Even on a rainy and foggy Halloween morning, it was a pleasure to drive 50 miles to Sauk City to deliver six cases of one of our Cambridge Book Review Press titles to the school district for an upcoming conference. Sauk City is the hometown of August Derleth, master of spooky stories and founder of the still active Arkham House Publishers. (Also after whom our son Augie is named.)
Tags: August Derleth, Cambridge Book Review Press, Halloween, Sauk City Wisconsin
Tags: Coleen Gray, Edmund Goulding, Film Noir, Helen Walker, Ian Keith, James Avati, James Ellroy, Joan Blondell, Jules Furthman, Lee Garmes, Nick Tosches, Nightmare Alley, Tyrone Power, William Lindsay Gresham
Copyright litigation kept Nightmare Alley (1947) out of circulation and generally unavailable for home viewing until a much-heralded DVD release in 2005. Since then, its reputation has grown from cult favorite to film noir classic. Running nearly two hours with a generous budget and A-list cast, Nightmare Alley is an anomaly for its genre (defined by crime novelist James Ellroy, in his introduction to The Best American Noir of the Century, as “cheap novels and cheap films about cheap people”). Swashbuckling matinee idol Tyrone Power leveraged his stardom to lobby for the starring role as carny con artist Stanton Carlisle, whose sole redemptive quality is his genuine bafflement—“I wonder why I’m like that?”—as to why he’s compelled again and again to act on his most ruthless instincts. The sexual heat generated between Tyrone Power and the film’s three supporting actresses is combustible and gives Nightmare Alley its strongest jolt of noir cred: ripe-to-bursting Joan Blondell as sideshow mentalist Zeena; Coleen Gray as Molly, a.k.a. Electra, scandalous to county sheriffs because of the tin-foil two-piece she wears in her sparks-a-flying electric-chair act; and, higher up the social ladder where Stanton longs to dwell, the movie’s femme fatale, Lilith (Helen Walker), a crooked psychotherapist to the wealthy.
Even with a prestige director in Edmund Goulding, and lurid expressionistic lighting by cinematographer Lee Garmes, Nightmare Alley was not a success. Tyrone Power subsequently returned to more conventional roles, which is a shame, because he’s clearly enjoying himself here, especially in the opening carnival scenes, all working-class T-shirt and chewing-gum and an oil-drum’s worth of pomade slicking his hair. In his early thirties at the time, Power initially seems beyond the ideal age for the role of Stan Carlisle, who is a youthful twenty-one in the first half of William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel. The actor’s full-on commitment to the role, however, sells the characterization as handily as Stan’s doggedly mastered sleight-of-hand scarf and coin tricks. Power doesn’t evince a comparable set of skills in later scenes that are actually keyed closer to the actor’s age. Stan’s descent into alcoholism feels abrupt and unconvincing, in spite of our having been tipped off and conditioned to expect it. We’re meant to see parallels both to the drunken carny shill Pete Krumbein (played with aching pathos by veteran stage and silent film actor Ian Keith), whose death Stan inadvertently brings about earlier in the film, and the specter of the sideshow geek that so forcefully haunts the novel and the movie.
The geek is a severely alcoholic freak-show performer who earns his daily allotment of booze by savagely biting off the heads of live chickens for the amusement of wide-eyed rubes. Nightmare Alley never for a moment lets us forget the addiction-addled beast that presumably resides within each of us. The geek’s frenzied delirium tremens screams echo subliminally on the soundtrack as if erupting from Stan’s unconscious during several doom-laden moments throughout the movie. Alcohol unleashes monsters in Nightmare Alley. No amount of psychological insight is adequate to quelling or even comprehending our primal depravity. Psychotherapy, like telepathy and spiritualism, is exposed here as just another con game for exploiting human weakness.
William Lindsay Gresham’s novel doesn’t waste its breath suggesting that alcoholic Pete Krumbein might have benefited from taking “the cure,” a plot point added to the movie by ace screenwriter Jules Furthman in all likelihood to soften the story’s cynicism. For every pulled punch in the script adaptation of Gresham’s still shockingly grim novel (Nick Tosches, in his 2010 intro to the book, goes as far as to suggest that Gresham may have been binge drinking while writing it), there is often a compensating layer of irony or ambiguity. At the film’s finish, where viewers usually note a more hopeful outcome than in the novel, our worst expectations are momentarily overturned by a glimmer of rescue—or is it enabling?—in the downward spiral of Stan’s now nightmarish life. In our guts we all know what’s in store for Stanton Carlisle. His fate was sealed the moment he first set eyes on the geek.
