history

Manny Man is a Must

Serendipity is a wonderful thing.

When I went to WorldCon in Dublin in 2019, I was expecting to meet people I’d only interacted with online, make new friends, learn a lot about both the art and the business of writing. I was also expecting to find interesting people from across all walks of life.

Although I was expecting very different people to be part of the experience, I believed that everyone I had longer conversations with would be part of the SFF genres in some way, shape or form.

I was wrong on many counts, but perhaps the most memorable was John Ruddy’s wonderful stand where he was selling his Manny Man-themed books and merchandise in general, but with a special focus on Irish-themed things. Is spoke to him the first day I was there (his stand was diagonally across the aisle from the Guardbridge Books stand).

I spoke to John and immediately realized he was, apart from looking the part, a student and promoter of Irish history and culture in the deepest sense of the word. I loved his cartoon people, and the book Manny Man Does Revolutionary Ireland 1916 – 1923, caught my eye… but I didn’t buy it right away because I was afraid that, loaded down with all the SF books I was going to buy (plus my contributor’s copies of Off the Beaten Path, my luggage would be overloaded.

So I went about my WorldCon business, but this little hardcover with the wonderful cartoons pulled at me and, on the Sunday, I approached John again and asked if he still had a copy. There was one, reserved for someone who hadn’t shown up… so I bought it.

And man, am I glad I did.

Irish history, especially the Revolution, is a fraught subject. Emotions still run high nearly a century after most of these events took place. At the same time, Irish history with its unmatched glorious peaks and tragic valleys is one of those things I’m a sucker for (in my mind, only Polish history comes close, hitting many of the same beats).

The book takes this tremendously complex and difficult period and not only gives the uninitiated reader a surprisingly detailed course in the events of the period but does so in an impartial and informative way, looking at the different viewpoints. Don’t be fooled by the cartoons on the cover: this is a serious book, and the conversational tone and cartoon humor do not detract from the learning in the least.

What those things do achieve, on the other hand, is to make reading the book a pleasure. I really couldn’t put it down, with even the most political of the questions becoming interesting in Ruddy’s capable hands. And the cartoons made me laugh out loud a couple of times… albeit it’s easier if you have a well-developed sense of dark humor.

So I’d recommend this one to history buffs who want to learn more about the Irish Revolution… but don’t want to get bogged down in a dry academic text… or simply want the serious issues involved to be tempered with humor. Actually, I’d recommend it to anyone, but those interested in history will absolutely love it.

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine writer whose work is published in English all over the world. The book he launched at WorldCon in Dublin is a collection of short stories that mainly take place outside the usual science fiction and fantasy settings. So no Western Europe or Continental USA in these. Check it out here.

Rara Avis: A Bad Paul Theroux Book

I’m a fan of Paul Theroux’s work. It started back in 1993 when I was preparing an English A-Level and was utterly bored by the Shakespeare we were studying. The Bard himself wasn’t to blame (for my opinion on Shakespeare, see here), as Much Ado About Nothing is always good. Rather, my classmates were. The problem is that, while I grew up in English-speaking countries, they were studying English as a second language, so their pace was a bit slower than mine.

Having read the play, I took advantage of where I usually sat in class (at the very back where I could lean my chair against the lockers) to randomly pull out a book from the lockers. The only thing available was a Penguin copy of The Mosquito Coast, which I read over the course of a couple of weeks of class while everyone else was discussing Benedick, Beatrice and Hero.

It was a wonderful book.

My next experience with Theroux happened a couple of years ago when I picked up a free copy of The Great Patagonian Express. This one was equally good and once again, I loved it. I especially enjoyed reading a travel book from the era when one could clearly and openly state how foreign cultures looked to a First World eye. It’s a refreshing change from today’s excess of sensitivity.

Unfortunately, third time was most certainly NOT a charm.

Kowloon Tong is a book whose premise had potential. It focuses on a British family in Honk Kong, tied to the colony by ownership of a factory, in the days leading up to the handover of the territory to China.

It’s a situation fraught with melancholy, the loss of a unique way of life, one which can’t be created in the modern world and doesn’t seem to have been improved upon by the new communist regime (at least judging by recent events). As the great Peter Egan once said: wherever the British planted their flag, you most often ended up with democracy, safe drinking water and a decent lifestyle.

But the book falls flat on its face. In the tradition of A Confederacy of Dunces, the characters are intentionally made to be unlikable. And like Confederacy, I enjoyed it very little.

