Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

It's one small thing I remember noticing in those months of building and making and drafting and plotting, something that seems less small over time: for a player to make progress, he has to pacify or destroy whoever's in his way.  Those people become part of his story: he can't go back and breathe life into them, and whatever gains he gets from the wrecks he leaves behind are permanent in the sense that any other courses open to him beforehand will become closed.  So when I sketched the scene where a player, having been caught by warlord resource-hoarders and imprisoned in an improvised jail, cold just kill his cellmate and get everything he might otherwise have spent six turns gathering, I didn't feel right about it: it was directly reward a player for attacking somebody who hadn't done him any harm, for doing the wrong thing.  It saved the player all the work while giving him all the spoils.  But I saw the bigger picture: that it was true.  That to the player who intended to make it to safety, no one in front of him amounted to more than some stray marks on paper, half-real figures to be tunneled under or blasted through as you headed on east toward the spires.

John Darnielle's song "The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton," from The Mountain Goats' 2002 album All Hail West Texas, is about a pair of high school students whose friendship is destroyed by well-meaning parents who react with paranoid fear to the music of their band.  Cyrus and Jeff's parents are worried that their sons have become victims of a pernicious cultural force, but can't bring themselves to think about what Cyrus and Jeff need from metal, and what results is a deeply seeded resentment: "When you punish someone for dreaming their dream," Darnielle writes, "don't expect them to than or forgive you."

Darnielle's new novel Wolf in White Van illustrates just how easy it is to go from being perceived as the victim of pernicious culture to its perpetrator.  The narrator, Sean Phillips, is disfigured from a suicide he attempted when he was a teenager.  As an adult, he makes a living by operating a series of role playing games like mail, including his most popular, the Trace Italian, in which players travel through a post-nuclear United States in search of the titular citadel, the last remaining outpost of civilization and of safety.  The narrative vacillates between the present day and Sean's memories of the period just after his disfigurement.  His own parents' persistent need to blame his actions on some exterior force--the music he listens to, the girl he's been dating--becomes tragically reflected in the present, when Sean is sued by the parents of two teenagers who died from exposure while trying to enact the plot of the Trace Italian.

Sean seems monstrous, of course, from a certain perspective.  But his own experiences amplify the sympathy he feels for the parents of the deceased--and for the kids, with whom he had a peculiar but very real relationship, through the correspondence of the game.  To what extent is he responsible for their death?  Is Sean the "wolf in white van" that a Christian television show says can be heard when a certain radio is played backwards?

And I thought, maybe he's real, this wolf, and he's really out there in a white van somewhere, riding around.  Maybe he's in the far back, pacing back and forth, circling, the pads of his huge paws raw and cracking, his thick, sharp claws dully clicking against the raised rusty steel track ridges on the floor.  Maybe he's sound asleep, or maybe he's just pretending.  And then the van stops somewhere, maybe, and somebody gets out and walks around to the side to the back and grabs hold of the handle and flings the doors open wide.  Maybe whoever's kept him wears a mechanic's jumpsuit and some sunglasses, and he hasn't fed the great wolf for weeks, cruising the streets of the city at night, and the wolf's crazy with hunger now; he can't even think.  Maybe he's not locked up in the back at all: he could be riding in the passenger seat, like a dog, just sitting and staring out the open window, looking around, checking everybody out.  Maybe he's over in the other seat behind the steering wheel.  Maybe he's driving.

But there is no wolf--no evil force that tragedy can be safely assigned to.  The Trace Italian games, for Sean, are a way of managing the forces of chance and uncertainty that are associated with such tragedy.  No one has ever reached the Trace, but there is a comfort in knowing that the scenarios have been written and lie in a drawer: the whole plot, constructed and whole, known only to Sean.  The death of the teenage players threatens to disrupt the certainty and structure that Sean has needed since his disfiguration.

