Stephen Joyce, the last living descendant of the great Irish author James Joyce, passed away in France two weeks ago at age 87. He is seen in the photo with his wife Solange. The couple had no children. He was the son of the author’s only son Giorgio.
Stephen was the fierce gatekeeper of the James Joyce literary legacy until Joyce’s copyright expired in most places at the end of 2011. Joycean scholars had fits with him. Hans Walter Gabler, who edited a popular critical edition of “Ulysses” in 1984, said of the grandson that “with refusals of permission and /or exorbitant fee requests, he terrorized scholars and critics as well as publishers into passivity and non-action in an attitude of ‘anticipatory obedience.’ ” President Michael D. Higgins of Ireland was kinder in his public statement after the death of Mr. Joyce, stating that he had been “deeply committed to what he saw was the special duty to defend the legacy of the Joyce family in literary and personal terms” although admitting that it was “not a task carried out in harmonious circumstances at all times.”
There was quite a buzz at Max and Benny’s last evening. Cubs radio announcer Pat Hughes and the Score AM 670 radio baseball maven Bruce Levine were there to talk about the White Sox and Cubs. Back in the day this was called talking the Hot Stove League. The Iowa caucus fiasco happened the night before, and this was the evening of the State of the Union speech, but the 160 people who assembled at Max and Benny’s just wanted to talk baseball.
Will the Cubs really trade Kris Bryant? Will the Sox Luis Robert become the next Rickey Henderson? These were some of the burning questions that the Hot Stovers asked Pat and Bruce. I ran around the room with my mic chasing down the questions. I made sure that there was a nice balance of Sox and Cubs questions, as some of the Sox fans worried that Pat’s presence might result in a more favored status for the North Siders.
Although most of attendees, like myself, were from the Ernie Banks and Nellie Fox era, there were a couple of youngsters present who tossed out great questions. A young man answered a Cubs trivia question and won a pair of Cubs game tickets.
The ninety-minute program went by in a flash. Pat and Bruce, pros as they are, provided cogent insights and an impressive knowledge of the game. Nobody seemed to be rushing out early to see the end of the State of the Union speech.
All of us who were there last night left with the feeling that we experienced something very special. We walked out of the restaurant into the mid-winter cold heading to our cars with contented smiles, knowing that April is just around the corner.
Lucy Ellmann’s 2019 Booker-shortlisted novel Ducks, Newburyport reads like Molly Bloom’s soliloquy on steroids. This book is nearly one thousand pages, with more than nine hundred pages as the interior monologue of an unnamed middle-aged Ohio housewife. The interior monologue runs as one sentence.
Despite the daunting challenge of reading the book, I found it to be a literary masterpiece. Jane Austen wrote that that ”memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient—–at others, so bewildered and so weak—–at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond control….”All these descriptive adjectives of memory are found in the outpouring of words of this Ohio housewife.
She is obsessed with life in what she perceives as a dystopic America. She is outraged with Trump, America’s history of Native American genocide, slavery and lynching of African Americans, American gun culture and the resultant mass killings. And those are just a few of her peeves.
She is the mother of four children; three from her present husband, whom she loves dearly. She is a competent baker who provides her pies and tarts to the stores in town. On the surface, her life seems normal, yet her thoughts drive her to the brink of terror with fear and anxiety.
Despite its dark side, there is much humor in the novel, especially in the wordplay. The author has an incredible knack of juxtaposing horrific and comedic images that create surreal landscapes throughout the book.
Lucy Ellmann spent much of her youth living in Evanston, where her father Richard Ellmann (the biographer of Joyce, Wilde and Yeats) taught at Northwestern. There are a few references to Evanston and the nearby Old Orchard Shopping Center in Skokie in the book, which especially piqued my interest since I live in Skokie. The author has been living the life of an American expatriate in the United Kingdom for nearly forty years. She currently lives in Scotland.
There is a second story in the book, interspersed alongside the interior monologue, told by a third-person narrator. It’s the story of a mountain lioness, who prowls the central Ohio countryside and suburbs searching for her lost cubs. This narration is written in a traditional structure of sentences and paragraphs. It is the protectiveness of these two mothers (human and animal) for their offspring that provides a unifying theme to the novel.
I believe that the adventurous and curious reader should give it a shot and read this most incredible literary achievement.
