Born in Detroit. Lived in Ohio, Pennsylvania, D.C., and Princeton, New Jersey. Degrees in Journalism (U. of Michigan) and Public Health (U. of Pittsburgh). Alumna of U. of Michigan and U. of Pittsburgh. Favorite authors: Neal Stephenson, Frederick Forsyth, Alan Furst, Charles Dickens--they all know how to tell a good story! Best book read so far in 2012: Hilary Mantel's Bring up the Bodies. Favorite TV: The Wire; Treme.
By now you may have heard of the Shirley family’s reservations about director Peter Farrelly’s movie, despite its winning a Golden Globe for best motion picture (trailer). Based on a true story, the script was written by Nick Vallelonga, Peter Farrelly, and Brian Currie, who won a Golden Globe for best screenplay
There’s no faulting the acting, Mahershala Ali (Golden Globe)
portraying sophisticated jazz pianist Don Shirley, and Viggo Mortensen as his rough-around-the-edges
and racist chauffeur, (Nick Vallelonga in real life), are both tops.
They embark on a concert tour of the Deep South in the early
1960s, before the Civil Rights movement, and encounter all the expected
restrictions, slights, and prejudices. And that was part of the problem. I’d
already imagined, known about, and seen these situations in many other films back
when this type of content was an eye-opener.
I fear it gives today’s white people a too-easy win,
encouraging us to think “I’m sure glad I’m not like those Southern racists.” Racism
can’t be just put in a drawer as if a piece of the past that no longer needs
attention. Black Americans traveling today still
Perhaps a new generation needs these reminders, and perhaps younger
people will take from the film the powerful lesson that connection and friendship
and respect can grow between people who are so unlike each other. That’s
something to hope for.Rotten Tomatoes critics
rating: 81%; audiences 94%.
On the Basis of Sex
Having seen and enjoyed the documentary RBG, I was prepared
tro be disappointed in Hollywood’s version of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s career, directed
by Mimi Leder with a script by Daniel Stiepleman (trailer). To my delight,
I was not. Felicity Jones as RBG and Armie Hammer as her devoted and amazingly
patient husband Marty do a fine job, Mel Wulf (Justin Theroux) of the ACLU is
busy being political, and the courts are against her, but Ruth soldiers on to
victory (as we know beforehand). I particularly liked the scene where opposing counsel
waved a list of the hundreds of U.S. statutes that applied differently to women,
thinking to show how “normal” the practice was, and RBG instead used it to show
the practice was pervasive and pernicious.
Haven’t heard of this one? Me neither, until I found it in the Academy Award shortlist of nominees for song and music. This Coen Brothers experiment appeared ever-so-briefly in theaters then went straight to Netflix (trailer).
It’s an anthology of six short stories, alike only in the brothers’ trademark dark vision and black humor, and it won the best screenplay award at the Venice International Film Festival. There’s music too, of the cowboy lament variety.
Each of the six tales has its own cast, including Tim Blake
Nelson (Buster Scruggs), Liam Neeson, James Franco, Brendan Gleeson, Zoe Kazan,
Tyne Daly, Tom Waits, and Bill Heck.
There is violence, of course, but most of it is cartoonish. While there’s humor, there’s wistful sadness as well. Most memorable, I think, is the story “Meal Ticket,” in which a young man with no arms and legs but a wonderful voice for oratory (Harry Melling) performs for a dwindling audience of shantytown residents. In the story, “All Gold Canyon,” featuring Tom Waits, you’ll see the most beautiful valley imaginable.Rotten Tomatoes critics rating: 92%; audiences: 77%
The first draft of one of my novels was 135,000 words—1.5 times what was remotely saleable. Since I didn’t plan on writing solely for myself, I couldn’t risk being thrown in the circular file before my doorstop even reach an editor’s desk! So I began to cut. In the many subsequent drafts and rewrites, I’ve always had one eye on shrinkability.
When my editor—the stellar Barb Goffman—suggested I beef the novel up in some areas, I knew we weren’t just talking addition, we were talking subtraction too. A number of characters were easy to jettison altogether, but a few that had to be trimmed still spoke to me. The three most promising I’ve turned into published short stories, something J. Todd Scott may have done with a character from High White Sun (a short story in, I believe, Mystery Tribune).
One character I didn’t want to lose is a murdered Roman priest
who thinks his classic migraines are communications from God. Although his
death remains in the novel, his backstory is repurposed in “The Penitent,” published
last year in Bouchercon’s Passport to Murder.
A mafia fence launched his career by masterminding the 1990 Isabella
Stewart Gardner Museum heist in Boston, a resume-enhancing crime unrelated to events
in the novel. That story became “Above Suspicion,” appearing in the current
issue (#26) of Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine.
