Friday, July 27, 2007

Dreamgirl: Jennifer Holliday

Her song: Original Dreamgirl Jennifer Holliday will sing And I Am Telling You from Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel's rooftop  and on stage in Atlanta.
By Amy Sussman, Getty Images
Her song: Original Dreamgirl Jennifer Holliday will sing And I Am Telling You from Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel's rooftop — and on stage in Atlanta.

To celebrate Dar's birthday, we went to the Fabulous Fox to see Jennifer Holliday recreate Effie in an astounding performance of Dreamgirls. It made the film look like a glee club exercise by comparison. Here's what the AJC had to say:

‘Dreamgirls’ will give you goosebumps

THEATER REVIEW “Dreamgirls” Grade: A Through July 29. Theater of the Stars, Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. N.E., Midtown. 404-817-8700; The verdict: A powerhouse performance by Holliday.

You’re going to love her.

In a triumphant return, Jennifer Holliday is back at the Fox Theatre in the bouffant wigs and flowing chiffon of “Dreamgirls” — playing Effie White — the put upon, cheated on, self-sacrificing leader of a Motown girl group.

Winner of a Tony Award for her dynamic performance in Michael Bennett’s 1981 musical, Holliday has maintained an inseparable, highly public and — by her own admission — not always healthy relationship with the notoriously prickly, supremely talented Effie.

While many an actress would have simply gotten too tired or too old for the role, the 46-year-old diva has clung to the fictional character as if she were her own personal property, making no bones about her dissatisfaction with the movie that won an Academy Award for “new Effie” Jennifer Hudson earlier this year.

But to see Holliday reclaim her ownership of this emotional juggernaut in this first-rate new Theatre of the Stars production is to understand why she and Effie share the same blood and the same mind.

To hear her belt and bulldoze her way through her signature anthem, “And I Am Telling You I Am Not Going,” is a theatrical experience of the highest order. This is one for the history books, folks, a moment that stops time like Ethel Merman doing “Rose’s Turn” or Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

This is not to say that Effie’s meltdown is the sole virtue of director Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj’s production, which opened Friday night as part of the National Black Arts Festival. Nor that everything about the three-hour show is as spiffy as a new Cadillac car.

Some of the performances take a while to pay off, while others — like Eugene Fleming’s scorching take on egomaniacal lady’s man James Thunder Early — strike gold immediately. Fleming’s voice can sizzle and scratch like James Brown’s, then dip, comically, to the lowest end of the bass register (“Steppin’ to the Bad Side”). The actor is also an agile comedian; check out the way his James has to struggle to suppress his bawdy mannerisms when the Dreamettes make their Miami debut.

So what about the other Dreamgirls?

Well, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more glamorous Deena than former EnVogue member Cindy Herron-Braggs, or a more likeable and entertaining Lorrell than Brandi Chavonne Massey. (Deena is the one who replaces Effie, both as the Dreamettes’ lead singer and manager Curtis’ love interest; Lorrell is the woman who finds herself increasingly uncomfortable as James’ mistress.)

In Act II’s Vogue magazine shoot, Herron-Braggs strikes a slinky, white-gloved pose worthy of Diana Ross — dressed to the nines in designer Theoni V. Aldredge’s ‘70s silhouettes and sophisticated hats. (Robin Wagner’s sets, by the way, are clean and inobstrusive facsimiles of the originals, and when they are reduced to simple curtains of fabric, Ken Billington’s lighting turns them into pure luminescent magic.)

As for the men in Effie’s life, brother C.C. (Destan Owens) has a soft, creamy voice and a presence that becomes more affecting as the night moves on. But David Jennings’ take on Curtis is stiff and unwieldy, even though the actor (last seen inAtlanta in the Alliance Theatre’s “Sister Act”) has an impeccable sound (“When I First Saw You”).

Some will say that Holliday looks gawky and uncomfortable at times. Her posture is poor, yes, but she’s creating a new Effie who takes time to find her voice and her place in the politics of the group. By the time Effie re-emerges with her new song, “One Night Only,” she’s become a stylized cabaret chanteuse who enunciates every syllable with authority. Here’s a woman who refuses to remain in the background, or be shunted aside by the competition.

In a world that too often judges by physical appearance and rewards sexual attractiveness over raw talent, Effie remains an enduring symbol of survival. Productions of Tom Eyen and Henry Krieger’s modern classic will come and go, but Jennifer Holliday will remain the definitive Effie.

