Red Fern Book Review

The Green Light

March 07, 2021 Amy Mair Season 1 Episode 7
Red Fern Book Review
The Green Light
Show Notes Transcript

The Green Light (not to be confused with Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey!) is that mysterious light at the end of the dock in The Great Gatsby that represents Jay Gatsby's hope for the future.  In this episode, host Amy Mair looks at two American novels and examines why, it seems, everyone is reading and writing about the classic Jazz Age tale.  Spoiler alert: the copyright has expired!

Jenny Offill's Weather examines climate change and modern-day American life through the eyes of Brooklyn librarian, wife and mother Lizzie. 

Nick, by Southern Gothic writer Michael Farris Smith, is the backstory to The Great Gatsby character and narrator Nick Carraway. 

Amy also explores a fun video texting app that has gotten her through Covid and looks at the man of the hour: Stanley Tucci.

Books and resources discussed:

Marco Polo, video texting app
Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy, CNN
Weather by Jenny Offill
Nick by Michael Farris Smith
Jay the Great by Benjamin Frost

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Amy Mair:

Hello, Welcome back to the latest installment of the Red Fern Book Review. I'm your host, Amy Mair and today we're going to look at two books. The first, is a novel that focuses around climate change called weather by Jenny Offill. The second is also a novel. And it's a prequel to The Great Gatsby. And it's written by Southern Gothic writer Michael Farris Smith, and it's called Nick. But before we get started, I wanted to share with you some of the things that I am listening to and reading about right now. The first thing I want to share with you is a video texting app that I've been using throughout COVID. And it has been a literal godsend to me. It's brought me closer to old friends and it's really helped me a lot. What it is, it's called Marco Polo. And it's just like the children's game that you've may have played, or you probably played in the swimming pool as a kid. It's a call and answer app. It's the equivalent of texting, but over video, so you set it up, and you just send a little note, look into the screen, press play, and then say what you want. And then it sends to the people that you want. Or you can be in a little chat group, which I'm in a little chat group with a couple of friends. And then you go back and forth. But what's nice about it is it is like texting, so you can just give a little short snippet, and then leave it. And what I have found is the hardest thing to be separated from people that you're close to is the small moments. And often you don't pick up the phone or get in touch with someone because you think oh, there's so much I have to tell them. Or maybe in this case, with COVID, there's not a lot you have to tell them. But what you can do here is you could just say I'm on a walk, and then just show like 30 seconds of your walk. Or you could just say a little tiny thing. Or you can say a really personal thing. And that's what I've been doing with some friends and I recommend trying it out. I don't see the purpose of it if you live close by to someone or in the same town, same family. I don't think I would use it for that purpose. But if it's someone who lives far away, maybe in a different time zone that you can't see, I think it might be a wonderful way to connect. Give it a try. And the second thing I want to mention is this show that I'm obsessed with and I'm thinking some of you are obsessed with it too. And it's called Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy. And the reason why I'm dropping this podcast today, Sunday is because this is the day that the show airs. And I thought if you don't know about this show, you might want to head to your PVR and record it or tune in tonight. And tonight he's going to Milan. But for those of you who haven't been keeping up with Stanley Tucci he's having a moment right now. Last year, he basically broke the Internet after mixing a sexy Negroni in his house for his wife. And, you know, he made this drink with gin, vermouth, Campari, and an orange peel and people just loved it. So he's back. He's, most people know who he is. He's a character actor. He's been around forever. And he's well regarded. But what he's done is this travel show on CNN. And it is clearly a replacement for the void that Anthony Bourdain left behind. Sadly, and I know a lot of you, like myself, loved that show. But what I really like about this is he's not copying Anthony Bourdain. He's filling a similar void, that need for travel, experiencing new things, learning. But he's a completely different person. He's a mannered and a spiffy dresser. I tuned in recently and watched him go to Rome. And it was it was so great he meets up with his old friend Claudia. And she's all cool with her short gray bob and her dark clothes and they meet for espresso and brioche buns filled with cream. He goes on later, and has spaghetti carbonara with guanciale, which is a basically a fancy bacon or Italian bacon, pecorino cheese, black pepper, and eggs. And the show is great. He meets with historians and professors. It's educational, aspirational, involves travel. He goes at one point into the Jewish Quarter in Rome, and you learn about the history there. And he has one of their delicacies, which is a deep fried artichoke. To