August 22, 2015: Leviathan, Andrei Zvyagintsev dir, 2014
This movie has striking landscapes but presents a quite negative view of Russian society today under Putin, with fractured family life, rampant alcoholism, a corrupt Church in cahoots with a corrupt bureaucracy, a quite hopeless outlook overall. At first I suspected US-managed state propaganda was behind it, with some evil genius like Dick Cheney pulling the strings to manipulate opinion....read more
August 22, 2015: Frog Music, Emma Donoghue, Little Brown, 2014
This novel is built up from an autopsy report following the murder of Jenny Bonnet, who collected frog legs from Lake Merced for the restaurant trade in San Francisco in the mid-1870’s. Donoghue has fictionalized the event and embellished it with local news stories from the period. Jenny was friends with Blanche Beunon, a former Parisian circus trapeze artist who moved to San Francisco...read more
January 31, 2015: Four Novels by Tolstoy
Tolstoy’s “The Cossacks” (1859) traces the development of Dmitri Anréich Olenin, a privileged young man who abandons the world of Moscow society life to pursue his imagined idea of openness, freedom, authenticity and the natural life in the Caucasus. Leaving debts and boredom behind, Olenin enters this new world as a cadet, or apprentice officer, in the Tsar’s...read more
June 14, 2014: There’s this guy
What can a boy do? Maybe be a futbol star like Chelato. What else? Hang around in El Progreso and wait for something to happen? He’s been waiting all his life for something to happen. He’s still living at home and his mama, his tía, is saying, I’m getting tired of you being here. There’s this guy who’s been pressuring him. When first enlisted he’ll be a lookout, report on...read more
May 09, 2014: Art or insignia?
Me get a tat? No way.
Wait, I take that back. Suppose I went on a drunk and woke up in a whorehouse with “Death Before Dishonor” spangled across my chest and only a dim memory of what transpired before. Then OK, maybe. Because I gave myself to a wild Dionysian impulse and let the devil take the consequences! At least the impulse was genuine, even if completely idiotic.
But as a...read more
April 04, 2014: Mara Salvatruchas
Who are they? Where did they come from and what do they want?
They’re descendants of the wave of refugees from El Salvador’s vicious civil war of the 1970’s and 80’s, who fled to El Norte, many landing in Los Angeles. As the newest and poorest of new arrivals they were discriminated against by those who had arrived earlier. For protection, opportunity and community they formed...read more
March 21, 2014: The Writing Life II
Blog? What’s the point? It’s imaginary & solipsistic. But one thing it can do is stimulate fluency. Prepare you with responses to questions that may come up in presentations or actual conversations with real people. What do you think about this? About anything? Open up, don’t hold back. Can’t say it? Tongue-tied? Your thoughts are congested, contradictory, fogged over? Say it anyway!...read more
March 21, 2014: The Writing Life III
How to boost your indie novel. Begin by squandering a morning watching YouTube videos: a bunch of Random House editors in a staged “interview” emoting about how passionate they are; A guy who says begin marketing your book 3 years before you start writing it; A book marketing guru who says he hasn’t been inside a bookstore since the 90’s. OK, now the morning’s gone & that blank page...read more
March 16, 2014: Bush-Gore in El Salvador?
Results from the March 9 presidential runoff election in El Salvador are in, and they strangely mirror those of the 2000 Bush-Gore contest in the US. In ES, the Left’s man Salvador Cerén, a guerrilla fighter during that country’s 12-year long civil war and now the leader of FMLN, its progressive party, beat Norman Quijano, the candidate of the Right, by just 6000 votes out of 3M cast....read more
March 04, 2014: The Writing Life
“The image I had was, if you represented writers who were good, they and you were doomed to a life of poverty and madness and alcoholism and suicide. Dying spider plants and grimy windows on the Lower East Side.”
—Agent Andrew Wylie on representing literary authors, quoted in TNR, Oct 13, 2013