Book – Ben Benjamin is in a low place – he’s lost his job, his home and his family. Hoping to start a new career, he enrolls in a night class called the “Fundamentals of Caregiving.” Upon receiving his certificate, he begins to care for his first patient, nineteen-year-old Trevor. Trevor has Duchenne muscular atrophy and requires an extensive amount of assistance from his mother, Elsa, and Ben. Trevor’s father, Bob, has awkwardly been trying to mend the rift he created with Trevor when he abandoned the family years earlier. Although Trevor and his mother have been rebuffing his attempts for years, when Bob is in a car accident, Trevor initiates the idea of a 600 mile road trip to visit him in Utah. When Ben and Trevor set off on their adventure, they have no idea about the people they’ll meet and the shift their lives will take on their journey.
While Ben struggles to keep a professional, emotional distance from Trevor, he also struggles with his own emotions in dealing with his tragic past. What keeps this book from becoming overly maudlin is the humor. The characters are quirky, and Evison highlights the absurd amidst the difficult situations in their lives. This book was an off-beat, surprising ride through the lives of Ben and Trevor.
TV Series – Breaking Bad features brilliant but timid high school chemistry teacher Walter White, who is diagnosed with lung cancer. A father of a special needs son and husband of a pregnant stay-at-home wife, he worries about how he can possibly pay for his treatments and care for his family in case of his death. He decides to produce meth to subsidize his income. He enlists the aid of a former student and naively embarks on his new moonlighting career. What ensues is chaos, tragedy and hilarity as Walt and his hapless associate encounter ruthless kingpins, territory squabbles and bumbling employees. To complicate matters, Walt’s brother-in-law is a DEA Officer who is (unknowingly) hot on his trail. Juggling matters with his wife (annoyed at his frequent unexplained absences), teaching responsibilities, drug operations and cancer treatments keep Walter busy and viewers entertained. I’m just finishing Season 2 and all other non-essential activities in my household are on hold until we finish the series. Breaking Bad, which was first aired in 2008, ended in 2013 and won over fifty awards.
TV series – I was hooked on Homeland from the very first episode. Nicolas Brody (played by English actor Damian Lewis) is a marine returning to the United States and his family after eight years of captivity in Iraq. Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), an Intelligence Officer for the CIA, spent several years in Iraq trying to infiltrate terrorist organizations. Both Brody and Carrie carry psychological scars from their experiences in the Middle East which continue to plague them. Carrie suspects that Brody may not be what he seems and has her own secrets to protect as well. The cast of interesting and conflicted characters, including Mandy Patinkin as Carrie’s boss and mentor, contributes to the depth and intrigue of the show. The plot twists and turns, the characters grapple with difficult choices and their own vulnerabilities and the result is a riveting TV drama. Season 2 has just been released on DVD. Since its first season aired in 2011, Homeland has won five Golden Globes.
TV – Revenge is my guilty pleasure. This is a TV series shrouded in mystery, glamor, and as the title suggests steeped in revenge. The main character is Emily Thorne, who makes it her mission to infiltrate the Hampton’s upper society to execute a meticulous plot of revenge on Conrad and Victoria Grayson who set up her father, an executive working for their company, for channeling money to a terrorist organization responsible for the downing of a commercial airliner. Emily’s father was imprisoned for life and nine year old Emily was taken by the foster care system. She never saw her father again. Her childhood was spent consumed by rage, loss and betrayal. Emily is highly intelligent and tough and she has no problem passing herself off as a philanthropic wealthy socialite to her neighbors the Graysons, as well as a romantic interest for their son, Daniel. Revenge is full of intrigue, people you love to hate, endless twists and turns, not to mention beautiful people, clothes, and houses. The plot can be a little farfetched sometimes, but it is still wickedly entertaining.
Movie – A Late Quartet features no special effects, criminal kingpins, drug abuse or physical violence; instead, it offers a thoughtful, character-driven, cerebral psychodrama. The movie focuses on a string quartet – called The Fugue – that has played together for 25 years, but is shaken when the cellist and oldest member decides he must retire when he learns that he has Parkinson’s Disease. Hidden resentments, affairs and multiple conflicts begin to surface. The plot shines light on the relationship between life and art. Life is the thing from which art comes: bloody, incoherent, embarrassing, arbitrary and cruel. Art is an idealized vision of life, with the power to bestow order on chaos. Plays and novels have explored this, but A Late Quartet does it effortlessly. Christopher Walken, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener and Mark Ivanir deliver great performances as the musicans who choose playing in quartet over solo careers. The movie uses Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 14 in C sharp minor, opus 131, as a metaphor for playing on through all of life’s ambiguity, pain and irony. I also appreciated the movie’s message about not being overly concerned with mistakes in playing the music, but rather to convey strong lyrical phrases.