Screening Room: ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette?’

Cate Blanchett stars in Richard Linklater’s adaptation of Maria Semple’s beloved novel Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, which opens this week.

My review is at The Playlist:

Once upon a time, Bernadette was a rising ingenue in the architecture world, with a knack for quirky science-fiction designs and looking dazzling in old photographs (the bangs and artfully dangled cigarettes help). Her career was then sidetracked by a catastrophe that the movie withholds until far too late in the process. By the time we catch up with her, she has become a fierce recluse. Living in a damp and vine-riddled hilltop Seattle manse that she keeps up like some horticulturally-minded relative of the Addams Family…

Here’s the trailer:

Reader’s Corner: Don’t Give Up

Novelist, poet, and writing professor Chuck Kinder passed away recently. Known in many circles as the inspiration behind Michael Chabon’s glorious novel Wonder Boys (and its highly underrated film adaptation), Kinder sometimes had a hard time finishing things.

Per Shelf Awareness:

Chabon, who studied under him in the 1980s at Pitt and published Wonder Boys in 1995, spoke with the San Francisco Chronicle in 2001 about Kinder’s role in inspiring the character played by Michael Douglas in Curtis Hanson’s 2000 film adaptation: “I remember peering into his office and seeing this monolithic pile of white paper–the inverse of the monolith from 2001–under his desk lamp. In my memory, it was 4,000 pages long. He was proud of how big a bastard it was…

Kinder eventually wrangled the beast into the quite svelte 360-ish page novel Honeymooners after a mere two decades or so.

Never give up.

Reader’s Corner: ‘Lake Success’ is a Picaresque Journey to Nowhere

My review of the new Gary Shteyngart novel is at PopMatters:

One gets the sense from the start of Gary Shteyngart’s Lake Success that this is going to be something of a status report on the nation. And it’s not just because of Trump. Barry Cohen, the doofus we’re stuck with throughout, stumbles into Port Authority bleeding from his head and trying to get a ticket out of town. A fund manager with $2.4 billion in assets wearing a Citi-branded Patagonia vest over his Vineyard Vines shirt, he’s not a bus station type but nevertheless is feeling like he needs to go off the grid. No NetJet from Teterboro or Acela train for Barry…

One of the book’s chapters was excerpted at the New Yorker.

Writer’s Desk: Immerse Yourself

Michael Ondaatje doesn’t work fast. He spent six years on his seminal novel The English Patientwhich actually just won the Golden Man Booker Award (meaning it was the Booker Award-winner of the past 50 years). That is in part because he likes to drown himself in the material.

Per this interview from BookPage, Ondaatje prefers to get outside of himself and what he knows:

That’s how you learn. You don’t want to write your own opinion, you don’t want to just represent yourself, but represent yourself through someone else. It doubles your perception, to write from the point of view of someone you’re not. To write about someone like myself would be very limiting…

He was talking about his novel Anil’s Ghost. That one took seven years. Escaping into a new character and a new world takes time. But the immersion is worth it if you want to write something great.

Reader’s Corner: ‘Heather, the Totality’

In this novel from Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, the lives of a spiritually deadened uptown Manhattan family intersect with the downward trajectory of a New Jersey convict who never had a chance.

My review of Heather, the Totality is at PopMatters:

Nobody will finish this novel remembering a sublime fillip of dialogue or splash of lovely description. They are more likely to snap the book shut about three or so hours after picking it up—and they almost certainly will fly through it at that speed, because this thin blade of a book has a wicked magnetic pull—and pour themselves a couple fingers of something strong. To steady the nerves…

You can read an excerpt here.

Screening Room: ‘Mudbound’

The historical melodrama Mudbound has been making the festival rounds, from Sundance to the New York Film Festival. It’s due on Netflix and in select theaters on November 17.

My review is at PopMatters:

A surprisingly assured big-canvas effort from director Dee Rees (PariahBessie), Mudbound is adapted from Hillary Jordan’s 2008 novel about two families, one white and one black, who find themselves unwillingly bound by land, happenstance, poverty, and the persistence of persecution in the Jim Crow South. The Jacksons are a family of black sharecroppers who have to adjust to their new white landowners, an unsure bunch known as the McAllans whose various missteps (intentional and accidental) lead to bloody tragedy…

Here’s the trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Take the Train

Among the books listed for the Man Booker Prize 2017 were familiar names like Arundhati Roy, George Saunders, Colson Whitehead, and Zadie Smith.

New to the list was Fiona Mozley, a 29-year-old bookseller from York whose debut novel, Elmet, hasn’t even been published yet. According to her editor, Mozley wrote the story while commuting on the train.

To be longlisted is an impressive achievement for anyone but for a debut author who wrote Elmet while travelling up and down to London from York on the train is just amazing.

This might be tricky if you take the New York subway to work (fewer seats, after all), unless you’re one of those dictating writers.