Monthly Archives: February 2006

The Tesseract by Alex Garland

Riverhead Trade (January 10, 2000),288 pages

Reading ‘The Beach’ (also by Garland) was what made me get The Tesseract. Being a fan of Southeast Asian set novels, and knowing that Garland is a master of the “Backpacker’s Culture”, I knew from the start that The Tesseract will not disappoint.

This book is no beach culture.It is set in the heart of Manila, in a seedy hotel along Roxas Boulevard. Garland describes the smallest of details of Manila with the precision expected only from one who has lived in Manila itself::

At eleven-fifteen he’d stood up to leave and walked towaed the exit, where the blue uniformed McDonald’s security guard had obligingly lowered his stockless shotgun and held the door open. Or obligingly held the door open and lowered his stockless shotgun. Either way, one blast of the scorched air and had Spun on his heels and marched back inside.

But cool as it was in McDonald’s, after a couple of hours Sean could feel the edges of his mind starting to fray. It wasn’t the obsessive wiping and washing and ashtray removing so much as the sprawling children’s party that had commandeered half the seating area. Overweight kids with sulky faces and stripy sailor shirts, shouting at their nannies. No more than eight or nine, most of them, and already groomed for a life in politics. Why did this tubby elite choose to celebrate in a hamburger joint, Sean had wondered as he burst a balloon that had been bounced in his face. The sound made a dozen adult heads turn, and one of the minders reaching under his barong tagalog to the bulge in his waistband. Time to go.

While The Beach has both its plot/climax and raw narration to offer, The Tesseract’s gem is its fast but just right rhythm, and the way it unfolds how the characters of 3 separate ‘stories’ are interrelated, hence the title ‘The Tesseract’. Take six cubes and arrange them into the shape of a crucifix, at the point where the cross is made. Thats the tesseract.

 

Sean the English seaman and Don Pepe, the aristocratic mestizo. Corazon, Rosa and her children. Rosa and Lito. Totoy and Vicente. All of their stories are presented independently but in the end they all climax in a common joint.

I also liked particularly how Garland personified Don Pepe, (a Spanish mestizo with assistant thugs). The author even knows the concept (and the word) of “sip-sip”–an irritating trait in the Philippine Society. This Don, who also has the mindset of most elite Filipinos, cannot seem to get enough of the irritating habit of uselessly comparing the Philippines to the countries theyve been to:

“There are no churches in the Philippines. No houses of God, only huts. Iglesia ni Christo? Its an insult! In Spain there are churches. Real churches. here, you have only huts.”

Here, you have only. Here, you have only.

But neither Don Pepe’s father nor grandfather had ever been to Spain. Don Pepe himself had been just once. In December of the previous year. Five days in Madrid, and two days in San Sebastian, the hometown of his ancestors. The one thing Spanish about Don Pepe was his blood, and you had simply to look at him to see that it was mixed. NOt that anybody would ever dare to mention it.

Although it is far from the focus of the novel, I cannot help but enjoy how Garland also excellently caught how Filipinos talk to foreigners:

“We’ve cooperated for years, Don Pepe”

“Yes, for years. So I think you know the way I work”.

Alan opened his mouth to say something, but changed his mind. He hadn’t expected to talk the mestizo around.

“What can I say, Alan? This is life. Mahirap talaga.”

“Yeah,” Alan said tiredly. ‘Talaga”

The edges of the mestizo curled upward. “Talaga? Your Pilipino is improbing.”

“Improbing?”

“Getting, ano, better all the time. Ebery time we meet, better still”

“Oh”

“And, eh, what about your prend here? He can speak Tagalog?”

“Sean”?

“Yes,” said the Don, turning in his seat, turning the shoulders of Teroy and Bubot with him as if the men were connected by a thread. “Mr.Sean, can you speak Tagalog?”

Sean stiffened. He had almost relaxed listening to the argument, and the sudden shift of attention had caught him by surprise.

“Eeh, can you eben speak English?”

“Yes I can speak English,” Sean quickly replied, but not Filipino.”

“Not Pilipino”

“Hindi pa po”

Don Pepe’s eyes lit up. “Hindi pa? Hindi pa? How can you say hindipa? I say , can you speak Tagalog, and you say no…in Tagalog! So you can speak, di ba?”

“Conte lang po.”

“Aah! Only little hah? Still, anyway, its good you try. Bery good dat you try.”

A heart breaking part, which made me remember those High School days of Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. Don Pepe was making rounds in his Argentinian horse in his hacienda, and one of his workers accidentally stained the Don’s slacks, and it was immediately understood that this worker’s hand has to be cut off:

Sir, if I could buy you some new trousers. Several pairs, all silk, several colors…”

“Dont be ridiculous. You couldnt possibly afford it.”

