Thursday, September 3, 2015

SWEET CARESS, a fictional autobiography of an iconic female war photographer, not unlike the real Lee Miller

There was a mistake the day Amory Clay was born. Times (of London) announced the birth of  "a son." So begins William Boyd's novel SWEET CARESS: The Many Lives of Amory Clay (Sept.Bloomsbury). Interestingly, this novel is not about a transgender person and, despite the title, it's not a romance. It's a fictional autobiography of an iconic female war photographer, not unlike the real-life Lee Miller, who went from the muse of Man Ray and fashion icon to the front lines of WWII and published her coverage in Vogue.

Boyd's skill is such that I came to accept Amory Clay, as a British member of the small club of freewheeling women journalists, who went where the action was. Like Clay, Miller evolved as a visual artist. Martha Gellhorn, another member of this group, is also known for her relationship with Earnest Hemingway.And this book provides a good many romantic/sexual interludes that range from "chemistry" to career moves. But there is a certain perfunctory quality to Clay's affairs, a required indulgence, that can seem generic.

What's convincing are the snapshots of and by Amory throughout the novel. As she matures through the decades, as a person and artist ,so do the photos. It was strange to be engrossed in her adventures, believing she's  real, while knowing she's a literary conceit. But the author of Restless and Any Human Heart, knows how to build a very credible yet uniquely unpredictable character.

Amory Clay, media figure, begins with the evolving consciousness of a young girl on a farm run by her tough and nurturing mother. She's protective of her sister, the precocious musician, her oddball brother, and her strangely distant father, who form her world. When her uncle gives her a camera, her life opens up. Artistic and bookish, she captures the free life on the farm, until it suddenly ends. Despite the family's poverty,Amory is "exiled" to a boarding school, where she's groomed for a rare woman's scholarship. That ambition ends because of her father's madness, Amory suffers a major trauma and is never the same. (I think it's inferred her need for action may arise from this.)

She leaves school to work for her uncle, a society photographer.When her honesty interferes with the necessary flattery of the job, she goes abroad to make a name for herself.But her  photographs of Berlin brothels bring her notoriety instead of fame. (I had no problems accepting the truth of those photos and the revelation of how Amory got them).

Broke, she's takes a steady job in New York shooting fashions for a women's catalogue--an accepted outlet for a female photographer,She also managed a volume of personal art photographs. Her love affairs occupy her thoughts though they are less interesting than her probing observations of place and people. These grow along with a desire for creative work that captures real life. Finally, she finds the strength to refuse life as an object of a man's desire. Instead, she chooses to do "her bit" for the war and the novel takes off. Amory puts her life on the line to record what she sees, conflict and how soldiers live day to day.

But these are only some of the lives of Amory Clay,  There is a wonderful Vietnam chapter, as well as snapshots with cunning glimpses of her life as a "Lady" and mother. I believed more than these shots the ones of settings and people, historical and fictional. And, when the book was finished, I felt satisfied. I respected Amory's well earned wisdom and the life lived by her own values. I will certainly see the movie.

For what is probably one of the real-life sources for Boyd's heroine, read below about Lee Miller. I possess a book w/narrative of her photographs. They are stunning, art in action. Boyd's snapshots are not even close. His achievement is to create a portrait of a woman rarely depicted. A self-made talent, uncompromising about her independence, who succeeds despite the narrow expectations and opportunities of her era..

From Wikipedia: Elizabeth "Lee" Miller, Lady Penrose (April 23, 1907 – July 21, 1977), was an American photographer. Born in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1907, she was a successful fashion model in New York City in the 1920s before going to Paris, where she became an established fashion and fine art photographer. During the Second World War, she became an acclaimed war correspondent for Vogue, covering events such as theLondon Blitz, the liberation of Paris, and the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau.

Monday, August 31, 2015

LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI 'S WRITING ACROSS THE LANDSCAPE, travel journals that read like a surreal novel

WRITING ACROSS THE LANDSCAPE travel journals 1960-2010 by LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI, edited by Giada Diano and Matthew Gleeson, is published by Liveright Publishing as a Memoir (September).

