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Flip the Script Friday: Tim Kelly, The Uninvited

And after a month way too busy for words (as evidenced by the lack of entries), I’m back. I don’t know how much I’ll be posting, but it’s Friday the 13th, so I thought it would be appropriate to bring back Flip the Script Friday with a selection from 13 Plays of the Ghosts and the Supernatural. Today’s selection? The Uninvited by Tim Kelly.

The Uninvited Logo

Photo credit: Somerset Valley Players

The Basics

The Uninvited is based on a novel by Dorothy Macardle. It was made into a movie in 1944. Interesting facts (about the movie): the screenplay was written in part by Dodie Smith, and it was apparently “the first movie to deal with ghosts as entities rather than illusions or misunderstandings.”

Characters

  • Stella Meredith, an 18-year-old who owns a country house, for some reason.
  • Commander Brooke, her grandfather.
  • Pam, a woman who, along with her brother, looks at Stella’s house and eventually buys it.
  • Roddy, Pam’s brother
  • Lizzie Flynn, their maid. She’s Irish, but for some reason I pictured her as a sassy black lady like Leslie Jones. She has the best lines.
  • Wendy, an actress and medium who is a friend of Pam and Roddy’s.
  • Max, a painter and friend of Pam and Roddy’s.
  • Mrs. Jessup, a nosy neighbor.
  • Dr. Scott, a doctor of some sort.
  • Miss Holloway, Stella’s nurse who is incredibly creepy.

Setting/Plot

A house on a cliff in Cliff End (western England), “the present.” Keep in mind that this play was written in the 1940s. The entire play takes place in the drawing room of a country house. Stella is selling the house, against her grandfather’s wishes, to Pam and Roddy, who come with their sassy maid, Lizzie Flynn, AKA the true star of the show. Weird things happen right from the start, when Pam feels a chill in a random part of the room. Strange goings-on at their housewarming prompt the four friends (Pam, Roddy, Max, and Wendy) to investigate the mysterious deaths of Stella’s parents, Llewellyn (a painter), and Mary (whose portrait hangs above the fireplace), at the possible hands of Carmel, a Spanish woman who lived with them as well, when Stella was a baby. Wendy leads the group in a seance, which brings some spiritual activity, eventually revealing some truths about the Meredith family. Oh, and in the end, Pam suggests that Roddy write a play about everything that’s happened, which is a major eye-roll moment.

Major Themes

Lights, Smells and Sounds

A creepy old house wouldn’t be complete without flickering lights, odd smells, and random noises. In this case, the light is a night-light that comes from the nursery where Stella was raised, in addition to a weird glow around the portrait of Mary; the smell is that of a distinctive mimosa; and the sounds of crying, and a music box. The spirits are very much present, possibly linked through their artifacts, despite no one in the Meredith family currently residing in the house.

Art and Soul

The centerpiece of the play is a painting of Mary Meredith, the former matriarch of the Meredith family who died mysteriously, and whose painting Pam desperately wants to give Stella. Commander Brooke, for some reason, staunchly refuses that it be moved, to which I’m like…wow, it’s not even your house so stop micromanaging. Many of the arts are represented, including theatre (Wendy, an actress); literary (Roddy, a writer), and visual arts (Max is a painter. We never really find out what Pam does for a living). Wendy, Roddy, and Max have the most in common with the spirits. Although it’s Wendy who leads the seance and gets possessed, and Max who recognizes the woman in the mysterious sketch Roddy and Pam find in the house, it’s Roddy who eventually faces the spirits head-on.

How I’d Flip It

It seems like a pretty interesting living room drama, akin to Blithe Spirit. It would need some retooling in order to see it in “the present,” but it might work. The special effects would be fun to work with, especially with the color blue, and the very descriptive scene where Stella sneaks into the house and communicates with the spirits of the dead, in a very Poltergeist “they’re here” moment.

The Last Word

Of course, Lizzie Flynn has the best line of the play:

LIZZIE: What sort of heathen mischief are you up to now?

WENDY: We’re hoping to make contact. (LIZZIE looks grim).

LIZZIE: With whom, may I ask?

MAX: Mary Meredith, we think.

LIZZIE: (Dubious) She’s going to come out from wherever she is and talk to you, is that it?

WENDY: It doesn’t happen that way…

LIZZIE: I wouldn’t know.

WENDY: The spirit will spell out things with the glass.

LIZZIE: What if the spirit don’t know how to spell? (Knock at the front door. LIZZIE is cynical about WENDY’s efforts.) Maybe that’s Mary Meredith. (she exits)

Image result for leslie jones ronda banks

Photo credit: Bella Bronson/Getty Images

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Carry On, My Wayward Daughter

A minor spoiler, but then again, wasn’t everything about this book a minor spoiler? I finally finished a book after a long time of reading bits and pieces, and this one was Don’t You Cry, a contemporary thriller by Mary Kubica.

Cover photo: Amazon.com

So this book starts with a small mystery – the mystery of how I got a copy.

Well, I know how I got it – in the mail from paperbackswap.com a few weeks ago – but why I had to have a copy right away? No idea. And why I read it right away? Again, no idea. But I read it anyway.

Don’t You Cry is a contemporary thriller told from two points of view. In Chicago, Quinn Collins wakes up one morning to find that her roommate Esther is missing, and in Michigan, recent high school graduate Alex Gallo works a dead-end food service job to support himself and his alcoholic father in a small lakeside town where nothing happens, which changes one day when a mysterious woman shows up at the cafe where he works. She becomes the object of his fantasy, and he calls her “Pearl” because of a pearl bracelet she wears. While Quinn discovers that Esther may not have been who she said she was, and possibly even a murderer, Alex gets closer to the strange but attractive Pearl, who squats in an abandoned house across the street from Alex’s. Revealing much more would spoil the book for you, but the big reveal brings up almost as many questions as it answers.

I had mixed feelings about this book. It definitely wasn’t your typical mystery. I thought it might end up veering towards chick-lit, but it surprisingly didn’t; one of the two main points of view was male. I did want to keep reading, if only to find out how Quinn’s and Alex’s stories intersected, which doesn’t happen until the last chapter or so, but at least something about it kept me interested. The language was interesting; it seemed like Kubica got quite a lot of use out of her thesaurus, and some of the words the characters used didn’t seem to fit with what a twenty-something and a teenager’s vocabulary would be like. In addition, there were so many things brought up that turned out to be dead-ends/red herrings, and it seemed like some of the answers to the clues were awfully arbitrary, like the Kelsey Bellamy storyline and the Ben storyline. Finally, the end. I don’t think I’ve ever been as annoyed by a character’s death as I was at Carmen’s at the end of Bel Canto, but suffice it to say that one of the main characters dies for no reason at all. Overall, while I don’t think I’ll read another Mary Kubica book anytime soon, I’ll put her remaining books on the maybe pile for now.

If anyone can figure out what website or book blog or list suggested this to me, let me know.

3

Tea Cozy, Cracked!

One of my guilty-ish pleasures is cozy mystery novels; you know, the pocket-sized ones with themes like cats, or sewing, or in this case, tea. I haven’t picked up one of Laura Childs’ Tea Shop Mysteries in years, but I guess I was missing Cabot Cove Syndrome, so I picked up where I left off, with the 11th book in the series, The Teaberry Strangler. 

One of the things about cozies that is always interesting is the mystery. (Well, duh.) Some authors are better than others about leaving clues for the reader; some are more blatant, others are a complete surprise until the final few pages from someone you didn’t see coming. It gives me a sense of satisfaction when I pinpoint the killer early on, and end up hypothesizing correctly. And I’m happy to say it happened with The Teaberry Strangler. By about a third of the way in, after meeting all the characters, I was pretty sure who it was; the why remained a bit of a mystery, but one final detail at the end made it all fit together.

Some people like to read the last chapter of a cozy first, finding out who the murderer is, and then follow the protagonist along as he/she attempts to solve it. I tried that once and it didn’t feel satisfying, so I’m sticking to just reading it straight through. I have, however, developed a theory (not fool-proof, but pretty accurate) of solving the cozy mystery.

Warning: Spoiler Alert.

So here’s the sitch in TeaberryTheodosia “Theo” Browning, the main character, witnesses a struggle in a back alley behind a map shop which leaves her friend Daria, owner of the map shop with a resemblance to Theo, dead. She must find the murderer. In a side plot, she bought a new house, and when a human bone is found, the town’s historical society descends on her yard to dig it up, much to her consternation.

