Great Circle

This book is a commitment. It’s 627 pages long. But I read on the Kindle, and I go by percentage, and I read it at the rate of six percentage points per hour, which means…it took me 16 hours to finish it. Are you up for that?

And I’m not exactly sure why I read it. Something caught my eye. Maybe a review in the Sunday “New York Times,” I don’t remember. But I reserved it at the library and I got an offer to skip the line, to have “Great Circle” for seven days, and I took it.

I finished just in time. As a matter of fact, the loan ends in twenty minutes.

Now there are two narratives in the book. An old one and a new one. One set in the early days of the last century, and then one set in today, in Hollywood, in the film business, it’s completely up to date. And I preferred the modern story. But there was more of the old story. And I was chugging along, evaluating if the book was highbrow enough for my audience, after all it was a Read with Jenna pick, but then I became truly immersed in the story and I was drawn to reading it, I had to clear the deck, change my schedule just to finish it. That happened about halfway through.

Now most novels today are 240 pages. There’s some kind of rule. Occasionally you get books that are longer, but they’re rare. And I’m talking about fiction here, nonfiction is a whole different animal. And some people love “A Little Life,” which is 737 pages, a little longer, but except for the subject matter, that’s an easier read.

Now if you want family drama, mixed in with Alaska, I prefer Kristin Hannah’s “The Great Alone,” but her new book, “The Four Winds,” doesn’t hold together the same way. And Alaska is only a component of “Great Circle.” “Great Circle” is an epic. In Hollywood. In Montana. In Seattle. Vancouver. World War II London. Antarctica. It’s a journey. A full life in itself, ultimately the story of Marian, who’s infatuated with flying.

Not that I was so sure it was so focused on Marian at the beginning. There was a lot about her twin brother Jamie and…

The set-up was almost a book unto itself. How Marian and Jamie came to be.

And Jamie’s story is fascinating itself. Do you do what’s expected or what you desire?

But…I don’t want to give away the plot. Because that would ruin the book.

But let me just say at one point you’ll be reminded of Erik Larson’s “Dead Wake.”

And at another, Daniel James Brown’s “The Boys in the Boat.”

And, of course, “The Great Alone.”

There’s a boat on the high sea.

There’s activity in Seattle prior to the city’s explosion as a tech center.

And there’s bad weather and family issues, just like in “The Great Alone.”

Oh yeah, I have to reference another Larson book, “The Splendid and the Vile,” it’s hard not to read “Great Circle” and think of it, but somehow, despite being a novel, “Great Circle” is even more rich and alive.

That’s the power of fiction.

Now they talk about summer beach reads. “Great Circle” is not one. It’s not a light book you read in the sun, stain with suntan lotion. Rather it’s a book you read on summer vacation on a rainy day. The one you stay up all night reading in the rented summer cottage. The one where you skip vacation activities just to finish.

The truth is we live in a very disconcerting world. I’d delineate the issues, but you’re fully aware. Reading the news is depressing. And other than politics, everything’s a silo with much less cross-pollination than ever before. It’s easy to be discouraged, become despondent, wondering how you fit in and how you’ll go forward.

If you feel this way, “Great Circle” is for you. Because it’s about life, something we’re all living. The experiences. The choices. The blind alleys. The mistakes. Life is not linear, nor is “Great Circle.”

What I mean here is “Great Circle” creates a whole world, and you become engrossed in it, happily, it’s a respite from today, yet it’s not fantasy, you’ll relate to the experiences, you’ll wonder about your own choices, but…

You’ll have to read it. You’ll have to make the aforementioned commitment. And when you’re done, it’s not like you’ll be more educated, be able to pop off facts at a party, rather you’ll end up with something internal, an inner flame that’s part of your identity.

It’s your choice.

P.S. Not that the book is full of wisdom, it’s not written self-consciously, it’s not so highfalutin’ that the metaphors get in the way of the story, but there were passages that stuck out, I’m going to quote some here:

“Closure doesn’t really exist, though. That’s why we’re always looking for it.”

I couldn’t agree more, then again I’ve stopped looking for closure, it’s a fruitless endeavor.

“In her experience, proximity to other humans did not really diminish solitude.”

Or as Emitt Rhodes sang, “You don’t have to be alone to feel alone.” It’s one of the worst experiences, you’re there, with people, you want to connect, but there’s no entry point.

“In a new city, anonymity fostered silence.”

You’re excited about the change in venue, it’s just that you’re starting all over again. Which is why if you don’t move in your twenties, you’re probably never going to move at all. It’s hard to give up your friends and comforts, but you’ve got a chance to reinvent your life, find people more aligned with your interests, change is hard, but worth it.