Tags: 2666, A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, Battle of Stalingrad, Danilo Kiš, Dmitri Shostakovich, Eighth String Quartet (Opus 110), Europe Central, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Harper's, My Life as a Terrorist: Uncovering my FBI file, National Book Award 2005, Roberto Bolaño, siege of Leningrad, Soviet Communism, William T. Vollmann
William T. Vollmann
Reviewed by Bob Wake
A recent painful outbreak of shingles on my left upper torso and back rendered me unfit for much of anything but Vicodin and bed rest for a couple of weeks. Mostly I wanted seclusion, earplugs to blunt neighborhood traffic and lawnmowers, and an enormous all-consuming novel to occupy my focus. I had earlier this year tackled Roberto Bolaño’s extraordinary epic about Mexican border murders and literary obsession, 2666, on my Kindle. I felt cocky and confident I could do the same with William T. Vollmann’s Europe Central, an 800-page 2005 National Book Award-winning novel about the Eastern Front in WWII and, perhaps the most celebrated element of the book, composer Dmitri Shostakovich’s soul-crushing struggle with creative expression under the jackboot of Soviet-era Communism. My Kindle has so spoiled me that although I already own Vollmann’s book in hardback, I downloaded a digital copy and began click-click-clicking away, often late into the night, blissfully dosed on hydrocordone 5/325.
Europe Central combines deeply researched verisimilitude and at times disorienting and highly effective surrealism. (For instance, a chapter titled “Airlift Idylls,” a 47-page Jungian representation of postwar East Germany’s totalitarian “unconscious” personified as Shostakovich’s self-punishing “shadow” assassinating the composer over and over again Groundhog Day-style.) The months’ long Battle of Stalingrad and siege of Leningrad are told from both the German and Russian sides in multiple perspectives, pampered high command to malnourished and frostbitten frontline soldiers to civilians and combatants slaughtered and piled into mass graves. Vollmann writes from character-driven voices—government bureaucrats and secret police hacks with rigid political biases—giving the novel a kind of cognitive dissonance that parallels the conflicted harmonic dissonances of Shostakovich’s most radical musical works (banned or denounced by Soviet authorities as “formalist,” “repulsive” and “ultra-individualist”).
Best listened to in a windowless room, better than best in an airless room—correctly speaking, a bunker sealed forever and enwrapped in tree-roots—the Eighth String Quartet of Shostakovich (Opus 110) is the living corpse of music, perfect in its horror. Call it the simultaneous asphyxiation and bleeding of melody. The soul strips itself of life in a dusty room.
The novel is dedicated to the Serbian writer Danilo Kiš (1935-1989), author of A Tomb for Boris Davidovich, a collection of short stories that Vollmann has long prized (he wrote the afterword for a 2001 Dalkey Archive reprint edition). Vollmann’s sensibility is uniquely his own, but it’s not difficult to discern the influence of A Tomb for Boris Davidovich. Kiš’s stories, with their interlocking storylines and recurring characters, are concerned with the blinkered psychological makeup of communist and fascist “true believers” and the ideological masks that excuse and even encourage murderous depravity and anti-Semitism. Both authors provide penetrating insight into the cultural megalomania and racist folklore that underpin the Holocaust. Accepting the 2005 National Book Award for Europe Central, Vollmann said:
I really have tried for many years to read myself into this horrible event and imagine how anyone could have done this, whether I could have done this, and that was what this book was about. I’m very happy that it’s over and I don’t have to think about it any more.
What Vollmann has had to think about and what became the topic of an article the author published last month in Harper’s, “Life as a Terrorist: Uncovering my FBI file” (paywalled online, unfortunately, but the issue is worth seeking out at your local library), is the startling revelation that for years he was under surveillance by the U.S. government. Turns out that—unbeknownst to him at the time—Vollmann was an FBI suspect in the 1990s Unabomber case and, later, a Homeland Security suspect for the post-9/11 anthrax deaths. While in no way is Vollmann in his Harper’s piece comparing U.S. domestic spying to Russian political repression, it’s impossible not to find his FOIA-obtained (and heavily redacted) FBI file eerily prefigured in the portrait of Shostakovich’s anxiety over surveillance in Europe Central. As Vollmann writes in Harper’s:
Were I to be shown in accurate detail why it was necessary for me to be kept under surveillance, possibly for the rest of my life, I might be able to accept these invasions of my privacy for the collective good. The ostensible purpose of this surveillance is to protect us, and our freedoms, from terrorists. What remains uncertain, since secret, is how terrifying the terrorists presently are, and to what extent rights and liberties may be undermined in order to save us from them.
