"The Visitor"

I am still renting movies from Blockbuster.com and my most recent one was The Visitor, a 2008 movie  written and directed by Tom McCarthy, with Richard Jenkins playing the lead role and supported by actors that were new to me and to whom I was I was very much attracted. Here is how I reviewed it on the Blockbuster site:
The Visitor is an important (and well done) movie for our times. I highly recommend it. We are quick to dismiss people who are deported as undocumented non-US citizens, on the rare occasion that we even hear about them. This movie makes clear, in a dramatic, yet understated way, that these people often have full "American lives", and may love this country and feel that the United States is their home. But, the government is making deportation decisions, more out of fear and maybe even discrimination, than as a result of reasonable jurisprudence and on a case by case basis. As a side note, I had to yahoo Richard Jenkins, who was so familiar to me, but I didn't know why. Now I do. He played Nathaniel Fisher in the HBO series, Six Feet Under. He was excellent in both (and very different). I was also drawn to the other actors in the movie, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Gurira and especially Hiam Abbass (a Palestinian actress). Rent this movie.

An added bonus to this film was the music. It has a beautiful score, but what I noticed more was the exciting drumming and the inclusion of a song by Fela Kuti called, Je'Nwi Teni (Don't Gag Me). I had meant to see Fela on Broadway, but never got around to it. Somehow, the inclusion of his music in this film, seemed to me serrendipitous and helped ease my disappointment about missing the play. Besides for the political message of the movie, it was heartening to see the personal growth of the Richard Jenkins character, not least of which was in his ability to finally conquer a musical instrument. He had tried unsuccessfully to learn the piano, which his beloved wife, who had died several years before the time of the movie, had mastered and played professionally. He had no passion for the piano, nor for his day to day life. But  much to his own surprise, he developed a competence, as well as a passion for playing the African Drum and for life. 


OH O Henry!!!

One of the best things about being in a good book club (and there are many) is that you end up reading books that you may otherwise, never have picked up . We are presently reading 41 Stories by O. Henry. I am a bit ashamed to admit that I do not recall ever reading any of his works. Perhaps he came up in High School English, but considering how much I am enjoying this book, I think I would have remembered.

O. Henry was a pseudonym. I did not know this. His real name was William Sydney Porter and he had a most unconventional and, unfortunately, short, life (died at age 47). He did not go to college, but it is said that he read voraciously as a child. His life, including the wide variety of jobs he held, reads like a novel. He was a pharmacist (or pharmacist assistant, depending on your source), a sheep rancher, a book-keeper, a draftsman, a columnist, reporter and cartoonist for a newspaper, and finally a bank teller. As such, he was indicted (or not, again depending on the source) for the alleged embezzlement of bank funds (it seems more likely that it was mismanagement of funds rather than embezzlement). He was to stand trial, but he fled to New Orleans and then Honduras. Meanwhile he married a woman in spite of her condition, having  tuberculosis. They eloped in July 1887 and she died of TB in July 1897, which brought him out of hiding. In the ten years they were married, they had a son in 1888, who died hours after birth, and then a daughter in September 1889. After his wife's death in July, 1897, he was sentenced to five years in jail, It was during his time in prison that he began to write his short stories and had many stories published under pseudonyms (to keep the fact of his imprisonment from publishers and readers).The pseudonym that stuck was "O. Henry". On July 24, 1901, O. Henry was released from jail after only three years, for good behavior. In 1902 he moved to New York City and proceeded to write 381 short stories in the following 8 years. He remarried in 1907. By 1908 his health was deteriorating as he had begun to drink heavily. His wife left him in 1909 and he died broke on June 5 1910 of ccirrhosis of the liver, as well as other ailments. O. Henry's life story reads like the lyrics of an an old time country music song. 

