Audrey Hepburn & the Disappointing Movie Based on an Intriguing True Mystery

Amazon Prime occasionally has some hidden gems, and I was both excited and intrigued to see an old film featuring Audrey Hepburn that I had not only never seen, but had never head of, entitled Mayerling. My lack of knowledge could be seen as a sign that I am not a true Audrey Hepburn fan, or it could be a sign that this movie is terrible, and as such, has been hidden away for awhile because why go out of your way to save a shitty movie, even if it does star someone with grace and charm? Regardless, I decided to watch it.

Unfortunately, it is a pretty terrible movie.

Not funny bad, either, just… very dull. So you can watch it, if you’re, like, trying to go to sleep or something. Otherwise, I don’t recommend it.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, I did watch the entire thing, in case there was some saving grace at the end of the film. There wasn’t.

Wondering why Audrey Hepburn would have participated in this mediocre production, I began to research. Although a terrible movie, the incident that inspired the movie is very interesting. You are probably a better history student than I am, and already know that Mayerling is the village in which Habsburg heir Crown Prince Rudolf and his mistress Mary Vetsera both died in mysterious circumstances in a hunting lodge, resulting in instability that culminated in the death of the archduke Franz Ferdinand, the crisis that instigated WWI. If you are not already aware of this string of events, don’t worry, you are not alone. I just looked this shit up, and can direct you to a few articles about the event, including one by the Royal Opera House, the site Naked History, and, of course, the obligatory Wikipedia article.

#datedculturalreferences

An unsolved mystery involving both the aristocracy and having such terrible results is obviously going to hit all the right gossip buttons for most of us. After reading up on the matter a bit, I was kind of surprised that the version featuring Audrey Hepburn and her first husband Mel Ferrer was so dull, uninspired, and frankly, chose the lease interesting solution. The lover murder-suicide pact because the Crown Prince’s family just didn’t understand his son idea is, admittedly, very romantic. Until you find out that the Crown Prince had syphilis, and had already suggested a murder-suicide pact to his former mistress, a woman a bit older and less impressionable than Mary, who declined. This fact changes the story a bit, doesn’t it? And becomes a mentally and physically ill older man’s seduction of a younger girl, culminating in his using his influence in a deadly manner. Until you find out that the body of Mary Vetsera has since been exhumed – and there was no evidence of a bullet wound at all, although there was evidence that death had been caused by violent blows to the head. This end doesn’t entirely rule out the theory of a murder-suicide pact with the Prince, although it does make such a theory decidedly less romantic. Then, there are the rumors that Mary’s family showed up to the lodge to beat the shit out of the Crown Prince (he was, after all, probably taking advantage of Mary at least a little bit), with the Crown Prince accidentally killing Mary during the ensuing brawl, and being murdered by her relatives as a result. There’s another theory that Rudolf took Mary to the lodge to break up with her, and perhaps she reacted violently, causing the prince to kill her in self-defense, then kill himself in horror at what he had done.

THE Hunting Lodge

So many theories, and a mystery that will never be solved (particularly since no one has permission anymore to exhume Rudolf’s remains). Every theory more interesting than the one chosen for Hepburn’s movie.

So why was the most romantic and least likely solution chosen for Hepburn’s movie? And why did Hepburn and Ferrer agree to star in it?

More mysteries I do not have an answer for, although my theory is that it somehow involves her husband’s interests, and perhaps recommended itself to her romantic, though misguided, sensibilities. I fear, however, that my musings on this matter might be the least interesting solution, also. What are your thoughts? Would love to hear your wildest or favorite conspiracy theory!

Buy a Book, Support Physical Bookstores, Maybe win $250

My title pretty much says it all, so I will keep this post brief. Publishing house Sourcebooks is hosting a contest where if you order or preorder certain of their books at an actual, physical bookstore, you can turn in proof of purchase in their site (or send a postcard) and thereby be entered into a contest to win a $250 gift card to your favorite bookstore. Books include The 71/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, The Last Flight, the first novel in the Phryne Fisher mystery series, and The Phantom of the Opera, amongst others.

Here is a link to the contest summary and list of books, with the summary including the link to submit your information to be entered into the contest.

I am personally eyeing Sulari Gentill’s After She Wrote Him, which sounds right up my alley, and has about 3.8 stars on Goodreads, so seems promising. If you do enter, please let me know which book you chose in the comments below, and good luck in the contest!

Although, really, there doesn’t seem much to lose in this contest, which will, at the least, result in supporting brick-and-mortar bookstores and a new book.

Is the truth stranger than fiction?

I recently had the privilege of receiving and devouring an ARC of David Foenkino’s The Mystery of Henri Pick. Translated by Sam Taylor, this novel was charming and literary, which was exactly the sort of novel I was in the mood to read when I pulled this e-book up on my cell phone. I won’t bother to summarize the plot, since this novel is primarily a mystery in titular name, only, and you should only read this novel if you are okay with meandering plots including high-level characterizations, akin to a fairy tale about literature peopled with the various people involved in creating and being affected by literature – the struggling authors, the editors and publisher, the general public, the critics.

There is a literal mystery – how did Henri Pick write a novel when no one was aware he had any literary predilection, at all? But the focus of the novel is not really this question that is consuming the minds of the fictional characters that populate it, but whether, how the public’s access to people and information results in the general populace feeling entitled to personal and private information of all persons associated, even tangentially. How this entitlement can result in people who were completely unaffiliated with the creative endeavor being hurt. How this entitlement can be manipulated.

Because at the end of the day, does it matter how the novel was written, if it is, in fact, a good novel? Sure a novel with an interesting backstory may make people more inclined to pick it up (or, more likely, order it from Amazon), but at the end of the day, a novel’s merit should be based on the words contained within its’ pages. In fact, does it really matter who even wrote the novel? Except for potentially resulting in the reader realizing this author’s writing hits his/her/their fancy, and searching for other works, if they exist, or becoming an author whose works the reader keeps an eye for in the new releases, the author’s words are all that will matter in 100 years, when any scandal, beauty, or personal attributes will cease to matter (likely; I guess some authors live to be quite old, so maybe I should update that to 200 years).

Now, having said all of those words above, I have to admit that I am 100% guilty of becoming a bit obsessed with authors who have penned works I have enjoyed and admired. As a teenager, I used to pen letters to my favorite YA author, Christopher Pike, in that fangirl way that probably means there’s a restraining order for me somewhere that has never had to be exercised, because, like, Kevin McFadden lived in California, and I lived in Michigan. I was so obsessed, I spent a ridiculous amount of money to obtain Getting Even, the second in a series that also includes a book written by Caroline B. Cooney, and that is decidedly different from the horror/New Age shit Pike (or his ghostwriters, since with the release of a book per month, there were probably a lot of ghostwriters) usually wrote that I adored. It was my dream, as a teenager, to become the next Christopher Pike, or L.J. Smith (… still waiting on Strange Fate, although at this point, I doubt the book could end the Night World series in a way that gave me closure). As an adult, I can safely say, this dream was not, and will not, be attained. Although I did successfully complete a short story recently, my income is not dependent on my creative ability – which is good, because as even the most cursory glance at this blog will tell you, I’m not great at keeping my creative ability on a schedule. I still like taking my books to author signings (even out-of-state). Authors whose works I enjoy amaze me. As an avid reader, I love those books that touch my heart, and I will seek out other works by the author, follow the author on Goodreads, and marvel at that author’s ability. A book that is fresh every time you read it is an amazing feat. A book that makes me melt, like the romantic works penned by Stephanie Perkins and Rainbow Rowell, is a book penned by an author that I admire. And as someone who would like to write something admirable herself, I will see if the authors who have managed to write things I think are amazing have given interviews where they talk about their process, etc., to see if they have the magic key that will unlock my own potential. (I know, this will never work, since the largest factor key to writing something decent is to sit your butt down and write, but part of me can’t help hoping there’s something else, like Sarah Dessen’s two pieces of chocolate, that will make it easier for me.)

In other words, Foenkino has many decent points, but although it is not fair to expect answers from or about the author, if you read something you really admire, doesn’t it also make sense that you are going to be curious about the source of the creation of that thing? Or am I just unhinged, and should treat the author more like a parent of the book I love, smiling awkwardly when I meet them, and absconding away with the book as soon as I can, like teenage me did with my boyfriend?