Ferlinghetti is a Beat icon, poet and author of the legendary Coney Island of the Mind and a founder of City Lights Booksellers and Publishers in San Francisco. In these journals through the decades, places (Latin America, Seattle, Tijuana, Cuba, Paris, Rome, Greece, Berlin, Belize, Russia, Australia) and people (Henry Miller, Allen Ginsberg, Pablo Neruda), he captures the truth of a moment, how it feels and what it says politically about a society--often within a Zen context of eternity. There are also drawings, such as "her tragic side" 8/01, that are revelations.

In addition, this book provides entertaining literary experience. Who but Ferlinghetti would consider reversing Conrad's Heart of Darkness to begin in New York City (as the heart of the beast) and discover the great Light, The Heart of Lightness?  I found this book so rich, so well edited, you could flip through it and find meaningful paragraphs on any page.  Here are a few chance selections..

The Sixties--Salton Sea
"When Do the Gas Stations Open Up Around Here?" I hear the cowboy shouting....That's life in the American West, 1961. Let me out, I'm way down here at the bottom of the well, below the Sea...I'm the cowboy and I paid eight dollars for this fancy resort beach house and I want some action along with it, even some Beauty, I want my money's worth, I'll take a lot of showers, use up all the soap and towels, drink out of both sterilized water glasses, turn on the air-conditioning, the refrigerator, the heater, flush the toilet a lot. I'll go swimming in the Pool even if I freeze to death doing it..."

Santa Rita Journal--1968
Santa Rita Rehabilitation Center. What are we doing here in this dank tank? Probing the limits of political dissent in this unenlightened country?  Nonviolent gesture of blocking the entrance to war at Oakland Army Induction Center hereby judged beyond that limit. Rehabilitate us, please...First rough impressions of anybody's first time in jail, suddenly realizing what "incarcerated" really means. Paranoid fear of the unknown, fear of not knowing what's going to happen to your body, fear of getting thrown in the Hole...Routine of being booked, fingerprinted, mugged, shunted from bullpen to bullpen itself a shock for any "first offender"...Naive vestigal illusions about the inherent goodness of man fly out the barred windows...

Pompei's supreme hallucination as in one of those films where the hero is walking into the sun and the heat is rising and his eyes take on a glazed look and the sky and the whole landscape start to whirl around him as in a kaleidoscope, perhaps the way it was before Vesuvius erupted. In Berlin they are running a marathon around the thirty miles of the ruined Wall. The morning newspaper in Napoli shows the huge crowd, thousands of runners passing through the Brandenburg Gate. Some have their arms outstretched, presumably in joy, or as if they were about to fly like Icarus straight into the sun. Turn the photo sideways and they look like the stone figures still gesturing in the rootless ruins of Pompei, the arms outstretched against the rain of lava. They have a comic aspect, un aspetto comico.

Journals are often interior confessionals and travel books are exterior observations. WRITING ACROSS THE LANDSCAPE is a poet's hybrid, confessions that offer glimpses of the world, ourselves and the future.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

GIRL WAITS WITH GUN, novel based on the true story of a female deputy sheriff in 1914

                   " I got a revolver to protect us," said Miss Constance, "and I soon had use for it."
                                                                                                 --New York Times, June 3, 1915

Amy Stewart's novel, GIRL WAITS WITH GUN, rings true. She includes real newspaper articles that give the Kopp sisters' story the authenticity of an era fairly forgotten in 2015. In 1914  Constance Kopp turned thirty-five on an isolated farm with her sister Norma, also a spinster, and 16-year old Fleurette.  It was eccentric that the three sisters and their mother chose to live on this farm, rather than town, where a school and other cultural advantages existed. It was unheard of, when their mother died, that the sisters decided to stay.  Despite the lack of conveniences, Fleurette's education at home and borderline poverty, they resisted the offers of their married brother to live with his family.

