Literary journalist Robert Birnbaum has been kicking the stone down the road in Boston journalism/media since the waning days of the 20th century and further afield in the brave new world of the Third Millennium. Currently he is contributing to the literary way station, OUR MAN in BOSTON and others, shepherding his student-athlete son, Cuba, umpiring Little League baseball and dog-whispering his pooch Beny. You could ask him about his long rumored memoir, Just Talking: How To do Things With Words.
I am not a fan of the current schools of cinema comedies (for instance I haven’t seen such cultural mainstays asthe Hangovers Pt I Ptt etc or Bridesmaids),thus I would ordinarily be indifferent to a book by director Judd Apatow (Knocked Up,Freaks and Geeks). But an anthology of conversations he has collected over 30 years with —Mel Brooks, Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Stewart, Roseanne Barr, Spike Jonze,Sarah Silverman,Harold Ramis, Louis C.K., Chris Rock,Garry Shandling, Seth Rogen, Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham and on and on, is difficult to pass up.
I recall that Interview magazine, in what I thought was an inspired gesture, once published an interview with Charles Bukowski done by Sean Penn with Penn’s part of it redacted. Which is to say that even if Apatow’s conversational style is not to your liking, even as monologues, these testimonies are
amusing and illuminating.The publisher’s notes on this tome ring true, “What started as a lifetime’s worth of conversations about comedy becomes something else entirely. It becomes an exploration of creativity, ambition, neediness, generosity, spirituality, and the joy that comes from making people laugh.” And as Michael Chabon opines:
These are wonderful, expansive interviews—at times brutal, at times breathtaking—with artists whose wit, intelligence, gaze, and insights are all sharp enough to draw blood. Judd Apatow understands as well as any of them the pain that holds the knife, and the glee that wields it.
There is some risk involved with a novel set in the marginal world of writing and publishing. What makes Jonathan Galassi’s (poet and by the way, publisher of the fine literary house of Farrar,Straus and Giroux)Muse worth a look, is FSG’s deep roots in the literature of the 20th century and an out-sized character in the person of larger-than-literary life principal, founding partner, Roger W. Straus. I am not convinced that Muse is an effective a narrative for readers who are unfamiliar or unconcerned with the rules and mores of the literary game— the mechanics of big international trade shows, the ongoing efforts of publishers to poach authors from their rivals, the idiosyncrasies of authors, agents and editors of all stripes.On the other hand perhaps Galassi performs a valuable service by letting some light enter the dim and dusty corridors of old style book publishing
Some years ago being friends with Larry Newman, a designer who served as Tri Quarterly‘s art director I was invited to join the crew working on Issue #37,Going to Heaven a photo narrative (pictured above). So off we went for a week, to a farm near Galena, Illinois. As Tri Quarterly was a literary magazine (now sadly only published on line by slave labor) the ideas of issue consisting of only pictures (four on each right hand page) could be construed as a bold idea.
Now, director of the film Frances Ha Noah Baumbach has created a book FRANCIS HA (Steidl) editing the movie down to one frame per scene, comprised of 688 black and white stills, recreating the film’s structure. Whether you have viewed this film or not is probably as irrelevant as whether one has reads the book from which a movie has been adapted. Which is to say this tome is a new twist on an old idea, offering as the publisher suggests a “commentary on the subtle but ordered beauty of Sam Levy’s cinematography.
Here are some stills from the book:
* at the time of this writing this (for lack of better title)
Growing up in Chicago I had many occasions to witness the Chicago Police Department in action. From corruption scandals to the infamous Red Squad to the police riots in August of 1968 to the murder of Fred Hampton and a number of personal interactions in between, I formed an inchoate sense of police and no coherent thoughts about how policing big cities should be undertaken. Add to this pastiche, my long standing appreciation of crime stories by the likes of Elmore Leonard, George Pelecanos, James Lee Burke, Ed McBain and others and after all these years I am beginning to grasp some of the intractable dilemmas attached to crime and policing and the mine field that is US law enforcement. Not to dwell on this at the moment but these conundrums are what make crime stories so rich in drama…
The second season of True Detectives has two very high benchmarks with which it competes. One being, its first riveting season and the second,the universally lauded and extolled urban drama set in the cauldron of Baltimore’s racial divide , The Wire— especially now that the new blu ray edition has stimulated new conversations about its lofty literary status. One understated notion that is regnant in the Wire is that of being “good police” as in the statement that He/She is good police.” And we observe that in the case McNulty among other of the detectives one can be an alcoholic, ruin their marriage and exhibit numerous signs of dysfunction but obsessive focus on solving cases trumps almost everything.