“Classic” Literature

I recently read this article about Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, which both meshes with my personal feelings on an excursion to John Adam’s Montpelier plantation last summer, and made me go, “Great! Now I don’t have to feel bad about not particularly liking this novel and not having finished it.”

“Story of the Old South” – where only white people problems matter…

I know it is ridiculous, but I feel bad when I don’t like a work that is considered classic fiction. Even though this marker is probably thrust upon a book simply by being considered “good” or “meaningful” by a large number of people, and people have a variety of different backgrounds, and the fact that I am not white and don’t have a penis probably means I’m coming from a different place than those who decided this book was “classic.” Even though using the term “classic” probably began as a misuse of a word that denoted Rome and Greece during what is considered the Classical era, since Hellenistic culture has greatly influenced Western culture, and was considered the high quality standard against which other things should be judged for a long time.

“Classic”

It is in the reading of classics that I can be somewhat of a sheep. I am more than willing to give a “classic” novel the benefit of the doubt. In fact, I will exceed benefit of the doubt and stray into self-doubt. By this, I mean that I will sometimes try to convince myself that I actually do like them when I decidedly do not. After all, if I do not like this novel that is considered one of the greatest written (in English, by Western society), then am I, in fact, a stupid reader?

Another novel that I don’t particularly like is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I think it’s really cool that this woman made a name for herself and is one of the founders of modern horror fiction. I know that Frankenstein is the name of the Doctor, and not the “monster” himself. I get the whole “society made him act monstrous, who is the REAL monster?” concept. But at the end of the day, I am not a fan. I think I may just not really be a fan of horror, in general. I also don’t care for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, to the extent that I actually prefer Francis Ford Coppola’s movie to the novel. (Yes, I have been told this movie is not a very good movie. Do I still enjoy it? Yes. Yes, I do.)

Does anyone else feel this love-embarrassment relationship with classic novels? What is a “classic” novel that you hated? Or conversely, what is a “classic” novel that you loved?

Timing

I was too late to make the deadline, but this post was written in response to The Wordsmith’s Weekly Writing Contest (15-21). Thanks for the prompt, Ms. Rachel Smith!

The ticking was cacophonous in the small room wallpapered with clocks of all shapes and sizes, each with its’ own slightly different measurement that resulted in there not being a single moment without sound. The lack of carpeting only increased sound, with every step George took in her high-heeled boots echoing loudly. She had to get out of here before the hour struck, not merely to save her brother, but also to save her sanity.

Robert had always had a knack for getting into dangerous situations, and George marveled to herself that it was slightly amazing that she was not yet tired of saving him. It probably helped that this time she was not saving him from himself. Robert may have been an alcoholic gambler and compulsive liar with impulse control problems, but he had not kidnapped himself nor absconded to this odd time dungeon voluntarily.

Glancing at the wall, George noted she had approximately 12 minutes to grab her brother and get out. Luckily, she did not also have to find him. There was nowhere to hide, and he lay 12 steps before her, his wrists bound in a thick, oil-smudged rope behind his back, his mouth gagged with a dirty rag, his chest rising in jagged breaths that belied the impression that he was no longer save-able.

She hurried to his side, curling over her toes and making her arches scream as she knelt. She pulled the rag roughly from his mouth, causing a scream and the plink of at least one tooth against the hard, cold floor.

“Jesus!” Robert screamed, red flushing across his face.

“Not Jesus,” she corrected. “George.”

“Fuck, George, what the hell are you doing?”

“Saving you.”

“Well, dammit, be more careful! I can’t afford veneers.”

“I think the words you’re looking for are, ‘Thank you for coming to rescue me, dear sister in shining armor. Losing a tooth sucks, but is probably better than losing my life. I also 100% realize that this loss is likely partially my fault, because I have terrible oral hygiene.’”

“It’s not my fault; I’m an alcoholic.”

“I don’t think that removes responsibility, but… Shit. 9 minutes. Why don’t you shut the fuck up so we can get out of here?”

“Why don’t you both shut the fuck up? You’re giving me a migraine.” The voice was cold, female elegance overlaid on the polar ice caps.

Cold and familiar.

“Of course,” George muttered. “I should have known.” She turned and greeted the woman: “Hello, mother.”

She woke up, the raucous chimes letting her know it was several hours later. Her arms were tied tightly behind her back, a thick and salty rag was in her mouth, and she had a splitting headache.

