"Men of few words are the best men." - William Shakespeare, King Henry V, Act III, Scene II

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

QMBC X: Moonlight Mile

Reading: 

Moonlight Mile 
By
Dennis Lehane 

The evening of the 19th April 2011 was a fine one in Dublin, indeed, the month would turn out to be the driest and warmest April ever recorded in Ireland. 

Fortunately, there are few cities in the world where it is easier for a god-fearing man to slake a serious thirst on a warm evening than in Dublin; and it was against the backdrop of an unseasonably sultry evening that the tenth meeting of the Quincey Morris Book Club (QMBC) was called to order at Lott’s Bar, Off Liffey Street.

It was with great regret that Carl Jameson advised that he would be forced to call “a frontline” in the days ahead of the meeting as his lady wife had seen fit to book a non-refundable romantic mid-week break in the west of Ireland for the date of the meeting. Usually, such maudlin stuff would earn a considerable rebuke from fellow members, but it was the gentlemanly manner in which Jameson (unprompted) gave his word to discipline his wife against such action with liberal use of his open palm and his Sunday belt-buckle that won the hearts and minds of the club. 

Therefore, it came to pass that the meeting attendees (in alphabetical order by surname) were:
William Clay (WC)
Atticus McCarthy (AM)
Tiger McGavin (TM)
Xavier Paddington (XP)
Whitby Syme (WS)
Mycroft Webb (MW)

And at 7 p.m., the agreed hour for meeting, all the above were in situ in their customary perch above the bar and their clandestine literary gathering commenced apace. The purpose of these minutes is to act as a permanent record of this meeting so that no literary insights or lost to the passage of time. 

Preamble

The evening started with considerable promise as Clay casually informed the group that the QMBC fundraising effort to win the competition at his workplace to put a snappy moniker on a nebulous management initiative was successful and he produced a crisp €50 note with unexpected panache.

Unsurprisingly, given the appetites in attendance, the collective call was for the platter of sweet meats and vittles that has made Lotts the most popular venue for our meetings to date. Upon ordering our platter with the winnings, the barman recognised immediately that the QMBC were in attendance and he knowingly cried “Fill it, Tony” to the young woman working in the kitchen. While we waited for our vittles, a wide range of topics were discussed and some important points were agreed. 

Firstly, Clay had expressed his surprise about the prevalence of “urban foxes” around the canal area of Dublin 4 in the evening. His recent relocation to this area from the verdant North side meant that he had caught a number of these beautiful creatures in his headlights in recent weeks. All in attendance knew that Quincey Morris would not be happy with the laws that prevent Irish men from hunting out these beauties, therefore, neither are we. Sad faces. 

Secondly, a good-show commendation was put forward and approved for Mycroft Webb for coming up with the prize-winning acronym, but rather mysteriously, a reciprocal commendation was absent for Clay whose idea it was in the first place to enter the competition at his work place and harness the group’s sometimes wayward talents towards a financial recompense. However, no-one knows better than Clay that the QMBC monster is a fickle one and although the book club may not always be right; it is always the book club. 

Following on from the discussion of acronyms, it was mentioned that the USA PATRIOT act was a glorious acronym standing for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism”. Whatever your politics, it sets the bar for all those who would dare to abbreviate.

Also, the DVD "Cop-Out" starring Bruce Williams and Tracy Morgan continued its inexplicable journey around the QMBC - spreading like an unfortunate bout of cinematic dysentery.

As the food arrived, Syme cleverly sought to use it as a distraction and seized this opportunity to inform the group that he had only read the first part of Dennis Lehane’s Moonlight Mile. Your minute taker would have it known that Syme’s paltry effort equated to less than a third of what was required of him as a member of Ireland’s foremost contrarian-gentleman’s book club. Why had one of the QMBC’s brightest lights stumbled after a mere two-and-a-half moonlit furlongs when others wilfully galloped for the full eight? Why indeed?

It was difficult to hear his explanation at first over the sloshing of pints and sucking of chicken wings but the mention of his weekend of “Role Playing Games” immediately impressed the other members, who thought that Syme, who had hitherto been a very discreet gent, might in fact be a complete Whore-meister General. Sadly, this role-playing turned out of the Dungeons & Dragons variety which Syme openly admitted had taken up too much of his free time of late.

