The lives and loves of expatriates on Mallorca, shaped by a 60-year-old misunderstanding.
Nichols' novel opens in 2005 with a chance meeting between Lulu Davenport and Gerald Rutledge on a cliff-top road near The Rocks, Lulu's seaside hotel. Though they live in the same small town on an island, the couple has managed to avoid each other since their very brief marriage in the 1940s, and this encounter immediately becomes a confrontation. In its course, the pair of 80-somethings accidentally tumble to their deaths. The remaining sections of the novel—set in 1995, 1983, 1970, 1966, 1956, 1951, and 1948—trace backward through the ripple effects of their falling-out to the incident that started it all, sweeping into the vortex their children by other spouses, and the generation after that as well. As intoxicating as a long afternoon sitting at the bar at The Rocks, the book features complications that include a book deal, a real estate swindle, a shipwreck, a drug bust, and many sexual affairs, including a couple of statutory rapes. All of it is absolutely riveting, leaving the reader desperate to depart immediately for swoony Mallorca, depicted from the time no one knew where it was (one would-be visitor goes to Monaco by mistake) to its present-day popularity. Nichols' expertise on everything from the Odyssey to olive oil to classic movies enriches the story, as does his profound understanding of his screwed-up cast of characters. "They were self-employed professionals, artists, writers, nonviolent sweet-natured criminals, mysteriously self-supporting or genteelly impoverished,....occasionally sleeping with one another in a manner that disturbed no one. In unspoken ways, they recognized one another, and everything they did made perfect sense to them, though they often arrived on the island as pariahs of the outside world, but were soothed and taken in by their steady, tolerant, and nonjudgmental friends and lovers on Mallorca."
A literary island vacation with a worldly, wonderfully salacious storyteller.
Filmmaker Howard Brookner (1954-1989) is the focus of this engrossing, intimate memoir by novelist and biographer Gooch (English/William Paterson Univ.; Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor, 2009, etc.).
Meeting at a gay bar in Manhattan in the 1970s, Gooch and Brookner felt instant attraction and rapport. “Our warped lives, our shared predilection for the ‘far out,’ was a bond between Howard and me, as well as between us and our peers,” writes the author. “We were all trying strenuously to walk on the wild side.” An “increasingly bold and expressionist phase of gay culture” fueled that wildness with rent boys and bathhouses, speed, cocaine and heroin. Brookner was involved in making a documentary about the notorious writer William Burroughs. Gooch, after earning a doctorate in English at Columbia, detoured to become a male model. Needing a portfolio, he approached the only photographer he knew: Robert Mapplethorpe. “Robert and I were both pretty clueless about fashion photography,” Gooch admits, and the results were bizarre. In Paris on a modeling gig, Gooch met the young Andy Warhol, “weirdly, transparently needy and vulnerable,” and spent some time on “Planet Warhol…a giddy, weightless planet, but without much oxygen.” When modeling ran dry, Gooch turned to writing, first porn reviews for a gay newspaper, then fiction, mainstream articles and interviews. Brookner’s career took off after he released Burroughs: The Movie in 1983, to critical raves. By then, however, gay exuberance was tempered by rumors of an insidious virus. In 1987, Brookner tested positive for HIV. For Gooch, the news felt like “emotional whiplash.” Soon, Brookner fell prey to an opportunistic virus that affected brain cells, and he began to lose his sight. Spasms, fever and bacterial pneumonia followed. At the age of 35, a man Gooch calls “a cresting young genius” was dead.
This candid memoir lovingly evokes a life, and a world, lost.
Hilarious, surreal, and bracingly original, Walker’s ambitious debut avoids moralistic traps to achieve something rarer: a genuinely subversive novel that’s also serious fun.