Typically, women without husbands for protection and no visible means of support were expected to move in with male relatives and be useful to their household.  The reasons the Kopp sisters resisted were rooted in both the secrets of their family and the narrow social conventions governing women's lives at that time.  With employment opportunities greatly limited, marriage was the most acceptable career. GIRL WAITS WITH GUN shows the rare independence of the Kopp sisters.

Constance, the oldest, was tall and broad-shouldered, smart and uncompromising. Though completely uninterested in farm life, she believed it was their best option. Her sense of responsibility was huge, as was her concern for Norma and, especially, Fleurette. Constance managed equipment, animals and finances, while working with Norma on the day to day running of the farm and Fleurette's lessons. She was also sick of the endless rounds of chores. The retiring life, the best for Fleurette, was occasionally too much even for them.

So, in the summer of 1914, they drove their buggy to Patterson, N.J. When a motor car plowed into them, the buggy overturned, pinning Fleurette, but the sisters were not seriously injured. Though badly shattered, the buggy was not beyond repair. Yet this accident would change the lives of all involved because Constance sought simple justice--payment for repairs from the driver, Henry Kauffman, a well-to-do silk manufacturer. Little did she know their seclusion was at an end.

Constance got Kauffman's contact information at the scene of the accident but, when her queries went unanswered, she had to track him down at his factory with her invoice. Non payment led to her meeting with the intrepid Sheriff Heath. Then, after payment, the Kopp sisters faced escalating harassment. Constance joined forces with the Sheriff to combat the powerful manufacturer and his "Black-hand" gang. The farm had become the site for a reign of terror that included threatening notes by "brick delivery." Then Fleurette was targeted to be kidnapped and sold into "white slavery."

Sheriff Heath first taught Constance, then the others, to shoot and gave out guns. During their long vigils with Heath's deputies, they would have to use them. But successfully defending themselves was one thing, bringing Kauffman to trial was another. Constance had to discover and assemble proof that would stick. Ignoring sex and class, she went on the offensive, risking her life for her sisters' safety. Ice storms, violence, notoriety in the papers; nothing deterred Constance from her course. At the end, justice was served and she had earned a real job, as one of the first female Sheriffs in the nation.

Read this very moving, even funny, action-packed novel.  What made it for me, besides the time-travel, was the portraits of the sisters. It may be invention but I found Constance's pragmatic yet inspired mental process, Norma's carrier pigeons and Fleurette's imaginative gift with a sewing machine endearing. These ladies were both modern, of their times, and somehow familiar. My grandmother made lentil soup for her family, before joining the march from Philadelphia to Washington for the women's right to vote--didn't happen until 1920.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

What is the difference between memoir & autobiography? Take a look at Privilege and Prejudice, NEW Q&A Inside Higher Education

An autobiography is different from a memoir, though the forms seem to have merged lately.  I think of a memoir as a public diary edited yet intimate. The thoughts of the writer about their experience are primary, while an autobiography seeks to know the person through their deeds. Reading about them, you learn how a life was lived, consciously and unconsciously. You gain insight into the roles of background and opportunity in shaping character and destiny.   

There are not many large full autobiographies and this one supplies the pleasure of the unexpected. It breaks the stereotypes about Black potential and advancement.  Privilege and Prejudice: The Life of a Black Pionee, the autobiography of Clifton R. Wharton Jr.,is about a Black man whose good fortune helped him to forge breakthroughs in four separate careers. It's an exceptional story, the release below explains more.

Inside Higher Education just published Q&A with Dr. Wharton

Diverse Magazine writes about Bill Moyers' recent interview of Dr. Wharton

Dr. Wharton's recent interview on PBS Newshour with Judy Woodruff.

“While I did not select the career goal of being a black “pioneer” or integrating the American dream, it was not long before I found myself treading where few, if any, Blacks had stepped before.”
                                                            --Clifton R. Wharton Jr.

The Life of a Black Pioneer

by Clifton R. Wharton Jr.

