Displaying articles for: January 2012

The Hellstrom Chronicle

Watching The Hellstrom Chronicle upon its fortieth anniversary reissue (in a beautiful, immaculate, eye-candy print -- but with no extra features) propels me back instantaneously to my teenaged years when I saw this unique hybrid documentary for the first and only time. Selected images from the film and its overall tone have remained seared upon my cortex for the intervening forty years, compounded by the contemporaneous reading of the book by Frank Herbert which the film inspired, Hellstrom's Hive. (More on this prose artifact in a few moments.) The roiling psychic miasma of fear and awe, esthetic delight and Lovecraftian horror swept over me again -- dissipated somewhat, it is true, by my advanced wisdom and the world's eventful history since then. But the film remains a landmark worthy of its Academy Award for Best Documentary and stands as a forerunner of much documentary and quasi-documentary work since.

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The Plots Against the President

The Plots Against the President, Sally Denton's fascinating new study of the early presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, is a move toward a kind of historiological equivalence. While sketching with a novelist's compassion and precision the unique actors and forces and ideas at play during the turbulent Depression years, her account simultaneously transcends the minutia of the 1930s and reveals brilliant insights into our current condition. Yet, until the book's closing sentences, she makes no explicit comparisons, trusting the intelligent reader to draw the obvious parallels.

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Vicky Swanky Is a Beauty

The fifty-one tiny stories (vignettes? prose poems? blipverts? flash fictions?) contained in Vicky Swanky Is a Beauty resolutely refuse total decryption. But they burrow into the reader's subconscious and sprout odd blossoms. At first glance, Diane Williams appears to be the love child of Donald Barthelme and Kathy Acker. At second glance, she resembles the adopted daughter of Gertrude Stein and Carol Emshwiller. At third and subsequent glances, she resolves as uniquely, enigmatically herself: a Delphic jester uneasily inhabiting some generic suburbia totally incompatible with her gnomic utterances. 

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Distrust That Particular Flavor

William Gibson is a superlative storyteller, able to mint fresh, intriguing characters and propel them through compelling plots. He limns postmodern and futuristic venues with a keen eye. He taps the zeitgeist and spins out its skein of probable trajectories. But beyond all these skills lies something numinous, something that can only be termed a "sensibility." Distrust That Particular Flavor, his first book of nonfiction, representing over twenty years' worth of occasional journalism, book-introducing, and speechifying, takes over your senses and tastes and attitudes, substituting Gibson's sensibility for your own, allowing you, willy-nilly, to channel the man.

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July 28: Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin eloped on this day in 1814.

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.

Pastoral

When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).