In 2006 I rewatched a movie called The Trigger Effect. I'd last seen The Trigger Effect some ten years prior and its unsettling story had always haunted me. I was excited to see if the movie still held up to my memory of it, desolate and bleak with an underlying sense of hope shrouded in despair. In short it did, but I walked away after that second viewing with something far more memorable occupying my thoughts - a children's poem. In the movie Elizabeth Shue reads aloud from a children's book as she's putting her son to bed. This scene occurs over the course of three different sections scattered throughout the movie and it's clear by the end of the movie that there was a big chunk of the poem that we didn't hear. So after the credits rolled and I discovered that the poem was called "Bartholomew Biddle and the Very Big Wind" written by Gary Ross, I googled it hoping it would turn up the children's book and that I could then buy it. Instead what I discovered was that the poem was written solely for the movie, and that the book that it was read from didn't actually exist.
So I replayed the movie and skipping to those three scenes, transcribed the poem and blogged about it. You can read that first blog here. About a year later I was perusing Gary Ross's IMDB page and found a long thread of fans writing in the message boards begging Gary Ross to finish the poem or publish it in a book. He eventually responded with kind words and an updated version of the poem, including a new never before seen section of the poem. I wrote a second blog entry about it here.
When the Harry Potter phenomenon swept across the land I did not partake. Not only did I think it was silly that so many adults wanted to read a series of books written for children, but books about a school for wizards? Um, no. No, thank you. Now, I'm no snob when it comes to my reading material. My shelves are littered with the likes of Stephen King, Robert McCammon, Patricia Cornwell and Dennis Lehane. I have a smattering of really bad horror novels by random authors you've never heard of, and I even own a handful of Star Trek novels that hold a special place in my heart. I read comic books, trashy magazines, and still own my collection of Archie books from childhood. There's no rhyme or reason why my line was drawn there, at young adult fiction, but there it remained for many years.
Flash forward to Portland 2008. I made a deal with a friend that if she watch my favorite TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer, then I would read her favorite book... Twilight. SIGH. Even as I was making that deal I was remembering the months before when Entertainment Weekly had the newly cast Twilight lovers, Edward and Bella, on their cover and I stood there with that magazine in my hand and made fun of it for a good ten minutes. But a deal was a deal. I went to the bookstore and sheepishly made my way to the Children's Young Adult section and picked up a copy of Twilight. When I approached the cash stand I was mortified when I saw that my cashier was a cute boy with a cute smile and ... oh god I'm so embarrassed. I considered turning around right then and picking it up at a later date but then I thought, fuck it. Who cares? The cute boy cashier smiled and said nothing as he rung me up but I just couldn't let it lie so I said, "I'm joining the ranks of the crazy teen vampire lovers, I'm must be insane." He laughed and said, "You're not alone. My girlfriend loves these books." And so it began.
I thought I would be ashamed to admit this, but now that it's over I don't feel ashamed at all. More like elated and relieved than anything. My lovely blond lass and I struck up a deal about a week back. In retrospect, seeing what's become of us in these last few days, it seems more likely we made a deal with the devil. But here were are regardless. Obsessed. Devoid of our social lives, ignoring the ones we love, incapable of making decisions that would alter or deprive us of our need.
Let me explain. There is a particular television show that weaseled its way into my life some years ago, and once it did I loved it fiercely, no matter that I'd once said I would never, in a million years, watch that particular show. To my surprise Nat had never seen said television show, and voiced her protests readily when I suggested she may want to watch a few episodes and see what comes of it. Now, I'm not going to divulge the name of the television show I'm speaking of here, mostly because I'm pretty sure my lady friend isn't all too happy about the fact that she was an unwilling victim in this particular addiction. But in trade, for making her suffer so, she told me that I had to read a book that I'd scoffed at countless times. A book written for teenage girls. About vampires. Stupid right? Completely dumb. I've got better things to read than something so ridiculous. So I protested and Carl laughed at me but Nat was beaming, triumphant, for she knew I had to agree. So we struck a deal.
Gossip of the Starlings, written by Nina de Gramont, is so fully realized a story that by the end of the book I was practically convinced that the story was not one of fiction but of an actual happening in this author's life. Gossip of the Starlings is a story of a teenage girl, Catherine Morrow, her last year at an exclusive prep school, and the intoxicating friendship that blossomed in that time between herself and Skye Butterfield, the daughter of a renowned senator. The friendship, fueled by drugs, alcohol, and the inability to control the seductive call of disobedience and self destruction, ultimately defines and destroys the lives of the two girls, and those who are closest to them. Written with unbelievable depth and clarity, the narrative told by the character is so complete within each moment that I found myself aching for as much self realization as this character contained.
Gossip of the Starlings is written with immense elegance and grace, for which this story in particular seems a challenging chore as the entire story happens in the fall, winter, and spring, and those seasonal elements factor heavily into the storytelling. All throughout the story we feel the cold of New England, the soggy damp of the rain, the chill of autumn, the snow and mud and grime of a long gray winter, and yet we are not left feeling bleak. Instead our hearts race with the thrill of love and adventure, our voices hush to a whisper and our feet assume a tiptoe stance as adolescence overtakes our senses and our fear of being discovered is great. The book's title is borrowed from a line in a Shel Silverstein poem called Forgotten Language. It goes like this:
This post is meant to be a review for a book called Gossip of the Starlings, but first I'm compelled to begin with the story on how I came to read this book, as it doesn't hit the bookstores until June 10th. In 2001 I read a book that I loved so much, that even now it's hard to find words to properly describe my feelings about it. The book is by author Nina de Gramont, and it is called Of Cats and Men. By now I have probably read that book half a dozen times, and so my view of the short story collection is that of great affection, like seeing your favorite film or looking at old photographs, you know every line, every frame, and yet still you never grow tired of it, as it has become a piece of you, and the self-recognition within it is profound. So to now go back to that very first reading seems a bit hazy, there were so many things about that year in New York City that were remarkable, but my first reading of Of Cats and Men was one of the brighter happenings of that year. The book was bought for me as a birthday gift from my husband. No doubt he wanted to tear me away from the detective novels that littered my book shelves, and what better way to do it than to give me a book about my two favorite things. The book is a collection of short stories, all featuring female protagonists and the men and animals in their lives. No other book has ever evoked such emotion, no other writing has resonated so deeply. After reading it I immediately lent it to a girlfriend and then to another and soon after I was buying it as birthday and Christmas gifts for every woman I knew. Shortly after finishing the book for the first time I couldn't shake the stories from within me. I felt such a strong need to tell the author how beautiful and wonderful I found her book to be. And so I set forth googling her with what little information I had, and somehow, I honestly can't recall how, but I came across her email address and without hesitation sent her those words of adoration that were burning a hole in my thoughts. Much to my surprise I heard back from her, kind and humble thanks to my gushing girlish email, and that small acknowledgment from this woman whose work moved me to such a great degree, felt like a tremendous honor. Over the past seven years we have kept in touch through the occasional email, and just recently she sent me an advanced copy of her second book Gossip of the Starlings, to be released in June. So Nina, this review is for you, an author with superb storytelling abilities and a pen like a magic wand.
Review of Gossip of the Starlings in following post.