In this extraordinary new book you will step into the shoes of Dr. Clifton Wharton Jr. and experience the life of a trailblazing Black man who shattered many glass ceilings in a journey through the worlds of higher education, business, government, and the nonprofit sector. PRIVILEGE AND PREJUDICE: The Life of a Black Pioneer (Michigan State University Press; Publication date: October 1, 2015; 614 pages, $34.95 hardcover; ISBN: 978-1-61186-171-6) is a stereotype-defying autobiography. It reveals a Black man whose good fortune in birth and heritage and opportunity of time and place helped him to forge breakthroughs in four separate careers.

Clifton R. Wharton Jr. entered Harvard at age sixteen. He was the first Black student accepted to the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins, and went on to receive a doctorate in economics from the University of Chicago—another first. For twenty-two years he promoted agricultural development in Latin America and Southeast Asia, earning a post as chairman of the Rockefeller Foundation. He again pioneered higher education firsts as president of Michigan State University and chancellor of the sixty-four-campus State University of New York system. As chairman and CEO of TIAA-CREF, he was the first Black CEO of a Fortune 500 company. His commitment to excellence culminated in his appointment as deputy secretary of state during the Clinton administration.

In addition to learning Dr. Wharton’s fascinating life story, you will also meet, as Dr. Wharton met, national leaders in business, philanthropy, higher education, and government -- names like Nelson and John D. Rockefeller 3rd, Theodore Hesburgh, Paul Volcker, Bill and Judith Moyers, Henry Ford II, Cy Vance, Hugh Carey, Mario Cuomo, Hubert Humphrey, Theodore Schultz, Vernon Jordan, William Friday, Milton Friedman, Kenneth Clark, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Andrew Brimmer, John Whitehead, Sol Linowitz, and Presidents Carter, Ford, and Clinton.

A remarkable story of persistence and courage, PRIVILEGE AND PREJUDICE also documents the challenges of competing in a society where obstacles, negative expectations, and stereotypes remained stubbornly in place. An absorbing and candid narrative, it describes a most unusual childhood, a remarkable family, and a historic career.


Clifton R. Wharton Jr. has been a Black pioneer in numerous fields, serving as president of Michigan State University, chancellor of the State University of New York system, chairman and CEO of TIAA-CREF, and ultimately as deputy secretary of state.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

On Being One for Akashic Book's Terrible Twosdays.

