A Review of Nancy O. Greene’s “Portraits in the Dark”

  Dark, dark, dark…

Reviewer: David Schleicher “Author of The Thief Maker”  See all my reviews  

Nancy O. Greene’s short stories collection certainly lives up to its title. The nine stories are varied in form, style, and content, but all are dark and psychologically complex and full of vivid imagery the suck the reader into the murkiest depths of the human psyche.

Some stories (“A Guy Named Pierce”) are more experimental, while others take on a “fantasy” element (“Fine Print” and “The Artifact”), while one in particular (“The Descent of Man”) seems oddly out of place in the otherwise fine ensemble of tales.

Greene is at her best when she really gets deep inside her characters’ heads. “The Affair” is a shockingly effective little piece that puts a new spin on the old “obsessive husband” story. Greene shows a deeply moving and humanist side with her “Darkened Sky” that gives us a “day-in-the-life” slice of a troubled young girl dealing with her harsh surroundings and lack of options in life. Greene shines brightest when she laces her talent for introspective first-person narration with an acerbic wit in the delightfully grotesque one-woman show of bitterness and madness entitled “Down the Rabbit Hole.”

Greene’s collection is a slim volume that can be easily devoured in one or two sittings, but won’t soon be forgotten.

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Portraits in the Dark is avalaible through Barnes & Noble, Amazon.com, and anywhere fine books are sold.

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Twelve Months Buried in the Pages…

As a writer one of the most common questions I get is “what do you like to read?”  I typically read five to ten books a year.  I always like to have a collection of short stories on hand as they serve as great inspiration before writing sessions. In the past I’ve spent many months (in some cases, depending on how thick the volume, over a year) with the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, Ann Beattie, Russell Banks, and Shirley Jackson—all of them short story masters. I feel you really get to know a writer when you settle down for a long tenure with their short stories that are often more varied and daring in topic and plot than their novels or other forms. When it comes to full length books, I tend to lean more towards nonfiction (a habit I picked up from mandatory reading in college) with history and psychology being my favorite topics.  When it comes to novels, I like to keep up to speed with the competition and typically read contemporary best sellers or the occasional literary classic.

Below is a run down of what I read during the last twelve months (done in an end of the year awards show fashion).

THE BEST BOOK I READ LAST YEAR Award goes to:
The Great Escape by Kati Marton
Marton’s book is a fascinatingly detailed and lovingly researched look at a group of Hungarian Jews who escaped their homeland just before the Holocaust and went on to do amazing things while living in exile (among them renowned scientists Edward Teller and John Von Neumann, film makers Michael Curtiz and Alexander Korda, photographers Robert Capa and Andre Kertesz, and writer Arthur Koestler).  Marton’s vivid descriptions of Budapest during its golden era at the turn of the twentieth century and the harrowing times of fascism that followed make you feel like you were there with these amazing survivors. She shows a great respect for the people and places she depicts. This is a must read for any person of Hungarian heritage and WWII/Holocaust buffs, but also for movie lovers, as it discusses the lives of two of the most influential film makers from that time period; Korda who produced The Third Man and Curtiz who directed Casablanca. It also goes into detail how famed war-photographer Robert Capa’s tortured romance with international movie star Ingrid Bergman inspired Alfred Hitchcock to create the seminal characters for his classic suspense film Rear Window.

THE “INSTEAD OF EARNING MY MASTERS IN PSYCHOLOGY, I READ THIS BOOK” Award goes to:
Whispers: The Voices of Paranoia by Ronald K. Siegel
Whispers is an uncompromised series of case studies involving severely paranoid patients.  Due to the fact that many are paranoid from excessive drug use, there’s often a sarcastic, cold, and detached narration to the stories.  The descriptions of insect infestation hallucinations are particularly graphic, but also darkly humorous.  This is a must read for those studying abnormal psychology.

 THE “CROSS-PROMOTIONAL ADS ON THE INTERNET ACTUALLY WORK” Award goes to:
Love & Hate in Jamestown by David A. Price
Love & Hate is a vividly detailed and meticulously researched account of the early years of the Jamestown settlement, the life of John Smith, and the legend of Pocahontas.  I came across an add for this while writing my review of Terrence Malick’s movie on the same subject, The New World, on the Internet Movie Database.  I had to have it, and loved every interesting tidbit of history and fact it provided.

