Painfully resonant, funny, wise: legacy. Whose legacy?: the immigrant’s, the jew’s, the orphan’s, the escape artist’s. Brilliantly performed by Christopher Lane with all the accents right: Bronx, Harlem, Brooklyn, Westchester, Polish, German and of course Santa Barbaran.
Utterly charming, surprising, and fascinating story about … not only the NOT Pink but Raspberry Suit worn by Jackie Kennedy but about dressmaking in Paris and New York in 1960, the fabrics, the materials, the chalk, the little Irish seamstresses. the acid smelling old women who ran the sewing shop that knocked off the Chanels, the Nina Riccis, the Diors, worn by the New York and Boston society wives, daughters, sons, set. And of course, by Jackie.
Clever social critique wrapped up in smart, pretty fiction, with a side of acerbic wit. Beautifully thought out by a very ordered English-speaking mind.
It takes you by the throat and starts squeezing from line 1. The Irish voice muscles out a story about post-bank crash Ireland: an out of work family living in an Unfinished family development when the money and the economy run out.
And why the economic woes of the Irish always seem so much more desperate than any other English speaking people? And why the Irish family is always already broken, always already crap?
And why the detective assigned to the case is always already bitter, depressed, hateful ….even as he searches for clues on google? Think: one dry, blood-encrusted leather glove pulled off the typing hand…
A gorgeous, wealthy language spread against the background of a greed gutted Ireland and the entire internet community of gun-nut castratos.
Read with: michael Lewis, Maeve Binchy.
When and if you have to describe beauty don’t do it from the front. Do it against the public eye, and against the visual. This is a book not a movie, so listen:
He felt her looking at him, her eyes amused behind those little round glasses like the hippies used to wear, blond hair pulled back into a thick braid… He watched her walk back into the file stacks… her legs taut beneath the faded jeans.”
A description is born from an interested perception, inside a relationship, between people or between a person and a thing. Even a measurement is born of a relationship. The blond hair is pulled back, touched, handled by particular hands. Part of what makes this woman a woman Jack meets behind a counter. She is a counter girl, and eventually that counter is bedded down along with the girl, her thighs, her glasses.
No need to use the brand of the jeans — the jeans are not the characters in this book. The characters are cops and the girls they love or fuck, all kinds of cops, old cops, ex-cops, bent cops, divorced cops, cops behind desks and cops in cars, listening in on smart guys-turned-businessmen they are trying to put away…cops in the small towns of Massachusetts.
A description can also be a back road to the mind.
He watched her as she watched back into Electrical… across to Aisle Four … He’d seen women with shorter hair in Harvard Square, maybe Jamaica Plain, even bald, in recent years… When he was in uniform they’d give him hostile looks, waiting for him to make a comment… He’d just shrugged. No stranger than being a cop, walking the streets in a uniform all summer, 15 pounds of gunbelt dragging at your hip. Harder, maybe. All the stares. Her hair was like the crewcuts they used to give kids, but soft, so you want to run your hand over it…
Not visual, not really: a haircut. Not in a book.
Just a paragraph. Listen to Frank Muller saying: “All in a day. It’s almost like there’s a puppet master pulling all our chains.”
Somehow, he lets the sense roll in and then rides it with his voice so that the words are gathered up in a huge wave which crashes down at the end of the sentence. Not a book but a storm. Not any beach, but the Pacific.
Imagine yourself in every drawing room of mature Washingtonian society, amidst the pouffy hair, the polka dot dresses, the over-used jokes, and the starchy defensive hawkishishness of 1973. The wives, too, are overused. Pat Nixon is brittle; Dorothy, wife of the ex CIA agent and Watergate burgler E. Howard Hunt, is venomous, and Alice Longworth, the grand dame of political salons, is too old to fail, having known everything and outlived everyone.
Indeed, in a Washington where the only thing that glitters are Mrs. Longworth’s yellow teeth, “like the ruins of the ripples at twilight”, the political plotting is staged as a vague shadow dance of female opinion. Nixon’s confidante, Nixon’s wife, Nixon’s secretary position the dark, vague heavies surrounding the President along their personal moral continuum.
