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Fahrenheit 451 ~ A Capsule Book Review

Fahrenheit 451 ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Paper burns at a temperature of 451 degrees Fahrenheit. What more perfect title could Ray Bradbury have chosen for his 1953 novel about a “fireman” in a future society whose job it is to burn books? Yes, books have been declared subversive and dangerous in this future time and owning them—specifically reading them—is a crime for which you might pay with your life.

In this future society (no time is given), books are seen as giving people ideas and making them think. Thinking is dangerous and makes people unhappy. A bunch of people got together and decided to ban all books and, not only ban them, but make a public exhibition of destroying them while also destroying the homes and lives of anybody who might have the audacity to resist. “Firemen” don’t go around putting out fires to save lives and property; they carry flame throwers fueled with kerosene and set fire to books or to homes where books are kept, and they don’t mind setting fire to any book owners who get in their way.

Fireman Guy Montag, thirty years old, is the protagonist of Fahrenheit 451. He has a shallow, hideous wife name Mildred who is addicted to her “wall screens” (a future version of wide-screen TV) and her “parlor families” (TV characters). Guy and Mildred obviously don’t care for each other at all. Guy meets a seventeen-year-old girl named Clarisse McClellan in the neighborhood who is, in every way, the opposite of Mildred. She makes Guy see the world in a different way; she makes him see the shallowness and narrowness of his own life.

When the firemen go out on a call, Guy takes pity (something firemen should never do) on a defiant older woman who chooses to burn up with her books. He develops an unhealthy curiosity for books; if people are willing to die for books, they must be very powerful and compelling. On some of his professional calls, he begins stealing books, one or two at a time, and hiding them in an air conditioning vent in his house. His own wife, Mildred, reports him, and when the firemen show up to burn his house, headed by his boss, Captain Beatty, he is driven to extreme measures and desperate acts.

Guy Montag, the fireman in Fahrenheit 451, is similar to Winston Smith, the office worker in George Orwell’s 1949 novel, 1984. Both characters live in future, repressive societies. They both take a look at their lives, don’t like what they see, and rebel against the dehumanization and enforced conformity of their worlds. Both novels, Fahrenheit 451 and 1984, foreshadow present-day America. There are plenty of people, including some running for high political office, who would strip away our rights and freedoms, make us all the same, and make us forget how unique we are as individuals. We can’t let that happen. It’s a dangerous precedent when only one viewpoint is allowed and any opposing viewpoint is shouted down or not tolerated. That’s a violation of our Constitutional rights. It’s how tyrannical regimes get started.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp


Downton Abbey ~ A Capsule Movie Review

Downton Abbey ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp

The television series Downton Abbey ran for six seasons and fifty-two episodes from 2010 to 2015. Now there is a Downton Abbey movie. It’s not a sequel or a rehash of the television series but a continuation, set two years after the series left off. If you never saw the series and are not familiar with the characters, you probably won’t find the movie meaningful or interesting. Familiarity with the characters is what will provide the spark.

It’s now 1927. The world has been changing since the Great War (“the war to end all wars”). The uppercrust Crawleys (he’s a peer, don’t you know) have witnessed the slow demise of their “class,” their privilege, and all that goes with it. People on the huge estates, such as Downton, have been selling out and moving into more modest homes. The Crawleys hang on, but sometimes they get discouraged and talk about giving up the ghost, which would mean, of course, letting their servants go out into the cold world and fending for themselves.

King George V and his wife, Queen Mary, are going to be touring Yorkshire, so they will spend one night at Downton Abbey. A royal visit, of course, always provides lots of opportunity for drama and intrigue. After the snooty royal retinue arrives, the Downton Abbey servants are incensed to find that they will be displaced for the duration of the royal visit by the king’s own. Mrs. Patmore will not be required to cook the dinner after all, after laying in mountains of supplies from the local grocer; the cooking will be handled by the king’s French chef. Mr. Barrow, now head butler at Downton, will not need to lift a finger because the king’s butler (although he will not allow himself to be called by that title) will see to everything. Mrs. Hughes’s housekeeping skills will not be needed; the king has brought his own hatchetfaced housekeeper with him; she can scare anybody away just by looking at them.

