When I review someone else’s work, I work hard to be fair to whatever the author is trying to say, and not overly inject my opinions into the article.
As far as fiction is concern, and why it will never die, is because as the writer, I can let it all hang out. I can make up anything imaginable. I love writing fiction, which is why fiction writers are the centerpieces of this magazine.
As I pointed out to you in the last letter, I have so much information, not only from the stats for the Neworld Review, but also google, yahoo. bing and countless online sources as to what the world thinks of my considerable efforts.
I can tell you one thing about all of this mega-data I have slowly learn to understand, is that my fiction, although it starts out slow, has a much longer shelf life then my non-fiction. It just floats, and floats all over the place.
Also, with fiction, you have little idea who it is that found what you wrote so compelling.
An example of a great writer of masterful fiction, and history colliding in a profound way, is Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley, the subject of this month’s Conversation. Editor-at-Large, Jan Alexander has given us a compelling conversation with Smiley, arguably one of the world’s finest novelist.
Fiction has many uses; it can entertain, and it can offer the kind of truths that no other art form can even come close to duplicating.
Enjoy this issue of the Neworld Review.
A few years ago, I lived for over two years in a rooming house in Jersey City, as I daily ruthlessly crawled my way to literary fame. The person in the room next to me was a devout Muslim from Pakistan.
He was a handsome young man, beaming with health and well-being, and with an impressive stock of rich looking black hair; that often made me reluctant to take off my hat in his presence. No point in embarrassing myself.
His father, I was to soon learn, was a high ranking General in the Pakistan army; and that bold confidence on my new young friend’s handsome face was always reminding me of that.
One day, as we stood in the shared kitchen, me cooking pork chops, which he didn’t blink from, but would never take a bite, but seemed to enjoy the smell, I got up the courage to ask him what he thought of all the fuss going on in the Mideast and the attack on America on 9/11.
“That’s not Islam!”
In many ways, I found this novel, the first of the well-known The Islam Quintet, highly interesting, mainly because of remembering the strong reaction of my young friend from Pakistan. For those who know little about Islam, what we hear often is “That’s not Islam.” Even our President says that what is happening in the Middle East is not Islam.
It turns out that this has been a long, centuries-old struggle to define just what is Islam, if we are to believe Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree.
This novel, a reissue for Verso, was first issued by them it in 1993.
There were some novelistic conventions I found distracting, and it was mostly all talk, and strange names, with different names for the same person, much like you will find in a classic Russian novel. Still, I found it hard to put down, and couldn’t wait to get back to it when I awoke. And I....Read More
Jane Smiley is famous for writing novels that are a product of her curiosity and exacting research rather than any particular inward-looking angst.
I confess, there was a time when I considered that a reason to resist her work, imagining she might also be stingy with emotional risk; I think of reading a novel in which the author hasn’t tapped into an infinite spectrum of feeling as an exercise that’s about as convivial as going on a date with someone who spends the whole evening on his cell phone.
I think of, for example, Arthur Golden’s well researched but to my mind overrated 1999 novel Memoirs of a Geisha, which felt more like a clever thesis in cultural studies than a novel. But as for Smiley, I tried one novel, then another and then another. I was hooked.
She is nothing if not a prolific supplier to those who crave her words. To date, she’s published 15 adult novels, and this fall will see the release of Volume 3 of The Last Hundred Years, a family saga that begins on a farm in Iowa in 1920 and ends where the ensuring generations have wandered as of 2019. Plus five nonfiction books about writers and writing and a young adult novel series about her other passion, horses.
Smiley is a master of storytelling, and of language that entwines so seamlessly into the story you have to remind yourself to pause and admire its understated richness. But what I’ve grown to most admire most is her ability to inhabit so many complex characters, developing them through their responses to one another as well as the time and place she chooses for them.
Nowhere is that more evident than in The Last Hundred Years, in which she plunks the Langdon family down into settings that include not only an Iowa farm but also the North African theatre in World War II, the post-war CIA and the San Francisco Peoples’ Temple just before Jim Jones led his followers to Guyana and served them cyanide-laced Flavor Aid.
At the same time, part of the appeal of the Langdon family trilogy is Smiley’s abiding affection....Read More
Let’s get my street cred out of the way: in ninth grade, Mme. Guerin informed me that acing my French tests alone would not get me far. I needed to work on my accent. Perhaps I took her gentle reprimand too much to heart! I double majored in French (and English) in college, studied in Normandy for my junior summer, then met a Frenchman in graduate school a few years later, quelle folie!, and ran off to live with him in Mexico and Paris.
We married and the entirety of our brief marriage took place in Paris (four years) and culminated in the birth of our child and our eventual separation and divorce. Quelle horreur.
It was all extremely romantic, has given me lots of great material to write about, and of course, a charming son. I would seem to be an ideal reader for Downie’s book in many ways: I’ve read the greats of French literature: Baudelaire, Flaubert, Balzac, Victor Hugo, George Sand. I’ve walked the streets of the Marais, lived steps from the Bastille, know my way around French pastry, know that of which he speaks. And yet . . .
Downie’s book is beautifully written; he’s an excellent stylist with a distinctive voice of his own. An American, he’s done a staggering amount of research into French history and literature (much of it on foot) and spent more than thirty years living in France. Not only does he operate a tour company, Paris Tours, with....Read More
Years ago, my brother, Steve, invited me to his son’s friend’s mother’s art show. He was annoyingly insistent. His enthusiasm was similar to the time he called me and told me to immediately come to his home with my camera. What I discovered that time was a driveway teaming with activity.
Police, television crews, detectives and even the coroner where there when I arrived.
My brother met me in the filled driveway, arms waving, telling me excitedly there was a dead body wedged into his brick chimney!
This time it wasn’t a dead body. And, he was not exaggerating when he exclaimed, “You’ve never seen anyone like this before, wait till you see her work, she's an incredible artist," and I thought, son’s friend’s mother…come on, perhaps interesting, probably no more than that. But with my brother, you never know.
The artist was Debbie Korbel and she is beyond incredible, one of the most creative talents I have had the pleasure to know!
Debbie Korbel is a "creative" in the truest sense of the word. As long as she can remember, she has filled her life with unique expression. As a child she spent hours playing by herself. Like all children, she saw patterns in clouds and she also saw faces and images in the linoleum floor, the plaster ceilings and just about everywhere she looked.
She extended her imagination to her children and she encouraged them to make scribbles on pieces of paper for each other and they would take turns making “things” out of the scribbles. Debbie’s creativity came to her naturally. It was how she thought and how the world “worked” for her. She was always moved by her artistic insight rather than being directed by what was more often seen by others, although she....Read More
All right Father, I can hear you thinking impatiently, “for God’s sake, enough with the snow! Get on with it boy! What happened after the so-called Big Bang?” Ok, Father. Just remember, however, I’m not the great storyteller as you.
Sure, I used to hold my friends spell-bounded with my stories, something I must have gotten from you and Mother, but that was the spoken word. This writing stuff is something different.
But let us forge ahead anyway. As to be expected, Father, things started getting really weird in America after that. The Bomb was not only an enormous, destructive explosion, but it was also a particularly “dirty bomb,” as the scientists later explained to us.
That means that Manhattan is still off-limits, even some 54 years later. Could it have been 54 years, Father? Wow, that’s longer than most white people live these days! I’ve been hanging on longer than I ever knew, especially since everyone around me are dropping like flies.
Meanwhile, stupid, damn, dumb-ass fools are always being arrested for trying to sneak into Manhattan, looking for all those diamonds and other valuables buried underneath all of that red hot rubble!
In a few years, President Bush was voted out of office. We didn’t know it at the time, but this was going to be the next to last time we voted directly for our leaders.
By the way, Father, we found out who set off the bomb. You probably guessed it anyway. It was homegrown, not some mad terrorist from abroad. The last straw for the small group that carried out the nefarious deed, was the release of two news items that became the big deal of the day.
The first, which garnered little attention at first, but slowly became a major scandal, and did more to undermine America’s great confidence than any Big Idea from Russia or those crazy-ass dudes from the Mid-east—was so horrendous in its implication, that even someone as apolitical as I, wanted to hang someone.
It seemed that as far back as the last century, the automobile and oil industries knew that at the present level of consumption, the world as we knew it would become unfit for human life. They knew it! Their own scientists said so! Our government also knew about the secret documents that outlined the deadly results.
They also knew how to build vehicles that wouldn’t kill the earth, but worked in concert to suppress any such invention from coming on-line.
They were willing to kill their own grandchildren to live in the moment of great wealth, to show off in the pages of Forbes! What madness, Father.
The other bit of news that caused a sensation was the definitive proof that Mars once had thriving life forms, and what we know as civilization.
But something happened to their world, and they lost their climate, and everything turned to rust, and gradually disappeared, leaving just a bare trace of what had been. It was only when we sat foot on the planet and started to explore did we uncover the clues.
Now most scientist believe that it was Mars that first breathed life into earth; that we were contaminated, if you will, either by conscious probes, or by just pieces of Mars breaking off and landing in our oceans.
In essence, we are Martians!
Now, I guess that got your attention, Father! I told you that my century was interesting. The idea that we are really Martians is an old idea that sic-fi writers have been playing with....Read More
A lifelong obsession, a short run on Broadway. Chita Rivera glided onto the stage as if she were walking on water, which she was in a sense as Claire Zachanassian, the richest woman in the world, coming back to her hometown, a fictitious Swiss village called Brachen, now a desperate place where everyone was broke.
Anton, the boy she loved in her youth, played by Roger Rees, was just one of the ragged townspeople hoping her visit would make a difference in his fortunes.
John Kander and Fred Ebb’s musical adaptation of The Visit with book by Terrence McNally —based on an often-adapted 1956 satirical play by Friedrich Dürrenmatt called Der Besuch der alten Dame—opened at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway in April of this year and closed in June after struggling with grosses and winning no Tonys in spite of several nominations, including one for Rivera as Best Leading Actress in a Musical. It will surely be back someday, somewhere, however. The essence of the story is too irresistible not to stage again and again.
Claire was a beautiful gypsy girl in her youth (yes, there were gypsies in Switzerland, with a long history of persecution), naïve enough to imagine Anton would do right by her when she became pregnant. Instead he subjected her to a humiliating trial in which two friends testified, for a small fee, that they’d also slept with her. She fled Brachen in disgrace and became a prostitute with a keen nose for marrying outrageously rich old men.
In her return visit, knowing her money is everyone’s last hope, she announces she will bail them out. Just one concession: they must kill Anton. Of course, that’s insane, they all agree, at first. Weeks pass and Anton watches as his neighbors, his friends, his children and his wife ease into a buying....Read More
“So maybe the link between memory and fiction is that fiction relies on memory to create that sense of authenticity without which we wouldn’t care whether Sydney Carton lives or dies, whether Elizabeth will see through Darcy’s pride. But when writing begins to rely on memory for more than that, when the reader can't confidently assert that this is all made up, then we have left fiction behind and are moving towards memoir.”
“The Truth about Memory and the Novel” Richard Lea theguardian.com
Facebook can be miniature goats bouncing along a wall, a reminder that your ex-roommate’s boyfriend has a birthday, or that your memory of a fourteen-year old friend who was hit by a car and died on the day you were meant to see a movie together, wasn’t a dream but the truth, corroborated by the newspaper clipping someone on your “I grew up in…” provided.
So many moments from childhood, my childhood, are ridiculously gothic, and even, god forbid, morbidly funny. Our handyman shot himself in a tree and when I asked my mother why, she said, “He had a terrible wife.”
Well, maybe but maybe it had something to do with what was in his thermos that he never let me taste as I, a lonely ten-year old, followed him around asking to hammer something or....Read More
My late husband Ned used to refer to “the great unknowns,” by which he meant artists whose work is worthy, but who remain unknown to the general public. Some of them were friends of ours. (To be sure, we live in times, as the novelist and essayist Kurt Vonnegut so correctly ascertained, when there are a few superstars, who receive no end of adulation and money—the Brad Pitt’s and George Clooney’s of the world, if you please—while, the rest of us are nobodies.)
One of the great unknowns is our friend, the poet, book designer, and publisher, Brett Rutherford.
I met Brett at a poetry reading in New York City during the 1980’s. Not only is Brett a fine poet, he created and has maintained The Poet’s Press for the past 40 years. And, that being the early days of personal computers, he was then also a computer entrepreneur. Shortly after we met, we began working together.
In the early days of computer technology, people were needed to teach and write about programs, so, we wrote pamphlets on word processing, which were published and distributed by Economics Press of Fairfield, New Jersey.
Then Brett made a living working in the printing industry in various capacities—as an editor, journalist, printer, and consultant, but his first love was poetry. But, he also knows a great deal about typography and book design, which he has put to use to design and typeset his many publications.
In 1971 he founded The Poet’s Press and since then has published 213 books! He has published 15 books of his own work and many on the work of the excellent but also other great unknown poets—Emilie Glenn, Barbara Holland, Annette Hayn, and others.
In 1985 he moved himself and his press to Providence, Rhode Island—his first book upon relocating was Poems of Providence.
Recently, through Facebook we reconnected, and Brett sent....Read More
Dennis Mahoney’s (Fellow Mortals, 2013) recently released second novel, Bell Weather, is a fantasy novel set in a world that is a distorted mirror image of the 18th century. The novel begins in Floria, the new and mysterious continent where people travel to endure hardships and forge new lives in the pursuit of something better.
Floria is in the wake of a war between two of the major powers in the old world, Bruntland and Rouge. We meet Tom Orange, a tavern owner and war hero (we later find), on a foggy morning as he rides from his hometown of Root to check on the rising waters of the Antler River in early spring. It’s tough to tell with swells of flowers floating on the tumultuous waters, but Tom swears he sees a woman clinging to a tree amidst the floral tide. When he is sure of what he sees, Tom races to the ferry to rescue the young woman before she is swept from reach and downstream to the deadly Dunderakwa Falls.
Risking his own life, Tom rescues Molly from the river and gains a small level of the mysterious and secretive young woman’s trust. Molly dares not expose her past to just anyone.
As the readers, however, we are privy to the secrets that will lead to death and deception. Molly Smith, as she claims to be, is really Molly Bell, the daughter of Bruntland’s champion who defeated the Rouge.
Her brother, Nicholas, was always Molly’s other half from the night she was born. He complimented her free spirit with self-restraint, her strength of will with his mental acuity. She loved her brother but her path to....Read More
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