Another priest, Anglican flavor this time, intervenes in an
assault on my protagonist, no doubt saving her life. While this priest has only
a minor role in the novel, his giddy nonstop talking charmed my beta- (or
perhaps I should say gamma-) readers, and I worked him into a story—“What Saved
Them”—published in the U.S. 1 Summer
The transformation from novel excerpt to complete short
story turned out not to be as easy as I expected, and each presented its own
challenges. If you’re ever tempted to resurrect one of the darlings you’ve just
killed, here’s what I learned.
Four Tips for Authors
1. If the characters involved in the short story remain in
your novel (that is, if you haven’t gotten rid of them altogether), you need an
eagle eye for continuity. You can’t have your character driving a Porsche in
the story and relying on Uber in the story. More important, they cannot do anything in the story that would
affect the action of the novel.
2. Originally, I’d engaged in vigorous head-hopping in the
scene where the priest dies. I found I could park the novel’s point of view in
the head of the assassin, yet write the short story from the priest’s
perspective. Same events, two points of view. That was fun.
3. The story of the fence had a strong core from the get-go
because of the extensive detail about the ISG theft. I wrote new backstory—waybackstory—about
the character’s childhood in Fez. And of course more extensive setup and
4. OK, it’s fun, but is it a story? The Anglican priest was a character. His story had to be developed from scratch using the dialog I’d salvaged. But who was he? How would he behave? What changed for him? The rescue of the woman would plausibly have a long-term impact on him and it became a source of reflection, laying the groundwork for his subsequent actions.
Because you don’t have a blank page when you deal with bits excised from other works, there are many more than the customary limits on your degrees of authorial freedom. Whether the resurrected short stories prove useful in marketing or whether they are just good stories in their own right, you can feel good about creative recycling!
Edited by Louise Penny – What an entertaining collection
this is! The stories cover a wide range of mystery/crime/suspense writing, with
a fair bit of edge. Edited by Louise Penny from a collection assembled under
the direction of Otto Penzler, the twenty stories, all published in 2017, first
appeared in US crime magazines, in literary magazines, in themed anthologies,
and in single-author collections by T.C. Boyle, Lee Child, Scott Loring
Says editor Penny, “A great short story is like a great
poem. Crystalline in clarity. Each word with purpose. Lean, muscular, graceful.
Nothing wasted. A brilliant marriage of intellect, rational thought, and
creativity.” This edition underscores her point on every page.
Though most of the stories run to about twenty pages, Lee
Child, with “Too Much Time,” doubles that length. He meticulously describes how
the redoubtable Jack Reacher digs himself in deeper and deeper with Maine
police while all the time working on an unexpected (by this reader) solution to
his precarious situation. Joyce Carol Oates also provides a near-novella with
“Phantomwise: 1972,” about a naïve college coed who makes consistently bad
choices and the men who exploit them.
Most of the stories take place in the good old US of A, from
the sketchy surrounds of Paul Marks’s Venice Beach (“Windward”) to James Lee
Burke’s Cajun country (“The Wild Side of Life”), though a few are set in more
exotic climes: Africa in David H. Hendrickson’s Derringer-winning “Death in the
Serengeti,” the tropical and fictional island of St. Pierre (“Breadfruit” by
Brian Silverman), and the Republic of Korea (“PX Christmas” by Martin Limón).
The selected authors found clever and creative ways to
deploy the staple characters of crime fiction—unfaithful wives (“Waiting on
Joe” by Scott Loring Sanders), assassins (“Takeout” by Rob Hart) and serial
killers (“All Our Yesterdays” by Andrew Klavan). They deal with classic crime
situations too: trying to escape a difficult past (“Smoked” by Michael Bracken
and “Gun Work” by John M. Floyd) or the long tail of a super-secret job (“Small
Signs” by Charlaine Harris); prison breaks (“Cabin Fever” by David Edgerley
Gates), and the double or is it triple? cross (“Y is for Yangchuan Lizard” by
Andrew Bourelle and “Rule Number One” by Alan Orloff).
A couple of the scams were so deftly described that you may
find yourself grinning with the vigilante surprise of Michael Connelly’s “The
Third Panel” and the flim-flamming of an elderly man in TC Boyle’s “The Designee,”
in which you must decide how complicit the elderly “victim” is. It’s the best
story of his I’ve ever read. There’s also a thought-provoking twist in “Banana
Triangle Six” by Louis Bayard.
This talented collection of authors fills their stories with
great lines, though one of my favorites comes from “The Apex Predator,” by
William Dylan Powell, wherein the main character claims he learned in Uncle
Sam’s navy the “most useful tactical skill ever developed by humankind—and it’s
not swimming or fighting or tying knots. It’s the art of bullshitting someone
so you don’t get in trouble.”