me, it looks a little bit like a deep fried blooming onion from Outback Steakhouse. But it is apparently a delicacy and something to try. So check that out. Now on to our books. The first book I'm going to talk about is Weather by Jenny Offill and I'm really excited about this book. I enjoyed it very much, and I want to share it with you. She is the author of the Department of Speculation. And that book came out several years ago, and it was about the state of a marriage of a modern Brooklyn couple. And what it won accolades for or is known for is her very unusual writing style. She tells stories and fragments and fragments that interconnect. And you kind of have to read it to experience it. And I think you'll either love it, or it will bug you, but I think you should try it. It's also about a Brooklyn couple. And it specifically focuses on Lizzy, who is a librarian, and she's worried about climate change. And, but she's also worried about the humdrum of her everyday life. And her life on the face of it, or the way she presents it in the novel is it's kind of boring. But as a reader, it seems quite charming. Her backstory is she's dropped out of a Ph. D program. And she now works as a librarian at a city library. Her husband, Ben works in IT. They have one son, who is, you know, messy, he's young, he likes to play Minecraft. He might have Legos splayed across their apartment. And she seems annoyed, and also has a lot of love for him. Both the husband and wife have had their careers take a different path than they originally had intended. She had dropped out of a creative writing program. Concurrent to that she has a brother, a drug addicted brother, who she's very close to and continues to help. And the the thing that happens in this book, first of all, I should say not a lot of things happen in this book. And that's what's interesting, I heard an interview with her. And she does not believe in having a big plot. Because she said life doesn't often have a plot. So what she tries to do is just show what happens in a day or, or in a week or in months. It's not the beginning or the end. But it's kind of what happens in the middle. And what does happen to for her is she takes a job with an old college professor while still working as a librarian. And this professor has a climate change podcast called Hell or High Water. And this woman hires Lizzie to answer emails. So what you see is she is put face to face with climate change and climate change issues. But while she's juggling her day to day. Clearly the author's goal is to get you to care about climate change. But she doesn't tell you that. She shows you that and the way she shows you that is she literally just talks about the weather. She'll be at the library and all of a sudden be entranced by a bird sitting on a branch outside her window. She talks about the emails that she receives. The podcast attracts some religious extremists, which brings concerns to her. You see, near the end of the novel, Donald Trump appears in the book, but he's a nameless, faceless president in this book, but you know, he is there. And she talks about this President's lack of interest or acknowledgement around climate change. So it's very current. She weaves in the positions of both the left and the right. And really, she's just trying to get you to think. But what really makes this book unique is her writing style. It's told in fragments, it's experimental, ethereal, it's rhythmic. And each paragraph is kind of like an its own little independent world. And it's very much the way I think. I'm only in my head, I'm not in everyone else's head. But in my head, I think a lot of us bounce around with thoughts. We have a deep thought and then we think, oh, gotta go get dinner, or got to make dinner, we've got to walk the dog, oh, and then you think about war, or your child's safety or, and that's what this book is like. Offill kind of ping pongs around. And through that, she'll throw in little quotes about climate change, whether it's a statistic, whether it's a quote from a book. And really, in the end, this book, I believe, you can interpret it as you see it, but I believe her emphasis is on the here and now. The main character is most concerned with her immediate family and the people that she loves. While she cares about climate change, I think that she, of course, is putting her family first and foremost. And in that I believe she's turning the lens on the average reader who may care about climate change. But if it isn't in their direct backyard, or the issue isn't something you need to worry about today, their focus is on on their immediate world, what's going on around them. And so in that she's asking us to care. So I would check that out. Now, the second book is around The Great Gatsby. And, if you haven't noticed, The Great Gatsby is everywhere all of a sudden and there's a few reasons for this. The first time, The Great Gatsby came back into my view, was last fall. My youngest son Graham is wrapping up high school. He's in his final year. And he told me on his syllabus, he's reading The Great Gatsby and I thought, are you kidding me? Because that's what I read and my last year of high school. And so I was kind of wondering, what? Why is a novel so endearing after so much time? And is it that great? Or is it just I don't know, that the educators haven't made changes in the curriculum. I was So, I almost convinced Graham