Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend

Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend by Michael Munn

There were some good stories in this biography but I wasn't keen on the way it was put together. It jumped around a lot making it feel choppy and repetitive. Quotes from Mr. Stewart's wife, Gloria, and others made up much of it, and summaries of the plots of his films made up the rest. The latter filled up the pages but didn't tell me anything about the subject.

It was fun to read about his co-stars - familiar names of that era:  Henry Fonda, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Katherine Hepburn, Olivia DeHaviland, Gregory Peck, Van Johnson, etc - and his WWII service and later involvement with the FBI were interesting, but I didn't come away with a real understanding of who he was as a person. There was an inordinate emphasis on the number of women he had flings with, on the dangers of his losing his temper, and of his discomfort around people of colour. True or not they were brought up so often as to stretch credibility and again seemed to be more to fill the pages than anything else. The image I'm left with feels more like a caricature than a well rounded picture of a real person. 

It wasn't awful but I do think there must be better biographies of Jimmy Stewart out there. 


New America

New America by Poul Anderson

My initial reaction was...hmm...different, confusing, yet so, so interesting. But it appears I've done it again, i.e. read a set of short stories that I thought was meant to be a novel. They were connected with shared characters, etc., but  I should have known by the lack of flow - the changed focus in each section - that it wasn't a novel. I thought it could be some quirky new writing style; It wasn't nearly as weird as Ulysses and that was hailed as a brilliant new literary innovation (she said with a barely concealed eye-roll).

So, knowing now that these are short stories about colonizing distant planets, followed by an essay on the feasibility of star travel, I can say that it was pretty good. I want science in my science fiction and I found quite a lot of it in these stories. The essay at the end is all science, much of which I won't pretend to have understood, but oh, what fun it was to read. I love this stuff.

The gist of the story is that with earth no longer a good place to live, people have set out among the stars to find something better. The planets they've found are inhabited, setting up all sorts of interesting scenarios and adding to the challenges of adjusting to new atmoshpheres, producing food, and building communities. As these stories begin, the characters are already established in homes and even jobs, so I'm thinking this book might be part of a series I've stumbled into. I really need to start doing more research on the books I read before I read them.  

I chose this one because of the author, whose book Brain Wave I liked, and I do want to try another one, but a full novel instead of short stories. Any recommendations?  

A Pale View of Hills

 A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro

I was mesmerized reading this book, then came to the end and was thoroughly confused about what had actually happened. I knew there were things I was missing and that I should start over and read it again, but I couldn't find the will to do it. I have done before, a number of times, and each time found it well worth the time and effort for the insight gained. I don't understand why I couldn't make myself do it this time, especially as Ishiguro is one of my favourite authors. My fear is that I'm becoming a lazy reader and I hate the thought of it. Maybe it's age or maybe - hopefully - it's only a temporary slump in energy, but I'm disappointed in myself. 

On the up side, though, I found a very, very good summary and explanation of A Pale View of Hills themes and characters here. It's far better than anything I could have written and gave me the insight into this novel that I was too lax to observe on my own. I will try to do better.  

The Saint of Lost Things

The Saint of Lost Things by Christopher Castellani

A family of Italian immigrants puts down roots in 1950's New York City. When Maddelena agreed to leave her village and her family to marry Antonio and go with him to America, she had no idea how hard it would be. She missed her family and the boy she'd been in love with, but having made her choice she set her mind to creating a life for herself in a new country with Antonio's family. 

Their marriage is far from perfect, but they are committed to staying together. Antonio himself isn't faithful, but he becomes wildly jealous when his wife finally becomes pregnant and he thinks it may not be his child. He's wrong, and deep down he knows it, but he punishes her anyway, with silence, until the baby is born. He's not a terribly likeable character. 

I'd have liked Maddelena more if she'd been a little more assertive. Antonio's self-centeredness was something she simply accepted because eventually he'd come to his senses and tell her again how much he loved her. I guess because he never was the love of her life she could stay detached on some level. I discovered only after I'd finished this one that a previous book told Maddelena's earlier story. If I'd read that first I might have understood her better. 

There is one character I found more appealing. Guilio Fabbri is 40, unmarried, unemployed, and grieving the loss of the parents who had been the center of his world. There's something authentic in his character that makes you want good things to happen to him. His developing friendship with Maddelena will give him the confidence to begin to move out into the world and when he does he becomes, for me, the heart of the story.   

This is a book about the ups and downs of marriage and the subtle interactions of family and friends in everyday living. There's not a lot of plot - the element of racism comes in when Antonio's family try to drive out a black family who move into their white-Italian neighbourhood, and there's some tension when Maddelena goes into a coma after the birth of their daughter. Even the ending is undramatic, just a quiet settling down of problems and a generally satisfying outlook for most of the characters. 

It was entertaining and I did enjoy the reading of it, but can't say it's a favourite. 


 Relativity by Antonia Hayes

12 year old Ethan Forsythe is a gifted child with an obsession for physics and the unusual ability to see sound waves and other things most people can't. But how much of his giftedness is natural and how much is the result of a traumatic head injury sustained when he was still an infant? 

Ethan is determined to find out why he has never met his father, Mark, and when an illness in Mark's family brings him unexpectedly back into their lives, the secret Ethan's mother, Claire, has been protecting the boy from all these years is jeopardized. 
Clair remains cautious, desperate to shield the son she gave up a career and a marriage to keep safe. Ethan, who has a father for the first time in his life, wants to know Mark and to understand what drove their family apart. Mark, still gutted by what he feels are unjust losses and wasted years, wants his life back. Bonding over a shared passion for science, Mark and Ethan grow close and slowly Mark begins to face the truth of the damage he has done. As they all take tentative steps toward one another they must question whether love and forgiveness could ever make up for the mistakes of the past.

It's a poignant story of three people trying to overcome a single incident that drastically changed all their lives. Each character is vulnerable in their own way and you find yourself rooting for all of them; you want them to heal as individuals and to make it as a family. 

A compelling (an overused word but so apt, isn't it?) plot, authentic characters you can get invested in, good writing, and science. I loved it!

Early Autumn

 Early Autumn by Louis Bromfield

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1927, Early Autumn tells the story of a declining New England family - the old money, closed ranks kind of family you are either born into or forever shut out of. And whose members would most likely never be guilty of ending a sentence with a preposition. 

Olivia married into the family when she wed Anson Pentland, son of family patriarch, John Pentland. It was not a love match but she was beautiful and tolerably acceptable and he needed a wife to bear his children. Two children and some years later, their only son suffers from a fatal illness, threatening the end of the Pentland line and inheritance. Their daughter falls in love with an Irish boy who does not meet Pentland expectations and Olivia attracts the affections of an up and coming local man, causing Anson to sit up and take notice when he'd much prefer to continue pretending his family is all genteel respectability.  

I usually love the language of this period but the vocabulary here was repetitive. Certain words, enchantment/enchanting among them, were used often enough to lose any meaning they were meant to convey. The dialogue was good but the prose in a few places was a bit slow and tedious to wade through.

There's not a great deal of plot, but the insight into an established society family at that time in history makes it interesting, and its observations about life, family, and duty give it depth. The story may not stick with me but I did enjoy the reading of it.