If you love Chinatown, then you’ll love The Big Goodbye—and it’s good reading for any American cinema buff.

THE BIG GOODBYE

CHINATOWN AND THE LAST YEARS OF HOLLYWOOD

A biography of the making of Chinatown, which scriptwriter Robert Towne called “a state of mind.”

In his latest, Los Angeles–based film chronicler Wasson (Improv Nation: How We Made a Great American Art, 2017, etc.), who has written about Bob Fosse, Audrey Hepburn, Blake Edwards, and Paul Mazursky, undertakes a multifaceted dissection of the infamous noir film starring Jack Nicholson. Produced by Robert Evans and written by Towne, Chinatown was directed by the “brilliant tyrant” Roman Polanski. Throughout the book, Wasson treats the film as a masterpiece, an arguable but reasonable assessment, and delineates his biographies of Nicholson, Evans, Towne, and Polanski in the context of the film specifically. The author adeptly illustrates how each man brought his own experience of contemporary Hollywood to the film though the story is arguably a more accurate depiction of 1930s Hollywood than any noir film recorded in that time period. Wasson portrays drugs and crime in a matter-of-fact manner befitting the movie itself, and he doesn’t minimize or romanticize any of the less-than-savory elements involving the principals of the narrative; this applies especially to Polanski. The author weaves into the text details about the Tate-LaBianca murders and their effects on not only Polanski, but the city as a whole. He shows how the phrase “That’s Chinatown” was not just a memorable motif in the movie, but also a reflection of the visceral emotions roiling LA at the time of the film’s release. “Since the murders,” writes the author, “the communal dream of social and political reformation that had illumed the sixties had blackened, almost on cue, at the decade’s turn.” As Towne said, “there are some crimes for which you get punished, and there are some crimes that our society isn’t equipped to punish, and so we reward the criminals.” Through Wasson’s thorough research, this book clearly illuminates that concept.

If you love Chinatown, then you’ll love The Big Goodbye—and it’s good reading for any American cinema buff.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-30182-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier...

  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

  • National Book Award Winner

  • National Book Critics Circle Finalist

THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING

A moving record of Didion’s effort to survive the death of her husband and the near-fatal illness of her only daughter.

In late December 2003, Didion (Where I Was From, 2003, etc.) saw her daughter, Quintana Roo Dunne, hospitalized with a severe case of pneumonia, the lingering effects of which would threaten the young woman’s life for several months to come. As her daughter struggled in a New York ICU, Didion’s husband, John Gregory Dunne, suffered a massive heart attack and died on the night of December 30, 2003. For 40 years, Didion and Dunne shared their lives and work in a marriage of remarkable intimacy and endurance. In the wake of Dunne’s death, Didion found herself unable to accept her loss. By “magical thinking,” Didion refers to the ruses of self-deception through which the bereaved seek to shield themselves from grief—being unwilling, for example, to donate a dead husband’s clothes because of the tacit awareness that it would mean acknowledging his final departure. As a poignant and ultimately doomed effort to deny reality through fiction, that magical thinking has much in common with the delusions Didion has chronicled in her several previous collections of essays. But perhaps because it is a work of such intense personal emotion, this memoir lacks the mordant bite of her earlier work. In the classics Slouching Toward Bethlehem (1968) and The White Album (1979), Didion linked her personal anxieties to her withering dissection of a misguided culture prey to its own self-gratifying fantasies. This latest work concentrates almost entirely on the author’s personal suffering and confusion—even her husband and daughter make but fleeting appearances—without connecting them to the larger public delusions that have been her special terrain.

A potent depiction of grief, but also a book lacking the originality and acerbic prose that distinguished Didion’s earlier writing.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-4314-X

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2005

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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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