THE “I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M STILL READING THIS” Award goes to:
The Complete Short Stories of Graham Greene
Best known for his novels (The Quiet American, The End of the Affair, The Power and the Glory) or his film treatment for the The Third Man, Greene was also a master of the short story form.  He’s one of my favorite writers and he’s quite astute in discussing religion, politics, spying, bourgeois guilt and ennui, and pragmatic romances.  This is a rather large collection, close to 50 stories, and with the reading of about one story a week, it has found what seems like a permanent place on my coffee table.  My favorites from the collection are “The Basement Room,” “The Blue Film,” “The Little Place off Edgeware Road,” “The Innocent,” “Across the Bridge,” “A Drive in the Country,” and “Cheap in August.”

THE WORST BOOK I READ LAST YEAR Award goes to:
The Ruins by Scott Smith
The Ruins is disappointing popular fiction of the most abhorrent kind. Don’t get me wrong, Smith is a decent enough writer and this was a page-turner in the sense that he was crafty enough to trick me into thinking this was going to lead somewhere. His tale of a group of college-age pals getting trapped on a hill in the middle of a Mexican hell plays out like Hostel meets Day of the Triffids. And that’s the major problem: this seems more inspired by recent horror movies and films in general than by anything of literary merit. There’s some really gross-out stuff, and some sustained suspense, but it all becomes extremely repetitive, and the characters grow more and more unlikable with each unbelievable twist, and the whole book literally leads nowhere. Nothing is explained. No interesting plot point is explored (even Stephen King would’ve known to make something out of the second mind shaft and where that might’ve lead or given some flashbacks to the archaeologists or some sense of history behind this horrible place), and, hell, there aren’t even any god-damned ruins! Avoid at all costs. It’s worse than the worst Stephen King book, and not half as clever in its central conceit as the recent horribly-written mega-stinker The DaVinci Code.

So what am I reading now?  Once I’m done devouring the short stories of Graham Greene, I look forward to stalking the short stories of Kurt Vonnegut (a much slimmer volume).  I’m also currently leafing through Catching the Big Fish by David Lynch (yes, the film director).  Lynch takes a look at how transcendental meditation has influenced his film making, art, and life in general.  I can only recommend it to those with a big interest in meditation (I prefer sleep to meditation), or those who love anything that has to do with the enigmatic Lynch (count me in!) The best line thus far from the book is page 115, Lynch’s one page chapter on the explanation of the box and the key in Mulholland Drive, and I quote “I don’t have a clue what those are.” I laughed out loud for a good minute.

Written by David H. Schleicher

 

The Thief Maker Captivates ReaderViews.com

“Thought-provoking, entertaining, and sometimes shocking.”-Joe Graham for ReaderViews

 http://www.readerviews.com/ReviewSchleicherTheThiefMaker.html

Twisted lives, January 22, 2007

Reviewer: Reader Views “www.readerviews.com” (Austin, Texas)   

Reviewed by Joe Graham for Reader Views (1/07)

The first clue to whether I will enjoy a book is how quickly I am hooked into the story. And from the first, I was hooked as William Donovan and his young brother and sister’s lives are turned upside down and I immediately wanted to know why?

From the initial pages, Schleicher then moves you into the life of the now adult William Donovan who has developed into a con man. Schleicher follows Donovan as he interacts with a girlfriend, Alice and a security guard, Lucas Tolliver who have been as emotionally scarred by life as William. Also entering William’s life are a private investigator, Marcus Pierce, and Felice Morrison, who is the granddaughter of a nursing home resident that William is trying to con.

As the story continues, the characters interact and we begin to discover that they have connections to each other that they, and the reader, are not aware of at the beginning of the book. At times some of these connections are so startling that the reader may have to stop and take a big breath to process the new information before continuing the story.

To add to the mix of intriguing characters, Schleicher gives the reader Rodamas and Catherine Fowler who work with deaf children and who have tried to adopt Marie Gale’s son, Rex. Marie is Felice’s girlfriend. Marie takes her son back and the little boy is part of the story of want and need that swirls around William, Alice, Marcus and Felice.

“The Thief Maker” is for anyone who loves a good mystery with a psychological edge to it as Schleicher examines the events that have formed each of the characters and has turned them into the people they are in the book. I would recommend the book to anyone who loves a mystery that is not just simply a police detective thriller, but a post 9/11 psychological study. My only suggestion is that reader pay close attention to the Chapter Titles. The story is told in a non-linear style and many times I would start another chapter and not realize that Schleicher had jumped back or forward in time in the narrative and I would have to turn back to the beginning of the chapter to check where I was.

Schleicher has done a good job of creating a mystery that is mysterious, thought-provoking, entertaining and sometimes shocking. All in all, that is just what most mystery lovers want. By the way, you finally do learn what turned William’s young life upside down, but there are many twists and turns in “The Thief Maker” before you find out that answer.

