From the Shelf
The World Is Meant to Be Celebrated
"Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was a simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated."
Terry Tempest Williams takes her own words to heart in When Women Were Birds (Picador, $17), a kind of personal-memoir-turned-essay-collection in which she explores the deeply personal (the loss of her mother, reflections on her Mormon upbringing, anecdotes from her marriage) and the universal (finding one's voice, especially as a woman). Though the collection covers heavy topics and difficult subjects, it is ultimately a celebration of the world with its many flaws and quiet moments of beauty. Mary Oliver, like Williams, is known for her reflections on nature and our place within it. Though Oliver is most frequently recognized for her poetry, the essays in Upstream (Penguin Press, $26) offer celebratory meditations on work, art, nature and place--and the intersections of each.
The tradition of reflective, personal writing does not stop with Williams or Oliver. In her memoir, H Is for Hawk (Grove, $16), Helen Macdonald offers a similarly lyrical reflection on life (and death) and grief and healing. Following the sudden death of her father, Macdonald adopts a goshawk and spends months training it--and grieving. Jessa Crispin's The Dead Ladies Project (University of Chicago Press, $16) is an autobiographical exploration of the lives of women writers who scrapped their conventional lives for something new and different. Margaux Bergen's Navigating Life (Penguin Press, $26) is ostensibly a collection of advice from mother to daughter, but is as introspective as it is instructive.
Though each of these women writes about a different time, a different place, and a different topic, they are all, as Williams might say, finding their song--remembering what might be forgotten, and celebrating what is remembered in the process. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
In this Issue...
by Margaret Cardillo
This picture book biography of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis shows that she was always equal parts style and steel.
by Steve Israel
A gun lobbyist manipulates the U.S. political system in order to introduce legislation that would require all citizens to own a firearm.
by Kimberly Harrington
These are hilarious and often touching essays on motherhood, marriage, parenting, bodies, bake sales, grief, careers and other perils of adulthood.
Review by Subjects:
05/26/2018 - 2:00PMThe Exhilarating Conclusion to the Poison Study Series, A Fantasy Book Talk & Signing #TatteredColfax
Secrets of Audiobook Narrators
Mental Floss shared "17 secrets of audiobook narrators."
An algorithmic investigation of "Poet Voice" suggests that the public reading style "consists of a particular set of attributes," Atlas Obscura reported.
"The oldest cookbooks from libraries around the world" were shared by Gastro Obscura.
Pop quiz: To celebrate his 60th birthday, TheJournal.ie asked: "How much do you know about Roddy Doyle?"
From "Eric Newby's bliss in the Hindu Kush to Paul Bowles's Saharan horrors," novelist Carys Davies' picked her "top 10 wilderness books" for the Guardian.
Rediscover: Sergio Pitol
Mexican author and translator Sergio Pitol died last month at age 85. In 2005, he was awarded the Cervantes Prize, given for lifetime achievements in Spanish literature. Pitol spoke seven languages, and brought the works of Jane Austen, Henry James, Joseph Conrad and Polish Nobel Laureate Witold Gombrowicz to Spanish-speaking readers. Pitol's own writing is a genre-bending mix of essay, fiction and memoir that made him an important figure in contemporary Spanish literature. As King Juan Carlos I of Spain said in 2005, Pitol's works had "seduced us with the truth."
Pitol's most acclaimed work is his Trilogy of Memory: The Art of Flight (1996), The Journey (2000) and The Magician of Vienna (2005), in which he merges autobiography, fiction, travelogue and dreams. "He didn't write the way that was expected from a Latin American writer, like García Márquez," said author Margo Glantz. "His work broke all those molds, and it is one of the reasons his literature was less read and translated to other languages." The Trilogy of Memory was only recently translated into English by George Henson between 2015 and 2017. The Magician of Vienna was longlisted for the 2018 Best Translated Book Award and is available from Deep Vellum Publishing, along with the rest of the trilogy. On November 6, 2018, Deep Vellum will publish Mephisto's Waltz: Selected Short Stories ($15.95, 9781941920831). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Chuck Palahniuk: 'A Creature of Infinite Light & Love'
|photo: Allan Amato|
Chuck Palahniuk is the author of more than 17 fictional works, including Fight Club, Invisible Monsters, Rant and, most recently, Make Something Up. He lives in the Pacific Northwest. We talked with him recently about Adjustment Day (Norton, $26.95), his first novel in four years.
