Royal Wedding

UnknownA friend recently reminded me the Americans fought a war to get away from the English Royals, yet many of us were happy to succumb to the pomp and ceremony of the recent royal wedding between an American who gave up her religion, her career, and her country for the love of a Prince – a plot right out of the Hallmark Channel.  Most public commentators were either politely politically correct or effusively complimentary; privately, opinions on the dress, the celebrities attending, and the sermon varied – but everyone loved the Queen.

51kkZEjM6bL._AC_US218_I found Anthony Lane’s “Daily Comment” in the New Yorker this morning, and I  laughed so hard, my fascinator fell off.  After reading “Harry and Meghan Look to the Future, but Some Royals Never Change,” I decided to download his collection of New Yorker essays – Nobody’s Perfect.  Since Lane is a movie critic, the book is full of his irreverent reviews from “Indecent Proposal: to “Pearl Harbor.”  Although he skewers the plots, the actors, and producers – even Julia Roberts and Alfred Hitchcock do not escape – the book is full of honest laughs.  The Queen would approve.

Short Stories

thumbnail_IMG_4133    After listening to Lauren Groff read her short story “Dogs Go Wolf” in the New Yorker about two little girls, ages four and seven, left behind on a deserted island, I thought about why I preferred novels to short stories.  In Groff’s voice, the little girls came alive, their trials of fear and hunger seemed more acute than if I had read about it.  Their misery continues through a half hour – or six pages in the New Yorker – getting more and more horrible, until they eventually fall into a stupor – “two little girls made of air.”  To distract from the horror, Groff inserts a promise of their future – one becoming a lawyer, the other married – before returning to the blazing sun and the little wolves they’ve become.   By the end of the story, they are rescued, but the gap in their lives seems hollow in the short description of the incident on the island that made them whoever they became.   Perhaps Groff will write more in a novel.  I’d like to know more about these brave souls.

Short stories offer a quick glimpse into a moment of the characters’ lives.  Edith Pearlman and Jane Gardam have successfully navigated the difficulty of the short – both offering soundbites worth remembering.  I am looking forward to reading Penelope Lively’s collection in “The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories.”  When I write, I prefer the short story, as difficult as it may be to condense, to spending years with the characters of a novel – but maybe that will change.

For now, the short story is a quick diversion, and when well-written, has a lot to offer, but I still prefer immersing myself in the novel.  Claire Messud’s two little girls in “The Burning Girl” have me mesmerized right now, and I am glad to have them with me for longer than a short.

Do you have a preference?  short story or novel?

To hear Groff’s story – listen to the podcast here

Reviews of Other Books by Groff:

You Taste What You See

images-1Can a glass cup sweeten your coffee?

In Nicola Twilley’s New Yorker essay – Accounting for Taste  – packaging can subliminally affect the flavor of food. Not a new idea – the power of the mind over the senses. In the nineteen fifties Vance Packard demonstrated how slick marketing could manipulate in The Hidden Persuaders. In this century, Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink proposes we form perceptions based on our immediate surroundings. Twilley’s summary of Charles Spence’s research demonstrates we taste what we see – the “new frontier”of oral perception.

Longing for something sweet? Some of the findings you might want to consider next time you lift a fork:

  • Strawberry mousse tastes sweeter when served in a white container.
  • Coffee tastes sweeter in a glass mug.
  • Red in packaging is associated with sweetness.
  • Cheesecake tastes sweeter when eaten from a round white plate rather than a square one.

And the sounds surrounding your taste buds may make a difference. Try listening to a soundtrack of crashing waves and screeching gulls while eating your next seafood plate to improve its taste.  Or, better yet, find a restaurant near a beach.

 

 

Japanese Art – on display and in books

Peter Schjeldahl’s New Yorker essay on the Guggenheim display of Japanese artist On Kawara – A Painting A Day – changed my perspective on conceptual art.  Staring at a piece of white canvas prominently on display in an art gallery always brings to mind one of my favorite plays, “Art,” with Alan Alda on stage justifying the exorbitant cost of his blank canvas to his skeptical friends.  If modern art is “all in the head,” Kawara’s Date Paintings fill that category.

Kawara_On_Oct_31_1978 The Guggenheim displays many of Kawara’s three thousand acrylic paintings, featuring only the dates on which they were made: the month, day, and year inscribed in white on layered backgrounds of red, blue, or dark gray.  In his obituary, the New York Times noted the artist, who died recently at 81 years old, found elegance in every day. Although some dates may remind the viewer of a war, an explosion, a death, a birth – other dates remain personal and dependent on the individual viewing.

Schjeldahl may not like Kawara’s work, but he admires it:

“…I like art works to be unique, and I want a sense that someone inhabits them. At the core of Kawara’s multitudinous production, there’s a wintry vacancy; the content is as uniform as death. But there is a term for the effect that it generates…the sublime. Kawara’s art evokes a cosmic perspective, by which his own life and, by extension, the lives of us all register as a negligible spark in time… Some art shows fill your spirit. This one empties you. You won’t forget it.”

I’d like to see Kawara’s art and decide for myself.  The artist, who used his mah-jongg winnings to support his family and his art, and who destroyed any work he could not finish by the end of a day, fascinates me.

9780062100689_p0_v1_s260x420Coincidentally, one of my book clubs chose Katherine Govier’s The Printmaker’s Daughter, a fictionalized tale of the nineteenth century Japanese artist – Hokusai – noted for “transcending time and space” in his iconic depiction of “The Great Wave.”

katsushika-hokusai-the-great-wave-at-kanagawa-from-36-views-of-mount-fuji-c-1829Hokusai preferred to work in paint, yet the Japanese woodcuttings that converted his art to prints made him famous. Govier’s book trudges along slowly, almost seeming to be a translation in its halting language, but her impeccable research reveals the possibility that Oei, Hokusai’s daughter, may have created many of his paintings – without credit. Both father and daughter were artists, and the mystery has never been solved.

Although I have just started reading this historical novel, I can already detect similarities in the Japanese artists – a century apart.  Blake Gopnik of the Washington Post said of Hokusai – “{he} explodes our most cherished clichés about how Japanese culture worships tradition and is bound by it…”  The same could be said of Kawara.

Have you been to the Guggenheim or the Sackler to see any of their work?

Tessa Hadley – Under the Sign of the Moon

Another Tessa Hadley story about a train – this time a short story in The New CV1_TNY_03_24_14Juan.inddYorker – Under the Sign of the Moon – involved me with her usual talent for creating relationships in unusual encounters.  What better place than a train for meeting strangers.  In this tale, Greta is traveling to visit her daughter, and meets a strange persistent man on the train.  Hadley melds the landscape around Liverpool with Greta’s life, describing the moving scene as Greta remembers her past, and wonders about her fragile future.  The ending offers a chilling possibility – who was that young man, really?

Hadley offers her perspective in an interview with Deborah Treisman – This Week in Fiction – Tessa Hadley, but you might want to read the short story in the March 24th issue and decide for yourself.

Review of another Tessa Hadley train story: The London Train

 

Enhanced by Zemanta