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State of the Union Drinking Game 2007

President George W. (Dubya) Bush will be delivering his State of the Union Address Tuesday Night, January 23, 2007 at 9pm EST.

If you are like me, then the only way you can stomach such an address is to drink up.

 Here are the rules for “The State of the Union Drinking Game, Version 2007, Seventh Year of the Dubya:” Continue reading

The 1st Annual Davies

With little pomp and circumstance, pseudo-acclaimed novelist, David H. Schleicher, with his love for cinema, the increasing irrelevance of the Golden Globes and Oscars, and in association with the Uppity United Front for Arthouse Entertainment, proudly presents…

The 1st Annual Davies: Awarding Excellence and Idiocy in Film (for the year 2006)

The Top Ten Films of 2006:

  1. The Departed
  2. The Painted Veil
  3. The Proposition
  4. The Prestige
  5. The Queen
  6. Notes on a Scandal
  7. The Illusionist
  8. Stranger than Fiction
  9. Apocalypto
  10. The Science of Sleep Continue reading

A Review of John Curran’s “The Painted Veil”

 Exquisitely Layered, Haunting, and Clever Period Romance, 14 January 2007
9/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

John Curran’s nearly pitch perfect film adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Painted Veil” begins slowly and patiently, with leisurely flashbacks that elliptically bring us to a singularly absurd predicament: circa 1925, a British doctor (Edward Norton in his second romantic lead following “The Illusionist”) has brought his lovely young wife (an entrancing Naomi Watts) into the middle of a Chinese cholera epidemic purely out of spite. It’s a wickedly clever little set-up that becomes increasingly more complex and absorbing.

The note-perfect and delicately layered performances of Watts and Norton, two thespians typically acclaimed for their edgy and independent work and playing against type, are anchored with the literary genius of Maugham and Curran’s keen eye and steady hand behind the camera. It’s all perfectly accentuated by the brilliantly subversive music score by Alexandre Desplat (doing his best work since “Birth”). These cleverly designed elements coalesce deliciously into a fully fleshed-out whole, and allow “The Painted Veil” to grow in your mind organically and slowly slip under your skin like an infectious disease.

Ron Nyswaner does a great job of translating Maugham’s writing to the screen. Virtually nothing is lost. That keen British wit, the dramatic sense of irony, and the sincere exploration of many heady themes including loveless marriages, adultery, imperialism, charity, religion, and redemption are all captured beautifully by director Curran and screenwriter Nyswaner. Watts and Norton are given plenty to chew on, not only great lines, but great scenes full of lush scenery, and beautiful and textured visual details that serve as perfect backdrops for their complex and unpredictable relationship.

Back in the heyday of Merchant-Ivory, it seemed like this type of literary minded period-piece was a dime a dozen. There hasn’t been a hugely successful film of this type since 1996’s “The English Patient.” We haven’t seen a worthwhile film in this genre since Neil Jordon’s underrated “The End of the Affair” in 1999, which not coincidentally was an adaptation of one of the great novels from Maugham’s fellow Brit and contemporary, Graham Greene, and addressed many of the same themes.

What “The Painted Veil” lacks in epic sweep it makes up for in scores with its nuanced performances and subversive outlook on romance and true love. Its finely landscaped images of China are transfixing, but it’s the look on Norton’s face when he realizes the woman his wife has become, and the glimmer of a tear forming in Watts’ eye when she realizes what she’s done that will haunt you.

Originally published on the Internet Movie Database.

http://imdb.com/title/tt0446755/usercomments-36

The 24 Drinking Game

ATTENTION READERS:  Check out the discussion at The Schleicher Spin on 24’s Series Finale.

NOTE: This was originally done for the 6th season back in 2007, but these general rules can be applied to any season.

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The best show on network television is back for another season.

Here’s a refresher on The “24” Drinking Game:

Drink every time:

  • They display the ticking clock
  • A character is talking on a cell phone
  • Someone gets shot
  • Something explodes
  • Characters appear in the split screen format Continue reading

A Review of Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men”

Interesting but Overcooked Speculative Drama, 9 January 2007
7/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Alfonso Cuaron (most well known for directing the overrated and raunchy coming-of-age story “Y Tu Mama Tambien” and the third–and the best–of the “Harry Potter” series) does a nice job of setting the mood with his gritty and eclectic take on a dystopian future where women have become infertile and Britian is a volatile police state where the biggest crime is being an illegal immigrant. This central conceit is mildly interesting, but the screenwriters populate the allegorical fiction with stock characters: people and ideas painted with broad strokes and little development, and peppered with quirky side-stories and characters who are often more interesting than the overly symbolic main plot line.

