Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sunday hodgepodge

I don't know what possessed me, but I decided to make salmon last night, actually I do know - it was Jake's plea for recipes for graduate and medical school students. He had numerous responders, including myself, offering their supposedly inexpensive and quick recipes that are nutritious and produce lots of leftovers. When considering last night's dinner, I had started with the idea of chicken and asparagus but after looking through my cookbooks The Ragazzo and I settled on prosciutto wrapped salmon, which sounds fancy but it could not be easier. It was accompanied by lentils with chopped spinach and herbs with yogurt dribbled on top. It even looked good on the plate! It was one of Jamie Oliver's recipes which I find are almost alway easy to make and really tasty. I first discovered the Naked Chef - while sick w/ a flu in a hotel in London and stuck in front of the television. Here's the recipe my only variations - I had pretty hefty fillets and cooked them for 20 minutes not 10. They were perfect. I also cheated and used canned lentils. I have Jamie's The Naked Chef Takes Off which has quite a few recipes I go to again and again. He also has a new book Cook with Jamie that I paged through while waiting for someone at Williams Sonoma that looks like a really good cooking primer. I'm a fan.

On a stomach happily filled with salmon and lentils I finished Russell Banks The Reserve. My enthusiasm for the solidity of his writing and my criticism for the plotting of this novel stand. My suspicions for how the novel would end were mostly confirmed. Banks may not have wished me to be surprised though. In the italicized passages that are flash forwards interspersed with the plot-proper set in 1936, at least one character dies. I won't say who or how, but what that did for the remainder of the 1936 events was cast a completely different light on them. It is like getting terribly caught up in one of life's daily drama's at work or at home - something that feels terribly important - and then suddenly hurricane Katrina strikes or a childhood friend gets a terrible illness and you're left thinking - what was I making all that fuss about? There is a sudden switch in the focus of the novel from a 1930s film intrigue and romance to questions of ethics - of right and wrong. They come a little late if you ask me, but I appreciated them coming at all. They gave me a respect for one of the characters that I hadn't previously felt.

If any of you care to recommend to me the Russell Banks I should read - I'd be intrigued to hear. I've had one vote for Cloudsplitter. He is the New York State Novelist after all, so I would like to read some more of his work.

I'm choosing between David Lodge's Thinks..., Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth, and Stefan Zweig's Chess Story for my next book, but now, despite the fact that you think it may be Sunday, I have to head off to the lab and work.


Anne Camille said...

The Sweet Hereafter is the only Banks' novel I've read. It had been on my bookshelves for a long time. One night, while looking for something else, I found it, started to read it and finished it around 3 in the morning (on a weekday night!). I especially liked how each section of the book was told from the perspective of a different character. Given the plot, I don't think I could have read it straight through if any one of the characters had been the primarily focus of the entire book. It would have been too intense and emotional.

Ted said...

Cam - I only know the movie - I can imagine how intense the novel must be. Thanks for the recommendation.

Anonymous said...

I second the recommendation of The Sweet Hereafter, intense and beautiful to be sure. By the way, I've been thinking some more about Cloudsplitter. I think it avoids the problem of plot obviousness because the plot is set by history (As you probably know, it's the telling of the John Brown story). I think this frees Banks to focus on the things he does most exquisitely: rich character development, luscious unfolding, and descriptive detail. The book is lush and beautiful. I found myself wanting to read whole long passages out loud.

Anonymous said...

I have Cloudsplitter on my shelf and when I get to it, it will be my first experience with Banks - although your comments about The REserve makes me think I'd really like it.
If you do go for Chess Story, I can't wait to hear your thoughts. I love Steven Zweig.

Anonymous said...

Banks is probably best known for two novels that became films: The Sweet Hereafter, a portrait of a hardscrabble community that loses 14 children in a school bus accident. The Darling is about a fugitive Weather Underground activist who becomes embroiled in the Liberian civil war. I flipped through The Reserve but have yet to read the book.

Ted said...

Matt - I've seen film of The Sweet Hereafter but not the film of Affliction - was Darling a film too?