Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Spring Thaw

Last night my oldest son called and we got into an old subject: him defending my honor. I could say I've no honor to defend, but that wouldn't be true. I am an honorable person. I could also say that I don't need defending, not against rude children or current spouses of ex-husbands because, well . . . there really is no need to go any further. My son was sincere in his passion to defend me against any and all foul comments, and I applaud him for that even though I am a little sad he felt the need to defend me.

Don't get me wrong. I think it's sweet that my son loved me enough to defend me, even to the point of bruises, blood, and the usual rewards of fighting. I also think it's more about a young boy's need to prove himself in battle and to himself that he is a man, which is some feat for a seven-year-old. I have always believed the need to resort to fists and weapons, the push to war, is ingrained in the male psyche and, after reading some of what an acquaintance is going through with the introduction of testosterone into her system to transition from female to male, it must also be hormonally connected. Take that, fellas. Men get just as hormonal as women; it manifests in a very different way.

Women, when hormonal, get weepy and moody. Men, when hormonal, get homicidal and often sociopathic. To put it in another way, hormones when rising make women go into the house and men out of the house. Women nest and seek answers and men want to mix it up.

I know. It's a very simplistic way of looking at things, but it's also right, at least from what I've seen over the years, and I've seen a lot of years, and men high on hormones angling for a fight. Only a man could have written, or even conceived of, Fight Club. Some women enjoyed the book, as I did on some levels, but they really don't get into fighting for the sake of fighting, even if the end result is being beaten to a pulp and spitting teeth and various chunks of internal organs. Women on the whole just do not get all excited about blood and guts and physical damage.

Having written that, I wonder at my own excitement during Gladiator or other movies where there is physical violence and I can safely say it's more about justice than blood and guts exciting me. Seeing the villain, or villains, getting their due after raping, pillaging, and exercising their hormonal excesses gets my heart beating faster and the blood rushing through my body. It's visceral -- and it's also hormonal. I've been known to get excited when reading a particularly bloody and physical scene in a book when the villain is beaten into the dust and loses a body part or his life. I wince when the hero is mauled. My sympathies are always with the hero. I'm a girl looking for a hero after all.

The human body is mostly water and water transports nutrients and hormones, lots of hormones, all over the system (the body is a system) like the Colorado River at spring thaw. Whitewater rushing from organs secreting hormones infusing the brain, muscles, and tissue until the chemical soup boils over and the mind, body, and soul are poised for action: women inside the house and men spoiling for a fight outside the house, although men have been known to mix it up inside the house as well. Men just want to fight.

I smiled when my son got that hurt and defensive tone in his voice. "I had to protect you, to defend you," he said. I wanted to laugh and tell him he was silly, but he was being true to his feelings and acting on hormones. I didn't want to downplay his contribution to defending his mother, so I just said, "Thank you." Then I explained that I've heard lots of people calling me names and saying nasty things about me and it doesn't bother me. After all, after spending my formative years being told what a waste of space I was and that I was a whore (while still being a virgin) by my mother, nothing gets to me any more, at least not if they resort to names.

My ex-husband's spouse lives in mortal fear of me coming back to reclaim my husband, and she demonizes me in order to give herself a reason to keep trashing me. She's right on one count. I am overweight. Like my mother, she is also wrong. I have slept with far fewer men than advertised and have not spent my life on my back with my legs in the air and my box stuffed. I haven't had the time and well, overweight. The two just do not work or play well together.

One thing I do know, which I didn't tell my son, is that people demonize people they fear and have wronged. It has nothing to do with logic or truth or honor. It's the only way they can justify their hormonal excesses.

When the twins are older and fighting for his honor and good name, he will look back and smile a little because he will finally understand that kids will be kids and the spring thaw hormonal rushes are upon them, and he'll remember our conversations. The wheel of life turns and his position on the wheel will have changed. He was my little boy and one day his little boy and girl will look up to him with that hurt tone in their voices and a glimmer of tears in their eyes while their lips quiver and my son will smile. It's the only thing to do when hormones are in control.

Guess it's the woman's turn to ask her fella, "That time of the month?" when he goes off like a rocket or pushes up his sleeves in preparation for a smack-down.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Review: The Traitor's Emblem by Juan Gomez-Jurado

A novel of revenge, betrayal, and love in the manner of Alexandre Dumas.

Paul Reiner and his mother, Ilse, live in Baron von Schroeder’s home in Munich as servants. Ilse is the Baroness Brunhilda’s sister and the Reiner’s are dependent on Brunhilda’s generosity, what little there is of it. There is little of the baron’s fortune left in the wake of his gambling and that does not change the way Paul’s cousin Jürgen treats Ilse and Paul. Jürgen is a petty tyrant and a coward and vents his arrogant sadism on Paul for no other reason than Paul exists. That changes with time and the revelation that Paul and Jürgen’s relationship is closer than cousins.