Tags: Civil Rights, Coleman, Daniel Berrigan, draft resistance, Katz Drug Store lunch-counter sit-in, Little Creek Press, NAACP, Rosalyn Coleman Gilchrist, Spoke, Vietnam War
Little Creek Press 2013
Reviewed by Bob Wake
In 1959, in the Oklahoma City suburb of Warr Acres, Rosalyn Coleman Gilchrist, a married mother with three young sons, suffered third-degree burns over 90% of her body from what was either a bathroom dress-cleaning incident with a can of gasoline gone tragically awry or else a failed attempt at suicidal self-immolation. Rosalyn’s 10-year-old son, Joe Gilchrist (who would later as an adult change his name legally to Coleman and come to write Spoke, the memoir under review), ran outdoors to aim the garden hose ineffectually at the closed bathroom window like a traumatized Peanuts character, while inside the house his father and older brother took the necessary steps to break through the bathroom door and wrap Rosalyn in blankets and douse the flames.
After months of painful reconstructive surgery (“She lost her ears, her nose, her eyelids, and most of her fingers. Her breasts. Her lips. Part of her tongue”), Rosalyn returned home to an initially supportive community. However, it wasn’t long before a local reverend asked that Rosalyn not attend Sunday services because her scarred appearance was unnerving to the congregation.
During ongoing Oklahoma City hospital visits for treatment of her burn wounds, Rosalyn found solace through growing friendships with the African American nursing staff. Soon she was a welcome congregant of black church services at Calvary Baptist Church. She joined the NAACP and became a Youth Council volunteer, further alienating her from the all-white Warr Acres suburban community.
The Oklahoma City NAACP Youth Council was the famed activist organization behind the 1958 Katz Drug Store lunch-counter sit-ins that ended the chain store’s discriminatory lunch-counter policy throughout the South. By the time Rosalyn joined the organization in the early 60s, they were busier than ever staging sit-ins, demonstrations and rallies in support of civil rights. When Rosalyn divorced her husband and put their house up for sale to a black family, a cabal of outraged Warr Acres elders—including the aforementioned local reverend, the chief of police, and Rosalyn’s ex-husband—successfully conspired to have her committed to the state mental hospital.
Coleman eventually helped obtain his mother’s release from her illegal institutionalization, but not before moving out on his own, attending Cornell University, and becoming a campus Vietnam War draft resister. He gained wider notoriety when—inspired by the personal mentorship of radical Catholic antiwar priest Daniel Berrigan—he was arrested in 1970 along with seven others for breaking into the Federal Building in Rochester, New York and shredding Selective Service records.
The locks on the office doors were simple to break. Within minutes each team was at work. The six Rochester draft boards were located in an adjoining series of suites in the middle of the building’s second floor. There we labored all night—prying open locked desks and file cabinets with crowbars, disgorging an avalanche of draft records, and then feeding them handful by handful into one of two paper shredders we’d brought with us. The shredders were noisy, but this didn’t worry us. We were in the middle of the building on the second floor, and it was late night on a lazy holiday weekend. Downtown Rochester was a ghost town. There was nothing to worry about.
Spoke is a bracing, full-immersion memoir about political activism in the 1960s that is unlike any memoir of the era you are ever likely to read. And it is as a testament to the indomitable spirit of his mother that Coleman’s memoir especially distinguishes itself. As he speaks with those who knew her during times when she was absent from his life, we share in his miraculous discovery of her kindnesses and near-mystical calm in the midst of personal anguish and adversity. She will inspire readers as surely as she inspired her son to strive always to do the right thing when called upon to take a stand.
Tags: Ahtna Tribe, Anne Frank, Edge of Nowhere, Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, John Smelcer, Leapfrog Press, Lone Wolves, Native Alaska, The Call of the Wild, The Great Death, The Old Man and the Sea, The Trap
Leapfrog Press 2013
Reviewed by Bob Wake
The heroine of John Smelcer’s contemporary wilderness novel Lone Wolves is a 16-year-old high school student of Native Alaskan heritage whose rugged optimism stands in stark contrast to the cultural death spiral of her classmates and village community. Deneena “Denny” Yazzie is a dogsledder with aspirations to enter the 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Her friends have largely fallen prey to drug and alcohol abuse, or teen pregnancy, such as the case of Mary Paniaq, a victim of rape by an older cousin.