What did you learn from working in the graphic novel and coloring book mediums these past years?
Comics rock in so many ways. First, the transitions are so mechanical: panel-to-panel and page-to-page, so you can edit story like film or collage. Second, comic theory states that the only place to truly surprise readers is at the page turn. This requires a set-up on the lower right page and a strong payoff on the upper left page that follows. Imagine a novel with strong plot points every two pages. What a challenge! Comics are brutal to write, but they made me better at intercutting between multiple characters, plots and realities. I never could've written Adjustment Day without having written Fight Club 2.
Fight Club and Adjustment Day both deal with social revolution. What similarities and differences lie in the hearts of the two stories?
In a way, I wanted to mimic Ayn Rand's evolution from The Fountainhead to Atlas Shrugged. Her earlier book, like Fight Club, deals with empowering an individual to the point where he can pursue his own vision. Adjustment Day is like Atlas Shrugged because it depicts a group of like-minded people combining their power for social change. If people misinterpret anything about Fight Club, they miss the fact that it's about developing the potential of individuals, and the organization is ultimately doomed as those people pursue their own paths.
Adjustment Day seems to play naturally, if extremely, off current politics. How much inspiration did you take from the state of our nation?
None. With the exception of technology, are our travails any worse than those of other times? And when you compare Trump's tweets to FDR's fireside chats and the then-new miracle of radio, our era feels like just another political rerun. That's one reason why I wanted to depict a major change in society. To date, most of our novels depict bad times--for example, The Grapes of Wrath--but they don't depict a lasting solution. Like Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale or that book The Turner Diaries, I wanted to show a big game changer. But I wanted a comedy. Well, some comedy.
These days, many young adults face futures that look bleak, with traditional goals like home ownership or building a family seemingly out of reach.
Before anybody panics, she or he needs to read Doug Coupland's Generation X, wherein my generation--note: Coupland defines Gen X as anyone born between 1960 and 1972, and since he's the author who invented the distinction I defer to him--faced largely the same hurdles young people currently face. Each generation creates a miracle solution that saves it. Or each generation redefines success, beauty, value, wisdom, so those ideas aren't dictated by the previous generations. Skinny jeans, for instance.
Over the course of the story, you reference a handful of American classics. What about those titles inspired you to reference them?
The books I mention in Adjustment Day are all books I love, but it's depressing how they default to the status quo. I want the Joad family from The Grapes of Wrath to take some radical political action, start cooking anthrax or whatever. And I want Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby to confront Tom and Daisy Buchanan and say, "Daisy killed your mistress, you dumbass! And you're both rich, conceited dickwads!" But, no, the Joads just putter into the sunset, and Nick tucks tail and runs home to Minnesota or wherever. On the other hand, the books of Ayn Rand....
Jonathan Swift said, "Satire is a sort of glass wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own... so very few are offended with it." You've promised Adjustment Day will offend everyone.
Ah, the curse of the publisher's jacket copy. It's never my goal to offend or provoke. I am a creature of infinite light and love; there, I've said it. Listen to the Warm, and all that. But I think publishers are nervous and feel they must make the statements you cite in order to ward off any overly sensitive readers.
One of your characters says you write only about castration and abortion. Did you have to work hard at developing just the right insult for yourself, or did it roll right off the pen?
Hey, kill your darlings--and what's more precious than the author's little ego? In the Fight Club 2 graphic novel, I absolutely trash and humiliate myself. But people love that. Critic Laura Miller of Salon says it's because readers secretly despise writers. True? I hope not. But remember the scene in Fight Club where Marla is being rescued from her suicide attempt? As the paramedics rush past her to the locked apartment, she tells them that the girl they want to save is unredeemable and infectious human waste. It's touching when a character bad-mouths herself or himself. But it shows an honesty that's not based on always looking good.
