The Secret History by Donna Tartt feels like a modern day roller coaster ride

The Secret History by Donna Tartt feels like a modern day roller coaster ride. The ride lands in the middle of a Grecian Classics novel. The book is part psychological thriller placed within a half dozen college students in a television show reminiscent of Real WorldThe Secret History is a large part commentary on the intrigues of manipulated and manipulating self-absorbed rich kids and insufficiently critical professors overly-focused more on their self-interested academic snobbery and interpersonal subterfuges than on who lives, who dies, and coming to account for firsthand roles in bringing about such life decisions; that is to say that the novel succeeds as a philosophical bildungsroman more focused on the dark underbelly of the ghastly indifference to the morality of it all than demonstrating how these characters decide how to engage or grow.

The Secret History did well at grabbing my attention early and keeping it throughout the novel; that is, pace was better for a first novel than in other first novels that I’ve read. The many allusions, both literary and classical throughout the book acknowledge an undergraduate’s comprehension of specifically Greek literature, and can potentially be distracting for some readers. The good news for some is that the book does not provide a deeper meaning to much of the referencing of these references. That is, the book offers some payoff at the end to the inclusion of the classical references, and that tie largely bears fruit in bonding this group of students, and their professor, with a sense of intimacy. The Secret History simply does not give the allusions a deeper context for those fluent in the texts being referenced.

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Richard Pappin is the lonely narrator of the book. Much of what you see is through his eyes of his firsthand experience and, at times, uninformed incomprehension. To say that Pappin is an unreliable narrator would be unfair…the issues of Richard’s incomprehension owe largely to the information withheld by the likes of Henry, Francis, Charles, and others. It felt to me like the Richard offered legitimate context and insight at the relevant times. The proper understanding of him is as a young man aiming to develop what and how to feel and think in a trying time. Richard was drawn sympathetically, regardless of whether the reader should feel him worthy of that sympathy. My argument is that Tartt intends for you to consider both perspectives of this question.

A subject that I am still puzzling over for this book is the heavy focus on the concept of beauty. The story comes back to this frequently with some of the sexual intrigue among the main characters in addition to the thoughts of the charismatic professor, Julian Morrow. Morrow’s philosophy is criticized for being superficially focused on beauty, which is to say this focus should have been taken in service towards adding deeper focus as well. Answering much of the why do the murders indicated by the novel can come back to asking many questions about Julian’s motivations, actions, insights, and ultimately his lack of insight or actions aimed at bringing in a larger moral advocacy.

The Secret History raised worthwhile questions, and failed to resolve a few. The book further failed to address some practical questions that I’ve raised above, though I forgive the book on these scores for it was done with the license of serving a larger purpose of the storytelling. Overall, my grade is 4-stars out-of-5.

Matt – Saturday, March 18, 2017

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Top 20 Movie “Interstellar.”

Top 20 Movie Interstellar (2014) ranks 12th in Matt Lynn Digital’s Top 20 Movies in ranked order listing. This gem as directed and co-written by Christopher Nolan also holds the distinction with Calvary (2014) as the second published in the 21st century to be distinguished by a Matt Lynn Digital listing.

Beyond being a fantastic movie with complicated science and science-fiction theming aligned with overcoming environmental threats to planet Earth, we at Matt Lynn Digital are impressed with the notion that brought Christopher Nolan with “his cerebral, often nonlinear storytelling” to this project. As indicated by Michelle Lanz with Cameron Kell in The Frame:

Christopher Nolan “said it was actually the family themes in “Interstellar” that attracted him to the project, one that he hopes will bring back the glory days of the classic family blockbuster and inspire its audience to dream big.”

It’s interesting to hear Nolan frame the movie in those terms, for the movie delves into some emotionally intense themes. For one example, the movie depicts a future Earth full of dust storms and a worsening food shortage; the storytelling implies a frightening scale of human death.