At just over 300 pounds, Plum Kettle is waiting for her real life to start: she’ll be a writer. She’ll be loved. She’ll be thin. In the meantime, she spends her days ghostwriting advice to distraught teenage girls on behalf of a popular teen magazine (“Dear Kitty, I have stretch marks on my boobs, please help”), meticulously counting calories (“turkey lasagna (230)”), and fantasizing about life after weight-loss surgery. But when a mysterious young woman in Technicolor tights starts following her, Plum finds herself drawn into an underground feminist community of radical women who refuse to bow to oppressive societal standards. Under the tutelage of Verena Baptist, anti-diet crusader and heiress to the Baptist diet fortune (a diet with which Plum is intimately familiar), Plum undertakes a far more daring—and more dangerous—five-step plan: to live as her true self now. Meanwhile, a violent guerrilla group, known only as “Jennifer,” has emerged, committing acts of vigilante justice against misogynists. As her surgery date nears and Jennifer’s acts grow increasingly drastic, Plum finds she’s at the center of what can only be described as a literal feminist conspiracy—and she’s transforming into a version of herself she never knew existed. But while it would be easy for the book to devolve into a tired parable about the virtues of loving yourself just the way you are, Walker’s sharp eye and dry humor push it away from empty platitudes and toward deeper and more challenging turf. Ultimately, for all the unsettling pleasure of Walker’s splashier scenarios—and there are many—it’s Plum’s achingly real inner life that gives the novel its arresting emotional weight.
Part Fight Club, part feminist manifesto, an offbeat and genre-bending novel that aims high—and delivers.
A stirring history of that bad time, 45-odd years ago, when we didn’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind was blowing, though we knew it was loud.
The 1970s, writes Vanity Fair special correspondent Burrough (The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes, 2009, etc.), saw something unknown since the American Revolution: a group of radical leftists forming “an underground resistance movement” that, as his subtitle notes, is all but forgotten today. The statistics are daunting and astonishing: In 1971 and 1972, the FBI recorded more than 2,500 bombings, only 1 percent of which led to a fatality. In contrast to the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, which killed 168 people, the “single deadliest radical-underground attack of the decade killed four people.” The FBI, of course, took this very seriously. As Burrough records, it embarked on a campaign of infiltration and interdiction that soon overstepped its bounds, legally speaking. The author takes a deep look into this history on both sides, interviewing veterans of the underground on one hand and of the FBI on the other. He traces the bombing campaign back to the man he deems a “kind of Patient Zero for the underground groups of the 1970s,” who began seeding Manhattan with bombs in the year of Woodstock and provided a blueprint for radicals right and left ever since. It is clear that the FBI has Burrough’s sympathy; after all, many of those who went underground got off lightly, while overly zealous federal agents (the man who would later be unmasked as Watergate’s Deep Throat among them) were prosecuted. The author’s history is thoroughgoing and fascinating, though with a couple of curious notes—e.g., the likening of the Weathermen et al. to the Nazi Werewolf guerrillas “who briefly attempted to resist Allied forces after the end of World War II.”
A superb chronicle, long—but no longer than needed—and detailed, that sheds light on how the war on terror is being waged today.
Exhaustively researched, highly engrossing chronicle of the outrageous abduction of a pair of well-known South Korean filmmakers by the nefarious network of North Korea’s Kim Jong-Il.
Filmmaker Fischer carefully presents a well-documented story of the kidnapping of South Korean actress Choi Eun-Hee and her former husband, film producer Shin Sang-Ok, amid some suspicion that the two secretly defected in order to jump-start their stalling careers (though the author provides ample evidence to the contrary). After a stunningly successful moviemaking collaboration that spanned the mid-1950s until their divorce in 1974, Choi and Shin had gone their own ways by 1978. Choi was raising their two adopted children and mostly teaching acting while Shin saw his studio stripped of its license due to his wheeling and dealing. Meanwhile, Kim Jong-Il—a film fanatic who cleverly insinuated himself as the sole standing heir to his father, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea founder Kim Il-Sung, via his richly propagandistic output by the Korea Film Studio—craved validation and expertise in order to be taken seriously in the international community. Hence the scheme to kidnap the two reigning South Korean film idols, re-educate them and allow them all they needed to refashion the North Korean film industry. This is just what happened: The two stars were lured to Hong Kong—first Choi in January 1978, then Shin in September—and hustled onto a freighter and taken to Pyongyang. Isolated, imprisoned in luxury homes (Shin spent two years in prison for trying to escape), summoned periodically to Kim’s birthday parties and expected to drink heavily and be merry, the two were eventually thrown together in 1983 and directed to reignite their collaboration and marriage. Seven films later, including the Godzilla-like Pulgasari (1985)—they took asylum in the U.S. Embassy in Vienna.
