Friday, May 2, 2014

God's Pocket by Pete Dexter Comes to U.S. Theaters 05-09-14 [Limited Release]--One of Philip Seymour Hoffman's Last Movies.

God's Pocket by Pete Dexter. [1]
Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

     "Leon Hubbard had worried most everybody on the crew at one time or another, he'd even touched something in Peets. It wasn't the razor--Peets had taken razors away from people, that was as simple as understanding you were going to get cut--it was something in the kid you didn't want to listen to. The truth was, he didn't believe the kid's stepfather was connected. That was more bullshit, the same way the razor was. He kept it in his back pocket and brought it out twenty, thirty times a day. He used it to cut lunch meat and tell stories and shape his fingernails. Once they'd found a bat inside a cinder block and he'd used the razor to cut its head off. Then he'd wrung everything out of the body and said, 'I seen that happen to a nun once.'" (p.4)

This is a straight razor (a gunmetal
titanium  straight  razor), probably
similar to one Leon carries.  My
father used one of these with which
to shave.  My grandfather was a
barber (for a while, in his long life)
who also used this kind of razor
(and not a safety razor); these
razors are extremely sharp and
can be very dangerous! [2]

     The, above, brilliant, disgusting paragraph nails Leon Hubbard's personality down to a "tee." And whether Leon is a psychopath or a sociopath is irrelevant, Pete Dexter shows us in just one short paragraph everything we don't want to know about Leon. For, even if we believe that Leon's little assertion about the nun is "bullshit," we still see something twisted about him, "...something in the kid [we don't] want to listen to." Something in the "kid" we know is about to boil over into trouble. Later, this "not wanting to listen to," this something you don't want to see or know about Leon continues as Peets observes, "It was like when you're watchin' something you don't want to see, but you can't look away" (p. 105). This behavior is often seen in witnesses to a crime--they can't look away and can't help seeing it, but having seen it, still adamantly deny having seen it.

The people of God's Pocket (South Philly) live with this attitude about Leon Hubbard. As you read the book, look to see what else its characters deny hearing or seeing. Relationships. Bigotry. Pain. The "dirtiness" of the city's people--whether or not we refer to the city and its people literally or metaphorically!  [3]
THE BOOK: [Note: Some spoilers are present in the following material.]
     Leon Hubbard is the pivotal point in this story. A story about a young man who, as the book's publisher's say, "had it coming" to him. And what exactly did Leon Hubbard have due and coming to him? Why, nothing more than an "accidental" death. But Leon's mother thinks there's more to the story than meets the eye--even though she cannot explain why she thinks that way. She convinces well-known and popular newspaper columnist, Richard Shellburn, to "look into" things for her. Does the alcoholic and womanizing Shellburn take up the cause just to get into Jeanie Hubbard Scarpato's bed, or is more going on (than a just cause)? 

Philip Seymour Hoffman (on right) stars as Mickey Scarpato,
and John Turturo (on left), stars as Arthur 'Bird' Capezio,
Mickey's friend and accomplice in this scene from the movie,
God's Pocket (set in South Philadelphia, U.S.A.). [4]
     And then there is Jeanie Hubbard Scarpato's hus- band, Mickey Scarpato--Mickey tells his friend, Arthur "Bird" Capezio, about his wife's concerns that something was con- cealed from the family regarding Leon's death. Bird goes to Vinney (a made man in the area) for a favor to have him "look into" things for the family. So now, along with the police, a total of three investigations about Leon's death are taking place. It isn't long before a domino effect has exciting interactions happening all over God's Pocket in South Philly.

Leon is considered to be "bad news."
What other kinds of bad news face the
characters in the book? [5]
     This story is about insiders and outsiders, a mother's love, and a meat wagon with more than just beef in it, and how people deal with "bad news." God's Pocket is irreverent and gritty, hilariously dark and broodingly funny. We must know...will the people of God's Pocket bury the truth about "bad news" Leon because they don't want their illusions destroyed? Will Leon take his "bad news" with him to the grave? Or will Vinney and his boys "kill" the story to keep God's Pocket's "dirty" little secret(s) safe?

