Thursday, May 26, 2016

Ms. Hen reviews THE HOMESMAN

Directed by Tommy Lee Jones

Ms. Hen does not usually like Westerns, and she doesn’t like Hillary Swank either, but she saw the preview for HOMESMAN, and she was intrigued. She became interested in the story of the three women in the Nebraska Territory who went mad after a long, painful winter.

Hillary Swank’s character, the pious, unmarried and outspoken Mary Bee Cuddy is recruited to escort the women to Iowa to meet with the wife of a minister who takes care of people with mental illnesses.

The film opens with Cuddy making dinner for her neighbor; Ms. Hen was pleased the pioneer was making fried chicken. Cuddy asks her neighbor to marry her because she thinks they would make a good match with their farms, because she has land and knows how to manage money, but he turns her down flat because he says she is too plain, and he tells her he plans to go back East to find a wife.

As Ms. Hen said before, she doesn’t like Hillary Swank, but she is perfect for this part. She is headstrong and capable of taking charge of her life and situation. She blackmails George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones) into taking the three insane women to Iowa because she feels like she needs a man’s protection on the journey. She cuts him down from the rope from which he was hanging that some men did to him after they caught him jumping a claim, taking someone else’s house while he was away. She tells him she’ll cut him down, but she has a job for him. She doesn’t tell him what it is until he’s down.

Ms. Hen thought this was a women’s film. Great performances are given by Swank, and the three women she escorts, Grace Gummer as Arabella Sours, Miranda Otto as Grace Belknap and Sonja Ritcher as Gro Svendson. Meryl Streep appears at the end as the minister’s wife in Iowa. Ms. Hen thinks this is an important film, because the mentally ill are not usually portrayed in such films as Westerns. But this isn’t a typical Western.

Ms. Hen thought this film wasn’t like a Western because most seem to be phony, completely unlike what the real Wild West was like. Ms. Hen doesn’t know what the real West was like, but she knows it wasn’t like BONANZA. This film seemed like it was similar to what the authentic West: dangerous, but beautiful, and full of daring people ready to start a new life in a new place. There were dangers such as Indians, stray settlers, and hostile hoteliers. The rules were different in the Wild West than they are today, where the law of the land didn’t exist, and nobody cared what could be enforced, they were out for themselves to survive and get by day to day.

This film is tragic and sad, but not in an unexpected way. Women were supposed to want to be like women and Mary Bee Cuddy doesn’t think she could get married and be like other women. George Biggs redeems himself and brings music to Mary who loved music and dreamed of a piano before she went on the journey with the women.

Ms. Hen loved this film because it was different, not like most Hollywood films. She discovered that it was a French and American production, and she decided that is why she enjoyed it, since it was French. The quiet power of this film lurks beneath the surface, a story of duty, longing and sacrifice. Ms Hen recommends this film, but be prepared for a reflection of reality.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Ms. Hen reviews THE BASTARD

Violette Leduc
Dalkey Editions
2003 Original publication 1964
Translated by Derek Coltman

Ms. Hen decided to read this novel because she saw the film VIOLETTE, and was intrigued by the story of Violette Leduc and her tumultuous life. Ms. Hen read a collection of short stories by Simone De Beauviour recently for the same reason.

THE BASTARD is about Violette Leduc and her experience growing up as a bastard, an illegitimate child of a servant and the master’s son. Leduc was born in 1907. Her mother is marked because she had a child out of wedlock. She takes her child to live with her mother, and the grandmother dotes on the child and spoils her until she dies. Leduc said that her grandmother’s death frees her, since she could not hide in her apron ever again.

Ms. Hen was enthralled by THE BASTARD.  It’s not because there are dozens of chickens and hens scattered all throughout the pages. It’s because the writing has a dense beauty to it; the writing is heavy with words, and the descriptions of things are so unique and desperate that Ms. Hen has never read anything quite like it recently.

When she meets her stepfather, Violettte greets him, and he brushes her aside, and she writes, “I turned to ice for thirty years.” Her mother works hard when she marries the stepfather; she wanted to prove to him that she could be a good wife. Violette is sent to boarding school.

Ms. Hen thought THE BASTARD might be considered to be like Proust, but with some well written lesbian love scenes. She wrote, “A caress is to a shudder what twilight is to a lightening flash.” Violette has a love affair with her schoolmate Isabelle, and after that a teacher at the school, Hermine. A student reports them and Violette is expelled, and Hermine fired.

