Gone Fishin’ (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

“I’m completely renewed, you know how revitalizing a whole makeover is — new cut, new clothes, new toilette, new everything,” Torrey chirps. She raises one wrist, takes a deep sniff, smiles at Lesley, smiles even more brilliantly at Alan’s attorney across the conference table. Alan couldn’t make this settlement negotiation; business. That suits Torrey. She flips her hair and sniffs her wrist again, simpers at the attorney.

“Ah, yes,” the man says drily. “Deep Woods Off No. 5.”

Torrey’s mouth snaps shut audibly.

“You were angling for a compliment, Mrs. Graff,” the attorney says. “Be careful what you fish for.”

Photo: TBIT

Every week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a fish tale. It can be about fishing from any angle, about those who fish, or what might be caught. Go where the prompt leads.”

An Inconvenient Woman by Dominick Dunne (Book Review)

An Inconvenient WomanAn Inconvenient Woman by Dominick Dunne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I always say if you’re going to read trash, read the good trash.

As a roman a clef, this is not the story of Alfred Bloomingdale, the soap opera that churned around his mistress, Vicki Morgan, his widow Betsy’s refusal to honor her husband’s promises to Vicki after his unexpected death, and Vicki’s palimony suit and grisly murder. But even if it was that story, the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

I’m still not sure how libel issues are avoided when characters and events in a “novel” are known to be only thinly disguised, but it’s fun. Jules and Pauline Mendelson are the quintessential high society couple with their endless millions, their highly-placed and rich friends, their palatial estate, their impeccable taste. Flo March is a rather more innocent Vicki Morgan, being a waitress with daydreams rather than a full-on prostitute. I idly wondered how many other characters and incidents were based in reality (except for Truman Capote; he was obvious), but it didn’t matter. The artfully interwoven threads sewn around a real-life scandal, the little details that turn out to be a big deal, the dish and the dirt and the naughty behavior and the $40,000 curtains, add up to a delightfully guilty pleasure of a book.

Bookshelves: roman-a-clef, high-society, trashiest-trash, lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous, in-the-news

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The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe by J. Randy Taraborrelli (Book Review)

The Secret Life of Marilyn MonroeThe Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe by J. Randy Taraborrelli

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: biography, ugh, conspiracy-theories, lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous, addiction, mental-illness, show-your-work, americana, hollywood

I’m fascinated by Marilyn Monroe. Not sure why. It’s not that my husband likes to say I look like her–I don’t. He’s just being sweet. But it’s odd that it took me this long to read a Marilyn biography or watch a Marilyn movie. I chose this one because it was the highest-rated on Goodreads. I almost decided not to finish it, and now I’m pissed that I did finish it.

1. Much of Marilyn’s life was mysterious, glamorous, tragic. Mostly mysterious, particularly her death. I was annoyed several times as the author glossed over speculations about her death and things rumored to have factored in to it such as the possibility of an affair with RFK as well as JFK, with statements like, “Fresh research assembled for this book says it didn’t happen.” That’s it. Just take his word for it. But it’s even worse than that. He starts the sources section by saying that appendices are just typing exercises, they’re a waste of ink and paper, nobody reads them anyway, so he’s not actually going to set out his sources. He refers to a few documentary sources in the narrative, such as reports from the FBI (whom he trashes). But he doesn’t cite them as a source.

What the what? Math and biographies, dude: SHOW. YOUR. WORK.

I’m one of those people who does read appendices.

But here’s the real kicker. He dismisses speculation about her death this way: “If she had been a stable woman who had never overdosed in her lifetime, then, yes, one might legitimately question the circumstances of her death. However…” And I am not using that quote that out of context.

What in the actual fuck. She was an addict, so any questioning of suspicious circumstances is not legitimate? She was an addict, so she can’t also be a victim of foul play? Is the author one of those assholes who thinks a rape victim’s sexual history is relevant? This is especially galling after you’ve read an entire book themed around poor-Marilyn-nothing-was-her-fault; see #2.

2. The writer was perhaps a bit too dazzled by his subject. To hear him tell it, she was incapable of making a stupid decision or simply acting like a shit sometimes like the rest of us. Every negative behavior is blamed on mental illness, her sad childhood, her crazy mother, her daddy issues, power-tripping studio heads, greedy and controlling acting coaches, hyperprescribing doctors, too much therapy and wallowing, abusive husbands, the effects of alcohol and pills, the nature of addiction, paranoia from the FBI following her around. Marilyn herself was never culpable for anything. It wore thin.

Except for her death, of course; she evidently had that coming. It’s appalling.

3. It suffers from Other People’s Childhoods Syndrome. Normally I’d give the author a pass for this one because it’s so tough to make anybody else’s childhood interesting to me, but I’m throwing the book at this book, ha ha. I skipped ahead to the James Dougherty marriage and the beginning of modeling, and don’t feel I missed anything, especially since he repeats so much; see #4.