A meticulously detailed feat of rare footage inside the DPRK’s propaganda machinery.
After returning from three years as a correspondent in Washington, Swedish reporter Annika Bengtzon must contend with the abduction of her husband, Thomas, in East Africa and the discovery of a nursery school mom's body in Stockholm.
Annika has never been through the kind of ordeal she faces here. The circumstances of the woman's death suggest there's a serial killer at work. And the kidnappers are demanding $40 million to spare Thomas, a justice department worker on a delegation to get Kenya to close its border with Somalia. Seeing an opportunity to turn Thomas' abduction into a boost in circulation, Annika's newspaper offers to foot the bill—if she'll file a first-person series on her negotiations with the abductors and her trip to Africa to deliver the ransom. An old journalist friend of hers shows up under false pretenses to get Annika to be a subject in her video report. Meanwhile, Annika's children are wondering who the stranger in her bedroom is. It's Thomas' appealing boss, monitoring the phone—and growing closer to Annika. Marklund fans will find plenty of gripping suspense in the book, which boasts a doozy of a climax. Some mystery readers may be put off by the broad strokes of humor she employs in nailing the desperation of the post-Web newspaper culture and holding Thomas accountable for his philandering ways—even as he is being threatened with dismemberment. But most readers should find the book irresistible. In balancing the sharp shifts in tone, Marklund is masterful.
Annika's ninth adventure is a bravura performance that raises Marklund's game and lifts her above the mystery genre.
Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Smith (Creative Writing/Princeton Univ.; Life on Mars, 2011, etc.) grew up in Fairfield, California, a solidly middle-class suburb, with four older siblings and doting, supportive parents. After a career as an Army engineer, her father worked in Silicon Valley; her mother, a former teacher, was a devoted member of the First Baptist Church. Sheltered by her community and family, Smith had little sense of her black identity until she spent two “sweltering and long” weeks visiting relatives in Alabama. Her grandmother, she learned, still cleaned for a white family; her own house smelled of “cooking gas, pork fat, tobacco juice, and cane syrup.” Suddenly, Smith was confronted with a new image of her parents’ Southern roots, and it frightened her. Back in California, though, that visit receded into memory as she excelled in school, had a chaste epistolary love affair with a teacher and racked up achievements for her college applications: various extracurricular activities, writing for the school paper and starting a Junior Statesman of America club. Teachers encouraged her, including one who remarked that as an African-American woman, she should “take advantage of the opportunities that will bring you.” Smith resented the idea that her success would be based on anything other than her own talents, but when she was accepted at Harvard, the comment gnawed at her. Besides being a candid, gracefully written account of dawning black consciousness, Smith’s memoir probes her relationship with her mother, whose death from cancer brackets the narrative. The author’s drive to leave Fairfield was fueled by her “urgent, desperate” need to separate herself from her mother; in college, she became militantly black, “caught up in the conversation about Identity” and judgmental about her mother’s beliefs.
Guilt and regret pervade Smith’s recollection of her mother’s illness and death, darkening the edges of this light-filled memoir.
Novelist, Guggenheim Fellow and co-founder of the Believer magazine, Julavits (Writing/Columbia Univ.; co-editor, The Vanishers, 2012, etc.), now in her mid-40s, noticed that the smallest unit of time she experiences is no longer a minute, a day, nor even a week, but years. That disquieting perception inspired this book: “Since I am suddenly ten years older than I was, it seems, one year ago, I decided to keep a diary.” Time is much on her mind in gently philosophical entries that do not appear chronologically but instead are disrupted and reordered, recounting two years of her life in New York, where she and her husband teach; Maine, where she grew up yearning to leave and now spends joyful summers; and Germany, where the family lived during her husband’s fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin. Admitting that she is a “sub-sub-subtextual” reader of the world, Julavits analyzes her marriage; the needs and growing independence of her young son and daughter; her visits to a psychic, with whom she discusses the mystical power of objects and synchronicity (“My life seems marked by a high degree of coincidence and recursion,” Julavits confesses); former lovers; her aspirations as a writer; and such guilty pleasures as watching the reality series The Bachelorette, whose “love language” she and her husband gleefully parse. Other pastimes include shopping on eBay, which, she writes, “has immeasurably improved my quality of life more than doctors or drugs”; succumbing to temptation at yard sales; and swimming, despite her overwhelming fear of sharks. Some entries are slyly funny, gossipy and irreverent; others, quietly intimate, reveal recurring depression and anxiety, “alternate states of being” to which she gratefully returns: “When you become you again, you can actually greet yourself. You can welcome yourself back.”
