Floating Life 4/06 ~ 11/07

an archive

Book and DVD backlog


You may read an excerpt from Chapter 1 of The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen (2006). It appears it may be filmed: Robert Rodat to Adapt Book for Film. Not sure what has come of that, but I think it would make a good movie.

Set against the backdrop of one of the most virulent epidemics that America ever experienced — the 1918 flu epidemic — Thomas Mullen’s powerful, sweeping first novel is a tale of morality and patriotism in a time of upheaval.

Deep in the mist-shrouded forests of the Pacific Northwest is a small mill town called Commonwealth, founded as a haven for workers weary of exploitation. For Philip Worthy, adopted son of the town’s founder, it is a haven in another sense — the first place in his life he’s had a loving family to call his own.

And yet, the ideals that define this outpost are being threatened from all sides. A world war is raging, and with fear of spies rampant, the loyalty of all Americans is questioned. Meanwhile, another shadow has fallen across the region in the form of a deadly illness striking down vast swaths of surrounding communities.

When Commonwealth votes to quarantine itself against contagion, guards are posted at the single road leading in and out of town, and Philip Worthy is among them. He will be unlucky enough to be on duty when a cold, hungry, tired — and apparently ill — soldier presents himself at their doorstep begging for sanctuary. The encounter that ensues, and the shots that are fired, will have deafening reverberations throughout Commonwealth, escalating until every value — love, patriotism, community, family, friendship — not to mention the town’s very survival, is threatened.

That of course is the blurb. The novel generally lived up to it. Stylistically it is not extraordinary, though it seemed to gather strength in the second half. The content is very interesting, and so are the politics, not least a reminder of the shocking history of labour relations in the USA, far worse than anything here, up to the present at least. We seem to be wilfully giving away our advantages in that quarter though, more’s the pity.

Good novel but not quite in the Best Reads of 2007 category.

But this one does make it: Rag and Bone by Michael Nava (2001). The author’s own story is pretty dramatic, as that link shows:

…Nava was born on September 16, 1954, in Sacramento, California, the second of six children in what he calls a “tragically unhappy” Chicano family. He was the son of a man with whom his mother, then married, had had an affair, and though he was given his stepfather’s last name, he knew from an early age that his mother was not married to his father, who in effect abandoned him.

Molested by a family member at age eleven and realizing his gayness at age twelve, Nava knew that he had to escape his mother’s religiosity and his stepfather’s physical abuse. The one path open to him, an intellectually precocious student, was education. Determining early on that he wanted to be both a writer and a lawyer, he attended Colorado College on a scholarship, earning a B. A. in history in 1976. He then went to law school at Stanford University, where he earned a J. D. in 1981. All the while, he was writing poetry and fiction…

The seven novels are more than simply puzzles to be unraveled. Indeed, the novels are not plot-driven, but character-driven. What sets them–especially the last five–apart from much detective fiction, in addition to their highly textured and allusive prose, is the increasing depth with which Nava probes character and motivation. Rios [the central character in Rag and Bone] is gradually revealed to be more complex and more introspective than most fictional detectives, and his internal struggles and his often tortured relationships with others are what finally provide the major interest of the books and lift them above their formulaic genre.

In the course of the series, Nava grows from a competent mystery novelist to a writer of unusual depth…

I have not read the first six in the series, but Rag and Bone, the final one, really does display “unusual depth” and wisdom. Strongly recommended. Here is a nice quote for Easter:

“… I suppose this is what they call a nontraditional family.”

“What other kind of family could you create out of material like us?”

She looked at me. “And John DeLeon? Will he be part of it?”

“That remains to be seen,” I replied. “He’s up at a monastery in Santa Barbara with his dad, on retreat. He said he’d pray for us. For him and me, I mean.”

“You sound skeptical.”

“I don’t think God concerns Himself with the details of my love life.”

After a moment she said, “What do you think God is but the opportunity to love other people? If God’s not interested in those details, then God doesn’t exist.”

“That doesn’t sound like the God I grew up with.”

She smiled. “Then maybe you need a new God.”


A Gentleman’s Game is worth seeing for Mason Gamble alone:

fan site here

He plays the part of the young golfer very well. The movie never got a theatrical release, apparently. It is about far more than golf, being much more about snobbery, power, and corruption, and sexual abuse. I could think of parallel Australian stories. Visually the movie is fine. I had a problem with the story’s integrity at times though. It seemed at times, to me, to gloss over key events too quickly, especially in the key incident towards the end. You may read the comments of others on the title link above, but I am glad enough to have got it from Surry Hills Library on spec, and then to have watched it. Normally I would not have bothered, but I would have been wrong in this case, even if it isn’t the world’s greatest movie.

Dead Calm I had seen before. Cinematography and direction really are superb, but I do think the plot is cheesy and I just don’t believe that ending. It’s so bad…

Bonus DVD

162256.jpgYesterday I borrowed some DVDs from Surry Hills Library on Lord Malcolm’s behalf. I have just watched one, Return Home (1990) directed by Ray Argall, who I note also directed some episodes of the ABC’s Seachange. Not surprising that. On the DVD are (as usual with the packages Umbrella offers) some good extras, one being David and Margaret way back in 1990 on SBS’s The Movie Show. They loved this movie. So do I.

Michael’s DVD Reviews says:

Return Home is one of the most unpretentious films you are ever likely to see and yet it is extremely effective in observing the day to day struggle of a working class family. The film perfectly captures a summer in suburbia, the tree lined streets, the fair, the beach and the pier, and the enjoyment and security these cultural icons bring, all so close to becoming a paradise lost.

You could say also a comment on both globalisation and Americanisation, but in a most low key manner. This is one of OUR stories told in our way. We really should take more pride in such things. Return Home stands up very well after seventeen years, and Ben Mendelsohn is just brilliant as the apprentice mechanic Gary: not a jarring note from one end of the movie to the other.

I also borrowed Swimming Upstream (the Aussie one) for Lord M. In this month’s Monthly Magazine (bloody brilliant as usual!) is a profile of Geoffrey Rush by Peter Craven, the last words being:

If you happen to stumble on Swimming Upstream, the film in which he played the fanatical father of a potentially great swimmer, you’ll see Geoffrey Rush, alongside Judy Davis, presenting everyday Australian life in all its pity and terror. It’s a performance that would have impressed Eugene O’Neill. It’s a performance that would have scared the Greeks.

Hyperbolic? Only a bit. Rush really is bloody good in Swimming Upstream.

Site Meter

Written by Neil

April 5, 2007 at 11:12 am

2 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I watched a tv interview with Phillip Noyce only yesterday, and he mentioned that Dead Calm’s terrible ending was filmed because studio heads demanded it. Early test screenings, with the ambiguous, open-ended original finale still intact, rated poorly; audiences wanted instead to see retribution and revenge, no matter how simplistic or tacky.


    April 5, 2007 at 3:57 pm

  2. …no matter how simplistic or tacky…

    Well they certainly got what they wanted!


    April 5, 2007 at 3:59 pm

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: