Night Vision

[Amazon Link]

Number 18 (I think) in Randy Wayne White's "Doc Ford" series of thrillers. The reviewers at Amazon are surprisingly brutal. I liked it fine, though.

Doc's buddy Tomlinson drags him to a trailer park mostly inhabited by illegal immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala. It's to help out 13-year-old Tula, a girl posing as a boy. But they never get much of a chance to accomplish this, as an old drunk is attacked by a large gator. Ford and Tomlinson pull off a peril-fraught rescue, putting them on the bad side of Harris Squires, the park proprietor, who's deeply involved in illegal drugs (steroids, etc.) and perverted porn. In the confusion, Tula vanishes.

Unfortunately, Tula has witnessed Squires engaging in very bad behavior with a corpse. This puts a bullseye on her. But Tula believes she has a hidden ally on her side: she speaks with Joan of Arc. To the reader, that seems like a pretty thin reed to rely on for survival. Still, the plot works itself out in totally unexpected ways.

Oh, yeah: Doc gets a girlfriend. We'll see how long she lasts.

Unusually, only about half the book, maybe less, is told from Ford's first-person POV. The rest follows Tula, Squires, and Squires' nasty double-crossing retinue as they pursue their holy/unholy goals.

Quibbles: the book has that padded-to-meet-a-contractually-obligated-page-count feel, could easily have been cut down to half its length. The copy editor was sloppy: I caught a couple of howlers without looking for them. And Mr. White has an annoying habit of starting his narrative, then backing up a few minutes/hours to tell what happened immediately before, then continuing on. Please.

Still, an honest page-turner, and I enjoyed the unusual plot.

Love & Mercy

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

I am somewhat surprised at how much I liked this movie.

It's the based-on-true-fact story of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. Paul Dano plays 1960s Brian, the mentally fragile musical genius, abused by his dad, obsessed with competing with the Beatles and Phil Spector. But he pursues his creative vision, putting himself at odds with (most notably) bandmate Mike Love.

But tragedy is in the offing, because adding large amounts of psychoactive drugs to an already unstable personality is not a good idea. The ambitious Smile project crashes and burns, and Brian retreats into seclusion, paranoia, and morbid obesity.

Interleaved with the young-Brian story is the middle-aged Brian story: here, he's played by John Cusack. We first see him popping into a Cadillac dealership to impulse-buy a Fleetwood from beautiful salesperson Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks). Brian is sweet, but clearly still mentally damaged. Still, he and Melinda strike up a relationship, only to run into the opposition of shrink Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti). Landy keeps Brian on a tight leash, feeds him copious amounts of different drugs, and is generally controlling and abusive. Can this unlikely romance be saved?

All four primary actors here deserve Oscars. Just wanted to point that out.

There are quibbles. There's the usual problem with biopics, wooden dialog that's used to explicate what's going on. ("I'd like to make a toast. To 'Good Vibrations', Brian's pocket symphony to God. And the biggest selling single the Beach Boys ever had. Ever!") And VanDyke Parks shows up (as a pretentious twit), but his role is not developed at all.

One of the plot points is the relative commercial failure of the Pet Sounds album. That must be true, a matter of historical (heh) record. But back in 1966 Omaha, I thought it was fantastic; so did my friends at the time. And when I got to college, everyone I knew there loved it too. This is probably the inverse of Pauline Kael's provincialism on Nixon. But I didn't feel particularly avant-garde back then.