What stands out for me is O. Henry's use of language, his turns of phrase and his vocabulary (I found myself looking up many words, Kindle makes that easy, only to find that some of them appeared to be made up; I am still not sure about "propenquitious"!). Of the 41 short stories in the book, I have, to this point, read 16 of them, which, according to my Kindle, is 25% of the total length of the book. Not only is his overall vocabulary noteworthy, but so are the names he gives his characters. I have to wonder where or how he came up with them. Perhaps they were common in his day, the late 1800's and early 1900's, or maybe he just made them up. For example, Ikey Snigglefritz is the protagonist in the story The Social Triangle. Who could not love this name? I looked it up online and the Urban Dictionary defined it this way: " A snigglefritz is a pink sock which is placed over an erect male sexual organ to keep it warm in times of severe cold". I think it quite possible that O. Henry knew  what he was doing giving his characters these quaint, whimsical, yes, naughty names. Every article I have read in researching O. Henry, mentions his famous "twist" endings. It seemed to me that he played within his own mind, in much the same way as he played with language itself. Consequently, the endings of many of  his stories are not at all what you would expect and often are, in a manner of speaking, "twisted". O. Henry's use of language, writing style and the ways that he tells tales are completely individualistic, uniquely his own.

I loved that so many of the stories take place in New York City, often in the Lower East Side. I was able to "hear" the voices of his characters with their Irish, German or Italian accents. I could "see" these stories taking place on Delancey or Hester Street (The Social Triangle) and I always saw them in Black & White.

Here are some of my favorite words, character names and phrases that I highlighted as I read:
  • flibbertigibbet (The Last Leaf)
  • Ikey Snigglefritz (The Social Triangle)
  • execrable ( Schools and Schools)
  • Cortlandt Van Duychink (The Social Triangle)
  • "If you'd take his remarks and set 'em to music, and then take the music away from 'em, they'd sound exactly like one of George Cohan's songs."  (Best-Seller)
  • "I rather like that mulberry-leaf tunic effect, dear; but of course the real fig goods are not to be had over there...I think the caterpillar-holes have made  your dress open a little in the back" (Schools and Schools)
  • "She thrusts hurriedly into your hand an extremely hot buttered roll, flashes out a tiny pair of scissors, snips off the second button of your overcoat, meaningly ejaculated the one word, "parrallelogram!" and swiftly flies down a cross street..." (The Green Door). 
  • (Transients in Arcadia)
  • Hotel Lotus (Transients in Arcadia)
  • "and tossed the feathery ball of conversation" (Transients in Arcadia) 
  • "After Murkison left us me and Andy sat a while pre-pondering over our silent meditations and heresies of reason. In our idle hours we always improved our higher selves by ratiocination and mental thought".  (Shearing the Wolf) 
  • "You have a kind nucleus at the interior of your exterior after all" (Shearing the Wolf) 
  • "Quite unseldom I have seen fit to impugn your molars when you have been chewing the rag with me about your conscientious way of doing business" (Shearing the Wolf) 
  • Caligula Polk (Hostages to Momus) 
  • "He was waked up in a yellow pine hotel by the noise of flowers and the smell of birds" (Hostages to Momus) 
  • "Caligula sat on the back of his neck on the porch and studied a newspaper, which was unusual to a man who despised print." (Hostages to Momus)
  • propinquitous (Hostages to Momus)
  • celeritous       (Hostages to Momus)
  • "supply of the most gratifying and efficient lines of grub that money could buy. I always was an admirer of viands in their most palliative and revised stages. Hog and hominy are not only inartistic to my stomach, but they give indigestion to my moral sentiments." (Hostages to Momus) 
  • cake-walk (Hostages to Momus) 

 I was interested to know who the other writers were at the turn of the century, when O. Henry wrote.The majority of the writers mentioned were unknown to me. 
  Here's the list of those I recognized:
  • Stephen Crane
  • Emily Dickinson
  • L. Frank Baum
  • Mary Johnson
  • Jack London
  • Frank Norris
  • Edith Wharton
  • Upton Sinclair
  • Winston Churchell
  • Susan B. Anthony
  • W.E.B. Du Bois
  • Samuel Hopkins Adams
  • Ida Tarbell
What was difficult to read was the free and easy use of the term, "nigger", and other references to the racist attitudes of the day. I had taken note of the same thing in F. Scott Fitzgerald's, The Great Gatsby in terms of both the racist and anti-Semitic language used without second thought. Not that these two authors were "free thinkers" when it came to racism and prejudice, but I wonder if even those who were free thinkers also used this kind of language because it was so much a part of the culture that no one even considered it. But surely there must have been some who saw it for what it was?

I don't want to end this post in negativity, though it deemed inclusion here since it was a subject that occurred to me while reading O. Henry's stories. But, truly what occurred to me most of the time, was how much humor there was in these stories and how much enjoyment I received in reading them and how very captivating it was to be in the presence of an author who knew the art of  story-telling. I so look forward to the next 25....