Without giving spoilers, it’s a novel of human weakness and the duller, less interesting sordid side of humanity. Instead of going for the huge gesture, the major statements, the characters in this book are wet, uninspired and small.

Which is a pity, because the loss of the unique anachronism that was British Hong Kong deserved a great monument.

Perhaps that monument exists, but this isn’t it.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer fascinated with exotic places and interesting cultures. He celebrates human differences instead of trying to minimize them, and nowhere is this more evident than in his collection Off the Beaten Path, where science fiction, fantasy and non-Western civilizations combine in a unique and heady mix. You can check it out here.

Gaskell’s Brontë, a Controversial Piece of Hero Worship

Choosing a favorite among the three universally accepted colossi of the 19th-century female writers is supposed to be an exclusive proposition.  You can only like one–Charlotte Brontë, Emily Brontë or Jane Austen–while being severely critical of the rest.

Of course, that only applies to superfans, the kind of personality who will force perfectly normal people to choose between Star Wars and Star Trek, or between Twilight and Harry Potter.

If forced to dance to this music, I’ll go with Austen, followed by Emily.  Charlotte would be close… but third.

Even among the Brontë’s themselves, I have gone on record as preferring Anne to her more famous sisters.

Elizabeth Gaskell, were she alive, would disagree.

The Life of Charlotte Brontë - Elizabeth Gaskell.jpg

A famous novelist herself (North and South), Gaskell was friends with Brontë while Charlotte was still alive.  She was therefore perfectly placed to write the authorized biography of the author of Jane Eyre.  In fact, she was so perfect that Brontë’s father was the one who asked her to write it.

Being that close to the subject brought very many advantages–the knowledge of the people and places really brings the resulting book, The Life of Charlotte Brontë, to life.  Unfortunately, it also means that Gaskell withholds important information and pulls her punches somewhat.

The basics are well covered.  Gaskell’s style paints an incredible picture of the six motherless children growing up in an isolated village, and you cry with them as they lose the two eldest sisters, leaving probably the greatest concentration of literary genius every gathered under a single family’s roof in the persons of the three surviving girls (the one boy, Branwell, was never able to get it together and was basically an anchor and a source of anxiety, nothing more).

If you wrote a fictional account this poignant, no one would believe it, and you’d be laughed at.

But it’s real.  One by one we watch the women of the generation drop in the clutches of tuberculosis, fortunately after producing immortal masterworks.  Emily is the one felt strongest in this particular book.  The personality we guess at from Wuthering Heights appears fully present here, walking the moors.

In fact, this book reinforced my thinking that, if I had a time machine, I would probably go back and give Emily a TB vaccination as an infant.  I would really want to see what she, the genius of a family full of them, would have done with a little practice under her belt.  She’s the one I’d save if I could only save one.

On the debit side of the ledger, the Life completely conceals the episode of Charlotte falling in love with the (married) owner of the school she studied and worked at in Belgium.  That is because Gaskell had a hero worshipper’s view of Brontë.  She considered Charlotte a model of Christian mores and suffering, and this view was inconsistent with any possibility of that kind of inappropriate behavior.

In fact, had it been any other life, I’d say the suffering angle was way overblown by a natural dramatist… but when your mother and siblings drop like flies out in the moorlands, I’m inclined to give Gaskell the benefit of the doubt.

Of course, some people didn’t, and despite the care to omit names, the publishers were threatened with lawsuits, most notably by the owners of the school that killed the eldest siblings through unsanitary conditions and the woman who was Branwell’s (the brother) lover, and also the wife (later widow) of one of his employers.  Fortunately, the first edition went out unexpurged, and we can record her name here for posterity: Lady Lydia Robinson Scott.  We do this not because we think she did anything wrong in taking a lover, but because she lawyered up when caught.  Yawn.

There have been more factually accurate biographies of the Brontë’s, but I doubt there will ever be any more powerful.  Gaskell could write, and the material in her hands was dramatic indeed.  Recommended.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer.  He is fascinated by how the human mind responds in emotionally charged situations.  One of his books explores this in great depth, and is, unsurprisingly entitled Love and Death.  You can check it out here.

So it Wasn’t Aliens After All

Thor Heyerdahl isn’t exactly a household nametoday, but readers of National Geographic in the second half of will remember his particular brand of science.  Essentially, he was the precursor of the Mythbusters, except he didn’t use a safety net.  His crazy experiments were extreme examples of science at work.