“On Being One” by Susan I. Weinstein

Are you a parent going through the Terrible Twos? Did you live through them and survive? Terrible Twosdays is a place to commiserate over the unending shenanigans of your Darling Children (as the online parenting communities say). Nonfiction stories will be considered, so long as names have been changed to protect the guilty. Inspired by our best-selling gift book for parents, Go the Fuck to Sleep, Terrible Twosdays joins the roster of our other online short fiction series. Unlike Mondays Are Murder and Thursdaze, we’re looking for stories with a light and mischievous feel, all about the day-to-day challenges of parenting. As with our other flash fiction series, stories must not exceed 750 words.
This week, Susan I. Weinstein describes life with a baby boy.
Susan I WeinsteinOne Being One
by Susan I. Weinstein
He looks at me with woebegone betrayal in his large baby eyes. My tyrannical one-year-old son is teething, recovering from roseola. How could you leave me? say his eyes so expressively. His tiny hands reach out, appealing to me: Pick me up now!
I’ve fallen for it all day, even when the dirty dishes disgustingly fill the sink. Bits of baby food merge with the smelly patina of old formula. The living room floor is a mass of kiddie toys. In the bathroom stands an infant bathtub full of water, and everywhere else is the debris field. Any step in the direction of cleaning up or putting away laundry elicits bloodcurdling cries—red-faced baby indignation. He’s in pain, and you, heartless creature, put him down! How could you refuse him entry into forbidden zones—bathroom and kitchen—with unchildproofable dangers?
He’s looking tragic. I pick him up to soothe his hurts. I exude calm. Once in my arms, the crying stops, and sunny smiles emerge. Faker, I think, as he demands to be set down. A minute later, it’s,Pick me up! He again wants to be set down every which way, but not the way I need to get on with anything. But this is bebe’s job description—aspiring terrible two.
The next shift is a tall thin blonde from Barnard’s babysitter service. She’s working a summer job with Disney, says she has lots of experience, but can she cut it? Will I return to find him cozily asleep in his bed, his arm around his beloved wild bear, or wailing at a panicked young woman? Will he extract from me an infantile revenge? Once, I left him for a weekend with his dad, while I went on a business trip. He cold-shouldered me for days. Yet I don’t kid myself that I’m indispensible. Just as he’s stricken at my daily departures, he’s equally glad to see his regular sitter or his father. “Fresh meat,” we say, with cynical affection for our savage.
We’re under no illusions, no pretend games of euphoria. We’re knee-deep in baby poop and can’t afford the dignity. We’ve gone psychotic from lack of sleep, fear of flu, and juggling those who know the reality of life with bebe and those who enviously say it must all be joy. The truth is that parental love is primal. You fall in love unalterably and exist in the Darwinian realm of a life for a life. It’s our lives we trade off so that existence with bebe can continue.
He eagerly plays with the pretty blonde student. I’ve ceased to exist for him. With stealth, I make my escape and actually eat dinner in a restaurant.
We are betrayed by our biology, or so it’s said—usually by childless people. You love your child as you love yourself, or parenting doesn’t work. How else would the narcissism of the species lead to child-rearing? Can we afford to be ourselves and still nurture a child? Will he ever sleep through the night; be weaned; be interested in stacking, sorting, words? Will I ever stop paying attention to such arbitrary gauges of progress and intelligence? Do I need them to justify our profound alteration of ourselves?
Maybe we needed alteration, yet there’s little comfort in the road not taken—exotic vacations, a meditative life—instead of frayed nerves seeking solace in stolen intervals. Still, bebe is a complete discovery. In him is the anthropological history of the human race. The first day in the hospital, he looked at us with unseeing eyes and clearly communicated, Get me out of here! I cannot project familial traits on him, extended or imagined. He has a muscular body; we’re flabby and bookish. He’s charming and eminently sociable; we’re nervous introverts. As my selected toys gather dust, I strive to know him. I feel wonder rolling on new grass with him. He points from a sun in a children’s book to one in the real sky. His face is ecstatic.
Did I enjoy the mini-tantrum when I put him back in his stroller? Luckily, any pretty girl is a foolproof way to stop my son crying. As a newborn, he had nurses fighting over his care. At age one, he’ll enter a coffee shop, see an attractive female, and turn on the cute baby act. He fixes the object of his desire with an intense stare. When noticed, he unfurls a dazzling smile, as though to say, Cute baby here! Don’t you like babies? Get to know me! 
SUSAN I. WEINSTEIN is the author of two novels, The Anarchist’s Girlfriend and Paradise Gardens (published by Eat Your Serial Press/Maglomaniac), and a story collection, Tales of the Mer Family Onyx. Her plays, Something About That FaceRabies, and White-Walled Babes, have been produced, as well as her adult adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. Recently, she finished The Strange Afterlife of Harry Houdini & Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and is writing The Selling of ADD/ADHD. Susan’s paintings have been shown at Gallery Brooklyn and Wildflowers Too in New Jersey. Currently making her living in book publicity, she lives in NYC with her husband and teenage son. You can check out her blog at and follow her on Twitter@swpubrel.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Kim Gordon's GIRL IN A BAND & Paula Hawkins' GIRL ON THE TRAIN. Rock memoir & thriller--exceptional women in post Feminist wastelands


plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. The more things change, the more they are the same.  
This proverb is an ironic subtext for the two exceptional women in these otherwise dissimilar books. Rock memoir and thriller both have soulful narrators, searching for truth buried in the wreckage of their marriages. Blindsided at huge emotional cost, they need to figure out what really happened to become whole again. The answers have much to do with the status of women and the status quo of male expectations.

