Famous Men’s Wives: My New Fact-Based Fiction

My new fact-based novel about a famous man’s wife began one day when a voice started forming paragraphs in my head and I realized who was speaking: the juicy wife of an author on whom I had worked, a lot. Now I do not customarily hear voices but had heard the novelists I teach say their characters speak to them all the time. I’d never believed them, exactly. Now it was happening to me.

I wrote this novel in a dream, revising it over several years and adding a second narrator. I have loved, loved, loved working on this book, for which I will use here not the actual title but one that will serve for now: HUSBANDS AND DAUGHTERS.

History-based fiction, filling in the blanks and making the past live for us. Hilary Mantel got me thinking about that with WOLF HALL and BRING UP THE BODIES and then I learned that Hilary Mantel was not always Hilary Mantel: that she had done other things before these wonderful books. And then there was THE PARIS WIFE, another book for the literati and others.

The last two posts announce new books I expect to be available soon: PICNIC IN THR DARK: CLASSIC BOOKS AT A TIME OF WAR AND LOSS, the subject of the next blog, and my fact-based imagined life of a famous man’s wife.

My regular blog-site switches to I was missing the social media side. But the site you’re viewing remains the place to learn more about me and my work. Look for some announcements soon.


Who We are in Memoir: A New Book

I am pondering who we are and want to be in memoir.

Maybe we have no choice. But writing takes time and revision and so, in fact, we always do.

Reading Joan Didion’s BLUE NIGHTS made me sad: for her daughter, for sure, but also for Didion herself, who has not entered old age with resilience or any care for wisdom. She’s frail, she tells us again and again. But she’s also Joan Didion and a killer writer still, though she claims not and relies more than may be wise on the repetition of key phrases. All through the book——a book about her daughter’s death——you keep wondering, what happened? What several things (for there seem to be several things) went wrong? It’s not that kind of memoir. Didion will not go there so you need to look back at THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING to hear more.

Francisco Goldman’s SAY HER NAME, which I thought wonderful and gripping, sent me on this memoir binge. Roland Barthes’ MOURNING DIARY kept me there since I had recently lost a mother and a brother too.

So I have been doing my own writing hoping to do it in way that feels true to me and speaks to others. I am processing my new book: PICNIC IN THE DARK: THE CLASSICS AT A TIME OF WAR AND LOSS. It’s a sequel to my earlier memoir about growing up in-between Italian and Jewish American cultures in New York. It’s also a meditation on why we read classic books at times of loss and how they speak to us at this time of ongoing wartime.

I’ll say more from time to on I love this work and can’t wait to read more!


Pulse Racing Events

Just when I thought the season was dull come some pulse racing events:
August Wilson’s THE PIANO LESSON, Ivo van Hove’s ROMAN TRAGEDIES, Steven Spielberg’s LINCOLN and Joe Wright’s ANNA KARENINA.

Classics all, at least two, and possibly three of them are based on classics, Wilson’s play having achieved, with this fine production, that rank too. A play that illustrates Toni Morrison’s principles in PLAYING IN THE DARK, the Signature production features fine ensemble acting, a ghost or two as actors, and the stunning family collaboration of Berenice and Boy Willie in exorcizing the past.

ROMAN TRAGEDIES is a once in a lifetime event: 6 hours of Shakespeare, in Dutch that manages to lucidly present CORIOLANUS, JULIUS CAESAR, and ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, defamiliarizing them through the necessary (it’s in Dutch!) use of ample video screens and audiences on the set to the tune of hundreds who come and go, as characters do, as the histories unroll.

One can only second widespread admiration for Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln: the role of a lifetime in a history lesson that comes alive through Tony Kushner’s lucid and affecting screenplay. ANNA KARENINA got some bad reviews but trust this Tolstoy lover when she says that this a great, visually stunning adaptation of a big baggy monster of a novel that allows the complexity of the male characters to come through, though it opts to make Anna a woman in love for whom love means self-immolation; she’s a woman who breaks the rules, knowingly and willingly but then lacks the strength to face the consequences.

Sub theme throughout: strong women, not least of whom are Cleopatra, Mary Todd Lincoln (I know her problems… but she’s a power), and Doris Kearns Goodwin who toughed out a minor scandal to inspire LINCOLN, the triumphant film.


Blazing Theatrical Comets

I went as a fan of War and Peace but emerged with a new understanding of NY theater now.  Over and again in recent years, I’ve had to say that what’s on Broadway is thin and to recommend this-little-show-in-an-“unusual”-space: Sleep No More in the Mc Kittrick Hotel, These Seven Sicknesses at the Flea, and now Pierre, Natasha, and the Great Comet of 1812.

Theatre is happening everywhere in the city and, perhaps most vibrantly, in said little out-of-the-way theaters. There is so much talent in NY that it cannot squeeze anymore into the expensive, years-consuming, investor-courting space that is Broadway.  The kind of revitalization of theater that has happened from time to time in NYC and elsewhere is happening now.

What you’re hearing in my post is not the usual Broadway is dead complaint:  it’s not dead and a lot of great things play in the not-for-profit and smaller houses near 42nd Street as well as, from time to time, in the larger traditional Broadway houses. But the scene is once again a scene, with small, unconventional spaces (or larger ones like the Mc Kittrick).