And they were fascinating.  From the perusal of an National Geographic in grade school–already old when I saw it–I was aware of the Ra expeditions in which he tried to sail across the Atlantic in a boat of ancient Egyptian design.

Apparently, he also sailed from the American coast to Polynesia on a raft of even more ancient design.  That takes a certain amount of balls.

Aku-Aku - Thor Heyerdahl.jpg

What brings us here today, however, is his 1950s expedition to Easter Island (and other places as well, but Easter Island, as you can see from the cover, is the main course).  The book is entitled Aku-Aku, and it’s a fascinating glimpse into what happens when an archaeological expedition is led by someone who thinks outside the box.

Now, before we talk about the aliens, I want to say that I don’t think I could ever be an archaeologist.  Though I’m not claustrophobic, I would not willingly jam myself into a cave where I can only advance by shrugging my shoulders.  Not for a few ancient artifacts, anyway.

Heyerdahl does this quite often.

But he also teaches us about how an archaeological expedition to cultural sites with a nearly westernized local population was run in the 1950s.  It’s interesting to see the combination of sensitivity to local people while at the same time recognizing and acknowledging that superstitions and certain behaviors belong to the past for a reason.  I wonder if a modern expedition would be that honest.

If you enjoy archaeology, or learning about ancient civilizations, this book is a good read.  Not necessarily a textual joy (although I can’t comment on the merits of the original Norwegian version), but a wonderful look at a team obsessed with looking into the past.

Now, some of Heyerdahl’s conclusions about the origin of the Easter Island natives has been challenged by a genetic study (limited in scope, so there may be hope yet), but one thing is no longer in doubt: aliens had nothing to do with the construction or transport of the island’s famed stone faces.

Essentially, he just told one of the townsfolk on the island descended from the statue-building part of the population that he’d give him a hundred dollars if he stood one of the stones in its pedestal.

So the man did. I won’t tell you how because that is the ultimate spoiler for this book, but the method he used was something that any ancient civilization with access to rocks and a dozen workers could have managed.

When asked to show how the huge stone blocks could have been transported, they used an equally simple and ingenious method.

While this doesn’t prove that the method illustrated is necessarily the one that was employed, it makes it clear that anyone insisting that aliens had something to do with this is worse than a kook… he is an ignorant kook!

So if any of that seems like it might interest you.  Go forth and get yourself a copy.  You’ll enjoy it.

At the very least you can show the photos to your local alien apologist and watch him go into deep denial.  That should be worth the price of admission.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist.  His novel Timeless serves as an outlet for his love of ancient culture.  Set in a monastery complex in Greece, it’s a fast-paced, sexy thriller.  You can check it out here.

Stealing Your Happiness… The Most Communist Movie Ever

In watching the 1001 movies in order, I will admit that, every once in a while, you come across a film that makes you ask why anyone would film it.  Did the director hate other human beings?  Did he belong to some sect that believes that humanity can only be saved it it falls into the deepest pit of utter despair?

The answers are never forthcoming, but all I can say is that Vittorio de Sica‘s Ladri de Biciclette (The Bicycle Thief) is one of those films.  It took me a couple of days to drag myself out of bed after watching it (OK, I’m exaggerating, but not all that much).

Ladri de Bicicletti

An Italian realist film in the mold of Roma, Citta Aperta, it has little of that film’s historical interest.  This one does have some interesting shots of postwar Rome, and looks at the lives of its citizens, but that’s about it.

What it does have, unfortunately, is melodrama by the trowel-load. Heaping one “woe is me” cliché onto the next, it meanders from suffering to suffering until it ends with a walk-away scene lifted straight from The Little Tramp.  Subtle, this thing was not.

Don’t believe me?  Let’s glance at the checklist.  Father who needs a job to support his young family?  Check.  Supportive wife who does everything she can to help, but is about to fly apart under the strain? Check.  Young boy who puts a brave face on everything, both the stuff he understands and the stuff he doesn’t, and also helps to support the family by working 12 hours at a service station?  Check.  Indifferent world that crushes everyone under its wheels?  Oh, yeah.

