Review: On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan

On Chesil Beach
by Ian McEwan
Anchor Books
(203 pgs)
2007's On Chesil Beach exemplifies what I admire about Ian McEwan's writing - the simplicity, the matter-of-fact straightforward style of his hand is beautifully displayed in this 200-page novella.

Edward and Florence have just been married, and have arrived at an inn on Chesil Beach for their honeymoon. The reader is immediately thrown into an extremely intimate setting, one that becomes all the more uncomfortable when the internal monologues and histories of these two characters are brought to light.

Separated into chapters, McEwan deftly alternates between their individual past and present. perspectives, giving his reader the sense that we know a little too much - even more than one does of the other. Their combined story, though it will only take an avid reader an hour or so to finish the book, reads like a five-act Shakespearean tragedy, filled with those slight betrayals which always bring a tragedy to its unpleasant climax.

McEwan has never been one to shy away from explicit naturalism (Enduring Love) and this story, though tantalizingly brief, is no exception. But that gritty sort of treatment is, unlike in the case of many of McEwan's contemporaries, never gratuitous - rather, it always plays into the larger metaphor at hand. In this case: an all-embracing criticism of inaction and the failure that follows. And instead of giving the reader the romance that one might want out of this kind of story, instead the author embraces the melancholy of reality and is absolutely merciless in rending one's idyllic image of happiness and reconciliation in two.


"Space Invaders" - Slate.com

Freshman year of high school I was forced to take an elective...I can't remember if this was my parents, or my guidance counselor, or just me putting off taking that third .5 phys ed credit...and it was a class billed as something like "Business Systems & Technology" something like that. I had a copy of my high school transcript for the longest time because I didn't apply to a 10th university as originally planned, but that seems to have been lost in the wind over the last few moves, so I can't quite recall how it may have been listed.

On the first day of classes, I knew it was a joke. We were in a media room on the second floor of the 500-block. The classroom was filled with 10-year-old computers (in 1999) and the class was taught by a man in his mid-forties who gave the impression that he did not understand computers at all. This was explicit on the second day of classes when he expressed the need for assistance in actually setting the computers up so that they were functional for the purposes of the class.

My knowledge of computers is almost completely self-taught. My dad helped briefly, but by the time I was in elementary school playing Oregon Trail and Nigel's World (does anyone else remember Nigel's
World??) it was all me. It's also worth pointing out that this was my first day in a new school where there were a total of five people that I knew from my last school. One of them was in this class, but we weren't friends. And everyone else in the class came from a lower income demographic than I did, so they were pretty useless when it came to computers, too. 

So I guess it fell to me - between actually knowing a thing or two more than the teacher, and wanting to feel occupied when I had no friends to talk to - to set up the computers for the class. I can't say it was much use, though. In the course of the entire school year we did little more than speed typing tests. Over and over, drilled into our heads, one space after commas, two spaces after a period. Over and over. 

What the teacher certainly didn't comprehend is that those rules we followed in those speed typing tests were archaic. A dinosaur at a manual typewriter in 1965 might approve, but no one with any sense of typographic rules in 1999 would have. And that's why I love this article from Slate.com that someone posted on Facebook earlier today. The article might be a few years old, but the facts remain the same. 

And while one could argue that typographical awareness is not something at the forefront of our common intelligence, it's something of which (in this internet age) everyone should at least subconsciously be cognizant. I've been a single-spacer since even before this class (I defied the speed test rules and ended up with a lower score every time because I knew it was wrong and didn't need a computer to tell me how quickly or efficiently I could type) and am alarmed to think that there could still be proud two-spacers among us - unaware, lurking...


Top Ten Tuesday: other ways to tell stories

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature of The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's theme: Let's talk about other types of stories! Top Ten Favorite Movies or TV Shows! (can break it down to top ten favorite romance movies or comedy shows etc. etc.)

I want to talk about good storytelling. Not just oh this is a great romantic comedy or what have you. Just fantastic storytelling in mediums other than books. This is unorganized, semi-stream of conscious, and a little frivolous. Please bear with me. 


music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
book by John Weidman
based on an idea by Charles Gilbert, Jr.
The cast of Roundabout Theatre Company's Assassins; Photo Credit: Joan Marcus, 2004
For those of you unfamiliar, Assassins is a musical about the various assassins (and would-be assassins) of U.S. presidents. On paper, this is an episodic subject that doesn't really benefit from any kind of attempt at theming. You take a book like James W Clarke's American Assassins: The Darker Side of Politics and you don't really think "Hey! This would make a great musical!" But it does. And, in this format, it becomes a tale of striving for the American Dream, a tale of the everyman. Confronting that concept through the eyes of the likes of John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it makes for a very clever way of doing each story a bit of justice. 


"Call the Midwife"

I was going to try and avoid things actually based on specific books, but then I remembered "Call the Midwife" and I gave up that hope. As someone who was exposed to A Child is Born as a kid, and who went to Catholic school, the last thing I ever expected to be watching was a show about nuns and childbirth. But here we are. And it's because the storytelling is so engaging - and that has a lot to do with the memoir it's based on - these characters were real people, and the sensitivity to their true stories that the memoir surely shows, shines through here. It's sweet and painful and just really really...human.

"Battlestar Galactica"

We're talking '04 people, not '78. Definitely not '78. 
There are very few dull moments in the contemporary "Battlestar Galactica." Now, granted, I binge-watched this entire series last summer, so I didn't have the benefit(?) of watching it in real time with commercials and week-long or summer-long breaks, etc. So it all seemed pretty quickly-paced to me. I can understand that maybe that opinion is a little skewed. But let's say it's not. The way that this story unfolds (though some will argue it wasn't satisfactory) is pretty stellar. (okay that was a little bit of a space joke, sorry.) Joking aside, the way they pull back the layers and explore each character - human or cylon or...both...or something - is really well-thought-out. And the relationships feel real. The best of these (though Bill-and-Laura is the most touching) is Gaius' relationship with himself/ the vision of Caprica 6 which at the end of the day is legitimate, but which can be taken as an examination of conscience, which is brilliant. 

"The Twilight Zone"

I don't think I should even have to explain this one. But basically, it all goes back to Ambrose Bierce. Always waiting for the other shoe to drop. And for an example of what I'm talking about, look no further than the episode that's actually an Ambrose Bierce story, but not actually a Twilight Zone episode - An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.


The Sting
The Sting, 1973
Everything about this film from the production design, to the use of "The Entertainer" as the core of the score, to using title cards for each scene...everything tells a story. The film even goes so far as to play the audience as a mark, which is kind of what it's like to be inceptioned, I guess...

The Rescuers
image by Mel Shaw
I just want to talk about the opening title sequence for this film. Mel Shaw's paintings tell such a beautiful story with the bottle making its way through the water from Penny to her saviors. It's so moving...I actually cry every time. The rest of the movie is fine. The paintings in the opening though - I love the way that they zoom in on what must not be very large pieces, and then pull out - in the above image you can see the grain of the paper - it's just visually stunning. Frozen hearkened back (see: ripped this off) to this with the parents on the ship sequence, but nothing beats Mel Shaw's artistry.

When Harry Met Sally

I was going to talk about this one, but Vulture's Jesse David Fox beat me to it by about 12 hours. Read that article here
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