I’ve been devouring books this summer. Some better than others. I’m burning through them at the rate of two a week. I can’t get enough.
I just finished reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. Yesterday I finished The Broken Circle by Cheryl Potter.
It took me 2 days to read the Gaiman novel. It took me weeks to read the other.
I read in an advance review that The Ocean at the End of the Lane is very autobiographical, so as this otherworldly (because what else would it be?) tale unfolded for me I imagined him as the man in present day, and as the young boy in the detailed memory, and it felt like a letter he wrote to me, even though of course I am not at all the person for whom he wrote this story.
But that is what makes a story wonderful to me. When it feels like it was written for me and it speaks directly to me, like the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman, or Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert, or Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Or so many others.
Having read a copy for which I patiently waited in line at the library, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is the rare story that I will now probably purchase to keep because it has so many lines in it that are still swirling around in my head. Like this one, the point of everything:
This was what lay beneath the thinly painted scrim of reality.
I’m not even sure what to say about this book apart from telling you that if you ever wished that you were magic, well, here is a story that will suggest to you that yes, you probably are magic, but now that you are grown up, you must have just forgotten about it.
In any case, however you feel about suspension of disbelief as a requirement for the enjoyment of such stories, the fact remains that there are people in this world who can invent these things seemingly out of thin air, and I have the greatest respect for them and a profound sense of awe when I read their words. Gaiman seems to do this effortlessly while also being charming and handsome and quirky and inspiring.
Cheryl Potter, author of The Broken Circle, which is the first volume in a trilogy, has created an entire alternate world inspired by knitting.
Yes, that’s what I said. Knitting.
In the Yarns of the Knitting Witches, Potter presents the lands of the North, the Middle, and the South. There is an enormous glacier, which I suppose is a repetitive phrase, in which are trapped the ancient and mostly dead First Folk, along with their magic crystals that they once used to control nature, which of course led to their icy demise, because everyone knows you cannot mess with nature. Anyway, nowadays people can use the bits of crystal that trickle down the cold rivers to dye fabric that is then used to make magical apparel, like cloaks that can make you invisible, or hats that keep you extra warm, or socks that allow you to sneak through tiny cracks.
The people who can make these magical clothes are the Twelve witches of The Potluck yarn store, who disbanded decades ago, now collecting once again because one of them defected to the South and is making war against the North and frankly just making everything difficult for everyone.
The story is told from the point of view of many of the Twelve, which makes for a lot of invention but a confusing train of thought. Potter introduces several inspired new terms to define parts of the magical fabric-dyeing and knitting process, and there are dashing sled-riders and weed-smoking midgets and soldiers who communicate with each other using ESP.
What might inspire the crafty readers among us is that there is a knitting pattern for each chapter. If Potter describes magic socks (one of my favorite things to recommend to people heading into a tough day, until I just looked it up and realized I’ve been saying it wrong all these years – see below), you can bet that end of that chapter she will describe the pattern for magic socks and how hard they are to make.
I was just going to tell you to wear matching socks.*
-Demi Moore to Tom Cruise the night before the trial in “A Few Good Men”
My sister Laura loves fantasy literature, and recently she has taken up knitting like nobody’s business. I’m sending her my review copy of this book. I have to say, I accepted the offer to review it because it seemed like a good beach read. I must have glossed right over the whole knitting part of the pitch because when I first realized that knitting was such an integral part of the whole project, I was tempted to put it aside. But the writing is strong, Potter gives you just enough meat to hang around and find out what happens, and damn if she doesn’t keep doing that all the way to the end of book one so that now I kind of do want to read book two. Which makes the fact that I have no idea when that’s coming kind of a bummer.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, William Morrow, $15.22. I borrowed a copy from my local library.
The Broken Circle, Potter Press, $11.90. I received a complimentary copy for review.
