Archive | Book Matters

Literary Solace: Exceptional Books About Grief

I have cried more in the first week of Donald Trump’s reign of terror than I did in all of 2016. And while I could give you the old razzle-dazzle about how every cloud has its silver lining – and in fact, I do believe that– I’d rather provide a list of books to make you feel less alone. Sometimes literary solidarity is even better than literary solace. Note this list is a tad controversial in terms of its omissions. (For example, no The Year of Magical Thinking,  which I unfashionably regard as a valentine to ladylike dissociation that’s typical of author Joan Dideon.)


Disturbances in the Field–Lynne Sharon Schwartz
A satisfyingly sprawling tome about a married pair of New York City artists whose children die in a bus accident, Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s Disturbances in the Field captures the unhappy specificity of grief with an unflinching eye and wonderful descriptions of food, sex, and 1980s Manhattan shimmer.

Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object–Laurie Colwin
Food writer and novelist Laurie Colwin died unexpectedly of a brain aneurysm in her forties. Though technically she could not have anticipated the brevity of her life, this meticulously constructed novel about a twentysomething woman who loses her husband in a sailing accident suggests an eerie familiarity with the particular pain of an early demise. Like of all of Colwin’s books, it also conveys uncomfortable truths and irrevocable, rushing pleasures. Continue Reading →

American Tragedy on Film

I’ve been trying to figure out why I love “Patriots Day” so much. Though I moved to New York City from Greater Boston decades ago, it’s a fact that you can take the girl out of Massachusetts, but you can’t take the Massachusetts out of a girl. And “Patriots Day,” Peter Berg’s adaptation of the book Boston Strong by Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, is one of the most Massachusetts-proud movies ever made. But I also love this docu-drama because it has enough heart and brains to help heal its audience.

The United States always has had a hard time navigating tragedy. Perhaps this is because, in the grand scale of world civilizations, we are a very young nation. When it comes to boundless optimism, this often works to our advantage. Even today, Americans tend to believe that a good attitude and persistence can change the most direst of circumstances. It is the backbone of our founding story – how we scrappy mavericks defeated the Brits – and certainly the classic Hollywood premise. But the downside of our youthfulness is a widespread, culturally reinforced immaturity. This translates into an immunity to critical thought and an inability to process complex emotions. So when confronted with trauma, we are uniquely ill-equipped to grieve without resorting to finger-pointing or dissociation. To the degree that we address our pain, we do so through the arts – especially film and television, which, even more than sports, is our common denominator. Continue Reading →

‘Live by Night,’ Dead on Arrival

Once again awards season is rolling around, and a person named Affleck is reaping accolades. But this is 2016, the topsy-turviest year on recent record, so the Affleck who’ll likely score an Academy Award nod is not Ben Affleck but younger brother Casey. (Sexual harassment accusations notwithstanding, he is unreasonably good in “Manchester-by-the-Sea.”) The irony, of course, is that the older Affleck is also releasing a film this season: “Live by Night,” an adaptation of the 2012 eponymous Dennis Lehane novel. That Big Ben’s first directorial effort since 2012’s Oscar-winning “Argo” is receiving very little publicity is surprising – at least, unless you’ve seen it.

To be fair, this Prohibition-era drama is not exactly bad. Set in a crime underbelly of Massachusetts, it’s tried-and-true territory for the native Bostonian, who in 2007 adapted Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone and has set two other films in the region. But the whole endeavor feels disappointingly by the numbers, perhaps because Ben (Casey is not associated with the film) seems intent on creating an instant classic, a period picture with “Scarface” grit and golden Hollywood glamour, complete with speakeasies, flappers, and Tommy guns. The result feels more like a facsimile of a facsimile – blurry and haplessly un-emphatic. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy