This Month's Articles
RED NOW AND LATERS
By Marcus J. Guillory
Reviewed by Robert Fleming
Marcus Guillory’s exceptional debut novel, Red Now And Laters, resembles the precious horn riffs of the great Creole jazz saxophonist Sidney Bechet in its rich, improvised language and cultural themes. As a native of Louisiana, the former entertainment attorney-musician now lives in Los Angeles, using most of the ingredients of well-lived legacy in its narrative, including zydeco, horse racing and rodeo, hoodoo, the legal world, and higher education.
With a penetrating eye on the complexity and complications of the Creole-speaking, heritage-proud Boudreaux clan, now thriving in the black neighborhood of South Park, Houston, Guillory provides his readers with a fictional gift in Ti’ John, aka John Paul Boudreaux, as the narrator for the sometimes comic, often disturbing, but always entertaining antics of his bloodline.
The product of a Hoodoo traditionalist father and a devout Catholic mother, he knows he has the power, an uncommon skill of spiritual healing, to make things whole, to transform disease to wholesome health.
Ti’ John’s mother, Patrice Boudreaux, is not only “a cautious woman,” but her protective manner tries to shield her rebellious boy away from the bad guys. She’s one of Guillory’s prime characters, a woman battling for her soul against sin and lust while trying to remain faithful to the saints.
The boy’s moral conflicts reflect her strict, religious dogma and his father’s love of the outlaw life, including horses, dice, and good time gals. Everywhere you look, there are memorable sentences, fragments, and phrases, like this one: “She wanted to be closer to God, which is understandable considering she....Read More
The Bohemians: Mark Twain and the San Francisco Writers Who Reinvented American Literature
By Ben Tarnoff
Reviewed by Fred Beauford
The Freedom of Isolation
For me, the major lesson I learned once again from The Bohemians--and a lesson I have harped on many times in my writings in these pages-- is that the literature of the New World is a dynamic, ever growing narrative.
In addition, it is composed of multiple steams of thought pushed forward by independent minded thinkers.
One key to these thinkers being able to think for themselves was to get as far away as they can from all the clerics and nabobs that insisted that they think in a certain way; and mid 19th century San Francisco, the first real unban center on the Pacific coast, offered such a place.
San Francisco rose up because the San Francisco Bay offered one of the world’s greatest natural ports for shipping,
In addition, it also offered a gateway to Asia.
Still, in 1848, the same year that the Treaty of Guadalupe ended the Mexican-American War and gave California to the United States, San Francisco was hardly much of an unban center with a little over 40,000 citizens, with the overwhelming of them men.
All of this changed almost at the blink of an eye: Writes Tarnoff,” In 1848, the discovery of gold in California (which must have greatly pissed off the Mexicans because they had just lost such a treasure) had triggered a swift influx of people from all corners of the world. As the gateway to the gold rush, San Francisco went from a drowsy backwater to a booming global seaport. Mostly the newcomers were young men...they lived among the cultures of five continents…Cantonese stir-fry competing with German wurst, Chilean whores with Australians. On the far margin of the continent, they created a complex urban society virtually overnight.”
The Bohemians profiles in depth, and interesting, telling details, four writers, all in their twenties, that formed the core group of writers Tarnoff labels The Bohemians: Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard and Ina Coolbrith.
The most well known, Mark Twain, fearing being caught up the Civil War, arrived by stagecoach in San Francisco in 1863 after several years in Nevada. Bret Harte, who was already a fairly well known poet, when Twain arrived, first stepped foot in Oakland, California in 1854 as a seventeen-year-old from New York; the gay poet Stoddard, also....Read More
No Book but the World
By Leah Hager Cohen
Reviewed by Janet Garber
Ava and her brother, Fred, grow up in upstate Freyburg, New York, on the grounds of what was once an esteemed “free” school run by their now aging father, Neel. Taking Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the 18th century philosopher of the Enlightenment, as his guide, Neel fervently follows the prescription in Rousseau’s Emile, or On Education, “Let there be no book but the world.”
So up to second grade, Ava and her brother and her best friend, Kitty, are allowed to roam free through the woods without much of a formal educational agenda. When she shows an interest, Ava, is taught how to read music by her mother, Neel’s common-law wife, June, to the consternation of her father who feels Ava should just be encouraged to play by ear and thump around on various musical instruments.
