Thursday, February 08, 2007

Anna Nicole Smith Died Today

Which was, to me, a shock. I think it's a sad story, but I'm also kind of relieved that this particular train wreck's been cleared off the tracks.


Yesterday I wrote up a passel of brief and inane movie reviews. Well, there's no reason books should escape my jaundiced eye. I read "Hannibal Rising" last week. It's not a complete failure -- it is well-written in places -- but overall the book's a wasted exercise that only further demystifies one of the great literary boogeymen of the modern era. Oh, well. When there's money to be made, considerations like that tend to fall by the wayside. Thomas Harris made a deal with his publisher to write two books for some eight-figure deal. He novelized, apparently, the screenplay he wrote for Dino DeLaurentiis and the result is "Hannibal Rising". Meh. Mostly I was reading for some pithy Lecterisms or to rubberneck as Hannibal dispatched some guys using novel and grotesque methods. Not much of either here. He's young and not quite so worldly in this book (which follows him from the age of 10 to 18), so his pithy factor is lessened considerably. At the end of WWII, bad Lithuanians eat his sister. He suppresses the memory and doesn't utter a word for years. Years later, he's adopted by his uncle, Robert Lecter (which strikes me as hilarious that Hannibal Lecter would have an uncle named Robert -- so very close to Bobby Lecter) and taken to Paris. Anyway, Hannibal falls in love with his stepmother, most of whose family died in Hiroshima. She takes Hannibal under her wing and slowly gets him to talk again by showing him the art of calligraphy and flower arranging. Slowly, he learns to live again! Yaaay! One day someone insults his stepmother and Hannibal goes batshit. The first inkling we have that the boy's not all right. By and by the memory of what was done to his sister returns to him. More importantly, the memory of who did it returns as well. The rest of the story concerns Hannibal's hunting these men down (most of whom are rich war profiteers living in Paris), and avoiding capture by a Parisian detective named Popil, who also happens to love Hannibal's stepmother. It's all very humdrum and disappointing.

One thing did bother me. At the end of the book (and presumably the film in case anyone's planning to see it SPOILER), Hannibal's case is championed by the Communist French. Because he killed war criminals who'd eaten his sister, most regular French who read about his story in the newspaper are inclined to wonder what the big deal is, and why not let him go? So essentially that happens and he's transferred under some kind of plea agreement to Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore. What bothered me is this: if Hannibal was the focus of a major story in France, under his own name no less, why did it require the unique brain of profiler genius Will Graham to figure out Lecter might be at it again when he was caught for his later crimes? A modicum of research would have revealed that part of Lecter's history. If he'd killed before in a serial kind of way, how big a stretch is it to think he might have started up again? Anyway, it's a major inconsistency, I think, and a stupid lapse on the part of an otherwise excellent writer.

This novel had an especially sour effect on me because I'd just reread "Silence of the Lambs" before digging into this one. If you haven't yet read "Silence", you ought to run out to the library or bookstore and pick it up. Take you a day or two to get through. In addition to being one of the best thrillers ever written, Harris throws these literary razor-sharp character observations into the mix almost off-handedly. Here's one I thought was perfectly done. This from the end of a scene in which Clarice has gone in to see Dr. Frederick Chilton (the head of the asylum) about another interview with Lecter. Chilton's making a fuss about not being more involved.
"I'm acting on my instructions, Dr. Chilton. I have the U.S. Attorney's right number here. Now please, either discuss it with him or let me do my job."
"I'm not a turnkey here, Miss Starling. I don't come running down here at night just to let people in and out. I had a ticket to Holiday on Ice."
He realized he'd said a ticket. In that instant Starling saw his life, and he knew it.
She saw his bleak refrigerator, the crumbs on the TV tray where he ate alone, the still piles his things stayed in for months until he moved them -- she felt the ache of his whole yellow-smiling Sen-Sen lonesome life -- and switchblade-quick she knew not to spare him, not to talk on or look away. She stared into his face, and with the smallest tilt of her head, she gave him her good looks and bored her knowledge in, speared him with it, knowing he couldn't stand for the conversation to go on.
He sent her with an orderly named Alonzo.

Isn't that frickin' good?

Anyway, back to work.

1 comment:

harwell said...

Speaking of Lecter, I was in Richmond , VA last weekend visiting my brother. We went out to eat at this little diner downtown and when we got out of the car my brother turned around and asked me if I recognized the open air market across the street. I said, "no" and he then says "Did you see HANNIBAL?" And then I was like "ohhhhhhh yeahhhhhhhh." I was right across the street from where they have that huge shootout with the drug people and the lady and the baby and that whole thing.

And I totally thought of you Brian Crane.