Ladri de Bicicletti Film Poster

Critics, of course, loved it.  They called it the best movie ever, and have been calling it one of the best since (which scares me a bit, because the fact that it lost first place must mean there’s something even more depressing out there).  They called it a very adult movie (which I kind of agree with; kids would be ruined by it forever) and also the most communist movie ever (which is interesting since communism is something more associated with idealistic adolescents than with adults).

Anyway, unless you’re planning to be a film director, give this one a miss and do something less depressing.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose debut novel, Siege, has garnered good reviews (and one notable terrible review).  You can check it out here.

A Tale of Two Lions

A couple of years ago, I read one of the most delightful nonfiction books I can remember: A Gentle Madness by Nicholas Basbanes.  So it was with enormous pleasure that I began his second major volume.

Patience and Fortitude by Nicholas Basbanes

Patience and Fortitude, as most people are aware, are the names of the two marble lions that guard the entrance to the New York Public Library, which makes the title of this book particularly apt for what turned out to be (I intentionally avoided reading any synopsis) a history of the evolution of the library in the Western world, told in Basbanes chatty, anecdote-sprinkled style.

As with the first Basbanes book, I found this one engrossing.  It has the advantage that it deals with a subject that has a much wider appeal than insane book collectors but, at the same time, loses a little bit of the charm that the quirkier topic brought with it.

Nevertheless, it’s a wonderful volume which, in a mere 550 pages, gives you an overview of how ancient knowledge was stored and replicated and reached us, as well as telling us what a modern library looks like, and the issues facing it in the future (as seen in 2001, when the book was published).

It’s a good one, and it’s portable size allows one to read it anywhere but, for my money, the best book about libraries I’ve ever read is still this one.  Kinda hard to lug around on the subway, though.

I’d say the Basbanes is the right volume for those who’s like to read character-driven history of libraries.  The Campbell – Price for those who are a bit more visually oriented.  Both are wonderful, so don’t chose one or the other, buy them both and enjoy them.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer.  The plot of his thriller Timeless centers around a book and an ancient monastery, but it still manages to avoid resembling The Name of the Rose in any way.  You can check it out here.

Aristocracy… The Natural State of the World?

Madame Le Guillotine

In 1789, a bunch of people in France decided their nobles were a bit too tall and began shortening them by use of the guillotine.  A little over a hundred years later, bored Russian intellectuals raised an army and killed off the Romanovs for want of anything better to do (the above might be a slight simplification of actual historical events).

In both cases, the earlier aristocratic way of life was wiped off the map, supposedly forever.

Of course, by the time of the Russian Revolution, the French had replaced their aristocracy with captains of industry who drove enormous motorcars and drank expensive champagne and made the court of Louis XVI look like a bunch of unwashed yahoos (all right, the French are always unwashed, but you know what I mean).

I suppose that if one takes a socialist view of things, you could say that it’s only natural that the capitalist society born of the Industrial Revolution would spawn gross inequalities, but that would also be a lie.  If one looks at the Soviet state a few years later, one would find the same inequalities between the Party elite and everyone else.  Within the limits of the disastrous Soviet economy–communism is not a system that motivates people to generate wealth–there existed an aristocracy.  Sure, they had crappy cars and their Dachas were not particularly sumptuous, but compared to everyone else, they lived like kings.

And the pattern is repeated everywhere.  Among every single group of humans whether living in free market economies or closed systems there arises a group that everyone else envies, that has more stuff than others, or access to a more enjoyable form of life.

French Life in the 1930s

An aristocracy in all but name.

Why, though.  Weren’t aristocrats supposedly a cancer on society that the countless revolutions were aimed at eradicating?

Supposedly.  But reality says that the revolutions only succeeded in changing the names, not the structure.  There is still a tiny portion of the world that has all the fun while everyone else is on the outside looking in, resentment growing day by day.

And this is why I never listen to the people who argue for the redistribution of wealth on a global scale.  They’re ignoring every lesson history has ever taught, and expecting everyone else to blithely ignore them as well.  Of course, fanatics always have a “Yes, but that was a special case” argument, but when every single time turned into an exception, one begins to suspect that those exceptions are actually the rule, and that the utopians are a bit misguided.

So, instead of spending our time trying to give the wealth of the planet to a completely different minority group, I propose that the readers of Classically Educated dedicate their lives to hedonism and itellectuality.  You can’t see the flaws of the world through the bottom of a bottle, and, as Blake said, we should open the doors of perception (the substances you use for that purpose are your own business…).