Actors mixing with the audience and improvising scenery and action, sometimes by co-opting the audience’s space. Pop rhythms infusing old forms, like Tolstoy’s 19th-century novel and high opera. Energy everywhere. Talent bursting at the seams—so much that it seems able to fill the stage for decades.  Do you hear excitement?  I am feeling it.




Visual Arts A-Popping

In the news:  Hiroshi Sugimoto uses dioramas to photograph; a Spegelman mural installed in a Manhattan H.S., an act of vandalism claimed as high art that cites Surrealism as a defense in a minor modification of Mark Rothko’s art.

Now… I love Sugimoto.  His horizon and lightening series have been among my favorites ever in Chelsea galleries. To frame lightening, Sugimoto created it in his studio, using a miniature generator. It was gorgeous stuff that raised questions about reality and art within the serene style I love in his other work.  Taking place near the High Line, the diorama series seems to raise similar questions.

Spiegelman continues to establish his NY creds by supporting the HS he attended.

The vandalism case raises the most far-reaching questions, though it will probably be treated as crime and not art, as the artists involved, Vladimir Umaneta and Marcin Lodyga, claim.  Raising the innteresting question:  if Surrealism lives, does it live in moments like this? Art and private property might not mix but are long established facts of life. Or is publicity the name of the game—Warhol moments?

This is a random note on how the visual arts seem to be claiming not just the day but the major thinking about the arts—

and a-popping.


Are you a Rolling Stones or a Beatles Fan? New Film Revives Old Question

David Chase’s Not Fade Away @NYFF revives the old question: are you a Rolling Stones or Beatles fan?  Filled with nostalgia for 1960s #rockandroll, it follows a young man through the end of high school and into college. In the background, Kennedy is assassinated and Vietnam unrolls. But he and his friends remain fixed on music, music, music.  David Chase denied at the Film Festival that it’s an autobiographical film.  But, like all first films, it’s autobiographical in feeling. In fact, Chase’s wife told him what the character’s girlfriend did:  Time is on your side—as it was.

Creator of The Sopranos, Chase got James Gandolfini and Steve van Zandt in the film—Gandolfini stars and van Zandt did the music. I met him when I auditioned for The Sopranos after a friend recommended me.  I did not get the part but liked Chase anyway. A fun film. Not a great one. But very evocative of the decade.




I was lucky enough to see THE BROTHERS SIZE at MANBITES theater in Durham NC. I was blown away. Great set, great cast, great direction = one amazing evening. Filled with refences to West African mythology but as contemporary as today, the play explores tensions between two African American half brothers: one hard working, proper, terse, and filled with unhappiness and rage; the other inclined to mess up in life but full of charm and torn between a compelling attachment to a mysterious man he knew in prison and his desire to respect his brother’s wishes and stay out of trouble. He also sings like dream, setting up a wonderful climax in which Ogun, the stern brother, surrenders to his overpowering love for the younger brother he ever and always wants to protect. Recommended. Wonderful.



NEWSROOM made the Koch brothers and potential conflicts of interest around the Citizens United case key plot points this season:  no other popular television show has done nearly so much for so many.  Along the way, the show exposed the faux-populism of the Tea Party, an institution underwritten—like so many conservative interests—by big oil.  Libel laws existing in this country, what the show said could have been the cause for litigation; it was not.  On the show, the star newscaster played by Jeff Daniels has been threatened by his network’s head who wants to court big money interests, not antagonize them.  Is it possible that the (to me) surprising neglect of this show had similar causes?

The show is not perfect:  no way.  Romantic plots seem overdone at times, with grown-up characters unable to say what they’re feeling—as grown-up people have been known to do, but more so.  The show brilliantly deploys itself against recently remembered history and some of the events, like the killing of bin Laden, felt wrong on the pulses.  Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue can cloy. But episode for episode, this show served a truly educational function.  Did some viewers think that NEWSROOM made up the Koch brothers?  the devastating effects of Citizens United?  the irresponsible stalemates in Congress?  That’s possible.  But “made up”?  I will end informally by saying:  if only!



Learning about Riesling

Normally, I prefer reds.  But I got educated at a Summer of Riesling dinner at Hearth restaurant at a dinner designed to prove that Rieslings, that friendly summer wine, is totally complex and versatile.

The key is balance:  sweetness at the tip of the tongue totally matched by the acidity of the wine.  Kabinett (never knew what that meant) are your basic Riesling:  table wine, accessible, with dryness a possibility.  Spatlese means late harvest and while certain soil conditions make for dryness, these are normally lush and sweet, the grapes having had time to mature and even rot.  An Abtsberg wine was for the abbots, the heads of the monasteries on or near many of the vineyards:  likely to be the best wines and the most expensive.  A Herrnenberg can be plebeian but still age gloriously—something I did not not know white wines could do.

But while a California white should be had while young, the 1997 Riesling we drank tasted wonderful.

And then there are the Eiswein, from frozen vines and very, very sweet,  Normally, I could not afford the stuff by the half bottle.  But a glass was sweet in more ways than one.

My thanks to Hearth, to Marco Canora, George and staff, to Paul Grieco (our wine host) and to Carl von Schubert who brought the wines from his Maximum Grunhaus estate.


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