Death Comes for the Archbishop

Death Comes for the Archbishop

by Willa Cather
Length: 297 pg, Publication year: 1927
Genre: Literary, Religion (somewhat)
Grade: A+

Background:

I had to do it. I had to give it a grade of A+. (For the record, I’ve only given A+ about 4 times in my life). I was, to say the least, utterly stunned by the beauty and power of this novel. Written in a very conventional mode, this novel is especially striking in its compassionate portrayal of missionaries, Mexicans, and Indians in 1850s. It is embarrassing to admit here but I teared up a little in the end too.

Death Comes for the Archbishop was the book club selection for the Los Angeles Public Library book club. I was swamped with a number of my academic projects, so I thought I would skip this month’s book club meeting. However, I had a sudden, inexplicable urge to read a few pages three days before the book club meeting, and the opening scene just enraptured me; I had no choice but to go on and I finished it the next day.

Traditional story telling (which is declining in this digital age), when it’s done right, still holds much power to sway readers. From my amateur perspective, I think Cather is even greater writer than Hemingway. Her sense of humanism and its depiction is just right for the novel writing. From beginning to end, no single page is mediocre. If you decide to read just one classic novel in your busy life, make it this one.

Synopsis:

To say that this book is about a story of the lives of two french Catholic missionaries in the New World is only partly true. The narrative arc covers about 30 – 40 years of Father Latour’s life, in vignettes only. The story is plotless; the events and changes in the State of New Mexico when it was newly annexed by United States are portrayed through various watershed and poignant events. If I were asked to state the main conflict of the novel, it would be to consolidate the incompatible cultures and beliefs of three different races in the region while establishing a diocese in the state of New Mexico in 1850s.

“The loneliness of his position had begun to weigh upon him.”

The opening scene is taking place in Rome, where three cardinals and one missionary bishop are having an early dinner. The American bishop is persuading them to choose Father Lateur as a bishop who would lead new diocese in the new world. Hence, Father Lateur, along with Father Vaillant, who is also a childhood friend, are sent to the new world to promulgate their faith.

Cather’s descriptions of the geography – both literal and human emotional – are stunning. Her writing is simple and beautiful, yet is full of compassion and layered meaning that renders the time period very concrete to readers.

The place Father Lateur is going to establish a diocese is not a friendly place. “That country will drink up his youth and strength as it does the rain.” The newly annexed state is divided by “some thirty Indian nations, each with its own customs and langauge, many of them fiercely hostile to each other. And the Mexicans, a naturally devout people. Untaught and unshepherded, they cling to the faith of their fathers.” His life will be a challenge, and he has only his God’s grace to depend on.

“It was just this solitariness of love in which a priest’s life could be like his Master’s. It was not a solitude of atrophy, of negation, but of perpetual flowering.”

At the time, the railroad was not established yet at the place, so it takes months to travel from place to place. “He went on horseback over the Santa Fe trail to St. Louis, nearly a thousand miles, then by steamboat to Pittsburgh, across the mountains to Cumberland, and on to Washington…”

Once there, he needs to deal with both expected and unexpected challanges. There are corrupt priests he needs to get rid of; the Indians already have faiths of their own; white people are rushing over for the gold and conflicts ensue. Through it all, it was father Latour’s patience and compassion that win over those three disparate ethnic groups of people. As the title foreshadows, Father Latour dies of an old age in the end, and people from all around gather around him at his last moment here on earth. The scene is very touching, and it will squeeze a drop or two of tears from the reader.

Allegorical Reading:

Anglo Positivism vs. Hispanic Fatalism vs. Native American Naturalism

The book was written nearly a hundred years ago, but its significance is still very much contemporary. The state of New Mexico populated by three disparate ethnic groups is a microcosm of current culture in the United States. It’s difficult for people with life philosophy as diverse as positivism, fatalism, and naturalism to get along together. A lesser reader by conclude from reading this book that it is the power of Catholicism, thus religion, that brings these people together. However, I would say that it is the role of the leader that we should pay attention to in this book. Father Latour was a great leader, a very compassionate human being, and also intelligent and resilient. I would say that Father Latour is the very ideal type of leader the current U.S. needs in great numbers.

