Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Waiting for Google

I have a fairly good head for trivia. Not a spectacular one. I won’t be replacing Mark Labbett on The Chase or even be facing him as a contestant. On most trips aired on Cash Cab, however, I’d have made it to the destination – with a strike or two and with a shout-out to be sure, but I’d have made it. The ubiquity of smart-phones, however, has altered the way a grab-bag of facts and factoids held by one’s personal memory plays in casual conversation. Anything one purports as true is open to immediate fact-checking and contention. Far more than in the past, not being a computer, I’m likely to be corrected on things I haven’t recalled perfectly – perhaps you are, too.

As an example, something about Alaska came up in conversation not long ago, and I made the throw-away remark that the place was a pretty good deal for $7 million. Tick-tick-tack went fingers on a phone. “That’s $7 million two hundred thousand, Richard,” I was told in a self-satisfied tone. So it was. (In fact, I knew the purchase price of Alaska in 1867 was $7,200,000, but to protest that I was rounding the number would have sounded unconvincing and pettily defensive, so I let it go – until now. I settled for, “Ah.”) In the same conversation roller derby (a sport which readers of this blog know I enjoy as a spectator) arose as a topic, and then movies about derby. I commented on the flawed flick Kansas City Bomber, which I identified as having been “made back around ‘71 sometime.” Tick-tick-tack. “1972,” I was corrected. My interlocutor then read off an IMDB list of derby films, none of which he himself actually had seen. “Ah.”

All of this continuous access to information is a good thing. I like being able to learn more about some random subject at a moment’s notice. Who has time to dig out an encyclopedia or to visit the library over every minor question? True, partners in conversation sometimes are inordinately proud of their ability to use Google in order to catch spoken errors, but sometimes their research is socially rewarding, too. If no correction follows the sound of tick-tick-tack, I know I got the datum or quote or whatever right. That’s (perhaps also inordinately) enjoyable.

But is our new-found reliance on virtual memory making us weak-minded? It seems that it is, at least to some degree. Nicolas Carr (author of The Shallows) addressed this question a few years ago. Referencing several psychological studies, he reported that the internet has diminished the time we spend deep reading. We skim. We follow link to link, flitting around the net like butterflies, often losing track of our initial query. The more hyperlinks an online text contains, the lower our comprehension of it when tested afterwards. Carr quotes T.S. Eliot when describing online multitaskers, saying they are “distracted from distraction by distraction,” which is precisely the kind of quote unlikely to be employed by someone who hasn’t done any deep reading in his past. Creativity and insight largely involve connecting one piece of knowledge with another in a new way, something much more difficult when the pieces of knowledge aren’t in our own heads. He concludes, “What we seem to be sacrificing in our surfing and searching is our capacity to engage in the quieter, attentive modes of thought that underpin contemplation, reflection and introspection.” We become shallower.

None of this is inevitable for any particular individual. Nothing prevents us from reading Nietzsche or Camus cover-to-cover. But we may need to push ourselves to do it, much as we need to push ourselves to do physical exercise as vigorous as ordinary people once got in their everyday activities. If we do, the internet becomes the great bonus it should be. As for those of our fellows with no patience for books (or exercise), I want them to Google as much as possible. Virtual knowledge is vastly better than none at all. They and we are better off for their access to it, and it’s easy enough to respond to their corrections with a polite, “Ah.”

Students Sans Google

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Ten Spot: 10 Mini (and not so mini) DVD Reviews

DVDs continue to spin their way through my player from time to time, so the moment again has arrived for mini-reviews: this time an even ten, all of them deserving a thumbs up. Bad reviews we’ll leave to another day.

Ender's Game (2013)
I read Orson Scott Card’s well-regarded scifi novel Ender’s Game about 20 years ago. It was no surprise that movie studios would bid for it despite the fx budget it necessarily entailed. It is Harry Potter in space (though Card’s novel preceded Rowling’s) with a large helping of Starship Troopers. The war against the formics (hive creatures like giant ants) is directed much a like a video game, though the casualties on both sides are real enough. Since kids are better intuitive game-players than adults, kids are recruited and schooled to command the action. Ender Wiggins (that’s a name) is the youngest of three gifted siblings. His brother washed out of the program because he is sociopathic while his sister washed out because she is too empathetic. Ender needs to balance the two: to temper ruthlessness with the empathy needed to understand the enemy. 

