We Make Our Own Luck (Which Evens Out in the End)

28 02 2019

I finally got it done whilst on my northern Germany arc, but I waited until I got what suffices for home for me these days before I wrote a review this afternoon. Which, as you can see below, is a bullet point collection of random assessments and thoughts, rather than a formal review.

(1) One of you in the peanut gallery turned me on to the book because of the protagonist’s (“Toby Hennessey”) traumatic brain injury, and how his physical and mental state and recovery reminded you of mine, as I have described it here over the months.

And a lot of the first maybe one-third of the book had so many elements that reminded me of my own journey, (check to this, check to this, check to this, waving my head here, waving my head there), that I can’t help but wonder if Tana French didn’t draw inspiration from reading this blog. Be still my beating ego, though: Her bibliography shows that, aside from her first book, she drops books every other year on the evens, and specifically the releases are summer or fall. TWE came out on October 9, 2018, after her previous book, the sixth of her “Dublin Crime Squad” serial, came out on September 22, 2016. Incidentally, TWE is said to be a “standalone novel,” in that it does not follow the singular story arc of her DCS series novels, even though, like them, TWE heavily involves violent crime, (three of those in TWE), the city of Dublin, and its police and detectives.

Back to the point: French probably started writing TWE around the time that her previous book came out, and I didn’t fall down go boom until July 19, 2017. So, just on that, the odds are zero that any problems of mine inspired her TWE plot.

(2) All of 509 pages, but felt like a thousand. Which meant that you had to be patient at times, but your patience is rewarded. You didn’t have to be patient for long — Any other book of 500 pages, you figure that you could easily trim a hundred off with none the wiser. With TWE, though, while there were a few superfluous parts, and when I sensed the prose getting superfluous, I switched into speed reading high gear, I didn’t have to do that that often, or be in that mode for that long. If the (what is in my opinion) superfluous prose accumulates to more than ten pages, I would be surprised.  That’s the main reason why it felt twice as long, simply because I had to read way more of it more carefully than I would just your typical book.  In contrast to that, in the thirteenth and final and very surprising chapter, (Incidentally, I think the boundary between the twelfth and thirteenth chapter should have been at the intra-chapter break on page 483, if not those two chapters should have been one anyway), French does a great job at only using a few paragraphs to write about a plot segment that itself would take up a five hundred page novel.

And these 509 pages aren’t a one-off for her. Her six previous novels range between 416 and 496 pages, so banging out fairly long novels is evidently her penchant. And if TWE is any indication, there is very little word count waste in those, either.

Beyond that, I think the reason French got so detailed in many spots was to make the work of the scriptwriter easier for whenever this thing is made into a movie. And you know that will happen — Starz has bought the rights to the DCS serial to make them into movies. I do think that when TWE is made into a movie, there will be rather major differences between screen and book, because I don’t think TWE as a book would make that good of a movie literally translated to cinema.  That, and French seems to be really big on using dialogue as plot development.

Long and short is that, between this taking even longer than any other 509-page book to read, and me having to put TWE aside to knock back critical and more important reading, it took me close to two months.


(3) It’s an Irish Greek Tragedy to an extent. Remember, as we eventually found out, the reason Susanna wanted to murder Dominic was because he was coming on too strong to her to the point of threatening rape, but the only reason Dom was even coming on to Su at all was because Toby and his friends created a fake e-mail account to catfish Dom whilst pretending to be Su. IOW, a juvenile prank that turned tragically wrong. Likewise, as we also eventually found out, (or so Toby thinks and the cops suspect), Tiernan set up the burglary at Toby’s condo as revenge for Gougergate, but the Greek tragedy in that is that the burglars took it too far to the point of violent assault.

(4) About Gougergate: When I first got to the part about Gouger, I wondered how long it would be before Gouger’s “paintings” would be exposed as a hoax, if it would be, and if the hoax would be central to the plot. Turns out it was a hoax, and it was exposed in short order. But it wasn’t central to the plot, and only came back in the final chapter in a roundabout way, when we found out that it was one of the other delinquents that was part of the bad kids’ art exhibit, but not Gouger himself, that was the chief burglar;  again, Toby thinks at Tiernan’s orchestration.