Memorable Quotes:

“To fulfil the dreams of one’s youth; that is the best that can happen to a man. No worldly success can take the place of that.”

“He had already learned that with this people religion was necessarily theatrical.”

“And you know nothing about Indians or Mexicans. If you try to introduce European civilization here and change our old ways, to interfere with the secret dances of the Indians, let us say, or abolish the bloody rites of the Penitents, I foretell an early death for you.”

“One might almost say that an apparition is human vision corrected by divine love. I do not see you as you really are, Joseph; I see you through my affection for you. The Miracles of the Church seem to me to rest not so much upon faces or voices or healing power coming suddenly near to us from afar off, but upon our perceptions being made finer, so that for a moment our eyes can see and our ears can hear what is there about us always.”

Frankenstein

Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus

by Mary Shelly
Page: 280 pgs, Publication Year: 1818
Genre: Classic, Literary, Fantasy
Grade: A-

Background:

So embedded in our culture is the name ‘Frankenstein’ that even those who have not read the book have at least heard of its titular monster.  In fact, many people who’ve only heard the name think that the name itself belongs to the monster (the name ‘Frankenstein’ actually belongs to the monster’s creator, the one who bestows life upon inanimate human concoction he has built); the monster’s image has been popularized by its movie made in 1931: a dessicated looking creature with rugged, pale, rectangular face upon which drooling eyelids, mountainous nose and concave lips precariously hang.  Along with ‘Dracula’, the name ‘Frankenstein’ resides in our culture as sui generis other-worldly creature.

The author, Mary Shelly, wrote the book when she was in her early 20’s.  The circumstances in which she had written the novel had crucial impact on the contents.  Eloping at a young age with a married man, she led a life replete with dramatic events: Her sister’s suicide, her children’s early death, and other kinds of sort.  Despite such hardships, she grew up surrounded by many books including ones written by her parents (who were themselves scholars), thus enabling her to write such a timeless fiction even in her young age.

Synopsis:

Robert Walton, while on the voyage to find the ship-route to northern arctic, rescues Victor Frankenstein who is devastated both mentally and physically while chasing down the monster he himself had created.  On the ship, Victor reminisces and narrates his life-story beginning from his peaceful and affluent childhood up to his current debilitated state.  Ever since he was young, Victor was fascinated by mystical science and pursued its knowledge to the fullest.  Convinced that the ultimate answer to life lies in the secrets of life and death, he endeavored to create life.  After toiling many years studying in the school and science lab, he becomes capable of bestowing life upon artificial human stature he has enjoined together from parts found in a morgue.  The result is the monster so heinous and ugly that Victor flees from it as soon as it opens its eyes.  Couple years pass, and Victor finds himself in deep trouble because the monster has apparently been on a killing spree.

“I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel…”

Allegorical Reading:

Main theme of the book seems to lie on how this monster became immoral.  Interestingly enough, the creature wasn’t created as a monster (at least not inwardly.  His initial disposition was that of a newborn creature, curious about his surroundings and desirous of learning), but rather he was made into one.  Or does the referent ‘monster’ denote outward appearance? Then he certainly is a monster.  Then, is being a monster a result that has no accordance with one’s will since we cannot choose how we look? (Although in this 21st century, we have some control over how we look thanks to the advent of plastic surgery)  Certainly, the main character (who is narrating most parts of the book) refers to his creature he has created by the name of many things including ‘monster,’ ‘fiend,’ ‘wretch.’ But why?  What characteristic of this creature merits such referents?  In the act of such referring, the act of creating happens, in this case that of creating ‘evilness’ or a ‘monster.’  The word itself performs an act and brings forth an idea.  Then, is the evil (or evilness) one of the inventions of human beings and not natural ontological phenomena that is ‘a priori’ in this world?

“I was a poor, helpless, miserable wretch; I knew, and could distinguish, nothing; but feeling pain invade me on all sides, I sat down and wept.”

What’s interesting about this remarkable work of fiction is that we readers start to empathize with the ‘monster’ because of his evident human qualities and his effort to become ‘good’.  In a hyperbolic sense, this ‘monster’ is analogous to  Christ since he is born atypical, fundamentally blameless yet is sinned against by humankind, and he tries to teach what sin is.


This critical review/essay will examine two aspects of literary sources put into use in narrating this story.