The implementers of Adjustment Day take their guidance from a publicly curated Internet list of victims. Since you exist in the world of Adjustment Day, do you think you made the List?
The publishers who rejected Adjustment Day--and there were several--did so because they thought the online kill list was too attractive and too plausible. Just as my book Fight Club launched a million backyard fight clubs, nervous editors were certain this new book would have people pooling their hatred in lists of targets to assassinate. Silly editors. People are already online joining forces to destroy the lives of their common enemies. And while I don't want to get shot in the head while signing books at a Barnes & Noble, neither do I want to waste a long, long life writing trivial, boring, defeatist fiction. The Joad baby is born dead. Nick retreats back to Minneapolis. Spank me on my bare bottom, but I'd really rather be Howard Roark.
As a children's librarian, I have to ask--is there any chance you might write a book for young readers someday?
I've written that book, about a boy who lives next door to one of those "body farms" where forensic experts leave corpses to decay in various exposed conditions to study the timeline and process. Of course, the boy falls in love with the place. It's like Christopher Robin next to the Three-Acre Wood, but instead of Pooh and Piglet, my kid pals around with a badly rotted girl his own age. Isn't YA romance wonderful?! The working title is The Fault Is in Our Bowels because, you know, bacteria. And gas. --Jaclyn Fulwood
by Steve Israel
In his second biting political satire, ex-Congressman Steve Israel takes aim at the gun industry, its lobbyists and elected officials who pass the buck in order to pad their coffers and ensure re-election. With the sharp wit and political acumen that marked his first novel, The Global War on Morris, Israel takes to task those who sacrifice the safety of others in the name of the almighty dollar.
Violent crime is raging in Chicago, and the city's mayor is trying to organize local governments nationwide to ban handguns. If that wasn't bad enough for billionaire firearms manufacturer Otis Cogsworth, the Department of Justice is threatening to investigate his company. He calls in his trusty lobbyist, Sunny McCarthy, who sets a plan in motion to get legislation passed that would require all citizens to own a firearm. It doesn't take long for mayhem to ensue both on the nation's streets and in the halls of Congress.
Israel's 16 years as a Congressman from New York is evident in his cynical yet authentic representation of political power struggles, corrupt wheeling and dealing and the use of fear to manipulate the public. Especially poignant is his depiction of the Washington blame game: "Some days the House blamed the Senate. Other days the Senate blamed the House. Every day both blamed the president who blamed both in return. The bald eagle was being replaced by a scapegoat." Hilarious, thought-provoking and wickedly smart, Big Guns packs plenty of explosive, page-turning entertainment. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: A gun lobbyist manipulates the U.S. political system in order to introduce legislation that would require all citizens to own a firearm.
by Chuck Palahniuk
In his first novel since 2014's Beautiful You, Chuck Palahniuk takes the United States' divided politics to an extreme conclusion and proves along the way that his gift for social satire has only sharpened with time.
In the Before Times--approximately now--an impending war churned up by elderly politicians to purge the surplus of young men leads to a new American revolution. This revolt begins online with a crowdsourced list of potential assassination targets. On its own, the List might have failed, but every social uprising has a text to justify its actions; in this instance, it's a book--whose blue/black cover stands out "like a shaved head"--by the mysterious Talbott Reynolds. When Adjustment Day comes, Reynolds's followers murder the List's most up-voted nominees, cutting off their ears to prove their kills and thus securing a place in the new social hierarchy. The U.S. then divides into the segregated zones of Blacktopia, Gaysia and Caucasia, and deports all but black and white citizens.
Palahniuk has a field day skewering both the ruling classes and the proletariat, caricaturing politicians, the intelligentsia, the media and middle America with devilish glee. Readers attempting to pinpoint which side the author stands on will discover he owes allegiance to no one, including himself: at one point, Talbott Reynolds dismisses both Palahniuk and Fight Club as unequal to his vision.
