52 weeks – 14 October, 2012

book

Canada, by Richard Ford. Fifteen-year-old Dell Parsons and his twin sister Berner are left on their own after their parents are arrested in Great Falls, Montana. Dell ends up in southwest Saskatchewan, where he has some more life-changing experiences of a kind not recommended for a teenage boy before he moves to Winnipeg and resumes a more normal life.

I didn’t enjoy this as much as other Ford novels, like The Sportswriter and Independence Day. You get Ford’s wonderfully detailed descriptions of place and the sort of non-judgmental, respectful listing of all the odd things that people do, and perhaps especially the wide open, accepting way in which an adolescent experiences the world, in which so much is happening for the first time. But the story of Dell is so slow moving that I became impatient, waiting for something to happen. There are hints and portents that the bank robbery is going to happen, but it doesn’t occur until almost page 100. And then there is another long wait of 50 pages until the police come calling.

This probably makes me sound like a shallow reader who just wants action instead of reflection. Generally speaking, I can do slow-paced and thoughtful but in this book I think the proportions are wrong.

As always, Ford sets up a scene beautifully:

As the day slowly ended, the neighbors’ windows lit up and it began to rain – softly, then harder – picking up wind and sheeting rain drops against the windows. Chill breeze pushed through the house, ballooning the curtains and unsettling the newspaper on the dining room table. Our mother closed the windows and drew the curtains that were already damp, and turned on table lamps and put my father’s shoe-shine kit away.

food

Beef stew served in a pumpkin tureen on Canadian Thanksgiving. (A Jurgen Gothe recipe that I have made many times.) The beef and vegetables are cooked in a red wine sauce. Corn and peaches are added at the end. It feels wonderfully comforting and autumnal.

movie

Rosemary’s Baby (1968), directed by Roman Polanski. After watching The Tenant recently, I discovered that it is considered to be the third in Polanski’s “apartment trilogy,” along with Rosemary’s Baby and Repulsion — so this is by way of catching up.

I hadn’t seen Rosemary’s Baby before. It had the reputation of a horror movie and I have never been interested in those unless they have something more than horror to recommend them.

It’s interesting to see Mia Farrow in one of her early movies. She is sweet and delicate as the wife of a struggling actor. John Cassavetes plays her husband, Guy. Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer as Minnie and Roman Castavets, the ghastly couple next door, are initially just annoying and ever-present, and then they gradually become more sinister until even sunny Rosemary begins to suspect that something is going on.  They really are the neighbours from hell.

The lullaby sung over the opening and closing credits is brilliant: it has that minor key, not-quite-right feeling. The exteriors are of the Dakota apartment building, which is suitably old New York, although the interiors were shot elsewhere. Mia Farrow becomes so frighteningly gaunt and ill-looking during her character’s pregnancy that it is hard to believe she is the same person as the sunny young woman who falls in love with the apartment in the early scenes. (Polanski said that he wanted the opening to have the feel of a Doris Day movie.)

According to Wikipedia, the scene in which Rosemary conceives her baby was ranked 23rd on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Well, I must have become completely inured to scary. As with a number of movies from the sixties, this one seems very tame and rather dated. I had to think about other films from that era so as not to judge it by today’s standards. But it still didn’t convince me — I don’t feel it had the necessary sense of ordinary, everyday lives slowly becoming gripped by a growing menace.

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