Violette has affairs with men as well. She has a long relationship with Hermine, until one day Hermine leaves. Violette had worked at a publishing company, but she quit, so she could stay at home. After Hermine leaves Violette gets a job as a secretary and meets Gabriel, her old friend again, and eventually marries him.

Throughout the book, Violette likes to pick flowers. She picks them illegally, from parks, and houses, and she picks them in the forests and the fields. Ms. Hen thinks this is because Violette is looking for her own flower, and since her name is Violette.

Violette leaves Paris during World War II with Maurice Sachs to go to the Normandy. This is when he encourages her to write, and she starts. He gives her an exercise book and tells her to sit under an apple tree. She becomes successful in the black market trade. She mails food from the country where it is plentiful to Paris where people are hungry. This amazed Ms. Hen. She didn’t think people could send food in the mail without it spoiling, But there are ways for everything when people are hungry, for food and money.

Ms. Hen was dazzled by THE BASTARD. The book is a dense read, Ms. Hen found that it took her a long time to finish it, since she had to take breaks and come up for air every now and then. It isn’t often that a novel gets under Ms. Hen’s skin and infects her, but this one did. She highly recommends this novel, but to the reader, be prepared to experience Violette Leduc’s heartbreak firsthand. THE BASTARD is not for the weak.

Thursday, May 5, 2016


Caitlin Horrocks
Sarabande Books

Ms. Hen stumbled upon this book by accident. She had no idea what this slim volume would be like, but the book ended up dazzling her. She does not want to say that she is stalking the author, so she will not say such a thing. Ms. Hen is a hen of discretion, and will not answer any incriminating questions.

This collection is composed completely of stories about women. Ms. Hen realized as she read the book that the ages of the characters get progressively older as the book goes on. The first story, “Zolaria,” is about a ten-year old girl, and the last story, “In the Gulf of Aden, Past the Gulf of Guadarfi,” is about a woman about fifty years old.

The stories in this book are strange, but some of them are strange in an ordinary way, such as “Steal Small,” about a couple who looks for dogs to sell to make a little extra money. In the story, Lyssa and Leo live together with a dog kennel in the back of the house. Lyssa works at the Goodwill and Leo works at a slaughterhouse killing cows all day. Ms. Hen didn’t like their world, but she understands that people can live like this. Leo finds dogs to sell to a friend, who in turn sells them to laboratories for experiments. Lyssa pities a beautiful Dalmation and almost sets the dog free. This story is visceral in a way that brought Ms. Hen into their lives. Some people do things that others could not imagine doing, but they do those things because they don’t know how to survive any other way.

The story “Embodied,” is about someone who seems completely normal, but is not because she believes she has lived 127 lives. She sees people all over the town where she lives that she used to know in her past lives. Ms. Hen loved this story. She doesn’t believe in past lives, but it’s fun to imagine we could have been someone else in a different life. She’s not sure if the character is crazy, or if she truly has had all those lives, but for the purpose of the story, the reader has to believe that the character is telling the truth. The lengths to which the woman goes to fulfill her duty to her former selves shocked Ms. Hen, and she knew the character is serious about her former lives, and probably isn’t crazy.

Ms. Hen likes to assume that everyone is crazy sometimes, or they have been crazy, or will go crazy, but sometimes that is not true.

The characters in this collection all seem to be sane to Ms. Hen. In the title story, “This is Not Your City,” Daria, a Russian woman, deals with the disappearance of her daughter. She lives in Finland, and her Finnish is minimal. She is a tortured Russian soul; she offered herself on a dating website to find a Finnish husband, and brought her teenage daughter, Nika, with her when she got married. The daughter does not do as well at school as she did in Russia, mostly because of her language skills. This is a story about a woman who survives; she wants to help her daughter flourish in the world. She teaches her daughter that sometimes the honest way isn’t always the best road to travel.

Ms. Hen loved this book. The stories are short, but engrossing, and Ms. Hen found from these stories that even what seems like an ordinary life can be extraordinary in its own way. Ms. Hen realized from reading THIS IS NOT YOUR CITY that some people have astounding survival skills, and Ms. Hen would like to think that she would be up to the challenge if the time comes. This book took Ms. Hen’s breath away.