“I have savings that might be used for…”

“You seem to be missing the point. It isnt the trousers, its principle. I know you understand that.”

Fat Boy stared blankly at his fingers. “Sir, please, a moment. If I am cut now, I will die from bleeding. if you permit it, at least let them be cut off tonight. We can light a fire and heat an iron and the wound can be properly sealed”

“Youre a physician?”

“Sir, please!” Fat-Boy’s voice was breaking. “I would not recover if my hands were cut off here.”

Don Pepe considered this for a few moments , tugging thoughtfully at the loose folds of skin under his chin.

“Very well. I shall not be able to watch because I have an engagement tonight. Aaah, diginitaries from abroad. But tomorrow, I shall check on you. Oh, and if you try to escape, I’ll feed your family to your own dogs.”

“Yes, sir”

The next day, as promised, Don Pepe came to check up on Fat-Boy, who was convalescing in his hut, tended by his wife and Panding himself ( the co-worker assigned to cut off his hand). The master took a brief look at the feverish bloodied figure, and shook his head. “Hands,” he said. “I said hands. Not hand.”

Fat boy did not survive the second amputation.

He also had a beautiful way of presenting how a person such as the Don would be remembered on his death:

Don Pepe’s mouth was red and dry where a bubble of blood had popped over his lips, his eyes were rolled up in their sockets, and his fingers curled into claws.

In the Spanish town of San Sebastian, a restaurant ownder recalled the memory of the rudest customer he had ever served, an old man with an unplaceable accent and a linen suit that looked as out of time as his silver matchstick holder. In Quezon province, the young nephew of a Manila dockworker shuddered at a story about red mists and machetes. In Negros, a cemetary caretaker shone his flashlight on the graffiti covered walls of an old Kastila mausoleum. In an Ayala Alabang mansion, six Dobermans licked their paws and listened for the sound of a Mercedes engine.

Its also pleasing to know that although Garland also touched on the provincial life in Infanta, Quezon, he didnt stick to the usual Maria Clara stereotype that most foreign authors, and even Filipino authors cast on the female characters.

I found out that there’s been a movie adaptation produced, the movie altered a whole lot of details. It was set in Bangkok (maybe Manila wasnt exotic enough or marketable enough?), and a female assasin character (not present in the book) was wedged in…perhaps to add a sex factor to it.

Here’s the movie poster. Directed by some dude named Oxide Pang. That’s what you get for tampering with a fantastic novel. A B-grade “Chuck Norris” type of film.

 

Alex Garland as pictured in the back of the book.

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I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris

Multnomah; Updated edition (April 1, 2003), 238 pages

Okay Okay. Before any reaction is spurred, allow me to explain. 3 years ago, when I was living in China, I hung out with lots of Christians, and one particular couple, good friends of mine, ( I shall call them X and Y) were always reading lots of Christian books. And because the only English books in China were “How to Speak English like a Foreigner” and “English Vocabulary made Easy” and other similar ones along the line, I decided to ‘check it out’. I can still remember that night, we were playing billiards, and because I play billiards like I play the zither, I eyed Y’s book called “Boy Meets Girl” also by the same author. I borrowed the book, and browsed …and what can I say, Ive never in my life shook my head that much, and Ive never utterd so many ‘Oh man”s or “What the”s….

I do not scorn at their beliefs or dismiss them. In fact I find it incredible that they could adhere to such…rigid and straight ways of dating/courtship whatever you call it.

So, this book is the pre-quel to the ‘Boy Meets Girl’ and to non-Chirstians, I think just as infamous. Dont get me wrong. This book is a bestseller and has been translated into over 12 languages.

So this 21 year old guy does not believe in dating. He believes in waiting only for that ONE, the one you will eventually marry. So if you do not think you will marry that guy/girl, you shouldnt waste your time. Yes it does sound romantic doesnt it? I also believe in that, but he also thinks that, when we date or see someone, we give away part of our heart to him/her. So, the more one dates, the smaller his heart gets, until when he sees the One for him, nothing would be left of his heart. Given this equation then, I can see my own brother, not only without a heart but maybe some other vital parts in his anatomy missing, close to a walking skeleton. But I dont believe in that anyway. I believe in having emotional baggages but not the receding love.

He also expounded on a guy and a girl’s roles…

Guys, its time we stood up to defend thehonor and righteousness of our sisters. We need to stop acting like hunters trying to catch girls and begin seeing ourselves as warriors standing over them. We need to swear off flirtatiousness and refuse to play games and lead them on. We have to go out of our way to make sure nothing we say or do stirs up inappropriate feelings or expectations.

