Giles Harvey is on the editorial staff at The New Yorker. His fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. (May 2012)
Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room by Geoff Dyer
At Last by Edward St. Aubyn
The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn
Bob Dylan in America by Sean Wilentz
Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968–2010 by Greil Marcus
Collected Stories by Raymond Carver, edited and with notes by William L. Stull and Maureen P. Carroll
Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life by Carol Sklenicka
Nabokov once described a fictional play in a story of his “essentially idiotic, even ideally idiotic, or, putting it another way, ideally constructed on the solid conventions of traditional dramaturgy.” We all know the kind of thing he is talking about. The lengthy, character-revealing speeches, the unannounced guests who throw everything into confusion, the “dramatic irony,” the “rising action,” the over-neat ordering of life into three brisk acts—these are the solid conventions that keep us away from the theater or that make us wish we’d stayed away when we do end up there. Chekhov, whose plays hardly seem to coerce life at all, boldly broke ranks with this wearying regimentation.
Like many of the masterpieces of Western culture to which it humbly invites comparison—Ulysses, Endgame, Pierrot Le Fou—Michael Winterbottom’s new movie, The Trip, does not sound promising in paraphrase. Two successful middle-aged actors take a tour of high-end restaurants in the North of England in order to write an article for The Observer newspaper. The pair bicker, trade impersonations of their cinematic heroes, struggle to come up with interesting things to say about the finicky and pretentious meals they are fed (“Hotter than I would’ve expected,” etc.), and that is more or less it. It is hard to say exactly how Winterbottom and his two leading men transmute this rather lenten premise into the artistic feast The Trip becomes, but humor certainly plays a large part. After a comparatively tame first quarter of an hour, the theater where I went to see it was engulfed in a ninety-minute tsunami of laughter.
Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852) was literature’s great confidence man. Like a Ponzi scheme or a magic trick, his best work is founded on the cornerstone of deceit.
When the Beatles called on Elvis at his rented Bel Air mansion in August 1965, the odds of a pleasant evening were always going to be long. Whereas the Fab Four, with five number one albums behind them, were currently basking in the high noon of their creative prime, Elvis had spent the past half-decade squandering his prodigious talents on awful movies and now, at only thirty, looked to be in permanent eclipse.