Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing

Lauren Hough’s parents were members of The Children of God, so she told people they were missionaries instead of belonging to that infamous cult. A student at a conservative Catholic High School, she hid her sexuality. As a member of the U.S. Airforce she visited gay bars using the name Ouiser Boudreaux, taken from the character Shirley MacLaine played in “Steel Magnolias” so that no one on the base would learn her real identity—and sexual orientation.

In other words she was always someone she wasn’t, trying to be what others expected of her.

“I’d learned to survive by becoming what they wanted me to be, as best I could,” Hough writes in her collection of essays, “Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing.” “And when I couldn’t, I hid, erasing those parts of me that offended.”

The collection includes an essay she wrote for HuffPost titled “I Was a Cable Guy.” I Saw the Worst of America” which went viral. One reader reached out to Hough to tell her how much she liked it. That person was Academy Award winner, Cate Blanchett. The two struck up a friendship and when “Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing,” Hough texted her to ask if she would read several of book’s eleven essays.

“Surreal is also a good word to being able to text Cate and ask her is she’s ever considered doing an audiobook,”  says Hough describing the entire experience not only of partnering with Blanchett in producing the audiobook but her life’s journey and how she ended up as a published writer corresponding with a movie star. As for Blanchard, she said yes.

“My conversations with Lauren over the last several years have been honest, raw, and sidesplittingly funny, and I treasure her friendship and penmanship beyond measure,” she writes.

Hough says she wrote many of her essays in the dark, just hoping to connect, if only to yourself. Growing up, her family had moved frequently, and she lived in seven countries including Switzerland, German and Ecuador, and Texas just to name a few placed, experienced violence and been abused. In adulthood, she’d worked a series of jobs—bartending, bouncer in a gay bar, livery driver, U.S. Airman, barista, and, of course, a cable installer.

Describing Hough as having hypnotic power as a storyteller, Blanchett says when she spoke Hough’s words in the audiobook that in “speaking her words, I truly understood the rhythmic heartbeat alive in every phrase. Aching to connect. Aching to be heard.”

In her long search for belonging and being connected, Hough’s writings seem to have forged the connectiveness she sought.

The Hollow Ones

               I didn’t intend to spend the last three days speed reading “The Hollow Ones” by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (Grand Central Publishing 2021; $28). Indeed, I had other things to do—deadlines to meet, a new workout program to keep up with, and my daughter’s wedding to help plan. But I didn’t do any of those. Instead I caromed around the universe, going back and forth in time, following this complicated by fascinating novel written by two greats in their field. del Toro is a prolific writer, producer, and director who wrote and director the four time Academy Award winning movie “The Shape of Water.” Hogan, an American novelist, screenwriter, and television producer, who co-authored, with del Toro,  The Strain trilogy. He also wrote the novel “Prince of Thieves” that was made into a movie “The Town” with Ben Affleck .

Guillermo del Toro. Photo by Lorenzo Agius.

               This is not a book for the faint of heart—and I typically fall into that category. But I just had to figure out what was going to happen next after the first chapter. That’s when  Odessa Hardwick, a young and inexperienced FBI agent arrives at the scene of a gruesome murder taking place along with Walter Leppo, her seasoned partner. Inside an upscale home, the two encounter the owner butchering his family. Odessa, believing her partner is under attack by the murderer, shoots and kills him. But then the unexpected occurs, Walter takes a knife to the only surviving family member and Odesssa is forced to kill him to save the child. She already is under a lot of stress when she had to question if that was a shadowy figure she saw fleeing from Walter’s body after his death?

               Most likely, given the supernatural forces that are in play here starting with why this prosperous home owner killing his family, why did Walter suddenly take over the job of butchering them, and what the heck is going on anyway? Odessa, distraught and doubting her actions and indeed, her own sanity, is  given the assignment while awaiting the results of the inquest into the killing of Leppo, to clear out the desk  of ailing FBI agent Earl Solomon who started his career investigating lynchings during the early 1960s in the American south.

               “Solomon puts her on the trail of a mysterious figure named Hugo Blackwood, with whom the dying Solomon has been professionally — but unofficially — aligned since his rookie days,” says Hogan, who describes his collaboration with del Toro as long talks over breakfast batting around ideas which they then expand until finally turning out chapters.

Hugo, an immortal has seen a lot through the centuries. To solve the mysteries of the moment, they must retrace what happened in 1582 when he was a young attorney and a portal to another world was accidentally opened allowing the evil and dangerous hollow ones to enter ours.

               Hogan, who describes the hollow ones as “nasty creatures who live to possess human victims, jumping from host to host” is vague about whether this is the first in a series focusing on Hugo and Odessa solving supernatural crimes. He does acknowledge though that Blackwood’s story which in this novel encompasses England 1582, the Jim Crow South of 1962, and New Jersey in 2019 is only 20% told.

               If they do have another book coming, I need to get all my chores done ahead of time so I can immerse myself once again.

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