Tuesday Television!

My Tuesdays are slim pickins as far a quality television is concerned.

We had episode 1.2 of RingerShe’s Ruining Everything.  The show’s pilot episode last week earned it strike one. And this week, unfortunately, earned it strike too.  While last week’s episode was just silly, this week’s episode managed to improve to dull, but terribly dull.  My heart isn’t even in this anymore and I’m fairly sure next week will result in the final episode I watch.  Better luck next time, SMG.  I might tune in to see Jason Dohring, maybe.

Glee returned and I had high hopes after a disappointing third season.  But honestly, nothing really won me over in the premiere.  I do like Quinn as a bad girl and that Blaine has joined New Directions.  Rachel and Kurt have some of the best scenes, but I just feel like it’s too little, too late.  We’ll see how I feel once Idina returns next week.

I am happy to announce that I adored the New Girl premiere.  I know a ton of people are annoyed by Zooey Deschanel, but her quirkiness I find endearing.  Honestly, I don’t really separate the actress from her character, Jess.  The role just has a sense of sincerity that is lacking on television, especially comedic television.  Her roommates (the premise has her character moving in with three guys) are fantastic in their own right – I see you there, Deputy Leo!  I haven’t forgotten our Veronica Mars love!  The Douchebag jar is genius and the reverse mormonism is beyond genius.  When the boys show up at the restaurant to save her from being stood up my heart might have melted just a little!  Kudos, new show!  I see love in our future.

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Book Review: American Pastoral by Philip Roth

I thought it might be fun to begin each review with the book’s first sentence or two.  So here you go:

“The Swede.  During the war years, when I was still a grade school boy, this was a magical name in our  Newark neighborhood, even to adults just a generation removed from the city’s old Prince street ghetto and not yet so flawlessly Americanized as to be bowled over by the prowess of a high school athlete.”

American Pastoral by Philip Roth is a book I might never had read if left to my own devices.  However, with the undertaking of reading Time Magazine’s 100 Best English language novels since 1923 I could not hope to escape Roth.  I’m always apprehensive to read an acclaimed writer – and Roth’s accomplishments are heady.  With mild trepidation, I opened American Pastoral and found myself lost amongst mid-century Newark, New Jersey.

Roth holds true to that sage, old advice:  write what you know.  His books are highly autobiographical – they often take place in Newark, involve battles between Jewish and American culture, and have an insane amount of penis references (or so I’m told).  Pastoral tells the tale of Seymour ‘The Swede’ Levov – a neighborhood hero both in childhood and adulthood.  He’s the star athlete, the patriotic marine, and the apple of his father’s eye who transcends his Jewish beginnings to end up an American ideal.  He marries Miss New Jersey (a Catholic!) and they have a daughter, Meredith (Merry).

When his beloved daughter commits an act of political terrorism against the Vietnam War, Levov’s life is utterly changed.  The bubble of perfection is burst and now he must deal with the social and familial ramifications, the loss of a daughter, and try to find where it all went so wrong when he had done everything right.

The story unfolds in three parts:  Paradise Remembered, The Fall, and Paradise Lost.  We often find ourselves looking at Swede through the eyes of his younger brother’s friend and classmate, Nathan Zuckerman, an accomplished writer.  At other times we get lost in Swede’s thoughts as he meanders through the past – trying desperately to pinpoint the exact moment he lost his dear, Merry.  Roth buries us in the past – overwhelms with nostalgia and the illusion of better times.  But it’s the illusion that truly dies the morning Merry commits her sin.  Roth wants us to understand that no matter how much we idolize generations past – each decade has its monsters.  No one year is any better than the other.

Personally, I do believe that everyone (especially Americans) should read at least one Roth in their lifetime.  Why just one?  Many people have criticized that once you’ve read one – you’ve read them all.  But he writes beautiful prose, renders a masterful story, and his diction is easily understood.  His characters are at once loathsome and enchanting.  Just wait until you meet, Lou Levov, the Swede’s father!  What he lacks in subtlety he makes up in humorous insight.  So go forth and read!

Very rare:  5/5 stars

Year Published:  2007

Pages:  423

Monday television!

I wholeheartedly promise to update with a book review post later today (for American Pastoral by Philip Roth), but until then enjoy my feelings on 2 Broke Girls and the Castle premiere.

2 Broke Girls wanted me to love it and I tried very hard.  Unfortunately, the off-putting laugh track, the forced jokes that my husband decided could only be hilarious to high-schoolers, and the predicable story lines ruined our potential love affair.  And come on – they get the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn so entirely wrong.  I think the show lacked subtlety and charm.  Two more episodes to win me over – good luck!