1) Throughout the story, the author seems to disseminate her conviction that a new knowledge will often lead mankind to harsher and more difficult path.  Pursuing a new knowledge is putting one’s first step toward the road to perdition.

2) The usage of literature technique called ‘frame narrative’ is used to its full extreme in order to shroud the apparent unreliability of the story’s narrators.  The stories narrated in turns by Robert Walton, Victor Frankenstein, and the monster itself are built on top of one another and within those ‘framed’ stories, several chinks speak of unreliable qualities of such narrations.  Such narration is also called ‘Chinese box’ effect.

Victor Frankenstein starts off his tale by warning Robert of the dangers of pursuing a new knowledge by recounting the perils he has gone through. Such theme (that a new knowledge can be a poison) forewarns of the imminent contextualization of the author’s life into the remaining story.  Robert Walton is on a dangerous pursuit: he wants to find the new ship-route toward arctic region.  Writing a letter to his demure sister, he emphatically voices his yearning.  “There is a love for the marvellous, belief in the marvellous, intertwined in all my projects, which hurries me out of the common pathways of men.”  Upon learning Robert’s desire, Victor recounts how his yearning hurried him out of the common pathways of men.  “Treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation.”  Frankenstein believes that it is his desire for a heavenly knowledge that brought chaos upon his life.  He seems to infer that there is limitation when it comes to question of attaining metaphysical knowledge, and we need to respect that limitation.  Overstepping that line of limitation may wreak havoc.  Frankenstein says “Learn from me, if not by my precepts, at least by my examples, how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.”  Even the monster acknowledges the sentiment by saying, “I cannot describe to you the agony that these reflections inflicted upon me: I tried to dispel them, but sorrow only increased with knowledge.”

Why such repeated references to a new knowledge as a curse?  Knowing the outlines of Mary Shelly’s life leading up to the time she had written the book, a reader might conclude that she must have wanted to put herself where new knowledge about life cannot bring more grief into her life.  Married so early in her life to a married man, she committed herself to the flame of love, not knowing that the lick of fire would cause severe burns.  Due to her choice to elope with her lover, the wife of her lover committed suicide while she was pregnant.  Mary had numerous miscarriages, one nearly fatal. For some, the desire for new knowledge is implacable, yet it is that very nature which brings misfortunes in our lives.  If Frankenstein relented against his desire to create a life, his own life must have taken a peaceful course with his loved ones, avoiding the deaths of his friend Clerval, his fiancee Elizabeth, and his brother William.  In fact, William is name of one of Mary Shelly’s son who has died during his infancy.

The book exemplifies the certain literature technique called a ‘frame narrative.’  There is a story within a story within a story.  Each rendition loses more authority than the previous one because the narration is relied upon the one preceding it, and so on.  It’s like a copy of a copy of a copy.  The story is told in epistolary form written by Robert Walton to his sister.  In the letter, Robert writes Victor Frankenstein’s story that Victor relates to Robert while convalescing, and also within Victor Frankenstein’s story, the monster tells his own story.  To push it farther, within the monster’s story, there is a story of De Lacey, the elder of a family whom the monster observes to learn about the workings of human life.  No story is told directly in this book, and this technique serves useful purpose in this narrative.

Granted, all these narrators are unreliable narrators.  (Victor of a delusional mind, at least at the time of his narration, Robert also of possibly a delusional mind since he is blinded by his dangerous yearning and harsh surroundings of arctic, the monster of inchoate acquisition of language that might not yet be suitable for proper communication required to narrate one’s anecdote.)  At the time when Victor is telling Robert his story, he is extremely weakened in both mind and body.  In addition, he has been constantly sick from his young age.  He might have made up the story of the monster in order to mollify his sense of failure.  He also truly believes that the ‘spirits’ are guiding him while he is pursuing this monster for the past six months.  Robert actually encounters the monster after Victor dies, but the scene is told through his letter.  Feeling strong empathy toward Victor, Robert might have wanted to make Victor’s story real by putting it to the writing.  In addition, just as people see mirage in the sizzling hotness of a desert, one might see similar hallucination in the cruel, freezing coldness in the arctic.   Other unreliable source can be traced to the speed in which the monster perfected the language.  Within a couple of years, he becomes fluent enough to read the challenging books (Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther and Milton’s Paradise Lost) and even capable of describing abstract matters in poetic forms!

