- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Darkest of all

“2009 marks the bicentennial of Edgar Allan Poe, arguably the most famed and influential writer in American history. Not only does his work entirely limn the culture, but he also created no fewer than two genres of popular fiction - mystery and modern horror - almost single-handedly. Virtually anyone in the U.S. can recite his poetry (a few lines here and there, at least). His personal life and ambitions inform the cliches of the starving writer in his garret and that of the mad genius. And it’s nigh impossible for someone to graduate from an American high school without having read him. …

“Poe was one of the first authors of modern horror in that he was not interested in resolving the social trespasses his work depicted with pat morally correct endings or appeals to cosmic justice. In this way, he was also one of the only modern purveyors of dark fiction. The bloodiest slasher flicks often betray a Puritanical ideology, with only the virginal characters allowed to survive. Gangsta rappers love their mamas and write songs about them. Noir writers made sure their sleuths had a code of ethical conduct, even if it only consisted of a single line they would not cross but that the baddies they hunted would.”

- Nick Mamatas, writing on “Poe at 200” in the Jan. 6 issue of the Smart Set

Not imitating art

Robert Altman might have spurned conventional happy endings in his films, but the finale of his own career was pure Hollywood.

“The pitch for an Altman biopic would read like a redemption tale straight out of George Cukor or Frank Capra: Rebellious, anti-establishment filmmaker of the ‘70s crashes and burns in the ‘80s, loses his shirt, sobers up, and finally returns, wiser and grizzled, with two bitter but ultimately sympathetic portraits of Los Angeles - ‘The Player’ (1992) and ‘Short Cuts’ (1993) - that win over the natives.

“In the final years of his life, Altman received steady critical praise, major studio funding, and an honorary award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.”

- Nathaniel Rich, writing on “Robert Altman’s Short Cuts” on Jan. 27 at Slate

Modern marriage

“Sarah Palin - mother, governor, moose hunter - burst onto the national scene in August with a face and a life story that launched a thousand editorials. Not only has she achieved great professional success, she also has a healthy marriage steamy enough to produce five children. Like Hillary Clinton, she took her husband’s name; but unlike Hillary, it was she who first made the family name famous.

“Clearly the Palins can teach us an interesting lesson about modern marriage. Journalist Megan Basham, though, is having none of it. According to her new book, Beside Every Successful Man, Palin would have had a much better partnership if she had thrown her managerial and public relations talents into building up Todd’s career instead of her own.

Basham’s reasoning? Women do not really want careers. ‘Ask a group of mothers if they would continue to work full-time if they didn’t have to and the answer will overwhelmingly come back “No!” ‘ she writes. …

“But surely there are other satisfying solutions - just look at Basham’s own marriage. She writes of how she helped her husband change careers and become an on-air TV meteorologist. That required a lot of effort. One suspects, however, that writing a book, and appearing on the ‘Today’ show and other such programs, as Basham has, requires a lot of effort, too. She could have spent that time helping her husband’s career. Does Basham honestly think she would have been happier if she had done that instead of writing? If she doesn’t think so, it’s unclear why any other woman should, either.”

- Laura Vanderkam, writing on “What Women Want” on Jan. 21 at the American magazine


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