June 19, 2017
Eve Stuart’s photography show opens at the Joyce Goldstein Gallery in Chatham, New York on July 1 and will be up until August 5. These are tasty images, at once familiar and mysterious. As she writes: “I’m drawn to scenes where there are many layers, where you don’t see everything all at once. I particularly love the Polaroid transfer process because it heightens this experience of many layers. The pieces have a very romantic, painterly quality; you can’t always tell if it’s a painting or a photograph.” Eve’s a friend. I’ve seen these images. Her description is just right. For more of the work in the show, click here. For Eve Stuart’s web site, click here.
May 16, 2017
I went to the kind of New England boarding school that makes you feel — wrongly — superior to the high school graduates when you get to college, so it was quite a shock for me to discover an elite even more elite than the preppies: the kids who’d gone to school in Switzerland. It was thus a pleasure to read Joanna Goodman’s “The Finishing School,” a novel that focuses on Kersti Kuusk, a scholarship student in the 1990s at the Lycée Internationale Suisse, and Cressida, her beautiful, rich classmate. Kersti has gone on to become a bestselling novelist. Naturally the school invites her to speak at its100th birthday celebration. And the trouble starts: In 1998, Cressida jumped or was pushed off a balcony at the Lycée. She’s still technically alive, but she’ll never be able to tell her story. What would a writer of historical women’s fiction do? You guessed it. “The Finishing School” drops all the right names, but it’s far from an exercise in snobbery. Its subjects are young love and lust, privilege and striving, and faculty-student relations that redefine that term. There’s a missing ledger and a dark secret, and the story is as tasty as braised lamb shanks and as easy to swallow as a good Riesling — add this to your stack of beach reads. [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]
May 4, 2017
When we last read Owen Lewis, it was 2015, and the psychiatrist/teacher/poet had just published “Best Man.” The title could not have been more ironic or bittersweet — the 23 poems were about his brother Jason, who died in 1980, age 23. Jason was the tragedy every family fears: a bright, drugged thief and liar. Here the dead talk, and the survivor talks back. [To buy the paperback of “Best Man” from Amazon, click here.] “Marriage Map,” in contrast, is about his enviable second marriage. The quotation from Homer that is the book’s epigram signals the tone: “There is nothing nobler or more admirable than when two people who see eye to eye keep house as man and wife.” But a second marriage invariably invites contrasts. In the first poem, “The day I met you/ a crane fell, smashing cars, slicing six/ stories of corners off a building.” Owen calls Susan to explain the trouble. She says she has a “Plan B.” He’s breathless. More accurately, she’s holding his breath — the breath of a man whose marriage is, like the crane, collapsing. The last line: “Who had ever considered for me a ‘Plan B’?” In these poems, love revives him, strengthens and affirms him. But not without cost. In a second marriage, you can’t avoid the shadows of all that’s come before: “We bring an in-gathering/ of exiles, taken from themselves/ scattered along the rivers of home.” So here are his brother, parents, first wife. Shining through is the simple fact of an abiding romance: “We make of time what we will… This wedding starts again, forever.” These poems are moonlight through a bedroom window. [To buy “Marriage Map” from Amazon, click here.]
April 21, 2017
American Jews in Israel. An inheritance, which means money and a lot more. Back in Los Angeles, a son’s alleged financial crime — what kind of crime did you expect? — has become a family scandal. Not promising material, when you consider how Jews are presented in American fiction. The writer loves them. Or the writer hates them (or, more correctly, hates herself/himself). And in a first novel yet! I ask you: What was the last great first novel you read about Jews? Goodbye, Columbus. Okay, what else?
Bethany Ball’s “What To Do About The Solomons” is my favorite length for fiction: blessedly short. But in those 235 pages, we get a large — there are so many characters that Ball starts the book with a Solomon family tree — and unruly clan. They’re like moose with antlers locked: They can’t get closer, they can’t get apart. But you’ll have no trouble telling them apart. And coming to like them, for very different reasons.
For a novel about Real and Serious Things, this is a very funny book. Bethany Ball writes with wit as sharp as the blade of a mohel. For once, I totally concur with a New York Times review: “I ended ‘What to Do About the Solomons’ absolutely swimming with affection, not just for the characters but for the multiple worlds that created them. Despite their collective penchant for psychodrama, there’s something profoundly lovely — and loving — about the Solomons. And about Bethany Ball’s debut.” [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]
April 16, 2017
The so-called law of life says that you start winding it down as you hit the golden years, but Garland Jeffreys is 73, and at City Winery, he put on a 90-minute show that ranged from reggae to New York soul to sound-clouds that would have done Van Morrison proud — he and his raised fist of a band rocked hard. And then he delightedly signed CDs for a legion of adoring fans. More confounding: His new CD, “14 Steps to Harlem,” is just as strong as his 2011 classic, The King of In Between. As a brother on the Back 9, he’s inspiring. But he’s a pain in the ass for me as a reviewer — he sends me to the dictionary for fresh superlatives. To buy the CD of “14 Steps” from Amazon, click here. For the MP3 download, click here.