As a debut novel, Wolf in White Van is very assured.  But like with Cyrus and Jeff, Darnielle has been thinking about these themes for years, and they're no doubt influenced by his own infamously turbulent childhood.  And while the Satanic paranoia of "The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton" seems very much a relic of a couple of decades ago, Wolf in White Van shows how the need to identify and root out what we call "evil" remains prevalent and powerful.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Billy's Top Five

This year was one of my lower book totals, but I was pleased to at least get halfway there.  I also, like Chris, had a tough time reviewing books this year (sorry everyone!).  I don't know if it was because I didn't have as much time, or because I ran into some tough books this year (my Kindle is scattered with the corpses of several books that I just didn't like enough to finish, plus there's on one my nightstand that is fascinating, but for some reason is taking me forever to get through).

All that being said, I read some pretty good books this year.  Here are the ones I found particularly noteworthy:

5. A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe: I probably enjoyed this funky book more than most because it was set in Atlanta and I read it right after reading #4 on my list.  I got a kick out of reading about characters driving past 10th and Piedmont (an intersection I cross every day) and dealing with Freaknik, a city wide spring break extravaganza for HBCs in the 90s (that has since been discontinued).  But I also thought the characters were compelling and well drawn, even if the story itself was a little bananas by the end.  It definitely didn't turn out how I expected it would.

4. Atlanta Rising by Frederick Allen: Since moving into Atlanta proper, I have become increasingly interested in Atlanta history.  Much of it is fascinating and it is fun to get a new perspective on my city.  This book (along with Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn, another Atlanta history book that I love, but haven't been able to finish yet) do a good job of charting the civil rights movement in Atlanta and how it differed from the debacles in other southern cities, like Little Rock and Birmingham.  In short, Atlanta had a much more peaceful and progressive integration because Atlanta's white business leaders, like Coke President Robert Woodruff (incidentally, an alum of my high school), and politicians, like Bill Hartsfield and Ivan Allen, Jr., realized that racial strife was bad for business (this balance was made possible in no small part by black voting activists like John Wesley Dobbs, who fought for the electoral power and rights for black Atlantans that made the election of men like Hartsfield and Allen achievable).  

3. Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card: Much has been said about the irony of Card's works.  This installment in his famous series is another exhortation for empathy above judgment.  It was a good read, and I appreciate his message (even if the author doesn't do so himself).

2. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay: Gay's collection of essays is fantastic, each one bringing something different to the table.  From hilarious stories about competitive Scrabble tournaments and biting and amusing reviews of pop culture to poignant stories about what it is like to be a black woman in academia and America, Bad Feminist has stories that will make you think and make you laugh.

1. Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward: This is one of the two I actually reviewed, so I'll direct you to that summary, but this is still one of the most affecting books I have read in quite some time.  Since I read/reviewed it (after the death of Mike Brown, but before the grand jury announcement in his and Eric Garner's cases, etc.), its lessons have become even more important to me.  It is so hard but so important for white people (like me) to really listen to and learn about POC's lived experiences in this country, because it is becoming more and more clear that we have no idea what their lives are like, and that ignorance can be deadly.  As was suggested in a comment on my original post, it is very sad, but I still recommend it.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

  • Exposition:  the workings of the actual past + the virtual past may be illustrated by an event well-known to collective history, such as the sinking of the Titanic.  The disaster as it actually occurred descends into obscurity as its eyewitnesses die off, documents perish + the wreck of the ship dissolves in its Atlantic grave.  Yet a virtual sinking of the Titanic, created from reworked memories, papers, hearsay, fiction--in short, belief--grows ever "truer."  The actual past is brittle, ever dimming + ever more problematic to access + reconstruct: in contrast, the virtual past is malleable, ever-brightening + ever more difficult to circumvent/expose as fraudulent.
  • The present presses the virtual past into its own service, to lend credence to its mythologies + legitimacy to the imposition of will.  Power seeks + is the right to "landscape" the virtual past.  (He who pays the historian calls the tune.)
  • Symmetry demands an actual + virtual future, too.  We imagine how next week, next year, or 2225 will shape up--a virtual future, constructed by wishes, prophecies + daydreams.  This virtual future will eclipse our virtual one as surely as tomorrow eclipses today.  Like Utopia, the actual future + the actual past exist only in the hazy distance, where they are no good to anyone.
  • Q: Is there a meaningful distinction between one simulacrum of smoke, mirrors + shadows--the actual past--from another such simulacrum--the actual future?
In Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell has the audacity to attempt to write about Justice and Humanity in a universal way.  He realizes this ambition, and presents to the reader a puzzle-box of a novel--six short stories, five split in the middle.  Thus, the first story ends halfway and the second story starts.  It, in turn, ends halfway and the third story starts.  And so on until the sixth story, which runs all the way through.  Then we return to the fifth story, which ends, to the fourth story, etc. etc. etc.