*If you’ve ever heard me tell you to wear magic socks, it’s because I thought that is what she was saying, and I loved that line forever and ever, Amen, and it meant that I really wanted you to do smashingly in whatever it was that you were about to face the next day. And it also probably meant that I loved you when I said it.
A bored housewife takes in a down-on-her luck stripper who turns out to be newly sober and oh, also a “full-service sex worker.” What could possibly go wrong?
Uncomfortably realistic in many ways, “Afternoon Delight” showcases the formidable acting chops of Katherine Hahn and will make you so happy that your life is normal that you just leave it that way.
To writer/director Jill Soloway’s credit, the first thing Hahn’s character Rachel does is apologize for her First World problems. But perspective doesn’t help her, the wife of a successful app designer, living in a gorgeous house in Silverlake and spending her time volunteering for events at their 5-year-old son’s Jewish school. She hasn’t had sex in 6 months, they’ve lost their emotional connection, and she’s lost any direction she ever might have had for her own life. On the advice of her fellow PTA mom and confidante, Rachel convinces husband Jeff (Josh Radnor from “How I Met Your Mother”) to spend a night out at a strip club, where she meets “dancer” McKenna. Whoomp, there it is.
Rachel befriends McKenna and invites her to stay at their home, giving her a way out of “that life.” She rationalizes the move to her husband , her friends, (“This is our new nanny!”) and even herself as a charitable thing, but it quickly becomes obvious that Rachel is morbidly fascinated by McKenna’s line of work and her general way of navigating the world, both of which stir up powerful feelings that may have been deadened by the long, monotonous slog of financially comfortable stay-at-home parenting.
Hijinks ensue. Obvs. You can see them coming a mile away, but that doesn’t make them less surprising or entertaining, or uncomfortable. This movie was almost painful to watch, but I couldn’t look away. I felt compelled to explain to my husband that women don’t sit around discussing the hilarious abortions we had during college over multiple glasses of red wine. And I’m hoping that four grown men – married, fathers, whose wives and kids are on their way home right now for God’s sake – would tell each other NOT to have sex with the nanny even when she is shaking her goods in all of their faces.
The supporting characters in “Afternoon Delight” are priceless. When I saw Jane Lynch’s name come up during the opening credit sequence I clapped and settled down into my seat, and while her therapist, Lenore, was an over the top incarnation of a Jane Lynch character, what else would you expect? John Kapelos appears as one of McKenna’s johns, and only after I looked at the credits did I realize why he was so familiar looking. The slightly creepy janitor from every John Hughes film, FTW!
But it was the PTA moms that Rachel spent her days and nights with who stole my heart. Jenny, the ringleader of every school fundraising event, practically sings “We’re raising money for Jewish women with CANCER!” and she delightfully chews up every scene she’s in, even dropping the C-word at check-in for the school’s “Craftacular.” The rest of the PTA moms ensemble rounds out the crowd where Rachel barely fits in. In fact, that’s the whole problem – she doesn’t feel like she fits in anywhere. She bites her lips and laughs awkwardly and wears ill-fitting T-shirts and you just want to hug her and say “Honey, you’ll be fine. Let me just take that glass for you. Want some coffee?”
“Afternoon Delight” reminded me, in parts, of “Pretty Woman,” “White Oleander,” and “Lost in Translation.” Soloway has mastered the presentation of pretty/seedy Los Angeles with a slightly unsettling air about it – see her earlier work on “Six Feet Under” – there are some strategically gorgeous shots of Rachel and Jeff’s royal perch above the city. In other words, she seems to say to her main characters, quit your whining. You’ve got it better than most. As husband Jeff shouts to his bored, fed-up wife, “Not everyone gets to be happy!”
Still, it’s a happy ending Rachel is looking for, at least in the literal sense, if you know what I mean. A hundred years ago a doctor would have declared her afflicted with hysteria, and ordered her to a fainting couch with some lithium. We’ve come a long way, baby.
“Afternoon Delight” written and directed by Jill Soloway. Opens Friday, August 30.