The Sacrifice: book review

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The Sacrifice By Joyce Carol Oates.
Ecco| January 2015.|320 pages |$26.99 ISBN: 978-006-233-2974

rating: 2.5/5*

This is a follow-up to her National Book Award-winning 1969 novel them. Written the year I was born, I have yet to read it. Not sure the delay in writing or publishing The Sacrifice if it is a follow-up to a novel from 40 years ago. Did she write this novel some time ago but not publish it. Was the timing off. Joyce Carol Oates is a prolific author of 40 novels and numerous short-story collections. The Sacrifice is a timely novel about race, abuse of power, corruption, public perception and manipulation. However, it just came across as dated to me and it also took me an outrageous three weeks to read. And not due to its length—one of Joyce Carol Oates shorter novels at 300 pages– or due to its dense material. She writes from various perspectives, shuffles layers and mystery,provides details into the young woman’s background and then illustrates the hype surrounding this did-it-or-didn’t-it-happen case.

I felt it was a tale already told. I finally realized it was based on the 1987 case of Tawney Brawley. I was in high school or just beginning college when that case happened so I didn’t immediately recall it. This was pre-Twitter, pre-internet, pre-mobile blitz. Some fictionalizations of real-life events work and some do not. This isn’t the first time for Joyce Carol Oates to turn a real-life event into a novel. The most powerful and creepy is Black Water which imagines Ted Kennedy’s Chappaquiddick.

In The Sacrifice a poor black teen claims rape, under dubious circumstances, and when a high-profile reverend and his attorney brother get involved the lines blur. In swoops an Al Sharpton doppelgänger Rev. Marus Mudrick –“in his signature three-piece suit with a flowing necktie, sternly smiling, vibrant and alert, exuding strength, masculinity, Christian resolution”–and his twin lawyer brother Byron, a hard-working, civil rights attorney who eschews the spotlight. The duo complicates matters by adding to the confusion, suggesting possible suspects and promising a better and more interesting life to the teen and her mother.

Of course anyone who claims rape has a reason to do so and Oates delves into that a bit. She wonders why a young woman would fabricate a story as many start to indicate. Sybilla Frye is found hogtied, scrawled with racial slurs and smeared with dog feces in an abandoned basement. She says that a group of men led by a “yellow-haired” man, raped and beat her but she won’t submit to a rape test and is a difficult interview for the police. Is Sybilla lying or so deeply traumatized from sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather—ex-con Anis Schutt–that she believes this truly occurred: “They had white faces and one of them a badge like a cop would wear or a state trooper and they had guns an one of them, he put that gun barrel up inside me and it hurt so bad I was crying so bad they said Nigra cunt you stop that bawlin, we gon pull this trigger an all yo’ insides gon come splashin out your ugly nappy head.” Understandably this teenager and her mother, Ednetta, do not trust the police. Not many young black women would.

They don’t even trust or dare confide in a Hispanic female police officer– a young woman who has her own issues regarding fair treatment by the police department. Oates writes: “Iglesias did not check black when filling out appropriate official forms, Iglesias did not think of herself as a person of color though she acknowledged, seeing herself in reflective surfaces beside those colleagues of hers who were white, that she might’ve been, to the superficial eye, a light-skinned Hispanic.”

The introduction of this female police officer captivated me but unfortunately she’s jettisoned out of the novel far too soon. Here’s a strong WOC. A strong woman in a position of power. Inis Iglesias: “Her life had been, since adolescence, an effort to overcome the crude perimeters of identity. Her skin-color, ethnic background, gender. I am so much more than the person you see. Give me a chance.” That this character wasn’t allowed a chance fits in with the cruelties Oates outlines throughout the novel. I’d like to read a novel on the Inis Iglesias experience.

Describing the poor New Jersey neighborhood in which the Fryes inhabit and piecing together how Sybilla got from there to her present situation works. Oates does an impressive job in etching out that picture. The Princeton professor knows New Jersey. “The Fryes lived on Third Street, in that run-down neighborhood by the river. Abandoned factories, shuttered and part-burned houses, streets clogged with abandoned and rusting vehicles. Pascayne South High, lowest-ranked in the city. The fifth precinct, with the highest crime rate. You had to grow up swiftly there.”

Solid attempt but not quite powerful enough to succeed. Given the racial tensions throughout the nation seems perfect timing for this novel. I wonder if Oates wrote this years ago and didn’t publish until now as it’s simultaneously dated and relevant. I cannot recommend The Sacrifice.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Ecco/Harper Collins.

purchase The Sacrifice

purchase at Amazon: The Sacrifice: A Novel

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TV: Project Runway All-Stars S4.Episode 10

I haven’t been doing my usual weekly Project Runway update for Project Runway All-Stars S4. I’m starting now until season end. My favorite designer Samantha Black is gone so it doesn’t matter that much anymore. However I do like watching arrogant and gorgeous Dmitry Sholokhov. I’ve seen most Project Runway seasons except for his (10) and season one.

Sonjia and Michelle chat

Sonjia and Michelle chat

SIX designers left this week: Helen Castillo; Fabio Costa; Michelle Lesniak; Jay Sario; Dmitry Sholokhov; Sonjia Williams

Fabio for some reason thought he needed to design his own fabric and created a truly dull product. pastels on white. spattered paint look. Michelle chose an unusual print that no one liked. Sonjia doesn’t sketch and waits for the material to speak to her. She really works in a strange organic manner but managed to create lovely designs this week. She had a piece of bright yellow fabric and didn’t know what to do. So she hyserically says: “So I decide to YOLO this dress.” And poof! a cool tube dress.

Isaac Mizrahi, Georgina Chapman, Alyssa Milano and Zanna Roberts Rassi rang the closing bell for NASDAQ.

pras4_072114_bn-0087_r

This week’s challenge: design two-piece separates for QVC. also design another more high fashion look that coordinates with the separates.

TOP SCORES:

Sonjia

design by Sonjia

design by Sonjia

design by Sonjia

design by Sonjia

Dmitry

design by Dmitry

design by Dmitry

design by Dmitry

design by Dmitry

Helen

design by Helen

design by Helen

design by Helen

design by Helen

BOTTOM SCORES:

Jay

design by Jay

design by Jay

design by Jay

design by Jay

Fabio

design by Fabio

design by Fabio

design by Fabio

design by Fabio

Michelle

design by Michelle

design by Michelle

design by Michelle

design by Michelle

Sonjia is the WINNER.

Jay is OUT.

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SPRING TOUR: Erik Hassle

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Swedish R&B artist Erik Hassle will embark on a North American tour with New Zealand brother/sister duo Broods. His leg of the tour starts in Canada and winds up in Texas. Hassle will be releasing his debut album later this year and he will perform new material on tour.

TOUR DATES:
03/20 – The Hoxton – Toronto, ON*
03/21 – Corona Theatre – Montreal, QC*
03/22 – The Sinclair – Cambridge, MA*
03/25 – Irving Plaza – New York, NY*
03/26 – Trocadero Theater – Philadelphia, PA*
03/27 – 9:30 Club – Washington, DC*
03/28 – Visulite Theatre – Charlotte, NC*
03/29 – Masquerade (Hell Stage) – Atlanta, GA*
03/31 – Fitzgerald’s – Houston, TX*
04/-01 – Trees – Dallas, TX*
04/02 – Emo’s – Austin, TX*
*supporting Broods

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STEELE INTERVIEWS: Esthema

Esthema (source: band website)

Esthema (source: band website)

On June 3, 2014 Esthema released their third CD, Long Goodbye–beautiful, layered, semi-dark with unusual instrumentation and Middle Eastern elements. I don’t listen to a ton of jazz or progressive instrumental music [I do love Bee vs. Moth.] but when I do it must grab me in some manner. With Long Goodbye, I become engulfed in its sad prettiness.