The royal visit goes off smoothly enough, but, of course, with complications. There is a plot to assassinate the king during a parade (politics, don’t you know) that is thwarted by the ever-brave and resourceful Mr. Tom Branson. (It has now been seven years since the death of his wife, Lady Sybil, so he has an eye again for the ladies.) The Dowager Countess (Maggie Smith) must confront (and make peace with) a detested relative who is part of the king’s retinue. Lady Mary’s husband, Henry Talbot, can’t be present for the royal visit because he is off in Chicago at an auto show, but he appears at the last moment. Lady Edith’s husband, Bertie Pelham, is planning on being on an extended trip in South Africa with the king at the time that their first child is due to be born, so what will Lady Edith do with an absentee husband at such an important time? Our Mr. Barrow (more handsome than ever now that he’s “older”) gets into a jam by being in a “men’s” club—men dancing with each other!—when it is raided by the police. “I’ve never been here before!” he says as he is pushed into the paddy wagon. “You’re here now!” a helpful policeman states.

If you liked Downton Abbey on TV, you should like the movie, which is grander, bigger, broader and more lavish than the TV series. It’s old-fashioned entertainment for those, like me, who need to escape into another time and place. And if the Downton Abbey movie makes enough money, there will undoubtedly be more to come.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

Count Dracula in London

1941 ~ Trailer Camp in Sarasota, Florida

1907 ~ Denver, Colorado

Ethan Frome ~ A Capsule Book Review

Ethan Frome ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

American author Edith Wharton (1862-1937) gained fame for her novels about wealthy New Yorkers during America’s Gilded Age, such as House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence. Her 1911 novel, Ethan Frome, is not about high society but is instead about a poor farmer in a bleak New England village, set at some unidentified time in the late eighteenth century.

Ethan Frome has a wife named Zenobia (“Zeena”) that he doesn’t like very much, and who can blame him? He married her out of convenience (inertia) in a weak moment when she came to help him take care of his sick mother. Zeena is older than Ethan and is a bundle of complaints and physical ailments. There is no warmth or kind feelings between Ethan and Zeena.

Zeena has a “poor relation” (even more poor than Ethan and Zeena) named Mattie Silver. Mattie comes and lives in the Frome household to help Zeena with the farm work. Mattie is the opposite of Zeena. She is young, pretty and sunny. Zeena doesn’t like Mattie very much and is always quick to find fault with her.

Ethan is naturally drawn to Mattie Silver. He knows it’s wrong to have “feelings” for her, right in the house under Zeena’s nose, but Mattie makes him feel good, maybe for the first time in his life. Zeena is such a whiny old thing, so sick all the time. Why doesn’t she just die and leave Ethan and Mattie alone in their little love nest? Hah! No such luck!

This ménage a trois can’t end well. Ethan dreams of running away with Mattie, but they are desperately poor, and where would they go and how would they get there? Is he really the kind of man to leave his life for a younger, prettier woman? Has he no decency? Well, yes, he has.

A new doctor advises Zeena to bring in a “hired girl,” meaning somebody who is more competent than Mattie. That means Mattie Silver is going to be tossed out of the Frome household on her ear. On the day that Mattie is supposed to go, Ethan’s hand is forced. Is he just going to keep his mouth shut and let Mattie Silver go out of his life forever without even letting her know how he feels about her? When he discovers that the feelings he has for her are reciprocated, will that make a difference, or will it just lead to an ill-advised action on his part?