If you’ve been glancing over the author names looking for
(and finding) many that are familiar, you may also have noticed the
near-absence of women authors. Joyce Carol Oates who has more than a hundred
published books is not a surprise in this list, nor is Charlaine Harris, who’s
been publishing mystery fiction since 1981. It’s a real mystery why no other
accomplished, newer authors appear here. Women are somewhat more prominent in
the list of “Other Distinguished Mystery Stories of 2017” at the back of the
volume, where nearly a third are women (10 of 31).
Which publications brought these stories to light in the
first place (and where you might find next year’s winner’s now)? Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine published
four of the stories, Mystery Tribune
(two), and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery
Magazine, Fiction River, and Switchblade, one apiece. Also Level Best
Books’ anthologies (Noir at the Salad Bar
and Snowbound) produced a pair of
In David Sanger’s chilling book about the dangers of
cyberweapons, reviewed here last
week, he includes the impact of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media,
but P.W. Singer and Emerson T Brooking focus laserlike on them in LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media.
If you want to know chapter and verse about the barrage of efforts to
manipulate American opinion in the election of 2016—and risk of even more in
future—this is the book for you.
Singer and Brooking’s book, like Sanger’s, pulls together in one place the various threads of information about cyberthreats from the last few years, weaving them into a coherent, memorable, and understandable(!) whole. All these authors provide exhaustive lists of sources. It’s incumbent on responsible people to understand the tactics of information warfare, because, “[recent Senate hearings] showed that our leaders had little grasp on the greatest existential threat to American democracy,” said Leigh Giangreco in the Washington Post.
These ill-intentioned manipulators understand the human
brain is hard-wired for certain reactions: to believe in conspiracy theories
(“Obama isn’t an American”); to be gratified when we receive approval (“likes”!);
to be drawn to views we agree with (“confirmation bias”). If we feel compelled
to weigh in on some bit of propaganda or false information, social media algorithms
see this attention and elevate the issue—“trending!”—so that our complaints
only add to the virality of disinformation and lies. “Just as the internet has
reshaped war, war is now radically reshaping the internet,” the authors say.
Contrary to the optimism of the Silicon Valley entrepreneurs
who saw social media as a positive, democratizing force, this new technology is
being used to destructive effect at many levels of society. At a local scale,
for example, it bolsters gang violence in Chicago; at a national scale, it
contributed to the election of fringe politicians; at a regional scale, it
facilitated the emergence of ISIS; and at an international scale, it undergirds
the reemergence of repressive political movements in many countries.
How to be a responsible citizen in this chaos? Like it or
not, “we’re all part of this war,” the authors say, “and which side succeeds
depends in large part on how much the rest of us learn to recognize this new
warfare for what it is” and how ready we are for what comes next.
Start by reading one—or both—of these important
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When Bruce Pritchard unlocked the door to his weekend Cape May, New Jersey, cottage one Friday early in June, the wind crowded in behind him like a presence, gusts of rain snapping at his heels. He flipped the light switch and shed the old-fashioned boots, oilskins, and sou’wester he affected, a fully wired city boy summoning the crusty New England sea captains of his imagination.
He lit the fireplace to exorcise
the weekday shadows and dispel the ocean’s powerful breath, swirling about him
like a salt-tinged mist. In the kitchen, he unpacked provisions — steaks for
friends, a purple cluster of mussels for himself, a bottle of prosecco, ditto.
This he opened at once.
He toured the four downstairs
rooms, glass of wine in hand, shedding the week’s frustrations like a sodden
overcoat. The cottage’s renovations were finally, finally finished, and the
next evening his six best friends — and investment clients — were driving down
from New York to help him celebrate.
A line of sand-clouded puddles
tracked from door to fireplace disturbed the perfection of the moment, and
Bruce chided himself as he fetched a towel to dry them.
After dinner, he sat in front of
the fire and paged through a musty volume of nautical prints — oversized
engravings of merchant ships, three-masted clippers, an artist’s impression of
The Flying Dutchman. Tonight he’d skip the blood-soaked ghosts of the Stephen
King he’d been reading, the book slumbering like a serpent on his beside table.
He’d rescued the book of engravings
from the attic, a farrago of yellowing volumes, framed pictures, half-empty
chests, and broken whatnots he’d barely glanced at as yet. The elderly sisters
who sold him the cottage said they’d never been up there and exchanged a
secretive look. “Noises,” one said, and the other said, “Best not to be too
curious.” “Or disturb things,” the first one nodded, but her sister cut off
further comment with one glance. Of course they didn’t want to call attention
to how they’d left everything “undisturbed,” and unrepaired, and unpainted, un,
un, un, which was why the place was crumbling around their ears and why he’d
been able to buy it at such a good price.