I know this isn’t my greatest insight ever, but one needs to understand that it’s Monday morning, and you can’t expect too much.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist whose latest book, Timeless, has a lot of hedonism wrapped up in the trappings of intellectuality (a romantic thriller hinging around a book written by a monk is almost the definition of that combo).  You can check it out here.

Hitler’s Last Gamble Brought to Life

Tiger Tank

The Battle of the Bulge is one of the most legendary actions of WW2.  It might not be up there with the D-Day landings, The invasion of Poland, the Siege of Stalingrad or the attack on Pearl Harbor, but it’s definitely in the second tier, and, like all the rest, many misconceptions about it survive.  I know I certainly didn’t know all that much about the details–to me it was always just about German Tiger tanks in a snowy forest demolishing numerically superior allied forces.

The truth is more complicated, of course, so we return to WWII to have a look.  Now, for those who’ve been following this blog over the years, WWII means film and excerpts from Stacy Danielle Stephens’ excellent novel-in-progress, but today we turn to a nonfiction book that aims to be the definitive record of the Battle of the Bulge.

Ardennes 1944 - The Battle of the Bulge - Anthony Beevor

Now, whenever someone says the phrase “definitive history” in my presence, I’m immediately assaulted by a sense of utter ennui.  Definitive means exhaustive and authoritative, and that usually corresponds to boring.

But Anthony Beevor’s book Ardennes 1944: The Battle of the Bulge, is anything but boring.  It’s a nonfiction book–an exhaustive, authoritative nonfiction book–that reads like a thriller.  The real people depicted are shown in much the same light, with their strengths and weaknesses, heroism and foibles, as would be the characters in a novel.  The effect it electrifying, and keeps you turning the pages to find out what happened next.

Of course, there is a lot of detail.  Anyone reading this will learn a lot that they never knew–or didn’t remember–about these cold days in 1944.  You’ll also be reminded that war wasn’t just about soldiers prancing around in armored vehicles–civilians were often caught in the crossfire, and played ambiguous roles as well, both as victims of atrocities and willing or unwilling accomplices to one side or the other.

Finally, the book places the battle of the bulge in strategic context with regards to the rest of the war and explains how events on the Eastern Front, as well as in the Pacific Theater created the conditions for a tremendous battle.

It is a complete book – history and entertainment in one convenient package.

Recommended.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine author.  He is the author of Incursion, a novel of interstellar war played out over centuries.  You can see the novel here.

Celebrating the Human Need to Explain the Inexplicable

Umberto Eco

Ever since the first hominids developed language, humanity has felt the need to fill in those blank spaces on the map.  Whether that terra incognita was just across the next ridge or somewhere in the south seas, the profusion of legendary lands created to explain what might be there is stunning.

In fact, we still do it today: science fiction writers fill the darkness of space while, more metaphorically, spiritualists and fantasy writers try to satisfy people’s need to know what, if anything, happens when we die.

One of our favorite subjects here at CE is Umberto Eco (don’t believe us?  Look here or here or here) so we’re glad to say that he’s tackled the subject of legendary lands in his own inimitable fashion–namely in a medievalist and exhaustive way.

The Book of Legendary Lands - Umberto Eco

In The Book of Legendary Lands, he defines “legendary” as an inexistent place that, nevertheless, contemporary people actually believed in.  So you get an analysis that goes from the Garden of Eden to Hyperborea, from Atlantis to the Aryan kingdoms the Nazis wanted to believe in.

Now this is a hefty book, and Eco can often be quite… how to say this diplomatically?.. obscure in his wording when he wants to be, so I was expecting a long, plodding–albeit ultimately rewarding–read.

On that front, I was pleasantly surprised.  Eco, by his own admission, has a passion for the medieval that drove him in his career, and it comes through in his prose when working in that era.  The Name of the Rose became a bestseller not only because it was brilliant but because it was written in accessible (all things being relative, of course) language that allowed everyday readers to connect with the era and the characters.  It’s a beautiful book.

This one is also beautiful, with the added benefit that it’s lavishly illustrated.  As the text advances, you get contemporary illustrations, everything from medieval manuscript illuminations to paintings by Dante Gabriel Rosetti.  It’s quite the mix, but it works.

Of course, this is a book aimed at popular consumption, but it’s a scholarly work at the same time, researched by an expert whose loss the field won’t easily recover from.  Eco famously collected books of  what he called “fakes”, or things that were demonstrably untrue–this volume draws a lot from this.