When reading a cozy, you pretty much immediately rule out any character who is a mainstay in the series and appears in multiple books; in this case, Theo’s co-workers Haley and Drayton, her ex-boyfriend Jory, Detective Tidwell, Delaine Dish and the like. You can also safely rule out any character who has been caught in an earlier book and is seeking redemption. Case in point: Nadine, Delaine’s sister.

The main suspects in Daria’s death appear to be the following:

  • Joe Don, Daria’s boyfriend, amateur treasure hunter.
  • Jason, Daria’s assistant at the map shop.
  • Fallon, Daria’s sister.
  • Jack Brux, Theo’s future neighbor, a grumpy old man.
  • Cinnamon St. John and Miss Kitty, newcomers to town who open a perfume shop next door to Daria’s.
  • Beth-Ann, current girlfriend of Theo’s ex Jory.

The first one I ruled out was Joe Don. Even though he was kind of a jerk, he was present and accounted for at the scene of the crime, probably too soon to have stashed the murder weapon and cleaned himself up. Then, there are Jack Brux, Cinnamon St. John, and Miss Kitty, who all seem too caricature-ish and obvious with their over-the-top behavior. (As it turns out, Jack Brux ends up being one of the good guys even though he is still a grump, and Cinnamon and Miss Kitty are found guilty of another crime). This leaves us with Jason, Fallon, and Beth-Ann.

After Theo interviews Jason, the assistant, he openly tells her that he has a prison record. If you’re going to murder someone, confessing to your past sins is a terrible way to defend yourself, especially to someone who is investigating. That alone cleared Jason’s name for me. As for Beth-Ann, even though she is shady, crazy, and a stalker, if she wanted to kill Theo, she would probably make 100% sure that the person she was killing was the correct one. Also, not being from the town, she had the furthest connection from the deceased, Daria.

Which led me straight to Fallon. She’s close enough to the victim to have a relationship, yet has an easy alibi (being the loving sister). She doesn’t do anything too out of character for the most part and she doesn’t seem overly emotional. The most we get from her is when one night she shows up at Theo’s tea shop to thank Theo for being on the case while crying about her sister’s death, which did not seem very convincing to me. When Fallon pounces on Theo in the last few pages of the book (which I saw coming but Theo did not), she revealed that she was adopted by hers and Daria’s mother and always jealous of her sister’s success in business and love.

And that’s how to solve a cozy mystery. Results not always guaranteed.

7

That’s SoMG: The Tromp Family – Make Australia Strange Again?

I know I fell asleep while posting yesterday, so here’s a super-interesting topic to get myself back on track. It’s another episode of That’s SoMG. It didn’t happen to my family, but it happened to family, so it qualifies, I guess. Well, I make the rules here, so it’s time for…

That’s So Jacob presents:

That’s SoMG: Scandals, Secrets, and Shockers That Will Make You Slap Your Hand Over Your Mouth

Episode 4: The Tromp Family

Victoria/New South Wales, Australia, 2016.

To make a long and convoluted story short, or at least shorter and less convoluted, the nation of Australia has been on edge about the whereabouts and…well, what-abouts of the Tromp family of Silvan, Victoria, Australia, for the past week or so. Here’s a rough timeline:

Monday, August 29 (Day 1): The Tromp family – parents Mark and Jacoba, and children Riana, Ella, and Mitchell – leave their farm in Silvan, Victoria, rather abruptly, taking barely anything with them. Mitchell is the only one who takes a phone, but it gets tossed out of a window later that day.

Tuesday, August 30 (Day 2): The family crosses over into New South Wales, where son Mitchell ditches the group at Bathurst, catching a train home to Melbourne via Sydney. The rest of the group head north and end up at Jenolan Caves, where daughters Ella and Riana bail. Riana is found wandering by the side of the highway near Goulburn. Ella acquires a car (it turns out she actually stole it) and arrives back at the family farm that night.

Wednesday, August 31 (Day 3): The family car surfaces in Wangaratta, Victoria, with no sign of parents Mark or Jacoba. Back in Victoria, Mitchell makes it back to the farm.

Thursday, September 1 (Day 4): Jacoba is found by a couple playing Pokemon Go in Yass, a small town in New South Wales. How she got there from Wangaratta is unclear. Mark is still missing.

Saturday, September 3 (Day 6): Mark is located in Wangaratta and brought home. The whole family, except Jacoba and Riana who are in the hospital, is at home and accounted for. The ordeal – or at least, the family road trip part – is over.

So…what does all this mean?

According to the news.com.au article I read, it’s believed to be some type of mass hysteria known as folie-a-deux or folie-a-plusieurs, which means “madness of many.” It is a type of madness/hysteria which happens to people who are in close quarters for a long period of time, usually people with blood or marital bonds, such as a couple, a pair of siblings, or in this case, a whole family. This condition can lead to paranoia, and even more unsettling behavior, as seen here. It’s entirely possible. The reason why people are speculating in this direction is because the family seemed scared and disoriented, didn’t know why they were going somewhere or where they were going, and if you look at their lives, they seem pretty isolated on a little berry farm in a more rural part of their country. It sounds almost too strange to be true, but it is plausible.

I’m fascinated by this mystery, so here are some of my own theories:

Possible Theory Number 1: Planned disappearance. Maybe they wanted to leave their lives as berry farmers behind and make a new start elsewhere, only for the kids to get cold feet and walk out on their parents. Once that happened and it went public that the parents were still missing, their plot was foiled.

Possible Theory Number 2: Some type of murder plot. A newspaper in the UK just ran a piece the other day on fathers/mothers who kill their families in odd, isolated incidents; maybe one or both of the parents had this in the works. It would explain why each of the children left, for fear of their own lives at the hands of their parents. Maybe they are disoriented because the thought of their deaths, or being killed by their parents, is too much for them to handle. However, the UK article mentioned families with small children, and this family’s children were all in their twenties. Also, were there some sort of struggle, they conceivably could have fought back. So this is less likely.

Possible Theory Number 3: Business ploy. Kind of strange way to go about it, but there have been stranger ways to get people to pay attention to you. Remember Richard and Mayumi Heene and their Balloon Boy stunt? It was also very strange and unexplained, until the littlest one blabbed the truth on live television, which got his parents sent to prison. Although if it were some sort of ploy, I don’t think that they would have gone out of their way to be so uncooperative with the law. For example, Ella stealing a car, and Mark being uncooperative with the police when he was apprehended. Those kinds of things are much more negative than taking a train home or being found and taken to a hospital, which are strange but not illegal. Either way, their farm’s business will never be the same.

I really hope we find out more about this whole deal. Maybe it’ll unlock some sort of secret of the human psyche, or something.

Oh, and in other news, I got a great deal on a Supremes record, some jewelry, and a bamboo wall hanging at the Columbus Antique Mall today.

Work Cited:

O’Neill, Marnie. “Is the Tromp family suffering from a rare shared psychotic disorder known as folie à deux?” News.com.au. 5 September 2016. 

0

Flip the Script Friday: Theodore Dreiser, The Girl in the Coffin

Without my handy dandy library of plays here with me in North Carolina, I turn to the massive number of scripts I have stored on my laptop for this week’s Flip the Script Friday. I picked one at random, and as it turns out, it’s quite apropos…but more on that later. Now, it’s time to Flip the Script with The Girl in the Coffin by Theodore Dreiser.

Basics

The Girl in the Coffin was written by Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945) in 1913 as a part of a series of supernatural plays. It played on Broadway from 1917-1918.

Characters

  • William Magnet – a foreman of loom workers. Father of Mary Magnet. I wonder who she could be.
  • John Ferguson – a strike leader
  • Mrs. Mamie Shaefer – a striker’s wife
  • Mrs. Margaret Rickert – another striker’s wife
  • Mrs. Hannah Littig – an old woman
  • Nicholas Blundy – a young mill worker
  • Timothy McGrath – a member of the strikers’ executive committee

