Sunday, October 28, 2007

Think of the Children

Two or three times a year, I write a multi-title review for The Chronicle Book Review's monthly children's books feature. Today I covered three new books, including the latest from Steven Gould and Charles de Lint, as well as the first volume of a debut fantasy series from local writer Henry H. Neff.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Richard Russo's "Bridge of Sighs"

I don't often get to review mainstream novels for The Chronicle, but I was happy to write about Richard Russo's "Bridge of Sighs" for today's edition. I came to Russo via his academic comedy "Straight Man," which is a delight through and through, and have read all of his novels, except for "Mohawk." Russo writes about the kinds of places I grew up in, and he generally gets the details right.

If you haven't seen Robert Benton's film adaptation of Russo's "Nobody's Fool," you ought to check it out on DVD. It's really good. Paul Newman and Jessica Tandy are excellent in it, of course, but so are both Bruce Willis and Melanie Griffith. And how often does that happen?

Russo worked with Benton again on "Twilight," which I haven't seen and nobody ever talks about. (IMDB lists its top three plot keywords as Based On Novel / Female Nudity / Breasts. Make of that what you will.) Fred Schepisi directed a two-part HBO movie based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Empire Falls," which is also worth your attention. And Russo wrote the screenplay for Harold Ramis's "The Ice Harvest," based on Scott Phillips's blackly hilarious Midwestern noir novel.

In the Chronicle piece, I'm not sure I adequately expressed my consternation over the climatic chapters of "Bridge of Sighs." I don't want to spoil anything, but Russo suddenly brings in a supporting cast of African American characters who are not convincing in any way, shape or form. For someone who writes so knowingly about class, Russo is surprisingly awkward when it comes to race.

Don't let that stop you from picking up "Bridge of Sighs," though. It's a big, involving small-town saga that hits most of the right notes.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

A History of Deception

Josh Olson is the screenwriter for "A History of Violence," the very fine film by David Cronenberg. In this week's LA Weekly, Olson has published "The Life and Death of Jesse James: An Internet Love Mystery." It's an account of how one of Olson's friends was duped for two years by someone she met online. It's really good: horrifying, funny, surprising and sad.

The story has a happy-ish ending, thanks in part to one of Olson's acquaintances, none other than Harlan Ellison. You can say what you like about Ellison, but there's no question that he sticks up for his friends.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Ready to "Rock 'n' Roll"

Tickets are now on sale of the New York production of Stoppard's "Rock 'n' Roll." Get 'em while you can.

In advance of opening night are a number of special events. You probably missed them, but the Plastic People of the Universe, the Czech rock band featured in "Rock 'n' Roll," performed at Joe's Pub at the Public Theater on Sept. 27.

The current issue of Vanity Fair has a lengthy piece by Stoppard on Syd Barrett as an inspiration for the play. alicublog comments on the article and also provides a review of the London production.

On October 26, Stoppard will discuss the topic "Can Art Change the World?" as part of the TimeTalks program.

Off-topic, Caryn James of the New York Times reviewed "Stoppard Goes Electric," that evening of TV plays, and was not particularly impressed.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Without a Legal Leg to Stand on

The saga of the severed human leg discovered in a barbecue smoker continues. Now the guy who bought the smoker wants joint custody of the appendage. Apparently, he believes that, with Halloween around the corner, there's money to be made from this bizarre set of circumstances.

Dude, holding an amputated limb for ransom is so not cool.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

In Ascending Order of Enjoyment

While I was in Ashland, Oregon, over the weekend, The Chronicle ran my latest science fiction review column. It covers new books by Jasper Fforde, Ray Bradbury and Christopher Barzak.

I was pleased to finally admit my unenthusiasm for Fforde's work. I'm not quite sure why he so violently rubs me the wrong way.

I liked half of Bradbury's collection of novellas and can strongly recommend Barzak's debut. The market seems saturated with "I see dead people" fantasies, but "One for Sorrow" is worth your attention.