Adequately disgusted by the feebleness of his excuse and correspondingly with him, the other members could only conclude that the quest of reading a relatively short book required too many skill points for Syme’s level 68 Elf Wizard. Your minute-taker wonders if Lehane had thrown in a cohort of randy Orcs and a kidnapped Elf Princess into Moonlight Mile whether his interests would have been aroused sufficiently to finish reading the book.

You Seemed so Real …. I mean Promising

Despite all the above distractions, the QMBC had gathered to discuss Moonlight Mile by the godfather of Beantown noir Dennis Lehane. The book revisits unlikely private investigators Patrick Kenzie and his wife Angie Genarro, twelve years on from the case that nearly cost them their relationship. They are struggling to get by in a recession hit Boston with their 4-year old daughter when a lightning bolt from the past strikes.    Amanda McCready, the 16-year old girl who Patrick tracked down when she was abducted as a 4-year old is missing again and something does not feel quite right about it ....

The literary side to the evening was commenced with Mycroft offering up for group discussion to the group the brief review of Moonlight mile provided (in absentia) by Jameson: 

“Moonlight Mile was quite a good read - providing an excellent analysis of modern American neurotic personalities. Also, there was a very high level of Quincey Morrisness on show in the characters of Bubba & Kirill.”

Characteristically, McGavin saw fit to get the ball rolling with his standard opening gambit that he “did not get” the character of Bubba at all. At this point, Mycroft was seen to crumple visibly at the thought of such a one-dimensional character being a sphinx to anyone, least of all a member of the QMBC. Discretion being the better part of valour though he simply sought to remind everyone that Bubba was “built like a bank-vault door and had not even a passing acquaintance with fear” and agreed with Jameson that the character definitely had Quincey Morrisness in spades.

Clay made light of Jameson’s opening statement by wondering which characters were “neurotic” - as he was not turned on by any of them! Well played Sir. 

Atticus quipped that while reading MM he had always visualised the character of Bubba in his head as Bruce Springsteen’s saxophone player (pictured left). 

No doubt the privilege of being mentioned at a QMBC meeting marked the achievement of a lifetime for Clarence Clemons who slipped into the arms of the reaper a few months later. 

McGavin stated that he was quite disappointed with Moonlight Mile (MM) as a whole. Clay echoed this by taking the seemingly cathartic step of admitting that his own nomination had disappointed him greatly and he wondered whether individuals who had read more from the Kenzie-Genarro series would have enjoyed nuances that were imperceptible to him.

Paddington scoffed at the idea that the book offered anything more in the way of nuance than a very easy, very quick holiday read - perhaps suitable for one of his frequent epicurean holidays in Tuscany.

Clay mentioned that one of the reasons he found MM disappointing was that the author had such considerable big-screen pedigree with Shutter Island and Mystic River to his credit. In this regard, Mycroft stated that if he had not seen the movie “Gone, Baby Gone”, a prequel to MM which covers the first abduction of Amanda McCready as a child then he would have found the book quite confusing. In a similar vein, Atticus commented that he could see how Lehane could have written Shutter Island but he felt Mystic River was far more nuanced, based on the films, than this latest effort. 

Atticus felt that the book was “Zeitgeist-tastic” in that it continually cranked in reference after reference about iPads, Kindles and the Twilight series meant that it would likely date very badly as a result; in his eyes MM was a book that was not written for the ages. 

Clay cleared his throat and agreed that the book was somewhat “ephemeral” in nature, it seems the relocation to the gentile suburbs of south Dublin from the more visceral DNS may not be too good for the man’s diet but it has been a boon for his vocabulary.

Both Paddington and McGavin commented that the character of Amanda McCready as some sort of 16-year old criminal mastermind hardly felt credible. A child working out such a complicated cabal with ferocious ex-soviet gangsters was a bridge too far for these honest souls. McGavin thought MM was pretty forgettable stuff, a poor mystery with a even poorer plot, comparing it in terms of forgettableness to the movie Enemy of the State which, ironically, he seemed to recall a great deal about. 