Esthema-longgoodbye

Esthema are: Andy Milas [guitar]; Onur Dilisen [violin]; Mac Ritchey [oud and bouzouki]; Naseem Alatrash [cello]; Tom Martin [bass] and George Lernis [drums and percussion].

With the goal to compose songs on his own, Andy Milas formed the band in 2006. He’s first-generation Greek, born in Boston. He loves Greek music and wanted to incorporate that into other styles of music. He said he wanted to include elements of jazz, rock and classical. Onur, a native of Turkey, has been with Andy from the start. His mom was a music teacher. Onur is a classically trained violinist and graduate of Boston Conservatory. He started learning Turkish music.

WMBR has played songs from the latest release on a program called “New Edge.” The band hopes to put together a video soon to attract more varied attention. The band dislikes Spotify. If you’re into the 90s site MySpace, they’re there. First band in the past seven years I’ve seen on MySpace. I wonder how much money they make when you listen to a song on MySpace. Esthema is a Greek name that means feeling/emotion.

I sat down with Andy and Onur recently at Diesel Café in Somerville.

Amy Steele: What do you think attracts people to instrumental music?

Andy: People have to interpret the music. Lyrics sometimes make it obvious. [There’s an] attraction to instrumental music. This sets a mood that music with lyrics doesn’t.

I played them a few songs from Bee vs. Moth and they weren’t impressed. I think Bee vs. Moth is superb in soundtracks, memorable music, emotive instrumental music. Bee vs. Moth possess an enviable swagger. Maybe the use of horns, which they noted, makes it less serious compared to their compositions. Bee vs. Moth are successful in what they do and tour across the United States. I’m just a music critic. I am not classically trained nor can I play any instruments.

Amy Steele: What are the challenges in establishing a fan base in Boston area?

Andy: Boston is not inviting to instrumental music, world fusion, acoustic in this area and we need to keep up with the bar crowd.

Amy Steele: What makes Esthema stand out?

Onur: Sincerity. We play honestly and with pure intentions. Gentlemen and with a good heart.

Andy: Everyone comes from different backgrounds but we always connect with music. Esthema is a microcosm of the world.

Amy Steele: What’s the live show like?

Andy: There are improvisational moments—we’re always working with arrangements and will take liberties live. It’s an organic experience.

Amy Steele: What makes a good song?

Andy: We have compositions not songs. It’s about satisfaction for the player and the audience. Whenever we think we like it a lot when we play it live it works.

Onur: We have a good idea of what we do and what we like.

Amy Steele: What are your goals for Esthema?

Andy: We need to find an audience where enough people take us seriously.

Onur: This music deserves it. There are very cinematic elements.

Andy: We take ourselves seriously so it’s hard to be considered fun.

[And that’s in the light sense for video or marketing purposes. But serious bands need not be penalized and expected to do things, create something that doesn’t represent them.]

Esthema will perform January 29, 2015 at Ryles in Inman Square Cambridge. 8:00pm and 18+. Tickets are $10.00.

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Almost Famous Women: book review

almost famous women

Almost Famous Women: stories By Megan Mayhew Bergman.
Scribner| January 2015.|256 pages |$25.00| ISBN: 978—1-4767-8656-8

Brilliant concept and exquisitely written. This short story collection focuses on intriguing, bold and remarkable women from history. It’s edgy historical fiction. These women lived life as they chose to live it which likely made them misfits and outliers during their lifetimes.

Author Megan Mayhew Bergman envisioned the voices and back-stories for some truly unique women. She conducted extensive research and utilized her extraordinary imagination and creativity. She gets into the psyches of these women. She provides a voice. She imagines their hopes, dreams, desires, triumphs and disappointments. She plays around with point-of-view. It’s all exhilarating and works amazingly well in this format. There’s brilliance, heartache and triumph throughout these pages.

Included are the tragic stories about Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter and Oscar Wilde’s niece. Other stories tackle the final years of Gone with the Wind actress Butterfly McQueen; the heyday of daredevil and motorcycle trick-rider Hazel Eaton and interracial girl band the International Sweethearts of Rhythm.