GIRL IN THE BAND, Kim Gordon's memoir is a history of punk, post punk, wave, no wave 1970-80's rock music and her roles as iconic rocker, visual artist, wife and mother. She adds writer, after this entertaining and philosophically rich look at the life of an original, who says she became so almost by default. Gordon writes that whatever she became was because of her crazy older brother, a paranoid schizophrenic. Charismatic, brilliant and sadistic, Keller created the "self-annihilating world" of her childhood. Her famed self-containment onstage was habitual, a way to survive his onslaught. She learned to hide her sensitivity and express nothing. This daughter of a sociologist has great analytical ability. She well understands how her background propelled her to find transforming experiences-- good and bad.

Gordon says performing gave her tremendous release. By allowing herself "to be at the extremes of emotional risk," she experienced a "spiritual transcendence. What LSD promised, my psyche delivered." Compared to her childhood, the "on the edge, insecure, hallucinogenic world of alt punk music was stable in the instability of unceasing change." She was also a California girl used to scary waves, who grew up with Charlie Manson wandering the neighborhood. Gordon's glad she never got into that family's car.

In GIRL IN A BAND Gordon is generous in how she assesses the men in her life. Despite Keller's tyranny, she credits his brilliance as the stimulus for her to probe the meanings of life and develop herself as an artist. As Keller spiraled further into illness, she came to believe what she accomplished was for both of them. Her parents,exhausted by Keller, offered no objections to art school. As long as she wasn't crazy, she could be whatever she wanted. At 19, she had a"lucky break," when she heard Dan Graham's extraordinary lecture on art and culture. Gordon began a lifelong friendship with him and Mike Kelley. Graham mentored her in the burgeoning rock music scene of the 70's--garage bands like The Ramones and art rock bands, like The Talking Heads from Rhode Island School of Design.

Though Gordon had no formal training in playing an instrument or singing, she played for ecstatic release. Not knowing musically what she wanted to do, she learned in baby bands. She met Thurston, when he was 21 and she was five years older. Together they evolved the songs and layered sound that became Sonic Youth. Originally, they worked as a No-Wave band with an egalitarian structure. Gordon was so used to being the only woman in male bands, she didn't think of being a stand-out, until they signed with Geffen. Though Sonic Youth had critical acclaim, they didn't have big audiences. She had to become the "girl," who could sell the band. If an audience was put-off by their discordant sound or scruffy appearance, the good-looking girl up front meant the band was all right. .

Gordon learned to stand front center, a place she was less than comfortable, and to dress for the band, as well as for herself. Her style, which she thought awkward, was widely imitated and eventually she became co-designer of a popular clothing line.  When the band ended, after the break up of her marriage, Gordon returned to her first love--visual art. She created performance pieces and showed art in major galleries and museums. She is currently very engaged with visual art but Sonic Youth is perhaps her best known creation.

As you might expect in a celeb memoir, she includes her meetings with other celebs. But Gordon's insight goes beyond name dropping. Kurt Cobain was a friend and her equal in sensitivity. She talks about both the violent death wish he enacted in performance and the tender yearning of his music.When she describes Courtney Love's unhinged but calculating performances onstage and off, it's the annoyance of a professional, as well as the concern of a mother. After Kurt died, Gordon, who visited with him and his daughter Bean, was concerned about the girl.

The major thread through Gordon's memoir is recounting the trajectory of her marriage. Though they made decisions about Sonic Youth jointly, Thurston, the business head for the band, had sure instincts. He was also her artistic complement. Sonic Youth's songs encompassed personal emotion, politics in the U.S.A. and life on the planet. They were played like a hurricane. The band was a shared entity filled with decades of personal history, love and trust. When she learned about the affair, it was almost less shocking than the facts of his having a secret life and lied to her about it.

Gordon wryly notes that considering they were sophisticated artists, the reasons for the break-up were ridiculously pedestrian, She lost him to a predatory younger woman, a groupie. Gordon writes the woman first tried for her but would have had anyone in the band. Somehow Thurston could not resist. Gordon says she always chose to "turn a blind eye" to his dark "fascination." She also knows he had a mid-life crisis. Sadly, a look at their history shows conditions familiar to telenovas, "Lifetime" plots,the old soaps.

When the family moved from New York City to suburban Massachusetts to raise their daughter, they gained physical space but felt dislocated. While their daughter adjusted easily and Gordon found friends and community, Thurston used the house as a way station between New York and other places he traveled to on the business of Sonic Youth. Though they continued their tour schedule and, in the early years traveled with their daughter, Gordan shifted her focus to staying home with their daughter. Increasingly, she left decision-making for the band to Thurston. When she learned of the affair, she had to help her daughter through senior year and the college application process. Thurston vowed to end the affair but secretly continued. The marriage was over.

Exceptionaly accomplished woman, beautiful and bold, yet Gordon was blindsided by her husband's infidelity. She wasn't paying attention to the fact that while she had changed, men's expectations were the same. There have always been breakthrough women who by sheer force of character push their talent and meet success. But many men still want to be the main star with a back up woman. Gordon writes of how she always loved how men play guitars onstage; competitively, sexually. In her memoir, she became first the "girl" with the band, then the front woman. While they had equal billing, Thurston had to share the spotlight.

Many women struggle to balance kids and career and many husbands find themselves at once a lesser priority and relied on more. The facts of Sonic Youth's break-up are domestic drama--a mid-life man with an accomplished spouse, strays to a younger woman who gives him the adulation he craves. But Thurston, seeking to recapture his youth, chose to be free and unmarried. Gordon  had little patience with him acting the "rock star" onstage on their last tour. She was smart enough to understand and be angry.

Gordon pushed the feminist edge in Sonic Youth, Deborah Harry did some of that in Blondie. But today that seems less common in bands than with lone artists, like St. Vincent. In our post-feminist era, male rock stars artists have the usual prerogatives, while their talented female equals trail in pay and suffer more scrutiny. Only recently did pop princesses Beyonce and Swift admit they are feminists--now that they know it's not an anti-male label.

In GIRL ON THE TRAIN, the fictional Rachel is also obsessed with her "dark side." She has drunks that cause black-outs, leaving her with no memory of what she's done--except for her ex-husband's awful reminders Because of her drinking, the reader, like the cops that question her in a murder investigation, find her an "unreliable narrator." Her self-pity and failure to "move on" at first seem aberrant; her estrangement from the community somewhat deserved. But in the alternating viewpoints of those involved in the events of the murder, you learn from her husband's present wife, that Rachel was once curvy and "striking", successful in her job in public relations. You begin to wonder, as Rachel does, what happened?  Why did her once happy marriage fail?  Yes there's her failure to conceive, her shame at being barren and her sorrow, but that's only part of the story.

An outcast, a suburban village "madwoman," Rachel travels her old daily commute to London, though she lost her job. She's doing it so her flat-mate thinks she's still employed but there's more to it. As she travels past her old town, where she shared a house with her husband, Rachel deeply mourns her marriage and blames herself for what she's become--a depressed, fat, unemployable drunk. Though, at her core, she doesn't quite believe it. Rachel's authentic, no matter who doesn't believe her or in her--including herself.

So back and forth Rachel travels and tries to understand her life. Out the window of the train, she sees a young couple on their patio and fantasizes about their happy marriage, as a loving relationship with humor and trust. Their lives are imbued with all Rachel's longings. Along with husband, home and job, she's lost friends, self-respect and maybe her sanity. She fears she may have done terrible things in a drunken state. Yet drinking is what she does, the reason she was fired from her job, But how could a person do awful things drunk, they would not do sober?

The suburbs she travels are full of pretty young women with baby carriages, like her ex-husband's wife who lives in the same house Rachel once shared. She started her affair, while her husband was married to Rachel. Now she has a baby to protect from this drunken wraith, mooning around the neighborhood. Rachel is disturbing, a menace to her world centered around babies, nannies, play dates, keeping in shape, buying clothes and making perfect dinners for her working husband. She has no conscience about having contributed to their break up and only wants Rachel, to disappear.