Very gentlemanly indeed. I wonder how many guys really adhere to that. Now this is the girls’ responsibilities:

Girls, remember the wayward woman we discussed earlier? Your job is to keep your brothers from being led astray by her charms. Please be aware of how easily your actions and glances can stir up in a guy’s mind. I think many girls are innocently aware of the difficulty a guy has in remaining pure when looking at a girl who is dressed immodestly. Now I dont want to dictate your wardrobe, but honestly speaking, I would be blessed if girls considered more than fashion when shopping for clothes. My friend Janelle asks her dad to evaluate every outfit she buys. She wants a godly man’s opinion whether or not its modest. There have been plenty of times when her dad has asked her to return items. But she doesnt complain. She wants to honor God.

Er…seeing my photo in the profile section, hope I dont plummet down to eternal damnation.

The book also has a section on battling Lust:

For one girl I know, guarding her heart against lust means throwing away all her secular romance novels. She felt convicted that the constant sensuality these books featured was totally inappropriate for her to read, making her heart rich soil for seeds of lust. Another friend attending college stopped spending his afternoons at the beach because the bikini clad girls there were too great a temptation for his eyes. Another male friend decided to abstain from all movies for six months.

There’s also a section on believing in saving the first KISS for marriage:

Keep your hands off and your clothes on. Until youre married, please dont treat each other as if your bodies belong to each other even if youre engaged. The kissing, touching, and caressing that take place in today’s dating relationships often lead to compromise and confusion. Such behavior is often based on selfishness and awakens desires that you can righteously satisfy only in marriage.Personally, Ive committed to waiting, even for a kiss, until Im married. I want the first kiss with my wife to be on our wedding day.

And a section on how to behave when youre already “courting”:

As your friendship progresses, avoid saying and doing things that express romantic love. Dont take things into your own hands by flirting or dropping hints about your romantic feelings. And dont encourage your friends to talk about you or treat you as a couple. When your friends do this, simply invite others to join you in your activities so you can keep from being paired off.

And how we should look out for one another, and dating “Non-Christians”:

My friend Christina was beginning to develop a very close relationship with a non-Christian guy. Though she brought him to church several times and told me and others that she was ‘reaching out’ to him, I was concerned about the nature of the relationship. I called her one day and asked if she was being drawn into a romantic relationship with someone who didnt follow Christ. She admitted that she was and had already made some foolish decisions about where and when they have gone. God used our conversation to convict Christina and reveal the dangerous path she was on. She involved her mom and other girlfriends and changed the nature of her friendship with the guy.

Ive benefited from being challeneged as well. My friend Heather provided this kind of care for me when she talked to me about the way I was interacting with the girls in our singles group. She pointed out ways I had focused on certain girls and things I said and did that could cause girls to think I was interested in them romantically. God used Heather’s words to help me change.

Personally, if I had a friend come up and tell me “I noticed you are paying some more than sisterly attention to so and so” Id tell him or her to **** off.

I am not a wild child who advocates sex drugs rock n rolls and orgies. But some how reading into the lives of these young people made me feel like they were living in a communist era, where there are red guards out to catch them sin.

Its also pretty impressive, that at this day and age, that there are young people like this who exist, and in all places, America.Trying to live a saintly life in a world of reality tv shows is like swimming against the current. I have so much more to say about the book but Its pointless. This is one of the most debatable issues where no one can win.

The author of course can say with conviction that he will really not kiss, or touch or date, because he HAS been through with his days of “sin” and is a changed man. But what about those who havent even done anything…no experience whatsoever? Every experience is a learning process and if you devoid a teenage boy from the early stages of dating, (prom is of course not allowed because it is a ‘couple’ thing) and let him kiss only on the wedding day, I think a disaster awaits.

For more information, go to www.joshharris.com

If you are single or dating and still living with your parents, keep this book out of their hands.

Shattering Glass by Gail Giles

Simon Pulse; Reprint edition (September 1, 2003) 224 pages

My formula to avoiding “reader’s block” is to switch from one genre to another. So if ive just read a heavy loaded drama/history sort of novel, I immediately go to my sister’s book shelf. Chick Lit, as she defines her selections. You have to be open to all types of novels because they are all essential in reading. After reading a so-called “Chick Lit”, your mind will be ready for yet another thick and serious read.

I decided to choose one that didnt look at all like a Gossip Girl type, because I didnt want to read the word “Whatever” at least 543 times in one book. So I picked one that was not so thick. And this one reminded me of my old R.L Stine and Christopher Pike days.