The Chicago Writers Association’s Book of the Year awards ceremony is always a highlight on the Chicago literary community calendar. It is coming up next Saturday evening, January 18 at the Book Cellar, located at 4736-38 N. Lincoln Avenue. I was delighted to see my friend Devin Murphy among the winners. The festivities for this free event starts at 7:00, but seating is very limited. I would suggest getting there at least a half hour early to secure a seat. The winners are:
Traditional Fiction: Tiny Americans by Devin Murphy
Indie Fiction: A Dangerous Identity by Russell Fee
Traditional Nonfiction: In Deep by Angalia Bianca, with Linda Beckstrom
Indie Nonfiction: The Buddha at My Table by Tammy Letherer
I am pleased to announce that once again I will be teaching a seminar on Ben Hecht’s book “1001 Afternoons in Chicago” at the Newberry Library in three Tuesday evening sessions, starting March 24 and ending April 7, from 5:45 to 7:45. The sixty-four incredibly imaginative sketches in the book capture the heart and soul of Chicago’s bustling urban landscape during the early 1920s. Online registration opens at 9 am (CST) on Tuesday, January 7 at http://www.newberry.org/seminar-schedule.
Emanuel Congregation is proud present Nina Barrett as our speaker on Tuesday evening, January 14, at 7:00. Nina will speak about the Leopold and Loeb kidnapping and killing of Bobby Franks in 1924 that was referred to as the “crime of the century” in its time. It was a sinister attempt to commit “the perfect crime.” In 2009, Nina Barrett curated an exhibit at Northwestern University Library about the case called “The Murder That Wouldn’t Die.” After the exhibit closed, Nina continued to uncover additional primary source material about the case. She has collected her findings in her book “The Leopold and Loeb Files.”
Nina is a graduate of both Yale University and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. She is the author of three books, the owner of Bookends & Beginnings bookstore in Evanston, as well as being a master chef.
This event is free and open to the public. Emanuel is at 5959 N. Sheridan Road in Chicago. There is a free parking lot adjacent to the synagogue. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll save you a seat.
Robin Robertson’s The Long Take is sui generis as a literary work. Mr. Roberson is a Scottish poet living in London. He is also a literary editor, editing such great writers as J. M. Coetzee and John Banville. This book is a hybrid genre sometimes described as a novel-in-verse. Picador, the publisher, tells us that the work is “a noir narrative written with the intensity and power of poetry.” The publisher classifies it as “Picador Poetry.”
The narrative relates the story of Walker, a Canadian soldier from a fishing town in Nova Scotia, who experienced the trauma of D-Day and its aftermath. After witnessing and participating in the horrors and atrocities of war, Walker chooses to recalibrate his life in three American cities—New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. He works as a docker in New York, and when he moves across the continent to Los Angeles he is hired as a newspaper reporter. He then travels northward to San Francisco to report on the homelessness situation plaguing the City on the Bay after the war, before returning to Los Angeles.
Robertson brilliantly weaves in flashbacks of his halcyon life in Nova Scotia and his horrific life during the war in italicized paragraphs throughout the book. We learn that he had a girl back home that he loved, but the war has transformed him for the worse, and that he dare not return to her. We discover that he witnessed the execution of his soldier comrades after they were taken as prisoners by the Germans.
Walker’s state of mind is described in powerful language: “ He wanted delirium and he wanted it now, taking a standing drink in any bar he could, moving through downtown, block by block, through new blares of neon, streetlights, headlamps, store-window displays, all blurred in long exposure: the lights leaving wavering tracers of red, green, white gold—like Jackson Pollock those light trails, through streams of people, swaying retinal flares.”
The book’s narrative and plot development are suffused with this poetic imagery. The “long exposure” of Walker’s life is blended into “the long take” of a Hollywood film, where fantasy and reality are hard to distinguish.
Walker witnesses the destruction of both the social and physical fabric of the “real” Los Angeles, as neighborhoods and people are displaced by expressways and parking lots. He cannot maintain his reporter’s objectivity and be numb to the suffering around him. “Real” life in Los Angeles has become “an infestation, a carcinoma.” The fantasy of Hollywood film blurs out the suffering of the dislocated and the homeless in Walker’s Los Angeles.
The Long Take is not an easy read, but well worth the effort. If you can succeed in “getting into” the narrator’s voice you will recognize that this book is a literary tour de force. The accompanying urban noir photos in the book are amazing. The Long Take was shortlisted in the 2018 Booker Prize competition. I highly recommend it to my blog readers.