I have been a bit AWOL from the Cue Card lately as I’ve had company in town and various gatherings, events, and chores. After all it is summer now, which is the busiest and best time of year here, especially for get-togethers, bike riding, hiking, gardening, and playing tennis. Happy holiday weekend to all. We are proudly displaying the Canadian Maple Leaf flag here in Canada, as well as our neighbor to the south’s flag, too. We live just a few hours from the border, which you may know is the longest international border in the world (5,525 miles) — way too long for any Trump wall :-). And the fact that it has been such a friendly, peaceful co-existence between the two countries makes it special. We consist of a Canadian-American household and that’s usually pretty peaceful, too, har har. Anyways since I’ve been “on the go” lately I’ll leave you with some mini reviews of what I’ve completed recently.
Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff / 400 pgs. / 2015
Oh yes, Lotto and Mathilde, Mathilde and Lotto — you know who I’m talking about. This was one of the most talked about novels of last year so I was pleasantly surprised last week when the library finally deemed it was my turn to receive it from the lengthy reserve list. I had come off the bench so to speak and scored the audiobook version of “Fates and Furies,” which President Obama had said was his favorite book of 2015 and Amazon had picked as Best Book of the Year. It was about time I inundated myself with Ms. Groff’s protracted tale about Lotto and Mathilde and their 20-plus year marriage, which is told in two parts from each of their perspectives.
I didn’t find them exactly likable characters, far from it. Lotto is an out-of-work actor who becomes a successful playwright. He has a consuming ego and sleeps his way through college with a ton of women before meeting and falling madly in love with Mathilde, who helps him succeed in writing plays but turns out to be pretty conniving and full of secrets. Together they make quite a pair, creative partners who love and adore one another, but whose flaws take a toll on their marriage.
Despite L & M’s unlikability, I was fully engaged by the storytelling in “Fates and Furies,” which drew me into the characters’ lives (exploring both their pasts and their present) and made me curious where they would wind up. Although there were times in which Groff’s sentences seemed overwritten or over the top to me, her scope of the story and themes — like those out of a Greek tragedy — I found quite ambitious and awesome. I also liked the novel’s two-sided, him/her structure and its time changes within the story, but I agree with others who found its abundant partying and sex scenes repetitive or a bit much at times (just a warning to those who haven’t read it yet). Still, Groff’s exploration of marriage and the roles in it awed me and made for an absorbing ride — even when it wasn’t always pretty. I’m glad I found out what all the hype was about with this one. For the most part, I think it deserved it.
Boys in the Trees: A Memoir by Carly Simon / 384 pages / 2015
Here’s a not so secret secret: I succumb periodically to rock star, singer-songwriter memoirs and biographies. Whether it’s Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Mick Fleetwood, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin — all of whom I’ve read books about — I like to find out about what’s behind the great songs and music that I’ve liked and the artists’ lives. My sister gave me this book in which Carly Simon tells the story of her childhood and early life through to the end of her marriage with James Taylor in the early ‘80s. It covers not all of her life by any stretch, but undoubtedly includes her most creative era.
I’m sure you recall, Carly had quite a few hits in the ‘70s such as “That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” “Anticipation,” The Right Thing to Do,” “You Belong to Me” among others. She was on a roll for sure. Her song “You’re So Vain” is still one of those classic anthems I always turn up the volume to when in the car. What a song, and line: “You had one eye in the mirror as you watched yourself gavotte.” The song, she has said, is about a few men she’s been with.
The beginning of Carly’s memoir starts off really well, vividly describing the New York town house she grew up in and her family. It touches on the career of her father who co-founded the publishing house Simon & Schuster in 1924, and also her sisters who she began singing with. It reveals some things I didn’t know such as: that Carly grew up with a stuttering problem and she started singing as a way to try and cover it up. Her childhood, although privileged, didn’t seem as idyllic as perhaps I had imagined — her mother was carrying on an affair in their house, her parents were splitting up, and her father was ousted in the late ‘50s from Simon & Schuster, before dying of a heart attack in 1960.
It was interesting reading about how Carly started out her career — she left college early — to sing in clubs as a folk music duo with her sister Lucy. They were The Simon Sisters and traveled around performing in the 1960s, releasing three albums. I hadn’t really known this before, or how early to the music scene Carly had come.
But later her sister and her parted ways professionally and Carly went solo, putting out her first album in 1971. That’s when her career and life really began to catapult into the stratosphere so to speak. The middle part of the book includes many stories about the men she was with (or slept with) back then: such as Cat Stevens, Kris Kristofferson, Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty and maybe Mick Jagger among others. I sort of lost track truthfully. That stuff was all right (for inquiring minds) but what I really liked hearing about is how the popular songs came about. One that Carly tells is that her song “Anticipation” was one she wrote when she was waiting for Cat Stevens who was very late in coming over to meet for a date.
The last part of the book deals with her years with James Taylor. They were married for a little over ten years, starting in 1972, which had a huge impact on her and produced two children. The interesting thing is Carly and James had known each other as kids when their families spent summers on Martha’s Vineyard. So later they reconnected and got married during the most creative times of their lives, both releasing great hits and songs. But as time went on, their lives together weren’t easy. James struggled with drugs, and Carly was Carly I guess. They also were forever building and remodeling their place on the Vineyard, which added stress. And apparently she struggled throughout her career with stuttering, anxiety, and stage fright, which I didn’t know about but sympathize with since I was a shy kid myself.
Things ended badly for them. James was unfaithful, and later Carly was too. They eventually divorced in 1983 and apparently he hasn’t been on speaking terms with her since around 2004. It seems like something she’s never recovered from because the last section of the book reads like she’s endlessly trying to set things right with James — like the memoir’s an apology of sorts. She talks him up quite highly in the book too. It’s rather sad really to read about the demise of their marriage.
As for the book it was okay, but I guess I don’t feel I really know Carly after it. I’m not sure in her heyday if she was a problematic diva and person who lived a privileged, bratty life? Or was she a creative woman and singer with insecurities who took care of her kids well and whom James betrayed and left? Who really knows but her family and close friends. All I can say is that the memoir kept my interest for the most part, but I liked the first section the best.
MI-5 / (movie on Netflix)
My husband and I used to watch the BBC TV series called MI-5, which ran from 2002 to 2011. What a great show that was! So I knew the movie version would appeal to us as well. It might not be as good as the TV series was, but I recommend it for those who like spy-action thrillers, particularly about the British Secret Service.
45 Years / (movie on Apple TV)
I had wanted to see this intense but quiet British drama about a married couple planning their 45th anniversary party back in January when I heard Charlotte Rampling was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in this. After watching it, my husband and I debated whether the secret that is revealed within it that spoils things — really is a big deal, or game changer as the story makes out. I could see where it could be — but my husband thought it was much ado about nothing. File this under male/female differences.
Eye in the Sky (movie at theater)
This British thriller stars Helen Mirren as a military commander in charge of a mission to capture terrorists in Kenya. Oh my is this a nail-biting, effective film that raises the complexities of drone warfare and collateral damage in today’s world. It’s excellently done and well worth seeing. The film will tear at your heart and make you feel angry too. It’s a military conundrum.
Bloodline / (a Netflix TV series)
We’re well into Season 1 of this drama series set in the Florida Keys about a family of three adult siblings whose lives are changed when the fourth sibling, their bad-seed brother returns home to help run the family’s inn. We are totally hooked on this show of good people doing bad things. I find myself really wanting to shake some sense into these people, but I don’t think that’s possible.
What about you — have you read Lauren Groff’s novel “Fates and Furies,” or Carly Simon’s memoir, or have you seen any of these films or series? And if so, what did you think?