Well into the night, the storm
provided a soundtrack for dreams of howling seas and wind-battered sailors,
decks slippery as glass, whiplashing ropes and renting sails, so that he awoke
feeling he’d tussled with the elements for hours. From the bedroom window, he
watched the morning sun chase the ocean waves, a quarter-mile away. His prize
Mary Benaker’s station wagon pulled
into the smoothed patch of sand next to his BMW. He threw on a robe and met her
at the front door. Mary was the real estate agent who kept an eye on the place
for him, arranged his cleaning service, and oversaw any weekday workmen. She’d
been a godsend during the renovation. All 18 harrowing months of it. Now she
greeted him, holding a flat of annuals.
“Thought you might want these,” she
said, too cheerful for the hour. “I just drove past the farmer’s market.
They’ve got strawberries.”
Bruce regarded the banal mix of
orange marigolds, red salvia, and purple and white petunias. Nothing he would
plant. Certainly not in that color combination. “No thanks. I’m headed to the
garden center today myself. Very generous of you, but, no.”
She looked a bit sadly at the
unwanted annuals, but said nothing.
As an afterthought, he said, “One
thing, though. Was the maid service here last week?”
“Next week. First and third
Wednesdays. Everything OK?”
He looked past her, head cocked.
“Yes, but …” He paused to focus a thought. “Everything looks moved, slightly,
like someone dusted. And, it just feels like … someone’s been here.” He’d had
a parade of unsettling feelings when at the house in the last few weeks, but he
wasn’t going to tell Mary about the worst of them — that someone was watching
him. That he chalked up to urban paranoia and, possibly, too much Cabernet.
Now she hesitated. “Anything
“Nothing like that. Probably my
imagination.” The uncertain way he said this made it clear he didn’t believe it
was his imagination at all, and he turned to go back inside the house. “Thanks,
anyway.” He indicated the plants.
“Suit yourself,” she said to the
Bruce leaned his back against the
door, annoyed. Throughout the endless renovation, she always managed to slip in
a dig. “If that’s what you like,” “Of course, that’s up to you,” “Suit
yourself.” Her distaste for his choices, his polished style couldn’t be
“So what!” he scolded himself, then
gasped. He took a step forward, then another, transfixed by what he saw over
the fireplace. In place of his prized large-format Robert Mapplethorpe
photograph — ambiguous portions of two male torsos, one black, one white, so
rich in tone it seemed a color print, but wasn’t — sailed a four-masted
windjammer, sheets unfurled and running with the wind, straight at him.
He wheeled and opened the door.
“Mary!” he shouted, but the station wagon turned onto the road and disappeared
behind a stand of beach plums.
The frame of the Mapplethorpe
peeked above the back of a low sofa. He pulled it from its hiding place and
marched to the fireplace to switch the two. And stepped in a puddle of seawater
containing a miniature beach of sand and trailing a seaweed thread.
Maybe a shower would clear his
head. But in the bathroom, he found scrimshaw ornaments cluttering the glass
shelf. Where the hell did those come from? Figuring they were cheap plastic
souvenirs, someone’s idea of a joke, he picked up a piece to toss it into the
trash, and noticed the weight, the fine detail, a map he recognized as
Nantucket Island, and the date: 1846. He set it back on the glass and
* * *
A piece of toast in one hand and
his smartphone in the other, he called Mary. “Who lived here before me, do you
know? Before the sisters.”
“Let me ask Chuck. If he doesn’t
know, he can find out.” Chuck Benaker was her husband, another realtor and a
past president of the county historic society. These combined interests could
generate a dizzying amount of genealogical detail about any parcel of local
property. Bruce found Chuck tiresome, but Mary was right. He’d know.
Bruce was planting herbs next to
the kitchen door when Mary called back.
“Chuck says your house was built by
a retired sea captain. This would have been about 1850. The house was in his
family for 75 years or so until the Darby family bought it. The parents died
soon after World War II, and they left it to their daughters — the sisters who
sold it to you. Not many owners.”
“What does he know about this sea
“He said the historic society has
some papers and such. They open for the season in a couple of weeks, but wait.”
Mary put her hand over the receiver and spoke to someone. “Chuck says he can
meet you there about three.”
* * *
The historic society headquarters
and museum occupied a simple clapboard house on Washington Street. Chuck
Benaker looked up from a pile of mail. “So, your house? Quite a history.” He
handed Bruce a folder. “Captain Newsome was a true legend. You have there the
original deed to the property and records of some purchases. Stuff found after
he was murdered, I suppose. Plus the registries kept by his nephew, who lived
with him and let out the upstairs rooms to lodgers. The Darbys —”
“Newsome? Oh, yeah. Made enemies
like Dunkin’ makes Donuts. If he hadn’t died, he would have been charged with a
murder or two himself. Beat the rap by bleeding to death. The clippings are
here somewhere,” Chuck walked to a file cabinet and rattled a drawer open.