As time goes on and Paul and Ilse are thrown out of the mansion, they struggle to survive and, with Paul’s intelligence and ingenuity, prosper in the wake of Germany’s struggle to survive after the Versailles Treaty’s onerous provisions. All Paul wants is to find out what happened to his father Hans and why he was branded a deserter and the facts of his death obscured. Paul will get his chance, but it will cost him dearly.

In the author’s notes, Juan Gómez-Jurado explains that the story of The Traitor’s Emblem is different from what he initially planned and is based upon a story a man told him about a relic from the Hitler, a profane object with which Gómez-Jurado begins and ends the novel, a piece known as the Traitor’s Emblem, long thought to be a myth. While the story surrounding the relic is fascinating, Gómez-Jurado is correct in believing it is not enough to hold the novel together. He does construct a plausible scenario for the main characters and much of it is believable. Unfortunately, the story falls apart in some areas.

Without giving too much away, the circumstances surrounding the breakout from Dachau fails to provide the slimmest glimmer of evidence as to why the Nazis suddenly took up the chase. From all accounts, the imposters had gotten away with their ruse and were driving away when alarms go off, lights flash on, and gunshots riddle the getaway car. After having come so far with success, there is no reason for the camp to erupt and the Nazis to give chase. It makes for an exciting getaway, but seems too convenient and implausible.

The other issues surround a man Paul spends eleven years tracking, the man, Nagel, one of Hans’s confederates, runs for his life, which makes no sense. Paul supposedly has information Nagel needs and Nagel has no reason to suspect Paul plans to kill him. Once again, a nice bit of drama without a plausible reason. Paul wants information, as does Nagel, and Nagel keeps running away, abandoning one profitable business after another to end up back in Germany after a long fruitless chase through South West Africa. The whole piece of business is too pat, although it does put the players in the right place at the right time, and so conveniently plotted. There is also the hint that Nagel was the murderer and not Hans and this fact, thrown out as part of Nagel’s internal monologue, was not cleared up or mentioned again.

Despite the flaws in the story, The Traitor’s Emblem is an intricate tale of revenge, betrayal, love, and the chaotic political scene of Germany in the years between the end of World War I and the rise of Adolf Hitler to power before World War II. The details of life in Munich and the struggles of the German people under the lash of the Versailles Treaty are intimately drawn and provide a dark backdrop for the more personal tragedy between Paul and Jürgen.

Gómez-Jurado has written a page turner with strong adventure elements that is mostly satisfying and exciting. The pluses substantially outweigh the flaws even though the novel should have been longer to do justice to the story and the characters.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Wolf Cravings

Since reading The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan, wolves have been slipping out of the corners, so many I had to resort to the only cure known to feed the wolf -- watching movies.

I started with Red Riding Hood, which is a modern interpretation of Little Red Riding Hood in which Red Riding Hood is neither little nor young and she can understand the growls, barks, and yips of the werewolf. Gary Oldman is in the movie, so it's worth watching just for that reason, but the story is, although not unique, fascinating. There's a blood moon, which is when Mars casts its shadow on the moon, hence the blood part of the moon, that occur every thirteen years and the wolf passes on its legacy to the bitten, turning the bitten into a werewolf on the next full moon.

The story is a simple love triangle. Daughter of woodcutter is in love with a young woodcutter, her playmate since early childhood, but has been promised to the blacksmith's son in marriage. The blacksmith's son is wealthy and the young woodcutter is not, and definitely not good enough for the daughter of a woodcutter when her mother is intent on selling, or rather giving, her daughter to the son of the man she once loved as she was given in marriage to the woodcutter. Add a zealous warrior of the church (Gary Oldman) with a silver sword blessed by the pope, a cadre of torture devices and mercenaries, and silver fingernails perfect for killing wolves, a town in which the pact with the wolf has been broken with Red Riding Hood's elder sister is savaged by the wolf, and the fun begins. It takes a while to unmask the real werewolf, by which time a few townspeople have been murdered, the zealous warrior unhanded, and the woodcutter's daughter, Red Riding Hood, ready to save herself from the werewolf after it kills her grandmother. It's a nice retelling of the old Grimm's fairy tale and visually appealing and bloody.

Since that was not enough to feed my wolf cravings, I resorted to my favorite wolf movie, Wolf with Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, James Spader, and a stellar cast. Now that is what the wolf needed, a good man bitten by what appeared at first to be a dead wolf on the way back from Vermont to sign a well known author to MacLeish House, a turn from vegetarian to carnivore, heightened senses, betrayal by his protege in business and with his wife, a beautiful and screwed up rich man's daughter, and a milque toast turns into a savage man right before your very eyes. I have to say, for all its cinematic beauty and wonderful casting, I never really saw Jack Nicholson as a milque toast for all his acting chops. He is more wolf than mild-mannered man battling a curse, and the way he embraces the wolf at the end is pure Nicholson. Michelle Pfeiffer is, as always, the most beautiful scenery and at her ethereal best.

Now that the cravings have been stilled for now, I can go back to my regular life a little sadder that werewolves don't actually exist and that there is no chance for the bitten to gift me with his wolfiness through his passion. More's the pity, too.