Ethan Frome is an American classic about a love affair that is doomed from the start, set in a snowy Massachusetts landscape. It’s a simple story about loneliness, alienation and hidden feelings. When Ethan married Zeena, he missed his chance of ever meeting a woman like Mattie Silver who might have made him happy. He missed the boat and then he paid the price, as so many people do.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp

In the Shape of a Man

In the Shape of a Man ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

Alexander comes to Marceline in the night, undresses in the dark, and gets into bed beside her. She smells his clean man smell and is aware of the mere animal presence of him: a torso, a head and shoulders, two arms and two legs. The mattress sags under his weight and she sinks closer to him, huddling beside him under the blankets. Timidly she runs her finger along his pectoral muscles and when he seems annoyed she stops.

She can’t, of course, do all the things she longs to do, but it is enough to just have him there in the bed beside her, to watch his handsome profile in the dark. She is reminded of the phrase from the Bible: My cup runneth over. She is too happy, too fulfilled, to sleep well, but it doesn’t matter. She can work on very little sleep or no sleep at all and nobody will notice her heavy eyelids or how sloppily she is dressed or the mistakes she will make in her typing.

When she wakes in the morning he is gone. She sees at once that she is going to be late, but she doesn’t care. She places her hand on the bed where his body has lain and she believes she can still feel his warmth. When she feels herself starting to drift off to sleep again, she throws back the cover and jumps up with alarm.

After performing the necessary ablutions in the bathroom, Marceline dresses hurriedly and goes into the kitchen. Mother is sitting at the table underneath the chicken clock with her back to the wall. She still holds her cards from the gin rummy game the night before. Her glasses glint and her fingernails glisten in the morning light coming from the window.

“Good morning, mother,” Marceline says as she sets about making her morning cup of tea. “I didn’t get much sleep last night. Alexander was with me last night. He’s very passionate, such a wonderful lover. I’m a lucky woman.”

A quick look at the chicken clock tells her she doesn’t have time for breakfast, only her scalding cup of tea. Oh, well, she isn’t hungry, anyway. She can get something out of the vending machine at work.

Before she goes out the door, she takes a quick look at her mother and blows her a kiss. “I’ll be home at the usual time!” she calls cheerily. “God willing, of course!”

She misses the early downtown bus and has to wait fifteen minutes for the second one and when she gets on the bus she doesn’t get a seat and has to stand the whole way. When she walks into the office, half-an-hour late, Mr. Frizzell frowns at her and points at his watch. She smiles and goes on to her desk, ignoring the inquisitive glances of her co-workers.

“Late night last night?” Miss Arlette asks archly.

Marceline ignores her, hangs up her coat and sits down at her desk and begins working.

She despises Ivan-Bello (she has worked there for twelve long years) and the people in it. Her days are routine and uneventful. Her real life seems at times like a prison sentence from which there is no reprieve. The building she works in is old, dreary and dilapidated. Rats run along pipes hanging from ceilings. Plaster and paint rain down on people’s heads. Elevators are permanently out of order. And the people in the company are well-suited to their environment; they are unimaginative, unoriginal, colorless and not worthy of interest. Marceline knows, however, that in describing them in this way, she is also describing herself.

Some of her co-workers, especially the younger women, look upon Marceline with suspicion because they know nothing about her and they think there is something fishy about somebody who isn’t friendly with them. They make jokes behind her back about her sack-like dresses, unflattering hairstyle, and lack of makeup. Knowing she isn’t married, they speculate about whether or not she is a virgin or even if she is a woman. They play little tricks on her, like breaking the lead points off all her pencils or putting a rubber spider on her shoulder while she’s sitting at her desk.

At lunch she buys a sandwich and a bottle of pop in the employees’ lunchroom and takes them to the mannequin storage room. It is cool and quiet in the mannequin room—only the mannequins—and she can have a little time to herself away from ringing phones, clacking typewriters and the self-important voices of those around her.