The movie portrays the orbiting military school very well, including the elaborate free-fall battle training area. Ender, though still a kid, is older than in the book, partly (I presume) to broaden the audience appeal, but also to sharpen the unexpressed but present sexual tension between Ender and fellow cadet Petra. The moral crisis he faces at the end when the war is carried to the formics’ home world is also properly chilling. A viewer is better off having read the book first, but this isn’t essential. Ender’s Game may not be a new classic, but it is solid SF. The novel Ender’s Game is the first book of a tetralogy to which a fifth book may be added later this year, fodder for movie sequels to come.

Short Term 12 (2013)
In this Sundance Award winner, a young (20s) staff of a halfway house for troubled teens – an interim residential facility pending permanent placement – try to keep order while counseling the residents. Two of the adults poorly conceal their romantic liaison. Staff-member Grace relates all too well to one of the girls, whose self-cutting over issues with her father evokes Grace’s own past. This is a much better film than you might expect, and Brie Larson is excellent as Grace.

Afternoon Delight (2013)
I had mentioned this film after its brief theatrical run last summer, but I rewatched it on a newly released DVD a few days ago, which is enough of an excuse to mention it again, this time in a bit more depth.

The trailers represent this as a kind of light-hearted romantic comedy, but it isn’t. As so often in Juno Temple movies, the script doesn’t fit a neat category. Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) is a well-to-do suburban mother with a committed upright husband (by no means perfect, but who is?), a healthy normal pre-school son, and a beautiful house in a nice neighborhood. She is aware intellectually that her problems are First World ones. She feels guilty enough about her privilege, in fact, that she involves herself in countless do-gooder events and fundraisers with her neighbors. (None of these are of a sort that possibly could raise significant amounts of money, so they have more than a little social pretense to them – a way of showing off one’s “giving back.”) This intellectual awareness of her advantages doesn’t prevent her from being unhappy anyway. “Is that all there is?” (to steal a line from Peggy Lee) is the gist of it. Despite the trailer’s insinuation that Rachel’s husband Jeff (Josh Radnor) is the one who is disinterested, it is Rachel who has deflected sex for the past six months; she would like to feel amorous, she tells her therapist (Jane Lynch), but she doesn’t have any enthusiasm for it.

On the advice of her girlfriends, Rachel takes her husband to a strip club, where he buys her a private lap dance from a free-spirited dancer/hooker named McKenna (Juno Temple). Later, Rachel encounters McKenna outside the club at a coffee vendor. Unlike Rachel, McKenna seems quite happy with her life. When McKenna needs a new place to stay, Rachel, for complex reasons, invites her into her home as a nanny despite the reservations of Jeff. McKenna still services her favorite tricks on the side, however; Rachel accompanies McKenna on one occasion as the observer for an older (perhaps not outright ugly, but certainly unhandsome) client who likes it when someone watches – creepy as this sounds, he is surprisingly gentlemanly about the whole thing. Rachel is very disturbed by the experience. McKenna is an unexceptionable nanny until a neighbor (unaware of McKenna’s side job) asks to borrow her as a babysitter one night, and Rachel nixes the idea as inappropriate. McKenna, quietly offended, retaliates by behaving as precisely the untrustworthy tramp Rachel has just treated her as being. A marital crisis ensues, but at the end of it Rachel feels (as well as knows) just how fortunate she is in life, and for that matter so does Jeff. She even likes sex again.

This movie gets very mixed user-reviews (Quentin Tarantino praised it), but I think much of the problem was the way it was marketed. It’s not the movie most viewers expected – or wanted. Nonetheless, I give it a thumbs up.

Bound (1993)
Mobster girlfriend Violet (Jennifer Tilly) and visiting plumber Corky (Gina Gershon) find affection in each other’s arms. They plot to betray Violet’s boyfriend Caesar by stealing millions of mob money while scapegoating Caesar for the theft. Is there a male-bashing subtext here? A sense that the mobsters are despicable as much for being guys as for being crooks? Yeah, some. But it doesn’t matter. The film is well plotted, the villains truly villainous, and the actors on their marks. I surely was rooting for Violet and Corky to give the criminals their comeuppance (even though the two ladies aren’t exactly honest themselves), to get away with the cash, and to live happily ever after. Definitely worth a look.

Red (2008)
This is not the Bruce Willis movie of the same name.