Brazos Vale High School in Texas. Rob Haynes is your typical popular high school guy. Everyone’s friend, teachers pet. And of course, leader of a clique. Rob and his friends spot fat, clumsy Simon Glass, the loser nerd who “occupies the lowest rung on the high school ladder.” Rob decides to make this experiment, to test just how influential he is, he will turn Simon from the laughing stock to the most liked student. In other words, in exchange for lessons and answers , they give him a makeover. A haircut, new wardrobe, diet, excercise, the works.

Rob succeeds and in no time, Simon becomes popular and well liked. Even more liked than Rob. Obviously he is not happy with this, and decides to bring him down. But smart Simon, because he is still a geek at heart, has researched some dodgy past about Rob. And in the end, when he decides to use this against Rob, he gets murdered. By baseball bats, by the very same “Fab Five” guys who made him over. Right after the prom dance.

In a nutshell, this is “Mean Boys” and “Queer Eye” gone headless chicken. Sooo not a chick lit. Whew.

NEVERWHERE by Neil Gaiman

Avon (November 1, 1998),400 pages 

Inspired by my friend Cecille’s obsession over Neil Gaiman, I decided to give Gaiman a second try. My first Gaiman book was The Sandman Book of Dreams, which I unfortunately wasnt able to read through. No wonder, she said, because I had to read some other book first before reading that. Several years later, I find myself on a bookshop with Cecille, after a mini high school reunion, and she fished it out of the bookshelf and insisted that I add this to my reading list. Thank you, Cecille. This has been one of the best book purchases in my life. It just took me 3 days to finish the book. And just right on time, I was on a layover in London when I was in the heart of the novel. Im, normally not a fan of fantasy books but this one is absolutely a fantastic masterpiece.

What if in the bustling city of London, there was an entirely different dimension/world directly beneath it? Yes, even further below the Underground. London Above(the one we know) and London Below (where the story is)

“Richard Mayhew is a plain man with a good heart,” reads the synopsis at the back of the book. And thats exactly what the main character is, just a regular guy with a good soul. With a nagging girlfriend. On their way to a dinner with his girlfriend’s boss, they stumble upon a filthy bleeding girl crumpled on the sidewalk. His girlfriend refuses to give attention to what looked like a homeless beggar. But our good man Richard picks her up, all blood and dirt, and tries to save her, much to girlfriend’s chargin. And that’s where Richard’s “Richard in wonderland” adventure begins.

The homeless girl turns out to be Door, a girl from London Below , who has the special power of opening doors, and providing doors when necessary. Her family was brutally murdered by Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar. She is now being hunted by these two, and when Door ends up being in London Above, Richard becomes her “clueless?” protector and also gets dragged down to the dimension below.

—————————————————————————————–

They wore black suits, which were slightly greasy. slightly frayed, and even Richard, who counted himself among the sartorially dyslexic, felt there was something odd about the cuts of the coats.They were the kind of suits that might have been made two hundred years ago. The lines were wrong, and so were the grace notes.

‘A fox and a wolf’, Richard thought, involuntarily. The man in front, the fox, was a little shorter than Richard. He had a lank, greasy hair, of an unlikely orange color, and a pallid xomplexion; as Richard opened the door, he smiled widely, and just a fraction too late, with teeth that looked like an accident in the graveyard. “A good morrow to you sir,” he said, “on this fine and beautiful day”.

“Ah. Hello,” said Richard.

“We are conducting a personal enquiry of a delicate nature as it were, door to door. Do you mind if we come in?”

“Well, its not very convenient now”, said Richard. Then he asked, “Are you with the police?”

The second of the visitors, a tall man, the one he had thought of as a wolf, his gray and black hair cut bristle short, stood a little behind his friend, holding a stack of photocopies to his chest. He had said nothing until this moment–just waited, huge and impassive. Now he laughed, once, low and dirtily. There was something unhealthy about that laugh.

“The police? Alas,” said the smaller man, “we cannot claim that felicity. A career in law and order although indubitably enticing, was not inscribed on the cards Dame Fortuna dealth my brother and me. No, we are merely private citizens. Allow me to make introductions. I am Mr.Croup, and this gentleman is my brother, Mr. Vandemar.”

They did not look like brothers. They did not look like anything Richard has seen before. “Your brother?” asked Richard. “Shouldnt you have the same name?”

“I am impressed. What a brain, Mr. Vandemar. Keen and incisive isnt the half of it. Some of us are so sharp,” he said as he leaned in closer to Richard’s face, “we could just cut ourselves”. Richard took an involuntary step backwards. “Can we come inside?”, asked Mr. Croup.