What might seem like over-the-top melodrama in many novels, is forcefully presented by Smelcer as harsh social reality:
Denny knew that Alaskan Natives, especially young men, committed suicide at a rate a dozen times higher than that of the rest of America. One out of five young men kills himself by the age of twenty-five. Village cemeteries were full of the corpses of failed and dead dreams. Denny had even heard of a 12-year-old boy in a village up north who simply walked off across the frozen arctic tundra at 60 below zero, into the teeth of the wind.
Denny writes nature poetry, keeps a private journal inspired by Anne Frank’s Holocaust diary, and practices the pronunciation of Native words taught to her by her grandfather, who is a living lexicon of the language spoken by a dwindling handful of community elders. (“Without even realizing it, Denny was a kind of anthropologist-in-training, a documenter of culture.”) The novel’s linguistic foundation—fully supplemented with thoughtful appendices—is the result of Smelcer’s lifelong studies into the endangered language of his own Ahtna tribal heritage.
As Smelcer has previously shown in a trio of award-winning young adult novels, The Trap (2006), The Great Death (2009), and Edge of Nowhere (2010), he is a gifted storyteller with a unique perspective that draws from Native myths, anthropology, language studies, as well as classic American adventure tales. Denny enthusiastically devours her high school reading assignments that include Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. Insightful and slyly revisionist literary observations peek through the pages of Lone Wolves and add to its smartly self-referential genre appeal:
In keeping with the spirit, middle school and high school students read Jack London’s quintessential Alaskan adventure story, The Call of the Wild. Few teachers pointed out London’s overt notions of supremacy of the White Man over Indians—the steadfast mantra of imperialism and colonialism. America’s westward expansion had been driven by it. For the most part, young readers simply liked a good dog story, and the story of Buck was among the best.
At the center of the novel is Denny’s growing friendship with a potentially dangerous wolf (“Your name is Tazlina. It means swift. I’m gonna call you Taz for short”) separated from a pack that may have been responsible for the death of a teacher in a nearby village. Later, with Taz added to her dogsled team, Denny will risk her life to assist a fellow dogsledder who has fallen through the ice into freezing waters. At its best, Lone Wolves is a breathlessly paced and thrilling ride for readers of all ages.
Tags: Cambridge Book Review Press, Judy Endow, Painted Words: Aspects of Autism Translated
Coming September 2013
Cambridge Book Review Press
“Working 13 years with students who are diagnosed with severe autism, my colleagues and I have often wanted to visualize and better understand what our students were seeing, feeling and thinking. Judy Endow’s Painted Words takes us on a picturesque journey into the mind of one autistic person through her vivid and breathtaking paintings and sculptures while also explaining in detailed description and poetry what she sees and, via sensory, how she experiences it. Helpful suggestions for working with individuals on the spectrum open a treasure box of insights. Having this ‘backstage pass’ into autism will be priceless for educators, parents and individuals on the autism spectrum.” —Joanna L. Keating-Velasco, educator, and author of A is for Autism, F is for Friend: A Kid’s Book for Making Friends with a Child Who Has Autism.
“Judy Endow combines her art, poetry, and prose to create a thought-provoking book of self-discovery that viscerally captures the essence of a world which only few experience—a world of subtle beauty that can turn too bright, loud, and overwhelming. The practical advice at the end of each chapter has helped me understand and be a better parent to my autistic child. Painted Words is a book to read, reread and share with other parents, educators, physicians, and therapists so they too can learn to appreciate the autistic experience. I’m buying it for all of my friends!” —Debra Hosseini, author of The Art of Autism: Shifting Perceptions.
“Judy gives us a compelling view into her world through words crafted on the page, connected with images that illustrate her experience of being autistic. She encourages the neurotypical world to change their perceptions and assumptions about people with autism, to ask ourselves questions. Painted Words challenges our thinking, leading us to examine beyond what we see on the surface. Your view of autism is bound to shift after experiencing autism through Judy’s words and paintings.” —Maureen Bennie, Director, Autism Awareness Centre, Inc. (www.autismawarenesscentre.com).
