Tri-Tip

May 21, 2017

We’ve had a few days of beautiful weather in the Portland (Oregon) region; it’s very welcome after the cold and wet winter and early spring we had. Our local school districts had nine (count them 9!) school closure days for snow this past winter. Normally we get maybe one day off of work/school in the winter due to snow. It was a stone drag. We really aren’t set up for snow in the metro area so an accumulation of snow really messes things up. Then we had record wet in March and April – hey this is Portland, so record rain is a serious amount of rain. But like I said, it’s been nice for a few days and the 7-day forecast is more of the same. (Feel free to tease me if I start complaining about the heat later this week.)

And every late spring when I get the grills out, tri-tip is at the forefront of my mind. You can search for it on my site for an interesting (?) trip through my grill history over the years. Tri-tip it is then. It was just the two of us for dinner so I got a 1.5 lb roast at our local New Seasons Market which has great meat, poultry, fish, and vegetables.

I’m a California boy so I always cook tri-tip the same way – Santa Maria rub of kosher salt,  granulated garlic, onion powder, black pepper, white pepper, and red (cayenne) pepper. And I baste it with olive oil and red wine vinegar.

Santa Maria rub ingredients for Tri-tip

Santa Maria rub ingredients for Tri-tip

Then put a nice thick coating on the roast.

Tri-tip with Santa Maria rub applied

Tri-tip with Santa Maria rub applied

While that sits for a bit, fire up the grill. I use a Slow ‘n Sear attachment from ABC Barbecue [I do not receive anything for my recommendations]  to keep the briquettes on one side. It’s great for barbecue; you can get a nice low temperature that will maintain for up to 8 hours. This cook uses a hotter grill for a much shorter time.

Charcoal ready to be fired up on the Weber Performer

Charcoal ready to be fired up on the Weber Performer

Don’t worry about that rusty looking grate. Once the briquettes go in, I slap the grill on and then brush it and oil it.

The tri-tip roast goes on the indirect side and we work to keep the grill temperature at 350° Don’t depend on the thermometer at the top of the lid – it gets real hot up there. We want to maintain the temperature at the grill level – you can see the probe in the next picture. When it registers 350° the thermometer in the lid is registering well over 550°

Tri-tip on the indirect side of the grill

Tri-tip on the indirect side of the grill

Oh, and for authentic Santa Maria tri-tip you need to use oak wood chunks. I let the grill get a little hotter than the target but it’s all good. It was done in about 45 minutes.

Tri-tip ready to slice

Tri-tip ready to slice

Slicing tri-tip can be a bit tricky; you need to slice it against the grain and there are two sets of grains in this roast. For best results cut it in half the short way right where the convex and concave portions of the roast are – about half way. Then rotate the piece on the left about 90° to slice. The smaller piece on the right can be cut crosswise from the small end to the big end. That’s harder to say than to do. I have 3 tips for you if you are just getting started.

  1. Take a good look at the roast before you put the rub on – maybe take a picture. Make a note of the grains to envision how you’ll cut it. Then when it is done; orient the cooked roast on the cutting board the same way you had it when you prepared it. Go from there.
  2. Watch this quick Youtube video for a graphical demonstration.
  3. Cut those little ends off and eat them before they get on the serving plate. Hey, you did the work, you get a treat! Similar to burnt ends on a brisket. Yum.

Once it’s sliced, serve it up. We had a great jicama, corn, and black bean salad to go along with it. A tasty simple meal for a beautiful day. The rub really makes this dish; it is so peppery.  I think I got the rub recipe proportions from Amazing Ribs; but my original link doesn’t bring up the same rub; Meathead must have changed the way he cooks it.  No worries; you can find my recipe here. And if you are interested I’ve  posted my cooking log here. You can see I had the grill running hotter than I wanted. The right way to go about it is to get the grill completely set up and spend a few minutes getting the temperature right, then put the meat on. I was too anxious to eat I guess. Like I said, no worries; it tasted great.

Rating: ★★★★ An excellent choice for serving company – simple and delicious

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Trains and Birds at Ridgefield Bird Sancutary

May 20, 2017

It’s been too long since I went out with my camera to capture some photos of the world. If you own a camera but don’t go out to take pictures then you aren’t a photographer, you’re just a guy who owns a camera. The weather took a turn for the better this week so it was time to get out and about. I wanted some company so I asked my buddy Jay – a retired biologist from the Fish and Wildlife Service and  an avid bird watcher – if he’d like to join me. He was game. I’m an avid train watcher so the the  Ridgefield Bird Sanctuary in Washington seemed like a perfect place to scratch both our itches as it features trains and wildlife.

