Sunday, April 04, 2010

Final words

"Beginnings are scary," Sandra Bullock says in a voice over to Hope Floats (screenplay by Steven Rogers). "Endings are usually sad, but it's what's in the middle that counts. So, when you find yourself at the beginning, just give hope a chance to float up. And it will."


In the rush-rush world of today, who has time for middles? All tales have beginnings and they have endings. Some are natural ones, some are crafted on. And some of the latter are badly crafted on. With that in mind, we decided to check out the latest in hardcover nonfiction.

Rafraf Barrar is an Iraqi woman who worked as a translator for NBC News and eventually moved to America. With CBS News' Don Teague (take that NBC!), Barrar charts her journey in Saved By Her Enemy (which offers a foreword by Ann Curry). Page 321 concludes Barrar's story with the following:

Rafraf closed the Bible, and smiled at those who had gathered in front of her. There were a few dozen people in the room. She knew them all from a year of Sundays.
The water around her felt warm.
She looked toward the pastor, a young man named Jordan leading his first congregation in a small Dallas church called Mercy Place.
Rafraf nodded that she was ready.
"I'm doing this," she said, "because life is too short to live apart from God."

Life proved short for his former co-star Dana Plato, but Todd Bridges is still around ("devastated" "but not surprised" by Plato’s death) and he's an author (with help from Sarah Tomlinson) via Killing Willis: From Diff'rent Strokes to the Mean Streets to the Life I Always Wanted. As Bridges winds down on page 275, he reflects and comes to a point not all that different from Rafraf:

At this point, with sixteen years of sobriety, a happy marriage, and two beautiful children who are growing up to be strong and independent young people, I can definitely say that I've made a lot of progress. On average, I now have six days of happiness. And the seventh day in turmoil, as I fight my same old inner fight and work on trying to love myself and forgive myself for my past. But that's okay, because I now know that even the bad days don't last forever. And with God's grace and a whole lot of patience, we all get to where we're supposed to be in the end.

Music critic Greil Marcus is known for his 'manly' book titles and he continues the tradition with When That Rough God Goes Riding which is about "Listening To Van Morrison," the subheading informs. What? You thought Marcus was finally going to show book length interest in someone without a penis? After 173 brief pages, Marcus concludes his meditations on Van Morrison and self by watching Georgia:

For nine minutes and eleven seconds, though, in a trance of terrible sings, [Jennifer Jason] Leigh has taken you right out of her not-very-good movie. While you were out, you were somewhere oddly quiet -- a place that with "Take Me Back" Van Morrison marked on a map and Sadie the punk found.

From the amazing Jennifer Jason Leigh playing a singer to a book about an actual one, Jimmy McDonough has followed up his massively praised Shakey: Neil Young's Biography with Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen. The legend of the airwaves and the real world died in 1998, McDonough's book ends on page 365:
Late one evening I asked Jan Hoard if Tammy's story had a moral. "I don't know about a moral," she said. "Judge not, lest ye be judged. I'm just thankful that she was on this earth for as long as she was and was blessed with a talent that brought so much joy to so many people, not only with her music, but by her very presence. "It makes me very sad to think about a lot of what she went through. Tammy is in God's hand now, God's care, and she is at peace. No more demons."

Staying with a southern mood, we turn to Andrew Young's book -- dubbed I, Judas in some quarters -- The Politician. From outside the sewer, Young reflects on his time with John Edwards, Elizabeth Edwards and other frauds and phonies. In real life, the tawdry tale ends with a political death, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy and a politician who still doesn't get it. Young's book winds down page 300 with this (continuing on page 301):

Sadly, John and Elizabeth Edwards could have put themselves in a position to continue their good works, if they had told the truth when they had the chance. This is what Bill Clinton eventually did, and it has allowed him to return to a productive public life as a sinner who is also good. Instead, the Edwardses held to a lie they knew was a lie and refused to do the right thing. Faced with this reality, I had no choice but to write this book in order to move forward in some way. I hope our wounds will begin to heal as the truth comes to light.
If I achieve what I hope to achieve with this book, I will begin to build a new, positive future. I will create a record that will make some sense out of my life's choices and a terrible political scandal, for my wife, family, friends, and you, the reader. Finally, I hope to give myself permission to be imperfect but nonetheless unbowed. Like my father, I want to begin again.

And in those self-serving, naked words, Young reveals the motivation behind many self-tales: To make sense of senseless behavior (Young passed Edwards child off as his own child to the press, among other things) but, most importantly, to paint themselves as the victim. In 2010, Young's attempts to climb the cross play out like way too much self-painted drama. He hopes, the words tell you, that the world will forgive him. He fails to grasp that the bulk of the world -- even the bulk of the US -- doesn't know who he is, let alone what he's done. Thereby demonstrating that the chief ingredient for any volume is a large dose of a healthy ego.
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