Castle, I hope, needs no introduction.  I would watch this show even if it were awful just because of Nathan Fillion, but thankfully this show is filled with win.  Season 4 picks up right where Season 3 left off – with Beckett shot, Montgomery still dead, and everyone else devastated.  Kate survives only to kick Castle to the curb for a few months as she needs ‘time’.  I hate when people need time.  The rest of the episode is fairly straightforward.  Castle very quickly forgives Beckett for  ignoring him for months.  He’s such a puppy dog, I swear.  The new Captain is Woman-Hear-Me-Roar type who likes to be called Sir.  I hope we can put Beckett’s shooter/mommy killer storyline to bed soon.  And I’m pissed that Kate is pretending she doesn’t remember Castle’s love confession.  Not the most awesome of episodes, but I know the awesome will return.

More Movie Suggestions!

I had this whole, long, great post about the movies I’ve watched typed up – and then my browser stalled and I lost everything!  Basically, I am now a very unstable anger-ball and will just be telling everyone to watch these three movies as they are awesome.

The Boys Are Back – Clive Owen is beautiful.  Death is ugly and sad.  Being a single dad to two boys is tough stuff – especially when you decide to resemble gypsies rather than proper civilized people.  These kids will grow up to be the most well-adjusted adults EVER.

The Switch – I adore the quietness of Jason Bateman’s performance.  Jennifer Aniston is a favorite.  But the kid in this movie – Thomas Robinson – is so precious it literally hurts.  Screw the critics.

Source Code – Jake Gyllenhaal (do I need to say anything  more?).  A movie as perplexing in nature as Inception, but better (this is obviously my opinion and could be born from the fact that I loathe Leonardo).

Finally, a movie I don’t recommend – 127 Hours.  I know the story is super inspiring and all that – but the whole time you are just sitting there watching a guy stuck under a rock and waiting for the last 5 minutes of the movie where he cuts his arm off.  Sorry James Franco – I couldn’t even muster up a picture.

September Meetup: The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee

Our September novel was The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee.  This past Sunday several Litwits got together to discuss our thoughts and feelings on the story.   To be honest, we haven’t had such a quiet, almost confused meetup in awhile – perhaps ever.  Very odd considering how long we’ve been together, our first year anniversary meetup!  I think the befuddlement came from not fully knowing what to do with Lee’s story – especially the character of Claire.

My first question to everyone was whether or not they liked the book.  Most people quietly murmured or nodded their ascent – yet you could tell no one was really sure of themselves.  What we all pretty quickly agreed on was that no one liked Claire.  Whether the dislike was born from her compulsion to steal trinkets from the Chens or her affair with Will or an overall disdain for her entire personality was never pinned down.

We discussed several of the novel’s themes:  East meets West, class structure, race, war, the condition of pretty much all classes and cultures in human society to torture and oppress those they deem the ‘enemy’ or foreign.  And then, as a group, we struggled with what one member claimed was the most anti-climatic of climaxes ever.

After the meetup (and after watching the Emmys cause I’m kind of a dork), I got to thinking more about Lee’s novel and what she was attempting to do with her narrative.  Before the meetup, I was down the middle with this book – parts I loved, parts I hated.  Lee’s writing is very stark and concise and there were moments of literary genius sprinkled lightly throughout.  But sometime around 2 AM this morning, I finally decided that the story actually has a quiet sort of genius about as readers is to ascertain in what ways they are similar and how they ultimately differ.  Their connection is Will Truesdale – and if we view each woman through his eyes we’ll find the hidden truth of each (after all, I doubt Lee named her male lead Truesdale without meaning to).

Trudy sinks her claws into Will almost as soon as he plants foot in Hong Kong in 1941.  He, like most others, immediately succumbs to her overwhelming persona, her charisma, her Eurasian beauty.  Trudy is the type of woman who commands attention and even when being downright despicable makes friends.  She is a fully painted canvas (probably a Jackson Polluck) and over the war years we deconstruct her as a painting until the war strips her of everything, leaving her a blank canvas upon death.   Trudy is Will’s coming of age, his sexual awakening, and his loss of innocence.

Flash forward to 1952:  Here we meet Claire Pendleton who is not only new to Hong Kong, but new to marriage with a husband she barely knows – and more poignantly, new to life.  Whereas Trudy ends as a blank canvas, Claire begins as one.  Unlike many other British ex-pats Lee describes, Hong Kong becomes Claire, enhances her.  In the same way that Trudy owned Will upon his arrival, Hong Kong owns Claire.  She’d much rather be among the native Chinese than the high-class ex-pats and their expensive tea parties.  Lee goes so far as to sexualize Claire’s relationship with Hong Kong:

“[Claire] turned around but the woman had already disappeared.  She breathed deeply.  The smells of the wet market entered her, intense and earthy.  Around her, Hong Kong thrummed.”

In Claire’s Hong Kong, she struggles to find herself.  She takes those trinkets of Melody’s to try on the Chen’s lifestyle, to feel alive, to test her own boundaries and limits.  Will sees through her immediately – probably recognizes his pre-Trudy self in her.  He enters into his relationship with Claire in a role reversal – he is now in control and I believe he wants Claire to punish him so that he can finally absolve himself and pay penance for the guilt he still feels over abandoning Trudy.  And in the end, Claire does abandon Will, her husband, the life she has known to disappear among the locals as a fully matured woman on her own.