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Ostensibly in response to that, you see Cooper (as portrayed by Matthew McConaughey) leave his father (portrayed by John Lithgow) and kids (15-year-old Tom and 10-year-old Murph) behind to pursue a long shot attempt to save humanity by flying into a black hole. Later, the fight between Cooper and Mann (as portrayed by Matt Damon) results in one astronaut breaking the helmet visor of the other. Further, one of these two pushes the other off a cliff on a foreign planet, betraying the mental harshness of deep space.

Family is certainly at the center of the Cooper and Murph storyline. The dynamic between Brand (played by Anne Hathaway) and Professor Brand (portrayed by Michael Caine) further cement the notion that Christopher Nolan isn’t wrong in saying that family feelings are relevant to Interstellar. In fact, I think that these story lines are central to providing some emotional pull to the quality of the story here.

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The truth is that in the Christopher Nolan universe of movies, Interstellar is perhaps the most family-heavy movie he has offered us. The remaining quality is the science fiction themes of invoking a very cerebral notion of applying Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity in invoking multiple notions for experiencing the passage of time. The further notion of extending the use of worm holes is intriguing. The essential resolution of the film partakes in a notion that Nolan articulated for the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), namely that (in Nolan‘s view) as shared in The Frame:

both movies have “a lot of complicated science…that you don’t need to understand when you first watch…You really need to go along with the emotions of the characters and follow the emotional story…”

Interstellar is not a family movie in the sense that Matt Lynn Digital reviewed Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Toy Story would be, for sure. The Sci-Fi theming is particularly pleasing for me, as is the overall cinematic quality. Consider seeing, or rewatching this movie.

Matt – Thursday, March 16, 2017

The satiric parody that is Voltaire’s Candide pokes fun at a few interesting sacred cows

The satiric parody that is Voltaire‘s Candide pokes fun at a few interesting sacred cows.

Pointed first, last, and mostly at the classic philosophical notion of Gottfried Leibniz‘s Essays of Theodicy on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man, and the Origin of Evil, Candide the novella lampoons Leibniz through the philosophical transformation of the character Candide from indoctrinated follower of mentor Professor Pangloss’ “best of all possible worlds” and instead chooses to see the end resolution as one where “we must cultivate our own garden,” a calling out of self-reliance rather than an Edenic result.

Voltaire brings his satiric wit that aims to parody the adventure-romance plot that we saw in part with the recent book review of The Three Musketeers. The rapidly articulated yet detailed series of horrible events that Candide encounters is obviously tongue-in-cheek for having been so vast and overwhelming within such a short span of storytelling. Characters nearly and neatly escaping death over and over tells anyone willing to think about what is happening with the compounding psychological of each tells you to laugh and see that larger, satiric points are being made.

Further attacks are taken against European governments contemporary to the novella’s 1759 publication. The Jesuit order of the Roman Catholic church is also lampooned. The singling out of an El Dorado on earth, when taken in positive contrast to mostly everything else in the novella, points to the fact that nothing is so good as this while certainly the rest is not as bad as it is declared. None of the characters could realistically be as two-dimensional as they are presented unless, as should be clear, they were drawn as such by authorial intent.

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Overall, the novella Candide is pithy, witty, and tackles serious subjects with an irreverence that mostly hits the mark. As some point out elsewhere, the piece is perhaps Voltaire’s most influential accomplishment. My overall ranking is 3.5-stars out-of-5.

Matt – Monday, March 13, 2017

Top 20 Movie “Rocky”

Top 20 Movie Rocky (1976) ranks 13th in Matt Lynn Digital’s Top 20 Movies in ranked order listing. As Rotten Tomatoes tells us, Rocky is the story of a “slightly dimwitted amateur boxer from Philadelphia’s tough neighborhood [who] gets a surprise shot at fighting for the heavyweight championship…[A]t the same time he finds love in the arms of a shy, reclusive girl who works in the local pet store.”