Sing On


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Eyes Wide Shut

Kubrick's film title never made any sense to me, but the phrase is apropos as a tribute to the Wide Eyes of Tammy Faye Messner.

We shall miss her clear view of the meaning of Christian love and kindness. She became a champion to Gays because she refused to judge others as Falwell and other fundamentalists did. Her outcast position after the fall of husband and partner Jim Bakker, allowed her to see what it is like to be the object of scorn and derision.

Her books and the film illustrated here are testimony to her open mind and to her struggles, first with the collapse of the PTL Club, and then, more mortally, with cancer.

Below, I include Salon's and
SOVO's comprehensive tributes to a remarkable Humanist:

We're still watching, Tammy Faye

Tammy Faye Messner was such a genius at come-into-my-living-room TV that she spent even her final moments working the camera.

By Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato

Jul. 25, 2007 | With Tammy Faye it was always about the eyes.

The very first thing Tammy did on the very first day of filming "The Eyes of Tammy Faye," the documentary we made about her, was show us her dead mother's glasses on her coffee table. She liked to keep them around, she said, to remind her how she saw things. And then, with the cameras rolling, she put them on.

In that moment we knew -- as did she -- that this would be the opening of our film. It was such an arresting, almost ghoulish thing to do, to put on your dead mother's glasses. Yet it reminded us that we all have different points of view because we are all looking through different lenses. And no matter how differently we see things, no matter how we may judge people accordingly, it's all temporary anyway.

In the opening of the movie "Crash," there's some mournful voice-over about how our lives are isolated by glass: car windscreens, television screens, computer screens. Rather than seeing this as a prescription for melancholy and loneliness, Tammy saw the screen as an opportunity to make a connection and determined to put herself in front of the eye of the camera.

Amazing really, because Tammy didn't have a lot to work with. She didn't have the genes of stardom. She grew up in Nowheresville, and Hollywood was definitely not calling. She was tiny. OK, so Hollywood could always forgive the vertically challenged as long as they had the eyes. But Tammy hardly had any eyes at all, just two tiny raisins bordered with some stumpy eyelashes.

Almost half a century before club kid and "Freak Show" author James St. James pronounced, "If you've got a hump back throw a little glitter on it, honey," she did just that; with false eyelashes glued on and mascara tattooed on, Tammy made her eyes pop. Years before Andy got around to it, Tammy painted her face like Warhol's Marilyn, and the impact was no less memorable. She gave herself a pair of abstract sunglasses that would make Elton John blush, putting bold quotation marks around the most powerful weapons she had.

It was a look that was perfect for television, an emergent trashy medium that no one really respected back then. "I still am big -- it's the pictures that got small," Gloria Swanson moaned at the end of "Sunset Boulevard." What spelled disaster for the dinosaurs of Hollywood was good news for tiny Tammy, who -- along with her sweetheart husband, Jim Bakker -- hijacked the medium of television in its infancy.

They pioneered the kind of come-into-our-living-room cozy casting that has become the staple of morning TV. And together they spoke the language of television so fluently, so effortlessly and so incessantly that suddenly they had a hugely successful ministry on their hands.

The televangelism thing gets a lot of people worked up: Poor widows sending in money they can't afford to spend in return for ... what? The fact is that television has always been a completely commercial medium, and anyone who thinks there is a safe divide -- or any divide at all -- between commercials and content needs his or her head examined. This actually makes home shopping and televangelism the purest and most honest forms of the medium: They just want your money.

But Jim and Tammy were happy to give something in return. While most televangelists used divisiveness and fear as their pitch (if you don't send money now you'll burn in hell and be overrun by commies and fags), Jim and Tammy made it all seem like one big house party. And it wasn't just a hypocritical construct limited to the television studio. They extended the experience by building around the studio an actual theme park and holiday camp. Instead of burning in the fires of hell, you could take a ride down the water flume. And everyone was welcome -- even the commies and the gays -- to come on down. People flocked in droves. Do not underestimate how revolutionary this "come one, come all" approach was among Christian circles. It was heresy.