     Briefly, to set the scene: Vinney "The Italian," has sent two men to rough up Coleman Peets, foreman on the worksite where Leon died, in an attempt to get information about Leon's death to pass on to Arthur 'Bird' Capezio who then intends to pass the info. on to Mickey, and he to Jeanie. It's the end of the workday and Peets is getting ready to go home--he is standing in the bed of his pickup truck shoveling sand out of it into a pile. The two thugs approach and one climbs up and stands behind Peets. Here's what happens next:
This is a simple brass knuckles--
some are angular and can cut
severely as well as hitting hard. [6]
[The thug said,] 'We can do this the easy way or the hard way....the other one fit his fingers into a set of artificial knuckles...'What's it gonna be home boy?' [Peets said,] 'It happened the way I said to the police, and you Jew boys can do it any damn way you want--hard or easy--and it don't matter to me'....The one who had pushed him threw the hand with the artificial knuckles at Peets' face, and caught the top of his forehead....Peets felt an old calm settle in, he noticed the blood dropping around his boots...he noticed a man across the street [standing and] watching...The one with the knuckles...turned to throw another punch. Peets reached out and smothered his hand, and then found his face, and then, with the same broad motion you might use to shape an eye cavity in clay, he pushed into the corner of the socket and took the man's left eye out...[Peets] caught another look at the man across the street. He was sitting on a fire hydrant now, watching...[The second man, Peets] picked him up by the jaw and the pants and held him over his head...He threw the body now, from the bed of the truck to the ground. One of the legs attached to it hit the rear gate of the truck, twisted and came to rest bridged to the little pile of sand Peets had shoveled out of the truck. The leg looked broken, but Peets jumped down and made sure. Then he looked across the street at the man on the fire hydrant. The man looked back. He stood up, slowly, nodded, clapped five or six times and then headed east down the street. Philadelphia. (condensed quotation: pp. 118-122)
The unknown witness, obviously, follows this attitude
about witnessing Peets attack by the two men and his
defense of himself. [7]
     I really like it that Coleman Peets isn't just going to stand around and wait for two thugs to beat him senseless, or put him in the hospital. And while we don't know, in the story, who the watching bystander is, who approves and even applauds Peets' handling of the situation, in some sense, we as readers, join that anonymous bystander in cheering Peets.

     Even so, after the applause and cheering has died down, we must consider that the bystander, like many witnesses to crimes or violent behaviour, does not call the police. He is one of those silent witnesses who sees nothing, hears nothing and knows nothing. Street justice has been served. But, if we know anything about "made men," we know the boss cannot just let it go that his men were beaten and hospitalized--someone will have to pay. But in this case, it isn't Peets. The vingnette reinforces Pete Dexter's motifs in the story of the unseeing and unhearing witnesses who live in God's Pocket.

     A number of wonderfully interwoven themes exist, so let's just look at a few of the most important themes. Then we will take a look at the trailer for the upcoming movie about God's Pocket.

An image of a butcher cutting up a
side of beef, similar to Tony in the
book, God's Pocket. [8]
(1)     The themes of "safety" and "knives": We start out with Leon's straight razor, a knife. It is the opposite of a "safety" razor--it is anything but safe; so, what we are really talking about is, "not being safe." Of other knives in the story, one of particular interest is the one used by the butcher boy, Tony ('Bird's' nephew) who uses it to cut up the stolen meat (a big part of the black humor of the book and movie). The young man is so proficient at cutting up the meat, that watching him put them in mind of Leon, and one could almost see Leon with his razor (p.111).

     And then there is Richard Shellburn, the columnist, and an outsider to the Pocket, who carried a picture in his head that he was SAFE all the time. He even had a little retreat, a secret little plot of land he could retreat to when things got to him (p. 136). But Shellburn wasn't safe; and, he never saw it coming. The danger came from his boss.

Richard Shellburn created a picture in
his head that he was "SAFE" all the
time. Little did he know that he was
about to be taken out in his own
end zone. [9]
     In fact, his boss, T.D. Davis, had lived through something traumatic that had him always looking at the "timing" of things. At a former paper, an employee came in wielding a chain saw and cut up his desk--in an attempt to keep things quiet Davis had issued a "no talk" order. It leaked out to the other papers and Davis was fired. Ever after, Davis always kept a watchful eye on employees. In a meeting one day with Shellburn, Davis considers that he has not been as vigilent with Shellburn as he should have been.

     Davis doesn't want Shellburn to destroy him, so he sets Shellburn up--takes him out first. Davis knows that the piece Shellburn wants published will spell his ruin and perhaps his death, so, Davis approves the article for publication. Later, the people of God's Pocket are so incensed by Shellburn calling them "dirty," that one evening at a bar (while Shellburn is having a heart attack) they attempt to beat him to death. But he dies first, and they end up beating his dead body.

Not a great photo, but here we are at
a high school football game. This is a
"safety" where you tackle an oppo-
nent in his own end zone. [10]
     What happened here, to Shellburn, is called a "safety" in football. Where you are tackled from behind your own goal line, often, not seeing it coming. That is, basically, what happens to Shellburn--he gets taken out behind his own goal line. Alternatively, you can look at Shellburn and his assistant, Billy Deebol, as playing the safetymen who defend the furthest area back in the field--God's Pocket. But I like the "Safety" definition, better. I wonder if T.D. Davis's initials stand for "Touch Down"? It's not the same thing as a "safety," but it's still kinda

     Finally, we have safety as used in the workplace, and safety in sex (rubbers)--I'm thinking of Leon's sexual liason with Fat Pat, here; also safety when the judge (Kalquist) acts in a trial to protect an accused man on charges of murder. Jeanie Hubbard, after her first husband's death, accepts Mickey Scarpatto and marries him because she feels safe with him. And then there is the whole neighborhood--anyone who is "OF" God's Pocket is safe in the group--it's the outsiders who have to watch out.

Mickey thought he was one of them
for a while, but soon had to face facts
that hadn't ever been one of them, and
he wasn't, even, now. Shellburn never
does understand that he's an outsider,
this, eventually, costs him his life. [11]
(2)     Outsiders/Insiders:     If you were born and raised in God's Pocket, you're in, if not, no matter how long you are there, you're still an outsider. The night of Shellburn's death, when the patrons are attacking Shellburn, the bartender tells them to "take it outside." And, Mickey, in God's Pocket for years, and married to an insider (Jeanie), making deliveries to the bar for years, is told, "You ain't from here either, so stay the fuck out of it" (p.267). Later some street kids tell Mickey, "Yo, Mick...we want you to know we 'preciate you not talkin' to the cops. You stood up, like you was part of the Pocket." Mickey responds, "Don't include me in nothin' about the Pocket." (p. 269).

Philip Seymour Hoffman. Unlike the
characters in the book and film, seeing
you "in the light once," is just not
enough. We watched you leave...
we know of your problems with drugs
and we want to keep you, anyway.
We want to forgive you for leaving,
but we can't--we can't let go of you
because you are one of us, and we love
you. We always will. Thank you for
giving us a little bit of yourself in the
beautiful films you made.  Thank you.
We love you. God speed. [12]
(3) Forgiveness, Leaving the Neighborhood, and Love: The scene takes place in the Hollywood Bar where Ray and Mickey are talking. Everything we need to know about the Pocket happens in this conversation:
Rays says, 'The average American has substituted cliches for thought.' Ray threw down another shot and asked Mickey, 'You want to know the real reason I never left?...The real reason,' he said, 'is forgiveness'...'I want to be forgiven.' Ray shook his head, 'You can't forgive me [Mickey],' he said. You're an intelligent man, but you don't know anything, here. I grew up with these people. They've seen me lying in puke and I've seen them lying in puke' matter what I am they've got to forgive me...The only thing they can't forgive is leaving the neighborhood...McKenna gave last call at two and turned on the lights...somebody yelled, 'Yo, turn off the fuckin' lights.' McKenna went back to the wall and dimmed the lights. 'Drink up,' he said again. And they did. They'd seen each other in the light once, and that was enough...Mickey watched them leave...and he knew in that moment exactly what Ray had been talking about, only he'd said forgiveness when he meant love. Mickey could see how you could get them mixed up. (p.227)

    By the end of the book when Mickey leaves we can see he better understands about forgiveness and love with his wife--perhaps there was not love there, only acceptance and safety, for a while; he keeps his crazy friendship with 'Bird,' and perhaps that is enough...(fraternal) love. And then, of course, they commit the one unforgiveable sin, they "leave the neighborhood."

THE MOVIE: Take a look at this insane trailer [13], rife with black humor and making me laugh out loud. I loved seeing Hoffman (AKA Mickey) chasing down the meat truck on foot, which, in turn, causes a traffic accident with a bus, and that, in turn, causes Leon to fall out of the refrigerated truck and into the the amazement of all! [Note: only part of this scene is in the trailer.] Of course, I've read the book and can "read" some of the scenes and know why they are included. If you read the book, you'll get in on the "inside" jokes, too.

