a novel by JOHN GRABOWSKI

Posts tagged “reading

Gwyneth Paltrow’s stalker

Gwyneth Paltrow

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I’m betting you didn’t know she had one, did you? Well, most celebrities do. Including Welsey Shaw.

They just really would rather not talk about it. Including Welsey Shaw.

In Gwyneth’s case, a man has been harassing her for seventeen years.

Yep, let me say that again—seventeen years.

And after numerous incidents, including encounters that sent him to a psychiatric facility back in 2000, he was just found not guilty of harassing her yet again.

The actress was clearly disappointed in the verdict. “I’ve been dealing for 17 years with the communications from this man … I felt very upset by it [the verdict] … this has been a very long and very traumatic experience already.”

The man’s attorney says he is harmless. Furthermore, she says, he is misunderstood. “He just needs the right medication,” she maintains.

I can’t imagine Ms. Paltrow is much comforted by those words.

The sad truth is the famous and easily-recognizable have to deal with this every day. We know who they are. They don’t know who we are. Which is why so many people who seek out the glow of fame later come to regret it.

Paltrow gave evidence in the case in which she claimed she was sent around 70 messages between 2009 and 2015.

She said the letters ranged from “religious to pornographic to threatening.” Some even talked about her death.

This struck me because there is a similar subplot in Entertaining Welsey Shaw. It could almost have been ripped from the Paltrow case, except that I started writing it first, or at least before anyone ever knew GP had a stalker. In the beginning, to a large degree, Welsey Shaw was modeled on Gwyneth Paltrow. (I’ve since moved away from that to modeling her after a large number of actresses to making her largely her own person, with a pinch of this celebrity and a dash of that.)

What’s truly frightening, and what I wanted to point out with Welsey’s stalker, is that there’s no real defense against people like this. You can get restraining orders, have them put away somewhere, but those orders always expire, those sentences are eventually up. You can’t keep the person away forever. And you never really know when they’re going to end up on your doorstep. After all, they don’t send you a note saying, “Hey, they let me out today!” —Or they do, which is perhaps even scarier.

Paltrow said her stalker “wanted to marry her.” Ironically, that’s exactly the plot line I’d devised for Welsey. Her stalker also wants to walk her down the aisle!

He too gets put away. He too is eventually let out, and attacks again. And there’s not much Welsey can do about it.

Sadly, this is a very bad case of life imitating art. There should be better ways to safeguard celebrities who are stalked, but I have no idea what they could be.

 


What’s your hurry?

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The other day I was at a restaurant listening in as a group at the next table talked about their favorite books.

This always gladdens me. I love to hear people discussing books with the sort of enthusiasm reserved for movies or rock bands these days. But what I heard next made me sad.

One of the women was praising some novel she’d just read, and she sold it by saying, “It’s short. You could finish it today if you started. And it’s real easy. A quick read.”

…Why in the world would that be a virtue?

Now, I understand War and Peace is daunting to all of us. I still haven’t gotten to it. (My wife’s better than I am.) But why do we want assurances we won’t have to spend long with something we’re supposed to be enjoying?

Can you imagine someone saying, “Star Wars The Force Awakens is short. You could see it and be back here in an hour. A quick flick”?

I’ve also heard many a “book lover” say they were intimidated by thick books?

Why, I wonder? Is there some sort of prize for finishing off more books. Do people get paid commissions to read? If a book is five times thicker than the average book, maybe there’s five times more good stuff in it. (Maybe not, and I’ve read some rambling tomes that needed an editor, but still, the size alone won’t persuade or dissuade me from approaching a book.)

But if you enjoy reading, why would you want it to be “quick”? (It begs all sorts of analogies…well, okay, just one.)

We sure live in a rush-rush-rush culture, which is part of what Entertaining Welsey Shaw is about. We don’t take the time to see what’s going on around us. Right in the opening chapter, when Daniel sees the famous actress in a Starbucks for the first time…

I’m sitting by myself, leafing through a picture book bought after a long meeting and a long lunch. If anyone would look up, they might notice that Welsey Shaw is standing here. True, she’s in faded jeans, scuffed brown boots, violet scarf and green sweater. Someone at a table behind her gets up and shoves his chair right into her buttock. She jumps. He excuses himself without really looking at her face. He and his companion, a matronly Asian woman with short, spiky hair that belongs on her daughter, leave their cups and teabags on the table. They have an air about them that says they are only slumming here. She folds up a laptop much newer and sleeker than mine, sticks it in a leather bag and they are off.

I blink, and Welsey Shaw is still there.

I’ve often wondered how many famous people have passed me by that I didn’t notice because I was in a hurry to get to somewhere. And sometimes we’re not even in a hurry for a reason. We’re just in a hurry because it’s our default setting.

Not only do I not want to rush through a book, I will, if it’s good enough, go right back to the beginning and start again. It’s amazing what you notice the second time around; indeed, if it’s great fiction, you can’t grok everything the first go, and you’ll read a completely different book with the second pass. This isn’t true of something like, say, Gone Girl, but Joseph O’Neill’s The Dog or José Saramago’s The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis will yield treasures in repeated readings. In fact, that’s the idea. Deborah Eisenberg sometimes spends years  crafting a single story. I don’t think she’d want you to skim through it in an hour. I’ve read some of them half a dozen times, and with each reacquaintance they’re so different I almost wonder if she doesn’t sneak into my house and alter the text when I’m asleep.

So when I hear people, like these women, selling a book by bragging how short it is, how fast it reads, how you don’t have to spend a lot of time with it, I have to wonder what their point is? If a book (or a record, or a movie) yields up everything quickly and easily, I kind of feel like I’ve been jipped. There’s supposed to be more to it than that, isn’t there?

What do you think?

 


That voice I don’t like

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Today while reading a novel I finally figured it out.

There’s a certain kind of voice I do not like in fiction. I’d sort of define it as the sarcastic voice. Or the hip voice. It’s the voice that talks in shorthand, says cynical things and acts like it’s unimpressed with everything. Sure, everyone uses this sometimes, in some scenes, but what I’m talking about is the whole novel in the voice of someone who’s seem it all, and knows it.

Thing is, I could never figure out why this bothered me before. But as I was reading this novel, by a San Francisco author I’ll leave nameless unless I start to get more impressed, I began to realize writers generally use this voice, at least in my opinion, as a desperate bid for credibility. If they’re cynical and hard, we’ll believe them more, and grant them “authorial authority.”

And I think that’s weak.

To give an example of what I’m talking about I’ll make up something random in that style: The bar consisted of losers, users and schmoozers. To the left, kids who’d never get laid if they paid with a Gold Card. To the right, redneck nose-breathers who needed help signing their names. At the end of the bar, Little Leena, needing her hit of particulate matter, fired up another cancer stick and blew smoke through her nostrils like a raging dragon on steroids. 

If you have to come across as a smart-assed know-all to be taken seriously as the narrator, maybe your story is weak. Or your words are weak. Maybe you’re fooling yourself.

You’ll fool a lot of other people too. Many readers don’t know what’s good, but they want to seem like they’re in the know, so they heap praise. Who doesn’t want to rally behind a “smart person,” after all? It reminds me of a number of experiments where researchers poured four-dollar wine into fancy bottles or served microwaved supermarket entrees on fancy china and told people it was expensive and exclusive. They rated it extremely high.

I found the premise of Walter Kirn’s Up In the Air intriguing and enjoyable, but I noted that when Jason Reitman adapted it as a movie he made many changes, and the snarky been-there-done-that tone was among the things that were removed. The character played by George Clooney was much more human and open. I think that gives the story more credibility than peopling your world with self-satisfied jerks.

I wish novels came with a label, sort of like this one…

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…to warn of a novel with a cynical narrator. I’d heed it. How about you?

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Her name is Welsey…

Letters

It was way back in the 80s, but I still remember my mother announcing that Kristie Alley had replaced Shelley Long on Cheers. The only problem is her name wasn’t and isn’t Kristie Alley. Of course it’s Kirstie Alley.

Gwyneth Paltrow has an unusual name. Yet so many people seem to think it’s okay to refer to her as Gwen.  It’s not. Gwen is not the diminutive for Gwyneth. She’s Gwyneth, not Gwenyth.

Why am I talking about this? Because so many people seem to think my heroine is called Wesley Shaw.

Wesley.

It’s not proved to be a popular name. So many people have told me I should change it. Or they look at the title and say “Wesley Shaw”—which is another way to telling me I should change it.

I picked Welsey because as far as I know there is no one with that name. I’ve never seen evidence of a single person, male or female, named Welsey. It’s meant to be unique, like her. The problem is, lots of people immediately see “Wesley.”

Wesley Snipes

Wesley Snipes

General Wesley Clark

Wesley Clark

To be clear, there is already an actor Wesley—Wesley Snipes. And there’s Wesley Clark, a U.S. General.

But there’s no Wesley Shaw.

It’s Wel-sey.

I’d originally briefly considered naming her Lindsay Shaw, because I like that name so much.

But I was afraid people would think I was alluding to another troublesome actress with the same first name. I’m not. But I wanted to make sure there was no confusion.

Plus, imdb says there are a couple actresses already named Lindsay Shaw.

I guess it’s just not distinctive enough.

So it’s Welsey. Some editor or agent may ask me to change it. But I’m not going to. That’s for sure.

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“Plot is overrated!”

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He comes in every day—you can set your watch by him—and sits down to read a novel he’s toting. Brainy guy, one of those “beautiful mind” types whose IQ probably tops out on the far right of the bell curve. One day he has Moby-Dick. The next time it’s Complete Works of Isaac Babel. Then it’s Gravity’s Rainbow, Ulysses, Infinite Jest. You’ll never see him reading Twilight or Jodi Picoult.

I was talking to him the other day, in this coffee shop we both frequent. I almost hate to do this—talk to him, that is. He’s a pretty private kind of guy; you an tell by the body language he wants to be left alone. At the same time, there aren’t a lot of people who are as interesting, so I do engage him in conversation sometimes, occasionally.

He had just finished Moby-Dick for the umpteenth time. He enjoyed how it was a novel of ideas, how it rambled and meditated on all sorts of ideas and issues. We started talking about our favorites when I mentioned that so often when you tell someone you’ve read or are reading a particular novel the first thing—usually the only thing—that want to know is “What’s it about?”

In other words, he said, they want to know about the plot.

Exactly, said I.

He fairly bellowed, “Plot is overrated!

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

To me it’s not What’s it about? as it is How’s it about?

I don’t believe plot is really all that hard. Sure there are some works of fiction with amazingly intricate plots that dazzle me, but a good voice will always impress me more than a complex plot. There are almost mechanical ways to construct plots. Of course there is the shadowy, imprecise concept of genius, which resists all formula, but in a lot of ways plot is like rhythm in music—almost mathematical, chartable.

But what makes one voice so compelling that it stays with you your whole life, haunts you? Why is it Beethoven wrote in sonata form just like hundreds of other composers in his day, but it’s not the other composers we remember? Why am I listening to the Archduke Trio right now as I write this, still finding new twists in a work that’s over 200 years old?

Why does the opening of Deborah Eisenberg’s short story “Presents” astonish with its novelty:

The waves go on and on—there is no farther shore; a boat here and there in the dark water, a cluster of fronds, an occasional sunset. Cheryl closes her eyes and the warm night blue water rushes out around her. “Think it’s really like that?” she asks. Cheryl’s voice is arresting—low, and with a city accent that gives each word the finality of a bead dropping into place along a string; sometimes strangers to whom she speaks pause before responding, and look, if they haven’t looked before. “Think it’s really that blue?”

“Blue?” Carter glances down at his shirt. “Nothing’s this blue. Not even this. It’s the lights in here—make everything vibrate.” He tips the little glass bottle in his hand and spills a neat white line from it onto his forearm, which he extends to Cheryl with balletic solemnity.

I have to admit, after an opening like that, I don’t care what the story is “about.”

Back to my friend at the coffee shop. Today he had a new one; he was sitting far away and I couldn’t read the title, but it was thick and no doubt challenging. Its author no doubt created a whole universe of laws, of causes and effects as unique and detailed as the actual universe we live in, Einstein’s universe, Bohr’s universe. Think of literature that way. Like the real universe, it becomes a lot more interesting when you do.

“Plot is overrated!” I can still hear him bellowing.

Preach it, brother…

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