But it was such fun, and Jim and Tammy Faye lived the high life. Even if their supposed excesses seem a little paltry compared with those of today's rap stars and hedge fund hogs, the furs and gold-plated taps did not go unnoticed. This was the big '80s -- our first brush with bling, our first contact with cashmere as the fabric of our lives -- so there was a need for expiation, for a scapegoat. Wall Street found its righteous zealot in Rudolph Giuliani, who puffed an insider-trading scandal into an overblown crusade to build his political career. And the Christian community had Jerry Falwell, who cunningly managed to steal Jim and Tammy's ministry right out from under their noses. In the end Jim and Tammy lost everything. Jim went to prison on fraud and conspiracy charges and Tammy went into exile in the desert.

But all that is really just a sideshow when it comes to understanding Tammy Faye's legacy. She loved to touch people and, in the age of mass media, she knew that the best way to do that was through the lens of a camera.

In "The Jim J. and Tammy Faye Show" (a sadly short-lived syndicated show), "The Eyes of Tammy Faye," "The Surreal Life," "Tammy Faye: Death Defying" (a film Tammy asked us to make in 2005 documenting her battle with cancer that aired on We) and "One Punk Under God" (the TV series we produced about Tammy Faye's son, Jay), she continued to speak the language of television with a virtuosity that was quite simply pure genius.

Heroically, she kept on doing it right up until hours before her death. Even with a face ravaged by cancer, she called Larry King and asked him to interview her. She looked dreadful. But she still had the eyes, not because the lashes were super-glued and the mascara tattooed, but because she always knew it was all about the eyes. And she knew -- as we all should know by now -- that the most important eye of all is the eye of the camera lens.

Tammy Faye remembered for gay-friendly beliefs

Former televangelist became pop culture icon


The gay community — and gay men especially — lost a dearly loved comrade when Tammy Faye Bakker Messner died at age 65 on July 20 at her home in Kansas City, Mo.

The former televangelist, who built a religious empire with her former husband Jim Bakker, reached out unabashedly to gays in a way that remains unprecedented for fundamentalist Christians.

Tammy Faye Bakker Messner speaks at Capital Pride on June 9, 2002 in this Blade file photo. Tammy Faye came to be revered by gay men for her larger-than-life persona and her acceptance of them, which was unprecedented for a nationally known fundamentalist Christian. (Blade file photo by Michael Wise)

The Bakkers’ story has been widely documented. The young Jim and Tammy Faye, who met at a Minneapolis Bible college, married in 1961 and had a hand in building three religious television powerhouses: they were the original hosts of “The 700 Club” on Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, they co-founded Trinity Broadcasting Network with Paul and Jan Crouch and ran their own PTL (“Praise the Lord”) Club from 1976 to 1987.

Tammy Faye became popular with viewers for her slightly ditzy, yet endlessly empathetic, onscreen persona. She and Jim had a puppet ministry for children and authored several inspirational books under the PTL umbrella. Tammy Faye became known for her singing, which she did on TV and on several PTL-produced albums such as “We’re Blest” (1979), “Tammy Sings the Old Hymns” (1982), “Don’t Give Up” (1985) and “Enough is Enough” (1986), the jacket of which showed her posing sassily with a paintbrush.

Some have joked that was the instrument she used to apply her heavy mascara, which became Tammy Faye’s trademark. It was applied with an increasingly heavy touch as the years went by. Her on-air tears, which were shed copiously, often smudged her makeup providing an unintended camp quotient to the proceedings. Jan Hooks famously parodied Tammy Faye on “Saturday Night Live.”

Some have accused TBN's Jan Crouch of copying Tammy Faye’s schtick with big wigs, drag queen makeup and oceans of tears, but Tammy Faye said she considered Jan a friend despite some years of animosity. Many have commented on what they say has been Tammy Faye’s endless capacity for forgiveness.

Scandal rocked PTL in the late ’80s when it was revealed that Jim Bakker had bilked donors out of millions and had an affair with church secretary-turned-Playboy bunny Jessica Hahn. The Bakkers were widely criticized for the opulent lifestyle and became symbolic both of ’80s greed and high-profile hypocrisy among televangelists.

Tammy Faye, though, who was never charged with any wrongdoing (Jim spent five years in prison), seemed immune to public disapproval after the initial sting of the scandal. Few faulted her for divorcing Jim while he was in jail in 1992 and Tammy Faye enjoyed far more popularity than her ex in recent years. The two remained close until Tammy Faye’s death. In 1996, she married Roe Messner, who built the Bakker’s Christian theme park Heritage USA.