The specter of Project Mayhem drifts by at times as a metafictive conceit, as do stray phantoms of dystopian and literary classics. This pitch-black comedy achieves the aim of any great satirical work: it amuses, unsettles and leaves the reader slightly less sure of the boundaries of reality. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: Palahniuk's first novel in four years plays out divisions in United States politics to a hilarious and frightening extreme.
by Héctor Abad , trans. by Anne McLean
Set in Colombia, The Farm by Héctor Abad is a lush story told in three alternating voices. Antonio, Eva and Pilar are siblings who have inherited La Oculta, the family farm, after the death of their mother. Their story documents how one family came to live and work at La Oculta, and Abad embellishes it with violence, intrigue, suspense, traditions and Colombian culture. Although Antonio lives in New York City with his husband, Jon, he returns to the farm several times a year and takes it upon himself to gather the family's genealogical history. Pilar is the most tradition-bound of the three, content to marry the first man she falls in love with and have many children. Meanwhile, Eva is the free spirit constantly searching for new adventures and relationships.
Abad beautifully intertwines these three distinct personalities against the backdrop of La Oculta and the people who work for the family. He is expert in his ability to describe the feelings the siblings have for one another, for their parents and friends. His descriptions of the land make the reader fall in love with the place, creating a sense of nostalgia for a fictional site filled with mountains, a lake, fruit trees and an old house stuffed with memories. When conflict arises among the siblings and La Oculta is threatened, readers viscerally share in the pain they experience as the story reaches its moving conclusion. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: A trio of Colombian siblings must decide the fate of the family farm after the death of their beloved mother.
You Me Everything
by Catherine Isaac
Catherine Isaac is the pen name for British author Jane Costello (Summer Nights at the Moonlight Hotel), who chose a pseudonym for her American debut, You Me Everything. In Manchester, England, 22-year-old Jess is deep in labor. While facing the agony of childbirth with her mum at her side, Jess is furious that her boyfriend, Adam--a man whom Jess fell in love with in college, who is the baby's father--is markedly absent. By the time Jess cradles son William in her arms, Adam surfaces, reeking of stale booze and another woman's perfume.
The timeline then leaps ahead 10 years. Jess, a teacher of creative writing at a local college, is a single mother. Adam--never wanting a child or to settle down--lives luxuriously, managing a beautiful hotel in the hills of Southwestern France. He is "not a neglectful father," Jess says. "He pays his maintenance on time, remembers William's birthday and Skypes when he says he will. But our son is no more than a small piece in the jigsaw of Adam's colorful life."
It is Jess's mother who insists that William needs to have a more substantial relationship with his father. Mother and son then make the long journey to Château de Roussignol, Adam's stomping ground. There she hopes free-spirited, fun-loving Adam and inquisitive, bright William will finally form a tighter bond. What ensues is a tender and reflective story that covers a span of five weeks.
This is a multi-layered, heartbreaking story of abiding love. Isaac's graceful, nuanced storytelling gains an unexpected depth and clarity readers are sure to find riveting. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: An idyllic summer vacation to France becomes a turning point for a 33-year-old woman, her ex and their 10-year-old son.
Mystery & Thriller
Then She Was Gone
by Lisa Jewell
Lisa Jewell (I Found You; The Girls in the Garden) gets more riveting and twisty with every book she writes. Then She Was Gone is the electrifying story of 15-year-old Ellie, who headed off to the library to study for her A-levels, and vanished, never to be seen again. Ellie's mother, Laurel, has spent the decade since the disappearance walking a fine line between hoping for a miracle and mourning the loss of her daughter.
Laurel's marriage fell apart in the aftermath of losing Ellie. Now she is attempting to reconnect with her two adult children, whose needs slipped through the cracks during all the chaos of the disappearance and divorce. When Laurel meets Floyd, who is funny and charming, she is swept off her feet. Happy for the first time in years, she revels in this new love. But then Floyd takes her home to meet his daughter, Poppy, and Laurel is unnerved by how strongly Poppy reminds her of Ellie. All of Laurel's unanswered questions come flooding back, as she grapples with her relationship with Floyd and Poppy's presence in her life.