R. Eric Thomas Gets It

I am slowly wading my way through R. Eric Thomas’s essay Here For It: Or, How to Save Your Soul in America, which is fucking amazing and which I highly recommend for both its’ comedic talent and poignant moments. Reading his essays is finding someone I want to buy a drink, so I can have a smart, funny conversation and become friends and have someone help me ponder the craziness that is currently American politics.

Also, I’m pretty sure R. Eric Thomas is pyschic, because his essay “Flames, at the Side of My Face” (which you should read, if you haven’t, because did I tell you he was fucking amazing yet? the ending to this one is ridiculous and funny and adorable) says in one succinct sentence what I think a lot of us are currently feeling:

… see what I mean about the poignant moments?

What have you been reading that is helping you get through quarantine?

You Are Totally Alone

A lot of you have probably already read Greer Hendricks & Sarah Pekkanen’s latest novel You Are Not Alone, but I just recently got around to it. I have actually had the privilege of receiving all 3 of this duo’s novels as AREs, and can attest that in general, all are easy-to-read thrillers. This latest, though, is the one that has left me thinking about it afterward. And since I think most people have already it, by this point, I would like to discuss how I read this book, not necessarily how the authors’ intended for their work to be interpreted. In other words, there will be spoilers. Possibly a lot of them. So if you have not read the book yet, and do not like spoilers, consider yourself forewarned.

You Are Not Alone tells the story of Shay Miller, a lonely woman in her early thirties whose downward spiral (lost job, roommate she’s in love with has a different romantic partner) continues its’ descent when she gets icky vibes from some dude while waiting for the subway, and inches closer to a strange woman whom she is just thinking she would like to become friends with, when the woman suddenly careens in front of the train and commits suicide.

That’s some Anna Karenina shit

Shay is, understandably, traumatized by this event. She learns the woman’s name, goes past her old apartment and leaves a flower, finds out there is a memorial service and attends. She knows it’s kind of weird, but she can’t help herself. And actually, I don’t find any of this weird at all. What’s weird is how much she thinks about how she is weird.

A fitting tribute, or sign of a “weirdo?”

The way that I interpret this novel is that we are receiving insight into the mind of sociopath. Shay collects data about the things she does not understand, which helps her interpret the world around her, and more specifically, what the people in her life are likely to do, based on statistics and close observation. She is romantically interested in her roommate, Sean, and assumes that he will feel the same way because he does stuff with her like watch TV and drink beer, and statistically, many romances form from friendships. Yet it is not clear if she drinks the beer he likes because she also likes it, or because Sean likes it. In fact, I rather assumed the latter. When she sees Amanda commit suicide right in front of her, she begins collecting data on suicide. It is a very rational way to deal with something that likely stemmed from an emotional impetus.

When the gorgeous, wealthy, powerful sisters befriend her, she is grateful, and always trying to figure out what will impress them when doing anything – picking out her outfit, figuring out what drink to order – while in their vicinity. She willingly turns herself into a puppet. Are we supposed to feel bad that she ensnared herself in a web of deceit that will result in her being framed for murder?

Dance, puppet. Dance!

Well, I suppose so. And I guess I did, finally, feel a little bad for her. Like, she may be a bit odd, and she may act kind of pathetic, but since she did not, in fact, murder anyone, as far as we know, it is a bit much for her to go to jail for it.

… I guess

Although Shay’s perspective is told in first person, whereas viewpoints of others, when told, are third-person omniscient, I did not sympathize with Shay. Except for the shit with her stepdad, which sucked, and resulted in isolation from her mother. So even though you know the sisters are setting Shay up, the secrecy and backhanded ways they are using to get what they want feel like a mirror of the lies and backhanded manipulations Shay uses to try to get them to like her. The idea that, because Shay wasn’t straight with them, she deserves to die is a bit dramatic – but this is not outside of the sphere of the Victorian “kiss-outside-of-your-marriage-vows-and-you-will-get-sick-and-die-bitch” aesthetic. In the end, Shay wins, because she is able to surprise her enemy with the police. But Shay commits her own devious act, at the end, in a manner that was obviously willful and unnecessary. To someone who meant to cause her harm, but did not quite achieve it. So Shay has actually become her enemy, except that her murder is much less easy to detect.