“We’ve been closed since fall, and the girls left everything a mess.” He
slammed the drawer. “But I remember the story.”
Bruce leafed through the folder,
mesmerized. So much for his house as a peaceful place, a refuge. He held up a
“Ah. Newsome’s parrot, ‘Cap’n,’”
Chuck said. “According to their diaries, the Cape May ladies were more
terrified of Cap’n than of Newsome himself. Stunning vocabulary.
“Newsome was captain of a merchant
ship in the mid-1800s, sailed out of Massachusetts,” Chuck drawled, and Bruce
could see the rest of the afternoon unwinding drearily in front of him, despite
Chuck’s rendition of the despicable Newsome. Chuck pulled open the shallow
drawer of a map cabinet and located a floor plan of the house. “Carpenter’s
records.” He pointed to a second floor room. “Happened right there. When I
unearth the newspaper stories, you can read the police description. Strong
stomach?” He looked at Bruce over the top of his half-glasses.
“That’s my bedroom,” Bruce said,
staring at Chuck’s tapping finger.
“Really.” Chuck paused, as if he
found that fact somehow significant, and the word hung ambiguously in the air.
“Newsome and his killer, Henry Carver — now that was a prophetic name — had a
royal feud about your property. Came to a head one night, both of them drunk.
Carver tried to escape across the Pine Barrens, but a timber rattler got him,
so the police said.”
Bruce caught the skepticism. “You
don’t believe it?”
Benaker shrugged. “The other
lodgers didn’t believe it. The night in question they were all jammed in the
doorway of the murder room, but none of them lifted a hand while Carver did the
bloody deed. Newsome’s last words were, ‘I’ll come back and get you,’ and he
shook his fist at the lot of them. When Carver turned up dead, they hightailed
“What time is it?” Bruce startled,
as if wakened from a bad dream, and checked his watch. 5:30.
“Oh. Sorry to keep you.” Chuck
looked disappointed. “I get all wound up in these stories. Cape May County has
a colorful history, that’s for sure.”
Bruce stood up, a little wobbly
from information overload. “No, it was . . . helpful. But I have friends coming
“You go on. When I dig up those
clippings, we’ll talk again.” He rubbed his hands together, a gesture that made
Back at the cottage, The Windjammer
was back above the fireplace. He found the torn Mapplethorpe outside in the
trash barrel, frame and glass shattered.
* * *
Bruce’s guests said the cottage was
fantastic and thought the painting an inspired bit of camp. But their
admiration gave him no pleasure, and he was uncharacteristically quiet all
evening. He couldn’t talk to his New York friends about ghosts, then expect
them to invest their life savings with him.
He gave two of the men the “murder
room,” as Benaker termed it. As he stood in the doorway to point out the
switches and extra bedding, he began to shake, and he hurried back downstairs.
He slept on the sofa and hoped a sunny Sunday morning at the beach would
expunge Newsome’s gory phantom.
Too soon he was awakened by a
commotion in the kitchen. Up already before seven, his visitors prowled for
coffee. He found them clustered around the kitchen table, staring at a tall
bell-shaped object covered with a fitted cloth.
“Looks like my mother’s mixer,” said
one, “only bigger.”
“Your mother dressed her
appliances, too? I thought that was my Mom’s Midwestern chic.”
Bruce knew what the thing was. But
he lifted the cover, anyway.
“Cap’n’s back,” squawked the
parrot, followed by an outpouring of dark obscenities.
* * *
Late that afternoon the phone rang
in the Benaker real estate office, and Chuck picked up. “Hey, Bruce,” Chuck
said. He continued to listen for several minutes. “Sorry to hear that. . . .
No, I do not believe in . . .” He listened some more. “Well, OK, if you’re
sure.” Finally, he hung up.
He looked across the office and
smiled at his wife. “Your dream house? As good as yours.”
It’s the season to squeeze in viewings of prospective
Academy Award nominees. All four of these films and their cast members are in
contention. Nominations to be announced January 22, and the awards ceremony
will be February 24.
Word on the street is that this grim yet funny biopic, written and directed by Adam McKay (trailer), is slow. I didn’t find it so, absorbed as I was by McKay’s version of the dark mind and hollow soul of Dick Cheney, long-time Republican operative and George W. Bush’s vice-president.
Since everything is relative, we of short attention span might be tempted to look back on the Bush II Administration with some nostalgia, given . . . This movie is a bracing corrective to that impulse.