(5) In the tenth chapter, the one where Hugo makes himself the fall guy for the Dom murder, it was perfectly apparent early in the chapter that that’s what he was doing. But at the end of the chapter, I made the prediction that we would be told that the precipitant medical issue which led to Hugo’s death was deliberate on Hugo’s part while he was in custody, that he essentially committed suicide. That didn’t happen, so I suppose French wants us to presume that it was a natural occurrence based on Hugo’s otherwise terminal illness.

(6) When the vic in the wych elm tree was IDed and the pinata regarding that popped open, my initial proclivity was to point the finger at Toby, that his TBI suppressed his ability to tell on himself. Except, I remembered that the one of you in my peanut gallery who turned me onto this said that there would be a big surprise, and the spoiler-free reviews I read before starting stated the same. So that’s what kicked in to my head to steer me away from Toby.


(7) In the few days of having to lay over in Berlin before heading to Munich, I knocked back the explosive ninth chapter, which has the most mentions of Berlin, in terms of Leon living there, wanting to go back there, getting tired of it. That is an allusion to the real world fetish that the Irish and the Germans have for each other, and my cynical theory involves their having a common nemesis for the last more than a century.  Curiously, several few days before, I noticed the uncanny and timely namedrop of Liam Neeson.

(8)  French also found a way to work in mentions of the second round of the internet browser wars of the previous decade, IE versus Firefox. Though as far as that goes, it’s an anachronism, because I remember French writing that the Dom murder happened in the same calendar year that was his own, as well as Toby’s, Su’s and Leon’s “Sixth Year” (equivalent of high school senior) in the first half of the year, which in turn was the same year that the Celtic Tiger economy came to a halt. That would be 2008, and since these events were recollected to have happened a decade prior, this means that the beginning of the book plotline and the burglary of Toby’s condo is supposed to happen in April 2018. (This also means that Toby, Leon, Su, Dom, and probably also Sean and Dec, were born in the second half of 1989 or the first half of 1990. Am I feeling old yet? Tana French herself was born on May 10, 1973, a few days before our blog’s favorite doggy, who, ironically, is a detective.) However, in 2008, the heat of the second browser wars was over. French’s browser war allusions would have been better set in 2005, which was the first full calendar year after the official release of Firefox 1.0 in November 2004.

That reminds me of something else: I don’t think TWE is destined to be a timeless classic, because it’s too full of cultural references to technological life of the first two decades of the twenty-first century to make sense to readers in 2100, 2200, and so on. I’m guessing French’s previous novels are the same way. If I’m right, then French is writing to be important now rather than literature course bullet point fodder two centuries hence. If TWE matters to the Early Twenty-First Century Literature courses at State U in the year 2219, it will have to be for reasons disaggregated from all the current year-y stuff.

(9) While I’ll be directly quoting the book, I don’t consider this to be a spoiler because it’s not really the plot.

The very first paragraph of the book:

I’ve always considered myself to be, basically, a lucky person. I don’t mean I’m one of those people who pick multimillion euro lotto numbers on a whim, or show up seconds too late for flights that go on to crash with no survivors. I just mean that I managed to go through life without any of the standard misfortunes you hear about. I wasn’t abused as a kid, or bullied in school; my parents didn’t split up or die and have addiction problems or even get into any but the most trivial arguments; none of my girlfriends ever cheated on me, as least as far as I know, or dumped me in traumatic ways; I never got hit by a car [lol — Blogmeister Ed.] or caught anything worse than the chickenpox or even had to wear braces. Not that I spent much time thinking about this, but when it occurred to me, it was with a satisfying sense that everything was going exactly as it should.

The final paragraph:

Maybe this is why I still consider myself a lucky person; now more than ever, I can’t afford not to. If I’ve realized nothing else, you see, in the long strange time since that April night, I’ve realized this: I used to believe that luck was a thing outside of me, a thing that governed only what did and didn’t happen to me; the speeding car that swerved just in time, the perfect apartment that came on the market the same week I went looking. I believed that if I were to lose my luck I would be losing a thing separate from myself, fancy phone, expensive watch, something valuable but in the end far from indispensable; I took for granted that without it I would still be me, just with a broken arm and no south-facing windows. Now I think I was wrong. I think my luck was built into me, the keystone that cohered my nose, the golden thread that stitched together the secret tapestries of my DNA; I think it was a gem gilttering at the fount of me, coloring everything I did and every word I said. And if somehow that has been excised from me, and if in fact I am still here without it, then what am I?