We drove up I5 into Washington to exit 14 and turned west toward the little town of Ridgefield; then took a left on 9th until we got to the south entrance of the refuge. There is a dirt road that goes down a hill and into the refuge. Just before the railroad crossing there is a wide clearing which is perfect for train watching. This line is very active with both BNSF and Union Pacific trains rolling through. There is a control light south of the clearing so you can get an idea of what is coming. Green or blinking yellow lights mean something is coming from the north while red lights may mean a train coming from Vancouver (Washington) to the south. We weren’t disappointed. First up came a northbound grain train

Northbound BNSF grain train at Ridgefield Bird Sanctuary

Northbound BNSF grain train at Ridgefield Bird Sanctuary

Then we were treated to a parade of southbound Union Pacific trains

Union Pacific container trains headed south at Ridgefield Bird Sancutary

Union Pacific container trains headed south at Ridgefield Bird Sanctuary

A short UP container train at Ridgefield Bird Sanctuary

A short UP container train at Ridgefield Bird Sanctuary

We then headed over the one-lane wooden bridge into the sanctuary. I posted my Interagency Senior Pass on the rear view mirror and we headed around the loop. If you are 62 years old or older the Interagency Senior Pass is the deal of all deals. For $10 you receive a lifetime pass to any federal recreation site. That means no entry fee at Yellowstone National Park for example. Of course you need to have it with you. Back in March 2015, while visiting my aunt and uncle in Cottonwood, we got up real early for a hike in Sedona. When we got there we realized we left our pass back at their place. For $10 I didn’t feel bad for going into town to buy another. Now we keep one in our road trip car and Carla has one in  her purse.

The refuge is 5,300 acres large and the circular path goes through just a small area. But it’s big enough to see some birds. Jay had his checklist which lists the birds found and how common they are in each season. The best time for activity is early morning or evening; since we were there about noon we didn’t see as much as we did in our visit a back in 2012.

The most prevalent bird was the red-winged blackbird.

Red winged blackbird at the Ridgefield Bird Sanctuary

Red-winged blackbird at the Ridgefield Bird Sanctuary

There was a big traffic jam at one spot as people were looking at a great horned owl; we got a bit of a look at an oval lump up in the tree but I didn’t get a clear shot. Then about 1/4 of a mile later I saw something in a tree. It turned out to be another great horned owl. My first confirmed sighting of a bird that Jay didn’t see first. Unfortunately the owl was between me and the sun, meaning he (she?) was in shadow. I tried to persuade him (her?) to move to a tree on the other side of the road, to no effect. I grabbed the picture anyway and used Adobe Lightroom to bring him (her?) to the forefront.

Great horned owl at the Ridgefield Bird Sanctuary

Great horned owl at the Ridgefield Bird Sanctuary

The bird sanctuary is in a beautiful location near the Columbia River and it shows its stuff on a beautiful spring day where green vegetation and blue skies with fluffy clouds combine for beautiful scene.

Beautiful day at the Ridgefield Bird Sanctuary

Beautiful day at the Ridgefield Bird Sanctuary

We saw some Canadian Geese with some goslings!

Canadian Geese at the Ridgefield Bird Sanctuary

Canadian Geese at the Ridgefield Bird Sanctuary

Along the way I got to chatting with a couple about birding; the woman had a large 400mm lens on her Canon camera (my zoom goes out to 240mm). She said that to really get good shots you need a 1,000mm lens because birds are small and normally you can’t get very close. I wish she hadn’t told me that 🙂 Now I have lens envy. But when we saw a great blue heron in out in a field I saw what she meant. My little zoom just couldn’t get the detail. A nice looking bird nonetheless.

Great blue heron at the Ridgefield Bird Sanctuary

Great blue heron at the Ridgefield Bird Sanctuary

As we finished the loop we saw another of the red-winged blackbirds. They were pretty persnickety little creatures. They’d pose just until I got my camera out, then turn away. But you can see how they got their name.

Red winged blackbird at the Ridgefield Bird Sanctuary

Red winged blackbird at the Ridgefield Bird Sanctuary

We had a nice day even though we didn’t see a lot of birds. Going through his checklist, Jay counted 12 bird species along with a couple of nutria (swimming rats in my opionion). Pretty small compared to that 2012 outing; but you don’t have to see a lot of birds to have an enjoyable time.  It was time for lunch so we headed into Ridgefield for a bite and a sandwich shop before heading home. A fun day.

Posted in Foliage and Landscape, Trains, Wildlife | 4 Comments

Reading: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in CrisisHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Subtitle: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
The November 2016 election showed me I’m out of touch with middle America. I’ve been reading books this winter and spring to help me get a more accurate view of the problems facing the this group. This book, along with Thomas Friedmans “Thank You for Being Late”, and Sam Quinones’ “Dreamland” are other pieces to the puzzle.
J.D. Vance provides a brutal and personal overview of life in America for the working and non-working poor. As he says in the first few pages, “I want people to understand what happens in the lives of the poor and the psychological impact that spiritual and material poverty has on their children.”[p 2] Vance shows us “a culture that increasingly encourages social decay instead of counteracting it.”[p 7] Vance was able to escape this cycle of poverty and eventually graduated from Yale law school. It’s almost a miracle he made it.
Vance’s grandparents moved out of Appalachian Kentucky into Ohio following work. But the work wasn’t long lasting; “As millions migrated north to factory jobs, the communities that sprouted up around those factories were vibrant but fragile: When the factories shut their doors, the people left behind were trapped in towns an cities that could no longer support such large populations with high-quality work. Those who could – generally the well educated, wealthy, or well connected – left, leaving behind communities of poor people. These remaining folks were the ‘truly disadvantaged’ [quoting William Julius Wilson’s book of that name] – unable to find good jobs on their own and surrounded by communities that offered little in the way of connections or social support.”[p 144]
These generations of poverty create a different environment. Domestic instability. Vance never really knew his biological father; his adoptive father left, and his mother went through a string of boyfriends who had no positive effect in J.D.’s or his sister’s lives. of the picture.
As kids we learn what is acceptable from our parents; in much of poor America, domestic violence is acceptable. “Mom and Bob’s problems were my first introduction to marital conflict resolution. Here were the takeaways: Never speak at a reasonable volume when screaming will do; if the fight gets a little too intense, it’s okay to slap and punch, so long as the man doesn’t hit first; always express your feelings in a way that’s insulting and hurtful to your partner; if all else fails, take the kids and the do to a local motel, and don’t tell your spouse where to find you – if he or she knows where the children are, he or she won’t worry as much, and your departure won’t be as effective.”[p 71] Vance’s mother took the familiar path we read about in Dreamland: She starts out as an alcoholic, becomes addicted to pain killers, and eventually shoots black tar heroin. “Psychologists call the everyday occurrences of my and Lindsay’s life ‘adverse childhood experiences,’ or ‘ACE’ ”ACE’s are traumatic childhood events, and their consequences reach far into adulthood. The trauma need not be physical.”[p 226]
It’s obvious that the deck is stacked against the children in this situation and there is no wondering why it happens generation after generation. You learn what is “normal” as a child. If this is normal, then keep doing it. People lose the belief that their actions can bring about change in their lives. Luckily J.D. Vance had a small opportunity for a way out and he was able to make the most of it. He left his mother to live with his grandmother (Mamaw) who provided love, stability, and structure, which, in turn helped J.D. graduate from high school. “Psychologists call it learned helplessness’ when a person believes, as I did during my youth, that the choices I made had no effect on the outcomes in my life. From Middletown’s world of small expectations to the constant chaos of our home, life had taught me that I had no control. Mamaw and Papaw had saved me from succumbing entirely to that notion, and the Marine Corp broke new ground. If I had learned helplessness at home, the Marines were teaching learned willfulness.”[p 163]
J.D. Vance’s takeaways are not the usual liberal tropes; he had a part-time job as a young adult and “every two weeks, I’d get a small paycheck and notice the line where federal and state income taxes were deducted from my wages. At least as often, our drug-addict neighbor would buy T-bone steaks, which I was too poor to buy for myself but was forced by Uncle Sam to buy for someone else. … it was my first indication that the policies of Mamaw’s party of the working man’- the Democrats – weren’t all they were cracked up to be.”[p 139]
So how do we fix this problem? While Vance shows the problems with many of the current “solutions”, he doesn’t really answer that question – which I think is the biggest drawback. He sums things up by saying “I don’t know what the answer is, precisely, but I know it starts when we stop blaming Obama or Bush or faceless companies and ask ourselves what we can do to make things better.”[p 256] He’s right of course. but these problems are so large, and so entrenched that we can’t expect the poor to simply fix their problems themselves. Those problems are endemic; most have never learned the skills, or acquired the belief they can make a difference. And, as Thomas Friedman points out, it’s only going to get worse. The pace of changes from climate change, technology, and a global market (Mother Nature, Moore’s Law and the Market in Friedman’s shorthand) are increasing. Where once low skill jobs could bring relatively high wages – like those jobs provided by the factories that left Middletown – those days are gone and aren’t coming back.
Vance argues these problems may not be fixable; the best we can do is “put our thumb on the scale” to help them out. One example of putting the thumb on the scale “would recognize what my old high school’s teachers see every day; the real problem for som many of these kids is what happens (or doesn’t happen) at home. For example, we’d recognize that Section 8 vouchers ough to be administered in a way that doesn’t segregate the poor into little enclaves.” [p 245]
I’m willing to come down off my liberal high horse to engage the problem; but we have to develop new strategies to get that thumb on the scale.

