Saturday, 10 January 2009

Medical Report

I have a maxillary polyp in each nasal sinus, and my nasal bone is shaped like a thunderbolt. This cramped up my airways and made the nasal allergies worse. After years of this said polyps are now the size of an average grape. Said sinuses are swelled and filled with mucous. Surgical procedure required.

So says the specialist from Taman Desa Medical Centre. The first paragraph cost me around RM600, including fees, CT scan and several insertions of a probe with a camera at the end. The first time was OK, but when I went back for the report (the radiologist wasn't there for the scan) I got it stuck up my nose again.

Either I go for "minimal-invasive" surgery or keep using nasal sprays for life, which is not a good idea. I told the specialist I sometimes bleed when I blow my nose. "You pointed that out exactly," he said. "One of the symptoms of long-term steroid use (thinning of the membrane). As a journalist, you're supposed to look for the black and white of things - why didn't you check the warnings in the brochure?"

That's why I guess they're called "consultants", not "doctors".

Do not get sick. Ever.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Justice Is...

...seeing both Hamas and Israeli leadership share the defendant's dock at The Hague.

It's been more than sixty years. Are there still any clean hands left in the Middle East?

And once that's settled, Dubya's administration is next - if they're still alive by that time.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Coward's End

The first book review for this year (2009) was written last year for a movie that didn't seem to reach the silver screens. It's out on DVD though, if anyone's interested.

This one is also heavily edited. While I'm learning to take it all in stride, I can't help feeling sore that my degree of writing has taken a dive lately. And I think I won't be doing a lot of reviews this year.

Still, I've had eleven published last year (not a lot, either), plus another three in 2007, so I can't complain.

History or fiction?

first published in The Star, 04 January 2009

A conundrum we all face with novels-turned-into-movies is whether we should wait for the movie or read the book first.

The silver screen option would probably be more appealing in today's attention-deficit society; it seems that few people want to take a whole day (or two) to read a book from cover to cover, nowadays.

There is also the suspicion that the author wrote it with the hope that somebody would turn his masterpiece into an Oscar-winning movie (The Da Vinci Code comes immediately to mind!).

While Ron Hansen's novel was made into a movie – which has yet to open here, while Singaporeans saw it in January last year – it doesn't seem, at first glance, to lend itself easily to silver screen adaptation. One can't really accuse the writer of this sometimes-surreal Western of pandering to Hollywood sensibilities.

For one thing, there's the title (deep breath, now): The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. For another, while that unwieldy title seems to indicate a focus on the American West's most famous outlaw, Jesse James – surely popular fodder for the silver screen – most of that focus seems to have been culled from newspapers and magazines. Half the time it feels like I'm reading a long, laboriously-crafted Wikipedia entry. Instead, Hansen has, intriguingly, centred his best writing around the assassin, Robert Ford.

The story of Jesse Woodson James' criminal career begins with the American Civil War in 1861, when he rode with Confederate militia alongside his elder brother, Frank. When the war ended in 1865, the Jameses joined the Younger brothers (Cole, Jim, John, and Bob), to form the James-Younger Gang, a real ornery buncha outlaws. However, because they mainly went after government establishments and the super rich, the outlaws had fans among poor rural folk.

When a botched robbery breaks up the James-Younger gang, Jesse forms his own gang, and it is this that will lead eventually to his demise at the hands of two turncoats: new recruits Robert and Charley Ford. All this is historic fact.

Our fictional novel begins innocently enough, with a young, enthusiastic Bob Ford trying to chat up Frank James, hoping to impress the outlaw and maybe get an invitation to the gang's next gig. Frank feels an immediate dislike for the boy, saying that Bob gives him "the willies" – one of several Ides of March-like premonitions buried in the pages. Jesse, however, lets young Bob into the gang.

As the days pass, however, the allure of being a member of Jesse's posse wanes as Bob sees more and more of his leader's flawed, all-too-human side. He also begins to resent the fact that, most of the time, he's just Jesse's errand boy.

It is events closer to home, however, that pushes Bob onto the path of treachery: He kills Jesse's cousin to protect a fellow gang-member who's a friend, and then covers up the crime. Around the same time, an increasingly paranoid Jesse begins silencing comrades after some of his gang members are arrested. With the guilt of the murder of Jesse's cousin hanging over their heads too, Bob and Charley begin fearing for their lives.

And so, after making a deal with local authorities, they kill the famous outlaw, shooting him in the back.

Bob wastes little time in exploiting his status as the infamous traitor. Will he live happily ever after, or be done in by the curse of a wicked deed? A lot of the time, the lines between fact and fiction are blurred. Did it all really happen like it says in the book?

Some stories and anecdotes out of the wild, wild West tend to be apocryphal, but The Assassination tries its darnedest to avoid being categorised as complete fantasy, even at the risk of coming across more like a non-fiction book than the upper-crust Western it really is.

I am grateful, though, for Mr Hansen's discipline in sticking to the history books (those that I've read, anyway). Very few liberties were taken in the name of artistic licence (for instance, no tender Brokeback Mountain moments, thank God!). Then again, I was too engrossed in all that history to notice any.

Here's an interesting bit of trivia: When they made this novel into a film, Brad Pitt, who plays Jesse James and is also one of the movie's producers, reportedly insisted that the long title be retained. And everyone knows that when Jesse says "do", nobody ever says "don't"!

The Assassination of Jesse James by The Coward Robert Ford
Ron Hansen
389 pages
ISBN: 978-0-06-112901-8