Undeniably, the story embodies the characteristics akin to those of science fiction genre.  Bestowing a life upon an inanimate object is not humanly possible, yet Victor Frankenstein achieves the feat at relatively young age with relatively moderate effort.  Paradoxically, this use of the frame narrative all told by unreliable narrators makes a whole story more believable because such technique helps to thin the line between realist novels and fantasy fictions.  Becoming aware of the unreliable narration in the book (in one page, Victor even confuses the month in which a certain event has taken place), we readers find ourselves questioning whether to believe the narration at all or not.  If we choose not to believe, then the novel takes the form of realist fiction since all such narration from delusional beings is surely possible.  This sense of realism may pass on when we readers, on a chance, give credibility to the existence of monster.  Through the use of this frame narrative, the book gives off the aura of realism although the context itself can only be described as a fantasy novel.

According to Jonathan Culler, “The complications of narrative are further heightened by the embedding of stories within other stories, so that the act of telling a story becomes an event in the story – an event whose consequences and significance become a principal concern.  Stories within stories within stories.”  Then, for Mary Shelly, is the act of telling the story the most important facet of the whole book instead of what the context is?

As many great works of literature are, Frankenstein is as relevant today as when it was first written.  Numerous symbolisms are embedded within the book, thus providing a reader a lot to think about when the last page is turned.  Depicting through the fictional characters, the author posits a question that has been hovering over our heads for millennia: what is morality and how do we human beings define it?  What’s our moral limitation?

Memorable Quotes:

“I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.”

“Satan has his companions, fellow-devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and detested.”

“When falsehood can look so like the truth, who can assure themselves of certain happiness?”

Boyhood

BOYHOOD

Director: Richard Linklater
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Lorelei Linklater
Production Year: 2014   Genre: Drama
Grade: A

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Background:

Movie critics bemoaned about the quality of the 2014 summer movies. Most of them lacked originality and were focused merely on commercial aspects of the movie-making. The current California draught must have had effect on creativity too, parching wells of ideas for movie writers and directors. Nonetheless, along came Boyhood by Richard Linklater, the movie that has garnered unanimous critical claim since its debut at the festival early this year. Critics can abate a little and say that 2014 summer movie season was not that bad, thanks to Boyhood. It’s that good.

Richard Linklater, best known for the Before the Sunrise trilogy, all three of which starred Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, is best at making the most quotidian moments into the scenes of intense emotion and longing. The trilogy is about a couple, or rather about a most intimate human relationship between two people, each movie involving only a day of their lives, and most would agree that they are plotless. The director focuses hard, but his aim is to portray a big picture. His new movie Boyhood, likewise, tries to portray a 12 year period of a certain boy’s life. With this movie, he made a movie history by accomplishing a feat no director had audacity to tackle. I’ve heard only great things about this movie for the past couple months, so my expectation has reached a pinnacle, but the movie didn’t disappoint. It was a testimony to the immense potential of movie-making and story-telling.

Ellar Coltrane, his portraits over 12 years while filming the movie.

Synopsis:

As said above, the story is plotless. (or the movie involves a lot of minuscule plots.) In the beginning, we meet Mason, aged 5, playing innocent games with his friends and waiting for the news and visits from his father (his parents are divorced), and near the end, Mason is 18, played by the same actor, and is just starting his new life at college. Yes, you’ve read it right, Mason is played by the same actor. The movie took 12 years to make, and the effort and patience of directors and casts are handsomely paid off. The boyhood, specifically Mason’s boyhood from age 5 to 18, is portrayed throughout the 3 hours of run-time, and one heartfelt moment after another, we witness the Mason’s steps into adulthood.

You know the saying, ‘seize the moment.’ But it’s actually the other way around, you see. The moment seizes us.