Ava and Kitty soon prevail on their parents to release them from home schooling into the waiting arms of the local school system. There they thrive, especially Ava, who yearns for a life governed by fixity, rules, and conventions, even religion and is eager to escape the preachings and clinical observations of her somewhat sanctimonious father.
Facing greater odds at reintegrating into society, however, is Fred. Disdaining labels for him such as “cognitively impaired,” or “autistic,” the parents keep Fred on the loose after he fails miserably at fitting in to the mainstream school. Since he has never been tested and the causes of his “differences” are never divulged, no one really knows what he is or is not capable of. His speech is very impaired and often intelligible only to his sister; he throws frequent tantrums, banging on pots, trees, and the ground in patterns discernible only to him. Is he endowed with normal intelligence? No one knows or....Read More
FIVE CAME BACK: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War
By Mark Harris
Reviewed by M. J. Moore
A sea change has occurred in American life. It is demographic. It is chronological. It is important.
The Second World War is fast receding into the mists of history. The veterans of WW II who are still alive are all close to age 90. Or even older. Do the math. If a young vet was 20 when the war ended in 1945, he has to be going on 90 now. And most veterans were closer to their mid-20s at war’s end.
In a few short years, World War Two will seem as remote as the First World War (which was never memorialized and highlighted in our culture with anything like the perennial recapitulations of 1941-1945). This is all the more reason to celebrate Mark Harris’ majestic new work of historical biography. Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War is a vital, bracing, revelatory work of narrative nonfiction.
Of course the book’s formidable title goes on to name the individuals alluded to via Five Came Back. Those five were John Ford, George Stevens, John Huston, William Wyler, and Frank Capra.
Each of those men was an established, middle-aged, highly regarded film director in Hollywood when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Sad but true: Although the war began in 1939 and immense suffering was underway long before December 7, 1941, the fact is that for most Americans the war didn’t really commence until after the debacle at Pearl Harbor led to FDR’s declaration of war against Japan. Within the same week, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy declared war on the USA as a show of solidarity with their Axis ally Japan. And, finally....Read More
by Kara Fox
An Interview with Roxann McCann
Q. WHAT MOVES YOU MOST ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHY?<
A. The ability of a camera to capture a moment in time never ceases to enchant me. As a child, I could study a black and white photo in Life magazine for what seemed like ages, always finding something more in the layers of visual information. The tiniest detail, barely visible, could be immensely telling. It is fascinating. The human face has always fascinated me. The expression in a person's eyes, and the feeling of looking into a beautiful soul is always compelling. And the ability to capture that beauty and show it to the person I have photographed is boundlessly joyful and rewarding.
Q. WHO IN YOUR BACKGROUND INFLUENCED YOU TO PICK UP THE CAMERA?
A. My then husband-to-be, Austin McCann, taught me to use a 35 mm camera that he happened to have. It was love at first sight, both for him, and for the camera. I was hooked the moment I shot my first roll of Tri-X. It was the ideal means of creating art for me, since I cannot even draw a straight line. Finally, I could channel my creative energy!
Q. COULD YOU PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOUR EDUCATION?
A. I attended The University of California Santa Barbara, and earned my degree in Classics, which is ancient Greek and Latin. I had a passion for languages, and enjoyed reading the ancient texts in their original form. The Stanford campus in Rome offered intercollegiate Classical studies, and I had the good fortune to attend for my year abroad. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the art and architecture there, and immersed myself in the Italian Renaissance. The paintings of Caravaggio and the sculptures of Bernini continue to....Read More
By Donna Tartt
Reviewed by Jane M. McCabe
Desperate for something good to read I downloaded Donna Tartt’s new novel, The Goldfinch, onto my Kindle. I had been feeling out-of-sorts, aggravated by the slings of my own private, outrageous fortune and all the technical problems that seem to accompany modern times. When I read the first few paragraphs, I sighed a sigh of relief—ahhh! To be in the hands of someone who knows how to write! I was in love; I had before me an interesting, well-told story…
Before I lived in New York I loved books set there, but after having lived there for over twenty years and now living elsewhere, I still love books set in New York, especially those that describe neighborhoods with which I’m familiar:
“Along Park Avenue, ranks of red tulips stood at attention as we sped by. Bollywood pop—turned down to a low, almost subliminal whine [the music, that is, inside the cab that Theo and his mother are riding in on their way to the Metropolitan Art Museum where the horrible incident that propels the story occurs]—spiraled and sparkled hypnotically, just at the threshold of my hearing. The leaves were just coming out on the trees. Delivery boys from D’Agostino’s and Gristede’s pushed carts laden with groceries; harried executive women in heels plunged down the sidewalks, dragging reluctant kindergartners behind them; a uniformed worker swept debris from the gutter into a dustpan on a stick; lawyers and stockbrokers held their palms out and knit their brows as they looked up at the sky…”
To be in the hands of a good writer is sublime. I know fewer pleasures more enjoyable than to read a writer whose craft is such that the text comes alive with a vibrancy that is enticing.