Setting/Plot

Early evening, large mill town, the 1910s. We open on the drawing room of William Magnet, where Mary Magnet lies in state in her coffin, presided over by Mrs. Shaefer and Mrs. Rickert. Along with Mrs. Littig, they commiserate on Mary’s untimely and saddening death, while Nick Blundy enters with a pillow that says “Asleep” in purple satin. [So weird.] Magnet enters, and everyone else leaves except for Mrs. Littig, at which point Magnet asks Mrs. Littig where Mary’s favorite gold ring went. Mrs. Littig says that she does not know. McGrath soon enters, and we learn of the mill strike, led by John Ferguson. McGrath pleads with Magnet to talk with the workers, because he speaks Italian and Ferguson does not, but obviously Magnet has other things to attend to. As McGrath leaves, Ferguson enters to talk to Magnet about the strike, and Magnet forcefully shuts him down, railing against Mary’s unknown lover, which prompts the best line in the play:

FERGUSON: You are not the only man in this town tonight whose hopes are lying in a coffin.

SNAP. Plot twist. Ferguson and Magnet have a heart-to-heart, and upon McGrath’s return, Magnet leaves with him to go to city hall. Littig reenters, and wouldn’t you know it, she has Mary’s ring, which she gives to Ferguson, under Mary’s instruction.

My Thoughts

A powerful little play, with a plot like Our Lady of 121st Street and an early-twentieth-century realism akin to Trifles. This play definitely proves that not all short plays are throwaways. Some of the minor characters are a little weird, but Magnet and Ferguson are pretty darn incredible in their words and actions. Quite obviously, Mary has died giving birth to Ferguson’s baby, which is the reason why he’s just as upset as Mary’s father Magnet. At first, I thought Magnet and Ferguson were on different sides, but ten I realized that Magnet was a leader figure to Ferguson and McGrath. An odd name, it reminded me a lot of “magnate,” also known as a company bigwig, often emotionless, quite the opposite of Magnet. The twist ending is just the right amount of surprise; I felt like that blue and gold ring was going to come up somewhere, but by the time it did I had forgotten about it. The fact that it ends up with Ferguson only cements his connection with Mary, his lover.

How I’d Flip It

Obviously, realism is the way to go. For some reason, I have this image of Whistler’s Mother, as at the opening, Mrs. Shaefer is described just so. Also, there is a “chalk drawing” of a woman, almost as if a young Mary did it as a self-portrait, and for some reason, a portrait of John Ferguson just hanging out there. On the whole, I feel like it works quite well as is. The imagery is pretty stark, and with the proper design elements, it could pack a punch. You could easily adapt it to any sort of workers’ union situation, from Latino fruit pickers in California to clothing sweatshop workers in India or China. Those would all be interesting twists.

In a 1918 article from Pearsons Magazine, reviewer H. O’Hara would have preferred if Mary’s spirit came up and started stirring shit up. Bwahaha. That’s what Blithe Spirit is for.

Apropos…

A coffin was discovered under a house in San Francisco today, that is believed to be 145 years old. Spooky.


Works Cited:

Dreiser, Theodore. The Girl in the Coffin.

Frederickson, Kathy. “The Girl in the Coffin.” In Newlin, Keith, ed., A Theodore Dreiser Encyclopedia. 166-167. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2003.

Konstantindes, Anneta. “Who is Miranda? Mystery of the young blonde girl who has lain perfectly preserved and still clutching a red rose inside a tiny coffin for 145 years beneath a San Francisco home.” The Daily Mail Online. 26 May 2016. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3612053/145-year-old-coffin-young-girl-San-Francisco-home.html.

O’Hara, H. “Lights Out on Broadway.” Pearsons Magazine 38 (February 1918): 348-349.

Vazquez, Joe. “Construction Crews Discover Young Girl’s Casket Underneath San Francisco Home.” CBS San Francisco. 24 May 2016. http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2016/05/24/san-francisco-young-girl-miranda-casket-discover/

Wikipedia.

2

Who Killed Laura Carter?

It’s been awhile since I actually finished a book, but…I actually finished a book, so go me!

It was a long slog, but this afternoon at Colectivo Coffee on State Street, I finished Seaside by Scarlett Thomas, AKA the third in the Lily Pascale trilogy of mysteries.