What emerges is quasi-entertaining movie bubbling over with overcooked details and a few good scenes. Though dropping the ball in the intimate interludes that are supposed to add dramatic weight (the screaming match on the bus between Clive Owen and Julianne Moore about grief seemed especially staged and unreal), Cuaron directs the suspense and action scenes with appropriate zeal. Sadly, everyone in the film constantly looks tired (Owen taking a nap in a car and Moore actually yawning in one pivotal scene), so between the good stuff I often felt the same.

There are three really well constructed sequences that on their own are very thrilling: a reverse vehicular escape from a an angry mob that ends tragically, another vehicular escape at dawn down a dirt farm road where the car just doesn’t want to start, and one of the closing scenes of a lonely rowboat in a choppy bay surrounded by fog.

The rest is haphazard filler that had me distracted most of the time. “Children of Men” eventually became of movie of frustrating details. For instance, the title makes no sense when you think about it. Unless sprung from immaculate conception, we are currently all children of men, so this would only be an appropriate title if all the women in the world were dead and men started having babies. The movie cost over $80 million dollars to make (and it looks great) but why couldn’t they fork out the extra cash to pay for the real Rolling Stones’ version of “Ruby Tuesday” instead of a lousy cover? The song plays a crucial part yet becomes aggravating to hear. Finally, instead of caring about what happens to the two lead characters during the excellently filmed siege of the refugee camp, I cared more about what was going to happen to some poor gypsy woman and her little dog.

Though it has plenty of interesting minutae to keep things entertaining, the film never coalesces as a whole. Despite three really good scenes, “Children of Men” unfortunately solidifies Cuaron’s status as the best director yet to make a great film.

Originally published on the Internet Movie Database

http://imdb.com/title/tt0206634/usercomments-388

A Review of Richard Eyre’s “Notes on a Scandal”

The Dame vs. The Cate, 8 January 2007

8/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Instead of becoming the tawdry, salacious affair it could’ve easily been, two masterful and textured performances from two of our greatest actresses catapult “Notes on a Scandal” to the echelon of art-house entertainment. In one corner, we have Dame Judi Dench as the lonely schoolmarm and mentor. In the other corner, we have Cate Blanchett as the flighty but endearing new art teacher just begging for someone to take her under their wing. The film starts innocuously enough, with the two women becoming fast friends, with Blanchett inviting Dench into her home and family, and Dench all too eager to find a new best friend. Deliciously seasoned with spicy subtexts involving the bourgeois sense of entitlement, the bitterness of the lower middle class, the candidness of those with everything who never seem to be satisfied, the resentment of those sucked into this confidence, and of course, the psycho-sexual entrapments of all relationships, “Notes on a Scandal” is rife with everyday tragedy. The convoluted subtexts often take precedence over what is being seen on screen, until Dench’s voice-over entrances us and sucks us in.

In the early scenes where Dench is describing her burgeoning fascination with Blanchett, the audience shares in the allure as Dench paints beautifully the appeal of Blanchett’s talents as an actress. Soon, though, the fantasy makes way for reality, and Blanchett as raw and vulnerable as she has ever been falls under the spell of a troubled 15 year-old boy with whom she begins an illicit affair. Blanchett’s folly is mirrored in Dench’s obsession with becoming her sole confidant.

Director Richard Eyre (who previously directed Dench in the superb “Iris”) structures the film in a crisp clip. As the plot quickly goes through the motions, secrets are revealed, true natures are uncovered, and the lives of both women become tragically entangled as they unravel.

Enough can’t be said about Dench’s mastering of the thespian art form. She could’ve easily dived head first into this role and delivered something akin to Kathy Bates turn as the mad spinster in “Misery.” Instead, she adds subtlety, humor, and melancholy in her perfectly balanced performance that allows you to sympathize with her character for the loneliness she feels while at the same time hating her for her opportunism and bitterness.

Likewise, Blanchett, manages to play to our sympathies, and it’s easy to see why Dench, the boy in question, and Blanchett’s husband (a shockingly good Bill Nighy), are completely smitten with her despite her impetuousness.

With betrayal leading to hatred and a complete breakdown of all things sacred in human connections, the climactic showdown between The Dame and The Cate is the type of goose-bump inducing acting tour de force moviegoers dream about. There’s also a sense of a symbolic passing of the torch from one generation of great actresses to the next. Far from being just the highbrow version of “Single White Female,” “Notes on a Scandal” entertains and provokes those willing to enjoy the psychologically complex roller coaster.

Originally published on the Internet Movie Database

http://imdb.com/title/tt0465551/usercomments-25