Tammy Faye’s gay-friendly roots go back to 1985 when she became the first televangelist to have a gay man with AIDS on her religious PTL show “Tammy’s House Party.” Rev. Steve Pieters, who has lived with AIDS for more than 20 years and is now a psychotherapist in Los Angeles, remembers his guest appearance and Tammy Faye fondly.

“She was incredibly sweet and affirming,” Pieters said. “She asked some fairly silly questions, like, ‘Are you sure you’ve given girls a fair chance?’ but you have to understand for her audience, those kinds of questions gave me a chance to explain what it was like to be a gay man with AIDS.”

Pieters said Tammy Faye’s decision to have him on the show was groundbreaking especially considering the time.

“I’ll never forget one of the things she said was that we should be loving and accepting just like Jesus and that was a very radical statement for a fundamentalist Christian to make.”

Tammy Faye endeared herself to Washington gays in 2002 when she was one of the guest celebs for that year’s Capital Pride. Tammy Faye had, by that time, made a comeback of sorts through the documentary “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” narrated by Ru Paul. It became a hit at the Sundance Film Festival and a cult favorite among gay men.

“She was ecstatic and thrilled (to appear),” said Robert York, who directed Capital Pride from 1999 to 2005. “She agreed to everything we asked her to do and was just great about it.”

Tammy Faye spent three days in the city and judged a Tammy Faye look-alike contest at Cobalt, spoke at the Capital Pride Festival and appeared at a fundraiser dinner for the event at the home of local gay activist Rob Morris. York, who grew up in the Assemblies of God denomination, said Tammy Faye’s appearance at the dinner was especially memorable for him because he grew up watching her on TV.

“At one point she sat down at the piano and sang, ‘Amazing Grace,’” York said. “It was really one of those moments where I looked at her and thought, ‘Is this really happening?’ I’m so glad she came and so glad we had the chance to welcome her here with open arms.”

Tammy Faye’s Capital Pride appearance did draw some criticism. Barry Freiman wrote an editorial in the next week’s Blade arguing that Tammy Faye was a “superficial” choice.

And at other times Tammy Faye made conflicting statements about gays, drawing the ire of some.

In a 2003 interview, Tammy Faye admitted she thought homosexual activity is sinful but said it’s “no worse than any other sin; I’d rather talk to a homosexual than a liar or a cheat.”

On other occasions, Tammy Faye wholeheartedly embraced gays.

“I say everybody must be who they are,” she told RuPaul during an appearance on the drag queen’s VH1 talk show in the ’90s. “Young people, don’t ever let anybody make you something that you’re not. You have the right to be who you are.”

When pressed on the issue by the religious press in a 2006 interview, Tammy Faye said, “The Bible says ‘Judge not lest ye be judged.’ Our lives are supposed to be hospitals, not courtrooms. Religious people today are courts and juries. When it comes down to it, Jesus died on the cross so that we could learn to love others like we love ourselves, not judge them or persecute them …”

In the same interview, Tammy Faye said her heart went out to gays when she first learned of the AIDS epidemic and said the gay community supported her — financially even in some cases — when “no one else would even speak to me. I will love them forever.”

Tammy Faye’s television career surged in the last 10 years of her life though illness sometimes prevented her from regular work.

Among highlights:

• In 1996 she co-hosted a talk show called “The Jim J. and Tammy Faye Show” with openly gay actor Jim J. Bullock, though colon cancer, from which she went into remission, forced her to quit. The show was canceled soon after.

• She made a cameo on “The Drew Carey Show” as Mimi Bobek’s (Kathy Kinney) mother. Mimi, too, was known for her heavy eye makeup, though she favored eye shadow over Tammy Faye's eyeliner, which she eventually had tattoed on. Tammy Faye's mascara was so thick at times that it resulted in a tarantula-like effect.

• Tammy Faye guested on “Roseanne” as a makeup expert at a spa.

• In 2004, she appeared on the second season of the VH1 reality show “The Surreal Life” with Ron Jeremy, Vanilla Ice, Erik Estrada and others. The cast accepted Tammy Faye as a den mother of sorts and she called the experience one of the highlights of her life.

• Following the success of “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” (1999), “Tammy Faye: Death Defying” aired on cable in 2004.