An inventive, beautifully crafted memoir, wise and insightful.
The narrator of the six-volume memoir-novel confronts his late teens, in which he defies his father by behaving much like him.
As the book opens, Karl Ove is 18 and bent on proving his independence. Instead of going to college, he’s taken a teaching job at a school in rural north Norway, much as his father did a few years earlier. Karl Ove, though, is determined to use the gig as a steppingstone to becoming a writer, using his off hours to work on his fiction. Naturally, his plans are undone in short order. Neighbors, fellow teachers and even some students in the tiny town come knocking unannounced, hard-drinking parties are the sole entertainment, and teaching is more challenging than he’d expected. After an agonizing hangover, the story shifts to Karl Ove at 16, as his mind operates on two tracks: cultivating his dreams of being a writer (he finagles a gig writing record reviews for a paper) and scheming to lose his virginity. Standing in the way of the latter goal are his pretentiousness, a growing alcohol habit to match his dad’s and a premature ejaculation problem, but he’s keenly aware of only the last issue. Of the four books in this series published in English thus far, this one is the most rhetorically conventional: Knausgaard employs humor, irony and melodrama in ways that he studiously avoided in previous episodes. But he’s done so not to pander but to criticize, echoing the mindset of a sex-obsessed and callow young man still in his teens and unshaped as a person and as a writer. And when the story arrives at its climax (and you can likely guess what that involves), Knausgaard uses the plainspokenness that defined his previous books to powerfully evoke the depth of his obliviousness, the hollowness of his triumph.
An entertaining portrait of the artist as a young lout.
Art, money, and ill intent collide in Interview magazine editor Bollen’s (Lightning People, 2011) sophomore novel.
Mills Chevern (“You know by now that Mills Chevern isn’t my real name”) arrives in Orient, on the North Fork of Long Island, as an adolescent drifter. He leaves a somewhat more established figure in the community, both suspect and savior. What happens in between is the subject of all kinds of speculation in Bollen's leisurely yarn, for his arrival coincides with a rash of murders in the placid community, a haven for the well-to-do and a slew of real estate agents, developers, and artists (“the sex was miserable, but they were artists who craved misery”) who depend on those richies for their livelihoods. One, Beth, a native of the place with an intimate knowledge of where all the previous bodies are buried, so to speak, takes Mills in, courting the bad temper of a memorable Romanian artist who serves as a kind of Greek chorus to the later proceedings, growling and grumping. As the bodies mount, the huge pool of suspects begins to dwindle somewhat, for everyone, it seems, has a reason to kill; as Mills laments, “How can that detective suspect me when all these people had a motive?” Given all the possibilities, the identity of the real killer, in a nicely paced tale that unfolds deliberately over the course of 600 pages, is a nice surprise. Bollen could have chosen to sneer, scold, and satirize, for, he lets us know, at least some of the victims had it coming. But he mostly plays it straight—except, that is, for the moments of perilous same-sex entanglement, reminiscent of the best of Patricia Highsmith. And no one emerges unscathed from the gossipy tale, full of crossed storylines and small-town malice; Bollen has a real talent for summarizing character with zingers that nicely punctuate the story: “‘I love you too,’ she said, chain-rolling and chain-smoking her cigarettes, a one-woman factory, her mouth a purple waste-management vent.”
Skillfully written, with delightful malice aforethought.