“By sharing her paintings and poetry in Painted Words, Judy Endow provides rare insight into a person with autism, including her heightened sensory awareness, her need to establish predictability, her social needs, and much more. This captivating book tempts the reader to learn more about the uniqueness of autism and its neurological impact. Judy shares her experiences, asks thoughtful questions, and challenges the reader, by putting words and visuals to her early childhood. She provides her vision of the world, and her perspective will flood you with emotions and leave you looking through fresh lenses at those with autism. Painted Words is a wonderful gift to us so-called neurotypicals. We may very well feel like we are the ones that are lacking and, thus, not measuring up. Using her own words, I summarize Judy’s contribution with this book by saying, ‘The girl her mastery shows!’” —Danette Schott, M.A., executive editor, special-ism.com.
“Judy Endow has long been one of my finest and clearest teachers when it comes to understanding autism. In Painted Words, Judy takes me into a new, deeper comprehension of her experience of autism using the mediums of poetry, prose and visual expression via her paintings. Her strong activist voice takes no prisoners, requiring me to examine how my own neurotypical arrogance can be a contraindicator in forming relationships with those in my life with autism. This strength is juxtaposed by the clarity of Judy’s paintings, which provides both visual representation and softness, entering my consciousness in a manner completely different than the words that accompany and explain. Judy’s ability to use her own experience to provide ideas and strategies for working with others is a treasure which she shares in each section of the book. Painted Words is a book that will appeal to autistics and neurotypicals alike, as we move forward to bridge the differences in how we experience the world to forge relationships and create better lives for those we love with autism.” —Kate McGinnity, M.S., educational consultant, and co-author of Walk Awhile in My Autism and Lights! Camera! Autism!.
“Judy Endow’s Painted Words is a sensitive and beautiful portal into a life lived with autism. Through evocative paintings and poetry, Judy explores her own experiences and offers invaluable advice to parents, teachers and other professionals who work with people on the autism spectrum. This heartfelt book sparkles and glitters. Highly recommended.” —Jeanette Purkis, author of Finding a Different Kind of Normal: Misadventures with Asperger Syndrome.
“Judy Endow’s Painted Words is an immersive, artful, and educational experience in understanding autism. Judy reveals her autistic neurology or ‘operating system’ by showing her way of perceiving, thinking, and learning. Painted Words is a step up from autism awareness. It is about understanding and accepting diverse minds.” —Jill Jones, filmmaker, currently researching and producing a documentary about autism and sensory perception (www.spectrumthefilm.com).
“Judy has brilliantly demonstrated her skill as a writer and an artist who proudly lives and loves autism. Her candid words and stunning art light up the spectrum as an example of the endless potential of all autistic people.” —Malcolm Mayfield, specialist/consultant, founder of Autism STAR (Autism Spectrum Training, Advocacy and Recruitment), www.autism-star.com.
“Painted Words takes the reader on an unforgettable journey far beyond written text—to a place where visual imagery dances with poetry to provide an intimate understanding of the world of an autistic. Judy Endow’s powerful use of personal art work, poetry, and written text is a must read for every professional working with individuals on the spectrum.” —Ellen E. Eggen, MS LPC ATR-BC, Art Therapist, Director of Planning and Operations, Common Threads Family Resource Center, Madison, Wisconsin.
“What a wonderful book! In combining her talents in both writing and the visual arts, Judy Endow has given us an intimate look into her life with autism that is informative, engaging, beautiful, and thought-provoking. I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this book.” —Peter Gerhardt, Ed.D., Director of Education, Upper School for the McCarton School, and the Founding Chair of the Scientific Council for the Organization for Autism Research (OAR).
“Judy reveals her unique sensory experience in this generous and compassionate offering. Here, as always, her words provide keys to understanding the autism experience. Yet more remarkably, Painted Words reveals her experience through pristine and seminal art images that open the autism experience in ways that words cannot. The vivid colors and textures of her art invite us into her experience. Her ability to define crucial aspects of the autism experience is matched by precise suggestions to guide neurotypical connection and relationship with persons with autism. I hope Painted Words helps you listen and see with new eyes. Prepare to leave misguided conceptions of autism behind you.” —John B. Thomas, M. Ed., educational consultant, and a principal author of TEACCH Transition Assessment Profile (TTAP).
“Painted Words is an especially valuable book because it weaves together, in a single volume, the prose, poetry, art and sculpting skills of the author with autism demonstrating how they interlink, interact and complement each other. That is an interesting experiential venture in its own right. But the book doesn’t stop there. Additionally, the ‘Considerations When Working With Others’ section at the end of each chapter provides very useful and practical advice distilled from all of the above. These useful hints, tips and pearls are easily understood and applied, put forth in a very reader friendly fashion, for anyone wanting to better understand the differences between autistic and neurotypical thinking and behavior.” —Darold Treffert, M.D., author of Islands of Genius: The Bountiful Mind of the Autistic, Acquired and Sudden Savant, and a consultant on the movie Rain Man (www.savantsyndrome.com).