Seaside had its ups and downs, but most of it was kind of unremarkable. The case revolves around twins Alex and Laura Carter. Laura is found dead, of an apparent suicide; however, Alex, the surviving twin, is claiming to be Laura. And whomever is dead…well, let’s just say that it might not have been a suicide. Lily Pascale is on the case, and Scarlett Thomas, for what it’s worth, is on my nerves once again with the whole “cut to the murder scene in italics, cut back to the present day” literary device, which just confuses me. Needless to say, I figured out the clues far earlier than Lily did, but I guessed I must have glossed over a few details because I ultimately didn’t figure out the culprit in the end. Overall, the ending of the mystery part was unsatisfying, but the end of Lily’s story arc was nicely done; Thomas did a good job of tying some loose ends but leaving plenty of threads for a fourth book, should it ever materialize. I think I’m at peace with Lily Pascale, and for some reason I think that Scarlett Thomas is as well.

Probably the worst thing about the novel was Lily herself. She was dealing with a much higher level of criminals, including a highly intelligent but psychopathic teenager, but at moments she came off as kind of wimpy. She called in Star for reinforcements, who was a total champ about it – Star deserves her own series – but Lily, at times, could not hold her own. She had far more lucky moments than skillful ones in this book, and I figured some things out way before she did. It also didn’t help that Jack was introduced as a serious love interest, meaning that some of the mystery stepped aside for a more-than-average amount of romance. What really made my brain hurt was when Lily allowed the prime suspect, who had the capability to murder, to shack up in her own home. Are you crazy, Lily? This girl could murder you in her sleep and probably would have had you been slower in solving the case.

Overall, looking forward to reading more Scarlett Thomas now that I’m done with the Lily Pascale mysteries.

This book review was brought to you by the University of Chicago Library, for lending me the book, and the Interlibrary Loan System as a whole for not charging me any late fees even though the book was a week overdue.

 

12

Who’s This Mysterious Blogger from Barbados?

A while ago, I stumbled across a WordPress blog run by someone (a woman, I think) from Barbados, who was offering to send free postcards from the Caribbean if you filled out a form on her blog. I did so, thinking I probably wouldn’t receive anything.

Lo and behold, in March, I received a lovely postcard with the image of a palm tree on it, postmarked Barbados. The message:

“Dear Jacob!

Sending love and warmth from Barbados to Wisconsin! :)”

Beneath the message was an unintelligible scribble. I asked myself who I knew in Barbados, and it was only after I came up empty that I remembered that blogger. I was going to track her down and thank her, but something distracted me and I forgot all about it.

Fast forward to today. I open my mailbox to find another postcard, this time depicting several islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The postmark is unreadable, but the stamps come from Barbados. The message reads as follows:

“April 2015

Hi Jacob

Was in Grenada recently and thought you might want to add another postcard to our collection :)”

And again, an unintelligible scribble. The very same one.

I decided I wanted to thank this person and maybe send him/her a postcard from Wisconsin in return, so I spent a few hours today combing through all my followers and blogs I follow, in hopes of finding him/her…and I honestly could not locate this person. I also checked my search history. Nothing. I even Googled “bajan bloggers,” “wordpress barbados,” and “postcards from barbados.” No dice. As of now, I don’t even have a name, but I would like to find you and thank you. But I don’t know who you are or how to do that.

An interesting mystery.

So, Bajan blogger, if you’re reading this, thank you so much for the lovely, lovely postcards. They really brighten my day, especially when I haven’t gotten any mail for a few days.

If you’re reading this and have any idea who this lovely Bajan blogger might be, let me know in a comment.

Finally, if you’re reading this and wish to send me a postcard or swap postcards, let me know in a comment and I will respond.

Just make sure to sign legibly so I can thank you properly.

 

0

Knock-Knock, Who’s There?

First of all, big welcome to visitors from my three newest countries: Austria (wilkommen!), Mexico (bienvenidos!) and Guam (hafa adai!). And an even special welcome to getting visits from all 50 states with my first click from Montana. In your honor, I will post a picture of your flag.

Well that was fun.

Wouldn’t it be disappointing if that was it?

Anyway, second of all, where did all the people who were visiting my blog go? Please come back. I had over 600 of you the other day; what did I do wrong? Was it something I said? Can we patch things up?

But that’s not the actual post either.

