The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.

(Yes, this is another reread, but what can I say?)

the-lovely-bones.jpgWhen The Lovely Bones came out in 2002, I was amongst the many who couldn’t put it down until the last line was read. And then… I didn’t touch it again until Keith and I were about to move to our new house; I packed it into a box, along with other items I then gave away. A few months ago, however, Keith came home with a battered copy, and I couldn’t help myself. Just as when I read it almost six years ago, I finished it over the course of something like two days. But did the novel still hold up?

Surprisingly, I think yes, but only with a grain of salt.

I’m not giving anything away with the following synopsis: The Lovely Bones is the story of fourteen-year-old Pennsylvanian Susie Salmon, who, in the winter of 1973, is raped and murdered by a neighbor. Afterwards, he literally breaks down her body into parts for disposal, while Susie’s understandably-traumatized soul shoots up to heaven. From that vantage point, Susie watches her family and schoolmates cope with her sudden and violent death — the evidence of which relies mainly upon a pompom-ed winter hat and the only found remains, an elbow.

Consider me disgusting for feeling this way, but including this incredibly evocative detail is brilliance on Sebold’s part. However, profoundly resonant details do not a novel make. Luckily, Sebold also has the narrative to rely upon; by killing Susie, she does something quite incredible: she gives us a protagonist who tells her story in both the first- and third-person omniscient.

While I remain to this day thoroughly impressed with the concept, I can’t help but wonder: is this gimmicky? Keith, of course, put it best when he said to me, “If it is a mechanism that is driving the story — instead of the story driving the mechanism — then it is a gimmick.”

So. Would the story hold up without Susie narrating from The Great Beyond, without her new-found insight regarding her family’s ongoing lives? I can’t help but think that it would not, though I do firmly believe that Sebold’s narrative choice is a gimmick of the most elegant design. Think about it: an audience attends a magic show knowing it is going to be mystified and bamboozled, after all.

Regardless of all that — and disregarding the novel’s crescendo failing to ring nearly as clearly as I’d like — the fact remains that there is undeniable strength in Sebold’s writing. The below excerpt got me the both times I read The Lovely Bones, and again when I impatiently flipped through its pages to type it here. In it, Susie describes the family dog, who has suddenly appeared in heaven, meaning of course, that he has died.

…I saw him: Holiday, racing past a fluffy white Samoyed. He had lived to a ripe old age on Earth and slept at my father’s feet after my mother had left, never wanting to let him out of his sight. He had stood with Buckley while he built his fort and had been the only one permitted on the porch while Lindsey and Samuel kissed. And in the past few years of his life, every Sunday morning, Grandma Lynn had made him a skillet-sized peanut butter pancake, which she would place flat on the floor, never tiring of watching him try to pick it up with his snout.

I waited for him to sniff me out, anxious to know if here, on the other side, I would still be the little girl he had slept beside. I did not have to wait long: he was so happy to see me, he knocked me down.

I should mention that, without fail, I get embarrassingly teary-eyed whenever a dog dies, even if I know that it is fiction. I’m a sucker that way. Still, the writing remains true. In this portion, at the very least.

Quickly, on Top Chef.

top-chef.jpg I am a huge fan of Top Chef. I TiVo it, I save episodes and make my own mini-marathons, I watch reruns. I also grasp at my sofa’s pillows in the most apprehensive fashion during each and every Quickfire, because the challenge never fails to stress me out. Of course, I’m aware that I’m not on the show, but regardless — just try and tell me the notion of using ten dollars’ worth of vending machine “produce” to create an amuse bouche in twenty minutes is not taxing. The sentence alone puts me on edge.

That all said, I wanted to make one thing clear: I won’t be writing about Top Chef. For one thing, so many others already do. So please, I urge you to read their blogs. They’re funny and observant.

Enjoy the show!

Sandwich from Bloc 11.

img_2182.jpg I’ve lost track of the many times I’ve remarked upon my love for certain foodstuffs. Most recently, there was mention of peach Lambic and the Kir Royale. Prior to that, it was choreg. Prior to that it was, what, cookies? Cupcakes? Crêpes? Corn fritters? This is precisely what I mean. While there are far too many items to tick off, that is in no way going to stop me from adding another to the list: sandwiches.