I can somewhat relate to that. My opinion of luck is that in a sense of speaking, we make our own luck, both good and bad.  I’ve come to the conclusion that I personally am about half to credit for my good luck and half to blame for my bad.

Another element of luck, not mentioned here, but obvious if you’ve done your reading-between-the-lines once you’ve made it to 509, is that, given enough time, luck usually evens out. Making a baseball analogy, after 162 games, you’ll get just about the same number of lucky ball bounces and unlucky ball bounces, such that you are your win-loss record, no better no worse. That’s all Karma is, really, luck evening out in the long run.

And so it was in both instances with Toby. He made his own good luck and bad luck to an extent, (or much of his good luck was made for him as a matter of picking the right parents), and his good and bad luck evened out in the end.  All the lucky breaks he got as evidenced in the book’s very first paragraph got evened out by all the rotten breaks that happened to him.  Which means he ended the book where and what he would have been in life but for any kind of luck in his life, including the luck of picking the right parents.

(10) Toby is a PR guy by profession, both of his gigs at the bookends (pun intended) are PR.  Yours truly has done PR in his life, and in a way, I’m still doing it.

(11) Toby and I can both attest that traumatic brain injury is going to change you in the long term, no matter how you slice or dice it, chop or cut it. You’ll never quite be who you were before. The only open variable is how much change will occur.  IRL me, nineteen months after the fact, disregarding the obvious change of living and working on an entirely different continent, and disregarding my physical handicaps (which, as you read earlier today, have improved in the last month and change), is somewhat different in subtle ways.  Disregarding the very big things in the plot in TWE that related to Toby, I think his character and IRL me had roughly equivalent personality changes.  Of course with me, I’ve got a few more months before what I am told is the all-important two year anniversary, and whatever I am on that day is almost surely what I’m going to be for the rest of my useful life, “useful” meaning before old age sets in or another trauma happens.

(12) And because French captured a wide range of emotions and circumstances smoothly in a coherent plot line, (I found myself crying once or twice), the best I’ve read in a long time, when I finally finished it, and the first time I could stand, which wasn’t right at that moment, I looked at the book on the table in my hotel room, and gave it a round of applause.


Life is a Massive Irony Content Generator

7 02 2019

Your Blogmeister’s Hotel Room

Somewhere in Poland.

I’ve been working on The Witch Elm for more than a month.  So slowly, because I’ll often have to put more important reading and material ahead of it.

But tonight, I got to knock back two whole chapters.

Think of a famous actor who is in the news this week over something he did in Dublin a long time ago.  Like all of Tana French’s novels, TWE is set in Dublin.

Page 253:

I could hardly track down the burglars and force them to spill the story, my badass Liam Neeson fantasies notwithstanding.


Boo Yeah

27 04 2016


That’s what I’m talking about.  Winning the culture wars.

This news has made me so happy that I almost did the Running Man while yelling out an obscene suggestion directed at SJWs.

I was a bit of a SciFi fan when I was younger, but life, reality, work and middle age have all tag teamed to drain me.

OTOH, I do notice that the 2016 Hugo Awards are in Kansas City in late August.  That may well coincide on the calendar and will coincide fairly well in geography with the State Fair, and of course I’m going to be there.  If I can sneak out of work for a bit, I think I’ll head on over to the thing and see if I can meet Vox Day.

As If I Don’t Have Enough Backlogged Reading

13 01 2016

Krakow, Poland


Reads to me like he already is or is about to be #NRx.

Eat It, Ta

23 08 2015


Mark Levin isn’t always my cup of tea, that’s for sure.  But there’s some good in someone who keeps Ta from the number one spot.

The Picture Gets Clearer

16 07 2015


TNR essay on Goffmangate.