• Tammy Faye wrote three autobiographies: “I Gotta Be Me” (1978), “Tammy: Telling it My Way” (1996) and “I Will Survive …. And You Will, Too!” (2003).

• Two stage productions have celebrated her persona: “Big Tent: the Tammy Faye Bakker Musical,” an off-Broadway show, and “The Gospel According to Tammy Faye,” which was playing in Houston at the time of her death.

Tammy Faye’s cancer returned in 2004, was gone by the end of that year, but returned again in July, 2005 and eventually spread to her lungs, though she was not a smoker. Several appearances on “Larry King Live” kept the public updated on her health.

She appeared on the show last week in her final TV appearance looking frail and gaunt, but still wearing heavy makeup. To the end, she affirmed her love of gays, praising their support on her last Larry King interview.

Rev. Randy McCain, an openly gay minister from Open Door Community Church in Sherwood, Ark., conducted a private funeral service on July 21. Tammy Faye’s ashes were buried the same day in Kansas.

Plans are being made for a public memorial service.

Jim and Tammy Faye’s two children each followed in their mother’s footsteps to some degree. Daughter Tammy Sue Bakker Chapman tried a singing career and favored her mother’s penchant for extreme eyeliner. Son Jay, whose religious ministry has been documented on the Sundance miniseries “One Punk Under God,” has said, “This sounds so churchy, but I felt like God spoke to my heart and said (homosexuality) is not a sin.”

God Bless Tammy Faye...


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Nature's Bounty 7,'07

A week of camp, and a weekend of exploration in The North Georgia mountains and Tennessee enlightened our Nieces and us. Amicalola Falls State Park offered a wealth of Natural splendor, trails, waterfalls, overlooks, and creatures: Owls, and turtles and snakes, Oh My. And three deer, among others. And then the same turtle turned up in Starr's ever expanding back yard, future Japanese Garden, Buddha blessed.
Have a look:

Nature's Bounty 7,'07
North Georgia and Tennessee
Photos: 32 - 15 MB
Jul 24, 2007

Happy Trails...


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Eat Up

Not since Micky Mouse and Rocky the Squirrel, has a rodent been as enthralling and as exciting as Remy of

“Ratatouille.” (click)

Unable to
stomach the garbage his tribe thrives on, Remy must follow his palate to the finest kitchens that, as luck would have it, he finds

in Paris after emerging from an escape through French sewers. Like

many an outcast artist (need I say more?), Remy can realize his

identity only after painful separation from his family. With divine

guidance from his imagining of the ghost of a great French Chef,

Remy finds his way to the late chef's kitchen and the arms of a boy

hired, like Remy himself, to deal with garbage.

While the animation is pure magic, leaving us gasping in delight

and amazement, the plot is equally rich, offering insight into the

value of telling the truth and being true to oneself. The art of

cooking and excelling in that craft is presented in just as rich a


“Ratatouille” is a complete work of art, like a play by

Shakespeare, offering treasures to all levels of audience.

Excitement, chase scenes, dazzling special effects, moral lessons,

and wisdom make this children's fantasy into a joy to behold.

Bon Appetit.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Nice Nieces and Literary Nights

Whether it's Harry Potter at the Drive-In Theatre with picnic snacks or reading the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, our nieces are having a literary summer of film, pop-up books, and camp at Piedmont Park.
Speaking of parks, Did I mention we went to Fall Creek Falls?

Keep those pages turning...


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Buenos Icy Aires

Snow in July, my kinda place...

July 11, 2007

First snow for 90 years makes it a cool party on Independence Day

BUENOS AIRES Thousands of Argentinians cheered in the streets to celebrate the first major snowfall in their capital for almost 90 years.

“This is the kind of weather phenomenon that comes along every 100 years,” Hector Ciappesoni, a weather forecaster, told La Nación newspaper.

Children scraped snow off cars to create snowballs, while motorists honked their horns, some with small snowmen on their bonnets.

“Despite all my years, this is the first time I’ve ever seen snow in Buenos Aires,” said Juana BenÍtez, an 82-year-old who joined children celebrating in the streets. The national weather service said it was the first major snow in Buenos Aires since June 22, 1918, though sleet has been occasionally reported in the decades since.

The snow fell on Independence Day Bank Holiday, adding to the carnival atmosphere and prompting radio stations to play What a Night! an old tango song inspired by the 1918 snowfall.

