Publications
Review: Elsewhere by Richard Russo Print E-mail
Criticism

Elsewhere(American Book Review Volume 34, Number 2, January/February 2013)

Beyond Blood

For Richard Russo—who, along with John Irving, is a kingpin of New England novelists: ten books, eight of them fiction, one a Pulitzer prizewinner—“love your mother” is not some affirmation he’s noted on a three-by-five card and keeps in his shirt pocket. He does love her. Unfailingly. Undetachably. A long life, both devoted to and trapped by Mom, has proved it. Russo’s mother—Jean to her friends—raised him after separating from her no-count, gambler husband in the small town of Gloversville, New York, home to a glove factory and her family who worked the trade. Early on, Mom secures the boy’s pledge that they’ll stand together no matter what. No matter that they must share a house with her parents, against the latter’s wishes, and no matter that the ensuing friction, along with her eventual joblessness, poverty, and dependency, defines their drama.

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Review: Let the People In: The Life and Times of Ann Richards by Jan Reid Print E-mail
Criticism

ann richards(Oxford American February 11, 2013)

Among the reasons we remember Texas governor Ann Richards—she of the frosty pompadour, whom cancer took at age 73, in 2006—is her pearly shot at George H. W. Bush during her keynote speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention: “Poor George. He can’t help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” (After Poppy Bush won election, he sent Richards a small silver pendant in the shape of a foot, a token of his affection.) Richards’s twin silver streaks of hair and tongue became her trademarks, bringing her national notoriety and an unlikely rise in Texas politics.

Some in the Lone Star State may recognize the multitude of characters in Jan Reid’s long-winded biography; the rest of us must sort through a mountain of facts. Waco-born and Baylor-educated, Richards was, by her late thirties, married to an ACLU lawyer, the mother of four, and perilously alcoholic. The booze and occasional drug use resulted in a family intervention and clinical treatment that saved her life. She traded one addiction for another, politics, and seems to have loved the punishing public spotlight as much as she loved spending her weekends reading memos. After stints as Travis County commissioner, in Austin, and state treasurer, she won the Texas governorship in 1990, largely because of her snappish wit and tireless spunk.

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What Am I? A History of San Diego in 20 Objects Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20130130(San Diego Reader January 30, 2013)

1. Wyatt Earp Promissory Note

Most San Diegans who recognize the name know that the onetime deputy sheriff of Tombstone, Arizona, was also a notorious carpetbagger. Earp and his pal, Doc Holliday, killed — some say murdered — three cowboys during the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Eventually, Earp, with various clans gunning for him, left Arizona and followed Horace Greeley’s advice: “Go West, young man.” His love of gambling brought him to San Diego in 1885. With the hand-rubbing promise of the railroad (which never came), he wagered his and others’ money during the real-estate boom. He controlled four saloons and gambling halls, two near Sixth and E Street, and one, the Oyster Bar, in the Louis Bank building on Fifth Avenue. (The district, once the Stingaree, is today’s beer-and-burger haven, the Gaslamp.) On a very good night, Earp raked in as much as $1000. Flush, he spent it on prizefighters and racehorses, games in which, citing Raymond Starr’s phrase, the greedy Earp “sought to divest other speculators of their profits.” But the law caught up with him. This note, in the research library of the San Diego History Museum, is for $1000, payable to W. P. Walters, and it is signed by Earp and John Morales, an accomplice, no doubt; it is dated 1894. By then, the lawman was an outlaw, having ventured as far as Alaska, though Walters’s suit forced him to return and pay up. Progress, indeed, since it was a court, not a corral, settlement.

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What Became of San Diego's Newspaper Print E-mail
Articles

0 uHLUHxWgVo954W h(The Awl January 18, 2013)

The dystopian author Mike Davis once wrote that San Diego—the city where I live, 100 condo-packed miles south of Los Angeles—is "arguably the nation's capital of white collar crime." In fact, Davis devoted a book to the claim, Under the Perfect Sun, whose thesis underscores the old adage that "San Diego is a sunny place where lots of shady people go." Davis describes a history of graft and deception in which the city's business monopolists mingled with landowners and indentured politicians to create a Petri dish for "dynamic, even visionary, self-interest." Though such revelations have been reported on for decades, this view of the city's seedy past is a narrative few of the city's three million residents know. Why? Because the public—numbed by surf culture, sea breezes, and the Pacific Fleet—bought the boosters' story instead.

