‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’ was written by Betty Smith, published in 1943 , made into a film in 1945 and is a book that you have to read. This is a point that I will continually stress. You may have heard of it, you may have not but it is of my opinion that it is one of the best ‘great American novels’ in a long list of great American novels.
The book follows the story of the Nolan family, who are a poor immigrant family from both Ireland and Austria persevering in the harsh, antagonistic reality of poverty in urban Brooklyn who survive through their tenacity and trust in the possibility of success in a new country that promises freedom.
Johnny Nolan, the patriach of the household is a charismatic singer and waiter who is loved by everybody. He is an adoring husband, and father that is young and reckless, but is also helpless and dependant and resorts to alcoholism as he struggles to be the father that he knows he is unable to be.
In contrast to Johnny, Katie Nolan, the mother is realistic, hardworking and practical. She supports the family, emotionally and financially, and brings up her children in extreme poverty whilst ensuring that they have a educated and adversely happy upbringing. Although she favours her son, Neeley, she does not show it, as he grows to have mirror his father, but vow never to drink.
Which brings me on to the protagonist of the story. Francie Nolan. Francie embodies all the Nolans; she takes the good out of everything, and from all the characters, including her aunts and grandmother, develops through the story un-phased by complete, soul crushing tragedy.
And that is the beauty of this book. Every miserable restriction, every unfair liberty struck at the Nolan’s expense you feel, but with Francie’s unshakable sunny disposition and resolve. It rains, and it thunders, but you laugh. The book validates presumptions of ethical standards with noble acts made acceptable because of their extreme situation, and despite all odds, the family thrives. It’s the perfect most beautifully written sentiment of when live gives you lemons…
So that’s the book. In all sincerity, If i thought it would help, I would transcribe it here in it’s entirety if i thought it would be read but i know how fickle the internet is. Please buy it from a book store, order it online or if you are technologically savvy download it to your Kindle but read it. In fact, if you are strapped for cash, you can borrow my copy.
It’s fantastic. Read it. Okay, i’m done.
We seem to have been experiencing an awful lot of meteorological lunacy lately, which has acted as a handy build up to this month’s theme: The Weather. Every time I look out the window I see a new item of weather has landed on the grass, reminding me of my After School Club month-holder-ship (is there a card for that?) My forecast for this month is sunny with a chance of Cher. And speaking of sharing (we pretty much were) here’s why I chose this fickle mistress of a theme, presented, of course, underneath a drawing of Michael Fish.
The weather acts as a classic anecdote of British life. We’re not a country of extremes and so we monitor the slight changes in our weather carefully. When it snows, Canada mocks “you call that snow?!” yet we take pride in digging our trusty plastic sledge out from the garage and watch helplessly as our transport systems fall apart around us. As soon as the sun peeks around the clouds, someone opens a can of British Summertime and flip flops are rediscovered; bodies untouched by the light suddenly walk about town topless in search of ice cream, burning carelessly. However an umbrella is the accessory of choice for a trip to the UK, with the Czech Republic even turning up to the London 2012 opening ceremony in wellies. Certainly not in the same league as countries that experience monsoons, hurricanes, tsunamis, it is the attention we pay to our limited climate that puts us up there in the weather league tables.
Since first discovering the writing tool of pathetic fallacy at school I’ve found myself conscious of the power of the weather to affect situations. A downpour has the ability to make everyday events feel a cruelly scripted scene. It’s raining, girl is late for train. No coat, a sorry excuse for shoes, she splashes desperately like a dying salmon struggling through the stream of office workers going the other way. A sunny morning instead conjures a vitamin-D-addled haze, and the mind seems only able to recall the loveliest parts of our lives leading up to that point.
Strangely the act of talking about the weather is a completely inert experience, predominantly used to avoid any personal or meaningful discourse. Perhaps through lacking the blessed ability to generate naturally convincing small talk, discussing what it’s like ‘out’ has become a universal comfort zone. Afterall, rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.
A small selection of horror films that more or less deals with inventions and mad scientists.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) directed by Robert Wiene
A killer combination of German expressionism and sleep walking of a film.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) directed by John S. Robertson
The novella by Robert Louis Stevenson has been adapted to screen quite a few times. This version from 1920 features John Barrymore who, by the way, pretty much died during a radio show. His last words were: ‘Die? I should say not, dear fellow. No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him.’ This was however not caught on tape or aired.
Frankenstein (1931) directed by James Whale
Dr. Frankenstein reinvents life which could have been a great success if only Fritz didn’t mess up the brains. This movie also messed up little Ana’s brain in the beautiful film ‘The Spirit of the Beehive’ (1973).
The Brain that wouldn’t Die (1962)
Scientist like brains. So does B-movie film makers.
X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963)
The poster says it all.