Having watched the first three episodes of True Detective 2, its hard not to think of the genius pairing in the 1st season of Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson as detective partners—which is not how the new narrative unfolds.In the new 2nd season, the three poh-leece who meander into the main plot and central crime (one loses count of all the felonies committed by everyone from the street up to corporate suites and city hall offices. In this case Colin Farrell is Ray Velcoro a detective in the City of Vinci (even I know that ‘vinci” is latin for I conquered),Rachel McAdams is Ani Bezzerides a Ventura County Sheriff’s detective and Taylor Kitsch plays Paul Woodrugh a motorcycle cop for the California Highway Patrol. Toss in Vince Vaughn as a latter day Macbeth and you have the drama’s main players. It should not go unmentioned that the Mayor of Vinci is played with great gusto by Richie Coster in scene stealing moment, he rivals a riveting scene in Bugsy where Harvey Keitel playing the LA mobster Mickey Cohen goes off Warren Beaty’s Bugsy Seagal.
I suppose ahead of the imminent HBO broadcast of True Detective‘s 2nd season on Father’s Day (a holiday I would still like someone to explain to me), gainfully employed typists are doing their jobs by announcing and opinionating on Nick Palazotti’s new creation. From where I watched, the story continues to spotlight the damaged and troubled men and women tasked with solving our society’s most awful crimes—many that sink way below even the Reptilian.As always a vision from which it is difficult to turn away…
A Game of Their Own: Voices of Contemporary Women in Baseball by Jennifer Ring Softball so early cuts girls out of hardball it appears to be a little acknowledged that some women actually play and compete both nationally and internationally. In fact, Team USA captured a bronze medal at the fourth Women’s Baseball World Cup in Caracas, Venezuela, in 2010. Jennifer Ring, political science mentor at the University of Nevada, Reno( Stolen Bases: Why American Girls Don’t Play Baseball)via interviews unpacks the previously unobserved history of women in baseball as well as making clear the challenges facing women hard ball players—the the relentless pressure to switch to softball as well as lack of support.
Note Book by Jeff Nunokawa I am quite certain that this book may be one of the more unusual books I come across in the near term (additionally there is The Familiar, Volume 1: One Rainy Day in May by Mark Z. Danielewski and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s The Notebooks to this very short, short list) Princeton English mentor Jeff Nunokawa has been has posting brief essays on the Internet every single morning for the last eight years. This tome is something of a loose anthology of 250 of the most “powerful and memorable” of these essays, many augmented by various images originally posted alongside them. Nunokawa often begin with a quotation from writers such as —George Eliot, Henry James, Gerard Manley Hopkins, W. H. Auden, Robert Frost, or James Merrill and so on. Structurally, this collection (for lack of a better word) offers a purposeful incompleteness—allowing endless revision of the entries into this inadverdant journal). As the good professor advises early in his almost opaque introduction—go to the text, pick any item, in any order. Holding this virtual weave together is its creator’s sense of alienation. He offers:
The hunger for a feeling of connection that informs most everything I’ve written flows from a common break in a common heart, one I share with everyone I’ve ever really known.
The Notebooks by Jean-Michel Basquiat & Larry Warsh Although I viewed the young artist Jean-Michel Basquiat as a sympathetic figure (an addict and young suicide0 it took me two decades to gain an appreciation of his paintings and point of view.Through August 23, 2015 the Brooklyn Museum exhibits Brooklyn-born Jean-Michel Basquiat’s (1960-88)Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks. The exhibition curated by Dieter Buchhart guest curator with Tricia Laughlin Bloom,is described here:
From 1980 to 1987, he[Basquiat]filled numerous working notebooks with drawings and handwritten texts. This facsimile edition reproduces the pages of eight of these fascinating and rarely seen notebooks for the first time.The notebooks are filled with images and words that recur in Basquiat’s paintings and other works. Iconic drawings and pictograms of crowns, teepees, and hatch-marked hearts share space with handwritten texts, including notes, observations, and poems that often touch on culture, race, class, and life in New York. Like his other work, the notebooks vividly demonstrate Basquiat’s deep interests in comic, street, and pop art, hip-hop, politics, and the ephemera of urban life. They also provide an intimate look at the working process of one of the most creative forces in contemporary American art. The notebooks are filled with images and words that recur in Basquiat’s paintings and other works. Iconic drawings and pictograms of crowns, teepees, and hatch-marked hearts share space with handwritten texts, including notes, observations, and poems that often touch on culture, race, class, and life in New York. Like his other work, the notebooks vividly demonstrate Basquiat’s deep interests in comic, street, and pop art, hip-hop, politics, and the ephemera of urban life. They also provide an intimate look at the working process of one of the most creative forces in contemporary American art.
