Ninety-Nine Stories of God

9781941040355   In Pulitzer Prize winner Joy Williams’ flash fiction – Ninety-Nine Stories of God – the stories are so short, the impact takes a few seconds to reach – like the aftershocks of an earthquake.  Listening to the book on Audible is a definite disadvantage; the next story begins before the last has been fully absorbed.

Short parables anchored with a one or two word morals at the end, the stories range from strange encounters to joyful incidents to somber lessons. Some are only one sentence:

“We were not interested the way we thought we would be interested.”  The word after the story is “Museum.”

The Zen-like stories are not really about God (although he is omnipresent)  but quick thoughts about everything, anything – maybe seeking some deep truth – but too fast to linger in your mind.  No time to think about it -whatever it is – and maybe it doesn’t matter.  As I walked along, I heard:

“There are certain times where it does not matter If you hear the word yes or the word no in answer to your question, whether you turn left or right, you will reach your destination.”

Did I like the book? Yes, it was a great companion, although I was tempted to rewind a few times while listening.  If I really wanted to note the words of wisdom, I would read this in book form – but, I don’t.  A quick flash was enough and satisfying.


Was Atticus Finch Really Not Gregory Peck?

9780446310789_p0_v6_s192x300Like many who grew up analyzing To Kill A mockingbird in English class, and mesmerized by the9780062409850_p0_v9_s118x184 famous movie with Gregory Peck, my impressions of Atticus Finch had him as a tolerant man who was also the icon for fairness and justice in a disparate legal system.  Nelle Harper Lee’s novel, Go Set A Watchman, attracted my interest when it was first discovered, but I had not thought much about it until I read the article this morning in the New York Times – Amid Shock, Readers Also find Reality in Bigoted Atticus Finch.

What?  Atticus Finch a bigot?  Could editing of a first draft from a first-time author really have changed the character so much to produce the revered lawyer in To Kill A Mockingbird?

By now, most readers have heard of Harper Lee’s rewrite, at the suggestion of her editor, transforming her original book to the now famous coming-of-age story with Scout and her father Atticus Finch.  In interviews, the eighty-eight year-old – now living back in her Alabama hometown, after years in New York City – claims she “did as she was told,” and rewrote the story into the classic known today as To Kill A Mockingbird.

I had not intended to read Go Set A Watchman.  Most first novels, especially first drafts, are often not as good as the author’s later work.  The initial controversy over the authorship stirred my interest, but I wondered if the spin was just another publicity ploy, meant to increase sales of the newly discovered book.  Oprah Winfrey recalled from her informal discussion with Lee (Oprah was never able to convince Lee to submit to an on air interview):

“One of the things that struck me: she {Lee} said, ‘If I had a dime for every book that was sold…” And I {Oprah} was thinking, “I hope you have more than a dime, because nobody expected this.’ “

Was this about the money?

Interestingly, Lee, who worked with her friend Truman Capote on research for In Cold Blood, has not written another book (that we know of) since the Pulitzer prize-winning novel was published. A self-described recluse, Lee has worked on another non-fiction book  about an Alabama serial killer, which had the working title “The Reverend” – maybe that book will be next to be “discovered” and published.

Megan Garber in her article – Harper Lee – The Sadness of a Sequel  – for the Atlantic said:

“All we will have, in the end, is a book, a thing that will raise as many questions as it answers. And, for better or for worse, that is probably just how Harper Lee—Nelle to the small collection of people who really know her—would prefer things.”

Guess I’ll read the book after all and decide for myself, but not soon – I am 258 on the library reserve list.

Do you plan to read Go Set A Watchman?  What do you think about it?

Wendy Wasserstein – A Finished Note

Wendy and the Lost Boys was a slow read for me – not because it was difficult. Reading about Wendy Wasserstein’s life was more like a very long article in New York magazine or Vogue – with enough name-dropping to make it gossipy but with the added value of historical context and life-changing decisions. As Salamon marches through Wasserstein’s home life, college, and post-college angst, she clearly connects the early formative years to later success. If everyone you meet in life has some influence on how you see the world, Wendy’s cast of family and friends was the ultimate confirmation of this. Those around her were stored in her brain for retrieval as characters in her plays. In return, they often had the misfortune to recognize themselves on stage.

Nevertheless, her charged humor was successful not just because she “wrote what she knew.” If her characters seemed stereotyped, it was only because she had the models in her life: the nagging mother, who wants her daughter to be thin and marry a rich guy; the competitive brother who could not be beat; the gay friends she fell in love with but would never marry (Wasserstein wrote the screenplay for “The Object of My Affection”).

More than any of these, it was the professor who saw her possibilities; the colleagues who made her feel smart; the friends who bolstered her ego; her “husbands” who supported her – if you are lucky, you had at least one of each in your life. But don’t be fooled into thinking you have something in common with her; Wendy Wasserstein was unique.

So – the slow read…Salaman traces recent history in Wendy’s life: John F. Kennedy, Kent State, the Pentagon Papers, the Clinton Presidency, the attack on the World Trade Center. Familiar names of actors, directors, and writers line the narrative – the people and the times who made her who she was, and gave her the material to write. By the end, you may think you know her too.

Wendy and the Lost Boys

When I saw Wendy Wasserstein sitting in an audience in New York City, I was like all the others Julie Salamon said “would stop her on the street…not with starstruck awe but with familiarity…”  Like everyone else, I thought I knew her; I even have a friend who went to Mt. Holyoke, her alma mater.  Watching her plays felt like having a private conversation with a good friend.  In Wendy and the Lost Boys, a biography of Wendy Wasserstein, Salamon promises to reveal some of the private secrets behind the public life of the playwright.

I’ve studied the pictures preceding each chapter and read through her beginnings, growing up in an immigrant family in Brooklyn from 1950 – 71.  Her mother married twice – Wasserstein’s father was also her uncle, and her older step-brother, Abner, was quietly placed in a “special” school.  More secrets to be revealed? Who fathered her child?  What was it like having Meryl Streep as a fellow graduate student?  Salamon’s story reads like a long gossipy magazine article with sections on “becoming a writer,” the Pulitzer prize winning Heidi Chronicles, famous friends, mother of a toddler at age 50…

“A friend often told her, ‘You were born into great material.'”

Francine Prose, wrote a review of the book for the New York Times:   What Wendy Wasserstein Wrought.   Charles Isherwood’s 2006 article – Her Plays Spoke to a Generation – not only summarizes her writings and craft but also shows her as the flagbearer for women who could laugh at themselves while they thought they could or should have it all – husband, children, and career.

For Wendy, two out of three wasn’t bad.