The Sunday Magazine: Poetry on Perfume by Lynne Haussler Oakes

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My wife, Mrs. C, is an artist and serves on the board of a local arts association. One of her fellow members, painter Lynne Haussler Oakes, who started the Art League of Germantown 35 years ago; began corresponding with me. As is common among creative minds it generally isn’t confined to just one medium. She shared some poetry she had written on perfume. I really enjoyed what I read and asked her if she would allow me to post them on Colognoisseur. For this week, I am turning over The Sunday Magazine to artist-poet Lynne Oakes.

My Personal Perfume Story

By Lynne Haussler Oakes

Early in my life I learned where to place the scent so it did the most ‘damage’. Perfume was ammunition. For after all, didn’t we want guys to swoon over us? It was the invisible weapon. Put it on pulse points, at one’s neck, at the crook of your arm, even behind your knees! I started putting it on a cotton ball and tucking it between burgeoning breasts.  The guy had no chance at all.

As I became a young lady, I was given cologne or more precisely, eau de toilette. One would not spend what true perfume cost on a child. Even in the days of my youth, it was expensive stuff. I can’t say that I understood what it took, or even now what it takes to secure and create the elements of a perfume, but early in my life it was those lighter scents that got me hooked on smelling delicious and hugging the women in my family who wore the real thing.

Things of mine that I see or touch nearly every day seem to cause a line of poetry to appear and with it, the demand to write something about it. Sometimes the lines come to me at night, or when half-awake just before I get up. Recently it has been like that with my perfume bottles. Fragments of memories surface from the small assortment on my dresser.  I recall the round mirrored tray with gold filigree embracing my Mother’s collection. And my Grandmother’s art deco vanity, her tray staging the beautiful glass containers. These trays were part of the presentation and a practical matter as well. They protected one’s dresser from the damage of alcohol rings. The bottles themselves are a story of art and design. Remembering them on my mother’s dresser is clearer to me than remembering the scent within. Each woman had her favorite, a sort of extension of their personal essence. It was part of who they were, these ladies with perfume.

 

Scents

 

I remember a stylish European woman from a place where I worked years ago.

Can one say ‘I remember a fragrant woman’?

She was Belgian with that lovely French accent in the middle of New York City.

Walking into an empty room you knew she’d just been there.

Her perfume lingered and it always made me smile.

She told me it was “Femme” when I asked her.  

Fifty-some years ago and still I remember that, but not her name.

I wasted no time buying some for myself, even the scented powder.

I was so captivated by the magical effect it made.

Perfume, that perfume. 

 

Standing in line behind a man in a bank,

I became aware of the same body scent my boyfriend had.

This was after years away from being a teenager

who borrowed a jacket and slept with it because

it smelled like the one I loved then.

 

A college boyfriend gave me a very expensive

and famous one

and I did not like it.

I did wear it a few times, just to please him,

but it mostly stayed on a little shelf

over the sink. 

 

How can I say what it is that I like?

What my heart, nose and body respond to?

You just have to experience it,

inhale it at the perfume counter, try it on

and wear it home,

breathing it in over and over.

 

I’ve heard that upper classes and royalty used it

to mask the infrequency of bathing.

It had to be really powerful.

 

It is totally, seriously, dangerously, utterly powerful.

 

-Lynne Haussler Oakes

Perfume

 

The bottles are themselves a work of art,

exquisite feminine sculptures of crystal and glass.

I’ve kept some especially lovely ones

of grandmother’s and mother’s 

which were theirs.

 

It is the contents that bring memories

Mother’s Shalimar

Dad’s Bay Rum and one he gave me

called ‘First’

which I was.

 

My dresser is the stage for a few of my own,

tucked in with empty ones I’ve saved.

A Chanel scent my son brought me from Paris,

another arriving in a box of goodies from a friend,

and one I found myself called ‘Dead Sexy’

and it is.

 

Spraying on the one I’ve chosen,

brings instant connection to someone I cherish.

The enchantment of perfume with its

sensual notes that carry love

and it does.

 

-Lynne Haussler Oakes

 

Dad’s Bay Rum

I have a bottle covered with woven grass

holding a remnant of my Dad’s aftershave.

Its disappearance is not by evaporation,

but from his use of it.

