Francine Prose is a Distinguished Visiting Writer at Bard. Her new novel, Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932, will be published next spring, 2014. Her essay on Mark Strand’s collages appears in different form in the catalog for his current exhibition at Lori Bookstein Fine Art.
The Most of Nora Ephron by Nora Ephron, with an introduction by Robert Gottlieb
Subtle Bodies by Norman Rush
The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates
This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz
The Free World by David Bezmozgis
Lit: A Memoir by Mary Karr
Lulu in Marrakech by Diane Johnson
Beijing Coma by Ma Jian, translated from the Chinese by Flora Drew
Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky: A London Trilogy by Patrick Hamilton, with an introduction by Susanna Moore
The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton, with an introduction by David Lodge
Hangover Square: A Story of Darkest Earl’s Court by Patrick Hamilton
Behind Closed Doors: Her Father’s House and Other Stories of Sicily by Maria Messina, translated from the Italian by Elise Magistro
Magritte’s paintings exude the mysterious and the improbable, but when I visited the new Museum of Modern Art exhibition of his work, what seemed most mystifying and unlikely to me was that there had been a time in my life when he was one of my favorite painters.
Funny and romantic on the surface, tough-minded and often sharply satiric underneath, Nicole Holofcener’s comedies remind us, as few Hollywood films do, that people work for a living; they support themselves and their families, they pay their rent and their bills.
How many hours have I spent in the dark, trying to like the films of Woody Allen?
A trio of Indonesian men, dressed in elaborate cowboy outfits, are pretending to viciously beat a hugely overweight man who is wearing a curly black wig and a bright satin two-piece gown. The men are the subjects of Joshua Oppenheimer’s brilliant documentary, The Act of Killing, and they are filming a collective biopic about what they did during the anti-Communist purges in Indonesia in 1965.
It is more common than not that a movie fails to measure up to the literary masterpiece that inspired it. But the particular failures of What Maisie Knew, the new film based on Henry James’s 1897 novel, seem uncommonly revealing—about the relative possibilities and limitations of the printed word and the screen, and about the differences between the moral climate of James’s era and that of our own.
Carlos Reygadas’s Post Tenebras Lux is as challenging to summarize or describe as a film by Andrei Tarkovsky. It shifts back and forth between present and past, reality and fantasy, childhood and adulthood; and it offers us a set of images and sequences to which it repeatedly returns.
Literature is full of dreams that we remember more clearly than our own.
What’s most surprising about the HBO series Enlightened is the intensity with which Amy and her friends get to us—and how much of ourselves we may see in them—if we only have the temerity to allow it.
Michael Haneke’s Amour is the ultimate horror film. Can a film be a masterpiece and still make you want to warn people not to see it?
Why are the poor kids in the eighty-eight New York schools that have been equipped with metal detectors forced to spend five dollars a week—an expense that, for some, means going without food?
During the many dull passages—lengthy shots of fluttering insects and of birds wheeling over the scenic British countryside—in the latest Wuthering Heights, directed by the British filmmaker Andrea Arnold and now being released in the United States, I found myself wondering how anyone could have been convinced that what the culture needed was yet another cinematic treatment of Emily Brontë’s novel. If one counts feature films, TV mini-series, Luis Buñuel’s Abismos de Pasión (1954), and Kiju Yoshida’s Arashi Ga Oka (1988), audiences have had more than twenty opportunities to watch Brontë’s doomed lovers race across the wind-swept moors.
Art can do many things: dazzle us with its energy, its originality, its technical virtuosity; amuse, unsettle, or outrage us; comment on the culture in which we live; give us pleasure and provide us with intimations of mysterious beauty. It can touch us in ways that transcend the limitations of language. But less and less frequently does contemporary art do what Marina Abramović’s “The Artist is Present” appears to have done—to inspire its viewers with anything approaching an extreme emotion.
If we no longer believe in Satan, then what do we make of our sense that something is wrong with the world, that a random malevolent shooter lurks in the schoolyard or the cinema lobby?
After reading the article that appeared under the headline “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will” in the May 29 New York Times, I couldn’t talk about much else. I found myself wanting to analyze it, as one might dissect a literary text, to better understand how it produced its effect on the reader: in my case, shock and awe, tempered by consolatory flickers of disbelief. Like literature, the story resists summarization, partly because the Times reporters, Jo Becker and Scott Shane, employ detail, word choice, diction, and tone to direct and influence the reader’s response without, on the surface, appearing to do so—and to make a familiar narrative seem new.
When Edith Wharton—then Edith Jones—was a little girl, her favorite game was called “making up.” “Making up” involved pacing around with an open book and (before she could read) inventing and then later half reading, half inventing stories about real people, narratives that she would chant very loud and very fast. The constant pacing and shouting were important parts of the game, which had an enraptured, trance-like, slightly erotic aspect. At ten, Edith was writing in blank verse. By eighteen, she had begun to publish poems—mostly on the subject of failed love, renunciation and longing, themes that would continue to resonate in her work throughout the decades. We can be glad, I suppose, that she discovered passion at all, but regretful that it should have taken her until the age of forty-six.
The bottle cap has never looked more transcendently beautiful than it does in the art of El Anatsui.
How tepid and colorless the text message and the tweet seem compared to these mini-masterpieces of snail mail.
The luminous pentimento of Thomas Nozkowski’s work can make one imagine that a Renaissance master—say, Pisanello—has been reincarnated as a contemporary abstract painter.