Ellar Coltrane & Ethan Hawke

Mason has a sister, Samantha (played by the director’s own daughter), and their journey with their single mom is painted by the incidents that can happen to any children in their childhood. Their mother, supremely performed by Patricia Arquette, goes back to school to provide a better living for her children. She marries an abusive drunkard, twice!, and through all the hardships of life, tries her best to be an available mom for her kids. Their father, played by Ethan Hawke, visits them from time to time, wanting to give some fatherly life-advice to his kids – like birth control – but ending up complaining that he learns more about them from the Facebook than from the actual conversation. The scenes are depicted through Mason’s eyes, and as he grows up, his view widens too. Many conundrums of life are encountered, some solved as he grows up, rest still elusive. There are so much he can’t understand about adults, yet growing up is inevitable and he will be an adult someday. He tries his best, but was trying one’s best ever acknowledged by our merciless life? His attitude stays positive nonetheless, and we cheer and feel alongside Mason throughout the movie.

Ellar Coltrane and Ethan Hawke

Allegorical Viewing

The U.S.A is a capitalistic country, and money always controls our motives and behaviors. Hence, competitiveness became our second-nature. We compete everywhere, and in the process, we forget to look around.

Adults have this delusive sense of childhood; they think those innocent and vulnerable younger years were happiest times for any human beings. It can be, but it’s presumptuous to assume so too fast. A boy has troubles of his own, mostly wrought by irresponsible actions by the adults, and those experiences will shape his character. Boyhood urges us to pause and look around. How would children perceive the actions of adults? The consequences we ignore may endow immense influence and negative consequences to children. Mason grows up just fine, but we viewers can share the confusion Mason experiences growing up, confusions ignited by the arrogant and senseless adults. Yes, childhood is beautiful and dear, but it is not without realization that the world is not as welcoming as we wish it to be, realization that human relationship will remain difficult so matter which equations we use to mitigate its hardships.

Ellar Coltrane & Lorelei Linklater

Evaluation

This movie received 99% fresh ratings from the Rottentomato website and an average grade of A from a number of prominent movie critics. The movie is very nuanced and subtle so that mundane events do not feel like mundane events, that every moment in our lives, both good and bad, are treasures and learning experiences. Witnessing Mason growing up from age 5 to 18, this reviewer felts like he became 12 years more mature after watching this movie. It’s not just Mason’s physical appearances, but his soul maturing that the viewers encounter. This magic film experience is something any film lovers must experience because it is this kind of experience we crave when we go to a theater, a 12 years of life condensed in 3 hours yet alive and trenchant in its emotional message, a feeling of ebullience at being alive because thus so, we can watch such films as Boyhood.

American Pastoral

American Pastoral

By Philip Roth
Pg. 423, Originally Published in 1997
Genre: Literary Fiction
Grade: A-

Epigraphs:

Dream when the day is thru,

Dream and they might come true,

Things never are as bad as they seem,

So dream, dream, dream.

— Johnny Mercer

 

the rare occurrence of the expected…

— William Carlos Williams

 

Background:

One of the most acclaimed living American fiction writers, Philip Roth has won every major award for writers except Nobel. My first encounter with his work was through the movie adaptation of his novel before I had any chance to read his texts. The movie “Elegy” is based on his book Dying Animal, and it stars Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz. I highly recommend this movie for people whose predilection lies in human frailty and it’s connection to aging. It seeks the relationship between mortality and desire, and it’s a nostalgic portrayal of one’s younger days. It evinces that some parts of human never actually mature; there is something that we cannot overcome.

This something that we can’t overcome is dealt with heavy hands in this Pulitzer-prize winning book American Pastoral.  This book was the book-club selection for Los Angeles Public Library, and I decided to partake the event to experience the mode of public book club discussion. Funny enough, I was the only one who was in his 30’s; I don’t think there was anyone in their 40s or 50s either. Is reading long and serious fiction really dying among younger generation?

Synopsis:

What kind of connotation underlies the phrase ‘American Pastoral?’ What images and feelings does this phrase evoke? This was the question I asked myself as I flipped over the first page.

The main character is Seymour Irvine Levov, and the book is about him, or his dream, or maybe his downfall. The downfall he does experience, in the most extreme sense. What’s interesting is that he hasn’t done much wrong that can justify the downfall. The book is an elegy to American life in 1970s, the decade of Nixon’s Watergate Scandal, of Vietnam War, of Angela Davis and her arrest, and of Deep Throat and Linda Lovelace. He has chased ‘American Dream’ honestly, working hard as an owner of the glove factory he has inherited from his father, but his family nonetheless starts to crumble and disintegrates against his will, causes unbeknownst to him, and the downward spiral crippled him beyond repair. The reader’s job is to find out why.