Told in alternating chapters that slowly reveal Ellie's story a decade before, and Laurel's present day, Then She Was Gone is completely absorbing. Fast-paced, well-written and with a shocking ending that will keep readers guessing, Then She Was Gone is a nearly pitch-perfect thriller. Fans of Gillian Flynn, Paula Hawkins and Ruth Ware are sure to adore this haunting novel. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: This gripping thriller tells of a mother's attempts to move on with her life a decade after her 15-year-old daughter vanished--only to encounter an unsettling reminder of her loss.
Alpha: Abidjan to Paris
by Bessora , trans. by Sarah Ardizzone , illust. by Barroux
As political debates and news reports on immigration proliferate, rare is empathetic reportage of the actual experiences and desperation these migrants face. French novelist Bessora and illustrator Barroux's graphic novel Alpha: Abidjan to Paris (winner of the English PEN Promotes Award) is that compassionate link, depicting how people risk life and limb in search of limited opportunities.
Unable to secure a visa to Paris despite his grandfather's World War II service for France, Alpha Coulibaly, an impoverished cabinet-maker, leaves Côte d'Ivoire to join his wife and son. They left for Paris two months prior and have not been heard from since. Alpha faces a bleak future if he stays. He sells his business and home to finance the initial leg of his journey to neighboring Mali. To avoid falling into despair, he and his fellow travelers call themselves "adventurers" instead of migrants or refugees. Alpha commits to backbreaking labor and secures passage to the barbed wire fences at Spain's "Little Berlin Wall" border by way of refugee camps, human traffickers and a treacherous crossing by sea.
Bessora conveys Alpha's emotional state with matter-of-fact, clinical efficiency that heightens the despair he comes to regard as part of his soul-sucking journey. Barroux's charcoal drawings, then, offer faint glimmers of hope with rare splotches of red, green and yellow.
"You can't wash away the dust," Bessora writes. "It's not just in the streets--the dust has settled in people's hearts." Alpha: Abidjan to Paris draws a refugee with empathy and compassion, in an effort to lift the dust people's hearts. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: As the immigration debate continues, this moving graphic novel sheds light on the hardships migrants face in their search for new beginnings.
Biography & Memoir
President Carter: The White House Years
by Stuart E. Eizenstat
Time has been a friend to Jimmy Carter. As pivotal events of his administration have faded from the public's collective memory, they have been replaced by a greater appreciation for Carter's presidency--and, indeed, for the man himself.
Stuart E. Eizenstat served as chief domestic policy adviser to the president and, in President Carter: The White House Years, acknowledges that he considers Carter's presidency as "one of the most consequential in modern history." Eizenstat posits that had Carter been re-elected, he currently would be regarded as a great chief executive because many benefits of the administration's policies did not come to fruition until after Carter left office. These included his innovative changes to energy resources, his handling of the economy, increases to the defense budget after years of neglect and deregulation of the nation's transportation industries. Eizenstat meticulously documents Carter's work on Middle East peace and the Iranian hostage crisis, as well as his demand that human rights be a component of U.S. foreign policy.
Had the public seen the rewards of these first-term policies during a second term, Carter might have left the White House in 1985 with a significantly different reputation. Ironically, Eizenstat argues, Carter's willingness to tackle issues regardless of their effect on his political standing made him a one-term president.
President Carter: The White House Years adds tremendously to the growing historiography of the Carter presidency and deserves consideration as the seminal text for historians seeking to understand fully the tumultuous years of 1977-1981. --William H. Firman Jr., historian and writer
Discover: A comprehensive and thorough chronicle of Jimmy Carter's presidency from the perspective of his former chief domestic policy adviser.
Children's & Young Adult
Just Being Jackie
by Margaret Cardillo , illust. by Julia Denos
The team behind Just Being Audrey (as in Hepburn) returns with another look at a stylish midcentury icon who was, make no mistake, beautiful both inside and out.