As Cheney, Christian Bale gets better and better as the film
progresses and Cheney ages, from an irresponsible drunk to master puppeteer—“resilient,
back-stabbing, front-stabbing, ruthlessly ambitious,” says Richard Roeper in the
Chicago Sun-Times. Early on, we see
the 9/11 scene in the White House situation room. (Our President, recall, was
reading to a bunch of schoolchildren when that catastrophe unfolded.) While all
the other national leaders sequestered in the White House basement are in
shock, the narrator says, Cheney “saw an opportunity.”
He saw another one when approached by W (Golden Globe winner
Sam Rockwell) to be his vice president. At first he demurs, but he recognizes
that Bush is a blank slate. The guy hasn’t a clue. Cheney does. And the
power-grab is on. Eventually, tasked with identifying a vice presidential
candidate, he identifies himself.
Amy Adams revels in her role as Lynne Cheney/Lady Macbeth, and
there’s even an apocryphal pillowtalk scene where she and Dick recite
Shakespeare’s lines to each other.
As he did in The Big Short, McKay breaks the
fourth wall to demonstrate what he’s suggesting with visuals puns and sly humor.
If this film is slow, it’s slow like a steamroller, flattening everything and
everyone in its path. Stay for the credits. There’s a bit more movie partway
Director Felix Van Groeningen’s film recreation of the
stories of David Sheff and his son Nic Sheff, and their family’s struggle
against Nic’s drug addiction is tough to watch (trailer). But only if
you’ve ever been the parent of a teenager or been a teenager yourself. There
are times and circumstances when parental love becomes unbearable for them all.
Although, like the relapses of addiction itself, the action occasionally
becomes repetitive, Steve Carell as the frantic father and Timothée Chalamet as
Nic are heartbreaking. Maura Tierny as Nic’s stepmom and Amy Ryan as his
biological mother provide powerful performances too.
An entertaining costume drama about three real-life women, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and written by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara (trailer). Poor Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) was truly a sad character in real life, plagued by ill health, and, despite 17 pregnancies, leaving no heir. Her reign was short (1702-1714), and she was a widow for half of it. Several strong women were her dueling confidants (Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone). Beautiful costumes, fantastic acting, especially by Colman. I wish the filmmaker had been drawn less to the rumors of lesbianism, which are discounted by many historians, and more to the politics of the time. It was in Queen Anne’s reign that Great Britain was formed, for example. Plus, the Worst Credits Ever.
Beautiful black and white photography in this highly praised
autobiographical movie written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón (trailer). And compelling
acting by the nonprofessional cast, particularly Yalitza Aparicio as Cleo, the
put-upon maid of a four-child household in domestic turmoil. She keeps them
together, literally and spiritually. I thought I’d read that she is
unappreciated, but she isn’t or perhaps the filmmaker is atoning for a lapse in
his own history. It’s pleasant and pretty but breaks no new ground—“quotidian
and extraordinary at the same time,” said Gary
M. Kramer in Salon.com. Now this
one is slow.Rotten Tomatoes critics’
rating: 96%; audiences: 83%.
An unexpected delight of my stumbling genealogy researches has been discovering and re-discovering my cousins. Most of my father’s family lived geographically close to me when I was growing up, but as far as getting to know them–they might as well have been a thousand miles away.
My dad was the son of Hungarian immigrants who came separately to the United States in the early 1900s, met, married, lived in Michigan where my grandfather was a farmer and an autoworker. They had 15 children, 11 of whom survived to adulthood. They didn’t talk about their immigration experience. At all.
Online research added to the
picture. The naturalization record for my grandfather, Ferencz Hegyi (with the
last name spelled six different ways on two government forms), provided the
date of his arrival and name of the ship he came on (the S.S. Chicago). He applied for naturalization after being in America
for some years, and it listed children’s names, leaving no doubt this record
was for my family.
From the ship manifest I found
his father’s name—Ferencz, or Frank, the same as his—and the village he came
from. Wow! My great-grandfather’s name and a definite place, Kondorfa. Still
today Kondorfa has only a few more than 600 residents. It’s in far western
Hungary, closer to Vienna and Bratislava than Budapest, in a German-Hungarian
area called the Burgenland. Short of learning to speak Magyar and traveling
there, my researches seemed to be bumping up against the proverbial brick wall.
One additional clue from the
ship manifest was that Ferencz’s destination was South Bethlehem, Pa. Probably
he planned to work at Bethlehem Steel, following in the footsteps of his older
brother. I found a 1923 death certificate for 38-year-old Peter Hegyi from
Kondorfa who died after being struck in the chest by a bar of steel. The
certificate listed his parents’ names, Ferencz Hegyi and Julianna Fabian. Now I
had my great-grandmother’s name too. But there my research string ran out.