She goes to the back of the room where the mannequins are closest together, hip to hip and shoulder to shoulder. Some of them are clothed but most are unclothed. Even with no clothes, their painted-on faces are always the same. The men are handsome and the women are beautiful. Some of them have brilliant, life-like eyes and mouths showing pearl-like teeth. They’re lifelike (but not in the way of real people), agreeable and pleasant to be near. They make her feel happy in her life and less alone. Sometimes she kisses one of the more appealing male mannequins full on the lips; she enjoys the sensation and never thinks how peculiar such an action might appear to the casual observer.

She finds a place to sit on a display case where a mannequin has recently been removed and eats her sandwich slowly and when it is gone she finishes her bottle of pop. The empty bottle makes a convenient ash repository, so she lights up a cigarette and blows the smoke out luxuriously. People in the mannequin factory are desperately afraid of fire and she would probably be fired if management knew she was smoking in the highly combustible mannequin room, but that doesn’t keep her from smoking. She is not careless the way some people are; if there’s ever a fire it will be through no fault of her own.

As she leaves the mannequin room, she conceals the pop bottle with her ashes and cigarette butt in it in the folds of her dress. On the way back to her desk she throws the bottle away in one of the tall trash cans, hiding it underneath a mound of papers. Nobody can ever claim she isn’t careful.

In the half-hour or so that she has been away, Mr. Frizzell or somebody else has piled more work on her desk that has to be finished by the end of the day. She never hurries herself because she knows in the world of business everything is always urgent. They’ll have the completed work when they have it and if that doesn’t suit them, well, they’ll just have to go up to the roof and take a sixty-foot dive into the trash cans in the alley.

When the day is finally over and Marceline goes back home, mother is still sitting at the kitchen table holding her cards. She lifts mother up—so light!—and carries her into the living room and sets her on the couch and turns on the TV. Mother enjoys the chatter, the endless commercials, the applause and the mindlessness, of late-afternoon TV fare.

She cooks a modest dinner for herself and mother and when it’s ready she carries mother into the kitchen again and slides her up to the table in her customary chair. She has a full place setting for mother—knife, fork, spoon, folded napkin beside the plate—but the truth is mother doesn’t eat much because she isn’t real. She weighs fifteen pounds. She is a life-size doll; that is, she is one of the mannequins from Ivan-Bello, wearing her real mother’s clothes, wig and glasses. Marceline brought her home from work on the bus one day, paying the fare for her as if she were a real person. People on the bus looked at her if she was a crazy person, but nobody said anything and she just smiled to herself at her little joke.

Her real mother, not the mannequin, has been dead for a year and a half. All that remains of her on this earth is an urnful of ashes on the dresser in her bedroom. She died in her bed, in her sleep, not knowing anything, at age seventy-six. For the last twenty years of her life, she had been in what might modestly be described as “poor health.”

Mother was Marceline’s only friend and companion. They never fussed or quarreled in the way of other mothers and daughters. They were together always, each an extension of the other, and when mother died Marceline couldn’t bear coming home every day to an empty house.

Not long after mother’s death, when Marceline was eating and smoking her Camel cigarette in the mannequin storage room, she noticed the resemblance between mother and one of the female mannequins. They each possessed the same small, pointed nose, the same high cheekbones and the tiny dimple in the chin. When she looked at the mannequin for long enough and squinted, she saw her mother and heard her voice. That’s when she decided to claim the mannequin for her own after office hours and take it (her) home with her on the bus.

When dinner is over, Marceline returns mother to her TV in the living room and washes the dishes. She lets mother watch her favorite programs throughout the evening. When it’s time to go to bed, she undresses her, puts her nighty on over her head and tucks her comfortably under the covers.

The man who comes to her that night is Tab. He isn’t beefy and muscular like Alexander but tall and thin, with blue eyes and flaxen blond hair. He whispers Marceline’s name when they are in the throes of passion and she is embarrassed to think that mother might hear them through the thin wall. When it is all over, Tab leaves and Marceline falls, with the help of a pill, into a blissful sleep that is broken only by the harsh buzz of the alarm clock at six-thirty in the morning. It is time to begin another day.

