Screening Room: ‘Widows’

Viola Davis in ‘Widows’ (20th Century Fox)

In Widows, the new Chicago-set thriller from Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) and Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) adapted from the series by British crime novelist Lynda La Plante, Viola Davis has to pay $2 million back to some gangsters her husband ripped off before being inconveniently shot dead.

Widows already toured the festival circuit and now opens wide this Friday. My review is at Eyes Wide Open:

[Widows] is technically a crime story. But it’s also a smart character study of women thrown to the wolves by their criminal men. Behind all that, it’s the story of a great city being stripped down and sold for parts. This might be the greatest movie about an American city since John Sayles’ City of Hope and the best American heist flick since Spike Lee’s Inside Man. But those differing attentions sometimes work at cross purposes…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Write the Book You’re Supposed to Write

When Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn was trying to write her very great, very creepy novel Dark Places, she was having trouble with the heroine, who she initially wanted to seem different than her earlier protagonists. According to this article from Fast Company, Flynn showed some pages to her husband. He read them, poured her some wine, and said, “you can tell you don’t like her, and you don’t like writing her.”

Per Flynn:

It was a very good lesson, which is: don’t let the outside voices tell you what you should be writing. You’ve got to write the book that you’re supposed to be writing, not write the book that you think people will want to read or the book that will sell better or the book that the critics will like more.

Reader’s Corner: Women and the New Noir

meganabbottIt used to be that mysteries were a particularly men-centric corner of the publishing world. You had your Agatha Christie and later on Janet Evanovich and Patricia Cornwell. But while those authors could sell in the millions, the authors that many literary types preferred tended toward the male: Raymond Chandler and the like.

But more recently, in the post-Gone Girl era, that seems to have changed. Not only do female readers appear to be taking up more of the audience, and women authors occupying more of the bestseller positions in the genre, but the books are increasingly being critically recognized.

There’s good reason for that, argues Terrence Rafferty:

The female writers, for whatever reason (men?), don’t much believe in heroes, which makes their kind of storytelling perhaps a better fit for these cynical times. Their books are light on gunplay, heavy on emotional violence. Murder is de rigueur in the genre, so people die at the hands of others—lovers, neighbors, obsessive strangers—but the body counts tend to be on the low side. “I write about murder,” Tana French once said, “because it’s one of the great mysteries of the human heart: How can one human being deliberately take another one’s life away?” Sometimes, in the work of French and others, the lethal blow comes so quietly that it seems almost inadvertent, a thing that in the course of daily life just happens. Death, in these women’s books, is often chillingly casual, and unnervingly intimate…

New in Books: ‘The Dinner’

book-dinner-hermankoch-200 (1)Herman Koch’s nasty surprise novel The Dinner was first published in his native Netherlands back in 2009. Since then, it’s been published in about twenty-five countries and been compared to everything from Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl to Yasmin Reza’s God of Carnage. The American edition hit shelves this month.

You can read my review at PopMatters:

It begins with blank effect, as though listening to your none-too-interesting friend relate a perfectly ordinary evening filled with ordinary grievances. The narrator, Paul, grouses about this and that, with a chipper flatness that suggests one of those quiet, empty books about ennui and social conventions. Before it’s all over, though, Herman Koch’s serenely malicious little mousetrap of a novel, The Dinner, will have revealed some deadly shadows behind the bright-mannered griping of its opening pages…

Reader’s Corner: National Book Awards

The finalists were announced last week for the 2012 National Book Awards. The list of fiction finalists overlooked some big-name releases this year from Michael Chabon (Telegraph Avenue) and Tom Wolfe (Back to Blood), not to mention some pulpier (but nevertheless deservedly critically beloved) books like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. The list also drew attention to a couple of novels about the current wars (Billy Flynn’s Long Halftime Walk and The Yellow Birds), which seems appropriate as this is the first year books on that subject have finally started filtering into stores. Here are the five:

  • This is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz
  • A Hologram for the King, by Dave Eggers
  • The Round House, by Louise Erdrich
  • Billy Flynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain
  • The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers

It’s a strong list, overall, but the smart money has to be on Diaz to win. Not only has the wait for a new work been excruciating (his astounding novel Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao came out five years ago) but the man just won a MacArthur “genius” grant.

Winners will be announced on November 14, 2012.