Thursday, March 20, 2008

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier...Editor.

I've recently become obsessed with the novels of John le Carre.

When I was a young teen I read The Russia House, spurred by an inherited affinity for Helen MacInnes (The Salzburg Connection, my dad reminded me on the phone tonight, was her best book; I had forgotten it entirely till he said anything but I find I still remember its antiheroine's name: Elissa Lang. How glamorous!) and a six-month devotion to Michelle Pfeiffer. Come to think of it, both the book and the film version of The Russia House passed pretty much entirely over my head, such is le Carre's complexity.

More recently, after my sister and I saw and loved The Constant Gardener at a Brooklyn cinema, I read that book (subsequently lent to Dorok, whose Howards End I'm holding ransom until he returns the le Carre and Lolita I lent him ages ago)* in a similarly incoherent gulp.

(*Just kidding / padding out this entry to make it more amusing. Chris brought to our household an identical copy of Lolita, so you can keep it. I think I still have one of your Philip Roths, anyway, which considering it and the Forster are trade papers and the Lolita and Gardener were mere mass market pbs means I owe YOU--oops.)

But the other week I devoured A Perfect Spy, which was not only an excellent spy novel but one of the best novels period I've ever read. Subsequently I googlearned that it's his most autobiographical book, making me rather wish (I'm feeling British) (Cold War British, if you want to get specific) I had left it until later as a prize.

Today on my lunch hour I finished Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, the first in the Smiley trilogy, which I'd been reading on the subway on my way to and from work; 50 pages from the end I dashed headlong through the morning until noon when I shut my office door and turned off my monitor in order to finish it. It wasn't until my empty subway ride home that I realized dismayed that the neighborhood used bookstore I rely on for my le Carre fix closed--yesterday!--for a month while its proprietor vacations. Probably to Greece, where he'll meet up with Czecho agents and dodge intricate internal double agent betrayals. Just kidding. But such is my current mindset.

I read earlier this week that le Carre sold his newest book (A Man of Worth, I think it'll be called) for Fall 2008 publication, and I couldn't be more excited. Is March through September enough time to work my way through his entire oeuvre? Doubtful, considering le Carre is one of the only writers I don't (this is a confession) jet through; skim over a le Carre paragraph and you'll find yourself at the end of the book not knowing what just happened. (Who are the other writers I read with care? Hmm. Nabokov is another, purely for the beauty of his writing; how could you miss "the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth"? ... but I'll have to think about that one.)

But in any case you may be certain my eyes are peeled for the next teen spy story, primed this time, ten years later, not by MacInnes and Pfeiffer but by Bristow, Bond, and, of course, le Carre.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Maybe it was the four-leaf clover charm I was wearing around my neck.

Last night around 11 p.m. we were driving back from visiting Chris's mom on Long Island in a car borrowed from Chris's buddy when ... the car ran out of gas.

Chris was talking on the phone to his sister when he said, "Oh [no], the car is running out of gas!" and he hung up and pulled over into the right lane and started driving more and more slowly. I didn't fully understand what was happening and I was like, "Don't drive slower! We have to get to a gas station! Speed up!" He said, "No, honey, the car is doing that on its own." Aha.

So he pulled off onto the shoulder and tried to restart it but to no avail. We had just passed an exit and we could see it on the other side of the highway so he was like, "I'll walk, you stay here" and I was like "No way what if a cop comes it's not our car and it still has California plates!!" He was like, "Oh yeah, and it's not insured." I was like, Greeeat. So we both got out and hopped over the guardrail and we were lingering nervously about to make a run across four lanes of traffic when ... a cop car pulls up.

So the cop rolls down the window and Chris says, "We ran out of gas" and the cop's all, "Hop in." He drives us to the nearest gas station which it turns out, is not near at all, and is also not at the exit we were heading for. "Yeah," the cop said, "You're very lucky I came along. You would have been walking a looooooooooong time."

So we get to the gas station and the cop lends us a can out of his trunk and Chris is filling it up and I took a photo of the dashboard with my cell phone and texted it to my sibs all, "I'm in a cop car!" Meanwhile Chris is trying to make small talk with the cop and he spills gas all over the can, which is the one thing the cop asked him not to do but I think sort of endears him to the cop, who just laughs.

So then the cop is driving us back to the car and he asks, "Is the car registered to you?" and Chris has no choice but to say, "No." And now my heart is pounding, pounding in a way it hasn't yet had time to do, even when we hopped over the guardrail, because it's literally only been ten minutes since this all started.

So the cop pulls up behind our car ("our" car) and turns his flashing lights on and takes down Chris's name and address on his notepad. I'm praying really hard while trying to maintain a cool, friendly facial expression, although I'm sure I looked totally agonized. And then ...

... he lets us out of the car and sits watching as Chris pours the gasoline into the car. Chris shakes the can free of gasoline and gives it back to him and the cop tells us the next gas station isn't until exit 49, so don't use the next two exits. We say thank you so, so, so much.

We drive away, and I pray a lot more that we won't run out of gas AGAIN as we drive what seems an enormously long distance to the next gas station, and the car is starting to coast on fumes literally as we turn into the Sunoco. But we made it. And made it home and to bed by midnight.

The whole adventure took less than twenty minutes. And restored my faith in both the friendly constabulary and guardian angels.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

On top of things.

Hmmm. I wonder where my tax returns from last year could be?