Criticism
Review: Solomon Gursky Was Here by Mordecai Richler Print E-mail

richler(San Diego Union-Tribune May 4, 1990)

Oh, Those Antinomian Canadian Jews

This novel is so-o-o-o-o interminable—like I'm a guest at a wedding where 300 relatives gaggle on and on about that shocking second cousin, Marla, and I'm bozoed with boredom.

Another drink, sir? Then it spits, fires, leaps up, and—whoosh—races forward, a fire truck caterwauling by, and me on my bike racing to catch up with the tire-peeling adventure.

Quiet down. Keep reading.

Then, 75 pages in, I'm hollering, "Where The Hell Does This Thing Begin?" Is it 1851, with the original Gursky, the trickster Ephraim, outcast Jew of the world, swindling a Canadian town with news of Christ's second coming?

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Review: Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of the American Mass Market by Susan Strasser Print E-mail

mass_market(San Diego Union-Tribune January 5, 1990)

Sold to Death

My favorite mass-market character is TV's Murph at Union 76. Small-town guy with small-town values, watching out for my kids as they ride their bikes and wave, free-flat-fixing protector of the hapless motorist. Murph's not only good, he's also aligned with a multinational corporation whose orange globe stands for my uninterrupted access to, and consumption of, finely packaged gasoline and other oil products. Like Phillip Morris sponsoring ads about the Bill of Rights, Murph is selling us our deep-seated need to have corporations appear gentle, fatherly, wise-beyond-question.

Yes, it's deep, because our worldly desires have been conditioned for generations to have everything sold to us—from presidential candidates to toilet paper.

Everything is marketed, to death and sameness.

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Review: Jazz Cleopatra: Josephine Baker in Her Time by Phyllis Rose Print E-mail

j_baker(San Diego Union-Tribune December 22, 1989)

Picasso of the Stage

Singer, dancer, comedian, actor, expatriate, heroine of the French Resistance, civil-rights worker, mother to a dozen adopted children, la belle dame of the Parisian stage for over five decades: Josephine Baker had nearly everything in Europe that she could never have had in the United States. Baker, an African-American, was one of the lucky ones.

Living fifty of her seventy years in France, thereby escaping the racism of her St. Louis upbringing, she was the darling of an adoring music-hall public which never tired of her provocative performances. She was as famous as Chevalier, as patriotic as de Gaulle, as sentimental as Piaf and, at death, as lionized as Napoleon.

To reveal why Baker's star shines in such a constellation, biographer Rose (her previous work includes a life of Virginia Woolf) has fashioned her ode to the era—continental culture between the wars—as well as to the woman. "In Her Time" reads the subtitle.

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Review: The Great Ledge: Poems by Peter Davison Print E-mail

peter_davison(San Diego Union-Tribune November 10, 1989)

The Moment of Love

At 60, Peter Davison has added another achievement to his eight previous volumes of poetry, the first of which won him the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award in 1964. A lyricist like his beloved Robert Frost, he has been praised consistently for his cadenced lines, his deep images and his didactic, elegiac tone.

These powers again serve a poetry of personal illumination in The Great Ledge. Davison's topics are many, but a number of poems revisit the loss of his wife in 1981. He navigates the sorrow with a clear-eyed memory.

"Equinox 1980" recalls a last outing when "we two/ paddled a noiseless boat/ before a wakefall across/ a bay smooth as a mirror."

Memory awakens Davison, not to pine helplessly for the past but to declare the simple, pinnacled moment of their love.

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Review: Bitter Fame: The Life of Sylvia Plath by Anne Stevenson Print E-mail

plath2020kids(San Diego Union-Tribune October 6, 1989)

A Journey Through Plath's Inner World

No other American poet had anything like Sylvia Plath's meanness in language. Her words are astringent, vengeful, terrifying—the poetry hurts, as it seems intended. She will forever be the Queen of Blame—hating family, father, and self with equal rancor.

Since her death by suicide in 1963, the narcissistic exhibitionism of her work—best known from the Ariel poems and the novel The Bell Jar—has attracted a caldron of worship. Criticism and biographies arrive regularly, fueling the Plath cult. Of course, she meant to turn the oven on and stick her head in. But why? With her talent? Successful suicides (which, when done with craft and imagination, are strangely beautiful) create eternal enigmas. Such has mythologized her pain more than her poetry, which was obviously good and didn't "warrant" death.

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Review: Clear Pictures by Reynolds Price Print E-mail

Clear Pictures(San Diego Tribune August 18, 1989)

Reynolds Price always felt that writing novels about small-town life in his native North Carolina was occupation enough. In good time he would write a memoir of his early years. He thought he'd linger, "betting on a long life," and begin nearer its end. That end got nearer quickly when five years ago Price nearly died from a spinal tumor that, removed, left him a paraplegic at 51.

It was time.

The rest of the review is available here (opens a PDF).

 
Review: A New Path to the Waterfall by Raymond Carver Print E-mail

carver_gallagher(San Diego Union-Tribune June 30, 1989)

Farewell Ray

When Raymond Carver died in 1988, America lost one of its great writers.

He was widely admired as a master storyteller, his five collections clearly expressing the ambiguities of modern existence.

His characters, usually working-class people, often waged an inner, seemingly passive battle with life.

Their triumph—and Carver's brilliance—shone in the communicative potential that his men and women found in themselves when trouble ruled. But it was with poetry that Carver began his literary career.

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