Margaret Cardillo introduces Jacqueline Bouvier as the sort of gal who got right back on her horse after she fell--even literally, when, as a child, she toppled from her horse on her first day at riding camp. Bookish and set on a career after college, Jackie ranked being a journalist over landing a man--until she met John F. Kennedy. When her husband became the 35th president of the United States, Jackie brought her progressive ideas about art and culture to the White House. She traveled with the president and won over foreign dignitaries with her charm--an unofficial diplomat in couture and pearls. Cardillo is probably not being hyperbolic when she writes, "With Jackie representing America, diplomatic relations only improved."
After JFK was killed in 1963--Julia Denos adroitly marks the assassination with a splotchy gray page scattered with red petals from the bouquet Jackie has been holding--the world got the chance to see the first lady's "steel under all that beauty and style," but Cardillo has already made it clear that the steel was always there. Inevitably, Jackie got right back on that horse: she picked up and moved her children to Manhattan, where she saved historic Grand Central Terminal from demolition and became a book editor.
Just Being Jackie is a worthy addition to the list of kids' biographies seeking to add depth and dimension to their famous subjects. On page after page, Denos's pastel-colored pencil, watercolor and pen-and-ink art gets Jackie's wide-set eyes and regal bearing just right, to say nothing of those fabulous evolving hairstyles. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
Discover: This picture book biography of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis shows that she was always equal parts style and steel.
Polly Diamond and the Magic Book
by Alice Kuipers , illust. by Diana Toledano
In Polly Diamond and the Magic Book, Alice Kuipers expands her range beyond YA novels and picture books into beginning chapter books.
When Polly receives a package marked "Special Delivery from the Writing and Spelling Department," she knows nothing about the powerful magic held within. She opens the package and finds a journal with "A Writing and Spelling Book for Polly Diamond" written on the first page. Polly, with her love of "writing stories," has very big ideas for this journal!
Polly's multiracial family--depicted by Diana Toledano in lively grayscale, spot illustrations--is expecting another child and, when Mom goes into labor, Polly curls up with her brand-new journal. It takes Polly a while to catch on to her book's talents: when she writes about painting her room, she realizes that strange things begin happening. She writes, "I'm going to pile up the stacks of books in my room like a ladder," and then notices that her actual books have flown into the air, forming a ladder. She adds, "The walls of my bedroom are painted Aquarium Blue, like an aquarium" and goes downstairs. When she returns, the room is filled with fish swimming around the walls. "What else can you do?" Polly asks the journal. "Anything you can imagine," it responds in text. However, when Polly wants to solve a global issue to gain fame (and show how "kind and thoughtful" she is), the book writes back "I can't make world peace happen." As can be guessed, things quickly get out of hand and Polly learns that she has to control her wishing. Fans will eagerly await the second in this new series to see more of Polly's writing adventures. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance reviewer
Discover: Polly's writing talents and imagination quirkily work together when she receives a magic book that makes every written idea of hers come to life.
Parenting & Family
Amateur Hour: Motherhood in Essays and Swear Words
by Kimberly Harrington
You don't need to be a mother (or foulmouthed) to enjoy Amateur Hour: Motherhood in Essays and Swear Words. A self-described "Real Piece of Work," freelance creative director Kimberly Harrington lets her yearning, indignation, exhaustion and attitude fly in pieces that span far beyond motherhood.
Harrington has a caustic, intelligent wit, and her humor pieces, generally laced with biting sarcasm or satire, are exceedingly entertaining. Yet her talent shines most when that wit merely eases the sting of deeper candor about challenging subjects--grief, divorce, the desire to be seen--particularly when jarringly juxtaposed with a comic listicle.
Harrington evokes a swaggering hell yes! vibe with her take on "If Mama Ain't Happy, Ain't Nobody Happy"--"If Mama ain't yelling and instead is very, very singsongy, ain't nobody getting out of this one alive"--then pulls the emotional rug out with the devastation of a first-pregnancy miscarriage in "Tiny Losses." "What we finally saw, as she held the wand still, was a small gray jelly bean resting on its side at the bottom of my uterus, like a stone in an empty bucket."