Fellow 90’s celebrity painter Julian Schnabel’s 1996 biopic Basquiat provided rich snapshots of downtown Manhattan’s art scene in the time of Warhol along with an impressionistic thread of the young artist’s short life https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LeTT9XYesnw And the recent documentary Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child filled in some blanks https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTbykf5Fpl0
Sweet Mary Jane: 75 Delicious Cannabis-Infused High-End Desserts by Karin Lazarus As legalization train gains speed the book publishing business will no doubt follow with an outpouring of pot inspired titles.
MOMA’s Bauhaus to Buenos Aires: Grete Stern and Horacio Coppola is the first major exhibition (May 17–October 4, 2015) to focus on the German-born Grete Stern and the Argentinean Horacio Coppola, two leading figures of avant-garde photography As MOMA”S site points out,”The couple effectively imported the lessons of the Bauhaus to Latin America, and revolutionized the practice of art and commercial photography on both sides of the Atlantic by introducing such innovative techniques as photomontage, embodied in Stern’s protofeminist works for the women’s journal Idilio, and through Coppola’s experimental films and groundbreaking images for the photographic survey Buenos Aires.” The exhibition catalogue features a selection of newly translated original texts by Stern and Coppola, and essays by curators Roxana Marcoci and Sarah Meister and scholar Jodi Roberts.
Divine Punishment by Sergio Ramirez, translated by Nick Caistor The benighted Central American nation of Nicaragua is a land of poets and baseball and the home of writer Sergio Ramírez , who served his country as Vice President under the beleaguered Sandinista regime. He is known for Divine Punishment, which Carlos Fuentes opined, the quintessential Central American novel.Ramirez used a famous criminal trial —the alleged murders in 1933 of two high society women and his employer by a social-climbing bon vivant named Oliverio Castañeda to examine Nicaraguan society at the brink of the first Somosa dictatorship. As the publisher describes ” Passion, money, sex, gossip, political intrigue, medical malpractice and judicial corruption all merge into a novel that reads like a courtroom drama wrapped in yellow journalism disguised as historical fiction posing as a scandal of the first order.”
I Was a Child: A Memoir by Bruce Eric Kaplan Seemingly cartoonists are increasingly (or at least New Yorker cartoonists ala Rox Chast )creating memoirs mixing their offbeat experiences and points of view with their signature drawings,in Kaplan’s case family outings and life at home-road trips, milk crates, hamsters, ashtrays, a toupee, a platypus, and much more.The following video illuminates: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfowzpAKqUg
Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking-Glass World by Eduardo Galeano With the recent passing of the great Uruguayan author, soccer fan and social justice activis,t Eduardo Galeano the world has lost one of its most eloquent and humane critics of the regnant social order. His major works Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent and his Memories of Fire Trilogy should be must reading for anyone aspiring to some level of social consciousness. But perhaps as an introduction. The publisher describes Upside Down:
Here’s Eduardo on Democracy Now https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shTJosdsM_0
In a series of mock lesson plans and a “program of study” Galeano provides an eloquent, passionate, funny and shocking exposé of First World privileges and assumptions. From a master class in “The Impunity of Power” to a seminar on “The Sacred Car”–with tips along the way on “How to Resist Useless Vices” and a declaration of the “The Right to Rave”–he surveys a world unevenly divided between abundance and deprivation, carnival and torture, power and helplessness. We have accepted a “reality” we should reject, he writes, one where poverty kills, people are hungry, machines are more precious than humans, and children work from dark to dark. In the North, we are fed on a diet of artificial need and all made the same by things we own; the South is the galley slave enabling our greed
A Narco History: How the United States and Mexico Jointly Created the “Mexican Drug War” by Carmen Boullosa and Mike Wallace There is no more an intractable problem than the so called war on drugs or narco terrorism or whatever ever you choose to call the homicidal (but murder on a massive scale). Even the fundamental racism built into the American system offers the possibility of redress in a few generations. Mexican novelist Carmen Boullosa (she has written 15 novels,the latest isTexas:The Great Theft )Pulitzer Prize winning historian and a co-founder of the Radical History Review Mike Wallace concisely survey this debacle that has now killed well over 100,000 people. They even offer a solution. There is no shortage of literature that spotlights the Drug war and the separate foreign country that is the Mexican American border. Don