When I was young the country was full of older men with stern values but a willingness to give second chances – the sort who, if you played a prank, would make you work as punishment but then would pay you for what you did. My father fit the description. My dad was a builder, and one time when I was a kid some neighborhood teens slashed tires on construction equipment on one of his sites. Even then the damage was $800, which would be thousands of dollars today. They were spotted by an adult and their names reported to my dad. Today, teens vandalizing a job site this way almost certainly would be reported to the police and charged with a crime – “zero tolerance” and all that. Back then, my dad called their fathers. He didn’t want their parents to pay for the tires; he wanted the boys to pay for them themselves from summer jobs. They did, too, and their parents backed my dad up. No police ever were involved and he shook the hand of each of the boys when he had finished paying off his share of the damage.

Men with this perspective are far rarer today, but some are still out there. In Red, one such older man named Avery, played by Brian Cox, has an old dog named Red. While he is fishing, three teens come upon him in the woods. They try to rob him, but he has nothing of value, so, in annoyance, a teen named Danny shoots Red. Avery finds out who the shooter is (from the local gunshop owner) and goes to meet the boy’s father. All he wants is for Danny to acknowledge what he did and to express remorse. Instead, Danny smugly denies everything and his father – a completely amoral wheeler-dealer who surely believes Avery but doesn’t care so long as he can’t prove it – throws Avery out. Another of the teens is Danny’s brother, who is remorseful but too scared of Danny and dad to cross them. The working-class parents of the third teen are just as unhelpful. Meantime, we learn of some terrible things in Avery’s recent past that explain much of his current behavior.

Since this movie is based on a Jack Ketchum novel, we know things will escalate into bloodshed. Avery persists in pressing the point. He never initiates violence but when threatened with it he stands his ground. It all culminates in an ending that is disturbing and satisfying – and disturbing that it is satisfying.

Paper Man (2009)
In a gender-reversed parallel to Afternoon Delight, gifted but commercially unsuccessful author Richard (ahem), played by Jeff Daniels, has pretty much everything he needs in a material way. His wife Claire (Lisa Kudrow) is a successful surgeon who brings home more than enough cash. Yet, Richard is troubled. Also, he is facing a deadline, which a serious case of writer’s block makes him likely to miss. Oh yes, he still has (and frequently interacts with) his imaginary friend from childhood, Captain Excellent, played by Ryan Reynolds in superhero costume. If that were the least of his quirks, he would be almost normal.

Richard tries to break his writer’s block by staying by himself off season in Montauk while his wife spends weekdays in NYC. In Montauk he strikes up an unlikely May-December friendship with teenager Abby (Emma Stone) who has troubles and quirks of her own. A mutually beneficial friendship is really all it is, though naturally Claire has a hard time seeing it that way.

This is a talky film without a lot of action, but the talk is well-scripted. If you don’t mind a flick about oddball people getting past their personal demons, you might like this.

Small Apartments (2012)
With an ensemble cast including Billy Crystal, James Caan, Johnny Knoxville, Juno Temple, and Dolph Lundgren, among others, this odd but likable film follows the interactions of several residents of a seedy Los Angeles apartment building. The most central character is Franklin Franklin (Matt Lucas), a marginally functional misfit with a brother in a mental institution; Franklin Franklin has just killed his landlord and dreams of moving to Switzerland. Billy Crystal is the investigator who by the end has pieced together events, but nonetheless hopes Franklin gets away free. So do we.

Wishful Drinking (2010)
In 2009 Carrie Fisher’s one woman show opened at Studio 54 on Broadway. Based on Carrie’s autobiography of the same title, the show exposed growing up in Hollywood (as the child of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds), her life as a Star Wars princess, her various relationships (including with Paul Simon), and her struggles with mental illness. Carrie pulled it off with wit and humor. HBO recorded one of the shows, which it aired in 2010 and released on DVD the next year. This intelligent, funny, and informative look into one corner of celebrity culture is thoroughly enjoyable.

Rush (2013)
In the 1970s, there was a much ballyhooed rivalry between British driver James Hunt and Austrian Niki Lauda on the Formula One racing circuit. James was flamboyant, uneven, but occasionally brilliant on and off the track. Niki approached the sport and life with Germanic regularity and thoroughness. In 1976 they faced off as frontrunners for the championship. Hunt’s team faced disqualification issues over F1 rules, and Lauda, far more seriously, was severely injured in a crash. Yet both continued to drive. This film adaptation, directed by Ron Howard, is surprisingly engaging, even for those who care little about racing. It also proves that Chris Hemsworth can do far more on screen than swing around Thor’s hammer.

