As you know, I love a train wreck. I’m sucked into a story, enjoying its setting and characters and then — wham! — it’s buckle up time. We’re going for a ride that probably won’t end well.
That’s what happened, leisurely, when I began Emma Cline’s The Guest, the story of 22-year-old Alex, who works as a high-end escort. When client Simon invites her to spend August with him in the Hamptons, Alex is all in. It’s a perfect out for her. Alex is “wanted” in New York City by former roommates, ex-clients, and Dom, from whom she stole money and drugs. But that’s all back story, sort of: Dom keeps calling and texting.
Alex is arm candy for Simon, a rich middle-age man at ease with his wealth and way of life. Alex swims in the ocean, frolics in the pool, goes to parties with Simon in dresses Simon has picked out for her. Is it love? Alex thinks so. But when Alex damages Simon’s sports car — and lies about it — Simon kicks her out.
So begins Alex’s weeklong odyssey in the Hamptons, where she passes as a friend at a beach share, as a teenager, as a babysitter. Her phone dies, a welcome reprieve from Dom. Alex has a weird faith in things always working out for her — which is true — but there are many, many tense moments in this read. The “big lie” she tells herself is that Simon wants her back for his Labor Day party. All she has to do is make it through the week.
The ending is fraught, and perfect.
I found another train wreck in Dino Buzatti’s A Love Affair, translated from the Italian by Joseph Green. It’s Milan, 1960. Antonio Dorigo is an architect and set designer in his 50’s. He pays for sex.
One day he’s paired with Laide, a young ballet dancer who also works in strip clubs. Not at first, but not long after, Antonio finds himself obsessed with Laide. The girl toys with him for the rest of the story. Antonio is humiliated, debased, laughed at by friends and colleagues. When he tries to give up Laide she says, “No, I tell you, without me you couldn’t go on living.”
This is a dark read, fully realized. Maddening. Still, I loved it for its language and setting. Here’s some of its rich prose: “Down below him lay Milan out of which Laide came. Balconied houses with the stench of cats, flower pots blossoming in May and underwear hanging …the voice of a young girls singing freely, and the ghastly quarrel between him and her, with words it would be shameful to repeat.”
On to movies. Well, one movie.
Paul Schrader’s The Master Gardener is a mulit-pile-up train wreck, beautifully made and told. Sigourney Weaver plays Norma Haverhill (yes, she is another Norma Desmond), the owner of a Southern plantation celebrated for its gardens. Joel Edgerton plays Narvel Roth, her master gardener and more, a man with a dark past. Add a biracial drug-addicted niece to this brew, and we’re off! Schrader’s script should be studied for its economy, pacing, revelations. It’s a violent film, but less so than his magnificent First Reformed. In this, the land cures.
Finally, a shout out to Succession, an HBO series that kept me hooked for years. Friends who haven’t watched, or quit watching, ask me why. I say, “Do you like Shakespeare?” I will never forget the last shot of Shiv and her not-yet (ever?) ex Tom, with her hand almost resting in his.
Ditto The Marvelous Mrs.Maisel, which I devoured for its dialogue, setting, acting, clothing. Such a funny bon bon. The last scene made me laugh out loud. I will miss it/them.