In Search of Fun
After his award-winning documentary Do It Again, which chronicled his quixotic quest to reunite the Kinks, Geoff Edgers, A92, was hungry for a new adventure. In Edge of America, his new Tuesday night show on Travel Channel, he immerses himself in the bizarre world of American local spectacles and festivals. He eats fried bull testicles in Oklahoma, races lobster boats in Maine, and wrestles an alligator in Florida. “I’m not sure what’s more difficult, chasing Ray Davies”—the Kinks’ front man—“or shooting feral pigs from a helicopter in Texas,” says Edgers, “ but I can now say I’ve done both.”
“Both Anthony Bourdain and I have now eaten a snake heart on Travel Channel, but we went about it real differently. He was all aggressive about it, like ‘Get me that snake heart!’ I had this whole ‘Should I? Shouldn’t I?’ inner dialogue before I finally did it. We’re both risk takers, and I do things I probably shouldn’t be doing, but I actually think about it, and I think about the people around me.
The film was part of a creative crisis that I’m still kind of working on with the show. It’s part of brokering that area between your getting-out-of-college aspirations, where you think, ‘I’m gonna interview rock stars for Rolling Stone or write a novel,’ and reality, where you’re covering school committee meetings. I’m doing pretty well, but I’m still creatively restless, and I don’t want to feel like I’m done.
I visited International Falls, Minnesota, officially the coldest place in the U.S., for Icebox Day. It was a perfect example of how people make their own fun from the circumstances life deals them. It’s so goddamn cold there, you just want to die, but the people said, ‘What are we gonna do? Whine and complain about it? Or get out there and play some boot hockey and bowl some frozen turkeys?’
Anything involving animals is pretty scary. Before the scene with the alligator, they made me sign a death waiver.
What’s upsetting to me is how much TV is used to make fun of people. In particular, there’s a lot of hillbilly mocking. Arkansas has one of the worst reputations of any state in the country. If you listen to people, they say, ‘Oh, there’s no health care there,’ or ‘They don’t wear shoes,’ or whatever. But I went to Mountain View for the Arkansas Bean Fest and the Great Championship Outhouse Races. The sky was blue, the food was awesome, and there was terrific live music. There are these amazingly charming old Southern houses you can buy for eighty grand. So who’s the joke on? People who are having fun with their friends and family in a beautiful setting? Or people in Manhattan who shell out a million bucks for a walk-up in Chelsea and $600 to see the Stones play at the age of ninety?”
Falling for Hamlet (Poppy)
Texts, tweets, and tabloid gossip replace iambic pentameter in this totes fab reworking of Hamlet by Michelle Ray, J94. In this, her first novel, she gives the bard’s longest play the YA treatment, putting glamorous Ophelia and her paparazzi-plagued relationship with the Prince of Denmark center stage. The book respects the plot contours of the original and preserves its darkness by mining the evergreen themes of adolescent angst and parental conflict. This time around, though, Ophelia gets a heartening injection of girl power and a far less rotten ending.
A Floating Life (Arcade)
This hallucinatory first novel by Tad Crawford, A67, sends its nameless middle-aged narrator on a surreal odyssey that will entrance lovers of experimental fiction and magic realism. Following an ominous job interview with a one-eyed chef in a steam room, he finds himself at a cocktail party, disoriented by a conversation with a strange woman whom he later realizes is his dissatisfied wife. Unmoored from his previous reality, he drifts through an elusive world where men give birth, dachshunds press charges, and an elderly Dutch model maker named Pecheur sells miniature boats from a shop called The Floating World. Pecheur’s dream of subduing the ocean sets the benighted narrator’s tale on course toward a surprisingly satisfying conclusion. An excerpt appears in this issue.
Nabokov’s Grader and Other Stories (University of Washington Bookstore Press)
At eighty, Earl Ganz, A55, has plenty of stories to tell, and this collection of conversational memoirs and autobiographically tinged fiction will make you want to draw up a chair. From his religious coming-of-age in a southern synagogue and his defense by the future Kennedy cabinet wunderkind Dick Goodwin, A53, H95, in a Tufts student court case, to his stint as a teaching assistant to Vladimir Nabokov (whom he never actually met) and his fragile friendship with a fellow Cornell student, Thomas Pynchon, Ganz’s discursive yarns brim with self-knowledge and assure us that we never finish discovering who we are.
The House Girl (William Morrow)
In 1852, a seventeen-year-old house slave named Josephine tends to the artistically gifted wife of a Virginia tobacco planter. In 2004, Lina Sparrow, a rising young lawyer and the daughter of an artist, is assigned to work on a class-action lawsuit seeking reparations for the descendants of slaves. The two women’s stories are braided together as Lina investigates a rumor buzzing around the art world that Josephine may have been the talent behind her mistress’s paintings. Tara Conklin, F03, a lawyer turned novelist, is well poised to untangle the legal intricacies of this absorbing tale, but she is equally deft at painting her own portraits of loss, identity, and the surprising tension between truth and justice.
Sensing the Past: Hollywood Stars and Historical Visions (Oxford)
Jim Cullen, A85, has a fascinating theory. Certain actors, he argues, have chosen roles that together form a distinct narrative of American history. Daniel Day-Lewis has an affinity for films—from The Last of the Mohicans to Gangs of New York—that illustrate the rise and fall of rugged individualists. Tom Hanks, by contrast, has portrayed a series of characters, such as the astronaut Jim Lovell in Apollo 13 and Woody the cowboy in Toy Story, who affirm the value of collective action. The erudite Cullen also gives each star a historic doppelganger—Meryl Streep pairs up with Betty Friedan, Clint Eastwood with Thomas Jefferson, and Denzel Washington with Malcolm X—who illuminates the narrative trajectory that the actor, consciously or not, has chosen.