Another lunchtime in the mannequin storage room (nobody has a clue where she is or what she is doing), she spots a male mannequin she has never seen before. He has dark-red hair and long-lashed, amber eyes. He has broad shoulders (but not too broad), a narrow waist, and stands about five feet, ten inches tall. He is in almost every way the perfect man, except, of course, that he isn’t a real man but a facsimile of a man. Marceline knows at the moment she sees him that she must—she simply must—have him. Sensibly or not, she names him Finch.

The next day she brings to work in a shopping bag an old tweed suit that belonged to her deceased father, as well as shirt, bow tie, belt, old-fashioned union suit, overcoat and hat. After five o’clock that day, when everybody else has gone home, she goes up to the mannequin storage room and dresses Finch up in the clothes she has brought, takes him down to street level by way of the fire stairs and home with her on the bus. People look at her and snigger but she doesn’t care.

At home once again, she puts Finch in her bedroom and closes the door. She isn’t ready just yet for mother to meet him. She expects a honeymoon period with him before he and mother become acquainted.

She enjoys undressing Finch at bedtime and putting him to bed and getting in beside him. All night long, she tricks her mind into believing she is not alone in the bed but with a man. And while he may not exactly be a real man, he has dimension. He possess the bodily proportions of a real man—meaning, of course, that he is made up of more than air. She finds that Finch is more satisfying than either Alexander or Tab.

In the middle of the morning Mr. Frizzell summons Marceline to his office and gestures for her to sit in the chair in front of her desk.

“I’m going to ask you a question,” Mr. Frizzell says, “and I want you to tell me the truth.”

She smiles, wishing she could stub out her cigarette on his veiny nose.

“Have you been stealing property belonging to Ivan-Bello?”

“Why would I do that?” she asks.

He sighs, folding his pudgy hands on the desk in front of him. “Somebody saw you leaving the building with one of our mannequins.”

Who was it?”

“It doesn’t matter who it was.”

“I’ll bet it was Miss Arlette, wasn’t it?”

“I doesn’t matter who. Did you steal one of our mannequins?”

“No, I didn’t steal it.”

“But you took it?”



“I wanted it.”

“To sell?”

“No, not to sell.”

“For what, then?”

“I wanted it.”

“It’s company property. We can’t have people stealing from the company. It’s grounds for immediate dismissal.”

“You’re firing me?”

“You have the rest of the day to say your goodbyes.”

It’s a little early for lunch, but she goes immediately to the employee lunchroom and buys a sandwich and a bottle of pop and takes them up to the mannequin storage room.

She knows she will not be seeing the mannequins again, so she says goodbye to as many of them as she can. She tenders an apology to the room in general and then smokes the last cigarette she will ever be smoking in the place.

All the way in back of the huge storage room are some old barrels containing papers, books, cloth samples and mannequin clothing. She picks up a little wedge of wood and lights the end of it with her cigarette lighter and throws it into one of the barrels. She isn’t sure if the fire will take hold or not, but after she leaves the building and goes home for the last time she doesn’t give it much thought.

The next morning she gets out of bed and dresses for work at the usual time, careful not to disturb Finch in the bed. She has her cup of scalding tea, gives mother a tiny goodbye peck on the cheek and walks the three short blocks to catch the downtown bus.

The bus can only go so far. It’s four blocks or so from her destination when it becomes snarled in traffic. Rather than waiting for the traffic problem to resolve it, she gets off the bus and walks the rest of the way.

Right away she notices the stench of burning.

Ivan-Bello has been burning all night long and has just about burned itself out. While the outside walls still mostly stand, all the floors, from six on down, appear to have collapsed in on each other. Police keep onlookers back at a safe distance.

As Marceline stands with dozens of other people and watches the fire, she is thankful for many things, not the least of which is that Ivan-Bello is a thing of the past. More importantly, however, mother and Finch are safe at home. She’ll see them again in just a little while and the three of them will be together forever.

Copyright © 2019 by Allen Kopp