Posts Tagged ‘Books are Not for Eating’

Henry Farrell

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

So I finally stumbled upon the novel that inspired Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?  I’d been looking for it when I was doing my MA, and behold!  They have now re-released it.

Written by Henry Farrell, the movie follows the book without deviation.  In fact, I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more in the book than they were able to put in the movie.  Normally I’m all about the book version.  Was it over-excitement?  I’d waited five years to stumble upon a copy of the book after the movie made me swoon and go ka-thump in my heart for dear old Jane the creepy ex-child star.

I enjoyed that the publishers put a few of Farrell’s short stories at the end of the book, including the short story that Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte was based on.

It’s been a couple months since I read this book, and unfortunately, it never gave me dreams in the middle of the night and hasn’t popped up in my subconscious with a niggling little memory.  So I’m setting it aside for now with my other cult fictions to see how it holds up.  Has it been forever eclipsed by the movie version?  A cult fiction takes its test when you go back to read it later, so although it didn’t give me that thrill in the pit of my stomach that told me I was going to be reading it again, I think I will.  Just to see.  Will you stand up to time, Mr. Farrell?


Robert Bloch


A RANDOM ASIDE: Bloch is also author of a random episode of Thriller that was on last night.  About Jack the Ripper and the possibility of the ritual killings keeping him alive and unaging for decades at a time.  The end of the episode seemed… kind of rushed.  And I was a little offended by the treatment of the “bohemian” personality.  But at the same time, I loved that those artists had a place they could go to be creative where at least other artists wouldn’t make fun of them (although the police certainly didn’t watch their tongues).

~So I also read Psycho recently.  The thing is, I have never seen the movie.  But I had this immense feeling of deja vu the entire time I was reading the book.  The story is such a part of our culture that even if you have never seen the core classics, you won’t escape them.

Reading Pyscho was possibly a little more interesting, textually, than Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, or it could be that I had not seen the movie, and so was not over-anticipating everything.  In fact, I had a little faux pas.  In my head, I had put the shower scene from The Shining into Psycho, and so while I was reading, I was anticipating Here’s Johnny!  And the whole time I was like, Who thought that creepy old Jack Nicholson was a dead ringer for Norman Bates????

Quite possibly, the suspense was just up one notch from Baby Jane, at this point.

Re-readable?  Sure.  But I almost feel that, knowing more about Edward Gein’s real history, there is more to the story than we were getting.  It’s probably the thing that I love to hate about Phantom of the Opera.  It’s a mystery.  The detective sets out to solve a crime.  We follow clues.  It becomes a little underwhelming because if you’re following clues, you’re in the land of science, and so you are not in the speculative land of an actual thriller.


William March

The Bad Seed

The only thing I knew about The Bad Seed going into the book was that the child was a naughty-pants.

Thanks to the fact that this story and its movie have not crept into our subconscious minds the way the other two stories have, I actually enjoyed the reading experience more on a suspenseful level.  Like the other two, there was a technique employed that you’re going to have every writing teacher of the modern era screaming and pulling at their hair, but when you’re creating drama, it’s actually a useful technique: omniscient narrators capable of seeing into the heads of multiple people and telling you where they stand.  That has become a taboo in writing classes nowadays, a taboo that always made me go hmmm, simply because you pull out a lot of classic books that have stood the test of time, and you’re going to find omniscient narrators every which way.  Including up.

March also chose to pull out 70s psychobabble of the type that had been so du jour.  Although some reviewers panned his idea of the inheritable genetics of personality traits, the thing is that March picked his stance, for the story, and he stuck with it.  So go with it.  Don’t try to debunk his “science” because the thing is that it’s a story.

There were enough twists that I was properly impressed, not having expected anything much to come of the mother, Christine, who was a self-described wet blanket type.  She knew she wasn’t up to the task in front of her.

I was suitably impressed by March’s portrayal of Rhoda, the darling little girl who was born of a bad seed.  Nicely played!  I have often been intrigued with the cute character being naughty, like in the anime Dai Mahou Touge (Magical Witch Punie-Chan).  I didn’t have a lot of hope for this eight-year-old to actually be evil and be able to pull the wool over everyone’s eyes.  But she had a few lovely creepy techniques of cute to slay anyone.

The psychobabble could have been overwhelming, but I love the historical aspects March brought in to Christine’s search for an answer later on.

On first reading, I knew we were going to end up with at least one victim, and the nice thing was, I was completely wrong about who I suspected was going to get it.

Re-readability?  Highest of the three.




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“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” – Steve Martin

Take Picasso, Einstein, and Elvis, and roll them up in a bar… then write a play.  I think I liked Martin’s female characters better than his use of historical figures.  No precedence for them, but they had more life on the page.

Currently reading Louis de Bernieres.  Lovely.  Slightly off-kilter.  Wonderful use of multiple characters.  “The War in Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts”, considering the setting in a civil war type situation with people trying to wipe out the native population, this could easily slip into a dark realm, perhaps get out a soap box, but de Bernieres so far has managed to skirt around the political by letting the political self-destruct on its own. 

Also currently reading “Giles Goat-Boy” by John Barth.  Tremendous.  The story of Jesus retold on a college campus in the 60s, with a goat and a super-computer.

Simultaneously reading “Skinny Legs and All” by Tom Robbins.  I like Robbins, I really do.  I don’t even need to know what the book is about, just let the words slip by like Jell-O.


Books I’ve read that I plan to categorize:

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins

Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins

Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan

Been Down so Long it Looks Like Up to Me by Richard Farina

PG Wodehouse

Monty Python scripts

Cold Comfort Farm by Stell Gibbons

Snow White by Donald Barthelme

Roald Dahl

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

The Woman Who Walked into Doors by Roddy Doyle

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The Man Who Was Thursday

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

Zebra Derby by Max Shulman

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole


Reading list:

Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek

Tristram Shandy

Ella Minnow Pea

The Master and Margarita by  Mikhail Bulgakov

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Down to the library, picking the shelves, books I’ve never heard of, fresh off the press:

Attack of the Theater People by Marc Acito

So this is one type of humor that just doesn’t click with me, but which is very popular in the mass market.  Very straight-forward, trying to be bigger than it needs, to encompass everything flat out, instead of relying on the flavor.  It could have felt more 80s, instead of saying it was being 80s.  The flavor of the big city lost out to the suburban feel… lacking hecticity… and then it got up on the Statue of Liberty and it announced to the world, “I’m going to be important!  I’m going to encompass politics and insider trading and AIDS!  I’m going to give you the shallowness of 80s materialism! And I’m going to do it all with a character who isn’t good at much at all!”  But touching topics doesn’t necessarily mean saying anything new or interesting on them, or giving them new perspective.  More of a grocery list marked Decade than an actual immersion.

The MC was the type of character I saw a lot in my BFA classes.  Unassuming, meek, at one with failure.  Not my favorite type of character right now.  Right now I’m enamored with the underdog who finds out he excels at the most bizarre skill.  Think: Walter from the new movie “Muppets”: he has no skills, but he’s enthusiastic, and at the end, he is the bestest whistling Muppet ever.  Yaaaaayyyy!  A character who fails too much is hard to root for.  When he gives up, I give up on him.

Regardless, the good news is that I finished the book.  The bad news is, I was disappointed.  (Secretly hoping for a B-Movie farce where NYC was literally taken over, King Kong style?  Yeah… I was.)  Maybe if I’d read the first installment, I would have had more empathy for the characters.  Honestly, second books often lose that empathy because writers consider that it’s already been built. 

Re-readability: I wouldn’t go down that shiny walk of fame again.

Practical Jean by Trevor Cole

A brilliant premise with a mass market style.  I appreciated the fact that the MC was spectacularly good at creating things so breakable they almost never made it out of her ceramics shop.  I also appreciated the fact that she planned to give all her friends Death wrapped up in a shiny red bow.  But then, I didn’t appreciate the fact that the conclusion the MC came to, via the author, was that the only thing in the world that would make any of the women happy and satisfied on their Last Day was sex.  Such a shallow and physical satisfaction would have worked well for one of the women, maybe the final denouement in a Rule of Three, let Jean try her hardest to please a third friend, give her everything under the sun, try the intangible and the tangible, and then, surprise! the answer is sex.  But to start with such and then continue on that path for the second friend… well… it made it seem like any male author writing as a woman, this is how he sees them.  Not to be a rampant feminist, but the shallow female has been overdone, as has the super-feminista. 

Re-readability: I’d like to see someone else do this premise.  I really would.  I like the dark humor of the premise, and I’d love to see what someone could do that would be off the charts.

The Girl with the Glass Feet by Ali Shaw

This one was lovely.  I recommend it.  A modern world on St. Houda’s Island, cut off from the too-fast high-paced world, really gave the modern fairy tale a good base for the world.  Miniature flying cows, people turning into glass, hermits, people cut off from each other by the mud in the actual landscape.  The characters wrestled with the off-beat problems they were facing, and the fact that their worlds had been touched by this break in the Law of Nature.  A meek, quiet MC thrust into trying to be part of the world for once, and learning from a more out-going character.  It could have easily fallen back to that plot line, which has been done before, but the wondrous thing of the world Shaw created was that he never let it become staid.  Even the subplot with the MC’s stand-offish father was given new life.

Re-readability: not only that, but I would recommend the book, and I don’t do that often.

The Defenestration of Bob T. Hash III

Partly great, partly could have been better.  Imagine living in suburbia akin to Pleasantville, where pleasantness is regulated.  You’re the main editor of a language-learning book series, and every picture and scenario mirrors your own life (or does your life mirror the scenarios??).  The previous editors have all disappeared mysteriously after their book came out.  And then, in a twist of fate, you parrot is anthropomorphized into an exact copy of you, allowing you to escape.

The premise makes me giddy.  But after the first half the book, the parrot actually turns to completing the language book in earnest and fixing things the real Bob messed with before his disappearance.  Darn.  Although it was a clever take on what would be an insidiously fun learning tool (think: Zuiikin English, a Japanese aerobics tv program that teaches travel English with such exceedingly important messages as: “I’ve been robbed by two men” and “Take anything you want!” and “Spare me my life!” and the lovely “It’s your fault that this happened.”)  Bob T. Hash III, the non-parrot version, was doing this exact subversive tool.  He was going to send people to Mexico, knowing nothing of finding bread and water, and everything about losing their golf clubs.

As a parody of textbooks, it was interesting, but alas, the plot that was set up in the first half of the book was never followed through.  There could have been some serious doppleganger parrot/human fight-out moments!  Whee! 

Maybe next time…

Re-readability: Parts of it, yes.  Maybe it would be best to flip through to a random section on the second read and just enjoy the moment.

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