Dakota Skye (2008)
Dakota is a recent HS graduate who has a superpower: she not only knows when people lie to her but sees the truth as subtitles. This has its plusses and minuses. She meets a young man who never displays any subtitles. Is he some rare duck who really doesn’t lie, or is he her kryptonite: the one person on whom her powers don’t work? She suspects the latter when she catches him in an apparent lie. This throws her since she never had to deal with uncertainty before. She breaks up with him over it. Things complicate further when she later discovers that from his perspective he might have told the truth. I would have opted for another resolution to the plot, but nonetheless the movie isn’t bad.

Well, more than one of us has been tripped up by the often subjective nature of truth, as those who point thumbs a different direction on any of these flicks can attest.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Of Cats and Naps

This morning I had the hangover experience without the benefit of alcohol. Lack of sleep was the culprit, not that last night involved any wild times: a late night movie (Enders Game: not bad), a few book chapters (Postwar: an informative history and analysis of the post WW2 era by Tony Judt), and a Lydia Lunch double album (Widowspeak: not for everyone but inventive) took me into the small morning hours. Then, at the crack of dawn one of my cats started complaining at my door because it isn’t summer outside. I know how he feels.

My wake-up time largely is regulated by my cats, especially in the winter when both are inside all night. I no longer let them sleep in my room since Mini and Maxi (Mini is the big one) have developed unacceptable quirks as they have grown older. Maxi is restless at night: he jumps off the bed, he jumps on the bed, he sticks his nose in my face, he walks on me, he moves from one side of the bed to the other, he cleans, he sneezes, he kneads, etc., etc. I don’t get more than 15 minutes of uninterrupted sleep at a stretch with him allowed in the room. (He conks out in the daytime after all that activity at night.) Mini is happy to let me sleep, but lately she has decided that the litter box, which is at the other end of the house from my bedroom, is an unreasonably distant journey for any cat to be expected to make in the middle of the night. So, she poops on the bedroom carpet instead. Since I refuse to live with the smell of a litter box (or cat poop) in my own bedroom, for the past few months I have locked both of them out of my room at night. That doesn’t prevent them from raising a fuss at my door when they are tired of waiting for me to get up in the morning: this can start anytime between 4:30 and 8:00 a.m. depending on the season and their moods.

With regard to logging hours of sleep, the only variable within my control (other than the choice to be a cat owner at all) is the time I retire for the night. The late evening hours can be spent much more enjoyably than by snoozing through them, however. In consequence I rarely get the traditional 8 hours of sack time. Some days less than others.

There are health consequences to lack of sleep. According to it diminishes memory, longevity, flexibility, creativity, athletic performance, academic performance, attention span, weight loss, sex, and contentment. Yikes! Yet, too much sleep is bad, too. According to WebMD, it increases your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and death. Also, yikes! So what is the right amount? It is different for each person, and the advice here tends to get annoyingly tautological: get the amount that’s right for you, which is the amount that’s right for you. In my case, “more” is probably a safe answer.

I do know from experience, though, that if you stay up long enough, you get something like a high instead of a hangover. In 1974, the last year before hippiedom removed its headbands and donned disco shoes, we knew a lot about highs, but the one I had after staying up 78 consecutive hours (without the assistance of any stimulants other than modest amounts of caffeine) was unlike others I’d experienced. Staying up that long wasn’t a mindless exercise. I had just finished two papers (Impact of a Vulnerable Grain Supply on the Imperialism of Fifth Century Athens and Demographic and Geographical Aspects of the South African Separate Development Project) and had three days to wrap up two more before their due date: A History of Land Use in the Township of Mendham from Colonial Times to 1974 (about 40 pages plus graphs and notes) and Classical Influences on the U.S. Constitution and the Great Seal of the United States. Fear not: I have no intention of inflicting those page-turners on readers of this blog, and somewhat (only somewhat) regret having obligated my professors to read them, if indeed they did. I finished typing the bibliography to last of those only minutes before class.