Such stylistic flourish is necessary because Mitchell is telling one story, with six different iterations.  The different iterations show the universality of this one story, which repeats over and over, through time, like an endless cycle that is the story of humanity.  Thus, our first story is in the 1800s, and the last story is in some post-apocalyptic future.  

What is the one story?  It is a story of two dueling narratives about humanity.  This passage encompasses both:
What precipitates outcomes?  Vicious acts & virtuous acts.
 What precipitates acts?  Belief.
Belief is both prize & battlefield, within the mind & in the mind's mirror, the world.  If we believe humanity is a ladder of tribes, a colosseum of confrontation, exploitation & bestiality, such a humanity is surely brought into being . . . . You & I, the moneyed, the privileged, the fortunate, shall not fare so badly in this world, provided our luck holds.  What if it consciences itch?  Why undermine the dominance of our race, our gunships, our heritage & our legacy?  Why fight the "natural" (oh, weaselly word!) order of things?
Why?  Because of this:--one fine day, a purely predatory world shall consume itself.  Yes, the Devil shall take the hindmost until the foremost is the hindmost.  In an individual selfishness uglifies the soul; for the human species, selfishness is extinction.
So, insofar as Cloud Atlas is a theory of humanity, the theory is a dichotomy: altruism v. self-interest.  If we, as a species, choose self-interest, humanity is doomed to failure.  If we, as a species, choose altruism, humanity will flourish.  One might call Cloud Atlas the anti-Rand.

The altruism/self-interest debate is age-old, of course.  What makes Cloud Atlas special, though, is its genuine interest in approaching this topic from the perspective of humanity, rather than from an individual point of view.  Of course, Mitchell tells this story through individuals, but the individuals are presented as mere examples of a universal phenomenon.

This was a second reading for me.  Like Winter's Tale, I re-read this novel because I recommended it to someone and he did not like it as much as I thought he would.  (Evidently, I'm 0-2 on recommendations this year.)  Like Winter's Tale, this book re-read even better than my original reading.  Interestingly, both books were recommended to me by one person around the same time in my life (around when law school ended).  And both books have a thematic similarity: an attempt to present Justice from a literary perspective.  I can't help wondering if timing had something to do with my interest in both novels.

With all that said, I loved this book.  My friend faulted it because it lacked the "greatness" I've discussed in reviews earlier this year.  I'm not sure I agree.  Specifically, my friend felt that the writing is not beautiful in the way the Great Writers write beautifully.  I would agree on this point.  I remember reading somewhere that Nabokov never trusted any writer with an ulterior motive in his writing--Cloud Atlas certainly reads as though it has an ulterior motive.  Namely, spelling out a theory of humanity.  The writing itself may not be as great as Nabokov's, but the novel has much to offer.  I'm going to let it sit in the back of my mind a couple more years before deciding what I think about it.

With all that said, if nothing else, it is a really good novel.  Thus, I recommend it to anyone.

But for the love of God, do not go see the movie (only the movie adaptation of Winter's Tale was worse).

Friday, December 26, 2014

Christopher's Top Ten 2014

This is the eighth year of existence for the Fifty Books Project, and each year it gets a little easier for me to reach fifty books, I think, because I've been able to settle into a kind of rhythm that makes it automatic for me.  But every year it gets a little harder to review the books I've read on time.  This year, I left 11 books unreviewed!  And though I still plan on writing about each of them, I feel bad that three of those eleven appear on my year-end list without any review to link to.  Womp womp.  In any case, here are my favorites from 2014:

10.) Riders in the Chariot by Patrick White -- White's story of four outsiders in suburban Australia who share a vision of the divine helped cement my opinion that he's one of the most underrated and under-recognized English-language writers in the 20th century, unless you're in Australia.  White's fulsome, kitchen-sink prose illuminates the way that the divine lives just beyond the edge of what c an be expressed in words.