About the Author
Judy Endow, MSW, is an author and international speaker on a variety of autism-related topics. She is part of the Wisconsin DPI Statewide Autism Training Team and a board member of both the Autism Society of America, Wisconsin Chapter and the Autism National Committee. In addition, Judy works with the Autistic Global Initiative (AGI), a program of the Autism Research Institute. She maintains a private practice in Madison, Wisconsin, providing consultation for families, school districts and other agencies. Besides having autism herself, she is the parent of three now grown sons, one of whom is on the autism spectrum. Judy’s website is www.judyendow.com.
Tags: And If It Be Mean, Ann Morrison, August McGinnity-Wake, Bad Axe, Ben Armstrong's Strange Trip Home, Bob Wake, David Allan Cates, Dwight Allen, Ghosts in the Library, If I Could Tell You, Jack Lehman, James Dante, Lee Jing-Jing, Norma Gay Prewett, Polyester, Rod Clark, Steven Salmon, Telling Time, The Burning Monk, The Silent Witness, The Tiger's Wedding, Ty-D-Bol Blue, Weshoyot Alvitre, Yellow Sky
The Burning Monk
A short story
A short story
Illustrations by Weshoyot Alvitre
And If It Be Mean
A short story
Norma Gay Prewett
Ghosts in the Library
A short story
Ben Armstrong’s Strange Trip Home
David Allan Cates
The Tiger’s Wedding
The Silent Witness
A short story
A short story
Tags: A Theory of Lipstick, Anton Chekhov, Eudora Welty, Karla Huston, Main Street Rag Publishing Co., Verse Wisconsin
A Theory of Lipstick
Main Street Rag Publishing Co. 2013
Reviewed by Bob Wake
“I only write poems about sex,” begins Karla Huston’s poem “My Husband Thinks.” The poet proceeds to catalog the more quotidian concerns she insists have graced her work over the years, from “the dentist’s office” and “rotting potatoes” to “paperboys peeing in the snow” and “even the guy who stole my parking place.” But damned if “My Husband Thinks” doesn’t suddenly spring to pulse-pounding life with the lines, “Today I wrote about how the pubic hair I shaved / for you has started to twirl and bend again, / how the skin itches, the way a healing // wound does …”
Huston has never shied away from the maddening predicament of desire, its commingling of love and spite, sacrifice and lust. She can be a brutal satirist of the tyrannical male gaze. The poem “Mona Lisa Imagines” is a stream-of-consciousness monologue of mounting irritation by the artist’s iconic model while Leonardo—“farting when you bend for a rag, / or scratching your balls”—demands prim stillness from his subject: “At least the twelve apostles could / gnaw meat off bones while they lingered / or leaned into a bit of gossip / or fingered silver coins. Today // you want my hands folded just this way.”
A Theory of Lipstick, Huston’s first full-length collection (after more than a decade’s worth of six well-received chapbooks), is comprised of fifty-four poems. While not always about sex, they are never less than insightful about our shared messy humanness and the ecstasies of the natural world. The title poem, which originally appeared in Verse Wisconsin and was awarded a 2012 Pushcart Prize, is another of the poet’s masterful catalogs that blends the sensible and the sensual, this time into a rhapsody of Day-Glo images: “made from fruit pigment and raspberry cream, / a lux of shimmer-shine, lipstick glimmer, duo / in satin-lined pouch, Clara Bow glow: city brilliant / and country chick—sparkling, sensual, silks / and sangria stains, those radiant tints and beeswax liberty— // oh, kiss me now, oh, double agents of beauty …”
Especially memorable are Huston’s portraits of small-town inhabitants whose lives have the vivid contours of Chekhov or Welty characters. They include “The Dog Catcher’s Wife” (“She’s concerned / that even the nets, nooses or tranquilizer / darts won’t save him from the angry ones”) and “Vanishing Woman” (“But now / even bad sex would be better / than none, grinding blindly into / the night, mapping the smoky / landscape with her flesh”), as well as rueful group snapshots like “Girls Tanning”:
Stretched on benches the first warm day in May
so sure of their beauty with their firm arms
and thighs, their high-riding breasts, so content
knowing that they own the world
as the wind steals their hair and eyes, bright
with the strain of staring into the sun,
posing, white teeth flashing as they lick
cherry gloss from their lips. [...]
