Thursday, February 24, 2011

Neeson Vs. Quinn

     Ever had a moment, reading a book or watching a movie, when something that's lived in your imagination for years suddenly appears on the page or the screen, translated with perfect accuracy?  I saw Unknown this weekend and I can't say I was overwhelmed with it.  However, there is this one scene ...
     Liam Neeson plays a scientist who returns to his wife after recuperating in the hospital to find that another man (Aidan Quinn) has replaced him.  His wife, his associates, everyone he knows now believes that this new man is him.  At one point, Neeson and Quinn are presenting their cases to an associate.  Neeson and Quinn begin describing portions of their history, details of their lives from childhood, intimate details that no one else could possibly know.  They start yelling, interrupting, talking over each other until both are yelling exactly the same thing at exactly the same time, much to the bafflement of both the associate and themselves.
     I've long been fascinated with the figure of the doppelganger and the idea that there could be another copy of a person that was so complete, so perfect, that they could, in essence, never have a conversation because they would always be saying the same thing at the same moment.  Seeing it played out in the theater gave me moment of bizarre disconnect, like something had been pulled directly out of my brain, and made for an astonishingly powerful moment in an otherwise mediocre film.
     Incidentally, if the story of Unknown interests you at all, allow me to recommend the book it was based on Out of My Head by Didier van Cauwelaert, translated from the French.  The book is an existential thriller and, while it does follow the mystery of its character's predicament to a satisfying end, it dwells a good deal more than the film on the nature of identity itself.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Reviews Are Coming In

     Reviews for Those That Wake are starting to filter in (it doesn't go on sale in bookstores until March 21st).   

     VOYA said "the teen protagonists [are] well-developed and likable characters . . . The story is quick moving and full of action, both physical and intellectual . . . highly recommended for teen and adult readers . . . a well-written, intricately plotted story."

     Publishers Weekly said "Karp ably ratchets up the tension ... compelling."

Thursday, February 17, 2011


     Never much went in for poetry.  Wasn't quite narrative enough for me.  But my family seems to have inadvertently launched a sustained campaign of poetry appreciation and, by God, I'm starting to appreciate it.  My favorites are the ones that distill a specific message with unusual humor, poignancy and power without ever quite coming out and stating it.  Poetry seems to have the market cornered on this effect (when done well, of course).  So here, then, is the best one I've come across thus far.  

by George Bilgere

A heavy snow, and men my age
all over the city
are having heart attacks in their driveways,

dropping their nice new shovels
with the ergonomic handles
that finally did them no good.

Gray-headed men who meant no harm,
who abided by the rules and worked hard
for modest rewards, are slipping

softly from their mortgages,
falling out of their marriages.
How gracefully they swoon—

that lovely, old-fashioned word—
from dinner parties, grandkids,
vacations in Florida.

They should have known better
than to shovel snow at their age.
If only they’d heeded

the sensible advice of their wives
and hired a snow-removal service.
But there’s more to life

than merely being sensible. Sometimes
a man must take up his shovel
and head out alone into the snow.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


     They say a reviewer is supposed to answer three questions:
1. What is the work trying to accomplish?
2. Does the work accomplish that?
3. Why or why not?
    At any rate, that's what they told me back in journalism school (those many, many years ago).  While this does seem like it covers the basic necessities, I feel like truly excellent criticism encompasses something slightly larger than what is suggested by those three questions.  Truly excellent criticism touches not only on the deeper meanings of a work (whether they're intentional meanings or not) and places the work in a cultural context in which we can better understand it.  One professional critic who I think achieves this on a regular basis is A.O. Scott, movie critic for The New York Times (who, in fact, wrote a great article on the nature of criticism not so long ago).  Sure he can be snarky, somewhat from irritation and somewhat for the purposes of entertainment (he wrote the funniest movie review I've ever read, and snark played a huge part in that), but he's always getting at something deeper.
     I'm a reviewer myself (not of Mr. Scott's caliber, but I'm trying); I reviewed movies once upon a time and now I review books and graphic novels for Booklist .  The reason all this is banging around in my head now is that the trade reviews of my own book are starting to come in.  I'm finding it rather agonizing (like every other artist who ever lived, I'm sure) -- even reading the good reviews can be a gut-twisting experience.  Certainly, I'm lucky to be in a position where my work even gets reviewed, but it sure struck my reviewer self in a disturbing way: shouldn't reviewers remember there are real people who produced this work and that every comment carries huge weight?  Shouldn't reviewers remember that they are potentially making or breaking careers?
     The final lesson my reviewer self took from all this is that no, of course reviewers shouldn't be considering that, at least not in their critique of the work.  The reviewer's final responsibility is to their readership, that needs clear, honest appraisal of the art in question to help guide their purchasing or even expand their understanding of the work in particular and the form itself.  As torturous as this process is proving to the writer me, I hope in the end, it makes me a better reviewer.  It's still a long way to Mr. Scott's level, but maybe this is a step in the right direction.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Lost & Found

     Shaun Tan's The Arrival would certainly figure, with the oft-mentioned Set to Sea, on my list of top three graphic novels of all time.  In fact, his story Stick Figures from the collection Tales From Outer Suburbia may be my favorite short story ever (though the illustrations give it a big advantage in that area).  Before he perfected the art of the graphic novel, Tan brought his masterful design and narrative sensibility to picture books, three of which are collected in the forthcoming Lost & Found, including the extra-astonishing The Lost Thing.  I cannot possibly recommend this book highly enough, but a word of caution: these are not your standard children's picture books.  They are filled with deep melancholy and powerful wisdom.  Don't let that stop you, by any means, just look them over carefully before you go passing them along to anyone under twelve-ish.