Nixon is, for Alice Longworth, “the darkest of dark horses”, a
…misanthrope in a flesh-presser’s profession, able to succeed from cunning and a talent for denying reality at close range.
For Rose Mary Woods, who never wanted anything but “what Ann Whitman, Ike’s head girl, had once had,” Nixon’s downfall began in the elevator of the Waldorf the morning after the ’68 election.
Riding down to his press conference, the boss had told her that Haldeman would control all access to him after the inauguration. She’d practically seen stars when he said it, ….he never budged from the structure Haldeman had sold him on, a chain of command that made sure he never had to hurt anyone’s feelings at least face-to-face…
This is why by 1972, the White House is
crawling with a second generation of admen and junior executives… good-looking dumb-bunnies like Magruder who provided Richard Nixon with a whole new cloud of insulation, like those little Styrofoam peanuts Rose’s mail-order knick-knacks came packed in.
The salad dressing was the only one Partain ever used: “9 parts olive oil, one part red wine vinegar, vinegar soaked salt, ground black pepper and more garlic than most people liked.” Write this down. Ross Thomas’ recipes are rare, legendary and authoritative. As are his stories, his characters, and his dialogue.
‘What did you do in the army for fun when you weren’t soldiering?
‘I read a lot.’
‘European history. When I got to World War I, I always stopped.’
‘Because I already knew how it would end in 1945.’
‘That was the end of World War II, not I.’
Not only authoritative but establishing authority, establishing themselves as authorities.
When he was soldiering, Edd (“Two-Dees”) was Infantry in Vietnam, then the States, then Germany, then Central America (“…not dangerous for an observer.”). After 19 years he beat up his superior officer and was discharged for the good of the service without a pension or PX privileges. The loss of PX privileges was annoying.
Now Two-Dees is staying in a condo on Wiltshire Boulevard, where he is observing the pretty daughter of Millicent Altford in between jobs and/or lovers. Ask any political geographer to map out D.C. in L.A, and he’ll draw you the route to the 86 volumes of Who’s Who in Millicent Altford’s study, in a luxury building named after a failed British prime minister.
The very femdom, very wily, not so old political rainmaker Millicent Altford is however hiding out in her own ‘significant money salon’ in the extravagantly elegant wing of the exclusive “Olympia” Hospital a few blocks east of Century City, for which she herself raised the seed money. Gourmet meals and a French menu every morning.
Partain entered Millicent Altford’s hospital room and found her sitting in an armchair, wearing a smoke-grey silk suit, herlong legs tucked back to the left and crossed at the ankles. On her feet were black suede pumps with two inch heels that matched her purse. Next to her feet was a worn black leather suitcase with silver fittings that looked both old and expensive.
Edd Twodees gets shot just before they’re scheduled to fly from LAX. Millicent buys him something temporary to wear at the airport; he takes off the nice blue suit with the bullet holes and says:
‘What I do with my shirt, tie and coat?’
‘I’ll take care of them.’
He handed them over and watched with dismay as she dropped all three into a nearby trash container.
‘That coat could have been re-woven,’ he said when she returned.
‘I told you; we’ll buy you new stuff in Washington. A nice top coat from Burberry’s, some suits and a couple of jackets and pants from Brooks Brothers or Niemann’s.’
‘You ever been inside a J.C. Penny’s?’
‘Not in 42 years,’ she said.
When she is not giving orders, putting together “soft money” and “bundling”, Millicent Altford gives congressmen lectures in the ancient history of campaign financing.
It was a typical campaign office for the times. One big room, lots of desks, typewriters, ringing phones, hot as hell, noisy… and then there was this 50 year old slob sitting behind one of the desks..and a red headed guy. I tell the slob my name and that I want to help out in the campaign and he tells me that they aren’t hiring…The red head of course is Joey Sizemore. He takes me outside where we catch a cab and head for the old Morrison Hotel that they tore down years ago. We ride up to the 11th floor and go into a big room that has two desks, two phones on each desk, a secretary called Norma who’s at least 60, and nothing else. Joey introduces me to Norma. Tells me that she used to be a senior long distance telephone operator with SouthWestern Bell, uses a key to open a desk drawer and hands me a typewritten list of names with addresses and phone numbers thats about an inch thick. It was the fat cat list. Every Democrat in the country who had an estimated net worth of $100,000 or more.. which would be around a million today… All I had to do was call each name and talk whoever answered into contributing a minimum of $1000 to the Stevenson campaign. Norma had this sexy contralto voice and placed each call person to person working east to west — all operator assisted then, no touch tone, no direct dialing.. ancient times. I asked Sizemore what to say. He said since I was in the ad business I’d think up something. There were almost 2000 names on that list and we called every damn one of ’em. A lot of ’em twice.