The bottles of scents he liked

were all lined up

on the back of the commode

in the master bath in the house where I grew up.

 

It is a sweet memory for me

hugging him, kissing his neck,

inhaling his day’s chosen fragrance.

Now I open the one bottle I have left,

breathing in what is so familiar

bringing him to me

once again.

 

-Lynne Haussler Oakes

 

Shalimar

 

With my oil paints

I fashioned

a small canvas of

the empty bottle.

Beautiful, alone,

empty now for years.

My Mother’s Shalimar.

 

-Lynne Haussler Oakes

 

For those interested in checking out Ms. Oakes' paintings here is the link to her website.

My thanks to Ms. Oakes for allowing me to post these on Colognoisseur.

The Sunday Magazine: Logan

I remember a time many years ago, when the idea of a superhero movie based on the comics was laughable. Whenever I would sit with my fellow geeks reading the week’s comics there was a bit of wistful hope that someday the comics would come to the cinema. It could be said the turning point came with the release of The X-Men in 2000. I remember sitting in the theatre at the end of it and saying softly, “Perfect”. This was what geeks had hoped for a director and writer who treated the source material respectfully. Bryan Singer did that and really laid down the formula for the best of the movies that have followed. When the creative team has been a fan of the comic it usually produces a good to great movie. When it becomes more cynical it usually produces something that kind of attitude should produce.

The X-Men have been one of the successes because the people who are in charge do love the material they are adapting. The latest release in the family is “Logan” and it sort of closes the circle begun with that first X-Men movie.

When it comes to the X-Men the most popular mutant is and has always been Wolverine. When Mr. Singer cast Hugh Jackman in the role I don’t know if he knew what an ideal choice he would be. Mr. Jackman has never treated the role as anything but serious. Even when interviewed about it he embraces playing this particular superhero. It is why with “Logan” I am sorry to see his time with the character come to an end but it does come to a beautiful conclusion.

Hugh Jackman as Logan

“Logan” is an adaptation of the Old Man Logan story from the comics. Directed by James Mangold with a script he co-wrote it tells a story of the future set in 2029. In that time mutants, have stopped being born while the ones which exist have been slowly lost. Logan lives as a limousine driver in El Paso when the movie opens. It is revealed that he lives with a tracker of mutants named Caliban and an aged Professor X who is suffering from a neurodegenerative disease. When the most powerful telepath has a seizure it is not a pretty sight and Logan is one of the few who can get close enough to help when Professor X has one. A mysterious little girl shows up at the same time as a cybernetically enhanced band of hunters called The Reavers do. The rest of the movie is our trio of Logan, Professor X, and the girl attempting to stay ahead of their pursuers until they get to a purported safe haven.

Once again it is Mr. Jackman who portrays the duality of savagery and sensitivity within Wolverine. He makes both sides of the personality believable. As the movie drew to a close I wonder about the next actor who has to follow this performance. It is difficult to think of anyone who can do a better job.  

One last thing I am pleased about is the studio was unafraid for this to be an R-rated movie allowing for the violence to be more visceral which it is. For the first time the damage a man with metal claws can do is shown. For that reason, if you have younger kids who are fans you might not want to take them to see Logan

If you have been a fan of The X-Men and Wolverine on the screen Logan is the fitting epilogue to seventeen years of movies. It is the kind of superhero movie I am surprised to see made and I had the same response to the final scene here as I did seventeen years ago, “Perfect”.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Hamilton Russell Winery

I really enjoy finding new wine regions to dive into. Last summer I discovered the South African Walker Bay region. At that time, it was through their chardonnays. As I’ve mentioned in the past I have issues with the way many American chardonnays go about tweaking their wines to accentuate the woodiness or the buttery and in the worst cases both. It is something which has become worse over the years. Which means I must look elsewhere to find balanced chardonnays in which the winemaker has the trust in the grape to let it be the balanced wine it can be. I complain about this so much that my local wine store invited me to a tasting of the new chardonnay releases from Walker Bay. I was bowled over as these hewed closer to French white burgundies than the American version. The Hamilton Russell Winery was the chardonnay I liked best. As I spoke to the store owner he mentioned that the pinot noir from Hamilton Russell was even better.

