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People Top 5
LAST UPDATE: Wednesday June 19, 2013 07:10PM EDT
PEOPLE Top 5 are the most-viewed stories on the site over the past three days, updated every 60 minutes
- April 06, 1998
- Vol. 49
- No. 13
Picks and Pans: Pages
Could it be that Dorothy Allison, author of 1992's mercilessly graphic Bastard out of Carolina, is softening up? In Cavedweller, her latest novel, Allison actually has us sympathizing (a little) with the kind of loathsome characters she has made a career of reviling. Take, for example, that treacherous wife beater Clint Windsor. As we watch him die a slow death from cancer—punctuated by moments of remorse and reflection—Allison begins to suggest that our moral absolutes do not always apply.
Clint's beatings were the reason the book's heroine, Delia Byrd, long ago hopped on the bus of a touring rock star and never looked back, leaving behind her Cayro, Ga., hometown and two young daughters. Now, 10 years later, the gutsy Delia has returned to reconcile her past. But Cayro is a town that neither forgives nor forgets, and Delia is instantly recognized, not as the rock star she has become in her own right but as the scorned woman who ran out on her family. Nonetheless, she tries to reach out to her troubled teenage daughters, Dede and Amanda. For the characters in this powerful though uneven novel, hope is to be found in the bleakest places, and redemption begins with owning up to their choices in life. (Dutton, $24.95)
by Therese Thau Heyman
Uncle Sam is back, still respectfully pointing out that he wants you. But who knew that Sam is a 1917 self-portrait by artist James Montgomery Flagg? Don't skip the captions in this fascinating, color-splashed compendium. Among the artists are Norman Rockwell, Georgia O'Keeffe and Wes Wilson, who created those psychedelically unreadable 1960s Bay Area handbills that spawned as many imitators as Jimi Hendrix.
Few contemporary museum catalogs offer images as arresting as these, which are fittingly on tour (now at the National Museum of American Art in Washington) to remind us that commercial sponsorship often spurs real creativity. There is a story of a century here too, from Flagg's recruitment poster to the anti-draft sheet of three '60s sirens declaring, "Girls say yes to boys who say no." Other entries are prints of wails, including angry cries from the Black Panthers and the United Farm Workers. More recent works trade the drumbeats for rimshots, such as the waggish photo of 50-odd slobbering pooches waiting for the National Postal Museum to open. (Abrams, $35)
by Kathleen Norris
This isn't light reading, but it's definitely worthwhile reading, especially if you have ever felt overwhelmed, turned off or just plain curious about the language of Christianity. In this series of meditative essays, poet Kathleen Norris (who explored similar territory in her 1996 bestseller The Cloister Walk) ponders and interprets dozens of religious terms, from the threatening (apostasy, heretic, hermeneutic) to the innocuous (conversion, imagination, chosen), that routinely keep people away from Sunday-morning worship services.
Rather than knock readers over the head with dictionary definitions or constant references to God and the Bible, she combines an impressive understanding of theology with personal experience, making her essays read like letters from a highly literate friend. A piece about asceticism prompts Norris to recall a plane trip on which she was exhausted but forced to listen to a nervous seat partner who was clearly in need of reassurance. Writing about exorcism, which she acknowledges has been relegated to the realm of "shlocky horror films," Norris explores the idea of exorcising "the demon of anger."
Most of the essays are only a few pages long, but don't be fooled by the length. You could read these any number of times and always discover something new. (Riverhead, $24.95)
by Lucinda Roy
First novels are notoriously ambitious. Here's one that tackles nothing less than the meaning of life. On the night before her mother's funeral, Jacinta Louise Buttercup Moses, a 36-year-old writer, seeks solace and connection to her mother's life by reviewing her own eventful transformation. The only child of an English actress and a deceased West African writer, Jacinta has grown from a precocious South London girl fascinated by the Beatles, Jane Eyre and her father's magical folktales into a successful poet, teacher and mother of a 9-year-old child she calls Lady.
Alternating between her memories and the present, Jacinta recounts her life using a battery of familiar plot elements—childhood poverty, madness and adventures abroad—all cleverly illustrating how, by reshaping her memories, she comes to greater self-understanding. It works. Jacinta portrays her enemies with compassion and her supporters with complexity. And novelist Lucinda Roy's vivid story, itself so much about storytelling, convincingly transcends racial differences as it brightly explores expansive human truths. (Harper Flamingo, $24)
by Buzz Bissinger
Lincoln Steffens, the turn-of-the-century author, once called Philadelphia "the most American of our greater cities." And when a feisty lawyer named Ed Rendell took over as mayor in 1992, its problems were as troubling as any American city's: street crime out of control, a dearth of jobs, atrocious public housing and a moribund urban bureaucracy.
Pulitzer Prize winner Buzz Bissinger—whose 1991 book. Friday Night Lights was a brilliant glimpse of high school football in small-town Texas—spent Rendell's entire first term watching behind the scenes as this impressive but flawed politician tried to save his city.
Written with grace, humanity and life-affirming irony (one moment Rendell is reacting to a 15-year-old's murder conviction, the next, trying to rescue a beauty pageant), this compelling book offers evidence that it will take more than conviction and political derring-do to answer our big cities' prayers. (Random House, $25.95)
ITALIC "by Gore Vidal"]
There is a fifth-dimensional version of our world in which Lincoln was kidnapped from a box at Ford's Theater and never seen again. In that world there is an empty tomb in Springfield."