I remember very little about what was in any of those papers, but I remember vividly my walk from my dorm to class in order to turn in the last one. The sense of being tired actually had vanished about 24 hours earlier, and had been replaced by a generalized haziness. The world looked fuzzy and all the sounds were muted. My feet felt as though pillows were strapped to them. Door handles seemed to melt to my touch, though somehow the doors still opened in rubbery fashion when I pulled on them. It was not an altogether unpleasant sensation. I didn’t experience outright hallucinations (seeing what wasn’t there, as opposed to registering oddly what was there) though in all likelihood I was mere hours from that stage. I returned to my dorm room around 3 p.m., lay down on the bed, and woke up 11 a.m. the next morning. It took a while for me to be sure what day it was.

As interesting sensations as those were, however, I don’t really wish to go through the process necessary to repeat them. Come to think of it, now is a good time for a catnap.

I’m guessing Sleeping Beauty’s hours would be considered excessive. Trailer for Maleficent, Disney’s retelling from the viewpoint of the villain, opening May:

Monday, February 10, 2014

The 50s of ‘60s

It’s always 50 years after something, but in the present decade we’re working our way through 50th anniversaries of the 1960s. The ‘60s are the decade dearest to the hearts of Baby Boomers, born 1946-64, who, in the US and much of the West, form a huge bulge in the population pyramid; they felt they owned the 1960s, and, as consumers of popular culture, they very nearly did. (In the 21st century, the Millennials finally have edged out the Boomers in absolute numbers, but they are a much smaller percentage of the total population than the Boomers were at a similar period in their lives, and consequently have less proportional clout.) In the ‘60s, most Boomers reached their tweens, teens, and/or 20s (I was ages 7-17), which always are the years that weigh heaviest in one’s life. Boomers’ own direct nostalgia is accompanied by a second-hand nostalgia by younger people who see the ‘60s as a colorful era – akin to the way I once thought of the 1920s.

The ‘60s indeed were a colorful decade, and one full of significant events and social changes. (Boomers like to act as though we were responsible for them, but, by and large, we really just experienced them, riding the wake of people older than ourselves – including The Beatles, none of whom was a Boomer.) The anniversary gaining much retrospective attention this past week is that of the first American tour by The Beatles. Some of the commentary on the anniversary has been a little over the top: “…and the world was never the same,” in the words of one newscaster. Well, it never was, true enough, but then it never is. Nevertheless, the ‘60s were pivotal years, and The Beatles to a very large degree were their soundtrack.

Stylistically, The Beatles were not, in fact, a particularly innovative band. What they did in 1964 wasn’t much different from what Bill Haley and His Comets had done a decade earlier; when they experimented with psychedelic rock a few years later, they were following the lead of numerous pioneering California bands. They usually did it better, though, and they did it at exactly the moment when the largest audience was ready for it. (Here the Boomers can take a little credit: we were a very willing audience.) Moreover, they did it with their own original music; there is no denying the skill and prodigious output of the Lennon-McCartney songwriting team. Tom Wolfe once said that it doesn’t pay to be more than five minutes ahead of your time. The Beatles always were spot on with the zeitgeist. You can hear the progression of the ‘60s in their music and see it in their very appearance; even their eventual break-up paralleled the way ‘60s idealism soured in the ‘70s.

Yes, I saw the famous Ed Sullivan Show broadcast: the family watched it on a black & white TV in a motel room in Islamorada FL. At age 11 in February 1964, I listened to the musical advice of my savvier worldly-wise 13-year-old sister and became a Beatles fan. I still have the well-worn 1964 Introducing the Beatles album, bought that same month, on my shelf. I followed her advice a year later, too, by shifting preference to other bands of the era, though our tastes started to diverge at that point: she became a Rolling Stones fan while I tended more to The Animals and edgier (for the day) bands such as The Sonics. (Actually, I still like Eric Burdon, vocalist for The Animals, and bought the septuagenarian’s 2013 album a few months ago.) But that didn’t mean either of us ignored The Beatles. They were much too embedded in the era to ignore. Whatever else we played, Beatles records always were part of the mix. It simply is not possible to have a proper ‘60s music collection without albums such as Sergeant Pepper and Abbey Road.