Atticus continued the assault with his belief that the dialogue in MM was quite clunky particularly so when Lehane's characters had to interact with disaffected teenagers. At this point, Clay interjected, disagreeing, stating that he thought the author had a good turn of phrase and that the realistic dialogue made the exchanges and banter seem believable – citing the scene where Kenzie and Bubba confronted Max and Tadeo and after shooting Tadeo, Bubba starts to counsel him on his weight: “You could lose a few but you’re not an Orca or anything. Shit, man, just lay off the white bread and the cheese.”

Mycroft commented that the book at least succeeded in having a clear recessionary feel to it, Lehane through Kenzie displays a notable Anti-Corporate America agenda with all the talk of unfair layoffs and the anal-rape profit margins of Big Pharma in the first part of the book.

Is it a fahkin' Book or a fahkin' Movie?

Although he did not pass judgement on the quality of the dialogue in MM, Mycroft established that he had never read a book that contained so much dialogue before and that at times it felt like a screenplay. He contended that given the author’s history, it may have been written with a prompt transfer to the silver screen in mind. This would not be the last time that Mycroft would labour this point before the evening was done.

The quick wit and dark sense of humour of Bostonians (being so associated with the Irish) and perhaps best displayed in movies such as Good Will Hunting, The Departed, The Town was one of the main attractions in nominating MM for the QMBC. That, and the fact that Clay knew Mycroft would vote for anything with Boston connections given his predilection for quoting scenes from Good Will Hunting at length after reaching a “tippling point” of eight pints of Smithwicks. 

For any reader who would like to get a feel for the type of Boston that the QMBC were expecting, then this selection of choice Beantown movie clips should give some idea. Fahkin' Awesome.


In fact, Clay concluded later that one of the main reasons for him being so disappointed in MM was that the sense of Boston that he so desired from MM was simply not there.

Atticus believed that MM showed up the quality of some of the previous QMBC nominations which he felt had more staying power and were often allegorical- being about more than they were about.

Never a fan of linear discussion, McGavin jumped to discuss the ending of the book and found the arbitrary violence at the end unnecessary. Paddington felt that this violence was one of the book’s few saving graces and that this book seems to agree with his belief that if the author’s name is bigger than the title on the cover then you should probably give it a skip. McGavin also noted that most of the praise was for the author and the other books in his stable rather than MM.

Mycroft sought to get the discussion back on track by asking the question: Did the QMBC like the character of Patrick Kenzie? He had wondered why some of the other members had not been critical of how shit a detective he seemed to be –i.e. getting beaten up and robbed and that he was not a very good shot. 

Clay responded that Kenzie was a man of principle and integrity; doing what he says he is going to do even if it comes at great personal cost to him. He said that he found the fact that Kenzie was grafting in his line of work quite realistic compared to other more Superman-like Bourne secret agent characters. Clay added that he would have no problem in going back to read the prequel "Gone Baby Gone" but it was notable that no other member would volunteer to join him, as his opinion on the quality of the writing and dialogue differed from the bulk of the members. 

Paddington then asked the group whether they preferred this book or The Cobra (QMBC VII)? Clay commended Paddington on the quality of this question, noting that they were both pretty poor books. McGavin preferred MM stating that he would not recommend Cobra to his Aunt. Mycroft was not blown away by either book but had a clear preference for The Cobra. 

Syme chirped up that he had quite liked what he had read of the first part of MM despite what he had heard from the other members at the meeting about the rest of the book just confusing him. However, his abject failure to complete the book meant that his views were to fall on deaf ears at this meeting.

Atticus joked that he believed that the QMBC had somehow managed to read the worst books by both Frederick Forsyth and Dennis Lehane. He would probably not read more of either man's work.

McGavin was unhappy with the fact that the mother did not get killed and he did not understand what Kenny did so wrong to end up dead? It took little time for Paddington and Mycroft to remind him that he was in fact a kiddy-fiddler based on an account at the start of the book.  Mycroft then listed all the people who lost the number of their mess in MM (Zippo, Turin, Kenny, Dre, Kirill) and was postulated that Lehane was happy to kill them off because they were all bad people, except for Zippo who was just an aimless fucker.

