Monthly Archives: March 2013

Blinded to His Ugliness: Francesco Pacifico’s ‘The Story of My Purity’

Unreliable narrators have populated literary works for hundreds of years. Piero Rosini, the narrator of Francesco Pacifico’s novel The Story of My Purity (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 292 pages; translated from the Italian by Stephen Twilley) is not unreliable in a naïve or precocious way like Huck Finn, but utterly loathsome in the vein of Nabakov’s Humbert Humbert. Rosini is a devout Catholic working as an editor in a right-wing publishing house in Rome. His current project is a book that would expose Pope John Paul II as having been born Jewish and planted in the Catholic Church by Frankists. …Continue reading

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The Mind Is a Dangerous Country: ‘The Chairs’ at the Cutting Ball Theater

I heard somewhere that it’s easier to dream lucidly as a couple. If, before going to sleep, you turn to your lover and say, “Darling, tonight let’s dream of boats,” and then you both go to sleep, the odds are much greater that you will both dream of boats. The Cutting Ball Theater’s production of Eugene Ionesco’s The Chairs (a new translation by Rob Melrose, directed by Annie Elias) is the story of a superannuated couple who create a new reality together as they fight off the tedium and irrelevance of old age. They live in a crumbling apartment building …Continue reading

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Cross Country Journey More Than a Road Trip: Grant Ginder’s ‘Driver’s Education’

Grant Ginder’s recent novel, Driver’s Education (Simon and Schuster; 256 pages), is a lighthearted story about fathers, sons, and the spirit of adventure. But most of all, it’s a story about story itself. Ginder, author of the novel This Is How It Starts, conjures an exciting cross-country journey, and an even more exciting journey across the lives and memories of a family. Alastair McPhee is near the end of his life and lives with his son, Colin, in San Francisco. He asks his New Yorker grandson, Finn, for a final favor: Find Lucy, an old car that Alastair drove on …Continue reading

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Finding Our Nature in the Surrounding Wilderness: Eric Pankey’s ‘Trace’

Eric Pankey’s new poetry collection, Trace (Milkweed, 68 pages), is an intense journey of powerful language to the edge of the wilderness. Even as his poems invoke a sense of earthly calm, the threat of danger looms throughout these poems, grabbing our attention and holding it throughout. Much of Trace is set in the natural world, offering a somber examination of the ways in which humans occupy the space. Nature here is constant, balancing the frenetic sphere of humans, a realm in which homes are burning down and people are leaving, crying, or simply trying to find themselves. Often, Pankey …Continue reading

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A Careful Reading of a Literature’s Underdogs: Larry Beckett’s ‘Beat Poetry’

The beat goes on. Larry Beckett, the one-time songwriter (he famously collaborated with the late Tim Buckley) has long been immersed in an ongoing poetic project called “American Cycle,’’ which takes an ambitious look at the folkloric past—from Paul Bunyan and P.T. Barnum, to Chief Joseph and Amelia Earhart and other figures from the “old weird America.’’ His latest book, simply titled Beat Poetry (Beatdom Books, 150 pages), tries to put into meaningful perspective the oft heralded if frequently over-hyped revolution in American poetry that took birth from the vernacular modesty of that good obstetrician William Carlos Williams and incorporated …Continue reading

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A Life and a Career Seen Through the Prism of 9/11: ‘Fallaci’ at the Berkeley Rep

Journalism is under the microscope in Fallaci, the new play from Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright at the Berkeley Repertory Theater. Directed by Oskar Eustis, the fictional play is based on the life of Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, who was famous for her interviews of provocative world leaders such as Henry Kissinger, Fidel Castro, Ayatollah Khomeini and Saddam Hussein. Wright’s play examines the two sides of the journalist through the eyes of an idolizing young writer. The first act introduces a reclusive Fallaci (played by Concetta Tomei with an enthralling gravitas) at home in her New York apartment. Twenty-five-year-old reporter …Continue reading

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Finding Refuge From the End of a Marriage: Joelle Fraser’s ‘The Forest House’

Nature plays an integral part in Joelle Fraser’s new book, The Forest House: A Year’s Journey into the Landscape of Love, Loss and Starting Over (Counterpoint Press, 224 pages), which chronicles her life right after her marriage ends. Wanting to disrupt the life of her young son, Dylan, as little as possible, Fraser resolves to stay near the small mountain town where Dylan’s father lives. The only place she can find that’s close enough to town, but far away from the gossip (it was Fraser’s decision to leave her husband) and sympathy there, is a one-bedroom home tucked into the …Continue reading

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Having It All, and Nothing to Show For It: Christine Sneed’s ‘Little Known Facts’

The obsession with celebrity is arguably more intense today than it has ever been before. In the millennial years, the somewhat nebulous concept of fame has been democratized, intensified, and extended to those outside of the film and television industries of Hollywood. Yet despite the elevation of everyday people to the status of public figures, the hierarchical nature of celebrity continues to privilege movie stars above all else, using their fame and talent as the benchmark against which all others are judged. Exploring celebrity through this lens, Christine Sneed’s novel, Little Known Facts (Bloomsbury, 304 pages), tells the story of …Continue reading

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Transcendence as Religious Experience: Q&A with Christopher Buckley

Christopher Buckley is a poet, creative nonfiction writer, and editor. Throughout his long career, he has been a Guggenheim Fellow in Poetry and the recipient of four Pushcart Prizes, two NEA grants in poetry, and a Fulbright Award in Creative Writing. His nineteenth book of poetry—Varieties of Religious Experience (Stephen F. Austin State University Press)—will be published next month. Varieties is a sincere exploration of meaning, in life and in all things. These poems ask questions about an individual’s place in the universe and about the existence of the universe itself. Written in language humble and wise, Varieties reflects on …Continue reading

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Conveying the Brilliance and the Chaos of a True Genius: John Neumeier’s ‘Nijinsky’

A few people straggled almost unnoticed onto the stage of the War Memorial Opera House before the house lights had dimmed, and they began to talk. Even before the dancing had begun, their presence was an announcement that one had better not expect to see a traditional narrative ballet that opening night. However, the ambition to create a piece that comes close to the innovative prowess of its subject—Vaslav Nijinsky—would require more than an opening gimmick. Nijinsky is still one of dance’s towering figures, and one of the very few who merit the term “genius” both as a performer and …Continue reading

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