The tragedy of the man not set up for tragedy—that is every man’s tragedy.

According to his brother, Seymour was someone who “was to prevent the suffering of those he loved, to be kind to people, a kind person through and through.” He obeyed his hardworking Jewish parents, played three different sports in high school (aced in all of them), married a Miss New Jersey girl and provided a good life to his family (a wife and a daughter), and worked hard. His only ‘supposed’ transgression was marrying a woman whose background was from Irish Catholic when he himself was a Jew. He has a daughter, Merry, whom he loves dearly, and she grows up to be a renegade, who bombs the building in order to protest the Vietnam War. Seymour can’t find the cause of his daughter’s violence, the cause of his wife’s growing aloofness. He “got caught in a war he didn’t start, and he fought to keep it all together, and he went down.”

The biggest little word there is: family.

What was the poison that insidiously seeped into his life? This question is what impels the readers forward.

Binary Opposite:

            American Dream vs. (Un)[like]American Dream

A boy plays sports well in his younger years, studies hard also, gets a good job after college, gets married, work even harder, buys a house, have children, raise them to be model citizens, age gracefully, volunteer somewhat, smiles often, witnesses his children ace in schools and works, etc. Are these attributes that constitute an American Dream?

Without transgressing there is no knowledge. Isn’t that what the Garden of Eden story is telling us?

Before we reach an agreement, it might be necessary to ponder upon the origin of this so-called American Dream, or even what makes, or made, those American Dreams possible? The book mentions that, “…shepherding him at long last to their truth, to the truth as they knew it to be for every Vietnamese man, woman, child, and tot, for every colonized black in America, for everyone everywhere who had been fucked over by the capitalists and their insatiable greed. The something that’s demented, honky, is American history!” Americans wrought up the concept of American Dream by crushing the dream of others. The Dream was born corrupt. Then, as someone living in America, what would be the proper way to chase the ideal life that the United States of America would approve? Is chasing American Dream itself an act of treachery?

Memorable Quotes:

“The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, on careful reconsideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re aloe: we’re wrong.”

“Writing turns you into somebody who’s always wrong. The illusion that you may get it right someday is the perversity that draws you on. What else could? As pathological phenomena go, it doesn’t completely wreck your life.”

“He had learned the worst lesson that life can teach—that it makes no sense. And when that happens the happiness is never spontaneous again. It is artificial and, even then, bought at the price of an obstinate estrangement from oneself and one’s history.”

One funny, memorable paragraph:

(During the 45th reunion of high school, when the participants are all over 60, and the truly important thing about the reunion is “the supreme delight of the afternoon, is simply finding that you haven’t yet made it onto the In Memoriam page.” Below is the conversation among grown men during such reunion.)

“How long is your father dead?” Ira asked me. “Nineteen sixty-nine. Twenty-six years. A long time,” I replied. “To whom? To him? I don’t think so. To the dead,” said Ira, “it’s a drop in the bucket.” Just then, from directly behind me, I heard Mendy Gurlik saying to someone, “Whoja jerk off over?” “Lorraine,” a second man replied. “Sure. Everyone did. Me too. Who else?” “Selma.” “Selma? I didn’t realize that,” Mendy said. “I’m surprised to hear that. No, I never wanted to fuck Selma. Too short. For me it was always twirlers. Watch’em practicing up on the field after school and then go home and beat off. The pancake makeup. Cocoa-colored pancake makeup. On their legs. Drove me nuts. You notice something? The guys on the whole don’t look too bad, a lot of them work out, but the girls, you know… no, a forth-fifth reunion is not the best place to come looking for ass.” “True, true,” said the other man, who spoke softly and seemed not to have found in the occasion quite the nostalgic license that Mendy had, “time has not been kind to the women.” “You know who’s dead? Bert and Utty,” Mendy said. “Prostate cancer. Went to the spine. Spread. Ate ‘em up. Both of them. Thank God I get the test. You get the test?” “What test?” the other fellow asked. “Shit, you don’t get the test?” “Skip,” said Mendy, pulling me away from Ira, “Meiser doesn’t get the test.”