So, I don’t know what’s going on with me lately – maybe an advanced case of frost on the brain, because it’s halfway to March and it’s still so fucking cold – but there has been weird stuff going on around me.

Maybe I’m spending too much time alone, but I’ve been hearing weird noises in my apartment. Not just at night, but during the day as well. I mean, there are the normal sounds – cars, motorcycles, garbage trucks, loud music playing, people talking, blenders whirring, and when I’m in my bathroom, the farts, flushes, and showers of the people above/below me (totally gross, btw, and one of the reasons I can’t wait to leave here) – but then there are sounds.

Some of the sounds are perfectly normal in context, like knocking on a door. Sometimes I hear other people’s apartment doors being knocked on, but I know when it’s mine. The past few days, I’ve been hearing a very near knocking sound, and this morning actually rushed to my door, finding no one there. Also, there’s tapping, like someone is gently tapping on the walls. Sometimes, in the area of the refrigerator, I hear a snap/crackle sound, like the fridge is adjusting itself.

I’m not sure I believe in ghosts; I certainly haven’t seen any, and other than that one day in the religion center where a stereo spontaneously started playing in the Hillel Lounge in front of me and two witnesses, not much in the way of supernatural experiences. But if this building’s haunted, I deserve the right to know.

I don’t want to wake up one morning to see…this.

Yes, I’m looking at you, Jennifer Connelly.

Wait…I don’t have a tub.

Phew.

Safe for now.

0

Book Review: Scarlett Thomas, PopCo

I finished the first book out of the 20 or so I brought home with me. It took me a few weeks, to finish it, but not because I was bored with it, mostly because of end-of-semester stress. Ladies and gentlemen, PopCoby Scarlett Thomas.

Cover of "PopCo"

I found it on the shelf at Memorial Library; it had a fascinating front cover with an eye and lips, and an equally more interesting back cover. After a few minutes of debating whether to get it and face the reality that it’d be returned unread, or not getting it and then when I went back to look for it, find it gone, so I just got it and put it under everything I had to read for the semester…well, not really, more like…alongside it, getting in a chapter or two here and there. This is the kind of book that’s hard to put down, but once you pick it back up again, it’s easy to get back into.

To summarize: Alice Butler is a twenty-something crossword puzzle constructor turned toy creator for a gargantuan toy company called PopCo. She is invited to the annual company retreat in a place called Battersea. There, in this weird company compound where there may or may not be children testing toys, she is assigned to a team of other eclectic and mysterious PopCo employees to make the “perfect product for the teenage-girl market.” Much like her predecessor in Wonderland, Alice goes on a strange journey full of encrypted messages left at her door, wacky workshops where she has to play a paddle ball game, solve riddles, and sail a boat. It is also a journey into her childhood, as she searches for the solution for the mysterious code inside a locket given to her by her grandfather, reliving it alongside searching for the answers to the questions PopCo brings up – both of which yield unexpected results. It’s like a hybrid of Alice in Wonderland and 1984.

It’s got all the ingredients for a good story, but I think it’s about 75% there. I loved the character of Alice; she seemed like a great combination of nerdy and spunky. Socially awkward, yet sexually desirable. Some of her friends, particularly Esther, got on my nerves for the sheer lack of information Thomas provides us with. I feel like it has a strong start and keeps going for awhile but loses steam toward the end. The last few chapters were fascinating, but still somewhat of a let-down. We never find out if Alice left PopCo or not; if the treasure was found, and by whom; if anyone from PopCo came up with the desired product; how Chloe’s sabotage worked out; if Alice and Ben ended up together; and what the hell happened to Alice’s father. I don’t know if the author planned on writing a sequel, but since it’s been a decade since she wrote it, it’s unlikely that there will be a PopCo 2.

I would definitely recommend this book; it’s full of fun and tidbits about cryptography and an inside look at major toy corporations and branding schemes. I loved the crazy book-page code, and the complicated one with the massive grid.