‘What was your batting average?’, the congressman asked.
‘.593′ That’s when I learned what makes people give money to politicians.
The congressman smiled: “is it a secret?’
She shook her head, “Fear. And Flattery.”
Still smiling, the congressman said: “What about hope for a better tomorrow?”
“Forget hope,” she said.
Big sisters play dirty. So do cops, wives, mothers. So do cities… like Memphis. As always the best mysteries revolve around the murder of a city. And this is one of the best: gritty, angry, twisted…Mississippi Noir.
The giant A & W Root Beer mug shimmered over the rooftop of a roadside stand. The sign’s brown paint, chipped by the weather, left silver patches gleaming in the sun. Broken neon tubing dangled. The mug rocked against sagging guidewires. The sign was a lot like Memphis, seductive, old, with hints of grandeur and an aura of risk.
Mercy is a pastry chef with a bad scar on her left cheek, an alcoholic mother, a bitch-sister; she has come back to Memphis to re-visit with family.
Billy is a cool white cop who grew up singing in black choirs: poor but good. He protected women who scrubbed their old oak floors with lemon wax, kept their door transoms shiny, and got beaten: weekly, on schedule.
Billy understood what the house meant to a woman like her. She was the same as the women he’d known growing up on the back roads of Mississippi. Hard work, little money, poor education. Not a single step in their lives made easy. She wanted a few nice things in her life and some respect.
His partner, Lou, is an angry 61 year old superhero on the Memphis Homicide Squad. He lives in a hovel which is empty except for “a lawn chair, a TV and a lamp made from a bronzed figure of a nude woman with a clock in her belly.” His refrigerator contains “Wonder Bread, Velveeta, grape Jelly.” Jack Daniels is under the sink. When Lou ends up in the Mississippi River after a storm, Billy finds out that his partner wasn’t a very nice man. And that Memphis wasn’t a very nice city.
No, the South, this South is not a nice place, not a pretty place, nothing like sweet tea and charity balls. Its conversations are short and ugly. Its humor is nasty. Its favoritism is thick, and propped by greed, not family values. There is enough hurt to go around and everybody gets seconds…
Special heads up to Jeffrey Kafer who brings back Frank Muller with a vengeance. Thanks.
On the sidewalk outside of The Kitchennette on West Broadway, the old men are debating the apologetics of New York Liberals bending over to receive Islamic sensitivity training.
One famous lawyer takes out the day’s NYTIMES, which reports that: “The Islamic Society of America is complaining that television shows portray Moslems as ‘the bad guys’. …”
“Oh, please…” moans the former US attorney for the Southern District of New York: “It’s not like we’re at war with Blonde Swedish Catholics. I haven’t noticed any Episcopelian Icelanders becoming suicide bombers and charging into any synagogues….”
“They claim to be Islamic to a man and they are terrorists therefore they are Islamic terrorists….
“Bullshit!”, exclaimed Saul Silverstein, an ex-Marine who survived Io Jima, and then made a fortune in women’s apparel. “Six months after a bunch of terrorists who claim to be acting in the name of Islam murdered a few thousand people in the World Trade Center, Columbia University held a one day in service training center for more than 100 NYC high school teachers… its like we’re apologizing because some of their fellow Moslems declared war on us…. ”
This is The Sons of Liberty Breakfast Club and Girl Watching Society, which meets to haggle over the politics, the rumours, the news … and of course.. the pretty girls walking past, with and without summer dresses. This is as good as Paris in the 1920s, except that the intellectuals are lawyers, not artists, they’re chewing peach pancakes, not brioches… and they’re probably not smoking.