December 21, 2016

Book review: “Walks with Men” by Ann Beattie

Walks with Men is Ann Beattie’s very short 2010 novel about two vacuous but affluent New Yorkers who have an affair, break up, marry and then really break up. This reads like a longish short story in the New Yorker, a publication for which Beattie often writes. And that magazine’s readers seem to be its target audience. I was left feeling out of it.   Rarified stratum What I mean is that, despite the skill with which Beattie tells this story, I could find no purchase. The two central characters — 44-year-old Neil and 22-year-old Jane — are like no one I know, except maybe people in a movie about the rarified stratum of cultural winners who comport themselves like masters and mistresses of their universe. In 1980, when the couple meet, Neil is an academic who dabbles in commentary in high-tone periodicals while Jane has made a sudden (and fleeting) name for herself as the poster girl for a disillusioned generation after giving a graduation speech at Harvard that disparaged an Ivy League education. Headline! Headline!   Great praise from the French As the novel progresses through their courtship and living together and the ultimate disappearance of one of the […]
December 20, 2016

Chicago History: The great adventure of Chicago May. “Queen of the Underworld”

During the first three decades of the 20th century, the Chicago newspapers, including the Tribune, couldn’t get enough of an Irish woman who became an international celebrity criminal on four continents. She was nicknamed Chicago May. Her real name, which the papers never came across, was May Duignan. It didn’t matter. Her reputation was a lot more interesting than mundane facts. She was a woman who, the Tribune reported breathlessly, was the “Queen of the Underworld” and “the world’s cleverest woman crook” and “a pioneer in women’s rights in a world of crooks.”   The family’s entire savings In her 2005 book “The Story of Chicago May,” biographer Nuala O’Faolain chronicled that May turned tricks and stole wallets in Cairo and Manhattan, was the hostess at a diplomatic ball in Rio de Janeiro, was rumored to have helped a boyfriend escape from Devil’s Island, and served nearly 15 years in French and English prisons. She married a member of the Dalton Gang, Dal Churchill who, according to May, was lynched for trying to rob a train near Phoenix. She testified against novelist Stephen Crane, and she crossed paths with Countess Constance Markievicz, the Irish rebel. May’s was a career that […]
December 14, 2016

Book review: “Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit” by Barry Estabrook

Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit by Barry Estabrook is really two books that co-exist uneasily in the same binding.   Book one: For foodies One is a book for foodies and deals with the question of why so many store-bought tomatoes are so relatively tasteless. This book covers the first 35 pages and the last 73. Its focus is on the methods used by growers in sunny Florida to produce tons of tomatoes each winter to ship north to frigid and often snow-bound markets. These tomatoes have been created to be attractive, large and able to handle a lot of handling before ending up on a diner’s plate — all so that those diners don’t have to go an entire season or more without the foodstuff. The Florida growers work on a business model that is only marginally profitable. That’s why the tomatoes are fashioned to be hardy and, in terms of shipping, to be able to go the extra mile. In the latter part of this book, Estabrook examines some new strains of tomato that, although a bit uglier, may be able to lead to better-tasting versions reaching the northern markets. The bottom-line problem, […]
December 12, 2016

Book review: “Out of Sight” by Elmore Leonard

Jack Foley and Karen Sisco meet cute. In Elmore Leonard’s 1996 novel Out of Sight, Karen is a U.S. Marshall who arrives one late winter afternoon in the parking lot of the Glades state prison in Florida to serve a summons on a prisoner. But, as she’s getting out of her car in a parking lot beyond the fence, she spots, one after the other, a handful of muddy inmates climbing out of a hole and running off to freedom. Jack Foley, wearing a guard’s uniform, emerges right after them, and he and his buddy, named Buddy, get the drop on Karen, take away the Remington pump-action shotgun she’s grabbed to chase the inmates and order her to get into the trunk of her car. Not by herself, though. Joining Karen in the trunk is Foley who’s covered in muck after crawling through the tunnel that those other inmates dug. Buddy gets in the driver’s seat, and the getaway is on.   “Under different circumstances” In the tight space of the truck, Jack and Karen are pressed together, his front to her back, and curled as if spooning, except, of course, Jack is a record-setting bank robber and an escaped […]
December 7, 2016

Poem: “Then”

At Christmas, there is me.   Then David. Then Mary Beth. Then Eileen. Then Tim. Then John. Then Rosemary. Then Laura. Then Marie. Then Kathy. Then Teri. Then Geri. Then Jeanne. Then Rita.   Every baby is the Baby Jesus.   One Christmas morning sixty years ago, Mary Beth suddenly grabs a metal fire truck from my grasp, leaving me with a short, thin slice of blood on my palm. Nothing to be done but find, unnoticed, a Band Aid in the bathroom.   We are the brothers and sisters of Baby Jesus.   God hides, like a small child, for fun.   Patrick T. Reardon 12.7.16   This poem was originally published by Silver Birch Press on 12.6.15.   It is included in the poetry collection Requiem for David to be published by Silver Birch Press in February.
December 7, 2016

Book review: “The Poets’ Jesus: Representations at the End of a Millennium” by Peggy Rosenthal

Peggy Rosenthal’s book-long meditation on how poets around the world and over the centuries have encountered Jesus — The Poets’ Jesus: Representations at the End of a Millennium — was published in 2000. Yet, it shouldn’t be thought of as a retrospective. The attitudes toward Jesus, by believing and unbelieving poets, that Rosenthal carefully, lovingly set before the reader can be found today among humans, no matter their faith or lack of faith. They don’t just exist in time. They exist, all of them, in the here and now. As Rosenthal recounts, there have been waves of theological and poetic fashion that have heightened various images of Jesus down all the many years. Still, I come away from this deeply spiritual work with the sense that, in some transcendent way, each Jesus identified by these poets does live, even those who contradict each other. When it comes to understanding God, there is no recourse but to acknowledge our blindness. We make stabs in the dark at trying to put into words our ideas, feelings and experiences of God and know how feeble those words are. And know, on top of that, how feeble, weak and bumbling are those ideas, feelings […]
December 6, 2016

Book review: “The Sellout” by Paul Beatty

The Sellout, Paul Beatty’s 2015 novel and winner of the Man Booker Prize, is a wildly free-wheeling satire of race relations in the United States that seems designed to offend just about everyone, several times over. At its witty, angry, bitter heart, though, it has a message. About two-thirds of the way through the novel, the central character — whose last name is Me and whose first name is never given — ruminates on the surprising byproducts of his seemingly nihilistic campaign to resegregate his small city of Dickens and its black population. It’s causing good things to happen, and he starts to get an idea of why: Charisma had intuitively grasped the psychological subtleties of my plan even as it was just starting to make sense to me. She understood the colored person’s desire for the domineering white presence, which the Wheaton Academy represented. Because she knew that even in these times of racial equality, when someone whiter than us, richer than us, blacker than us, Chineser than us, better than us, whatever than us, comes around throwing their equality in our faces, it brings out our need to impress, to behave, to tuck in our shirts, do our […]