One thing I noticed that may or may not have been intentional; the names of the PopCo employee characters all line up in alphabetical order and alternated by gender and importance of their role in the story. Take a look:

Alice (protagonist)

Ben (her love interest)

Chloe (Ben’s “fawn-haired” friend who isn’t who she seems)

Dan (Alice’s friend, a programmer)

Esther (a mysterious and duplicitous internet marketer)

Frank (not a major character; described as a “large black man with tattoos”)

Grace (female Asian employee who beats Hiro at Go)

Hiro (male Asian employee and reigning Go champion who has a thing for Grace)

There are no I or J-named people, but there is Kieran (who is male but should be a girl, by the rule of being an odd letter of the alphabet) and two Icelandic employees, Mitzi and Niila (who fit, as Mitzi is female and Niila is male). There is also a Violet, however, nobody with names between O-U.

This one was tough to let go, knowing that I had so many unanswered questions. All the same, it intrigued me so much that I got two more of her books from the library, brought them home with me to read, and will probably end up moving their way to the top of my reading list.

2

On Judging A Book By Its Cover

In an unexpected turn of events, this post is exactly how the title sounds.

This afternoon, I spent an hour that I should have been working on my paper browsing Half-Price Books. If you haven’t experienced the glory of Half-Price Books, or live in a city/country where there is none, find the nearest one and go now. Or, when it opens, since it’s almost midnight here in Wisconsin.

Half Price Books (Lego Version)

Half Price Books (Lego Version) (Photo credit: Diorama Sky)

With ebooks, eBay, and Amazon.com, the bookstore suffered a pretty terrible death. All the little ones died first, then Waldenbooks, Gordon’s, pretty much paring them down to Barnes & Noble and the occasional Borders. But somehow, Half-Price Books emerged like a phoenix from the proverbial pile of ash.

When you go into one of their stores, you never know what you’re going to find. It might be a long-lost childhood favorite, a completely obscure title, or even a box of Edward Gorey note cards. And everything’s – you guessed it – half price. And some things are even less.

So today when I went to Half-Price Books, I looked at covers.

Yes, covers.

An old adage says, “never judge a book by its cover.” Well, they’re wrong.

::gasp::

It’s true. The art of the book cover says something about the book. I’ll start with the types of books I usually buy. For fiction and literature, bright colored covers usually mean chick-lit, or something else light and fuzzy. I can go for these types of books, except when I buy them without reading much about it from the back cover and it turns out to be a Christian Young Adult novel. (This has happened.) For a play, usually the cover will be your standard Samuel French or Dramatists pastel. I always wondered about how those colors got picked for each title. That would be the most fun job ever. Biographies and memoirs usually have the author (or whoever’s being ghostwritten about) on the cover, a move that is vain, but then again, he or she is kind of what the book’s about. Still, there are some wonderful biographies/memoirs with pictures on the cover that do not contain the visage of the subject. Mysteries come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors, but usually if it’s got blood or guns on the cover, it’s not as thrilling as the author would like to you think it is. My favorite mysteries are of the “cozy” genre, not too graphic or violent but fun to follow (and figure out, if you’re that type of reader). For example, Susan Wittig Albert’s China Bayles series is named after plants, the corresponding one of which is featured on the cover, and Laura Childs’ Tea Shop mysteries are done up in a tasteful still-life with a matching color palate throughout. You know you’ve got a hit series when any of your books can be spotted from a mile away. Yes, I’m talking to you, Sue Grafton. Fantasy and sci-fi novels have incredibly detailed covers, emblematic of how intense you have to focus in order to follow them. Travel guides often feature a photo of something that is either too abstract to recognize without a caption, or a picture of something you will most likely never witness if you travel to that place, like the sunrise over Mt. Fuji in Japan, the wild elephants of South Africa, or an unpolluted, moonlit view of any large city in America.  Pop lit often features a black cover with a single image like a mask or a candle or a sewing machine or something, as if to say, “you must be Victoria Beckham in order to open me.” And then there’s your romance novel covers, which run the gamut from beautiful to inane to not-safe-to-leave-lying-around-the-house-during-your-kid’s-sixth-birthday-party. The higher budget the novel and the more bankable the novel, the hunkier the guy/the prettier the girl. Some of them end up looking pretty ridiculous – in fact, there are websites such as this one where you can ogle, gawk, and poke fun at the most awful covers from around the world.

The worst ones of all?

Movie tie-in covers. It’s a sad day when you need freakin’ Leonardo DiCaprio to sell The Great Gatsby, a piece of art with reputation Leo can only dream of even coming close to.