TV Room: ‘The Handmaid’s Tale: Season 1’

The first season of The Handmaid’s Tale is out on DVD now. My review is at PopMatters:

A friend who didn’t know much about The Handmaid’s Tale, either the terrifying series or the even darker Margaret Atwood novel it was adapted from, was surprised when I called it an alternate history. All he knew was glimpses of the ads, which highlighted the show’s visual signature: Lines of meek-looking women shrouded in blazing red robes and face-hiding white bonnets. He thought it was some show about 17th century America. That’s by design. This is science fiction set in the future that looks to the past and magnifies the present…

Writer’s Desk: Get Your Tires Changed

It’s generally a bad idea to go to Facebook for—well, anything, really—but sometimes inspiration strikes.

Buzzfeed just wrote about a woman who, while waiting to get her tires changed, managed to knock out a few pages. The location (Tires, Tires, Tires) seemed to help:

Amy felt that that working at Tires Tires Tires was helping her word count, so she took her friend’s car in for an oil change, then her other car that was due for an oil change, then her sister’s car that also needed an oil change.

The moral of the story? Don’t assume that a tree-shaded cabin by a rustling brook is necessarily going to be your ideal writing.

Do what works. Wherever it works.

Screening Room: ‘Isle of Dogs’

Featuring all the usual suspects (Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton) plus Bryan Cranston, a lot of dry canine humor, and truckloads of Japanese cultural references from taiko drumming to Akira Kurosawa flicks, Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs is, well, the sum total of all those parts.

Isle of Dogs is playing now. My review is at Eyes Wide Open:

Looking at Wes Anderson’s career arc is like flipping through the passport of one of your better-traveled friends. There are his stories of neurotically creative New York (The Royal Tenenbaums) and emotionally stunted New England (Moonrise Kingdom). Then you have his further flung locations ranging from the tripped-out sun-stroked Mediterranean (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou) to a romantic postcard India (The Darjeeling Limited) and the imagined semi-historical locales of wartime Mitteleuropa (The Grand Budapest Hotel) and storybook British Isles (Fantastic Mr. Fox). Now, with his densely-layered but somewhat stillborn quasi-apocalyptic canine adventure fantasy Isle of Dogs, Anderson has finally crossed the Pacific to Japan. It’s only a matter of time before he gets to Australia. His kangaroos will most likely be highly droll…

Here’s the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘Ismael’s Ghosts’

Featuring a killer gathering of performers, from Mathieu Amalric to Charlotte Gainsbourg and Marion Cotillard, the new movie from Arnaud Desplechin, Ismael’s Ghosts, opens this week. My review is at Film Journal International:

If a person who had just seen Ismael’s Ghosts were asked, “Did you like the movie?” they could be tempted to respond, “Which one?” There is the romance between an acting-out director and the woman who calms him; the seemingly dead person who comes back to life, the other filmmaker losing his mind; the spy story being filmed by the first director; the biographical backstory to that story; and so on. The movie’s restless spirit slides and leaps from closely observed romantic drama to glass-shattering melodrama to bug-out farce and back again. About the only thing missing here is a music number…

Nota Bene: Impeaching the People

From Andrew Sullivan’s essay on two new books about the impeachment process:

The founders knew that without a virtuous citizenry, the Constitution was a mere piece of paper and, in Madison’s words, “no theoretical checks — no form of government can render us secure.” Franklin was blunter in forecasting the moment we are now in: He believed that the American experiment in self-government “can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other.” You can impeach a president, but you can’t, alas, impeach the people. They voted for the kind of monarchy the American republic was designed, above all else, to resist; and they have gotten one…

Writer’s Desk: Put on the Clown Suit

Dave Eggers—who turned 48 last week—once gave a fantastic description of writing fiction:

It feels like driving a car in a clown suit. You’re going somewhere, but you’re in costume, and you’re not really fooling anybody. You’re the guy in costume, and everybody’s supposed to forget that and go along with you.

The best advice in such a situation feels like it has to be: Go with it. Suit up, fool everybody, and plow through until it feels feels absolutely normal.

Reader’s Corner: National Book Critics Circle Awards

The fine group of folks known as the National Book Critics Circle—who graciously suffer my inclusion among their ranks—have just announced their 2017 winners. Minnesota press Graywolf snagged awards in two categories, an impressive feat. See here:

Poetry — Layli Long Soldier, Whereas (Graywolf)

Criticism — Carina Chocano, You Play The Girl: On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Trainwrecks, & Other Mixed Messages (HMH/Mariner)

Autobiography — Xiaolu Guo, Nine Continents: A Memoir In and Out of China (Grove)

Biography — Caroline Fraser, Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder (Metropolitan Books)

Nonfiction — Frances FitzGerald, The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America (Simon & Schuster)

Fiction — Joan Silber, Improvement (Counterpoint)

The John Leonard Prize — Carmen Maria Machado, Her Body and Other Parties (Graywolf)

The Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing — Charles Finch

The Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award — John McPhee