The icy conditions were caused by freezing air from the Antarctic hitting a moisture-laden area of low pressure. (AP)

Sled on...


Monday, July 09, 2007

Good Reading: Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

The Frozen People

In Michael Chabon’s marvelous new novel, the Alaskan panhandle is an imperiled, makeshift holy land.

(Photo: Sophie Bassouls/Corbis)

* By Sam Anderson

If you should ever have the good fortune to match wits with me in a game of chess—and if so, let me congratulate you here in advance on what will surely be one of the more confidence-boosting episodes of your life—you’ll find that, as soon as we’ve exchanged our rooks and bishops and knights, and our queens have committed mutual regicide, and we’re left with a handful of pawns and kings scattered over the board like loose change, something curious will happen: My life force— the potent concoction of vim, vigor, piss, vinegar, and other vital fluids that I’ve been spritzing your way all game in an effort to distract you from my blunders—will drain out of me and soak into the carpet, and I’ll get sullen, and refuse to move, and then make long enthusiastic speeches in sign language in an attempt to knock over the board, and after a while, if the game keeps going, I’ll consciously slow my heart rate until I slip into a vegetative state. Your best course of action, when this happens, is just to tip my king over and tell me the next day that I did it myself, and then to help yourself to the contents of my wallet. I’ll pay you the rest in a couple of months.

I offer this unsolicited tutorial for a couple of reasons. First, because Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union—an excellent, hyperliterate, genre-pantsing detective novel that deserves every inch of its impending blockbuster superfame—is largely about chess, in particular the game’s knack for snagging people in its cold little gears and grinding all the spirit out of them. But I also mention it because this peculiar deficiency—my toxic allergy to the tedium of endgames—applies equally to detective stories: I enjoy the setup exactly as much as I hate the ending. Every detective story begins, like every chess game, with an unbroken vista of bounteous promise that soon turns into a big satisfying mess: a hash of clues, hunches, suspects, red herrings, threats, alibis. This builds through the middle stages until, about three-fifths of the way in, you reach an ecstatic moment of maximum complexity. And then the endgame arrives: Imagination is shanked by cold-blooded calculation, the magnificent bloom is reduced and pruned, loose ends are double- and triple-knotted, and All Is Revealed. You start to read out of a sense of duty. It’s depressing.

Chabon, unfortunately, is not exempt from this letdown. Although he cranks away with all kinds of fresh energy, he’s still limited by the detective story’s familiar machinery: When trails go cold, chance encounters heat them back up; imminent death is reliably thwarted by coincidental nearby hubbubs; guilty parties give helpful expository speeches.

I only mention this disappointment up front because it happens to be my single real reservation about The Yiddish Policemen’s Union—and technically it’s not even Chabon’s fault, just my own distaste for an unavoidable feature of the genre. Also, I wanted to establish at least the illusion of some kind of critical credibility before I started gushing.

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is set in an ingeniously rich alternate reality: the makeshift holy land of Sitka, Alaska, during what everyone in the book agrees are “strange times to be a Jew.” In this world, the millions of Jewish refugees displaced by World War II have all come to America and settled along a thin strip of Alaskan wilderness, where they squabble with the native Tlingit Indians and suffer “six months of intensive acclimatization by a crack team of fifteen billion mosquitoes working under contract with the U.S. Interior Department.” In 1948, when the destruction of Israel brings a second wave of immigrants, Congress declares the land a federal district, and a thriving Jewish society plants its roots. Now, in the waning months of 2007, their 60-year term is about to expire, and the land is set to revert to plain old goyim Alaska—its current residents are “like goldfish in a bag, about to be dumped back into the big black lake of Diaspora.” Everyone is scheming to get permanent-residence permits or preparing to flee to places like Madagascar. Chabon sculpts this alternate history down to a miraculous degree of detail—pious Jewish gangsters, abandoned strip malls with touchingly defunct Yiddish signage—so it feels natural and immersive and (despite being so clearly a gimmick) never gimmicky. In many ways, this Jewish Alaska is the greatest character in the book.

