Patricide and prejudice in Twelve Angry Men

“We don’t owe him a thing. He got a fair trial, didn’t he? What d’you think the trial cost? He’s lucky he got it. Know what I mean?”

Twelve Angry Men

Twelve Angry Men · Reginald Rose · 1954
Penguin, 2006 · 73 pages, paperback

Reginald Rose’s teleplay Twelve Angry Men opens onto an empty jury room, drab and bare of what isn’t necessary. “One man is dead. The life of another is at stake. I urge you to deliberate honestly and thoughtfully”- the judge, reminding the jury – and the audience – that New York required the death penalty for any convicted murderer.

Which is why the behavior of the men who then file into the jury room is so revolting.  Continue reading

Nikolai Leskov and the brotherly charm of skaz

Dozens of travelers in various states of tiredness, en route to destinations far-flung and close by, take refuge at an inn while the whirling snow buffets the window panes and threatens to become a blizzard. Sleepy chatter among the travelers lazily rises against the warmth of a large Russian stove until one man’s comment stops them all.

The Enchanted Wanderer
The Enchanted Wanderer and Other Stories · 
Nikolai Leskov · 1865-‘87
Pevear and Volokhonsky translation · Knopf, 2013 · 575 pages, hardcover

The story Leskov’s narrator tells, that of the sealed angel, taking place on the cold banks of a river and requiring the theft of religion in more ways than one, is so far removed from the inn of these travelers that it’s a secret pleasure when someone interrupts the narrator, bringing us once more into the warmth of the inn.

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A peek into this week’s reviews

upcoming reviews - Leskov, RoseIt’s a little sad to leave Leskov behind…the cozy samovar-on-the table/bast-shoes-under-the-bed kind of feeling he gives….Leskov wrote most of the stories in this collection as anecdotes, apropos of something said between travelers at an inn, among passengers on a boat or just so: he created characters and scenes for the purpose of introducing his stories, and he provided these characters with listeners (who sometimes interrupt, only making that cozy, chummy feeling cozier and chummier). The copy I have is from my favorite translators, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, and is one for which I’ve already reviewed the title story, The Enchanted Wanderer, as it’s own piece).

Also publishing a review for the classic teleplay Twelve Angry Men. Disconcerting to read how cavalierly a jury could play with a man’s life. Rose wrote the play in 1954, when the Civil Rights movement was just barely starting to simmer. The way he slowly skins his characters down to their piths is masterful. Seventy-three pages, one setting (a drab jury room) no physical action…but the psychology of it is beautifully done that it hardly matters; its theatrical plainness is to its credit.

Estimated publishing dates are Thursday and Saturday (May 18th and 20th).

Mystery train

Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express · Agatha Christie · 1934
Harper Collins, 2017 · 267 pages, paperback

A wealthy man of dubious morals is found stabbed to death the night after he discloses to detective Hercule Poirot that he fears for his life. Snowdrifts have caught the Orient Express en route between stations. No footprints in the snow: the murderer must still be aboard, and it’s Poirot’s job to find out who it is. It’s classic whodunit style.

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A simultaneity of selves: Auster’s 4321

We humans are a messy business with our many different selves, often conflicting selves, all bundled into one body and not allowing us to sit easy because what if? 

Auster, 4321

4321 · Paul Auster
Henry Holt & Company, 2017 · 866 pages, hard cover

4321 answers that what if? Four Archie Fergusons, four variations on a theme, a concerto played in four keys – the raw materials are the same but…a tweak here, a crank there…different circumstances then, and the changes these circumstances wreak on Archie as he grows up yield young adulthoods so outwardly varied that it’s only through Paul Auster’s talent as a novelist that we can discern that each of the four Archie Fergusons is undoubtedly the same man.

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Interlude: end of quarter at the Masthead

The Masthead is closing out its first quarter! A quick look at the past three months:

Books reviewed: 11 (10 fiction and 1 play: Shakespeare’s Othello)
Translated fiction: 5 (from 3 languages: Russian, French and Arabic)
New-to-me authors: 4 (Doerr, Atwood, Camus and Chabon)
Oldest book: Shakespeare’s Othello (1603)
Newest book: Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See (2014)
Longest book: Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (704 pages)
Shortest book: Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s (87 pages)

A pithy recap of each book read and reviewed here since January 15:

The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoevsky
Detailed in its vision of mankind’s hypothetical innocence; experimental, psychological, emphatic; similar elements as in The Brother’s Karamazov and Demons

All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
Conventionally pretty, if also self-conscious and superficial; structurally cohesive with strong motifs but a little lacking in story and characters

Shame, Salman Rushdie
A serio-comedy in the same vein as Midnight’s Children (and almost equally as good); a vivid and terrifying account of how insidious and far-reaching shame can be

Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
Verging on the grotesque, a dystopia that engenders pity and anguish more than it provokes fear

The Stranger, Albert Camus
Argues for both the absurdity of life and its mundane value; existentialism without the crisis

Naguib Mahfouz: three novellas of revolutionary Egypt
The 1952 Revolution: what it was meant to be and what it turned out to be; literary works that give three different perspectives

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon
Tight writing and a decades-spanning story of superhero proportions

Othello, William Shakespeare
A play pricked on by spite – and with a fifth act that takes an unusual turn for Shakespearean tragedy

Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote
A vagabond life ≠ Wanderlust and Holly’s glamour isn’t a happy glamour

♠ Browse the review index to see all reviews from the Masthead ♠

Miss Holly Golightly, traveling

Tiffany’s, that place of places where nothing bad can ever happen to you, is a place Holly dreams of but never ventures to step inside.

Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany's

Breakfast at Tiffany’s · Truman Capote · 1958
Vintage, 1993 · 87 pages, paperback

Holly in sickbed: Lipstick, eye liner, perfume and pearls but this is no glamour; it never was about glamour but about disappearing.

Holly in hospital is Holly in actuality, and we see what we never noticed before, just like all the men at her dinner parties never saw the bare walls or the emptiness of her apartment and dutifully ignored that quiet little word – traveling – on her mailbox.

Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s is about trying to find a sense of belonging in a world that will accept anything, especially false perceptions, as matters of fact. Continue reading

A fig for your loyalty

Iago. Meanness, villainy, devilry…spite. His villainy inflamed by changing motives, Iago plays his spitefulness for sport.

Othello · William Shakespeare · 1603
Norton, 2008 · 82 pages, hardcover

William Shakespeare based Othello on a work by the Italian writer Cinthio. In the original Iago seeks retribution for his wife’s disloyalty, and it becomes a drama driven by vengeance. In Shakespeare’s version this motive is diluted: the affair between Iago’s wife, Emilia, and Othello is only a supposition (Iago admits to as much and Emilia makes light of the rumor). It’s no more than barracks banter and is hardly alluded to in the play.

Iago’s evilness is more terrifying and Othello a more difficult work for this revision. Othello isn’t a drama about jealousy or vengeance anymore; it’s a drama about manipulation and the fortitude of  rumors and lies. Continue reading

It’s like Superman coming out of a phone booth

For all its hurt, Kavalier & Clay is an optimistic book – Chabon’s protagonists show us that a superhero is a very human thing.

Chabon, Kavalier & Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay · Michael Chabon · 2000
Random House, 2012 · 704 pages, paperback

Michael Chabon’s Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is a novel about the creation of one’s own life, the constant molding, assessing and reassessing in pursuit of some very individual version of the American Dream.

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