As it turns out, a lot of her book is true, while a lot of it is embellishment.  This means that the extreme skeptics were wrong when they speculated that the whole book is a tall tale.  However, what these new details have not done is dissuade me from my distaste for that genre, and I still stand by my assertion that almost all of these books are written with a loaded leftist agenda.  I think one of the main reasons why these kinds of books continue to be written is because all the wacko leftists actually believe their own theories, so they’re going to camp out in gang land and the ghetto and Bell Curve City hoping to catch the CIA/KKK red handed dumping crates full of dope and guns on the corner of Martin Luther King Blvd and Barack Obama Avenue.  Or to be less hyperbolic about that, they perhaps think they can gather documented proof of some non-TNB cause of TNB.

A Puncher’s Chance at the Future

20 06 2015


Whoever controls the present controls the past, and whoever controls the past controls the future.

Bell Curve City by Paul Kersey is probably going to be the only book of its kind, an honest narrative of the events of the August and November riots in Ferguson and surrounding areas, and also of the circumstances that led up to it and the aftermath.  It’s going to give us a puncher’s chance of winning the future.

Substantively, there isn’t much to say about the contents themselves.  Almost all Paul Kersey books are comprised of enhanced versions of his SBPDL blog posts, and BCC is no different:  It starts before the fateful day of the Michael Brown and Darren Wilson encounter on August 9 and ends in late May, and progresses chronologically.

What I will do is present a cleaned up form of the notes I made in the virtual margins of my Kindle edition.  The date stamp of my notes correspond with the date in the Ferguson War Journal itself.

Oh, and if the title seems familiar to you, it should — I actually provided him the title, “bell curve city” is a phrase that I coined in this space several years ago.  October 1, 2012 is my first mention of it here, but I know was saying it and thinking it for a few months before then.

August 13

I don’t blame Paul Kersey for this error, because the local and certainly not the national media didn’t bother to explain this.  While Michael Brown did graduate from Normandy High School, in the Normandy district, the Normandy district does not serve Ferguson.  The Ferguson-Florissant district does.  Michael Brown’s mother lives in Northwoods, which is in the Normandy district.  The reason he spent a lot of time at the Canfield Green apartments in southeast Ferguson is because his grandmother lives there.

September 4

Ferguson hardly has any black cops because hardly any ever apply.  And the reason hardly any ever apply is because, with affirmative action, they can get hired into almost any agency or department.  Ferguson is a low pay high danger department; therefore, every other law enforcement job in the area is by definition going to be better.

October 5

The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra outburst was organized and carried out by white (or “white”) leftists, nut job allies of the handsupdontshooters.  At least one of the organizers was a Washington University student.

November 12

The Apollo mission moon landing capsules were designed and engineered and built at (what was at the time) McDonnell-Douglas, just a few miles west of Ferguson.

November 14

The only reason Clayton is as “high” as 9% black is because the Census Bureau counts jail inmates as residents of the place where the jail is.  The St. Louis County jail, along with the seat of county government, is in Clayton.  The real residential sections of Clayton, both the high rise condos and apartments and the standalone houses, probably aren’t even 1% black.

December 3

The Oath Keepers probably don’t know where Darren Wilson is, and even if they did, they wouldn’t openly boast about knowing that.  Anonymity and uncertainty and a whole lot of locked lips are the friends of Darren Wilson.

February 25

The St. Louis Housing Authority near-riot on December 7, 2007 was only barely mentioned in the local media when it happened, but there is a discrepancy on the matter of where it happened.  BCC suggests that it happened at their current HQ of 3520 Page Avenue, because the St. Louis Post-Dispatch does, but at the time, the TV stations said that it happened at another SLHA office on Lindell near Sarah.

April 17

Ironically, Ayn Rand herself was not that fond of blacks.

April 22

Lost in that celebratory hoopla is that Ferguson already has a Starbucks.  It just happens to be within the campus of Emerson Electric’s world corporate headquarters, which are not only in Ferguson, but were in direct view of the Fergaza Strip itself.  Looking north out of a high enough floor of a tall enough building on the campus, and one could have seen everything that happened along West Florissant between Solway and Northwinds Estates.