Publications
Hog Wild Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20100804(San Diego Reader August 4, 2010)

The only sign of life in Julian at 5:00 a.m. this April morning are men in white paper toques rolling out pie dough at the bright-lighted Julian Bakery. It’s a deep black morning when I meet Marc, a hunter who’s agreed to lead me by starlight to a semisecret spot, down several ravines in the Cleveland National Forest. There we’ll track and surprise and he’ll shoot, if he’s lucky, San Diego’s newest and most elusive game animal, the Russian boar.

Five miles southwest of town, driving into the headlighted darkness, we stop at an access point, a chain barring our entrance. Marc leaves his Dodge Durango running, and we talk in the red glow of his taillights. Of the few admonitions he offers up — the 40-year-old French-Canadian and 9-year Julian resident prefers I not use his last name — is this: “If you don’t mind, don’t say where we are. If we get a pig today, tomorrow there’ll be 50 people from PETA and 200 hunters converging on this spot.” Though I can’t see the playful tease in his eyes, I get the seriousness in his voice — some things are worth keeping secret. Especially to hard-core hunters.

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The Saddest Music Ever Written: The Story of Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Graham_Jackson_Warm_Springs_FDR_DeathAdagio for Strings: Leonard Slatkin, BBC orchestra, September 15, 2001, perhaps its longest and most emotional performance ever.

The Saddest Music Ever Written: The Story of Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings," Pegasus Books. Hardcover, September 2010, paperback, March 2012.

The first and second chapters of Saddest Music are excerpted in the Fall 2010 Issue of The Missouri Review.

A YouTube video of my one-hour "Saddest Music" multimedia presentation at Warwick's Bookstore, La Jolla, CA, Tuesday, November 30, 2010.

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Caitlin Rother: Crime Writer Print E-mail
Articles

caitlin(San Diego Magazine July 2010)

If you don’t know San Diego true-crime writer Caitlin Rother by name, you may recall the notorious subject of her 2005 book, Poisoned Love—the pretty, young toxicologist, Kristin Rossum, whose meth addiction drove her to sleep with her boss and poison her husband. To give his death the aura of suicide, Rossum sprinkled rose petals around his body. That book, a bestseller, launched Rother’s career. In five quick years, the former Union-Tribune reporter and Pulitzer-Prize nominee, has written “back-to-back-to-back books,” a string which, she says, in a break from editing her next grim tale, has been “exhausting.”

The fortyish author, attractively dapple in a black turtleneck and black leather jacket, seems anything but worn. At a Kensington coffeehouse, she opens up about a life she never expected would be this full. For Rother, the slog of producing a book a year—four nonfiction murder stories and a novel about “beautiful beauty [school] students” being killed in Pacific Beach—include researching, interviewing, and writing. And that’s just the half of it.

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Review: Reality Hunger: A Manifesto by David Shields Print E-mail
Criticism

952632(Agni Online June 15, 2010)

Driving Cars in Clown Suits: David Shields Terrifies Novelists

Whenever writers of a new era question the purpose of literature, it takes a poet to declare the old aim dead and make the new aim live. In our time, such a poet, or, more accurately, such a prose collagist, is David Shields. His Reality Hunger is an improvised explosive device applied to the sacred cow of narrative. Its troubled, prickly unease is palpable. Hewing to the self-reflexive tenor of our age, Shields provokes us as much as he interrogates himself. Neither nasty nor narcissistic, he makes his case with 618 nuggety fragments, half in aphoristic style, half in the paragraph vein.

As I read, I was mesmerized by Shields’s originality. Until he pointed it out, midway through, that his content was barely his own: “Many (most?) of the passages in this book are taken from other sources. One bonus point for each identification.” In effect, he outsourced actuality, then pushed it, with much subterfuge, back into Reality Hunger.

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Review: The Adventures of Cancer Bitch by S. L. Wisenberg Print E-mail
Criticism

cancer_bitch(Contray Magazine Summer 2010)

Upbeat Diary: Victory Over Cancer

Not far into S. L. Wisenberg’s memoir, I was hooked on the deft craft of this writer. The longtime Chicagoan, author of Holocaust Girls, and Northwestern writing instructor couches this tale in the familiar lay of a diary—the year-and-a-half in which she was diagnosed with cancer, endured chemo, lost her curly tresses, threw up (but not much), and got through. Wisenberg’s approach, however, hardly records just the facts, the style our grandmothers used to bullet-point their identical days with. Instead, this “cancer journal” is thematically wrought and keenly essayed.

Deracinating the diary, Wisenberg includes little of the quotidian and lots of the indispensable. The time-frame is chronological, a recent spell of eighteen months, January 1 to June 30. The entries, though, are cleverly titled and shaped, mini-essays running in mini-fits-and-starts.

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Till Death Do Us Part. It's the Only Way We Will. The Murder-Suicide of Ginger Wolbers & Frank Bass Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20100602(San Diego Reader June 2, 2010)

When Ginger Bass filed for divorce from her husband Frank in November 2007, she hoped he would not contest the dissolution. She offered to buy out his interest in their Lakeside home so both could move on. For months, Frank stayed in their home. It ­wasn’t until the following April that he left and roomed with a buddy, who, after three days, asked him to go. Frank moved into a cheap motel, but he said it was “killing” him. Soon he was back, pleading with Ginger not to divorce him. He broke down and cried like a baby. He said ­he’d change. He said he was depressed and ­couldn’t live without her. He told her he wanted to return to their first love, trapshooting, which had brought them into marriage eight years before. And he said he was sorry about the other women. He promised that phase was ­over.

But if there was one thing that stuck in ­Ginger’s craw, it was the women. She was so embarrassed by his cheating — and his roughing her up when she complained about it — that very few friends or family members knew. Into the first several months of 2008, while their divorce proceeded, Frank was still in the Lakeside house, forcing her to have sex with him and believing this would win her back. As often as he got his way, Ginger got hers, which was to fight him off and flee the ­house.

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Review: The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them by Elif Batuman Print E-mail
Criticism

possessed(The Rumpus May 13, 2010)

From Russia With Love

Initially, I was attracted to Elif Batuman’s The Possessed because I hoped it would be an oar-dipping voyage into a memoir sub-genre I have come to admire: a confession about how a writer has been bewitched by an author (Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage, a meditation on his inability to write about D. H. Lawrence) or by the act of reading (Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s Ruined by Reading).

Why am I drawn to these writers? I think of Craig Seligman’s Opposites Attract Me, a three-way tryst with himself, Pauline Kael, and Susan Sontag (he relied, for much of his essay, on his close friendship with Kael); Seligman is smitten, to be sure, and he seeks to understand how these two critics have enraptured him. For some authors, reading is a means to match insights with, or better, to stay in the spell of, another author, largely because it feels so good to be bedeviled by the relationship long after the book ends.

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