Anne Tyler's French Braid

Who're the Garretts? Over the course of six decades, from 1959 until 2020, Tyler opens the curtains, roughly once a decade, for the readers to peek into the lives of Garretts, a white middle-class family in Baltimore. These cross-sections - a family vacation, an anniversary party, a death, a pandemic - are the punctuations during which we get to know the family. Parents become grandparents, a mother withdraws inwards, a wife cheats and a child learns how to draw. The family comes together, falls apart, utter words that sting and stay supportive.

Mercy Garrett, mother of three, was never matronly. When they go on their first vacation, 18 years after their marriage, she's happy to exercise her painting skills, mostly unaware of the whereabouts of her kids. We see Alice, the 17 year old daughter, step in and creatively cobble together lunches and dinners with what they have in the pantry. Lily, the 15 year old, can't wait to take flight with a boyfriend, any boyfriend. David, the 8 year old, is reserved and insightful. Robin, the father, a man of limited emotional range, loves his family but doesn't really know how to express it, drifts aimlessly. What we don't see in this week-long vacation is all of them sharing a family meal. The family members care for each other, but there's more self-concern than love.

After David leaves home for college and they become empty nesters, the simple-minded Robin wonders if they'll have the freedom to have sex on the living room floor. He failed to see that his wife of 27 years only stayed together because that's what the society expected of her. She moves out, but with such gentleness that it doesn't break Robin's heart. She wanted to be a painter when she was young. And now that the kids are out, she starts afresh. It takes more than a decade and she achieves modest success. We see a friend of hers from her art school who has made it big in New York. But she holds no grudges about how her cookie had crumbled. She says "everybody runs their own race".

Meanwhile David, Mercy's son, has a lot less respect for societal conventions. He feels he'd been shackled by his family and once out of home for college his ties back home suffer a severe setback. Though he lives only a couple of hours away, he comes home only a handful of times, like for his parents' 50th anniversary. He feels like there's no love lost between him and his siblings or parents. But the man's capacity for love is concentrated and pours out only to his nuclear family. His love for his wife, step-daughter and son has left him with nothing for the rest of the society. When the pandemic hits, he's quite happy to not have his friends come over.

There are slices of lives of sons-in-law and grandkids we get to know along with the daughters Alice and Lily. Having seen these folks grow and change over decades, we feel like we know them. Lily, after an adventurous start to her life, finds herself in a vulnerable position: married and pregnant with another man's child. She decides to tamp down her hormones and settle down. But we see the same Lily in top gear in her 60s, after she has seen her kids off. Just like her mother. Do we really know the Garretts? Do we really know ourselves?

St. Louis Fed Comedy Tweet


The right axis is for the US and the left axis is for the rest of the countries. I had to check the account wasn't hacked.

 My 13 year old, listening to Kpop: Did you know a parent pulled a gun on one of the students and that's why they had a shelter-in-place at school yesterday?

Me, somewhat stunned: What... what exactly happened?

Her: I'll tell you after this song ends. I really like this one.

Musk's Twitter Tantrums

About a week ago, Twitter's 3rd party clients like Twitterrific stopped working. They had no idea what was going on. Even worse, they didn't have anyone to talk to at Twitter because the comms team had been gutted soon after Musk took over. After a week, here's the official word:

Third party clients have contributed a lot to the Twitter experience (retweets, pull down to refresh, heck even the blue bird logo). And the users accessing Twitter from these clients form a minuscule percentage of an already shrinking user base. It's very on brand for Musk to revoke the API credentials of solid partners, lollygag for a week and then issue a half-ass ignominious statement from the TwitterDev@ account. I'm sad for the indie developers who are affected by this. Hope they land on their feet elsewhere.

In the last two months, whatever little regard I had for Musk has been burned. He is smart and he has built impressive things. But since his takeover, his range of actions remind me of a middle-school bully and a toddler at the same time, if that even makes sense. Firing employees indiscriminately without decent severance, halting rent payments on their leased buildings, and releasing broken features in the name of shipping fast... all marks of a toddler lashing out at their parent for being forced to do what he didn't want to do, which in this case is buying Twitter after he tried to pedal back.

With such tantrums, Musk is waving a bright red flag to all smart engineers who might have _some_ interest in working for one of his companies. He's already antagonized mainstream media by slavishly aligning with extreme right-wing nuts. Many active users of the service have closed their accounts and/or moved to Mastodon. At this rate, we'll have a skeleton crew running the infrastructure and a significantly shrunk user base that don't want to go elsewhere because they love it. My wish and hope, is that in about six months when Musk is tired of servicing his Twitter debt ($1B/month) and his personal wealth greatly diminished (which is tied to Tesla market cap, which is still overvalued) and his other successful bets have suffered a big churn, he'll sell Twitter at a steep discount to a PE and they'll take start managing it like professionals.

Richard Russo's Compassion

I'm reading Everybody's Fool, my fourth Russo novel. He specializes in telling the stories of everyday folks in a small town in New England. The sort of town you drive by and wonder who lives there and then forget all about it 10 minutes later. A town whose better days are well behind it, whose capable citizens have all moved out a long time ago. So, who lives there?

The eclectic bunch that Russo presents us are street smart, plain dumb, woefully lazy, super industrious, morally upright and downright despicable. We laugh at them, and then we laugh with them. We see them cry and share their pain. Families are broken, but they still try to carry on. Sons try to be better than their fathers, and they're perennially wondering what their sons will think of them. Men are tired of not moving up the economic ladder, women are tired of never being understood, kids do stupid shit and old men get on a barstool and tell the same old jokes. These people are miserable and lovely. In the hands of a lesser writer I would have hated these characters. But Russo tells the stories of these people poignantly. We see a little bit of ourselves in these creatures. It's hard to love them, just like it's hard to be kind to ourselves at times. But Russo's compassion makes it possible.

Mr Inbetween

Mr Inbetween, the excellent Australian low-key drama is about Ray Shoesmith, a hitman for hire. But that's just one dimension of Ray. Yes, we see him shake down people, kill them, bury them, pocket his pay and drive home with the satisfaction of an autoworker who's put together a neat car. But he's also a father, divorcee, boyfriend, friend and a brother. While there are car chases and shootouts, the real drama's at home.

Ray is a very protective father, a caring brother, an emotionally distant son, a reliable friend and a loving boyfriend. The super economic screenplays, at 30-minute-an-episode 3 season run, construct an authentic, relatable human being. The writing is uniformly excellent: when the humor is dark, as is often the case, it's quite dark. But it doesn't stay that way. The most touching scenes establish what a great father and brother he is, almost wanting me to forgive his other minor sins like killing people.

Brad Pitt in Bullet Train

This is a solid B, the kind I used to watch 20 minutes/day. Once Appa and I finished reading Kumarithuraivi, and before we settle on our next reading project, this movie filled the gap perfectly.

Brad Pitt's on a bullet train to steal a briefcase full of money. There are also a couple of assassins on the train, babysitting the son of a local mafia don. There's a innocent schoolgirl who's neither innocent nor a schoolgirl. And a venomous snake on the loose that probably has a social media following. Their stories intersect in complicated and illogical ways. The movie ends when the train crashes. But all of this is made palatable because Brad Pitt plays the cool dude, a simple criminal trying to put his past behind him, but guns and knives keeps getting in the way.

Here's a throwaway line from the movie, but made memorable because of the performers:

Brad Pitt: How would you like to make an easy $200?

Channing Tatum, after an appropriately curious pause: Is this a sex thing?