4. The writing is meh, and the narrative jumps around in time and repeats things so I was always flipping back and forth to see if I really already had read something, and yes, yes I had. Overall, it reads like a not-quite-finished draft; do some more editing, tighten up the timeline, cut about 200 pages of minutiae. One photo is said to have been taken at a party hosted by producer Harvey Weinstein, who would have been ten years old at the time. Understandable mistake, I suppose, but then it appears that Harvey Weinstein, writer Walter Bernstein and producer Henry T. Weinstein are all conflated when the book references the (as far as I can determine) non-existent producer Harvey Bernstein. Exhaustive detail is not always a good thing, and there’s way too much of it here…

5. …right up until her death, which the author treats almost like a postscript. The book bogs down with detail and it was getting annoying, glancing down and seeing I was only at 35%, 43%, good Lord, I’ve been reading for a day and a half and I’m only at 48%? I initially skipped what I was sure would be the most interesting parts (the Rat Pack, the Kennedys, the Lost Weekend) because I’d had enough, and jumped ahead to her death. I couldn’t believe the treatment he gave it, so I went back and read what I’d skipped to see if I’d missed some justification for the conclusions. I had not.

Yes, my interest may be morbid, but in my own defense, I also like true crime. Marilyn’s death remains so mysterious but the author skims right over it. After endless imagined or third-hand conversations, interviews with people only peripherally involved in her life, detailed descriptions of what she was wearing, allusions on virtually every page to her vulnerability and mental illness and despair and emotional spirals and loneliness, she’s a poor-little-lost-girl-victim all the way, over and over, okay, okay, I get it, and then the last chapter is like, “Marilyn was found dead from a drug overdose. Lots of contradictions and different theories. Ignore the suspicious stuff because I said so. Accidentally or intentionally, she did it herself. So sad. Legend, icon, live forever in our hearts, blah blah blah. The End.”

Since I was lying around feeling lousy, nursing a sinus infection/allergies/spring crud, I decided to continue being unproductive and turned to YouTube clips. Yes, she did have a certain something, a fascinating blend of innocence and sophistication. We’ll never know if she could have become a good dramatic actress, but she certainly had a gift for the sexy and funny. All glammed up she was the quintessential movie star but au naturel her beauty was ethereal. The woman was stunning, and cameras loved her. (Some of her nude shots don’t even try to cover a surgical scar, and I appreciate that.)

Movie clips led to Marilyn documentaries, the conspiracy stuff. Good Lord, I’d never known. What really gets me is the story of how she was found: The housekeeper became alarmed when Marilyn’s door was locked, she called the doctor, he came over, he looked through the window of the French door to her bedroom, saw her lying face down with the phone in her hand, he broke the window and reached in to open the latch so he could get to her. Fine, but now Google photos of the house. (1) Where she was lying on the bed, Marilyn would not have been visible through the window at that angle; there’s a bureau or something with stuff piled on it, in the way, and (2) no intelligent person would reach through that broken window; you’d shred your hand and arm.

That’s just for starters. Yes, innuendo and rumor are one thing, but suspicions raised by officials and forensic science are quite another. Those officials’ statements and crime scene reports are not even referenced. What about the later statement that none of the interior doors in the house had locks, including the one to her bedroom? What about the assistant district attorney who says that Marilyn’s organs and other samples and slides disappeared, that what tissue analysis was done was almost perfunctory? What about her completely empty stomach and the lack of any water glass at the scene? What about the claims that bruising and lividity indicated her body had been moved after death? (And if you look at the “death” photo, that shows her lying face-down on the bed, that lividity is clearly visible.) What about the missing diary? What about the Hollywood cop who stated that on the evening of Marilyn’s death, he’d pulled over a car driven by Peter Lawford with Bobby Kennedy in the passenger seat, even though Kennedy was supposedly in San Francisco that night? Rumors of the FBI, the CIA, the mob? Only some of that is here, and it’s glossed over and dismissed out of hand.

There’s a lot floating around out there; the only conspiracy I didn’t find online is that she faked her death and is off somewhere living it up with Jimi Hendrix and Elvis. And I understand how it is. One person says this, another says that, the first person later says another thing, and things contradict other things.  People misspeak during trauma, perhaps remember differently later, misjudge times and whatnot. Memories fade after 50 years. I get that. But it’s one thing when a conspiracy blogger says “research shows” without citing that research; I expect better from a journalist.

This book has a lot (a lot) of information about Marilyn’s relationships with her mother and half-sister, other friendships, her marriages, her movies. The author hammers on indications that she was borderline paranoid schizophrenic. But as far as her death is concerned, and life circumstances that contributed to it, it’s hardly definitive. Not when the writer doesn’t address discrepancies, justify conclusions, or cite sources.

I’m quite annoyed that this is the Marilyn biography I chose to read. We can call it my Lost Weekend.

P.S. My daughter and I just watched The Seven Year Itch in its entirety. Loved it.

P.P.S. A good friend of mine is adamant that he saw Marilyn’s ghost at the Hollywood Roosevelt. I believe him.

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What Happened? Fire and Fury (and Some Russians, and a Porn Star) (Twofer Book Review)

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White HouseFire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House by Michael Wolff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: in-the-news, politics, journalistic, non-fiction, current-social-issues, controversial

My mom and I were bashing our fake president one day when Mom pronounced Ivanka with a flat A, as in apple. I said no, Mom, it’s i-VAHN-ka, and Mom replied, “I-vank-a Stank-a.” Oh Mom, I love you so much.

I wasn’t going to read this book. I am already so utterly sick of this White Trash White House, with its 14 new contentious/sordid/idiotic headlines every morning. I changed my mind when I read that the Pussy Grabber in Chief sent a cease-and-desist letter to the publisher, in his typical wannabe-dictator-and-screw-the-Constitution style. Then I almost actually bought a copy, figuring it was the most patriotic thing I could do, but in the end I couldn’t make myself shell out 17 smackers that could, based on any possible agreements the author had with his sources, end up in any of these slimeballs’ pockets. So I patiently worked my way up from #1,947 on the waiting list at my library. No joke.

And here I am. Wiser? Who knows. I figure anybody should take this with a margarita-rimful of salt. More depressed? Certainly. More convinced we’re all going to die? A bit.

There’s a lot of dish here, but not the fun salacious-gossip kind of dish. Ugly, moronic, appalling dish that showcases just how badly eroded the Republican party has become over the last 30 years (I am a recovered Republican, finally got disgusted and jumped ship after Dubya’s first term, and who’da thunk I’d be missing him?). Wolff is an engaging enough writer, and his probes into Trump’s psychological state feel absolutely correct. Still, the whole book has a slapped-together, not-entirely-edited feel that isn’t helped by the cheap paper and the (satisfyingly) unflattering photo on the cover. The takeaways are even more alarming than what you read in the news: Trump himself is a childish narcissist who is bored by, you know, policy, doesn’t read, and is influenced most by whoever he last spoke with. The real evil here is Steve Bannon, followed closely by Jarvanka (the only portmanteau couple name I’ve ever actually liked; makes me think of Jar Jar Binks), who are also flaming incompetents along with virtually everyone else in the West Wing. It’s frightening.

Ultimately, the whole book is like Trump himself: An unfiltered, diarrhea-stricken bull in a china shop, somehow managing to look like a used-car salesman even in a ten-thousand-dollar suit, no real plan, instant gratification only, thrown together with enough glitter and hoo-rah to suck in the masses and make a quick buck by telling us what we want to hear.

Some of it might even be true though. It certainly rings true. I’m glad I read it, for the same reason I follow our Narcissist in Chief and his grifter family on social media–always know what the assholes are up to. But now I feel like I have a film of slime all over me. I’m going to go have a bath, and dream of Democrats retaking Congress at the midterms so impeachment proceedings will actually mean something. With a huge margarita, extra salt.

Five stars, just to push it higher and piss Emperor Hirocheeto off even more.

What HappenedWhat Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: memoir, non-fiction, politics, in-the-news, controversial, current-social-issues, feminism, women

I read this immediately after reading Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, although at that point I was tired of it all, from Wolff’s book and keeping up with current headlines. Who wants even more election upheaval? But I’d only read the author’s introduction to What Happened before I felt better. No matter what she has to say, I thought, at least what I’m reading is compassionate, considered, intelligent, articulate–everything the Trump campaign was not.

The biggest takeaway: “All or nothing” does not work when fighting for change. Reluctance to compromise can bring about defeat. The forces opposed to change have it easier. They can just say no, again and again, and blame the other side when it doesn’t happen. If you want to get something done, you have to find a way to get to yes. Hillary Clinton understands that at its core, this is how politics is done.

Critical reviews say Hillary is merely justifying herself, telling things so she looks good. Oh, like Trump–or anyone else for that matter–wouldn’t? I found her explanations of policy enlightening and her optimism refreshing. One zinger I particularly loved, when she talked about those who figure she and Bill must have some kind of “arrangement” that kept them together through the Monica Lewinsky scandal (and I paraphrase): “Yes, we had an arrangement. It’s called a marriage.”

Other critical reviews suppose that she couldn’t possibly have written this herself and done such a good job. Perhaps. But if that’s the case, at least she had the goddamn sense to hire someone who could write it. Unlike someone else who comes to mind, Mr. “Only-I-Can-Fix-It” who evidently considers a model and Twitter to be an adequate substitute for a politically qualified and experienced communications director. (Oh, whoops – now Hope is gone, too.) And the book is well-written.

Hillary recalls the harried and hectic life of the campaign trail, the career that led to the campaign, the particular difficulties faced by any woman in a professional setting and particularly politics, friendships and family, and the constant, partisan, fruitless investigations she endured. And, of course, those fucking emails, blown up by the media and James Comey to be one of the biggest, stupidest, and least scandal-worthy political scandals in the last 100 years. She owns her campaign and admits the mistakes she made and the missteps she took, and talks frankly about her shock and bitter disappointment and what it took to crawl out of bed and keep going after 11/9.

My own great-great-aunt was deep in the fight for women’s suffrage, and I was so happy to cast my vote for a woman for President of the United States. I cried the next morning when I saw the headlines, but not only because she’d lost. It was who she’d lost to. And why. James Comey has a lot to answer for. It’s true that I lean more left than right, but there are some Republican principles I support as well–and you will never convince me that the current administration is anything less than a circus. You might not like her personally, but Hillary is infinitely more qualified, in education, intelligence, experience, temperament.

This book got the bad taste out of my mouth, left me feeling a little bit hopeful, and reminded me that while we didn’t break that highest glass ceiling this time, we’re still so much closer. I still believe it will happen in my lifetime, and Hillary Rodham Clinton did a lot to get us there.

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Sun Sillies (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Torrey steps out the front door and into full spring. Azure sky tops the budding trees, home to birds gone mad with singing, still-ragged yard blooming. Happy to be out of bulky sweaters and boots, Torrey knows she is a vision in cream slacks and shell, draped cardigan in petal pink, neutral pumps, her favorite pink-and-gold-chain envelope bag barely still fashionable. Sunshine. Spring, finally!

Thirty minutes later she emerges from the parking garage on Pike Street into a downpour. Of course she left her umbrella at home. Of course she’s wearing cashmere and suede.

Spring? April Fool’s, silly girl.

Author photo.

Every week at the ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a silly sun story. Up north, “sun silly” is the energetic and playful response to returning sunlight. It could also be an April Fool’s jest, a silly story, or a reaction to spring fever. Be silly and write playfully! Go where the prompt leads.”

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

What Alice ForgotWhat Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

Liane Moriarty is the chick-lit writer who can make me like chick-lit.

Bookshelves: chick-lit, suburbia, rom-com, aussie-writers

Suck-you-in premise. Alice wakes up one day after fainting while at the gym, wondering what the hell she was even doing at a gym, worried that her tumble off the stationary bike hurt the baby she’s carrying, needing the comfort and steadiness of her love-of-a-lifetime husband, Nick. Only problem is, she gave birth to the baby ten years ago, and she and Nick are in the throes of a knock-down-drag-out divorce and custody battle over all three of their kids – none of whom she can remember. And to add insult to injury, she’s not 29, but staring down the barrel of forty.

One little bump on the head and ten years of her life are gone. Poof. Amnesia is not quite as cool as daytime TV would have us think.

Alice’s journey as she tries to put all the pieces together is hilarious on one hand and heartbreaking on the other. Who are these miraculous and frustrating little beings she is told are her children? What happened with Nick? Who is this Gina woman? Has she already slept with this guy she’s apparently dating? Why do she and her sister barely speak anymore? Why does she have such a piece of work as a best friend? How does anyone find time for all these projects and committees? And what in God’s name was she doing in a gym?

I admit, I was rooting for Alice and Nick to remember all the wonderful things about each other that brought them together, to remember what’s important and that you have to work to hold on to love in the midst of making careers and raising children. At the same time I was fully prepared to be disgusted if Moriarty had tied things up with such a neat and facile bow.

Fortunately, she didn’t do that. Alice’s memory comes back. Not just the good stuff, but all the stuff. It’s true what they say, that you can’t go home again. But sometimes we can all use a slap-you-upside-the-head mirror to view our lives and those we love.

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Flying Fingers (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

“I recommend you start your foreign language requirement right away,” the department assistant says. “You need three quarters so you don’t want to leave it too late.”

“Huh.” Jane looks down at the catalog. French, her nemesis. Couldn’t get it in high school; no reason to think anything’s changed. “No Italian?” she asks hopefullly. Italian is so beautiful.

“No Italian.”

Movement in her peripheral vision draws her eye: Two people entering the language office, hands fluttering like birds, fingers flying.

It’s a sign.

Jane double-checks the catalog for confirmation. “American Sign Language. That’s what I want to take.”

L@TipForward Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Every week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about fingers that fly. Think about the different ways we use our fingers and what happens when we add speed. Go where the prompt leads.”