“If you change one thing, you change everything.”

My shrink says this all the time. It’s important, when you see the problem as insurmountable, oftentimes it is not.

“One thing I learned is that you don’t just love a person, you love a vision of your life with that person.”

Sharing, that’s what it’s about.

“I’d only be doing it for the dopamine hit, to feel important, to create a bond.”

This is about knowing a secret and realizing if you reveal it, you’re only doing it for the status. We all want to feel important. But we deliver the info and then…the feeling fades, we were just a vessel, and now we no longer hold the secret.

“‘You know that’s probably the right response to meeting your heroes. Just run away.'”

How many times have I done this? I’m working on it…

Irving Azoff-This Week’s Podcast

A man who needs no introduction…


I gave up watching “Startup.”

The truth is Edi Gathegi, playing Ronald Dacey, is so good, he almost carries the entire show. The first season is pulp, but better than your usual network/cable fare, so I hung in there. I also liked the story re the startup, it was up to date, hip, despite being first released back in 2016.

The second season is rescued by Ron Perlman. It’s rewarding to watch a great actor perform. But the story starts to get wacky.

Then the third season goes completely off the rails. Ridiculous. Furthermore, I kept waiting for Mira Sorvino, wondering when she was going to appear, and when she didn’t I did more research. She’s had so much plastic surgery that she now looks like a generic blonde, she’s got Leeza Gibbons disease, never mind her accent fading in and out. I wish women would accept their god-given assets. Imperfections are hooks, they’re what make people interesting, they add character. Then again, in a looks-based society, we can’t talk about looks, we don’t appear woke. The truth is there are so many rules before one can open their mouth that oftentimes people don’t speak at all, except maybe to their close confidantes. So I’ve been struggling to make it through season three, but I keep wincing and stopping, I may never finish.

So I keep combing the recommendations. There are very few I can trust. Like “Lupin,” which I avoided upon initial release, but we dove into last night. When the main character evaded numerous police people on his bicycle, I turned it off. Not only did the show have no gravitas, no deeper meaning, it was not remotely believable. In a world where everything is available, why not go to the peak, why not experience the best? I keep checking out these shows people rave about to me, like “Startup,” and then it has me second-guessing their taste, their desires, who they are. I mean if you watched all of “Startup” and raved…you’re brain-dead, or have very low standards, or both.

So another person recommended “Hacks.” It’s very watchable, but not great. I mean not in the league of “Ramy” or “Master of None,” never mind its HBO Max colleague “Love Life.” You get the story right up front and you keep waiting for them to go deeper, to take it all more seriously, but they do not. The characters are two-dimensional, like Deborah Vance’s assistant Marcus. And her housekeeper. The only person who is three-dimensional is Jean Smart, and her performance is so good, so astounding, that I recommend you watch this ten episode series just to see it.

So what you’ve got here is Jean Smart’s Deborah Vance, a Vegas hack, doing the same tired comedy show every night, living like a queen in the desert.

And then Hannah Einbinder as Ava Daniels, a Hollywood TV writer who blew herself up with a tweet and now can’t get work and ends up working with Smart.

Einbinder is miscast. Sure, in real life she’s a Gen-Z’er, but somehow we just don’t believe her in the role. She’s kind of walking through it, reacting, instead of evidencing a true character that goes through transition. Oh, I get it, she goes from self-centered to aware, but the backstory with her parents is so cardboard…she chews the scenery with them. And when she gets offended… She’s not constantly strident, she just blows the Gen-Z whistle occasionally, you don’t quite get her. Not that she evidences great comedy chops in the role either. I mean as the character. Then again, you’ve got to blame the writers/creators of this show, they had a concept, old hack encounters young Gen-Z’er, but not much more. So much of the story is so basic, or so over the top, as to not raise a hackle, not make you laugh, not make you care. Maybe the problem is not completely Einbinder’s, but I’d like to have seen someone more sour, a little more enmeshed in the Gen-Z ethos, more of a foil to Deborah Vance than a wandering wastrel.

But as predictable as the actions of all the surrounding characters are, Smart’s are not, she’s always surprising you, weaving, jabbing, smiling, she keeps you on your toes, just like a real person. She’s self-aware under the veneer, she knows the score, when seemingly no one else in this show does, other than maybe her casino boss foil, Christopher McDonald, who himself is so two-dimensional he might as well be a cartoon.