At the MET a terrorist bomb detonates. It kills Theo’s beloved mother and an elderly man, whose death he witnesses. Before the man dies, he gives Theo a large garnet ring and an address of where to take it. He also urges Theo to take a certain painting that has fallen from the walls—a painting of goldfinch chained to its perch, painted by one C. Fabritius in Amsterdam in 1654. There is a girl with him, who, like Theo, survives the explosion. This is Pippa, who, in an instant, becomes the love of his life.
The subject of The Goldfinch is loss—Theo misses his....Read More
Chose the Wrong Guy, Gave Him the Wrong Finger
By Beth Harbison
Read by: Orlagh Cassidy
Reviewed by Michael Carey
Beth Harbison is a NY Times Bestseller many times over but will more than likely never write the kind of stories I’ll pick up. So you may imagine the sheep-eating grin that crossed my face when I beheld my next assignment, Chose the Wrong Guy, Gave Him the Wrong Finger by Beth Harbison. Needless to say, but I’m going to say it anyway, I put it off until last. Then I dove in trying to be objective and open to the romantic ride of Quinn Barton’s story. Here is how it went for an outside listener.
Quinn is excited for her wedding until Frank, the Best Man and the groom’s brother, pulls her aside and tells her she should reconsider, that Burke, his brother, has been cheating on her. This news plants a seed that all but ruins her romantic life to the point that the only relationships of note in the ten years since she left Burke at the altar (at least for the book) are a two-day affair with Frank after the wedding and a casual fling with a banker.
In the present, Quinn’s life is in a rut, but she seems to have made herself comfortable in it. She works making wedding dresses in her shop, Talk of the Gown. Quinn is as conflicted about her feelings on marriage as she is about her feelings for Frank and Burke, who are suddenly reintroduced into an unprepared Quinn’s life when their grandmother and town character, Dottie, is getting married to the younger Lyle. Quinn has convinced herself only in words that she has made her peace with the boys, but Dottie and Quinn’s best friend, Glen, know better. They try individually to push her out of her rut, to face her....Read More
The Pat Boone Fan Club:
My Life as a White, Anglo-Saxon Jew
By Sue William Silverman
Reviewed by Reviewed by M. J. Moore
Sue William Silverman is a stunning, unconventional writer of memoirs. This new work is her third memoir. Although it stands alone as a worthy volume unto itself, it helps to have some idea of how it also picks up where her other books left off.
Back in 1996, Silverman’s first book appeared: Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You. From the get-go, it was clear that her work was not for the faint of heart.
That first memoir calmly (somehow), objectively (which was even more amazing) and dramatically told her true-life story. From age four until age 18, Sue William Silverman was sexually abused by her own father, who was an unassailable man in the community; a white-collar archetypal “upstanding” citizen. In fact, her father was a high-ranking government official during her youth, and later had a career in international banking. To call him a high-functioning sociopath is too polite.
And “abuse” scarcely describes the extremities of his monstrous behavior. He sexually assaulted his own daughter in every way, starting with “bath time” when she was a pre-kindergarten child and eventually invading her bedroom at night on a regular basis. Her mother ignored all this, hiding out elsewhere in the house (thus avoiding her husband’s beastly rage attacks) with her spurious illnesses and sleeping pills. Silverman’s most horrific line might be this sentence about her mother: “I was a present to her husband.”
Absorbing Silverman’s first memoir can induce dizziness and panic. It’s that visceral a reading experience. Then: Her next memoir Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction chronicled how the violations that she endured as a child and as a young adult played out in her troubled later years, which finally resolved in miraculous ways thanks to her indestructible spirit, a true commitment to recovery, a great ....Read More