Among the alternating chapters are also those of the murder victim, a beautiful blonde, who once owned an art gallery, Uninterested in children, she's the secret subversive. But in this landscape of guarded complacency, Rachel's the unwilling standout. Unable to get over both her inadequacy to conceive a child and blaming herself that her sorrow cost her a marriage, she's a pariah in the suburban town. Yet that status makes her the truth-teller, an exceptional woman underestimated.

As the story develops, what's real in Rachel's life, what happened or didn't, becomes crucial. And, as you read the perceptions of the other characters, you get a sense they are only as reliable as their limited perceptions. The truth behind the events of the murder is more elusive than the stray facts. Suspense lies less with the unmasking of the murderer than the undoing of the women in this town. In different ways they are self-hypnotized by the mythology of unending love and happy families, and themselves as objects of desire. There is an infinite sadness about how the women experience the gap between their emotional needs as people, and fulfilling the sexual desires of their lovers.

The men in THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN seem less traditional entitled males, than paralyzed actors circumscribed by their emotional drives and lack of introspection. Even the refugee psychologist, skilled and sympathetic, is unwilling to control his sexual appetite. These are underlying tensions in a brilliant thriller about a woman going nowhere on a train. One of the pleasures of the novel is to see Rachel unravel both the murder and the secret behind her transformation from a "stunning," successful woman to "Poor Rachel."You cheer, as she scrupulously straightens out reality and herself.

Only gradually, reading this book, did I think of "Gaslight" or The Stepford Wives. Paula Hawkins' storytelling is more subtle, as is the calcification of feminism in this time and place. Rachel finds a real path to recovery but happiness is more morphous. The real life Kim Gordon seems is have reached much the same conclusion. But she's a creative woman. I imagine whatever happiness she's found is of her own making.


Friday, May 29, 2015

ARTIST SPACES: New Orleans, Tina Freeman's Bk & Exhibition. Studio as Oasis for Artistic Process

News- Foreword Reviews Award

This is the first study of artists in their working spaces with their work, as part of their process.  Katrina anniversary is 8/29, gives this story poignancy. Many of the artists recreated their studios with a new sense of the importance of place, 

The work is on view at THE OGDEN MUSEUM OF SOUTHERN ART. It's interesting to see the artists' work in their studios in the book and then to see it on the white walls of the Museum. It looks very different .

The book is published by University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press

Tina Freeman has been photographing artists and their interiors from the early years of her career in New York, when she photographed Diana Vreeland and Andy Warhol. Also an accomplished photographer of architecture, landscapes and portraits, her work has graced magazines, such as House and Garden, Connoisseur and The New York Times Magazine. Her fine art photographs have been exhibited in New Orleans, New York, Los Angeles and London.

For ARTIST SPACES NEW ORLEANS she joined co-author Morgan Molthrop, to show the diversity of art and artists that has exploded in New Orleans, since the devastation of Katrina. Freeman, says Molthrop, is enormously skilled at the use of natural light and demonstrates a rare sensitivity to both artists and their spaces. She was given unusual accessibility and the book grew from the collaborative nature of the project.

Tina and Morgan spent 2 and a half years choosing photos and laying out art, as Morgan conducted interviews  and the community grew with the book. It mirrors New Orleans natives and those new to town, environments that seem highly personal with totemic objects, others as controlled as industrial space. There's work that's fleeting, of the moment, or substantial as stone or metal.  Seen in its native environment it's revelatory.

What's universal is that these spaces are natural, part of  the personality of the artist  and  their intellectual  emotional process of their work. A studio is a safe oasis, says Malthrop, where artists can leave their bodies behind. What you see in ARTISTS SPACES is a profound sense of place. There are artists in this book who are going to the Venice Biennial, others  whose space no longer  exists. All are linked by community. The community of artists, who often live in their work spaces, are celebrated in this unusual book.