Anthony Hamilton Russell and Hannes Storm

Walker Bay is located on the south coast of South Africa. It is known primarily as one of the premiere whale watching sites in the world as Southern Right Whales gather there in the winter and spring. What it also does is provide a moderating warm sea breeze to the cooler air temperatures in the wine growing valley of Hemel-en-Aarde which is where Harrison Russell is located. The oversight of the vineyard has been kept in the family since its founding in 1979. Currently Anthony Hamilton Russell is the current owner-operator. He has been working exclusively with winemaker Hannes Storm since 2000. It is this partnership which has turned these wines into what they are.

The chardonnays carry a supernatural clarity and I recently found out the reason why. The oldest vines produce grapes which are most prone to picking up the woody aspects of being aged in barrels. Mr. Storm came up with a brilliant idea of aging those old vine grapes in clay amphorae made from the clay on the estate. It took some trial and error but the most recent three vintages have about 3% of the grapes used from these amphorae. It is this choice which adds the fresh quality to the chardonnays. It tones down the woody nature while they purposefully keep the malolactic fermentation down as well. It results in a chardonnay with crisp fruity openings. They all have this lovely apple and peach early phase before heading to a subtly creamy finish. The 2013, 2014, and 2015 vintages are all examples of this style of chardonnay.

When I was told the pinot noirs were better, based on the evidence on the recently released 2015, I have to agree. Just like the chardonnays the pinot noir is very like French Burgundy red wine. Mr. Storm chooses to rack the wine once which is the process of moving it using gravity from one barrel to the other. This technique is meant to open up a wine which the winemaker considers closed off from its aromatic potential. I can’t speak to what it was like prior to adding racking to the process because it began back in the 2010 vintage. What I can assess is the 2015 has reached the peak of its aromatic potential. What I also think it does is makes this wine very soft on the palate as the plummy red tea early taste deepens into a spicy toasted wood finale. This 2015 vintage is spectacular in its evolving complexity.

The Hamilton Russell wines are not best buys as they are generally available for about $30 for the chardonnay and $40 for the pino noir although I think they are great value for their price considering the cost of their Burgundian counterparts. If you’re looking for a nice bottle of wine for a special meal either of these are great choices.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Hidden Figures

Later today the Oscars will be handed out for movies released in 2016. Part of the fun of watching the ceremony is having rooting interests. I’ve already mentioned my ambivalence towards favorite “La La Land” as well as my enthusiasm for “Arrival”. As much as I’d like to see the latter win Best Picture and the former to get shut out completely there is one movie which I think has a shot at blocking “La La Land” from the Best Picture Award; “Hidden Figures”.

Hidden Figures is the story of three African-American women who worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It takes place in 1961 as the United States were beginning the Space Race in competition with the USSR. Each country trying to outdo the other by being the first to do something in space. By 1961 the Russians had placed the first satellite, Sputnik, and the first human, Yuri Gargarin. At the Hampton, Virginia NASA facility was where the mathematicians and physicists were gathered to come up with the scientific foundation necessary to have the US catch-up. When it comes to efforts like this the prevailing prejudice of the day is tamped down in the desire for success. So, it was for the women at the heart of this movie.

(l. to r.) Janelle Monae, Taraji P. Henson, and Octavia Spencer

The women are part of the “computers” team who assist all over the facility as needed. They are segregated in to their tiny cramped office overseen by supervisor Dorothy Vaughn, played by Octavia Spencer. Ms. Vaughn is not given the title even though she does the same work as her boss Vivian Mitchell, played by Kirsten Dunst. Two of her staff are brilliant and are given assignments where those skills can be used. Kathryn Goble, played by Taraji P. Henson, is added to the group which is doing the calculations for the first manned flight. The challenges of being the first “colored” member of the team is what her story entails. The other story we follow is that of Mary Jackson, played by Janelle Monae, who is assigned to the capsule design team. Her white supervisor encourages her to fight for her right to attend an all-white school to take the course she needs to continue her education and become an engineer.

Director Theodore Melfi who also co-wrote the screenplay doesn’t take Hidden Figures any place you can’t see coming from a mile away. Which didn’t matter to me because the actresses embody their roles so seamlessly while each story provides a different angle on the state of race and gender relations in 1961 America. Even though I know the story will have a happy ending the journey to it is so entertainingly told it was a joy to spend a couple hours in the dark watching it.

Over the Holidays I try and see as many of the Oscar candidates as I can. I saw Hidden Figures on the same day I also saw “La La Land”, the movie which has resonated since that day is Hidden Figures which is why I am hoping when they open the envelope for Best Picture that’s the title on the card inside.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Marvel’s The Vision Vol. 2

While I eagerly await my latest issues of the typical superhero comics I can still be impressed by something completely different. Over the past twenty years the two big comic book imprints, Marvel and DC, have become less risk-averse to allowing their comics to take some unconventional turns. The burgeoning independent comics publishers thrived at offering readers something different. What much of this has resulted in is the mainstream comics taking on new writers from different backgrounds to see what they can do with existing characters.

One thing many of these creators choose to do is to not want to write stories for Captain America or Superman. They are more interested in the characters who are less-known. A lot of the time it is because they have an affection for the character. More importantly for storytelling purposes the ancillary characters carry less baggage in the term of known history. One of the most important new writers for Marvel and DC has taken this path.

Tom King

Tom King only recently joined the comic book writing world. Before that he wrote a novel, “A Once Crowded Sky” which asks the question if superheroes give up their powers to save the world only to have the attacks continue; what then? It was clear what Mr. King’s influences were and there are times when reading the book I almost felt like it should have been a comic series. The novel suffered from some rough patches in the resolution but it gave insight into many of the things Mr. King would take with him to the actual writing of comic books.

After starting at DC in 2014 with a series focused on Robin from the Batman mythology a year later he would write for Marvel. I heard through the grapevine he was coming to Marvel and was playing a guessing game in my mind what character he would be writing for. My surprise was complete when I heard his series was going to follow the synthetic humanoid The Vision from The Avengers. I was curious but my anticipation for The Vision Vol. 2 was not high. It should have been.

There are many stories of robots/androids who want to be human. To apply the cold logic of their circuitry to figuring out the human condition. The Vision Vol. 2 goes in an entirely different direction as The Vision creates himself a family of creatures like him; wife, son, and daughter. They go to live in a middle-class community in Virginia but they aren’t trying to be human. Their neighbors comment on their artificiality with no attempt by the family to change that. Over all the societal commentary from that set-up Mr. King overlays a tragedy in progress complete with an omniscient narrator who points out the moments that will have far-reaching consequences. This has the effect of adding a sense of dread because what the narrator’s future vision tells us of are some pretty grim events.

Mr. King never lets the readers off the hook as he tells a complete story over twelve issues full of shocking twists and pyrrhic victories. It is near the pinnacle of what comic books can achieve. It also confirms Mr. King as one of the new voices in comics to keep an eye on. Especially as he takes over Batman for 2017.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Riverdale

One of the fun things about geek culture is when someone re-imagines that which has been known for years into something entirely different and contemporary. When I was at 2013 New York Comic-Con I was standing in line for something on the show floor and next to where I was there was a booth for Archie Comics and prominently displayed was something called “Afterlife With Archie”. Behind the table was the man who wrote the comic, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. We chatted a bit and I bought a copy because Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa’s enthusiasm sold me. One of the things which drew me in was this was a writer who also was inspired by the old classic horror comics. We talked about our favorites which was what really made me buy a copy. Those influences are evident as Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa takes the cast of Archie Comics and drops them into a zombie apocalypse. Mr. Sacasa- Aguirre loves these characters and enjoys giving them a different set of challenges to deal with. Flesh-eating fiends versus plucky teens with dark pasts. It worked so very well. It worked so well that Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa was asked to move from the comic page to the video screen. After a few fits and starts what was once going to be a movie is now a new television series on The CW network called Riverdale.

Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa is not imagining the Archie gang as being chased by zombies for Riverdale. Instead he is doing a mash-up of Archie Comics plus Twin Peaks plus One Tree Hill. If you have any doubts about the middle influence confirmation comes when you see the “Welcome to Riverdale” sign at the beginning of the first episode. It is a replica of the “Welcome to Twin Peaks” sign. The overarching plot of Riverdale is also a parallel to Twin Peaks as the central question at least early on is “Who killed Jason Blossom?” Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa has once again deftly woven disparate inspirations into a story all its own.

Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Veronica (Camila Mendes)

While the mystery exposes a dark side to our well-known characters it also allows them to live up to their original design. As much as Archie is the name on the logo for Riverdale it is the dynamic between Betty and Veronica which has kept me most interested through the early episodes. Betty, portrayed by actress Lili Reinhart, is still perfect and still pining for Archie except there is also something less wholesome bubbling beneath the perfection. Ms. Reinhart does a nice job at showing that in the first episode when she is in the midst of being insulted and she clenches her fist so hard that she draws blood. I suspect her character has some unseen, less perfect, layers yet to be seen. Veronica, portrayed by actress Camila Mendes, is the rich girl brought low by something criminal her father has done causing her mother to return to Riverdale from NYC. Veronica is the mean girl looking for a fresh start as she joins the middle-class. Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa gives them a lot to do which is good because, so far, they are the primary reason to tune in.

Based on everything Mr. Aguirre-Sacasa has done with these characters in the past I expect the remaining episodes to be full of surprises. I am going to be there all the way.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Rumours by Fleetwood Mac

When I was in High School I listened to everything when it came to music. Even as I searched for the alternative I was still drawn to the mainstream. Which mimics the way I thought about fragrance in my early days. Forty years ago today, one of the albums which would be on my personal top 10 was released; Rumours by Fleetwood Mac.

I had “discovered” Fleetwood Mac a couple years earlier when they released an album titled “Fleetwood Mac” I thought this was their first album only to have a friend of mine show me the nine(!) previous albums they had released.  The name of the band comes from the names of the two founding members drummer Mick Fleetwood and bass guitarist John McVie. From 1968 until 1974 the band was a blues driven outfit which like all long-time bands had a fluctuation in their membership. In 1969 Christine McVie, wife of John, would be added. In 1974 the next line-up change would be the one which shot the band into the spotlight. Guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and his girlfriend vocalist Stevie Nicks were added. They released the album I mentioned earlier “Fleetwood Mac” in 1975. This time the music was very different. The band had been evolving into a more guitar driven sound before Mr. Buckingham’s arrival but he took it up a few notches. The addition of Ms. Nicks’ ethereal vocals beside Ms. McVie’s soulful version gave different outlets for the song writing to take advantage of. That 1975 album put them on the map with three top 10 singles and their first album Number One. The band was on its way.

Except the cost of success was the relationships within the band. By the time they got together to record the follow-up album the McVie’s were splitting up and Mr. Buckingham and Ms. Nicks were also doing the same as Mr. Fleetwood’s marriage also disintegrated. Musicians are at their most insightful when they reflect their personal into the music. As they began to record, the songs that were being written were all about this emotional turmoil. Lots of bands would have pushed it to the background. This band chose to use the genuine emotion to make one of the greatest albums ever, Rumours.

Fleetwood Mac in 1976

The songs were direct shots right at the heart of the target; standing right next to them. Mr. Buckingham tells Ms. Nicks she can “Go Your Own Way”. Ms. Nicks looks to the future on “Dreams” which became the biggest single on the album. Ms. McVie sings about her new boyfriend in “You Make Loving Fun”. There are songs for love lost Ms. McVie’s plaintive “Songbird”. “Gold Dust Woman” refers to the cocaine use which was also fueling some of the band’s interpersonal problems. Despite all the songs which highlighted the things that were driving them apart my favorite song on the album is “The Chain” which is about what kept them together in the band.

The Chain is the only song which is credited to the entire band. It was assembled from different pieces of other songs. Because of that each member of the band shines. The basic structure is a piano verse section by Ms. McVie. The bass-laden bridging sections is Mr. McVie at his most inventive. Mr. Fleetwood, who I consider to be one of the greatest rock drummers, provides the heartbeat with a steady metronomic drum beat. It all leads to Mr. Buckingham’s guitar driving the final section. Over all of it are the lyrics and vocals of Ms. Nicks who “damn your love, damn your lies” knows “I can still hear you saying, you would never break the chain” as the song ends with the knowledge that the “Chain, keep us together/running in the shadows”.

The Chain encapsulates the experience of overcoming the personal to stay together for the music. Rumours is a great album because these five artists were able to do that brilliantly.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: Little Deaths by Emma Flint

It seems like the mid 1960’s has become a fertile ground for storytellers recently. It was certainly a time of great social flux which makes for conflict to arise more readily. These stories have also become a way of looking back and assessing whether we have really advanced in the fifty-odd years. A debut novel by author Emma Flint, Little Deaths, provides one of the most recent examples of this.