As an aside, you can get a quick look into this problem by listening to Tom Ashbrook’s On Point broadcast of June 29, 2016 entitled “Poverty, Religion, and American Frustration”. We listened to it last summer on our road trip – which is how this book originally came to be on my bookshelf.

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Reading: Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

Anything Is PossibleAnything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a collection of stories of people who knew or lived near Lucy Barton, the protagonist in Strout’s 2016 novel “My Name is Lucy Barton”.
I was confused with the first few stories until I realized this was a collection of loosely interconnected stories rather than a novel. A character may be the focus of one story and then referred to later (or earlier) in another story. This made it hard for me to follow (and this could very well be a personal issue). In a novel the numerous characters will be interacting with one another making it easier to keep track of their traits, characteristics, and relationships. Having them brought up in other stories can make it tough reading. I’ll say it again – this could be a problem unique to me.
[Spoiler alert]
Nevertheless, Strout does bring up her compelling themes of the truth of personal history, and of grace. The first story is the best; Tommy lives his life based on his knowledge of a seminal event in this life; later he realizes there is another cause or interpretation of this event. “And then Tommy understood; that what he had kept from her their whole lives was, in fact, easily acceptable to her, and what he would keep from her now – his doubt (his sudden belief that God had never come to him) – was a new secret replacing the first.”[p 31] How does a person move forward from that?
[End Spoiler alert]
We also encounter some stories of grace and a glimpse into the unknowable. “Almost always, it’s a surprise, the passing of permission to enter a place once seen as eternally closed. And this is how it was for a stunned Linda, who stood that day in that convenience store with the sun falling over packages of corn chips and heard those words of compassion – undeserved,…'[p90]. And, “Abel felt not fear but a strange exquisite joy, the bliss of things finally and irretrievably out of his control.”[p 253]
Come the end of the day I enjoyed Elizabeth Strout’s writing (once I got past my initial confusion). My recommendation for someone diving into Strout’s works for the first time is start with “The Burgess Boys” then “Amy and Isabelle” or “Olive Kitteridge”. And you’d probably be better off reading “My Name is Lucy Barton” immediately before this.
Do you have have the thought that maybe you’ve missed something big after reading a book? I did with this one; perhaps these stories are linked together more tightly than I realize. I may even go back and read Lucy Barton and this back to back to get a better handle on it. Maybe – I said maybe.

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Reading: Michael Bloomfield by Ed Ward

Michael Bloomfield: The Rise and Fall of an American Guitar HeroMichael Bloomfield: The Rise and Fall of an American Guitar Hero by Ed Ward

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a pretty short and succinct biography of Michael Bloomfield, a 1960s guitar hero I loved then and today. I knew some of the broad outlines of his story – growing up in Chicago; playing with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Bob Dylan, and The Electric Flag; and his early death due to alcoholism and/or drug use in 1981.