Things have been a bit boring around here. I could use a slice of murder cake with this tea…

Thus, I interpret this novel as a case of a socially awkward sociopath paired against a socially adept psychopath in a life-and-death battle, with the latter only revealed near the end, because every thriller needs a twist.

Every thriller has a twist

What about you? Does my interpretation match your reading, or did you read this novel differently?

Writing Prompt: Perfect for Pulling

Do Not Pull!” the sign read. Marissa sighed, puffed her cheeks out, and crossed her arms over her chest. As a rule, Marissa was a rule-abiding citizen, primarily because she was one of those people who could never seem to get away with anything. At 8 years old, she ate a piece of Halloween candy before her parents checked it, pricked the inside of her mouth with the needle someone had inserted inside the chocolate bar, and spent the entire night at the hospital. At 14, she tried to sneak out the window after her parents thought she was in bed, and promptly made them aware of her failed attempt with a howling scream when she slipped, fell too abruptly to the ground, and broke her leg. At 17, she took her eyes off the road for a second, wanting to see if the ping she heard notified a response from the boy she liked, and consequently was a second too late in reaction to the car that veered into her lane going the wrong way, and had a head-on collision.

Marissa’s parents were tired of the hospital bills. Marissa was tired of being puffy eyed and bored in the hospital. She no longer tempted fate by purposefully ignoring clearly stated rules.

And yet… This lever was

Bright yellow in hue, it dangled temptingly in front of her. Why draw so much attention to it when you didn’t want anyone to use it? Would anyone blame a dog for ignoring a “No urination” sign on a bright red fire hydrant? Perhaps it was just a joke. Or a test to see who the rebels were.

Marissa wet her lips, and tentatively reached out with her right hand, but only got a foot or so into the air before it started shivering too much to be any use, and she quickly enveloped it back against her bosom. Rebel she was not.

“This is ridiculous!” she told herself. But her mind insisted on reminding her of the time she was at a frat party, had so much to drink she could not find her designated driver, and spent 4 hours walking home in the cold. Of course, it was mid-winter. At one point, she had stumbled and fallen to the ground, and when sober, she had realized with a chill that she could have easily died, even though she was only 19 years old.

“What could possibly happen?” she tried. “It’s flimsy plastic!” Only now her brain was admonishing that she had been hurt by plastic before. When she was 3, she had kissed her crush on the cheek in the sandbox, and his response had been to hit her over the head with his shovel. It is amazing, the amount of damage that can be inflicted by plastic when wielded with enough brute force. The trip to the hospital from this incident resulted in 6 stitches; her hand instinctively went up to the small, pale scar that remained on her forehead.

By this point, she was starting to feel that she needed to pull the lever, lest she lose all self-respect. The fact that the fingers of her dominant right hand were tingling in anticipation of pulling a childishly colored lever was approaching a level of phobia. This reaction, this panic, was not normal. The chance that this action could have dire consequences was extremely unlikely. It was just a piece of plastic, that moved – like an over sized McDonald’s Happy Meal toy. Not the best comparison, since Marissa had suffered another hospital stint from an unfortunate incident with a Happy Meal toy. But she had also had the opportunity to play with numerous Happy Meal toys without any negative consequences. At least 95% of her time with Happy Meal toys had been a positive, or at least, mediocre, experience.

She shifted the fingers of her right hand off of her left arm. She could do this.

Deep breath in. Hold. Deep breath out. Hold.

At the tortoise-like pace that she had been told will win the race, Marissa’s arm extended. She began shaking about halfway to the lever, and she focused on her breath, kept slowly moving.

The tips of her fingers just brushed the tip of the vivid handle. Relief was already blooming in her chest, as she realized that she was going to face this irrational fear. Relief that quickly turned to pain, everywhere, as a little boy zipped around her and pulled, in a single sure movement, without hesitation, thereby dooming them both.

Written in response to M’s Putting My Feet in the Dirt’s April Writing Prompts.

Beach Reads: Essential for the Inessential Downtime

So, I don’t know about your specific situation, but here in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I have been trapped in the apartment as an inessential person (still able to work from home, just only able to hold virtual meetings with people other than my husband and two sons). And for me, nothing feels more essential at this time than a beach read.