9.) A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark -- Slots nine through seven are all books I read late in the year and haven't gotten around to reviewing.  A Far Cry from Kensington was the best of the three Muriel Spark books I read this year because it has a warmth and depth of character that many of her books lack.  That's partly because it, like The Mandelbaum Gate, is partially autobiographical: the heroine, like Spark, writes about her experiences in the absurd world of post-war publishing.  Like Memento Mori, the plot is driven by a series of threatening phone calls, this time to a fragile Polish seamstress living in the protagonist's boarding house.  But even when she repeats herself, Spark is always original, and this is one of her very best.

8.) To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf -- I love lighthouses.  But this book really isn't about lighthouses, unless by "about lighthouses," you mean "about the deep and inexpressible needs of human expression."  It takes place over two of the Ramsay family's holidays in the Hebrides, years apart, and the only real plot point--Mrs. Ramsay's death--happens "off screen," between the two sections.  Instead, what Woolf provides is the most detailed and layered expression of what goes on in the brains of people that I've ever read.

7.) The Ponder Heart by Eudora Welty -- Last year I was surprised by the emotional depth and complexity of Welty's The Optimist's Daughter.  The Ponder Heart amplifies the comedic elements that happen at the fringes of that novel and reconfigures them into something that is both hilarious and humane.  The story revolves around Daniel Ponder, a generous and perhaps half-witted man who is put on trial for killing his younger second wife.  It lacks some of the gravitas of The Optimist's Daughter, but its humor captures the essence of the small-town South more successfully, for me.

6.) At Freddie's by Penelope Fitzgerald -- I've been trying to get Brent to read Penelope Fitzgerald for a while now, and apparently all I needed to do was to mail a book to his house.  I think At Freddie's, which depicts the lives of the students and teachers at a child's acting school in London, is my second favorite of her novels after The Blue Flower.  It didn't hurt that it reminded me of a lot of my own students.

5.) Kleinzeit by Russell Hoban -- Randy says this novel isn't "great."  I don't know that that concerns me.  I value its idiosyncrasy, and its sheer weirdness.  Hoban's choice to anthropomorphize everything in Kleinzeit's universe, like the hospital that thinks of Kleinzeit as a tasty meal, is a bizarre choice perfectly executed.  It isn't until late in the book that you realize that it's not merely a stylistic choice, but a thematic one; Kleinzeit is about the relationship between human beings and the forces in the world that seem cruel and impersonal.  Randy: Now you have to read Hoban's best book, Riddley Walker.

4.) Possession by A. S. Byatt -- I don't know if the prose of Possession can match anything that's on this list, but I guess it's the poetry that matters: Byatt's pitch-perfect, thoughtful imitations of Robert Browning and Christina Rossetti (as poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte) are the foundation of a moving meditation on what it means to write, and write about, literature.

3.) Paradise Lost by John Milton -- I didn't really know where to put this.  Is it too low?  Too high?  I'm not sure that I can gauge the extent to which I enjoyed Paradise Lost--in fact, I think Milton would agree that enjoying it is beside the point.  Milton wanted his epic of the fall of Adam and Eve to inspire people to be more obedient to God.  I tried to read it in that spirit, and though I wasn't always--or often--successful, recognizing the great intellectual achievement that creates that effect is extremely rewarding.

2.) The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro -- I'm a sucker for unreliable narrators: Nick Carraway, John Dowell, etc.  Ishiguro's butler Stevens is one of the absolute best, and the least reliable.  He's so wrapped up in his idea of a butler's devotion to dignity, that he cannot recognize that his employer, Lord Darlington, is a Nazi sympathizer, nor that his father is dying, nor that the maid Miss Kenton is in love with him--not even that he is in love with her!  The Remains of the Day is a deeply sad story of self-denial and self-defeat, even as it leaves a space open for redemption and new life.

1.) Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison -- Man, what a book.  Race relations in the United States have always been a mix of the terrifying and the absurd, and it takes a terrifying and absurd book to really depict them.  Ellison's unnamed narrator moves from the South to New York City, a first hand witness to the weird and sad experience of being black in America.  Ellison wrote only one other book, and from what I've heard, it never reaches the same heights as Invisible Man, as if after writing that one (nearly) perfect novel, Ellison didn't have anything left.  I get to teach this book this year, and I'm pretty excited about it.