Bloomfield was devoted to the blues; he grew up in Chicago and became entrenched in the black blues clubs in his teens. I especially enjoyed reading how the musicians of the day discovered and worked with one another as an extended club. As Bloomfield worked at Big John’s “he noticed that Paul Butterfield, a musician he didn’t particularly care for, was coming in to sit in more and more. Despite their personal antipathy, they sounded good playing music together.”[p 42] A little later “Butterfield joined Bloomfield onstage to jam on a Freddie King instrumental. ‘Paul and I exchanged looks,’ [Joe] Boyd wrote later. ‘This was the magic dialectic, Butterfield and Bloomfield. It sounded like a firm of accountants, but we were convinced it was the key to fame and fortune for the band and for us.'” [p 47] The resulting album, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, was one of the first albums I remember buying. Bloomfield’s guitar playing is sublime. Just listen to “Blues With a Feeling” to get an idea of Bloomfield’s style – at turns laid back and driving it is still one of my favorite songs. On their follow-up album, East West, Bloomfield again lights up the world with his work on “I’ve Got A Mind to Give Up Livin”

Around the same time Bloomfield found his way into Bob Dylan’s orbit for the Highway 61 Revisited album. “Dylan confronted Bloomfield with only one rule: ‘I don’t want any of that B.B. King [$#!+]’, he said”…”Bloomfield sat listening to Dylan reel off song after song, trying to figure out guitar lines that weren’t too bluesy to go along with them.”[p 55] I think he succeeded. Just listen to his work on the subtlety of “It Takes A Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry” and his strong front work on “Like A Rolling Stone”. Later Bloomfield claimed to not like the album. “‘The session was very chaotic,’ Bloomfield told Tom Yates and Kate Hays. ‘Bob had the vaguest sound … I could probably have put a more formal rock ‘n’ roll sound to it or at least my idea of one, but I was too intimidated by that company.”[p 56] Ed Ward may be stretching a bit when he says “‘Like a Rolling Stone’ went beyond all previous essays into folk-rock. It made history as a pop record that pushed Beatles-era rock ‘n’roll music into the experimental, long-for directions that would characterize the late 1960’s” [p 57] but not by much.

The Newport Folk festival of 1965 is famous for Bob Dylan’s going electric – he was booed heavily by the crowd who expected acoustic. Ed Ward tries to make the argument that the problem wasn’t Dylan going electric; it’s that the stage and amplifier configuration was the problem. I don’t agree with that. In Marc Maron’s WTF podcast #781 Robbie Robertson talks about this whole era when The Band was backing Dylan on tour. The people weren’t getting what they wanted. Regardless, they were getting history. When Dylan came out to play with members of the Butterfield Blues Band, “the next five minutes would mark a turning point in the history of electric guitar. His performance on ‘Maggie’s Farm’ was a radical move… what Bloomfield gave them on the evening of July 25, 1965, was the future of rock guitar.”[p 66] For an idea of Bloomfield’s epic guitar playing, search for ‘Maggie’s Farm Bob Dylan Live at Newport Folk Festival’. The lighting is terrible and you only see Bloomfield for a few seconds but you can sure hear him sit “so hard on top of the beat that it screams, and what he plays amounts to a sardonic running commentary of Dylan’s song.”[p 66]

Michael Bloomfield then formed The Electric Flag with his pals Nick Gravenites and Mark Naftalin. The band was good but Bloomfield’s troubles took their toll on the band. A short – less than one minute – gem from this era is “Easy Rider.”A sweet guitar riff that he must have played between other parts of rehearsal.

Bloomfield was an insomniac and seemed to have stage fright. He famously missed the second day of recording of the “Super Session” recording because he just didn’t want to play. That is why we hear Stephen Stills on side two of the album. Bloomfield would frequently just walk away in the middle of a project if he wasn’t pleased. He was a purist and if a project was commercially successful it was just evidence that it was no good. He played off an on through the 70’s but dropped out of sight for a good part of the time. He died too young in early 1981.

This is a good biography on Bloomfield’s music and is a good read about the music scene of the mid 60s but Ed Ward doesn’t really dive into the personal matters of alcoholism and drug abuse. If you are a fan of Michael Bloomfield and/or the music of his time this is a nice quick read. I especially like the discography which takes up a good part of the second half of the book. It gives evidence of how much work goes into recording a song as well as the breadth of the music industry.

Even if you don’t read the book; listen to Michael Bloomfield play; a good place to start would be the songs I mention.

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Chicken Chili Verde

Last month I tried a Serious Eats recipe for pork chili verde in the pressure cooker. You can read about it here. It was good (and easy) but I wasn’t overwhelmed. I have a long-prep-and-cook version that I preferred. Or maybe I just didn’t give it enough of a chance; I think I didn’t pack enough umami punch with fish sauce and maybe not enough salt. So when I read the Serious Eats recipe for a similar chicken chili verde dish I thought I’d give it a second go. I’m glad I did. Oh, I’m glad I did.