Winslow’s magnum opus The Power of the Dog reads like John Lecarre with it plausible take on the complicity of the CIA and DEA,The Vatican, Wall Street, US organized crime, The Mexican Government and security agencies, Columbian Leftist guerillas—did I leave anyone out? Winslow’s long awaited follow up The Cartel is soon to be published (with a film version not far behind) The late Charles Bowdon made a career (in a good way) of spotlighting the deepening abyss of the Borderland. His bibliography is a rich wellspring of information and insights into this dark subject and a good place to start is Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy’s New Killing Fields In Roberto Bolano’s epic 2666, that novel’s middle section “The Part about the Crimes” (some 200 pages) is a litany of the women murdered in Ciudad Jaurez in one year. And Teresa Rodríguez’s The Daughters of Juarez: A True Story of Serial Murder South of the Border chronicles this deadly mayhem Former Boston journalist Al Giordano has done the thankless work of focusing on this ‘story’ for years at The Narco News Bulletin Here’s report that is as good as fiction:
The current scandal over Colombian narco-traffickers paying prostitutes to provide sex services to DEA agents has an even deeper footprint in the agency than the current head of the DEA has conceded, court records stemming from past DEA operations reveal.
My Fight / Your Fight by Ronda Rousey with Maria Burns Ortiz Touted as the “the toughest woman on Earth” former Olympic judo medal winner Rousey tells her story.As these things go, its a good one. Ronda is a fighter. She competes in MMA (that’s mixed martial arts) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ed_IA79GTPk She’s big (as in celebrification). She’s smart. Here she talks with male chauvinist pig: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3o2OrCpO-k She appears to speak from the heart. Here with Mike Tyson. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3QidHQTKy0 And the camera loves her. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=meOZsbuM8BQ She’s going to be really big.
All these many years later he has amassed an inchoate archive of images of famous and unheralded writers, Cuba , Nicaragua, Israel, my dogs Rosie and Beny and a gargantuan trove of stupid Party Pics drawing on Boston’s demimonde replete with poseurs and strivers circa 1983-1998. His favorite best pictures are of Howard Zinn, Joan Didion, Studs Terkel, William Burroughs and Eduardo Galeano
In the misbegotten argot of our times I am a Jim Shepard early adopter. I first came across the Williams College mentor where he is J. Leland Miller Professor of American History, Literature, and Eloquence) for his novel Nosferatu circa 1998.
Needless to say, I have been something of a devoted reader ever since—avidly consuming his story collections You Think That’s Bad, Like You’d Understand, Anyway and Love and Hydrogen his fourth novel Project X and his latest opus, The Book of Aron (read Ron Charles extolling the Book Of Aron here).
Now the point of this brief is not necessarily to encourage you to read Shepard (a mission I will undertake when I publish my recent(the 4th or 5th) chat with Jim). No, I am much more interested in enthusing about Jim Shepard’s live readings. Over these many years I have sat through many author events that include an obligatory reading from the currently peddled text. No surprise —these performances are frequently less than riveting. There have been a handful of authors who are manage to infuse their live appearance with something both entertaining and informative. This may be an extreme point but ket me say that if were caught up in some kind of debacle (a stalled elevator, a plane delayed for hours on a runway, an interminable traffic jam and such) I would love to be in Shepard’s company. A self-confessed calamity aficionado, of whom it has been said, “Shepard is something of a patron saint of the maladapted”, and “[A] pointillist master of middle-American disaffection, second-shoe-dropping comic rhythm, pop-cult radiation, and the deceivingly unsimple art of in articulation”,Jim manages with brio and alacrity to leach out the humor in even the most dire of dramas (as in his latest story, of which it would be difficult to imagine something worse)
Now recently venturing forth from my zip code to catch Jim in conversation with Amy Hempel, I fully intended to record this worthy event with my small but mighty and unobtrusive video device. I must report I was restrained from accomplishing my goal by the officious and small-mindedness (I am tempted to say dishonest, but who knows what evil lurks in the minds of men) of the book store owner. Thus, I can only report that it was time well spent and encourage you to attend one of Jim’s numerous public events which are listed here
Happily, there are a number of recordings of Jim Shepard reading, joking, explicating, declaiming
and other things./ Here’s good one:
Find my 2007 conversation with Jim Shepard aT IDENTITYTHEORY.COM here.
by Arthur Kempton, and A Broken Hallelujah: Rock and Roll, Redemption, and the Life of Leonard Cohen by Liel Leibovitz.