Finally, perhaps most delightfully, Eco gives his own opinion on the wisdom of certain beliefs.  He’s understandably easier on the ancients–after all, science was still embryonic when they were creating Atlantis–but he comes down pretty heavily on Victorian mystics and Aryan cultists, as well as other modern actors.  Deservedly so.

In conclusion, find a copy of this book.  You will enjoy it, you will learn from it, and you will like the pretty pictures.  You can thank me in the comments.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is the author of several novels set in places that don’t exist (or that don’t exist yet).  His novel of an Earth changed beyond recognition by humanity’s conscious choice to evolve, Outside, can be purchased here.

And We Are All Mortal

Thirteen Days Film Still

Marya Kazakova as the Soviet Woman waiting outside Robert Kennedy’s office while Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin attempts to postpone World War Three, tentatively scheduled for the following morning.

 

Our series of posts reviewing movies that deal with JFK’s presidency continues today with Stacy Danielle Stephens’ review of Thirteen Days.  For the previous posts in the series, see here, here and here.

Other than two contemporaneous documentaries, there aren’t any noteworthy films about the 1960 US presidential election, at least as far as google cares.  Likewise, in cinematic terms, The Bay of Pigs has been frequently referenced but rarely depicted.  So with the exception of November 1963, only thirteen days of October 1962 define the Kennedy presidency in film, and only twice have those thirteen days been presented to audiences in a substantial production.

Ironically, 2000’s Thirteen Days isn’t based on Robert Kennedy’s book; it just uses the title to great advantage; an advantage that 1974’s made-for-TV docudrama, The Missiles of October, which was based on Robert Kennedy’s book, gave up in alluding to another book, Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August.  If you’re confused, just imagine how Robert MacNamara felt.  As the Kennedy administration’s Secretary of Defense, he’d personally experienced every moment of those thirteen days at their most immediate and intense, and when he was told Kevin Costner was starring as the main character–well he surely envisioned himself as that character, and must have been immeasurably flattered.  But he had to ask, just to be sure, and when producer Peter Almond, who had arranged a private screening for MacNamara, said, “Kenny O’Donnell,” MacNamara immediately refused, adamantly, to watch the movie, because in reality, O’Donnell was among those least aware of what happened during the crisis; he was a personal appointment secretary, and his job was nothing more than tracking and choreographing politically beneficial occasions, and keeping the President punctual.  Something like the guy on the carrier deck holding the paddles.  Undeniably an important position, but of a necessarily limited importance, particularly when contrasted with someone at the highest levels of command.

Robert MacNamara failed to understand the phenomenal value of a well-placed fictive device, at least until he later relented and viewed Thirteen Days, which he then described it as “absolutely fascinating … a very constructive and responsible portrayal…”  That fascination, which is sadly absent from The Missiles of October, doesn’t arise from the responsible presentation of factual details, which both films do well, but from placing those details in personal perspectives; most frequently by allowing Kevin Costner to portray Kenny O’Donnell responding to these moments, or acting upon those events, as they are revealed to him, and in turn to the viewer, through the fabrication of O’Donnell as a character who is essentially fictional in spite of being a real person who was also a close friend of Robert Kennedy.

As with any illusion, the effectiveness of it is established through a deft sleight of hand.  The opening credits present themselves on a backdrop of short clips evoking the zeitgeist of the conflict through the confluence of the two concurrent international contests–the space race and the arms race.  And as the last of the credits fades out along with these images, we find ourselves at the O’Donnell family’s breakfast table.

The O'Donnel Dinner table from Thirteen Days

The implicit cliche goes unsaid, but remains clear; all the more so for being tacitly inferred; the first of these thirteen days begins like any other day.  A detail made all the more effective for its triviality is Kevin’s report card, which he tries to slip past his dad by saying it’s a permission slip.

Kevin O'Donnel's report card from Thirteen Days

Of course, dad notices just a heartbeat before putting pen to paper, and this image retains a recurring resonance each time the elder O’Donnell rebukes or reproves either Jack or Bobby, or when he reminds everyone that press secretary Pierre Salinger had to be kept in the dark throughout the crisis, or when he spells out to a journalist the consequences of reporting rumors the White House is unwilling to confirm.  And true to form, the film concludes with the last of the thirteen days ending like any other day, with Bobby standing beside Jack, and saying, “We’re out here, Kenny.”