In Your Genes
People ask me whether having a
genetic profile helps with genealogy, and I always say yes! I spit into a cup
for 23andMe many years ago. A couple of distant cousins on my mother’s side
have contacted me, all having useful connections and information. Then, a few
months ago, the surprise. A woman living near Bethlehem contacted me after
noting our slight genetic match and the Hegyi name, which is found frequently
in the area her family came from.
This distant cousin has website
Jane’s Genes (very useful general/tips, too), and some careful research on
Jane’s part revealed she’s my fifth cousin, once removed. Our common
ancestors are my great-great-great-great grandparents Janos Herczeg (b 1747)
and Rozalia Horvath (b 1755).
Jane has put me in touch with
other cousins in Pennsylvania and the Midwest. I learned one of my
grandfather’s younger sisters immigrated to South Bethlehem as well, and I’ve
connected with her granddaughter. Our Midwest cousin is another genius at
deciphering the spidery handwriting in the old Hungarian and Church records.
Thanks to her diligence, I can now trace my grandfather’s family back six
generations, to ancestors born in the early 1700s.
I’ve shared my written history
of the Hegyi family, sparse though it is, with about a dozen first
cousins—children of my father’s generation—and now regularly visit several of them
in Indiana and Michigan. I didn’t have addresses for them all, though, and
again 23andMe came through. The granddaughter of my Uncle Bill got in touch
and, through her, I’ve communicated with her mother, my first cousin.
When I started working on family history, what I expected to explore was “history”; now I’ve learned it’s about “family” too.
Don’t forget to watch “Finding Our Roots” on PBS Tuesdays, 8 p.m., hosted by Henry Louis Gates. Every family has a story!
By Lisa Gabriele – The author set herself a high bar in tackling a modern reimagining of Daphne du Maurier’s classic psychological thriller, Rebecca, with its famous first line—“Last night I dreamed I went again to Manderley.” Gabriele’s first line, “Last night Rebekah tried to murder me again” is startling, if lacking the original’s poetic power.
Nevertheless, a novel is more than its opening line. I
reread the set-up for du Maurier’s gothic thriller to reacquaint myself with
the story and her style, so I could assess whether Gabriele’s new novel stands
up to the original, since it so deliberately invites the comparison. I ended up
with a mixed opinion.
As in the original, Gabriele’s (again, unnamed) narrator, a
rather unsophisticated if sincere young woman, does not fit easily in the
social set of her new fiancé, wealthy New York Senator Maxim Winter. Winter
dismisses her feelings of being out-of-place, despite (or is it because of?)
her stark dissimilarity to his late wife—the beautiful, charming, and talented
Rebekah. I didn’t really warm up to the narrator—odd, since the book is written
in the first-person—nor did I find her a wholly convincing character.
As in the original, most of the story takes place at a
legendary and enormous family residence. The Winter estate, Asherley, was built
on its own island at the far eastern end of Long Island, facing the sea.
In a brilliant move by Gabriele, the narrator’s antagonist is not the confidant of the late Mrs. Winter, the housekeeper (Mrs. Danvers in the original); in Gabriele’s version, the principal opposition to the marriage and to the narrator herself comes from Max and Rebekah’s teenage daughter, Dani. Many of us have seen how fraught relationships with step-children can be, and this was a persuasive adjustment to modern times. There is a lot going on with Dani, though her rebellious teenage machinations are hard to forgive, for narrator and reader alike.
While the set-up of the two novels is reasonably similar,
their plots begin to diverge about half-way through. Even so, having Dani
volunteer to help the narrator find a wedding dress evokes nail-biting echoes
of disaster that play out in a completely unexpected way.
Gabriele’s writing style is, of course, markedly different
from that of a novel written eighty years ago. Still, I miss du Maurier’s long
loopy sentences and lush descriptions. In the new version, you see the Winter
mansion through modern eyes and a more practical, less dreamy affect. In place
of a wall of blood-red rhododendrons, you have a profusion of vases full of
Rebekah’s favored deep red roses. Tastes differ as to whether a more florid
style better fits a romantic story about a woman blinded by love—or is she?—and
haunted by her dead rival.
Gabriele’s narrator is a refreshingly modern woman, appreciative
of Max Winter’s extreme wealth, but not overawed by it. Even so, she finds
herself trapped by circumstances. In today’s world, a difficult housekeeper
would be dismissed; it’s not so easy to divest oneself of a step-daughter, even
a calculating, substance-abusing, and foul-mouthed one like Dani. Gabriele,
having set aside the evil housekeeper, finds new ways for Rebekah’s memory to
torment the new Mrs. Winter, while the ghost of du Maurier’s Rebecca necessarily haunts The Winters.
