Poetry Madness


Monday, April 25th


Swing: A Mystery by Rupert Holmes

Orchestrating madly as WWII looms

A review by Roderick Nordell

Music has spun the plot of many a mystery, but Swing is the first to include a CD with musical clues. The tunes, orchestrations, and most of the singing are by the author himself, and how many whodunits can make that statement?

It's not so surprising when the author is Rupert Holmes, who memorably gave Broadway audiences the option to vote on how to end each performance of "The Mystery of Edwin Drood." He reaped Tony Awards for the book and score. The show won the Tony for best musical, and some version is still running somewhere two decades later.

As for Swing, I changed my vote on villainy more than once, being no less gullible than the narrator, Ray Henderson. He's a saxophonist and arranger in a touring big band playing a fine hotel in 1940 near the Golden Gate International Exposition, California's answer to the New York World's Fair.

America is not yet in World War II. German-Americans hold a rally. Japanese diplomats want an orchestration of a prize-winning...

The Garden of Last Days: A Novel by Andre Dubus III

Paradise lost

A review by Art Winslow

We know from The 9/11 Commission Report that 12 of the "muscle" hijackers that day (the non-pilots) came from Saudi Arabia and were 20 to 28 years old; most were unemployed, had little more than a high-school education and were unmarried. Five of the Saudis came from Asir province, in the south of the country bordering Yemen. Perhaps curiously to us, generally their ties to extremism had developed only in the two or three years preceding the attacks, and, "Their families often did not consider these young men religious zealots," the commission reported, based on briefings by Saudi authorities....

He Sleeps by Reginald Mcknight

A review by Suzy Hansen

Bertrand Milworth, a black American anthropologist, has left Colorado to study "urban legends" in Senegal and to reassess his marriage after a brief affair. When Reginald McKnight's He Sleeps begins, Bertrand is writing to his sister about the Senegalese Kourman family — the intimidating Alaine, his shockingly gorgeous wife, Kene, and their young daughter — who have mysteriously moved into his rental home. Bertrand's letter is funny, friendly and familiar-sounding and at the same time elegant and vivid, but it offers little foreshadowing of the madness and eventual upheaval to come. ...

Goldengrove: A Novel by Francine Prose

Ordinary People

A review by Ron Charles

Fans of Francine Prose's satire will need a few moments to reorient themselves in the pages of this doleful novel about the death of a much-loved teenage girl. With Goldengrove, the author who has so brilliantly taken on political correctness, New Age feminism, Columbine and even Elie Wiesel sheathes her acerbic wit for a searching, painful story about one family's grief.

Novels about grief face a special challenge, beyond their depressing subject: With the tragedy up front and the characters shocked into mourning, the story's dramatic momentum is hard to maintain. As Emily Dickinson wrote: ...

Falling Man: A Novel by Don DeLillo

Black Noise

A review by James Wood

Don DeLillo's new book is not a 9/11 novel but a 9/11 short story, or perhaps a 9/11 poem. It is not a synthesis or an argument or even, really, a sustained narrative, but an arrangement of symbolically productive elements -- two towers and two paintings; people falling from the towers and a performance artist named "Falling Man" who re-enacts that fall; the artist named Falling Man and a main character who is also a man in free fall, or emotional collapse; Islamic terrorists and an art dealer who was once a German terrorist; old people losing their power of speech through Alzheimer's and a...

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-And-Rock-N-Roll Generation Saved Hollywood by Peter Biskind

A review by Chris Bolton

Hollywood in the '70s is to young filmmakers as Paris in the '20s is to young fiction writers. Grad school students who daydream about sitting at an outdoor café sharing their stories with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Stein, et al., will find their counterparts in digital camera-wielding directors who fantasize about a corporate-run Hollywood that miraculously handed the keys to the kingdom to a group of filmmaking mavericks: Scorsese, Coppola, Spielberg, Lucas, and their ilk. This was the era, much romanticized today, when a movie didn't have to rake in $100 million in ten days to be considered...

Gabriel's Gift by Hanif Kureishi

A review by Stephanie Zacharek

In the late '60s and early '70s, Britain, like the United States, was peopled with kids who didn't want to grow up — which might have been all right, if only they hadn't spawned. That's the gentle dark joke at the heart of Hanif Kureishi's Gabriel's Gift, a gingery novel about a bright, self-possessed 15-year-old boy who's reeling from the marital breakup of his parents, a hugely talented but washed-up guitarist and a former costume designer to rock royalty. The parents, having fallen away from the world of bohemian privilege, can't handle the bleak reality of paying rent and doing the...

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