Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Big Houses, Fancy Dress, National Tragedy

My favorite thing about Tina Brown's Diana Chronicles was her literary frame of reference - in addition to the obligatory Austen, she mentions Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca and The Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. These last two are stories that help us better understand our heroine, Diana: the deep, dark women and history and houses she's up against, in the first case, her super-natural ability for kindness, in the second.

However, Manderley is spelled wrong. Seriously. Someone said she mixes her Austen references, but I thought that was kind of intentional? Whatever.

Back to Rebecca. One of the reasons it's such a brilliant book is that it combines two things Brit lit has historically been good at: romance-and-repression (that's the first thing) and murder mystery (that's two). In both of these narrative formulae, there is only one solution - one true love, one guilty party. And the whole novel long you are waiting to find out who it is, even if you already know. Or you're waiting to find out how, exactly, it's possible.

Diana's story is the same. A romance and a murder mystery.

The book is well researched, for sure. And I love it when Brown includes history of the Tatler coverage of Diana, written in the first person. Or first person plural, hooray! The royal we, as they say.

But as a biography, it isn't quite smart enough. With this subject matter, it could even be a history, if it were much, much smarter. Brown ought to defer more to the psychological "insights" of Diana's acquaintances. While these would be ridiculous and not, in any way, true, this approach might cumulatively create a richer picture of the bizarre time and place Brown is trying to capture. Psychological insights from Brown (there are way, way too many) sound a little short-sighted and naive.

So, that's my somewhat disjointed, idiosyncratic book review of Diana Chronicles. Maybe it's more of a book report, like the kind you did in third grade, with projects, or costumes. I'm dressed as Mrs. Danvers.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

My lawd! Peter Boyer On Point.

Midday Wednesday on wbur's On Point, Peter Boyer was answering questions about an article he wrote for this week's issue of The New Yorker, "The Political Scene, Mayberry Man, Is what New York never liked about Rudy Giuliani exactly what the heartland loves?"

I haven't read the article yet, and I'm not sure I need to now, though I definitely want to. Boyer did his nuanced reading of regional, rhetorical and ideological election politics in the US well, in this forum.

He did what a smart talk show guest should do, but rarely does - bypass the host and ask questions directly of other guests. In this case, he asked Dr. Richard Land (President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) whether Southern voters saw Fred Thompson as a viable candidate and why.

He also did Tom Ashbrook one better, and when Ashbrook ignored one of his nuttier callers (he often does this) Boyer went out of his way to place her comments in a meaningful contexts - she was going on about US "sovereignty" and NAFTA and Boyer explained that she was a right-wing isolationist and gave a little perspective on that.

The callers were an interesting mix of New Yorkers, ex-New Yorkers and South Carolinians. These On Points become podcasts, right? You should listen.

The oddest part, though, was all the herding tomcats, making hay, fleas off a dead dog, neck of the woods folksy-ness. Each and every one of these phrases was used, and re-used in the first half hour, I swear. You could hear Boyer's accent, too, in phrases like "all that," "stuff" and "this is the guy."

At the beginning of the second half hour Tom Ashbrook identified Boyer as a "native of Mississippi."

The consensus on Boyer's article: there is none. Somewhere between "TMI," says newyorkette, and "Old Hat," says The Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine's blog. Hm.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Toobin, Mishra and those "modern" marriages you read so much about

I'm reading the Diana biography, but I'll tell you about that later.

"Exit Wounds, The Legacy of Indian Partition" by (NYRB writer) Pankaj Mishra. In Aug 13.

Jeffrey Toobin's "Reporter at Large, An Unsolved Killing" on gun control and a creepy case of the lack of it. In Aug 6. The Waleses (not those Waleses, the Waleses in Toobin's piece) have an interesting family history, which drew me right in. The political stuff was just as interesting, but less well-written.

Something about both of these seemed to promise more than the article delivered. Though I'd recommend them both. Actually, the worst thing about Mishra's book review is the title. Maybe he should have traded with Toobin, like in one of those office gift exchanges. Like, the editor hands you a title and then later you swap.

One of the frustrating things about Mishra's piece is that the books under review get in the way of a good essay.

FYI, the illustration for Toobin's essay is the kind of thing I hate. The photograph for Mishra's book review is what it is. Which is a very complicated historical thing. Check it out, if you haven't yet.

Mishra's critical history actually offers more dish on the Mountbattens than Tina Brown's The Diana Chronicles. Which is less forthcoming about their open marriage and bisexual pleasures. For shame, Tina Brown.

And about that title, "Exit Wounds" - I feel like I've objected to literal/metaphoric uses of this phrase in the title of another recent New Yorker (or other) article. But I can't find it now. Does this ring a bell?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

odd ducks, all

Two profiles of men with tough jobs. Neither gentleman seemed more dishonest than the job required, or, really, than any average co-worker. My two favorites from the July 30 issue.

Tad Friend does well in a serious "Letter from California, Dean of Death Row, The man who was Mr. San Quentin."

Remnick writes "Letter from Jerusalem, The Apostate, A Zionist politician loses faith in the future."

Also, Alex Ross is held as a paragon of arts reviewing, at the Determined Dilettante. But you know that I, for one, also have a fondness for Schjeldahl. Here's a peep at his "groovy sweaty" period. I had no idea.