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Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Answer Man

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Q: What ever happened to Mr. Nice Guy?

A: He seems to have disappeared out of a lot of novels.

Someone once said that reading a Charles Dickens book was like watching a Clint Eastwood movie: Sooner or later good would prevail over evil, and the bad guys would get just what was coming to them. Dickens was not much of one to mess with Mr In-between.

A number of central characters in today's novels are in many ways flawed themselves. Tom Wolf's arrogant, Sherman McCoy, in "Bonfire of the Vanities" is one example. Stephen King's rich imagination has produced many characters whose faults are about equal to the bad guys.

Stieg Larsson defied literary tradition when in "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" he introduced Lisbeth Salander. Almost clownishly tattooed, and more rings attached to her body than a shower curtain, this ninety pound waif was the very antithesis of what we like to think about in a heroine. We began to see Lisbeth different, however, as her genius begins to emerge, and the realization that she is lethal in a fight, a skinny stick of dynamite.

Back in the eighties and nineties Patricia Highsmith came up with real dandy of a hero. His name is Tom Ripley.

Tom Ripley is an American expatriate who lives with his chic wife, Heloise, in the French countryside where they garden, appreciate the arts, wear expensive clothing, and enjoy the finest wines. Their food is provided by an adoring French maid and cook, Mme Annette, whose naivete even excels her cuisines. Heloise also has an amazing capacity to look the other way, because Tom is not just another spoiled rich fellow. He is, in fact, and very nasty guy.

The Ripley's expensive way of life comes mainly from Heloise's rich father, a man who for very good reasons, doesn't entirely trust Tom. Tom supplements their income in various ways, with just about all of them being criminal. This includes a falsified will with Tom the beneficiary, a negotiator of forged paintings - just about anything to make a dishonest buck.

There is a certain amount of occupational hazard in Tom Ripley's work. So along the way he has to commit several murders. These killings are inconvenient for Tom, and exasperating, but necessary in order to preserve his lush lifestyle.

Tom Ripley is a pig, and a dangerous one at that.

The amazing thing is that Patricia Highsmith lets Tom Ripley get by with it time and again. It started with her "The Talented Mr. Ripley, and she then segues into four other books, all with Tom up to his old tricks, or trying to avoid paying the piper for his previous crimes.

The reader by this time is somewhat ambivalent about Tom. On the one hand he has become familiar, therefore you are concerned about him. On the other hand you know that he should be caught and put under a jail. Just what to do about Tom Ripley is left entirely to Patricia Highsmith.

Q: Is humanitarianism dead?

A: Not at Bush Stadium.

It's Sunday July 22, 2012. A father and son are at Bush Stadium to watch the Cardinals play the Cubs. It's a day game, and the temperature is 95 degrees. The father and son are sitting in the sun. It's one thing to ride around in a golf cart, and another to sit still and broil. Before the first pitch is thrown you feel juices absorbing every thread of clothing.

Every liquid at the ballpark has astronomical dollar signs on it. You are ready to spring, however, because you want to live. Cost become immaterial.

Then suddenly from nowhere friendly aisle attendants are serving free ice water in cups. The supply is unlimited. Five cups later you still have no need to visit the restroom. The output in perspiration is equal to the input.

Is this humanitarian? Or is it that they don't the game stopped to carry off some dried up old man?

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