OTHER BOOKS OF NOTE
PETER CHIANCA, A90, critiques the Boss’s oeuvre in Glory Days: Springsteen’s Greatest Albums (Endeavor Press). In Toby Gold and the Secret Fortune (Fiscal Press), by CRAIG R. EVERETT, A89, a mysterious seventh-grader with supernatural finance skills solves a high-stakes investment conspiracy. DOROTHY FOLTZ-GRAY, J70, and her identical twin sister, Deane, a psychologist, were inseparable until Deane was killed by one of her patients. With and Without Her is a wrenching memoir of what happens when the deepest of bonds is broken. A History of Collegiate Rowing in America (Schiffer), by DANIELLA K. GARRAN, G98, is a gorgeously photographed coffee-table book for crew enthusiasts. Fashion Projects, a journal edited by FRANCESCA GRANATA, J99, has just released its fourth issue. The journal promotes informed fashion criticism. Sumptuous photographs accompany the personal, presidential, and architectural histories that HUGH HOWARD, A74, weaves together in Houses of the Presidents (Little, Brown). Children will learn how to talk about emotions by taking a cue from a child who shakes off a drippy blue monster in Stuck With the Blooz (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), by CARON LEVIS, J00. BRUCE LUCHSINGER, A86, draws on seventeen years of parking cars for Beverly Hills glitterati in Cars and Stars, his keenly observed novel. In Jews of Nigeria (Markus Wiener), anthropologist WILLIAM F.S. MILES, F82, F83, shares stories of Nigeria’s passionate Jewish community and reflects on his own Jewish background. Grip (Gival Press), an extraordinary poetry collection by YVETTE NEISSER MORENO, J95, offers a “slow plea for the beating of human hearts.” An AIDS hospice in Louisiana is the setting for the meticulously crafted short stories in Visiting Hours (Fomite), by JENNIFER ANN MOSES, J81. In Art of Estrangement (Penn State), PAMELA A. PATTON, J85, looks at how visual imagery depicted the Jewish minority amid the Christian ascendancy of twelfth- and thirteenth-century Spain. The Upside Down House (Full Court Press), by DEBORAH SLEEPER, A07, and Jennifer Sleeper, evokes the wacky wisdom of Shel Silverstein in its whimsical poems about a house that counts a pirate, a sword swallower, and a basketball-playing dinosaur among its occupants. The Affordable Housing Reader (Routledge), edited by J. ROSIE TIGHE, G04, provides professors, students, and researchers with an overview of the themes that have informed housing policy for the past century.
Austin Siadak, A10, Fitz Cahall, and Mikey Schaefer captured the first all-disabled climb of El Capitan, a three-thousand-foot rock formation in Yosemite National Park, in their film Gimp Monkeys (bit.ly/gimpmonk). The short documentary debuted online last October after winning the Sierra Club Exceptional Athlete Award at the Adventure Film Festival.
Their subjects, Craig DeMartino, who lost his lower right leg after a climbing fall; Jarem Frye, who had his left leg amputated above the knee after a battle with bone cancer; and Pete Davis, who was born without a right arm, never sought to raise awareness or prove a point—they just wanted to experience the rush of climbing an awesome piece of granite.
The Gambling Man
If amputee rock climbers don’t propel you off the couch, how about an eighty-year-old first-time composer? Alby Hurwit, M57, was recently profiled on the PBS series Lifecasters. Each episode of the series features three short films about people who are achieving their dreams in unconventional ways. “The Gambling Man” (bit.ly/HurwitPBS) details Hurwit’s departure from the medical profession to pursue his lifelong dream of writing music, an ambition he had abandoned after failing a music theory course in college. The result is his Symphony No. 1, Remembrance, which won the 2009 American Composer Competition and has been performed in the United States and internationally. On February 6, Hurwit was honored at New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
His composition was inspired by his Jewish family’s persecution in Europe and their subsequent flight to America in search of a better life. The sweeping score tugs at the heartstrings in four movements: “Origins,” “Separation,” “Remembrance,” and “Arrival.” Hurwit’s magnum opus conjures up the emotions of a poignant ancestral drama.
Birds & Batteries: Stray Light
Singer-songwriter Michael Sempert, A04, and his Oakland-based band, Birds & Batteries, recently released Stray Light, a collection showcasing their signature eclectic sound, a blend of indie-folk, electronic, Americana, and pop. It’s available at birdsandbatteries.com.
Katie McNally, A12, hasn’t wasted much time since graduation. Last fall she joined the Galician bagpiper Carlos Núñez on his first tour of North America, and recently released her first album, the aptly named Flourish. The ten tracks on her nimble debut are a mixture of original and traditional Scottish fiddle music.
McNally, a two-time New England Scottish fiddle champion, financed the album with contributions from the crowd-funding site Kickstarter. Her backers had every reason to be confident: McNally’s experience includes years studying traditional music and performing at a variety of folk venues. She has been a member of the Scottish fiddle supergroup Child’s Play since 2009 and shares her talents through teaching gigs at Boston Harbor Scottish Fiddle School and the Tufts Community Music Program.