These days I have developed a taste for music history, especially American Regional music. Coincidentally in the last few years the quality of such narratives seems to have upgraded from the hagiographic and fan’s notes to deeper and more telling stories. A few years ago the documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown gleaned one of the better stories to come out of the Motown music machine. In addition to give much deserved attention to the previously unheralded studio cats, Motown founder Berry Gordy’s commercial genius was credibly exhibited.
A couple of years back the Oscar winning documentary Twenty Feet from Stardom chronicled the lives of a few of great voices Darlene Love, Judith Hill, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Táta Vega, Jo Lawry and a few more, who sang back up both for super star bands and a large cache of hit records.
As a kind of bookend to the above mentioned Motown story, Kent Hartman’s The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Best-Kept Secret,filled in a vital piece of music history, putting the spotlight on a small cadre of West Coast studio musicians aka The Wrecking Crew reputedly known in the record business as “the secret weapons behind the top recording stars— included Glen Campbell, Leon Russell, guitarist Tommy Tedesco,drummer Hal Blaine,keyboardist Larry Knechtel as well and non-pareil bassist, Carol Kaye.
The hit records to which these players contributed, not to mention in some cause created — from Derek & the Dominoes Layla, Simon and Garfunkle’s Bridge Over Troubled Water virtually all the Beach Boys Records to Frank Sinatra’s Strangers in the Night are a greatest hits discography of the 60’s and 70’s. Hartman’s diligence is evident from the wealth of first person citations and collection of engaging anecdotes. M<y favorite is the story of how Ray Charles appearing in segregated Birmingham Alabama managed to pass off his Jewish guitar player.
Currently there is a serviceable documentary, The Wrecking Crew in the theaters produced and directed by Denny Tedesco, son of Tommy Tedesco. A bit to hagiographic for my tastes, it does give you some visuals for Hartman’s narrative.
A most transcendental music story is gracefully told in a lovely film ,Muscle Shoals, about that legendary, magical recording venue deep in backwater Muscle Shoals, Alabama and the extraordinary assemblage of solid gold musicians (Barry Beckett on keyboards, Roger Hawkins on drums, Jimmy Johnson on guitar, and David Hood) that Fame Studios founder Rick Hall attracted, nurtured, shepherded and goaded. Its equal parts biography, travelogue, anthropological study, business gossip and visual feast.
The short interviews and commentary by Etta James,Bono, Keith Richards, Stevie Winwood, Aretha, Wilson Pickett, Rich Hall, Jerry Wexler, Greg Allman and more are illuminating —almost all sharing a mystical view of what made Muscle Shoals a very special place. Alicia Keyes ends the film with a competent performance/ contemporary recording of Bob Dylan’s beautiful gospel song “Pressing On,” backed by the Swampers, Fame’s original session band— an understandable if miscast attempt to bridge the history to the present.
I first saw James Brown live at the Regal Theater in Chicago in 1966 and continued listening to him through subsequent decades — by my tastes he never lost his infections groove. Brown put the soul into soul music and the biopic Get on Up with a jumping performance by veteran actor Chadwick Boseman (who gave a fine performance as Jackie Robinson in 42) makes a plausible and riveting
narrative whether you are or not inclined to give credence to the facts of Brown’s complicated life
Literary journalist Robert Birnbaum, who grew up on the mean streets of Chicago’s Golden Ghetto,West Rogers Park, is also a veteran member of the Newton (MA) Little League umpiring corps (where he is known as Red) and a (bumbling, but) active father of a teen-age athlete. He contributes to a number of smart journals and maintains a relentless web presence at Our Man In Boston.He counts among his influences Nelson Algren, Ernie Banks, Golda Meir, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mike Royko, Leon Dupres, Hannah Arendt, Howard Zinn, Eduardo Galeanos and Barbara Ehrenreich. He lives in the working class section of West Newton with his pooch Beny.He claims to be working on his long awaited memoir Just Talking: Doing Things With Words.
