Publications
Review: A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers by Michael Holroyd Print E-mail
Criticism

violet__vita(Contrary Magazine Winter 2012)

The Self-Avoidant Biographer

English biographer Sir Michael Holroyd has been bit bad by the Bloomsbury bug—that clique of authors who spawned literary modernism in England during and after the Edwardian Age and whose high priesthood included Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, and Roger Fry. Holroyd is obsessed with this group as his two continent-sized biographies, Lytton Strachey and the multi-volume Bernard Shaw, attest. Since Bloomsbury history is evidentially fat with letters, novels, diaries, and memoirs, such a record lures sleuths like Holroyd to remix the group’s labyrinth of motives. It’s the hunt he loves, chasing down their unrequited affairs, their aristocratic snuggling, and their benighted books—all writ prodigious—to tell again their scandalous loves and psychological woes.

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Debt. Arson. Murder. Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20111005(San Diego Reader October 5, 2011)

John Nesheiwat was parked in his car, a rosary on the seat beside him, about a mile from the North Woodson Drive rental home owned by James Kurtenbach, a 4000-square-foot luxury house in one of the few but posh golf-course communities next to Ramona. Minutes before, John had dropped off his younger brother Joe — an amiable 24-year-old, with short-cropped hair and an Arabic tattoo on his arm, who was about to do a big favor for Kurtenbach.

Forty-seven-year-old Kurtenbach was Joe’s employer at Stars Petroleum, a flagship gas station in town. Jim Kurtenbach and Joe thought of each other as father and son: Jim had given Joe a job at Stars eight years previously, lots of responsibility, and eventually the night manager’s post. He also supported Joe and John’s mother, Terry Sellers, and the rest of family, four brothers and a sister, with gifts and loans. You might say Joe owed him.

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Is He a Citizen? Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

is_he_a_citizen(San Diego Reader September 21, 2011)

On Sixth Avenue, across the street from the block-long Family Court building, stands a row of converted single-family Victorian homes, their yards parking lots, their windows barred. Today those residencies are family-mediation agencies and immigration law offices. In the lawyers’ waiting rooms, one finds a new class of clients: illegal immigrants, most from Mexico, who’ve been in San Diego for years and whose chances of gaining citizenship are getting as slim as winning the lottery. They’re seeking attorneys’ aid, frightened by the anti-immigration movement in American politics, and especially the d word: deportation.

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Review: Bob Dylan: Like a Complete Unknown by David Yaffe Print E-mail
Criticism

 

bob-dylan(Contrary Magazine Fall 2011)

I Am Large. I Contain Multitudes.

The day after John F. Kennedy’s inauguration fifty years ago Robert Zimmerman, of Hibbing, Minnesota, who had rechristened himself Bob Dylan in honor of the Welsh poet, first arrived in New York City. He got off the bus, tramped over to Gerde’s Folk City, and started singing for his supper.  Since then, Dylan’s Methuselah career has presented us with more inscrutability than we can grok—a fact Todd Haynes celebrates and enumerates in his cinematic masterpiece, I’m Not There. It’s fruitless to attach any one mask to Dylan. At 70, he’s had the time, the luck, and the swagger to wear them all: songwriter, poet, painter, filmmaker, film star (0f sorts), singer, and author.

Dylan is a shape-shifter, a premodern postmodernist. He’s legendary and real, the tightrope-walker still plying 100 concert dates a year. His long life lacks a singular narrative. Like Miles Davis, his genius has been to forge a new identity, frame it with a new sound, then abandon it for—or be called by—another turn.

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Outside on the Night Shift Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20110802(San Diego Reader August 2, 2011)

“Basically,” says Aaron Meleen, a deputy sheriff traffic investigator working the night shift in Poway, “we don’t have much going on right now.” It’s a Monday evening, the onset of his 12½-hour shift, and we’re strapped in his shock-worn Crown Vic, bouncing out of the station onto Civic Center Drive. The cruiser’s front compartment is a mélange of computer screen, keyboard, gun rack, intercom, dash-mounted radar scope, and handheld devices such as a cell phone and a clip-on video camera. Meleen, 27, sports a slicked-back hairstyle, short sidewalls with pronounced sideburns — a bit Guido, a bit Presley. Perhaps it’s the holstered gun or his cockpit of electronic gear that makes him seem unruffled. What will surprise me is just how fast he can Jekyll-and-Hyde that peace officer’s calm to an arresting tough.

Soon the radio dispatcher’s got his ear. The car’s GPS screen blips a code, brackets an address: fellow deputy Darrin Smith and his partner are at a “family disturbance,” two minutes away. Before Meleen can explain his night’s tasks, mostly stopping drivers for vehicle violations, we’re on our way, the Crown Vic responding with giddy-up enthusiasm. Pulling into an apartment complex, he says, “You’re welcome to come along but hang back a little. If you see any guns, let me know. It’s always nice to have an extra pair of eyes.”

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Authoring Ourselves Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

shelved_1(Fiddleback August 2011)

The cover of The New Yorker, October 18, 2010, by Roz Chast, is titled, “Shelved.” The cartoon features a young man, whom I’ll call Jimmy, sitting in an overstuffed comfy chair, a laptop opened on his knees, headphone buds stuck in his ears. What’s Jimmy doing? Reading? Listening? Watching? Perhaps all three. All three at once. Whatever Jimmy’s absorbed by, the eight-and-one-half shelves of books above and behind him are reacting. Faces on spines (the eyes-nose-mouth motif) are angry, indifferent, surprised, chagrined, shocked, curious. Many of the books appear to have their personalities, perhaps reflecting the book’s contents, captured in their gaze. For every enraged expression (How dare you! This is a library) there’s another look which seems powerless—after all, what can books do to counter the realm Jimmy occupies other than bemoan his disinterest or their fate?

Roz Chast’s comment seems obvious: the books have been shelved, forgotten, abandoned. Their grand era is no more.

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Review: The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning by Maggie Nelson Print E-mail
Criticism

maggie_nelson(The Rumpus July 11, 2011)

The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning

Permit me, briefly, a naiveté. Had I thought about art and cruelty together, I would have said, yes, writers, painters, filmmakers depict a good deal of cruelty: Goya, Kafka, Tarantino, not to mention the emotionless airheads puppeteered by novelist Brett Easton Ellis or the one-night pain stands of performance artist Chris Burden, whose most memorable gig was having a friend shoot him in the arm on stage. But since such shock and shudder has such limited appeal (just because a lot of authors write transgressive fiction doesn’t mean they’re being read), I would not have guessed that any critic would insist such acts are artful. Really, there’s more to Less Than Zero than its minimalist deadpan? It seems that cruelty and art risk being too car-wreck enthralling, too Casey-Anthony obsessive.

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