m just like SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF, pretending this guy is like 100x uglier than he is.

B. tried to hack into my facebook account, but Facebook caught him. Mark Zuckerburg is laughing at him from behind his bunker in Palo Alto.

Got home. Laid in bed, exhausted. Then we dug up so many good songs! Neon Indian, The Golden Filter, some new M83. I felt so content, lying in bed, watching B. scourage up music videos. (On the cover of M83’s single — “I would love to get a blowjob from that creature” — anonymous commentor on Youtube.) Toe-wriggled with pleasure: the good feeling of having had a fun day.

“Both optimists and pessimists contribute to society. The optimist invents the aeroplane, the pessimist the parachute.” — George Bernard Shaw

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