Trudy and Claire, on the surface, are stories that end on the same page.  Each woman dissolves from society, sort of fizzles away from the public eye with no one really knowing or understanding what has happened to her.  But whereas Trudy has gone from the grandest excess to the barest trace of her own humanity, Claire has blossomed into a fleshed-out, complicated picture of the female experience.

Next month’s book is Angela’s Ashes – the meetup is already scheduled on the site!  I look forward to seeing everyone then!

TV Reviews: Up All Night, The Secret Circle, and The Vampire Diaries!

Having too much fun watching the premieres of all the new shows!  I promise that I am still reading as well.  Read The Piano Teacher this week for book club on Sunday.  I’m also about halfway through two other novels – Shirley by Charlotte Bronte and American Pastoral by Philip Roth which I hope to finish this week – so look for those reviews next week!!

Let’s get started with Up All Night.  I am tough when it comes to comedies – if the characters aren’t completely endearing and I don’t laugh out loud, I will totally pass on the show forever.  Christina Applegate is a favorite of mine – loved Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead when I was 9 – and always enjoy Will Arnett.  I thought their chemistry as first time parents was fantastic and really grounded in realism.  I managed to laugh out loud within the first five minutes – when Applegate discovers she’s pregnant and that there’s a baby “in there” which sounds to Applegate like there’s a baby in a closet ready to come at them with a knife.  Arnett being the stay at home dad to Applegates’s television show producing bread winner is also a refreshing spin.  Unfortunately, Maya Rudolph ruins the whole damn thing.  I loved her in both Away We Go and Bridesmaids – but her performance here as an over-the-top Oprah-like television personality leaves realism behind in favor of slapstick comedy better left to Saturday Night Live.  We’ll see if she calms down in the first three episodes – if not, I’m outta here!

Our next new show is The Secret Circle from the CW which is about witches.  Seeing as to how I love all things supernatural, I was more than a little excited – especially knowing how good The Vampire Diaries has turned out to be.  Let’s just say I was not disappointed!  This show promises a great battle between good and evil, a superb bad guy in Gale Harold (whom I love an inappropriate amount), and plot twist after plot twist to keep viewers on the edge of their seats.  Of course, the pilot wasn’t perfect.  Most of everything revealed had already been seen in previews and the bad girl, Faye, was not as good as the rest of the cast which is extremely disappointing.  Witches and the like have been overdone recently, so we’ll see if the show can keep the idea fresh or not – but I’ll be there for every moment!

And finally, on to The Vampire Diaries.  I love this show so much.  What most shows only manage to pull off once or twice in a season during hiatus and finale cliffhangers, TVD manages to do in almost every episode.  The pacing is superb, beloved characters are killed, unpredicatble twists are the norm, and the cast is both beautiful and talented.  Characters you used to hate you grow to love and vice versa.  For me, this show is pretty close to mindless fluff perfection – with moments of clarity and intelligence that are pleasantly surprising.  Ok…enough with the fangirl imitation.  The new season throws us back into the action with Elena growing ever closer to Damon while mourning the momentary (hopefully!) loss of Stefan.  But you won’t find our heroine jumping off of cliffs any time soon (this is a thinly veiled Twilight insult)!  Stefan has turned all big bad (fun stuff!) and has re-earnd his nickname “The Ripper”.  Caroline and Tyler are getting all hot and snuggly just in time for Tyler’s mom to shoot Caroline down with vervain as she tries to leave the Lockwood mansion – and you thought your significant other’s parents were tough to deal with!!  Oh show, how I love you!!

TV Review: The Ringer series premiere

If you know anything about me, you know I love scripted television about as much as I love books.  You also know that Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of my favorite series of all time.  I can feel the judgement already!

After a long hiatus away from the small screen, Sarah Michelle Gellar has returned to television in The Ringer, the CW’s noir soap opera in which she plays twins!  Bridget is a recovering coked-up stripper (from Wyoming…really?) currently under witness protection and Siobhan is a Hamptons/NYC socialite.  In the pilot, Bridget escapes her protective custody, finds her way to Siobhan (they’ve been estranged for 6 six years due to some mystery involving some child named Sean), and assumes Siobhan’s identity when Siobhan seemingly commits suicide by bad green screen effects…or drowning…whatever floats your boat.  Sounds tremendously trashy, yes?

Le sigh – it was TERRIBLE.  Everyone was so stiff-faced and dull (SMG has never mastered drama).  This show takes itself way too seriously and the script is devoid of any life.  I felt like I was at a funeral the whole time, not a fun campy drama filled with twists and turns.  And I love fun campy shows!  The Vampire Diaries and True Blood are fantastic in this respect.

Poor SMG.  The special effects are terrible, the cliche plots leave little to the imagination, and now I’ve discovered that Jason Dohring is also set to start in later episodes – NO, JASON!  Don’t do it!!!  Now I have to continue watching.

With all that being said, pilots are often terrible.  I’ll be giving SMG and Mr. Dohring three episodes before I officially give up and reclaim my 9pm Tuesday nights.