The collection varies widely in form and substance, grounded by Harrington's insight and sincerity. Pinpoint observations communicate an intimacy that compels appreciation regardless of personal experience with the subject matter. One does not have to be a mother to enjoy Harrington's work. If the promise of swear words isn't enough, come for the humanity. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: These are hilarious and often touching essays on motherhood, marriage, parenting, bodies, bake sales, grief, careers and other perils of adulthood.
Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story
by Chris Nashawaty
Although the 1980 cult film Caddyshack is now a beloved antiestablishment comedy, its path to the screen was a bumpy one. As in cocaine bumps. Cocaine "seemed to be the fuel that kept the film running," writes Entertainment Weekly film critic Chris Nashawaty. Most of the cast and crew were friends, having worked together at National Lampoon magazine, Second City, Saturday Night Live or Animal House. But camaraderie turned into competition and "curdled into a toxic stew of bitter compromises, bruised feelings, and bare-knuckle power plays," writes Nashawaty. "The drugs certainly hadn't helped."
First-time director and (co-screenwriter) Harold Ramis was often revising the script hours before scenes were to be filmed--or tossing out pages and encouraging his cast to improvise. Bill Murray ad-libbed his entire performance, playing a character not in the script. Improvisations by Rodney Dangerfield and Chevy Chase added laughs but left the film so disjointed that the producers had to add $500,000 to the budget for reshoots. (The animatronic gopher that ties the film together wasn't added until reshoots.)
Nashawaty's entertaining and insightful book is filled with deliciously juicy gossip and bad behavior. There is poignancy, however, in detailing producer and co-screenwriter Douglas Kenney's increasing depression and accelerated drug use. Kenney died at age 33, a month after the film was released. Nashawaty's interviews with Murray, Chase, Ramis, producer Jon Peters and the film's supporting cast (including Michael O'Keefe and Peter Berkrot) add a freshness and intimacy to his well-researched salute to a troubled production that became an iconic comedy classic. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: A deliciously juicy behind-the-scenes look at the cocaine-fueled filming of the 1980 comedy Caddyshack.
Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl
by Diane Seuss
Somewhere between the opening poem, "I Have Lived My Whole Life in a Painting Called Paradise," and the concluding "I Climbed Out of a Painting Called Paradise," the narrator of the lyrical, lusty, art-centric Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl breaks away from the comfort of a Midwestern pastoral. She trades in milkweeds, hollyhocks and honeybees "to climb over the edge and plummet into whatever is beyond it.... Some say it is hell, and some say just another bolder paradise."
In a medley of structure, cadence and syntax, Pulitzer finalist Diane Seuss (Four-Legged Girl) leads her narrator through a museum of still-life paintings from the masters (Van Gogh, Dürer and the Rembrandt of the book's title) and the less well-known Gijsbrechts and Galizia, with stops at the more modern work of Warhol and Pollock (likening the work of the latter to a Walmart parking lot: "Frozen Coke splatter.... Vomit-arc. Winding loops of coal tar sealant.") In a string of self-portrait poems, Seuss reflects on the scrapes and stumbles of youth and the premature deaths of parents, poets and rock stars like Amy Winehouse ("the spitting image of my aesthetic as expressed in my approach to eyeliner").
If escaping into art is the driving motif of Seuss's new collection, she breaks the gallery walk sequences with a run of innovative unrhymed sonnets, a modified sestina and prose poems as colloquial as a like-filled teen conversation about cancer or a factory girl's celebration of a pregnancy ("we hire a party bus and all us girls go out on the town, barbeque, bowling, and a Black Sabbath tribute band"). Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl is as much about running as it is about standing still, and as much about confronting death as it is about rediscovering life. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Pulitzer finalist Diane Seuss's new poetry collection is a kinetic art walk rich in observation, curiosity, reverence and impudence.