Oh, how I love them. I love that the bread serves as both packaging and major ingredient; I love the collection of flavors and textures and colors jam-packed into each bite; I love that they can be eaten in my most favorite fashion — messily, and with my hands.

I spent most of Sunday morning drinking lattes at Union Square’s Bloc 11; given the intensity of my feelings for sandwiches, I wasn’t able to resist the long list of options for very long. To slim down the lineup, and for that reason alone, I decided to limit myself to ordering exclusively from the cold sandwich section of the menu. Still, I was overwhelmed. There was, to indulge in, the Terrace: rosemary focaccia laden with roasted red pepper hummus, Gruyère, tomato, sprouts, greens and cucumber. Also beckoning me from behind the counter was the Fuse: apple curried tuna with tomato, cucumber, greens and onion atop sourdough.

At last, I settled on the Station 11, though in this case “settle” is a horribly inaccurate word. By choosing the Station 11, I wasn’t settling at all. The combination of flavors — bitter greens, salty and buttery prosciutto, bright tomato, soft and comforting herby ricotta, crusty ciabatta and a veritable pile of sweet caramelized onions — was exceedingly delicious. I will say that, at first, I wished for more ricotta but as I ate I realized that the cheese melded so thoroughly into the rest of the ingredients, adding a subtle creaminess to the sandwich.

The perfect size, the Station 11 left me completely satisfied. In terms of fullness, that is. I easily could have consumed another sandwich, if only to further savor the taste.

Bloc 11
11 Bow Street
Somerville, Massachusetts 02143
617.623.0000

Bloc 11 Cafe on Urbanspoon

Arabic Comfort Food.

I was raised on what I suppose could be called a fusion diet. When I was growing up, most of the cooking was done by my Filipina mother, but a majority of the meals she prepared were Armenian, Lebanese or Middle Eastern in origin, to please my often-nostalgic father. Otherwise, we ate Asian dishes, and items like Italian-ish pastas, Spanish-y paellas and vaguely French chickens. Cuisine notwithstanding, I’ve come to realize that my mother is a completely intimidating force in the kitchen. She can bang out dinner for twelve as easily as she can for two, without ever compromising on taste or quality. Additionally, she has the ability to tease the most flavorful results from a new recipe, a skill I’m terribly envious of.

One of my favorite dishes from my youth actually has Arabic roots; I know I’m butchering it by attempting to spell it with the English alphabet but here goes: mejadara. I had to consult my dad to get the most accurate spelling; even he was uncertain as to what vowels and consonents to string together.

Mejadara is as easy to make as it is difficult to spell; literally all the cook must do is combined sweet caramelized onions, earthy lentils and nutty bulgur. Served warm, cold or at room temperature, it’s my equivalent of comfort food.

Mejadara
makes six generous portions

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Ingredients
1 cup lentils
1 cup bulgur
2 medium-sized onions, sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
salt, to taste

img_2191.jpg1. Melt butter over high heat. Add oil and continue to heat until the mixture is very hot but not smoking. Add the onions and immediately reduce flame to medium. Stir frequently, adjusting heat and adding oil as necessary so that onions do not burn. Continue until the onions are golden brown, approximately twenty minutes.

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2. In the meantime, combine lentils and three cups of water over medium fire. Add a pinch or two salt and cook until the water is almost completely absorbed by lentils, about twenty minutes. Add more water if the lentils are still a bit hard.

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3. Add bulgur and three additional cups of water, as well as another pinch or two of salt. Mix well with lentils and cook until the water is almost completely absorbed by lentils, about twenty minutes. Add more water if the lentils are still a bit hard.

4. Combine lentil/bulgur mixture with onions and serve.

My New Obsession.

img_2177-2.jpg This year we decided to celebrate New Year’s Eve in a very low-key and sort of impromptu fashion. At what could only be described as the very last minute, we gathered a small group of friends in our living room for some snacks and drinks. We spent the evening chatting, eating, drinking and laughing, only turning on the television at exactly 11.58. After the ball dropped, we promptly turned the television off and focused our attention again on each other. In my opinion, it was pretty much the perfect way to ring in 2008.