“What do you want?”

Mr. Croup sighed, in waht he obviously imagined was a rather wistful manner. “We are looking for our sister,” he explained. “A wayward child, willful and headstrong, who has close to broken our poor widowed mother’s heart”

Richard looked down at the paper. It said:

HAVE YOU SEEN THIS GIRL?

Beneath that was a photocopy-gray photograph of a girl who, looked to Richard, like a cleaner, longer haired version of the young lady he had left in his bathroom. Under that it said:

ANSWERS TO THE NAME OF DOREEN. BITES AND KICKS. RUN AWAY. TELL US IF YOU SAW HER. WANT HER BACK. REWARD PAYED.

It was definitely the girl in his bathroom. “No.” he said, “I havent seen her, Im afraid. Im sorry.”

Mr. Vandemar, however, was not listening. He had raised his head and was sniffing the air, like a man smelling something odd or unpleasant.

“You will tell us if you see her,” he said.

“Good-bye,” said Richard. Then he closed the door and locked it. And, for the first time since he had lived there, he attached the security chain.

Mr. Croup, who had cut Richard’s phone line at the mention of the police, was starting to wonder whether he had cut the cord or not. Twentieth-century telecommunications technology was not his strongest point. He took one of the photocopies from Vandemar, and positioned it on the wall of the stairwell. “Spit!” he said to Vandemar.

Mr. Vandemar hawked a mouthful of phlegm from the back of his throat and spat it neatly onto the back of the handbill. Mr. Croup slapped the handbill hard unto the wall, next to Richard’s door. It stuck immediately and hard.

Mr. Croup turned to Vandemar.”Do you believe him?”

They turned back down the stairs. “Do I hell”, said Mr. Vandemar. “I could smell her”

=============================================================

Just typing that part makes me want to read it all over again. With irresistbly interesting characters such as the jolly (but dont be fooled) Marquis de Carabas, Iliaster, and the filthy but helpful Rat-Speaking people, Hunter, (who I always imagine as Grace Jones or a dark Angelina Jolie) and of course, the root of all this mayhem, The Angel Islington.

Hollywood should invest in this and make another fantasy movie. I wont say it would be greater than The Lord of the Rings or H.P for this is entirely different, but I can only imagine what a great blockbuster this would be. Sort of like WILLOW and NEVER ENDING STORY.

I found out that there’s been a “Neverwhere” Mini-Series produced in 1996, but it didnt do justice to the book.

This is a classic, and in the future, far far future, when my child reaches the age of reason, I will FORCE him to read this.

Neil Gaiman is a living Tolkien.

Door: What’s your name?
Richard Oliver Mayhew: Richard. Richard Mayhew. Dick.
Door: Richardrichardmayhewdick?

Welcome to the World, Baby Girl! by Fannie Flagg

Ballantine Books, (December 7, 1999),432 pages

Never Ever judge a book by its cover. This is a special one. I consider this book as a farewell gift to me..farewell to my crazy flying days, and a welcome gift to the world of domesticity. So i just thought its just fitting for this to be the first book on the list. I FOUND this book on the plane, on one of my last flights, from Los Angeles to Seoul. Some passenger left it on the magazine rack. On a bookshop I wouldnt even consider giving this a second glance. As I set about doing my ground preparations, I kept on inevitably passing by the magazine rack and the yellow and blue color of the book was quite catchy. Moreover, it looked like a pocketbook pocketbook if you know what I mean. It looked like what housewives would read. And come on, would you really be interested in reading a book with a title like that? “Welcome to the World, BABY GIRL!”?!?!? But, i couldnt resist a fat juicy pocketbook. It was beautifully worn and read that I just HAD to snatch it away and stash it in my layover bag (when no one was looking of course)
From the author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (yes its the movie Fried Green Tomatoes which I havent seen), this novel is set back and forth between Elmwood Springs, Missouri and New York. It has such a homey touch to it, especially the characters of Macky and Norma Warren–the husband and wife who are from this mythical (i guess) town of Missouri and whose lives are so mundane, yet so safe and cozy, that EVERYTHING is talked about. Their daily musings with the elderly Aunt Elner is downright hilarious it drove me laughing. They are the supporting characters of Dena Nordstrom aka Baby Girl, this successful newscaster based in New York. Dena is the typical beautiful smart workaholic professional woman of the 70’s who despises provincial living, but somehow fate finds her back to Elmwood Springs.
One of my favorite parts:

Death of a Cricket
When Macky and Norma Warren came in from church, the phone was ringing. Norma picked it up, her purse still hanging on her arm.
“Mrs. Macky Warren?”
“Yes”?
“Mrs. Warren, my name is Jonni Hartman and I work with network news public relations and Im calling to let you know that your relative, Dena Nordstrom, is in the hospital here”
Norma did not let her finish, put her hand over the receiver and screamed at her husband. “Macky, I told you not to kill that cricket!! Baby Girl is in the hospital!” she turned back to the phone “Oh my God…whats the matter with her?”
“Mrs. Warren, I dont want to alarm you but–”
“dont tell me she’s been in an accident. Dont tell me she’s been hurt, I cant stand it. Ill go to pieces, here, you have to talk to my husband”
She thrust the phone to Macky as if it were on fire.
Macky took the phone, while Norma waited in the background. “If she’s dead don’t tell me. i cant stand it. I knew something like this was going to happen”
“Norma be quiet. hello this is her husband what’s going on?”
“Mr Warren, this is Joni Hartman and I didnt want to alarm you. I just wanted to call and let you know Dena is in the hospital but OK, in case you might hear something on the news. Im here with her at the Houston, Texas Medical Center and Dr. De Bakey has just examined her and said she had a pretty severe attack of gastroenteritis”
Macky nodded. “I see. Is this considered life threathening?”
Norma wailed again. “Dont say she’s dying!!”
“Oh no Mr Warren. Its just a pretty severe stomachache as far as I can tell. The doctor says all she needs is a little rest”
“I see”
“If she’s dead–” Norma threw her hands up in the air–“I dont want to know”
Macky said “Ms. Hartman, could you hold on a second?” He put his hand over the receiver. “Norma. she’s not dead. Now be quiet and let me talk to the woman!” Norma covered her mouth with her hands to keep herself quiet. “Miss Hartman, I can be there as soon as I can get a plane out of here”
“Mr Warren, I really dont think thats necessary. I think it would be better to wait and see how long the doctor is going to keep her. She might be released by the time you get here”
“I see. Well, how is she doing right now? Can we talk to her?”
Norma couldnt control herself. “Is she asking for us? Macky, ask her if she wants to talk to us.”
“Mr. Warren, the doctor gave her something and she’s sleeping right now and from what I gather he does not want her disturbed. He put a No Visitors sign on her door. Im not even allowed in”
Macky nodded again. “I see. What about her family? Should we be there when she wakes up?”
Norma gasped and cluthced her purse to her chest. “Mother of God, she’s in a coma, I knew it–”
“Norma she’s fine. Now sit down”
“Mr. Warren, I really dont want you and your wife to worry. She has the best doctor in the country. Michael E. de Bakey.”
Macky was impressed. ” The heart transplant doctor?”
He anticipated Norma’s reaction and caught her just before she started to scream heart transplant. “No Norma, its not her heart, that’s her doctor”
“Her doctor? Her doctor has had a heart transplant?”
“Norma, he’s fine.”

Norma stood up. “Oh I cant stand it Macky. Youre not asking the right questions! Give me the phone. Miss Hartman, this is Norma again. Is this doctor good? Because we have a doctor right here in town that we can get, one that’s in good health.”
Macky shook his head in disbelief and said in a quiet steely voice. “Norma, give me the phone and go sit down”
Reluctantly, she handed it back. “Well, you have to ask about these things”.
“Miss Hartman, we really appreciate your call and I would also appreciate it if you could call us tomorrow and let us know how she’s doing.”
Norma said, “Tomorrow? tell her to call us in an hour; she could be dead by tomorrow”
Macky put the phone down and Norma grabbed for it but missed.
——————————————————————————–
Macky took Norma by the shoulders and led her over to the sofa. “Norma listen to me. She’s in one of the best hospitals in the country and has one of the best doctors and all she has is just a pretty bad stomachache, thats all. The doctor said she has gastroentiritis.”
“What”?
“Gastroentiritis”
“Well Ive never heard of it. How did she catch it”?
“I dont know honey.”
“Is it some kind of Texas thing?”
“probably not”
Norma jumped up and went to the phone. “Well Im calling Dr. Clyde and asking him. Macky, get me some vanilla ice cream in a dish, Im a nervous wreck. Look, my hands are shaking like a leaf…I can hardly hear the–Tootie? its Norma Warren, is he there?Well tell him I need to speak to him right away. Yes, it is. Macky, give me two scoops, I’m–Oh, Dr. Clyde…this is Norma and I need to ask you a question. Is there a disease called gastro inter something? Hold on..Macky, gastro what??”
“Enteritis , I think”
“He says entiritis, he thinks. Macky, did that woman say gastroenteritis? Yes, thats it.” She turned away from the phone. “Macky, he says yes, there is, only its a condition, not a disease. No Doctor, we dont have it, its Baby Girl”
Macky came in and handed her a bowl of ice cream and took her purse away from her.
“Thank you honey. No I was talking to my husband. What kind of condition?” She repeated everything she heard in a loud voice. “Its an inflammation of the stomach lining..uh…caused by too much acid. Did you hear that Macky? She cant die of it, can she? Ahh he says no, he doesnt think so. Well, thank heavens for that. I was…oj…OK, yes in that case you better get on back. Thank you Doctor.” She hung up.
“See, she’s not going to die.” Macky said.”Now, dont you feel better”
“Not yet”