The raw, gritty feel of this straight from the 1970’s lower middle class struggle of a man (Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa) that is given the lottery ticket of a lifetime in getting to box the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, Apollo Creed as played by Carl Weathers in Balboa’s hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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The context for Balboa stepping in was that Creed needed to book an opponent in Philadelphia for a bicentennial fight on short notice, so picking the little-known and only moderately successful Balboa from the Philadelphia boxing scene made some sense. Creed would train with insufficient seriousness while Balboa would work his famous gritty training regimen with trainer Mickey Goldmill, as portrayed by Burgess Meredith.

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In many ways, this movie is heavily cliched and rumored to have been based on the March 24th, 1975 fight between Muhammad Ali and Chuck Wepner, wherein Ali had just defeated George Foreman in Zaire. Despite this question of having ripped off a central story for the movie while also being charged by critics with being a touch predictable, Rotten Tomatoes informed us that:

Sylvester Stallone’s script and stunning performance in the title role brush aside [those] complaints.

Despite the fact that Apollo Creed would take victory over Rocky Balboa by split decision in the movie’s main fight, you come to see that Rocky Balboa the character wins by setting his course in the boxing world while winning his love interest Adrian Pennino, as played by Talia Shire. The movie Rocky clearly won in the box office, with six sequels, and for the 1976 movie, three Oscar wins. Those wins were for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Film Editing.

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Rocky was a continuous favorite of my household growing up. The movie stood up for being entertaining, enjoyed through multiple viewings, and told with an American ethic of redemption that told of a rising underdog who works hard in pushing his competition and overconfident rival to the limit.

In the mid-1970’s when Rocky was released, the tale was a feel good movie that showed toughness and some sense of realism. This realism and escapism is part of what makes Rocky the 13th ranked movie in Matt Lynn Digital’s Top 20 Movies in ranked order listing.

Matt – Tuesday, March 7, 2017

 

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail entertains

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail entertains. This Bill Bryson travelogue captures this decidedly British American’s account of walking roughly one-third of the Appalachian Trail from the southern end in Georgia through northern parts in Maine.

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Bryson takes pains to discuss his trip and perspective in a naturally flowing, observational tone. You get a sense of Bryson‘s humor, his sense of propriety regarding trail etiquette, his feelings for how the trail could be incorporated with its surroundings (including at least examples for how Europe does things better), and some recommendations for how sensible funding could lead to more usage of the trail itself.

As narrator, that Bryson takes pains to give you some science works well because it informs the experience with intelligence for what is happening within the purview of the trip. That you get to see the trip with characters like overweight old friend Stephen Katz, interloping Mary Ellen, famously lost Chicken John, and a lonely old moose that wouldn’t remember the woods for the trees provides warmth and feeling to the storytelling. I personally took affection in the experience of Bryson’s lens, despite some others who saw opportunities to be easily offended…I refer to some of the reviews of the book that I read recently on Goodreads.

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My rating of a Walk in the Woods is 4-star out of 5; My review is of the book with no awareness of the 2015 Robert Redford movieA Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail entertains.

Matt – Sunday, March 5, 2017

 

Blue Velvet is a shocking, shocking movie

Blue Velvet is a shocking, shocking movie. The desperation, exploitation, voyeurism, and flat out frightening sense of brokenness at times made this movie an uncomfortable one for me.

Matt Lynn Digital has a friend that lives near the airport, referenced once before in the Matt Lynn Digital blog about Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Our airport friend ranks Blue Velvet (1986) as his eighth ranked film out of ten.

Blue Velvet Director and screenwriter is talented and distinctive director David Lynch. Oscar Award nominated for best director with Blue Velvet, The Elephant Man (1980), and Mulholland Drive (2001), this movie delivers perhaps the most forthright example of a director quickly hitting you with different deeply felt reactions one upon another upon another still. The powerful scenes of great emotion and, in some cases, significant artistry are meritorious.

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Is Blue Velvet powerful? Sure. Redeeming in a way that resonated with me? I wish that I could say yes. That is to say that I am more of the Roger Ebert camp than of the Gene Siskel camp with regards to their At the Movies review of Blue Velvet (1986).