Accessible and inviting even at its most acerbic, Karla Huston’s A Theory of Lipstick is no unproven hypothesis, it’s a fully vetted and means-tested map of the American heart and heartland.
Tags: Baz Luhrmann, David Foster Wallace, Edmund Wilson, Elia Kazan, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Francis Kroll Ring, Harold Pinter, Jack Nicholson, Last Call, Matthew J. Bruccoli, Monroe Stahr, Robert De Niro, Salvador Dali, Sam Spiegel, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The Crack-Up, The Great Gatsby, The Last Tycoon, The Love of the Last Tycoon: A Western, The Pale King, Trimalchio: An Early Version of the Great Gatsby, Un Chien Andalou
Inspired on several fronts (after seeing Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, and rewatching the 1974 Gatsby, followed by revisiting Elia Kazan’s 1976 film of The Last Tycoon), I just finished reading again after many years F. Scott Fitzgerald’s posthumous The Last Tycoon, edited by Edmund Wilson and published in 1941. The Last Tycoon is the title by which I still prefer to think of the novel. There’s an updated 1993 reconstruction by Fitzgerald scholar Matthew J. Bruccoli which uses what Bruccoli believed was Fitzgerald’s choice for the novel’s title, The Love of the Last Tycoon: A Western. Fitzgerald originally floated some curious titles for The Great Gatsby, too. How does Trimalchio grab you? By whatever title, The Last Tycoon is a great novel, even in its incomplete form. (A worthy contemporary comparison: David Foster Wallace’s unfinished but much-admired novel The Pale King, edited by Michael Pietsch and published in 2011.)
Thirty-five-year-old Hollywood producer Monroe Stahr’s obsession with an Englishwoman’s resemblance to his late actress wife might at first seem superficially similar to Gatsby. Fitzgerald in his letters and notes about The Last Tycoon, many of which were famously appended to Wilson’s reconstructed text, writes:
If one book could ever be “like” another, I should say it is more “like” The Great Gatsby than any other of my books. But I hope it will be entirely different—I hope it will be something new, arouse new emotions, perhaps even a new way of looking at certain phenomena.
Stahr’s self-awareness evolves over the course of the narrative and differs significantly from Gatsby’s static and deluded nostalgia. This perhaps reflects Fitzgerald’s own battle with despair and loss in the years following Gatsby’s publication. (See Edmund Wilson’s posthumously edited collection of Fitzgerald’s autobiographical essays, The Crack-Up.) The Great Depression coincided with Fitzgerald’s falling fortunes: money woes, ill-health, his wife Zelda’s confinement to a mental hospital, and his career slide into near-obscurity. After living extravagantly as one of the country’s highest paid and most famous writers of the 1920s, he was an out-of-print and largely neglected author by the time he was writing his final novel. The romantic obsession at the core of The Last Tycoon is less about nostalgia than Stahr’s struggle to micromanage a psychological corner of his life while everything else seems to be spiraling beyond his control. As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that the Hollywood that Stahr once dominated as an autocratic whiz-kid producer is becoming decentralized. “At that time the studios feared mob rule,” runs one passage. Stahr’s preparation for a meeting with a communist union organizer has a political edge that signaled the author’s broadening skills as a satirist and social observer:
Afterwards Stahr told me that he prepared for the meeting by running off the Russian Revolutionary films that he had in his film library at home. He also ran off Doctor Caligari and Salvador Dali’s Le Chien Andalou, possibly suspecting that they had a bearing on the matter. He had been startled by the Russian films back in the twenties, and on Wylie White’s suggestion he had the script department get him up a two-page “treatment” of the Communist Manifesto.
Monroe Stahr is wonderfully alive in his sometimes cruel complexity (heightened by the novel’s occasionally spiteful narrator, a rival producer’s daughter who’s secretly in love with Stahr). His confidence is shaken and something new and untested is awakened in him. “I want to show that Stahr left certain harm behind him just as he left good behind him,” Fitzgerald writes in another of the supplemental notes. Stahr isn’t adverse to change, but he wants change on his own terms, unshackled from the studio’s cash-driven bottom line. “For two years we’ve played it safe,” Stahr says at one point to a gathering of suspicious studio heads and money men. “It’s time we made a picture that’ll lose some money.” No dewy-eyed idealist, he adds: “Write it off as good will—this’ll bring in new customers.”
The Last Tycoon was also a reawakening of Fitzgerald’s preternatural talent for writing about romantic infatuation in a manner that manages to embrace clichés while at the same time reinvigorating them:
“I don’t want to lose you now,” he said. “I don’t know what you think of me or whether you think of me at all. As you’ve probably guessed, my heart’s in the grave—” He hesitated, wondering if this was quite true. “—but you’re the most attractive woman I’ve met since I don’t know when. I can’t stop looking at you. I don’t know now exactly the color of your eyes, but they make me sorry for everyone in the world—”
Elia Kazan’s 1976 film of The Last Tycoon never quite catches fire, but it’s a fascinating attempt nonetheless, in its Harold Pinter script (remarkably faithful to the more polished sections of the novel), and much of its casting, Robert De Niro’s portrayal of Monroe Stahr in particular. A notorious flop when released, the movie ended Elia Kazan’s directing career. Kazan devotes seventeen painful pages to the making of the film in his 1988 autobiography, A Life. He was dealing with his mother’s failing health and, finally, her death, during production. Moreover, there were clashes with producer Sam Spiegel. The film deserves reevaluation. It’s never revived or talked about anymore. There’s a strong and richly amusing climactic scene with Jack Nicholson as Brimmer, the novel’s communist union organizer, playing a spirited match of Ping-Pong with De Niro’s Stahr. It’s taken nearly verbatim from the novel and it’s a highlight of the movie. Kazan’s film would make for a great double feature with Last Call, a surprisingly eloquent 2002 Showtime movie based on Francis Kroll Ring’s memoir about working for Fitzgerald during his final days in Hollywood writing The Last Tycoon.
Tags: Brian Johnson, David Pitonyak, Kate McGinnity, Kathy Kaebisch, Lights! Camera! Autism! 2, Lisa Ladson, Rebecca Williams, Sharon Hammer, Stephen Hinkle, Tamar Jacobsohn, video technology, Wisconsin
Coming June 2013
Cambridge Book Review Press
Lights! Camera! Autism! 2:
Using Video Technology to Support New Behavior
Kate McGinnity, Sharon Hammer, and Lisa Ladson
Foreword by Kathy Kaebisch, MS, CCC-SLP
Supplemental DVD included
“Lights! Camera! Autism! 2 will help educators and parents alike, and support an environment that is proactive and based on each individual’s strengths and needs. The solutions are proven to be successful. I couldn’t wait to go back to my district and share the book with staff and parents.”—Brian Johnson, Student Services Director, Columbus School District, Columbus, Wisconsin.
“Lights! Camera! Autism! 2 is a gift without measure to parents at any stage of their autism journey. A few minutes spent reading and watching and I was able to create a tool that lifts my son’s anxiety, sorts out some of the confusion he faces, and enables both of us to feel successful. This is a resource I will share with every person who plays a role in my son’s life.”—Rebecca Williams, former elementary school teacher, and proud mom of an incredible, unique, loving, and challenging autistic son.
“There is something powerful that happens when the brain gets to watch the body doing something right. The learning sinks in. New behavior sets up with speed. McGinnity, Hammer and Ladson provide concrete examples for helping people ‘see’ better ways to behave by showing us concretely how to improve our instruction.”—David Pitonyak, Ph.D., consultant for people with challenging behaviors and the needs of their friends, family and caregivers (www.dimagine.com).
“These videos offer an innovative way of training people with special needs to encounter new situations. One of the many challenges people with autism and other disabilities face is how to encounter the ‘unknown’ and generalize social rules across situations. Video is a great platform to help a person understand what a new environment will be like, whether it be a new school, a camping trailer, or a playroom.”—Stephen Hinkle, national speaker and disability rights advocate.
“Lights! Camera! Autism! 2 offers tangible and doable approaches to break out of the way things have always been done. Teachers, parents, and individuals with autism have everything to gain from bringing these tools to life.”—Tamar Jacobsohn, MS Ed, autism program support teacher with over 20 years’ experience in early childhood special education.
About the Authors
Kate McGinnity is an experienced classroom teacher and trainer, and nationally recognized consultant in the field of autism.
Sharon Hammer is a master’s level psychotherapist with over 15 years’ experience working with individuals on the autism spectrum.
Lisa Ladson is an educational and behavioral consultant with extensive knowledge in creating innovative intervention programs for students with complex learning challenges.