A well-done beach read is like a warm cup of soup. It provides an easy escape into a world where things can actually work out, leaving you with a smile on your face and warm, fuzzy good feelings that seeps into your bones. A poorly done beach read is infuriating.

This bitch just read a poorly written beach read.

Recently, I had the experience of reading a great beach read, and a not-so-great beach read. And yes, the latter did infuriate me. These novels were, respectively, Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center and Been There, Married That by Gigi Levangie. [Full disclosure: I received both of these novels as Advanced Reader Copies. Fuller disclosure: I am a blunt bitch, and while I may not have paid for these novels, that in no way effects my opinion of them. Fullest disclosure: I’m not currently hungry, but am still craving sugar, and may take a break in writing this blog post for chocolate. I realize this last note is in no way related to the content of this blog post, but am just trying to be completely honest and transparent.]

You know me – transparent as a ghost. Or a brick wall. One of those things. Oh, also – I definitely took a break for chocolate. #chocolate

Let’s talk about the good first:

Protagonist Cassie Hanwell is a great firefighter. She kind of fell into a great job with the Austin Fire Department, and the novel opens as she eats dinner with her co-workers before receiving a prestigious award. Cassie keeps to herself, a lot, but she is self-sufficient and doesn’t need other people. Until she accidentally gives this terrible guy some comeuppance, and finds herself driving to the East Coast to live with the mother who she’s barely spoken to in years, en route to a transfer to a new fire station that is markedly less modern than the Austin FD, trying to cobble a new life together for herself while also helping her mother (who is suffering vision loss) while making sure not to become ensnared, because she doesn’t want to be fooled twice!

She’s a firefighter, not a fool!

This plot is full of dramatic tension and literal life-and-death stakes. Yet, instead of being overwrought or ridiculous, this novel remains interesting and difficult to put down. Writing a novel – any novel – is an accomplishment, but Center takes this accomplishment a step further. Her work has wrought that rare book that breathes life into characters, making words into people that you care about, because they are realistic. And not only does it include realistic characters (which you know I’m a sucker for), but it also does so in a way that is heartwarming, that leaves you closing the book with a lighter heart. In this political climate, where I have been stuck in the apartment with my family for an entire month (I love them, but it is not a very big apartment, and it is a lot), to read a book that makes me feel hope is nigh on amazing. Yet this book managed to do so, and I am immensely grateful to Katherine Center for penning it.

Thank you, Ms. Center! #lighthearted

Ok, on to the “beach read” that’s more of a “don’t read:”

This novel is supposed to be a juicy behind-the-scenes look at crazy Hollywood, except that there is nothing surprising in it. We know that producers in Hollywood are full of shit; the only one who seems surprised by it is the protagonist of this novel, Agnes Nash. So, like, bitch isn’t going to give you a very good behind-the-scenes look. I think we’re supposed to feel bad for Agnes – but it’s totally obvious that her marriage is a sham, and even if her husband doesn’t want to drop her like two hot rocks, he’s absolutely awful, so it’s hard to feel bad for her when the only conceivable reason she’s still with the man is money. Like, just get a divorce, and make sure he pays you alimony. Or at least child support.

Seriously, impossible to feel empathy for this chick – Agnes will make your head hurt.

In fact, Agnes judges those around her all the time. We’re supposed to think she’s so witty and fun; she really just comes across as oblivious and awful. The only people she shows respect or allows might not be, like, totally clueless, are rich, presumably white, men. I had absolutely no interest in seeing things go right for Agnes. Bitch is white, obviously fairly good-looking, and only values the opinions of rich men while somehow convincing herself she’s principled and superior to those around her. She also, in her quest for hypocrisy, proves to be either excessively idiotic or naive to an unimaginable degree. Snitches get stitches, and the naive can leave, Agnes. Except she doesn’t need to leave. Because she’s white, heterosexual, and stupid/naive, you know Agnes will somehow end up on top. So I guess read this one if you want to be reminded that life isn’t fair, and if your life isn’t going great, it’s probably because you’re just not pretty enough? That’s usually the opposite of how I want to feel when I read a beach read, but, you know – to each his/her own.

What about you – any beach reads to recommend? Or any that absolutely infuriated you that you would like to rant about?