I credit Thomas Beller and Johanna Yas’s Open City Books with introducing me to the literary marvel known as Edward St. Aubyn.Since then it is apparent his successive Patrick Melrose novels have gained him enthusiastic admirers.
Now comes a nicely packaged tome which will have to stand (for this moment in his young life) as his magnum opus, including all the novels— The Complete Patrick Melrose Novels: Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, Mother’s Milk, and At Last (Picador) The book’s publisher observes
For more than twenty years, acclaimed author Edward St. Aubyn has chronicled the life of Patrick Melrose, painting an extraordinary portrait of the beleaguered and self-loathing world of privilege. This single volume collects the first four novels—Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, and Mother’s Milk, a Man Booker finalist—to coincide with the publication of At Last, the final installment of this unique novel cycle.By turns harrowing and hilarious, these beautifully written novels dissect the English upper class as we follow Patrick Melrose’s story from child abuse to heroin addiction and recovery. Never Mind, the first novel, unfolds over a day and an evening at the family’s chateaux in the south of France, where the sadistic and terrifying figure of David Melrose dominates the lives of his five-year-old son, Patrick, and his rich and unhappy American mother, Eleanor. From abuse to addiction, the second novel, Bad News opens as the twenty-two-year-old Patrick sets off to collect his father’s ashes from New York, where he will spend a drug-crazed twenty-four hours. And back in England, the third novel, Some Hope, offers a sober and clean Patrick the possibility of recovery. The fourth novel, the Booker-shortlisted Mother’s Milk, returns to the family chateau, where Patrick, now married and a father himself, struggles with child rearing, adultery, his mother’s desire for assisted suicide, and the loss of the family home to a New Age foundation.Edward St. Aubyn offers a window into a world of utter decadence, amorality, greed, snobbery, and cruelty—welcome to the declining British aristocracy
What the above cited description leaves out and what has immense resonance is that this rapier sharp dissection of the English upper is as Ian Parker’s profile of St.Aubyn relates,”highly autobiographical novels”:
IN 1991, as Edward St. Aubyn was about to publish “Never Mind”… in which extremes of familial cruelty and social snobbery are described with a tart precision that is not quite free of cruelty and snobbery—he went for a walk with his mother in the English countryside and told her that his father had repeatedly raped him as a young boy. Her response “wasn’t totally satisfactory,” St. Aubyn said, several weeks ago. “She said, ‘Me, too’ ”—meaning that his father had raped her as well. “She was very, very keen to jump the queue and say how awful it was for her.
Here’s an St.Aubyn excerpt
AT HALF-PAST SEVEN IN the morning, carrying the laundry she had ironed the night before, Yvette came down the drive on her way to the house. Her sandal made a faint slapping sound as she clenched her toes to prevent it from falling off, and its broken strap made her walk unsteadily over the stony, rutted ground. Over the wall, below the line of cypresses that ran along the edge of the drive, she saw the doctor standing in the garden. In his blue dressing gown, and already wearing dark glasses although it was still too early for the September sun to have risen above the limestone mountain, he directed a heavy stream of water from the hose he held in his left hand onto the column of ants moving busily through the gravel at his feet. His technique was well established: he would let the survivors struggle over the wet stones, and regain their dignity for a while, before bringing the thundering water down on them again. With his free hand he removed a cigar from his mouth, its smoke drifting up through the brown and grey curls that covered the jutting bones of his forehead. He then narrowed the jet of water with his thumb to batter more effectively an ant on whose death he was wholly bent. Yvette had only to pass the fig tree and she could slip into the house without Dr Melrose knowing she had arrived. His habit, though, was to call her without looking up from the ground just when she thought she was screened by the tree. Yesterday he had talked to her for long enough to exhaust her arms, but not for so long that she might drop the linen. He gauged such things very precisely. He had started by asking her opinion of the mistral, with exaggerated respect for her native knowledge of Provence…. (excerpt continues)
And here James Wood effuses , which is( wonderful) a thing unto itself
“Implausibly brilliant speech . . . The striking gap between, on the one hand, the elegant polish of the narration, the silver rustle of these exquisite sentences, the poised narrowness of the social satire and, on the other hand, the screaming pain of the family violence inflicted on Patrick makes these books some of the strangest of contemporary novels . . . This prose, whose repressed English control is admired by everyone from Alan Hollinghurst to Will Self, is drawn inexorably back to a fearful instability, to the nakedness of infancy.”
*This title comes from Ian Parker’s New Yorker profile of Edward St Aubyn