In The Perfect Weapon:
War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age, New York Times national security
correspondent David Sanger talks about nations’ pervasive and growing uses of
spyware and malware to achieve their ends. According to Paul
Pillar’s review in the Times,
Sanger’s book is “an encyclopedic account of policy-relevant happenings in the
cyberworld (that) stays firmly grounded in real events.”
It’s not a question of keeping the stuff out of our electric
grid, the controls of our nuclear plants, our military establishment, our
government. It’s already here. And a piece of spyware in our systems—watching,
waiting—can turn instantly destructive on command.
While U.S. companies, utilities, and some government agencies would like to reveal how much they know about these intrusions—“hey, we’re looking at you, too, so watch it!”—the clandestine services argue against it, because they don’t want others to know that we know and what our detection capabilities are, much less guess our offensive capacity. If you were suspicious of that improbable string of fizzling North Korean missiles last year and wondered “could it really be . . ?” you were right.
Sanger’s riveting journalism covers the woes Russia has inflicted on Ukraine, especially its power grid, a seeming test-bed for attacks on the West; it reviews the Stuxnet virus developed by the U.S. and Israel, which exceeded its mission of damaging Iran’s nuclear centrifuges to emerge in the wild; he covers the fallout from Edward Snowden’s revelations; and he describes more recent threats. Across at least three Administrations in Washington, the responses to the size and potential scope of this threat have been paltry. “The clock cannot be turned back,” he says, and it’s up to all of us to hear the ticking.
Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey offers a powerful new production of The Winter’s Tale, a play that mixes darkness and light, the tragic and the playful. Directed by STNJ artistic director Bonnie J. Monte, it premiered December 8 and runs through December 30.
A cast of 20 is called upon to present Shakespeare’s story of how jealousy can overcome loyalty, friendship, judgment, how destructive it is to stick stubbornly to a belief despite all evidence to the contrary, and how, in the long run, the only redemption may be through love. Director Monte says this complex play is “part allegory, part searing drama, part pastoral comedy and part uplifting and moving romance.”
Leontes, King of Sicilia (played by Jon Barker), and his pregnant wife, Hermione (Erin Partin), are entertaining Leontes’s longtime friend from Bohemia, Polixines (John Keabler), when Leontes gets it in his head like a worm in an apple that Hermione and Polixines are more to each other than they ought to be. Learning the king means to do him harm, Polixines and Leontes’s courtier Camillo (Patrick Toon) flee Sicily, which only confirms Leontes of the couple’s guilt.
Leontes imprisons his distraught wife, who gives birth to a daughter that the wise woman Paulina (Marion Adler) begs him to see and claim, but he will not. He insists that his general Antigonus (Raphael Nash Thompson) take the baby away and leave it in some desolate place that it survive or die as the fates decree. Reluctantly, Antigonus complies.
Leontes puts his wife on trial, a proceeding interrupted by a message from the oracle of Apollo, who declares Hermione’s innocence. The message also says his son will die and Leontes will have no heir until he is reunited with his lost daughter. The death of the boy convinces him of the oracle’s truth, but the death of her son is too much for Hermione, and she too is struck dead.
Antigonus leaves the babe in a Bohemian wood and, in theater’s most famous stage direction, “exits, chased by a bear.” The infant is discovered by kindly shepherds.
Sixteen years pass, the character Time tells us, and the beautiful girl-child Perdita (Courtney McGowan) has fallen in love with Florizel (Ryan Woods), son of Polixines, though she does not know he’s a prince. The play moves into broad comedy with the country folk, but eventually the plan is made to go to Sicily, where sadness still reigns.There, everyone reunites and theater magic happens, and what was dark is made light again.
The entire cast is strong, with special mention needed for Jon Barker, who can convey every drop of meaning in Shakespeare’s lines through his delivery and unerring body language. Erin Partin and Marion Adler (who received applause for one particularly fiery speech) were also noteworthy. Seamus Mulcahy (Charley’s Aunt in the theater’s most recent production) shows his genius for physical comedy in the secondary role of shepherd. Raphael Nash Thompson and Patrick Toon provided restrained dignity in contrast to Barker’s erraticism.
A simple set is needed to accommodate two countries and numerous scenes, and Brittany Vasta has produced gorgeous, chilly white backgrounds that radiate winter and allow the beautiful costumes of Nikki Delhomme to provide the color. Other production credits to Tony Galaska (lighting), Danielle Liccardo (dance consultant), and Denise Cardarelli (production stage manager).
Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey productions are hosted at Drew University in Madison, N.J. (easily reachable rom NYC by train). For tickets, call the box office at 973-408-5600 or visit the Box Office online. Note that STNJ offers special ticket pricing of $30 for theatergoers under age 30!