This siding with the feeling of Roger Ebert is to say that while I recognize the power of hurting the Isabella Rossellini character with full nudity on the sheriff’s front lawn, the pain I felt in her treatment there was intended to hurt and shame her as a character and actress more than it was to make a statement geared at redeeming some larger quality in Dorothy Vallens.

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The larger commentary that Lynch may have been after in stating that everyone has darkness was lost in some way with the campiness that works better for a movie like Pulp Fiction, for example. The scene where Dean Stockwell plays Ben using a prop to daydream into the singing of Roy Orbison‘s “In Dreams” seemed like a throw away scene for me. Even the ritualized rape of Vallens by Frank Booth (played by Dennis Hopper) seemed to lack a seriousness of treatment that such a thing deserves.

Alternatives to the attempted lighter fare that might have helped me could have included sticking more closely to the voyeurism storylines of Sandy Williams (played by Laura Dern) or Jeffrey Beaumont (played by Kyle MacLachlan). The pain that the treatment accorded to Dorothy Vallens and Sandy Williams in Blue Velvet seemed cruel in a way that lacked nuance of its own accord, or seriousness in tone considering the remainder of the storytelling. The constant assault of jokes around wood with regards to Lumberton did not help.

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I respect the opinion of my airport friend in appreciating the quality of this film. I tend to agree that David Lynch brought forth a thought provoking examination of light versus dark, hope versus those more cynical impulses that dwell under the surface. Offering contrasts of up and down, more comical versus more repugnant, of curiosity versus experience, are quality questions to have raised. Lynch did so in a style that was uniquely his own, and for this I find praise. The bottom line is that I may not be the ideal audience for Blue VelvetBlue Velvet is a shocking, shocking movie.

Matt – Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Kazuo Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day delivers quiet despair of an English way

Kazuo Ishiguro‘s The Remains of the Day delivers quiet despair of an English way. The full effect was subtly delivered through demonstration, seeing truths the central players in some ways denied to themselves, and the role of place or station in stratifying the professional and personal experiences of dignity. The story culminates in some long overdue self-introspection, the many layers of a faded or lost glory, of yesterday.

The narrative and expressions of the butler James Stevens ostensibly took into account his professional perspective of the butler profession in England as Stevens looks back on his career, and the fate of England, in a past that takes place against the backdrops of fascism, two world wars, and an unrealized love between Stevens and the housekeeper known throughout much of this story as Miss Sarah Kenton.

For an American audience familiar with the novel made movie Forrest Gump, The Remains of the Day follows along with an unreliable narrator that really misses much of the significance of the life around him. Stevens, as Ishiguro’s sad foil in this reality. The questions for Stevens, and Lord Darlington in the service of England, and for England, France, Germany, and to a lesser extent America within the fate of Europe, would include answering questions like these:

What is dignity? What is greatness? How do you define your purpose? What are the proper roles of nobility, compassion, and love in the emerging norms of society? To a certain extent, how do you come to grips with these after realizing that you’ve lost your chance to stake your claim on these? How do you then move on?

The telling of these questions were beautifully taken in The Remains of the Day. I personally felt more heartbreak for Mr. Stevens, Miss Kenton, the house servants separated owing to religious bigotry, and Mr. James Stevens’ father more than I felt these for Lord Darlington, the doctor in the village where the sedan was without gas for an evening, or the colleagues of Lord Darlington that took the butler Stevens to task that day.

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Many would find the story telling slow. Others still would find the unreliable narrator unpleasant,  off-putting, and lacking in self awareness. That there is a redemption, an awakening of sorts, for the narrator at the resolution is the payoff for those with the patience to persevere so worth it.

My overall rating of this novel is 4-stars out of 5. While difficult for an American audience, I ultimately fell for The Remains of the Day. Why? Kazuo Ishiguro‘s The Remains of the Day delivers quiet despair of an English way.

Matt – Sunday, February 26, 2017