Jul. 25th, 2011

jmc_bks: (Book on table)
For SBD:

Okay, I read a book (and enjoyed) this past weekend that has been niggling at me, and I can’t really figure out why.

The bigger they come, the harder they fall... in love.

Cambridge art professor Larry Morton takes one, alcohol-glazed look at the huge, tattooed man looming in a dark alley, and assumes he’s done for. Moments later he finds himself disarmed—literally and figuratively. And, the next morning, he can’t rest until he offers an apology to the man who turned out to be more gentle than giant.

Larry's intrigued to find there's more to Al Fletcher than meets the eye; he possesses a natural artistic talent that shines through untutored technique. Unfortunately, no one else seems to see the sensitive soul beneath Al’s imposing, scarred, undeniably sexy exterior. Least of all Larry's class-conscious family, who would like nothing better than to split up this mismatched pair.

Is it physical? Oh, yes, it’s deliciously physical, and so much more—which makes Larry’s next task so daunting. Not just convincing his colleagues, friends and family that their relationship is more than skin deep. It’s convincing Al.


Muscling Through’s narrator, Al, is a working class fellow. He once aspired to be a boxer, and briefly worked as a bouncer at a club where he was struck in the face with a bottle while breaking up a fight. He works outside, putting punts in and out of the River Cam, which he enjoys. Al is not a shining example of the British education system, having barely scraped through with any education at all. He loves his mum and misses his dad, and is a good sort.

On the surface, he and Larry, an art history professor at Cambridge University, have little in common. Larry is educated and wealthy and surrounded by people of similar background, and he appears to be pretty comfortable that way. After a comedy of errors and misunderstandings when they first meet in a dark alley, they have drinks and then dinner and then sex. At the outset, the relationship is (in Al’s own words) “just fucking”. But then as they get to know each other, they find things in common (Charlie Chaplin movies, art) and learn to actually like each other. And then they wind up doing all those couple-type things, going to work dos together, introducing family, etc.

Merrow creates a wonderful sense of place in her books. Al and Larry are both creatures of Cambridge, but of very different parts of Cambridge. Their respective differences don’t keep them from appreciating the school and town or each other. I especially enjoyed the way Merrow used the bridges for geography and Al’s employment, but also as a thing for the two of them to share and a point of reference later in the book when the characters visit Venice.  

The only part of the book that felt really awkward or out of place was the “It Gets Better” moment, which felt like a Dan Savage PSA. Don’t get me wrong, I think the project a great thing, I’m just not sure how that passage fit with the rest of the novel.

Since Al narrates, he’s easy to get to know: he’s very self-deprecating, accustomed to being treated as a threat and as a lesser being, even in relationships. He looks on the bright side of things most often, is a good judge of people, and is very much a realist. He’s not bright, and he knows it, but he’s hard working and a good sort. Larry is a bit harder to get to know as a character, and to be honest, the first introduction to him is not at all flattering to him or to Al – he assumes Al’s about to rob him and continues blathering on about it even after Al has been a gentleman and escorted drunk Larry home. Later when he presented Larry to his colleagues, he seemed to be doing it for shock value. But that type of behavior eventually passed, and he becomes a champion of Al’s art and a defender against both his own parents and Al’s mum when she makes the occasional mean comment.

Reading Muscling Through, which is NOT a bleak or depressing book by any measure, reminded me of Flowers for Algernon. I remember reading Algernon in middle school, and feeling so incredibly sorry for the narrator. He was not smart and then he was brilliant and then it all faded again. Was it worse to be not so bright but content with his life as he knew it, or to be brilliant suddenly and then have to live through it fading back into whatever before or even worse?

As I read (and after), I had no problem at all with the difference in Al and Larry’s economic situations or their education or background. But I did wonder about the difference in their intellects, and if it would eventually be a problem. Is that elitist?

They have art, among other things, to bind them together long term. But I wonder if it would have been different if Larry had been a professor of English or Mathematics. What then would be the glue holding them together?

I don't know.  And I'm not even sure what is niggling at me.  Gah!
jmc_bks: (star fort kinsale)
+  Clusterfluff ice cream from Ben & Jerry's -- yum.  If you like fluffernutter sandwiches, you'll probably like Clusterfluff.  PB ice cream with swirls of peanut butter and marshmallow and chunks of peanuts and caramel.  I accidentally melted a pint of it today while grocery shopping and running errands.  Fortunately for me, is refroze fairly well :)

-  What happened in Norway is terrible.

-  Seriously, American politicians?  

-  A person who had a large impact on American politics and foreign policy in terms of use of the military for humanitarian aid died over the weekend.  But since he didn't OD or get headlines at TMZ, very few people seem to have noticed.

+  Friends with Benefits wasn't bad.  Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake have pretty good chemistry on screen.  The repeated use of a flash mob?  Eh.  The editing was a little choppy, too.  But it was mildly entertaining and a good way to avoid being outside in 110F weather.  

-  Straw Dogs remake?  Why?  The trailer alone is full of offensive, sexist, ugly tropes.  Country > city. And yet the country is full of losers leading disappointed/disappointing lives.  Education = effete.  Critical wife = bitchy, deserves to be punished.  Being fired for being an asshole always should be responded to with violence.  And attacking your former employer at night with high powered rifles is the most reasonable response.  I think a lot of True Blood fans (women) are going to go see this movie for Alexander Skarsgard, and they are going to be unhappy with the character he plays, who is a redneck rapist.  (I say this because the PR seems to frame his character ambiguously, and when asked about the character, he said it isn't fundamentally a bad man, just disappointed with how his life has turned out.  Because, y'know, being disappointed with your life makes rape acceptable?)  Yeah, not a movie I'm going to be paying to see, thanks.
 
-  Also, WTF, LJ?
 
-  I've watched a couple more episodes of the third season of True Blood.  What a train wreck.  Stick a fork in me, I am done.

 
jmc_bks: (GK - layers)
Dear Interim-Boss-Who-Thought-He-Was-Getting-Out-of-That-Gig:

Asking me in JULY if I will do two tasks that must be performed in OCTOBER and NOVEMBER respectively?  Tasks that my now-retired-boss used to do?  That tells me that you aren't going to have our vacancy filled by then.  You've had three months lead time plus three more before the work needs to be done; one task can't even begin until after October 1, and the other until November 1.  

Six months isn't enough time?  Really?
 
Also, when I say we feel adrift and rudderless, I'm not talking about just my office.  I'm talking about the entire program nationally.  You are underestimating the daily contact retired-boss had with EVERYONE.

I am NOT going to be backed into her job.  It's not a matter of capability; I figured I'd be training the new person on how to do those tasks.  It's a matter of desire.

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