to come on to this podcast. And curious. wouldn't that have been great, but I wasn't able to do it. But I did ask him about what he thought. And while he did like The Great Gatsby, he feels the reason why it's endured is because it's super heavy on symbolism. And it's easy to talk about to, to teach and to develop themes around so that that was kind of his take around it. And I kind of think I might agree with him. But what's happened is concurrent to what I saw in his curriculum. I noticed there was a number of books coming out about The Great Gatsby. A writer contacted me and sent me a copy of his new book. It's called Jay the Great and the author is Benjamin Frost. And it's a modern day take on The Great Gatsby, and it plays with race and sexuality has some gender bending things going on. And it's set in modern day Boston. But what I found out is the copyright on the novel has is run out, as I believe, on January 1 of this year. And so what that does is gives writers that might be interested in looking at The Great Gatsby more creative freedom to explore it. With that in mind, I picked up Nick By Michael Farris Smith. He is a southern Gothic writer from Oxford, Mississippi. And this is his sixth novel. He takes the perspective of Nick Caraway, who is actually the narrator in The Great Gatsby. And he does a prequel and imagines this guy's backstory. So most of you know the story about The Great Gatsby. And with Jay Gatsby, in his mysterious big mansion in West Egg, and the green light and overlooking East Egg, which is the old money and the fancy part of town. That's where his unrequited love, Daisy, lives with her husband, Tom. And they're a train wreck, and they're obsessed with money and wealth, and they're superficial. And then there's this narrator, Nick, who comes from out of town to make his money in banking. And so he is very much an outsider through this whole thing. And he narrates the novel. So this book, imagines what was his life, like before he landed in West Egg, outside of New York City. The story begins during World War I and Nick is fighting on the front France. When he has time off he heads to Paris. And it's very much, you know, war torn Paris, where the typical rules of engagement or laws are off. He falls in love with a peddler named Ella, who wanders montmarte. And she sells picture frames that she's made herself. And at night, she sleeps in an abandoned apartment, stuffed with old dance hall dresses. She has wine bottles, filled with candles that light up her room and she's above lives above an old theater. So they fall in love, and you get the sense that he never would have fallen in love with her, or perhaps noticed her, had it not been for this kind of time and space. And you feel that it's quite a doomed love. And so he kind of comes back and forth from the front. He's unsure about her, but yet he is in love with her. And at one point, when he goes back to the front, he asked to be put in the most dangerous position, which is underneath the ground as a listener or watcher for where the Germans are planting bombs. He actually asked his commander officer if he could go underground. And his commanding officers are like, seriously, but he he wants that role. It's almost like he wants to punish himself. And he just keeps that observer role as he does in The Great Gatsby. And then it flashes back to his growing up. He grew up in a leafy area of Minnesota. He has, in some ways, an idyllic life. His dad is a prosperous hardware store, owner, and it's expected that he will take over that business. He is an only child. He mom is a good mom and she's also quite depressed. And so he has to live through that and has a lot of confusion around that. For the second half of the novel, The war is over. And he's leaving, he ends up leaving France. And he's been called home by his parents. And he's on his way by train home. And I believe he's in Chicago. And he just says to himself, you know what, I'm not going home, I'm going to go have an adventure. And Ella, his love back and France, had told him that she had been to New Orleans. And New Orleans, as you know, remains a very unique area of the United States with its own culture, and traditions and it seems otherworldly. So he just hopped a train the other way and heads to New Orleans. And then he ends up in a very seedy area of New Orleans and gets caught up in brothels, vendettas, bars. He ends up hooking up with a fellow veteran who has a very sad backstory. His name is Judah. And he's come home to his wife, who has taken a bar that he owns and turned it into a brothel. So he's kind of dealing with that. So this book, what I would say about it is I really liked I liked it. But what I wanted was more of a connection to The Great Gatsby itself. So that's where I would say, if you're going into it thinking that you're going to get a lot about The Great Gatsby, you're not, but the book stands on its own like and could be published without, in my opinion, a reference to the Great Gatsby. When it concludes, there definitely is a connection to where the beginning of The Great Gatsby starts. So that's what I have to say today. And I wanted to thank you for joining me. And be sure to tune into Stanley Tucci and let me know what you think. You can reach out to me on Instagram @redfernbookreview or find me on Facebook. And I would love to hear your feedback. Thanks so much, and I'll talk to you next time.