Smart has had to reinvent herself, suffer humiliation, and she keeps going. She may look like a hack on the surface, but she knows her business through and through, and she keeps doing it, because it’s the only thing she can rely on, having created it herself. She’s the Energizer Bunny, and true Ava pulls back the layers a bit, but the in reality all she does is crack Smart’s shell, because underneath it she was always gooey, in motion, flowing, knowing the score.

And Smart holds grudges. Enough with the b.s. of closure, you can’t close, you can only try to forget. Believe me, not the bozos you see on TV or the dreck you read in self-help books. You cannot forget the past, no way, no matter what anybody else says, you try to fill up your life with the new to crowd the past out, but it comes to you at night while you lie in bed with your head on your pillow, unsuccessfully trying to fall asleep…it may be solely interior dialogue, but you know the truth. And the truth is people play with your emotions willy-nilly, they’re duplicitous, and Smart is not eager to forgive, living well is the best revenge, but it is lonely.

And Smart fights for herself.

And she’s got a speech about show business while she and Ava are stuck in the desert that’s so right I wish all the wannabes could see it. About the hard work it takes to make it, and how you have to continue to work hard just to keep your head above water. Sure, you were famous once, but people forget. As for Deborah Vance being on the cover of “Time” in 1991, having a hit comedy series…Ava isn’t even aware of it, IT WAS FIFTY YEARS AGO!

Come on, are today’s Gen-Z’ers gonna be familiar with “Three’s Company”? Never mind going down the slate to shows I can barely remember. Life is long, as is a show business career, you’ve got to serve your audience, make people care, find other lines of business, work publicity, do all this stuff you don’t want to just to stay alive.

As for Ms. Smart…

She was the fourth banana in “Designing Women.” I could never quite figure out what role she played, how she fit in, but I only watched the show a handful of times. And she was tall and blonde and I couldn’t feel the glamor, nor the charisma, and couldn’t get it.

And then this spring the publicity machine kicked in, because of her appearance in “Mare of Easttown” and this, “Hacks.” And Smart didn’t really gain her footing in “Mare of Easttown” until near the end. But she hits the ground running in “Hacks,” she’s a marvel, she keeps you watching.

She’s got the front for the public.

But she’s running a corporation, she’s everybody’s meal ticket.

And she’s got a floundering daughter, who turns out to have gone to Cornell, one of the great lines in the show, but who just can’t make a living. Kaitlin Olson as DJ…she’s very attractive, just not a Hollywood 10. And she’s smart, but she’s been burdened by having a famous mother and access to too much money. And her mother Deborah gives her rope, lets DJ think she can make it on her own, when in truth she’s the one providing the meal ticket. Also, DJ feels Deborah is controlling, but the truth is Deborah truly has DJ’s best interests at heart. Then again, DJ’s resentment runs deep, going on the road with her mother as a child and…the public owns Deborah, DJ doesn’t.

So what you’ve got here is one character carrying a second-rate show. And Smart is better than any of the “Friends,” she’s in Seinfeld territory, but even better she’s playing a role rarely seen these days…successful older female entertainer doing it her way. Smart looks her age. Oh, not when they photograph her for magazine stories, she gets made up, but in the house, in her regular life… The show is not selling Smart’s sex appeal, but her intelligence. And sure, Smart goes on a little journey, she gains some awareness, but she wipes the floor with Gen-Z’er Ava not because she doesn’t believe in the tropes of the younger generation, but because she knows what’s real, she’s lived her life, she’s going forward completely aware, in truth there’s not much Ava can teach her, and unfortunately, not much Deborah can even react to…yes, we get occasional Gen-Z mores, but we needed more, or a different show.

Who had any idea Jean Smart was this good?

And unlike vaunted actresses like Meryl Streep, you can’t see her acting. She’s not controlled and mannered, or fake laughing, she seems totally real.

I think we might switch to watching movies, we seem to have exhausted the A-level streaming series. Then again, “Bosch” is coming back on the 25th, and you never know what is in the pipeline, and yes, character development is so much better in series. But life is too short to watch entertainment, I just don’t want to go on the ride, I want to have an experience, one I can’t get anywhere else, where I learn something, where I marvel at the top-notch work of those involved.

Jean Smart has given the best performance of the year. She far eclipses Kate Winslet, everybody in the aforementioned “Mare of Easttown,” I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen acting this good.

Oh, I don’t want to overhype you, just watch “Hacks” to see.

Saxophone Songs-SiriusXM This Week

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Tune in today, June 15th, to Volume 106, 7 PM East, 4 PM West.

Phone #: 844-6-VOLUME, 844-686-5863

Twitter: @lefsetz or @siriusxmvolume/#lefsetzlive

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