Something else that made this New Year’s extra memorable for me was the fact that it was my introduction to Lambic. I’m not much of a beer drinker; I mostly drink Belgian-style beers like Allagash. I suppose it made sense that I fell madly in love with the peach Lambic that Darlington brought over on a whim.

Lambic comes in a variety of fruit flavors, but thus far I’ve only tried the peach and the raspberry (framboise). I’ve got a particular interest in the black currant, as my love of the Kir Royale (Crème de Cassis and Champagne) is boundless. The apple is also appealing, but at the moment I am still so enamored with the golden brightness of the peach that even the fizzy raspberry couldn’t sway my affection. That said, I noticed last month that Picco‘s dessert menu includes one especially intriguing item: an “adult” ice cream soda. It is described as “your choice of Belgian Lambic poured over vanilla ice cream,” and certainly sounds as though for it alone is a visit necessary.

Deliverance by James Dickey.

deliverance.jpg Believe it or not, I’ve never seen Deliverance. Additionally, at the risk of sounding completely dopey, I didn’t know until recently that the film was based upon the novel of the same name. Recently, Keith purchased stacks of new books; when I mentioned that I needed a new book to read, it was Deliverance that he tossed my way. All I knew of the story was this: the characters encounter crazy hill country people; terrorizing and torture ensures. I was interested to learn how right — or wrong — my cobbled-together plot was.

It turned out I was partially right.

Ed Gendry and his three buddies Lewis, Bobby and Drew take a weekend canoe jaunt down the rapids of Georgia’s Cahulawassee River; to say that they are woefully unprepared for their expedition would be an understatement of the most extreme proportion. Firstly, only Ed and Lewis have any sort of experience with camping, canoeing and roughing it. After a picturesque handful of scenes we learn about the extent of Lewis’s gung-ho attitude towards outdoors living and survival, as well as Ed’s vague sort of ennui with his life. Then, quite literally out of the blue, Ed and Bobby make a chance encounter with a pair of aforementioned crazy hill country people. Terrorizing and torture ensues.

Unfortunately I’m unable to really say much more without giving it all away; I will mention that, for a while, Deliverance reminded me of the film The Descent, which is to some extent about a group of adventure-seeking people who soon find themselves utterly out of their depths. To put it mildly, however, The Descent takes things in a quite a difference direction than Deliverance.

Back to the novel… I couldn’t help but think that it felt a bit dated. Published in 1970, the writing is solidly evocative of that era. Does that mean it’s not any good? Of course not. Malaise and unhappiness are universal motifs; Dickey also writes about change, and how we as people deal with it. After all, Ed, Lewis, Bobby and Drew originally take to the Cahulawassee River because it is scheduled to be dammed and flooded, and the area to be built up into a residential community. Is that not something we are dealing with still? of Via its thematic elements, Dickey and Deliverance are able to captures something significant, even if it’s a time long gone.

There’s a Small Chance That I’ve Lost My Mind.

muse.jpg I’ve mentioned that I’m trying to recapture my writerly spirit; apparently, to do so I’ve also got to spend a boatload of money… which seems to be how end up doing a lot of things, I should confess. Regardless, the facts are as follows:

  1. I have registered for Grub Street‘s Muse + the Marketplace conference.
  2. I have also signed up to participate in the event’s Manuscript Mart, which means I will be meeting with an editor to discuss twenty pages of my work, which he or she will have read prior to our meeting.
  3. I have lost my mind.

After registering, I spent a majority of Monday flapping my hands about like a chicken and all but clawing at my face, because I am so stressed out by this whole situation. All I could think about was scene towards the end of The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides when a Lisbon sister dies from an overdose. I just had the image in my head:

She had on so much makeup that the paramedics had the odd feeling she had already been prepared for viewing by an undertaker, and this impression lasted until they saw that her lipstick and eyeshadow was smudged. She had clawed herself a little, at the end.

If I’m not careful, I feel as though that could easily be my fate — though you should know that I don’t have any sisters. Still, I can see it: slapping on the face powder and exuberantly outlining my eyes, pouring a river of pills down my throat and, at the very last minute, sluggishly scraping at my neck with my nails… This is another sign that I am freaking out — I get overly dramatic.

Anyway, I’ll keep you posted on how everything unfolds…