Soundtracks, whether to movies or to life, are just that. 2001: A Space Odyssey would have been a good movie with a theme by someone other than Strauss. The ‘40s would have been just as world-changing a decade (far more so than the ‘60s) without Glenn Miller or the Andrews Sisters. But both would have been poorer without them. For the ‘60s, we could have done a lot worse for an iconic band. Many of the upcoming 50th anniversaries will be grim ones. This one isn’t, so if some of the nostalgia for the Fab Four is over the top, at least this anniversary is frownless and harmless.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Horror of Jack

My waking hours usually end with a read until the words get blurry. I keep at least two books bedside and trade off as the mood strikes: one is fiction the other nonfiction. Within those broad categories the genres vary, though scifi and history weigh heavily in the mix. Horror is not a common selection, but I do make exceptions. Joyland by Stephen King is a recent one, as is Psycho 2 by the wickedly humorous Robert Bloch. At present I’m halfway through Only Child (published in the UK as Stranglehold) by Bram Stoker Award winner Jack Ketchum. When asked who is the scariest writer in America, Stephen King picked Ketchum.

Ketchum is scary not just because he doesn’t pull his punches, though he doesn’t. When a plot turns violent or sexual (and it always does), we get the full unexpurgated picture, but lots of writers are graphic these days. Few write as fundamentally well as Ketchum though. Ketchum rarely resorts to the supernatural in his fiction; the only major exception that comes to mind is She Wakes,  in which Hecate makes an appearance – yes, that Hecate. Nearly always his villains are credibly human and, most disturbingly, in many ways not much different from us. We understand their motives, even if we ultimately don’t do what they do. It is this credibility and this nod to our darker selves that make Ketchum scary.

Ketchum’s career took off when Ballantine Books very hesitantly took a chance publishing the gory novel Off Season in 1981. Yet, despite the commercial success of Off Season, the same publisher turned down his very next manuscript Ladies Night because of violent content. Ladies Night, in which a chemical spill eliminates inhibitions against murder (among other things) in women – and only in women – wasn’t published until 1997. His most successful novel to date is The Girl Next Door in which a suburban single mother named Ruth in the 1960s makes Psycho’s Norman Bates look like a paragon of mental health. Motivated by her deep psychosexual problems, Ruth orchestrates ever more vicious abuse of a teenage girl in her care. Her sons along with neighborhood boys and girls participate in the abuse. Even the protagonist, David, basically a good kid, is drawn in by his dark fascination, albeit as a voyeuristic observer rather than an active participant. Eventually the abuse gets too extreme for him to endure witnessing, but by then his own guilt is an issue. The story is based on the very real 1966 case of Gertrude Baniszewski who, with the assistance of neighborhood kids, tortured 16-year-old Sylvia Likens for three months until she died. I’ll have to finish Only Child before giving it a definitive thumbs up or down, but, along with a frighteningly credible villain, it has an interesting time structure: it spans decades as the character Lydia comes to realize whom she married.

Movie adaptations of Ketchum have been a mixed bag. Only three really work well, though be warned that all are deeply disturbing. The Girl Next Door (not the comedy of the same name), for some reason reset to the 1950s, is one, and is the one best regarded by critics. Stephen King calls it a Dark Side Stand by Me. The Lost and Red (not the Bruce Willis movie) are the other two. The rest are best ignored.

Horror long has been a popular genre – Mary Shelley and Edgar Allen Poe anyone? It’s not entirely clear why, and there may not be a single answer. Millennia ago, Aristotle argued that the terrible events on the Greek tragic stage let the audience feel and then purge negative emotions as a catharsis. Freud largely agreed, though he put it in psychoanalytic terms: as a way to access and release otherwise unacceptable thoughts, motivations, and feelings that have been repressed by the ego. There is some evidence for this. Although the immediate effect (while the adrenaline still flows) of exposure to violent media is to increase aggression, the longer term effect seems the opposite: the proliferation of graphic horror films and violent video games has accompanied a huge drop in violent crime. There is more to it than catharsis, though. Horror as entertainment is also a way of coming to terms with life’s real losses and the certainty of death, and doing it in a playful way. This may be why horror is especially (though not exclusively) popular with teens: as one ages one repeatedly faces the real thing. By necessity, we’ve found other ways to cope.

Nevertheless, while I remain a Ketchum fan, after Only Child I think something cheerier will be on the menu for the next fiction pick. Joe Haldeman’s The Accidental Time Machine is already on the bedstand awaiting its turn.

An idiosyncratic review of The Girl Next Door (2007)