Happy new year!  If you'd like to join us at the Fifty Books Project, you can email me at misterchilton-at-gmail-dot-com.  We'd love to have you!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin

The universe is still and complete.  Everything that ever was, is; everything that ever will be, is--and so on, in all possible combinations.  Though in perceiving it we imagine that it is in motion and unfinished, it is quite finished and quite astonishingly beautiful.  In the end, or, rather, as things really are, any event, no matter how small, is intimately and sensibly tied to all others.  All rivers run full to the sea; those who are apart are brought together; the lost ones are redeemed; the dead come back to life; the perfectly blue days that have begun and ended in golden dimness continue, immobile and accessible; and, when all is perceived in such a way as to obviate time, justice becomes apparent not as something that will be, but as something that is.

Brittany hated this book, writing it off, it apparently, because the descriptions of women were too perfect and she didn't like the writing.  Because it was so long (making me feel bad for subjecting her to 750 pages of...well...of novel she didn't like) and because her review so dismissive, I felt an obligation to revisit the novel to make sure it was what I remembered it to be.

Turns out, it was even better than I remember.

As Brittany noted, this novel has multiple inter-related storylines, which I'll describe in turn.

The apparently most important is that of Peter Lake, Pearly Soames, and Beverly Penn.  Peter Lake and Pearly Soames are enemies, in a kind of exaggerated super-hero, super-villain way.  For example, this is the description of Soames:
In all the universe there was only one photograph of Pearly Soames, and it showed Pearly with five police officers around him, one apiece for each of his legs and arms, and one for his head.  They held him spread-eagled on a chair to which his waist and chest were firmly strapped.  His face was clenched around tightly shut eyes and it was possible to hear, even in black and white, the bellow that emerged from his throat.  The enormous officer behind him had obvious trouble keeping the subject's face toward the camera, and he grasped Pearly's hair and beard as if he were holding an agitated poisonous snake . . . . Pearly Soames had not desired to be photographed.
It's the last line, in particular, that I love.  After spending an entire paragraph showing, Helprin tells the reader the point, in an apparent redundancy.  However, because Helprin's writing is consistently clever, his concluding sentence reads like a clever understatement (for me, anyway).  Pearly is the bad guy; Peter Lake is the good guy.  The first 200 or so pages are about Pearly attempting to kill Peter Lake while Peter Lake tries to avoid him.  Meanwhile, Peter Lake takes up with a magical white horse and meets Beverly, who he falls in love with.  After Beverly dies, we shift focus.

The other story lines occur a couple of generations later, just before the turn of the millenium; they inter-relate more closely and are harder to distinguish.  In one, Hardesty seeks the meaning of a line on a mystical salver: "For what can be imagined more beautiful than the sight of a perfectly just city rejoicing in justice alone."  He meets Virginia, gets a job at a newspaper run by Beverly's younger brother.  Hardesty and Virgina fall in love and have a child.

The newspaper run by Beverly's brother is another story line, and serves as a focal point for a number of the characters (some of whom I'm leaving out).  This newspaper, The Sun, is in competition with another newspaper, The Ghost.  Where The Sun is a paragon of journalistic integrity and wisdom, The Ghost feeds the hedonistic mob its superficial news.

Finally there's a plot line involving Jackson Meade, a bridge maker, the Reverend Mootfowl, and their assistant Cecil Mature.  They are trying to build a bridge to the perfectly just city, which, ostensibly, is some form of Heaven or utopia.

I go through all these plot lines because it's the complexity of the novel, it's large number of plots, that makes the novel special.  This is not a novel about characters, necessarily; it is a novel about the human condition, that seeks to describe that condition on the scale of an entire city.  That is, Helprin attempts to portray a theory of humanity--that humans are capable of great acts, but only through cooperation so sophisticated it is nearly impossible for a single person to understand it.  Thus, most of the characters have their individual plot lines without any awareness of how their plot lines are contributing to the humanity meta-narrative.

