All entries for Friday 10 February 2006

February 10, 2006

Stuart: A life backwards

Alexander Masters spent years working with the homeless, and even more years learning Stuart's story. As with most biography, he finishes the book intimately aquainted and 'in love' with his subject – 'his friend, Stuart'. Stuart is a psychotic, alcolohic, criminal, drug abusing homeless man with a serious affection for knives and a tendency to go loco for no apparant reason. He has spent his life in and out of prison, on the streets, and running away from wherever he has found himself. Masters' first draft was rejected by Stuart, who decided it was too dry and academic. He suggested that Masters write it backwards 'like a murder mystery' – who killed Stuart, and left this nutter in his place? Before Masters could finish the second draft – the backwards draft – Stuart had stepped out in front of the last train from Kings Lynn, intentionally or otherwise – and never got to see the finished article.

The backwards structure of the book works well – it doesn't feel contrived, and once you have got the hang of it, it flows smoothly enough. It is intwined with the story of the writing of the book, of Stuart and Alexanders relationship, of the campaign they worked on, and the places they went. Stuart is not romanticised as an ex-chaotic – he is right there – still drinking, drugging, being arrested, assualting others for no apparant reason, and sleeping rough rather than pay for a cab home. Masters work is 'stapling him to the page' – he is wary of mis-representing Stuart, from his bourgeous, middle class, privelidged and 'ordered' life.

Stuart's anxiety to be properly represented is shown, and Masters desire to understand this is touching. The need to understand why certain people turn out certain ways comes up again and again in thier conversations – and Masters' tries really hard to avoid jumping to such a conclusion. As a reader, its also important to try to do the same.

The characters of Masters and Stuart are wonderfully illustrated and endearing, and the death of Stuart, suicide or accident lends the book a tragic poignancy, which ironically, I suspect Stuart would have hated.
its sweet, its smooth and it pulls you in and resisits the urge to shock you with the harsh realities of life on the street. Its not a political tract, its a human life story.

And its good.


In her Shoes @ WSC

Title:
In Her Shoes
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

Hmm, well what to say about a film I've never heard of before. A predictable chick-flick, two sisters, disastrously are thrust together, etc etc. Cameron Diaz stars as the lazy yet disastrously attractive floozy Maggie, while her sister Rose (Toni Collette) provides a picture of virgoan anality with a career as a lawyer, nice apartment and secret collection of beautiful, impractical, and unworn Jimmy-Choos. Chucked out by her outraged step-mother, Maggie seeks refuge at her sisters house, slowly driving her round the bend with her attention seeking, slovenly behaviour. Things come to a head when Maggie gets Rose's car clamped, and is unceremoniously chucked out. As she packs, Rose's secret partner (a senior colleague) comes to the door, and is faced with a scantily clad Maggie, who is quite happy to step in in her sisters absence. Cue messy break up scene. Boyfriend rapidly exits, stage left, Maggie goes to visit her mothers mother, mysteriously absent after her mothers death at an early age. Rose, by some happy coincidences begins a dog-walking service, which manages to maintain her previous lifestyle. During her stay with the Miami old folks, Maggie learns to care for others, and we slowly realise that she has long suffered from Dyslexia, slowly overcome by an elderly patient with an obsession with Elizabeth Bishop. Anyway, long story short, eventually the whole family get back together again – Rose finds love with an old, slightly peculiar colleague, and eventually the two sisters realise that blood is thicker than … whatever.

Perhaps slightly over long, the film has a certain quality which resists dismissal as yet another chick flick romance. The two sisters performance is genuinely touching, once I got over wondering what precisely they had done to make Diaz's boobs so big! It also avoids the major pitfall of most films of the genre – having a man provide the solution to Rose and Maggie's personal dilemmas. Instead the two sisters have to work out their own problems, before they can set about salvaging Rose's relationships. Maggie's portrayal of a 'slow reader' is again convincing and emotional – not a massive tear-jerker, but a couple of single drops might be expected. Certainly better than quite a lot of things I've seen recently!


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