My nephew and his wife are buying my old Subaru so we invited them for dinner to celebrate. We wanted to visit and complete the transaction so needed a simple dinner to prepare. I knew from before this recipe promised easy prep; fast cook; and delicious results. And I was confident I could pack a little more flavor. Okay I’m ready to give it another try. Peel some garlic; toast and grind some cumin (or use ground cumin); quarter some tomatillos; chop up a bunch of chilis (poblano, Anaheim, serrano, and jalapeño) and an onion and you are just about ready to go.

Chicken Chili Verde Mis En Place

Chicken Chili Verde Mis En Place

It all goes in at once so we don’t need a bunch of bowls for separate ingredients.

Chicken Chili Verde Ingredients ready for Pressure Cooker

Chicken Chili Verde Ingredients ready for Pressure Cooker

I sprinkled some kosher salt on the chicken thighs about 20 minutes before cooking; then dumped the ingredients in together with 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce. The soy sauce isn’t in the recipe but I know it’s a good way to get some more depth of flavor for meaty dishes. And when we aren’t sautéing things a little boost is good.

Put the pressure cooker (Instant Pot IP-DUO 60) on sauté and let some of  the liquid express out of chilis and chicken for a few minutes. Then high pressure for 15 minutes. Pull the chicken pieces out and use an immersion blender to make a thick broth. Remove the chicken skin and shred the chicken and put into the broth. Add a tablespoon of fish sauce (it won’t make it taste fishy) and some cilantro if you aren’t cilantro averse.

Dish it up maybe with a side of these terrific refried beans . I made a pot of beans a week or so ago and pulled about three cups to cook and mash with onion and more chilis. A corn tortilla on the side and dinner is served.

Dinner is served: Chicken Chili Verde with refried beans

Dinner is served: Chicken Chili Verde with refried beans

I dished the chili up with a slotted spoon so we ended up with plenty of sauce and not much chicken left over. So, today we’ll pick up two or three more chicken thighs and cook them in the PC with the remaining sauce for leftovers. The beans are long gone so maybe we’ll serve it over rice tonight.

Great for company. The difference I think was I just didn’t have enough umami flavor in the pork version. A hefty pinch more of salt, a bit of soy sauce, and a larger glug of fish sauce solved the problem.

Verdict: ★★★★

Oh, and PS. I was playing around with backlighting objects in my photography. I got this one which has nothing to do with the meal; but I liked it.

Backlit onions and banana

Backlit onions and banana

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Reading: All That’s Left to Tell by Daniel Lowe

All That's Left to TellAll That’s Left to Tell by Daniel Lowe

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book just did not do anything for me; the story itself is so simple that I can’t help but give away the basic overlay. The story has 4.5 stars on Amazon as I write this, so be sure to look at other opinions.

[SPOILER ALERT]
A soda pop executive is estranged from his daughter for many years; he takes a corporate stint in Pakistan after his wife divorces him. He daughter is murdered; he gets kidnapped, ransomed, then murdered. The end.

In the middle is a long story that his woman handler/captor tells him about a life his daughter never had. And a story about himself. It is these stories that make up the bulk of the novel and if there is a point to it, it eludes me.
[END SPOILER ALERT – MOSTLY]

It just doesn’t add up to me; it doesn’t come across as a realistic portrayal of how a kidnapped American in Pakistan would be treated – based on Bowe Bergdahl’s treatment as outlined in the Serial podcast. Would an American woman who joined the Pakistani’s really be left for hours to talk with a captive with no man around? It doesn’t seem likely. Wouldn’t the experience be more brutal? Almost certainly.

Life is miserable and then you die. Perhaps it is stories that give our lives’ meaning? Is that the point?

The kidnap/story-within-a-story device is stretched. The basic overlay could have been told in a more believable way I think. The very basics of his captors and what is going on to effect his release is completely missing. To be generous, this probably mirrors his knowledge of the situation.

It rises a bit above the utterly bleak “Ninety-Two in the Shade” by Thomas McGuane and “Ransom” by Jay Mcinerney which put be off reading modern fiction back in the 90s. Novels don’t have to have happy endings; but there has to be some glimpse of something that approaches realistic.

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