An hour later, she picked up the phone and dialed Aunt Elner while Macky made himself a ham and cheese sandwich.
“Aunt Elner, were you taking a nap? Its Norma. Put on your hearing aid honey. Can you hear me? Well…now that we know its not life threatening, the tale can be told. Are you sitting down? Well, go sit down. Are you seated? I dont want you falling out with a stroke. Well, the whole thing started last night at around 10:30. We had been in bed for an hour when we heard a cricket in the living room and Macky got up without his glasses and stepped on it and killed it! I KNOW its bad luck to kill a cricket, that’s probably the reason why Baby Girl wound up in the hospital the first place!!”

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Keep in mind that the Warrens and Aunt Elner are just the closest thing Dena Nordstrom has to a family. The conversations were so that it has that innocent and genuine concern of an aunt or parent that one would like to have. The chapters go alternately from New York(Dena and the corporate world) to Missouri (mostly again conversations between the Warrens and Aunt Elner.) No complicated plots or twists here. Its just plain good old story telling that strikes homebase especially to readers who have been so preoccupied with work and dont want to go back home. (eherm erherm)…
Mostly Ive been looking forward to the “countryside conversations” in Missouri, and Neighbor Dorothy’s programs (flashback in the 40’s)…this made me realize that hey, maybe deep down I am a domestic goddess.
Another conversation that I find endearingly charming:

Norma said, ‘I read that ninety-nine percent of criminals have tattoos; did you know that Macky?’
‘No’
‘Well they do. Show me a tattoo and ill show you a criminal!’
‘Ill be sure and tell the Reverend Dockrill that. He’s got one’
Norma was shocked. ‘The presbyterian preacher?’