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One Way It Happens Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

decnight 11(Brevity #41 January 12, 2013)

That first heart attack, which begins while I’m teaching a writing class, has the virginal peculiarity of my (a) not knowing what a heart attack is since I’ve never had one, which is true; (b) running to the bathroom to crap whatever it is out of my system, which doesn’t work; (c) believing prior to, but more important, during the attack, that were I ever to have one as my father and brother had I would fall to and writhe on the ground in pain, pound my chest with clenched fist, stare up at a circle of people and their tortured regard, a man with a fedora and a woman with an umbrella, whispering, “What’s wrong with him?” until someone calls an ambulance and I am saved, a fate I’ve managed to escape just now; (d) excusing myself to a dozen stunned students, driving to a hospital three minutes away, dreading the attack would worsen en route, my heart ballooning and popping, my chest exploding, which the longer it’s forestalled makes me certain it will occur; (e) feeling the imprisoning sweat on my clothes, its heat like a lawn-mower engine, which the night air does not cool; (f) arriving/parking/rushing-in/proclaiming to the intake nurse, “I’m having a heart attack,” and her saying, in the slackest of voices, “OK, but let’s get some information first,” to which I want to scream, “Call a doctor!” but I’m too frightened to so I comply; (g) stripping down, lying on a bed in an emergency bay, getting hooked up to the ECG, hearing the chart-reading technician say, “Mr. Larson, you’re right—you’re having a heart attack,” which is satisfying, even calming, because it confirms the menacing torrent of these last ten/twenty minutes; and finally (h) being half and wholly aware, both then and now, that (1) I’ve not been hit by a car; (2) I’m not lying in the street, kicking the invisible bike pedals; (3) I’m relieved, almost giddily, to be alive and laid low, like a badly wounded soldier who gets a flight home to recover or die; (4) I’m surprised this heart attack is a longer and not a shorter event, which means I have time to stomach its yaw and gauge the pain, be lifted onto the altar of having a heart attack and not yet having had a heart attack, which is short-lived once they stabilize me with the blood thinner and the clot buster; (5) I’m being wheeled down the loud, slick hallways on a gurney to the catheterization lab; (6) I’m the back-flat center of attention, fluorescent lights above me clicking by like film frames, shocked survivor, Ismael adrift in Queequeg’s coffin; and (7) I’m thinking, as I’m submerged for the angioplasty, a semi-conscious drugged state that flat-lines the fear, of my father and brother who years before died minutes after their angina began—one on a hotel bed in St. Louis, the other on his living room floor in Ashland, Wisconsin, his two-year-old daughter crying in a crib close by—long before any ambulance arrived, before any CPR or Coumadin or coughing jag or vomiting jolt might have revived them, my father and my brother, so much alike as to be at each other’s throats all during my childhood, whose lives were, not unsurprisingly, lopped off at the ankles by heart disease and who in their final throes would not have known the moment they were dying as the moment they were dying, which, praise be, neither do I for now.

 
Review: Draw a Straight Line and Follow It: The Music and Mysticism of La Monte Young by Jeremy Grimshaw Print E-mail
Criticism

lamonte young(Contrary Magazine Winter 2013)

What Is the Sound of One Note Droning?

Minimalism. Art’s 50-year-old movement. A force of stasis. Of repetition. Of the barest materials. In writing. Ray Carver. Language eviscerated of ornament. The impact: disturbingly hollow. In painting. Frank Stella. Primary colors, perfect shapes. The response: purely dispassionate.

In music. There is the bell-like wistfulness of Erik Satie’s “Gymnopédies.” There is the repetitious ecstasy of Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians.” And there are the sound environments of La Monte Young—the conceptual pieces (“One or more butterflies is let loose in the performance space”) and the long-tone drones (“Chronos Kristalla”).

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After Many a Summer Still Writing My Parents Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

size1(Michael Steinberg's Blog November 28, 2012)

When I began life-writing in earnest, in the early 1990s, I turned to my dead father—my first, natural subject. Why first? Why natural? In a word, access. Our intimacy was special, almost motherly on his part; better yet, it was still on my skin. I listed a dozen moments I had with him as a boy in which he transferred some male potency, sorrow stirred with wisdom, to me. I wrote many of these episodes quickly, discovering that this skin-activated memory, attuned more to a felt frequency than any consequential event, had kept our relationship wired and alive.

Those several episodes, time-stopping, lingered like a burn—his scratchy-glancing kiss goodnight; his smell of Aqua Velva, soap, and coffee; his telling me I was, of his three sons, his favorite, though my older and younger brothers, reading my work or hearing me talk much later, disagree. Teaching memoir, how often I have demonstrated memory’s rash—stroking my arm and saying, "I can still feel him/his touch on my body. He’s right here."

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