In “The Pretty, Grown-Together Children” Mayhew Bergman writes of the conjoined Hilton sisters, Violet and Daisy–a side-show act for many years. One twin married, the other wasn’t allowed. Daisy recalls their story. How they were discovered. How they lived. How they were individual women but shared many aspects of the same body. “Our voices could be like one. I could feel hers in my bones, especially when she sang—a strong quicksilver soprano. We were attached at the hips and shared blood, but no vital organs. Four arms, four legs—enough to make a man give a second look.” These women remained mostly positive despite their circumstances. “There were no secrets. Imagine: you could say nothing, do nothing, eat nothing, touch nothing, love nothing without the other knowing.”

Cross-dressing Standard Oil heiress Joe Carstairs races boats and romances women in “The Siege at Whale Cay.” Told by her live-in lover: “What exhausted Georgie about Joe’s guests was that they were all-important. And important people made you feel not normal, but unimportant.”

In the tempered, melodramatic story “Norma Millay’s Film Noir Period,” the author creates a scenario for Norma Millay who lived at her sister’s estate for decades. Norma worked as a successful stage actress for quite some time. In the shadows? Jealous of her successful sister, poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. Unknown. Modern day example perhaps J. Lo and her sister Linda Lopez, a well-known New York disc jockey. “Norma curls next to her sister in the chair, as she often does, wriggling one arm behind Vincent’s back and laying a cheek on her bony shoulder. When she breathes in, her sister’s claret-colored hair falls across her face, and she feels deep love tinged with resentment, like the pure ice leaching red dye from the river.”

“A High-Grade Bitch Sits Down for Lunch” depicts the resilient and determined Beryl Markham, the first certified horse trainer in Africa. She’s struggling financially to start her new venture: “She never ate much. Meager eating was good for keeping her figure, and her figure was an asset, on a horse and in the bedroom. She wanted to look good in clothes and out of them.”

Rating: ****/5

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Simon and Schuster.

purchase at Amazon: Almost Famous Women: Stories

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February Boston-area Book Readings of Note

replacement life

Boris Fishman
A Replacement Life
Brookline Booksmith
Tuesday, February 3 at 7pm

funny girl

Nick Hornby
Funny Girl
Harvard Book Store/ First Parish Church, Cambridge
Tuesday, February 3 at 7pm

where the dead pause

Marie Mutsuki Mockett
Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye: A Journey
Harvard Book Store
Thursday, February 5 at 7pm

deeper dating

Ken Page
Dating Deeper
Brookline Booksmith
Friday, February 6 at 7pm

jam on the vine

LaShonda Katrice Barnett
Jam on the Vine
Harvard Book Store
Wednesday, February 11 at 7pm

how to grow up

Michelle Tea
How to Grow Up
Brookline Booksmith
Thursday, February 12 at 7pm

missing one

Lucy Atkins
The Missing One
Newtonville Books
Thursday, February 12 at 7pm

find me

Laura van den Berg
Find Me: a Novel
Newtonville Books
Tuesday, February 17 at 7pm

ice cream star

Sandra Newman
The Country of Ice Cream Star
Harvard Book Store
Wednesday, February 18 at 7pm

physics for rock stars

Christine McKinley
Physics for Rock Stars
Porter Square Books
Saturday, February 21 at 7pm

tesla

Vladimir Pistalo
Tesla a Portrait with Masks: a novel
Porter Square Books
Monday, February 23 at 7pm

models of influence

Nigel Barker
Models of Influence
Brookline Booksmith
Monday, February 23 at 7pm

half brother

Holly LeCraw
The Half Brother
Newtonville Books
Tuesday, February 24 at 7pm

green on blue

Elliot Ackerman
Green on Blue: A Novel
Harvard Book Store
Wednesday, February 25 at 7pm

find me

Laura van den Berg
Find Me: a Novel
Harvard Book Store
Friday, February 27 at 7pm

