I’ve read a lot of Ian McEwan over the years, and it’s impressive how different his stories are, and how precise and well written they are. On Chesil Beach is a horror of a story where a single moment is fully visualized and expertly drawn, and when it, ahem, comes, you know that things will never be the same for the characters. I guess this is McEwan’s expertise: visualizing characters suddenly drawn into situations so far from their expectation that you never quite know how they will react.
In this case, one wonders if the outcome of the story would be different if the time or place were different? I should hope that a more modern sensibility, more open dialog about intimacy, perhaps even premarital sexual investigation, would prevent the sort of misunderstanding that’s at the center of this book.
Anyway, I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t as blown away as many of the reviewers were. I do like, oddly enough, what People magazine wrote about the book:
No one can unpack a single frozen moment better than McEwan.
Most Fridays we get take out from our local Thai restaurant, Lemongrass, and sometimes we stop at a convenience store on the way to see if there are any interesting or new beers (and sometimes wine) available. Yesterday I saw one of these, a 24-ounce can of Genesee Beer. A couple years ago I found a six-pack of Genesee Cream Ale at Goldhill Liquor, but I haven’t seen straight-up Genesee since I left Rochester a couple decades ago. Needless to say, I bought it, and am now very much enjoying the refreshing, light taste, with just a bit more than a hint of corn in the flavor.
My favorite homebrew, Piper’s Irish-American Red Ale also has this subtle corn flavor. Corn (and later, rice) have a distinct place in American brewing history because it was a way to reduce the excess protein found in the 6-row barley that grew well in North America. By contrast, the traditional European brewing grain, 2-row barley, only has enough enzymes (protein) to convert it’s own starches to sugars, so there wasn’t a problem with excess protein in the final beer. With 6-row grain, there are enough enzymes to convert additional brewing adjuncts like corn, reducing the protein content in the final beer (and also, incidentally, making the beer cheaper to produce).
Genesee Brewing has been in continuous operation (except for during Prohibition, of course) in Rochester, New York since 1878, and is still an independently owned brewery that’s part of the North American Breweries name (along with Labatts, Pyramid, MacTarnahan’s and a few other small breweries). If you’re going to drink an American light lager, it might as well be a good one like Genesee instead of the mega-industry, foreign-owned, over-commercialized swill like Budweiser, Coors, Miller, etc.
Ever since I finished renovating the new cabin, we’ve been keeping it warm in the hope that we’ll find a renter for it. But once we passed the start of the semester at UAF, we essentially gave up looking and have been waiting out the winter to try renting it again. The place is heated by a oil-burning Toyotomi direct vent heater that was only a few months old when we bought the place because the previous heater had been stolen. In our house and the red cabin, we use a similar heater called a Monitor. In Fairbanks, “monitor” is the word people use to describe this style of direct vent heater. Unfortunately, MPI was purchased by Toyotomi and the line has been discontinued.
I’ve been trying to check on the new cabin every day, but I didn’t go over there on Thursday and when Nika and I went over there yesterday, the Toyo had quit working (WTF!?). I’d previously checked it around 4 PM on Wednesday, and finally got the heat back on at around 5 PM on Friday. It was 16°F in the cabin at that point. Over the course of those two days and one hour, the average outside temperature was -3.9°F. The cabin was 60°F when I left it on Wednesday, so it lost just under one degree per hour (although the heat loss is a function of the difference between internal and external temperature, so the heat loss isn’t linear). At that rate, it probably would have been above freezing if I’d checked on it on Thursday.
So mistake number one was not checking it every day. The heater had been so reliable thus far this winter that I got complacent.
Guess what mistake number two was? Thankfully I’d shut off the pump before closing the place up in fall, but there’s still at least 100 gallons of water in the tank in the bathroom, and water sitting in the pipes, pump and on-demand water heater. I went over there this morning to see if any of the pipes were cracked and if there was any water anywhere.
Initially there was no sign of damage except for a little water underneath the pump. After looking under the house (see the photo on the right), it’s clear that there’s a leak somewhere near the pump, and all the pressure left in the pressure tank pumped a few gallons of water onto the floor, where it found a way to get through the vinyl floor, the new subfloor I installed this summer, and down into the structure and eventually out the bottom of the cabin.
After fiddling with opening faucets, I eventually hit on some combination of open valves that released a vacuum near the hot water heater, and water started pouring out, so there’s a leak somewhere in the hot water heater as well as near or inside the pump. Later in the day I went back with an air compressor and forced air into the hot and cold water lines, opening and closing different faucets until I forced all the water out of the pipes.
Lessons learned: check on the heat every day, and if there won’t be anyone in there, make sure to blow out all the water lines. In spring I’ll be replacing the hot water heater and probably the pump. Hopefully the pressure tank and the washing machine weren’t damaged, but at least I don’t need to replace the water lines or the water tank.
Montana 1948 is a book published by Milkweed Editions, a non-profit press that attempts to “nurture and publish transformative literature.” I’m not sure what that means, but this is the second Milkweed National Fiction Award winner that I’ve read (The Farther Shore by Matthew Eck is the other). It’s a short little book told from the first person perspective of an adult recounting events that happened when he was twelve. It’s a simple story about family, small towns, and how each of the characters react to acts of violence against Native Americans in their community.
The main character maintains some distance from the events that take place—“I felt a contentment outside human society that I couldn't feel within it.”—and so he allows the reader to draw their own conclusions about what drives the other characters to do what they do. The author is very good at evoking the feel of the time and place of the story. An enjoyable read.
It’s a good looking book too, with a slightly shorter and wider page size than is typical, and a nice thick shiny cover. It’s typeset in Perpetua, which is a font I like, but I felt like the italics were too small for the body text (see the image below). I’m not sure how this would happen unless it’s an intentional feature of the font set. It looked funny to me.
Finished Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Bad Girl this morning. This is apparently a rewrite of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. Never having read Flaubert, I wouldn’t have recognized the similarities, but I doubt if I’d enjoy that book as much as The Bad Girl. Lydia Davis just re-translated it into English (“the English translation it deserves”, according to Kathryn Harrison in the New York Times), so maybe it’s worth a read.
The book is written from the first-person perspective of Ricardo Somocurcio, covering his entire life. As the bad girl disappears and reappears, she throws his life into chaos, ecstasy, and ruin each time. He’s unable to overcome his love for her, regardless of the depths she plumbs in her quest to make a life for herself and escape the poverty of her family. It isn’t the most compelling plot, but Somocurcio tells a very entertaining tale, and anyone who has experienced the ways that love defeats reason will understand what he goes through. It’s also something of a guilty pleasure to witness how the bad girl uses her power over Somocurcio (and the other men she exploits) to get what she wants, and observe the train wreck when she moves on.
I only highlighted one line in the book. I don’t think it characterizes the message of the book, but perhaps one of them: “In this life things rarely happen the way we little pissants plan them.” I wonder what word was actually used in the Spanish original, and translated into pissant here?
Good book. I’ll be reading more Vargas Llosa in the future, starting with The War of the End of the World, which is considered to be his best novel.