Anyone looking for a precise political allegory hidden in this backwoods American Diaspora won’t have an easy time. Chabon seems more interested in his alternate world as a novelistic challenge—how to bring something so outlandish to life?—than as some kind of subtly coded analysis of contemporary Middle Eastern politics. While the book revels in Jewish culture, it also rejects fundamentalism in all its forms. The only real grotesques are the True Believers—the crazed, power-hungry Americans and a Jewish sect called the Verbovers—who disguise sinister and selfish agendas as true faith.

Our hero is Detective Meyer Landsman, a classic hard-boiled loose cannon supercop with “the memory of a convict, the balls of a fireman, and the eyesight of a housebreaker. When there is a crime to fight, Landsman tears around Sitka like a man with his pant leg caught on a rocket.” True to the hard-boiled formula, he enters the novel thoroughly spent: a 44-year-old workaholic and alcoholic, wrecked by the memory of his chess-addicted father’s suicide, his sister’s mysterious death, a heartbreaking abortion and a divorce—all of which has left him a cynic in a world of true believers: “To Landsman, heaven is kitsch, God a word, and the soul, at most, the charge on your battery.”

Landsman stumbles onto a murder that taps into the molten core of international Jewish politics, and he’s helped and opposed by a colorful cast of characters: his ex-wife, Bina, a by-the-book ball-breaker; his partner, Berko, the human embodiment of Indian-Jewish conflict; Inspector Willie Dick, an anti-Semitic Tlingit midget on a ¾-size motorcycle (“Jews mean bullshit,” he says. “A thousand laminated layers of politics and lies buffed to a high sheen”); Zimbalist, the ancient “boundary maven” in charge of tying and maintaining the District’s sacred eruvs (his pants are “stained with egg yolk, acid, tar, epoxy fixative, sealing wax, green paint, mastodon blood”). And Mendel Shpilman, chess genius and alleged messiah.

The novel’s central mystery hinges on a chess problem that was designed, Chabon tells us in the acknowledgments, by Vladimir Nabokov—and like the Russian puzzlemaster, Chabon seems to be trying, entertainingly, to push vivid prose to its natural limit. His sentences are clean and cocky and loaded and at least as entertaining as the mystery itself. He lavishes incredible, almost impractical care on each little unit of description—characters who are barely even characters get identifying characteristics (a totally inconsequential limo driver is “a jockey-shaped Filipino with a scar on his chin like a second smile”). Chabon can be lyrical (“The wind jerks the snowflakes back and forth on its hundred hooks”), understated (“Half an hour out of Yakovy, Landsman decided to spice up their journey with a judicious application of vomit”), and aphoristic (“Every generation loses the messiah it has failed to deserve”). He’s totally, blissfully addicted to metaphor: Landsman’s ex-wife “accepts a compliment as if it’s a can of soda that she suspects him of having shaken.” A pretentious, overly formal journalist speaks Yiddish “like a sausage recipe with footnotes.” An awkward father-son hug “looked like the side chair was embracing the couch.” A female bodyguard speaks “in a voice like an onion rolling in a bucket.” (Her laugh sounds like “someone jumping up and down on a leather valise.”) In a crowded apartment, two babies are “stashed away on the balcony like disused skis.” Rain is “tossed in vandalistic handfuls at the windshield.” A salmon is an “aquatic Zionist, forever dreaming of its fatal home.” “A woodpecker rattles its cup of dice.” I’m struggling not to quote half the book. There is, of course, much to be said for writing that doesn’t work so hard to be vivid—that ignores entertainment value in favor of hard truth, or, like Beckett, radically expands our notions of what might count as entertainment. But there’s also much to be said for this kind of writing, and you can’t do it much better than Chabon has here.

Read On


Saturday, July 07, 2007


e celebrated the 4th of July at the American Cancer Society's (click) new national headquarters in downtown Atlanta. Here's a look at the fireworks over Centennial Park:

Now it's back to Wimbledon, (click) watching Venus Williams win her 4th title, and the exciting competition between Federer and Nadal in the men's championship.

Venus Williams Wins 4th Wimbledon Title
Olivier Hoslet/European Pressphoto Agency
Venus Williams Wins 4th Wimbledon Title

Williams, seeded 23rd, defeated Marion Bartoli 6-4, 6-1, becoming the lowest-seeded woman to win Wimbledon.

Keep on Serving,


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Savannah manna

Savannah provided manna from the sea. We took in the scenic walks, yummy food, and had great visits with the Millers everywhere:

Check it out:

Have fun and happy 4th.