Shop Indie Bookstores

Buy the Books

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book review: The First Bad Man

bad man

The First Bad Man By Miranda July.
Scribner| January 2015.|276 pages |$25.00| ISBN: 978-1-4391-7256-8

Rating: **/5*

It’s the time for celebrities to publish books. Current celebrity authors saturate the children’s book market. Not even sure how anyone who isn’t a celebrity will possibly be able to publish a children’s book. There are children’s books by Julianne Moore, Tori Spelling, Jessica Lange, Whoopi Goldberg, Katie Couric, Tiki Barber, Jamie Lee Curtis, Russell Brand, Jim Carrey, Beth Stern, Queen Latifah and Renaissance man Steve Martin. Noteworthy memoirs by celebrities also plentiful. My bedside table TBR pile: Yes, Please by Amy Poehler; There Was a Little Girl by Brooke Shields, Redefining Realness by Janet Mock and Not that Kinda Girl by Lena Dunham.

Miranda July’s film The Future ranked on my best films of 2011. I found it bizarre, amusing wistful existentialism. Unfortunately the wonderfully creative feminist filmmaker/performance artist falls short with her debut novel. Incidentally I didn’t like July’s short-story collection, No One Belongs Here More Than You either. Suppose I shouldn’t be surprised I didn’t click with this novel. However I’d started off quite hopeful.

At first, I liked The First Bad Man. It was dark, sad and complex –“Once Carl had called me ginjo, which I thought meant “sister” until he told me it’s Japanese for a man, usually an elderly man, who lives in isolation while he keeps the fire burning for the whole village.” The novel then crossed over a peculiar threshold and I no longer cared about any of it. It’s too weird and it’s as if she’s trying too hard to shock and to reveal the dark and bizarre. This is practically unreadable. I generally enjoy reading traditionally unlikable and unsympathetic characters. Unfortunately a huge disappointing miss.

Cheryl Glickman lives alone and hasn’t had a relationship in a while. She works from home for a women’s self-defense nonprofit. She dresses terribly and has even worse taste in men. 45-year-old Cheryl has a crush on Phillip, a board member and major donor, 20 years older than her. Some lines seem more film-like than novel-esque but are good. They’re just few and far between. In describing Phillip: “He drove like he lived, with entitlement, not using the blinker, just gliding very quickly between lanes in his Land Rover.” Phillip thrills Cheryl beyond description when he begins texting her and seeking her out. However it’s because he wants advice on how to pursue a relationship with a 16-year-old. “ Cheryl might be a hybrid of this lonely women and July herself. Write what you know and all. She suffers from a chronically restricted throat. metaphor for her inability to speak up, speak out and live her real truth. Phillips recommends his colourist who suggests a psychotherapist. “Therapy is for couples. So is Christmas. So is camping. So is beach camping.”

Cheryl lives a fairly quiet and isolated life until her bosses’ beautiful but brazen 20-year-old daughter Clee moves in with her. They don’t get along at all. Clee stays up all night watching TV. She’s a slob and Cheryl utilizes a very particular system for her various possessions and living spaces. She and Clee spontaneously begin acting out self-defense scenarios which simultaneously turns Cheryl on and loosens her throat. Maybe it’s the empowerment or the connection. July writes: “Our first tussle under the new agreement had been long and dirty and had taken us into all the rooms of the house. I can-canned and popped, not just to defend myself but out of real anger, first at her and then at people like her, dumb people.”

During an interview with All Things Considered on January 11 when asked she decided to write a book, Miranda July replied: “I love a challenge. There’s nothing that gets my heart going like the sense that I will fail. This was one of the last one’s left. And such an obvious one. ‘You’ve written short stories, you’ve written movies, can you write a novel.’ She also semi-considered if Scarlett Johansson were too old to play Clee until she realized she was writing a novel not a screenplay. So great Miranda July, check something else off the to-do list. I prefer you stick to screenwriting. Perhaps novels are more lucrative these days than indie film. And that’s unfortunate.

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Simon and Schuster.

purchase at Amazon: The First Bad Man: A Novel

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