McGavin then saw fit to delve into the logistics of certain aspects of the book by querying whether it seemed likely: a) that Dre could not have heard the enormous train that would end his life, b) that the Soviet Mafia would have really had people in Savannah to get at Kenzie's kid. Quite why this incensed Clay so much was unclear but a good number of minutes were set aside for a detailed rebuttal which in a number of instances called into question the character of McGavin for asking such questions.

At this stage, it was noticeable that the group was finding it difficult to concentrate on the discussion of the book as MM had clearly none of the depth of character or plot that they had right to expect from their selection, so it was agreed to move on the one-sentence summaries. 


Moonlight Mile: One Sentence Summaries

It is a widely held belief that “Brevity is wit” and what finer format for the QMBC punsters to evidence their undeniable wit than in the construction of a pointed one-sentence summary of their views on the book. 

Tiger McGavin: “Dennis should have stuck to making movies.” – in much the same way that McGavin appears to stick to using the same one-sentence summary (see QMBC VI)

Carl Jameson: “Moonlight Mile was quite a good read - providing an excellent analysis of modern American neurotic personalities. Also, there was a very high level of Quincey Morrisness on show in the characters of Bubba & Kirill.”

Mycroft Webb: “The title of this book comes from a Rolling Stones song, which is apt because I certainly couldn’t get no satisfaction from reading it. 

William Clay: “It’s sub-paahh!”  - in his finest “Southie” Boston Accent. 

Atticus McCarthy: “One-dimensional twaddle.”

Whitby Syme: None provided due to his abject failure to complete the book.

Xavier Paddington: Something inaudible - due to Paddington’s eating of a lamb cutlet (origins unknown) at this point in the meeting.


Moonlight Mile …… more like Moonlight Pile!

Whitby Syme: N/A
No Rating provided due to his abject failure to complete the book

William Clay: 37 / 83 
(A passing grade)

Carl Jameson: 50 / 83 

Atticus McCarthy: 25 / 83 
Interestingness: 4 / 15
Quincey Morrisness: 8 / 15 
Action: 6 / 10
Execution 7 /20
Unputdownableness: 5 /10
Discussableness: 0 / 10
Forgettableness: -5 / 3

Xavier Paddington: 30 / 83 
Interestingness: 2 / 20
Quincey Morrisness: 11 / 15 
Action: 6 / 10
Execution 5 /20
Unputdownableness: 5 /10
Discussableness: 1 / 8

Mycroft Webb: 36 / 83
Quincey Morrisness: 4 / 16 
Action: 8 /15
Well Written: 5 /15
Interestingness: 3 /15
Unputdownableness: 16 / 22

Tiger McGavin: 40 / 83
Quincey Morrisness: 5 / 14 
Well Written: 8 /13
Interestingness: 2 /15
Unputdownableness: 14 / 20
Sexiness: 4 / 8 
Action: 7 /13

Moonlight Mile earned a QMBC rating of: 36.33/83

After hearing the poor ratings for his nomination, Clay admitted to feeling bad for taking advantage of Mycroft’s Bostonian leanings to get his book selected rather than put up a title of greater intellectual merit. 

Atticus commented that he was open to reading a wide variety of books, a platitude which was returned with force by Paddington who said that was just as well because Atticus hadn't a hope in hell of getting his nominations selected based on the quality of his past pitches. The game was afoot once more.


The Nominations for QMBC XI

Carl Jameson:
On the Beach by Neville Shute

Xavier Paddington:
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Tiger McGavin:
The Origins of the Second World War by A.J.P. Taylor
The Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich

Whitby Syme:
Machine of Death by Various Authors

Atticus McCarthy:
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby.
The Stand by Stephen King

Mycroft Webb:
Tinkers by Paul Harding
Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier

William Clay:
The Pathseeker by Imré Kertesz

The Voting


As per QMBC tradition, the dead heat was resolved by a show of hands with those members whose books are tied excluded from the show of hands. Therefore, by the narrowest of margins, In Cold Blood was carried by 3 votes to 2. 

Next:  In Cold Blood By Truman Capote
Very Nearly:  On the Beach By Neville Shute

Thus our literary journey takes us from the gritty modern day streets of Boston, Massachusetts to the windswept prairies of 1950s Kansas in our quest to become Ireland's foremost contrarian-elitist gentleman's book club.  

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