This meta-narrative is that each person contributes to the life of a city.  This life involves small and large battles between good and evil (although, Helprin does not use the words "good" and "evil," as far as I can remember).  As the city gets closer and closer to being more good than evil, the more the city becomes a hospitable place for it to bridge the gap between our human reality and the perfectly just city.  Jackson Meade, who is an immortal, is constantly trying to build the bridge that will bring about the perfectly just city, but this bridge is dependent on a city reaching a certain level of goodness.

The other characters in the novel serve as examples of the battle between good and evil.  And, with the victory of good comes the possibility of miracles, both big and small.  So it is that children are brought back from the dead.  So, too, it is that Helprin does not explicitly tell us whether Peter Lake is reunited with Beverly.  But, I don't believe the ending is meant to be ambiguous--because the novel conveys a theory of humanity and miracles, Helprin is telling the reader to decide for himself because readers who buy into his theory of humanity/miracles know whether Peter Lake is reunited with Beverly.

This is not to say I understand the logic of miracles and life that dictates Winter's Tale.  I think I'd have to read it about eight more times to feel like I really understood.  However, for me, understanding is not a prerequisite for enjoyment.  And I enjoyed this book thoroughly.  I enjoyed the writing and I enjoyed the plot and I enjoyed the act of thinking about what's going on and being puzzled.

Brittany's problem with the descriptions (particularly of the women), seems to me to be a stylistic choice Helprin employs: hyperbole.  Yes, all the women are described as excessively beautiful; however, every description in the entire novel is excessive.  For me, Helprin's excessive descriptions showed off his writing talent.  I found them to be clever and consistent with the book's title, which self-diagnoses as a tale.  The hyperbolic descriptions help to give this novel a sense of it being a tale, as though it could be told in pieces around a fire as well as it could be read.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes magical-realism, "puzzle" books.  I'd also add, on a personal note, I liked reading a novel wrestling with the concept of Justice as a metaphysical ideal.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Confessions of an English Opium-Eater and Other Writings by Thomas de Quincey

Here was a panacea -- a pharmakon nepenthes -- for all human woes: here was the secret of happiness, about which philosophers had disputed for so many ages, at once discovered: happiness might be bought for a penny, and carried in the waistcoast pocket: portable ecstacies might be had corked up in a pint bottle: and peace of mind could be sent down in gallons by the mail coach.

De Quincey's memoir Confessions of an English Opium-Eater is separated into sections called "The Pleasures of Opium" and "The Pains of Opium," interwoven with biographical passages that describe the poverty and homelessness that led him to seek comfort in opium.  But it's hard to shake the impression that the pleasures outweigh the pains--often de Quincey's description of the opium experience seems to foretell the pro-hallucinatory rhetoric of the 1960's.  "I sometimes seemed to have live for 70 or 100 years in one night," he writes, "nay, sometimes had feelings representative of a millenium passed in that time, or however, of a duration far beyond the limits of any human experience."  But when shit gets bad, shit gets bad:

But now that which I call the tyranny of the human face began to unfold itself.  Perhaps some part of my London might be answerable for this.  Be that as it may, now it was that upon the rocking waters of the ocean the human face began to appear: the sea appeared paved with innumerable faces, upturned to the heavens: faces, imploring, wrathful, despairing, surged upwards by the thousands, by myriads, by generations, by centuries: -- my agitations was infinite, -- my mind tossed -- and surged with the ocean.

De Quincey's descriptions of his opium dreams are intricate, harrowing, and often grotesque.  I wanted more of them.  I think I hadn't expected the extensive autobiographical stuff that dominates the first section--mostly about de Quincey's endless drifting through London--and so it was difficult to adjust that expectation.  I really just wanted to the get to the opium.

I think I enjoyed the appended writings a little more for that reason.  One is a collection of essays and scraps of memoir called Suspiria Profundis, and one a short meditation on the English Mail-Coach, which apparently doubled as a kind of hired long-distance transportation.  I especially liked a brief piece from Suspiria Profundis called "Savannah-la-Mar," which uses the image of a drowned Jamaican city to meditate on the passage of time and its relationship to God.

Apparently The Confessions lead a bunch of people to actually become addicted to opium.  It didn't have that effect on me, but maybe I didn't read it closely enough.  How about you, Liz?