     Philip Seymour Hoffman stars as Mickey Scarpato, and John Turturro as Arthur 'Bird' Capezio, and Joyce Van Patten as 'Bird's Aunt Sophie (You just gotta love Aunt Sophie--what a surprise she is, and...what a pistol!), Christine Hendricks as Jeanie Scarpato, Caleb Landry Jones as Leon Hubbard, Bill Buell as Ray, Richard Jenkins as Richard Shellburn, Arthur French as Lucien 'Old Lucy' Edwards and Glenn Fleshler as Coleman Peets. Writing Credits go to Peter Dexter for the novel and Alex Metcalf and John Slattery for the screenplay; Directing the movie is John Slattery. The movie is Rated R, is 88 minutes long, and is placed in the Drama category. The movie opens in theaters in LIMITED RELEASE on May 9, 2014 (USA).


     The Motion Picture Rating (MPAA) is R. In this movie it is rated R for the violence, the language throughout the movie and sexual content in- cluded. I would, likewise, rate the book the same way.

     I do not recommend this book for young children, or for some sensitive readers who are easily distraught over death and violence or bad language. I do, however, recommend this book to all adults who may enjoy black humor, gritty realism, and an irreverent look at life.

     This story is set in South Philly (God's Pocket, South Philadel- phia), and is, therefore, a regionally-based story. Those who know nothing of Philly may not understand all the re- gional references taking place within the context of the book and movie.

    I was surprised by this book. I, normally, don't care too much for black humor, but this book was not so "off the wall" that I couldn't enjoy it. As a matter of fact, the tongue-in-cheek satire where the book pokes fun at its own characters and city and life-style really made me chuckle. No. Not the loud guffaw, but the chuckle. The, "Yeah, I got it" chuck, chuck, chuckle.

     Way to go Pete Dexter! I'm on my way to read, Paris Trout, soon. In fact, I've already ordered the book and it will be sent to me in short order. For all the above reasons, I rate this wonderful book with the story set in the 1980s at 4.5 stars out of 5 and give it a thumbs up. I recommend that before all the used copies are snatched up that you grab one and buy it and read it for yourself.

5 Star Rating System [17]
   Thank you for joining me this week as we looked at this cult favorite, God's Pocket, by Pete Dexter. I'm glad it is coming to the movies, but from what I have seen of the professional critics reviews of the movie, it isn't rated well. In fact, the metascore is only 28/100. It may be another reason for releasing it in Limited Release, first, so as to test the waters, so to speak. I hope it does well. I don't always agree with professional critics assessment of movies--perhaps you have also had this experience? In any event, we have to wait and see what happens. It would be lovely if one of Mr. Hoffman's last movies did well at the box office. ...Such a wonderful actor.

     Thank you for taking time to read my blog post, today! Please join me again next week as we take another book into consideration for reading enjoyment and find out whether or not it is sufficiently worthy to spend your money on, pick it up, and spend your valuable time reading it. Until then, you couldn't do better than to find a copy of God's Pocket, and read it. It is relatively short, only 279 pages, and enjoyable. So, give it a try.

Until next time...
White Rose. [18]
...many happy pages of reading!

All my love,


[1] "God's Pocket." Retrieved 04-28-14.
[2] "Gunmetal Titanium Straight Razor." Retrieved 04-29-14.
[3]"Quotation of the Week." Retrieved 05-01-14.
[4] "Philip Seymour Hoffman in the First Trailer for 'God's Pocket.'" Retrieved 05-01-14.
[5] "Two Key Communication Tips When the News is Bad." Retrieved 05-01-14.
[6] "The Republican Party Puts on the Brass Knuckles." Retrieved 05-01-14.
[7] "Hear nothing...." Retrieved 05-01-14.
[8] "Close up view of butcher cutting meat at warehouse." Retrieved 05-02-14.
[9] "Sunday Paper Coupons." Retrieved 05-02-14.
[10] "Introduction to American Football--Rules of US Football." Retrieved 05-01-14.
[11] "True Internet Marketing Icons/How Online Marketing Works." Retrieved 05-02-14.
[12] "Philip Seymour Hoffman Set To Star In John Slattery's GOD'S POCKET." Retrieved 05-02-14.
[13] "God's Pocket Trailer." Retrieved 05-02-04.
[14] "The Book You Have to Read: 'God's Pocket,' by Pete Dexter." Retrieved 05-02-14.
[15] "Out-of-Print." Retrieved 05-02-14.
[16] "God's Pocket." [Definition] Retrieved 05-02-14.
[17] "Man of Steel (2013)." [4.5 Stars.] Retrieved 05-03-14.
[18] "28 White Roses Pictures For Free Download." Retrieved 04-29-14.