Thus runs a typical passage from this enjoyable but confusing historical novel crossed with a science fiction time-travel saga. Gore Vidal's protagonist, called only T, is a 16-year-old Washington prep-school student and math prodigy when he is summoned to the Smithsonian in 1939. He arrives to find a complex, never very clearly explained array of historical tableaux come to life, mingled with normal humans (including such characters as Charles Lindbergh, Robert Oppenheimer and Eleanor Roosevelt, with Albert Einstein, Douglas MacArthur and Ethel Barrymore performing cameo roles).
Part of their wide-ranging mission involves going back in time to prevent World War II by eliminating Woodrow Wilson's presidency. T is helped in this aim by a woman who is variously part of an Indian-village exhibit and the first and second wives of Grover Cleveland. In the process he meets a painter-architect named Schickel Grubert, who is the parallel to Hitler in another dimension in which World War II is limited to the Pacific. T also encounters various incarnations of himself, coming and going (and in one case dying).
Vidal spins this yarn glibly. It moves along, densities notwithstanding, and Vidal generally avoids his usual liberal sociopolitical agendas, but the novel ends in a flurry of time-space mumbo-jumbo. Nobody expects Vidal to be a physicist, but he is usually a better storyteller. (Random House, $23)
by Jane Hamilton
Early on in Jane Hamilton's irresistible third novel, Walter McCloud, 38, the wisecracking gay protagonist with the hide of a cynic and the soul of a hopeless romantic, muses that in books death often "either ignites the action or finishes it." But in his experience, Walter says, "death has always been right under my skin, not doing much to move me in any real direction." The death he means is that of his older brother Daniel from cancer 23 years earlier, when both boys were teenagers. Alternating between then and now, the story explores the immediate and enduring effects of that loss.
In Hamilton's brilliant previous novel, A Map of the World, it was a sudden, tragic death that ignited events. Here, the death is lingering, the pace more leisurely, the ripples more subtle. This book is not without its frustrations: The choice of seminal events is at times baffling, and the strands braid together too tidily. But the writing is engaging and, as always, Hamilton digs deep, never settling for easy truths. As she evokes the powerful grip of love, both young and mature, cruel and ecstatic, she reaffirms life. (Random House, $23)
by Bart Schneider
Fame is a pain, as trumpeter Ronnie Reboulet can attest. Beautiful and brilliant in his 1950s prime, Reboulet (who is loosely based on the late jazz great Chet Baker) lost it all—his career, his home life, even his teeth—to heroin addiction.
But fame is also destiny. So when his long-lost daughter and grandchild show up on his doorstep in 1974, it spurs Ronnie to begin anew. All in an instant he decides to become the family man he never was and to pick up the music (and the old familiar tunes, like Kenny Dorham's "Blue Bossa") he was sure had left him for good. For a short time he even succeeds. Unfortunately, despite his newfound role and recognition, Reboulet soon returns to the same old blue note.
With short, impressionistic chapters and syncopated prose, Bart Schneider, editor of the Hungry Mind Review, a St. Paul-based literary journal, delicately breathes life into a particular time (the mid-'70s) and place (post-Altamont San Francisco). And by using Patty Hearst's kidnapping as the novel's real-life backdrop, he also convinces us that celebrity, no matter how problematic, is one of life's most tempting addictions. (Viking, $24.95)
by Pamela Thomas-Graham
Page-Turner of the Week
"BEING YOUNG AND BLACK AT HARVARD requires advanced survival skills. Seven generations of us have found it exhilarating, perplexing, difficult and dangerous. For Rosezella Maynette Fisher, it was murder." So says Nikki Chase, the university's only African-American economics professor and the protagonist of this fast and funny debut whodunit. When Nikki runs the numbers on the death of her friend, Harvard Law School administrator Fisher, she finds malfeasance at a post Ph.D. level. There's a blackmailing ex-husband still stuck in the '60s and a patrician department head with his fingers in the till. Even the school's president is a suspect. With A+ insights into the churlish world of academic politics and keen observations on middle-class race relations, Crimson graduates with honors. Author Pamela Thomas-Graham, a partner at an international consulting firm, will be taking on the whole Ivy League, it seems: Her next mystery-in-progress is set at Yale. (Simon & Schuster, $23)
A FIVE-YEAR PLAN
GLORIA STEINEM, PERHAPS NORTH America's most famous feminist, is packing for a trip to South Africa. But first she must finish an article for Ms., the magazine she cofounded in 1972 and to which she still contributes. She is also fretting over her next book, about her life on the road as a feminist organizer. "It is hard," Steinem says of her wearying schedule. "But it's more difficult not to do it."
Still, she is elated that she can cross at least one big item off her things-to-do list: The Reader's Companion to U.S. Women's History (Houghton Mifflin, $45), a reference work that Steinem coedited, has just been published in time for Women's History Month. "Damon Runyon talked about the oldest floating crap game in New York," Steinem says of the endless conferring that was necessary with her coeditors (former Cherokee Nation chief Wilma Mankiller, professors Gwendolyn Mink and Marysa Navarro and writer-scholar Barbara Smith). "We were probably the longest-running floating editorial meeting in the country."
The 696-page volume, five years in the making, covers everything from picture brides to the origins of terms like Ms. "I grew up in a generation in which most of the people in this country were invisible in history books—women as well as people of color and poor people," Steinem says, adding, "When you realize how little we learned growing up, you get mad. But it's also very energizing."
- Alison M. Rosen,
- Kyle Smith,
- Deborah J. Waldman,
- V.R. Peterson,
- Thomas Fields-Meyer,
- Ralph Novak,
- Jill Smolowe,
- Alec Foege,
- J.D. Reed,
- Irene Neves.
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