‘Yeah’
‘Nooo. Where?’
‘On his arm’
‘What does it say?’
‘I dont remember’
‘Youre making that up. He does NOT have a tattoo’
‘He does. Do we have any more butter?’
Norma got up and went to the kitchen. ‘Macky Warren, you are too making that up. Just to irritate me’
Macky laughed and looked at Aunt Elner. ‘Im not. He does’
Norma said, ‘When did you see it’?
‘Last summer when we were building the firehouse. He had his shirt off’
‘Oh i dont believe it. Ive never heard of a Presbyterian preacher with a tattoo on his arm. You are making that up’
‘Norma, im not making it up. I dont care one way or the other if he has a Marilyn Monroe tattooed on his behind but im telling you he does–‘
‘Are you going to sit there and tell me tht Reverend John Dockrill has a picture of Marilyn Monroe tattooed on his behind?”
‘I said i wouldnt care if he did. Im sorry now that i even mentioned it’
Norma glanced at him with suspicion. ‘Which arm’?
‘Oh i dont remember. what difference does it make?’
‘Well was it big or little’?
‘His arm?’
‘No, his tattoo’
‘I dont remember’
‘Macky, you are the most unobservant person Ive ever met. You are the only person in the entire world that could look at a tattoo on a preacher and not even pay attention to what it was.’
Aunt Elner piped in, “Maybe it was a religious tattoo. Was it a cross or the Last Supper’?
‘Aunt Elner, I really don’t remember. I wasnt paying all that much attention.’
‘I’ll tell you why he can’t remember, Aunt Elner, because he nevr saw it thats why! You better be careful Macky, or I’ll tell John Dockrill that you said he had a tattoo.’
‘Go ahead’
‘I know Betsy Dockrill and she would never marry a man with a tattoo’
‘Whatever you say Norma’
‘Macky, Ill bet you a month’s worth of backrubs that John Dockrill does not have a tattoo.’
‘You dont want to do that because you’ll lose.’
‘See, Aunt Elner, he wont bet. I told you he’s making the whole thing up. He knows I can call Betsy right now and ask–‘
‘Go on’ said Macky
‘Dont dare me; you know i’ll do it.’
‘Do what you want. You want to give me a whole month’s worth of backrubs, who am i to say no?’
Norma looked at Aunt Elner. ‘Should I call her?’
‘Well i wish you would. Now youve got me curious’
‘All right, I will’ Norma stood up. ‘Here i go…im going…’
She waited but Macky looked at her and kept on eating. She walked into the kitchen and called out: ‘Last chance, Macky, I have the phone in my hand…here I go…Im dialing’
After a moment of silence, they heard Norma say’ Hello, Betsy…its Norma; how are you? Good. How’s your mother? Good. Oh nothing. We were just sitting here, having a little bite to eat. Aunt Elner is here…Macaroni cheese and ham, baked apple, English peas. Well I knmow this is a perfectly silly question to ask–and you are going to think Im crazy–but I was reading an article about tattoos…tattoos..yes…and well, John doesnt have a tattoo, does he? Oh. Well, thats what I thought. Oh, no reason, we were just wondering if we knew anyone that had one. Uh-huh. Well, Ill let you run on. I know youre busy. Ill see you Thursday. You take care now.”
Norma came back to the table and sat down and continued eating.
Macky waited. Then he said ‘Well?’
Norma did not look at him. ‘Well what?’
Aunt Elner said, ‘Does he have a tatto or not?’
Norma reached across and picked up a dinner roll.
‘Macky Warren, I could kill you’
‘Me? why?’
‘I made a complete fool out of myself and its all your fault’
‘my fault?’
‘The one time you are not making something up…and you let me go in there and make a complete fool of myself. You knew darn well that he had a tattoo!’
‘I told you he had one. Didnt I Aunt Elner?’
‘Yes he said he did’
‘You should have stopped me. You deliberately let me go in there and–“
Aunt Elner said’ Whats it a tattoo of, is it a lamb?’
‘No’
‘Well what is it?’
‘Its a heart with a name inside’
‘what does it say?’
‘It says “Wanda”‘
Aunt Elner was taken aback. “Wanda…i thought you said his wife’s name was Betsy…”
Norma glared at Macky. ‘Macky I could kill you’
‘I wonder who Wanda is?’ Aunt Elner mused. ‘Maybe his mother’s name was Wanda’
Macky chuckled. ‘No Aunt Elnder, I dont think that was his mother’s name’
‘Maybe its from the Bible?’
Norma said ‘No Aunt Elner I dont think there’s anybody in the Bible named Wanda’
“She wasnt one of the apostle’s wives, was she?
‘No honey.’ Norma frowned at Macky. “ill tell you one thing. you can thank your lucky stars you didnt have some woman;’s name tattoed on you when i married you’
‘What?’
You didnt have that Annettte girls’s name written on you or I would have divorced you oion the first day’
‘Oh for God’s sake”
Aunt Elner asked, “whos Annette?’
‘nobody’ Macky said.
‘Dont let him fool you Aunt Elner’
‘I had this one date with this girl, and shes turned into some big romance’
Norma got up and started cleaning the plates. ‘I happen to know you had two dates’
‘How do you know?’
” I just know thats all. Never mind how I know’ Norma headed for the kitchen to get the rice pudding out of the refrigerator.
Macky winked at Aunt Elner’I tell you what…tomorrow Ill go down and get your name tattooed right across my chest, OK?’
Norma was squirting Reddi Wip on the pudding and called out ‘Dont you dare. thats all I need is for you to get yourself tattoed all up. Next thing you’d run off and join some motorcycle gang and be robbing banks. Thats all I need is to be married to some criminal!’
Macky looked at Aunt Elner. ‘The woman is insane’
‘Yes, but she sure makes a good rice pudding’
———————————————————————————————-

Ive been so tempted to turn these conversations into a one act playscript!
If you are one who loves surprising twists and unexpected endings, then dont even bother. The plot is very predictable, but thats not the selling point of the novel. I believe its the idyllic provincial charm, carried by the conversations, and by the radio program of Neighbor Dorothy. When she desrcribes her recipes, I can almost smell and taste it!
I read up a little about the author, Fannie Flagg, and in an interview she mentioned that she has spelling problems and it took a while for her book to be edited. This is not an issue for the novel, no literary fancy play of words or narration. Downside of the novel, Id have to say I wasnt very much entertained with Gerald’s efforts (Dena’s die hard suitor)..it seemed to serve as a comic relief but also took away the “reality factor’ into it…It does have its ‘not so trivial’ points also, such as how a person’s color affects his entire life…but over all, this is Simply a downright comfy read!