Little Deaths is set in 1964 Queens during the summer. Single mother Ruth Malone puts her two children, five-year old Frankie Jr. and 4-year old Cindy, to bed only to wake up and find them missing. The first part of the book is the search for the children. The middle part is the mystery of whether Ruth was responsible. The final part is the culmination of tabloid reporter, Pete Wonicke’s investigation.

Little Deaths is not a spectacular mystery. It is quite obvious who committed the crime early on. The story is more about Ruth and how a single mother was viewed in 1964. Ms. Flint paints Ruth with a compassionate brush even though some of her life choices are reckless. It shows how there was no formula for a single mother to know what to do in those days. She was already under suspicion just for not having a father around.

Ms. Flint also really understands the New York City psychology of living in a borough that is not Manhattan but yet close enough to see the skyscrapers. I know Ms. Flint is British but I have to assume she spent some time in Queens to portray this so well on the page.

Pete Wonicke while not as vividly depicted as Ruth is present to provide the look at tabloid journalism fifty years ago. The same tactics of innuendo, morality, and sensationalism as part of a journalistic rush to judgement hasn’t really changed; just moved to cable TV. Pete is one who realizes there might still be a criminal out there when the sideshow which has decided the harlot was guilty has moved on.

I found Little Deaths to be a real page turner and I was through it very quickly. It shows a real skill at character building by this first-time author. If she is going to stay in the mystery genre I would advise she spends some time improving that aspect of her plotting. Come to read Little Deaths not for the mystery but for the sharply written characters. Ms. Flint may find it easier to get to Manhattan than Ruth if she gets better from here.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: La La Land

I always spend that time after Christmas trying to see all of the movies getting awards buzz. One reason is I like to have rooting interests in the categories on Oscar night. It is usually one of my favorite times of the year because I end up seeing a wide array of very good to great movies infused with laudable performances. Two years ago, I remember walking away from seeing Birdman and wondering what I was missing. It was winning awards left and right but I hated the movie; it was torture sitting through it. It was such a bad experience I almost did not go see the same director’s next movie last year’s The Revenant which I enjoyed much more.

So far this year I have caught up to almost everything I suspect will be nominated. I saved what I thought was going to be the best for last, La La Land. La La Land is a modern musical by director Damien Chazelle starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. It is the story of Mia (Ms. Stone) and Sebastian (Mr. Gosling) as they meet in current day Los Angeles. Mia is an aspiring actress and Sebastian is a musician whose affection for jazz is the most important thing in his life. Through four season-themed chapters the story follows the relationship of these two. There are big showy musical numbers like the one which opens the movies as the people stuck in an LA traffic jam break into song and dance while sitting still on the freeway. There are also some simple more personal numbers. Right there was my first issue.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in La La Land

When I name a musical, there is always a show-stopping tune that you remember. The adjective itself means a performance so amazing the entire story telling takes a moment to catch its breath before moving on. La La Land has none of that. The new songs are thematically and musically bland except for the very last one, “Audition”, which has killer lyrics but no tune. One reason for this is Ms. Stone and Mr. Gosling are not singers and so the songs have to be kept within their narrow vocal range hobbling them fatally. There is a part of me that would like to see a real musical actress like Idina Menzel give “Audition” a go. First flaw was this is a musical which has nothing I care to listen to after the movie.

Second flaw is the main characters themselves. I’m not sure if they are supposed to be Mr. Chazelle’s commentary on how shallow a personality you must be to chase acting or music. If that was his aim he succeeds at that because the two characters I’m supposed to root for to fall in love are so vapid I couldn’t ever invest in their relationship. Even as spectacularly staged production numbers tell me I should. The acting was the second flaw.

The final straw was the way the story was constructed. This over two-hour movie meanders along until the final 15 minutes or so. Then it is like hitting the fast-forward button everything that hasn’t been happening happens almost immediately. The whole final act felt like sloppy writing with an ending where Mr. Chazelle, who also wrote this, just couldn’t pull the trigger on the ending the characters had earned. Instead it is this stupid montage meant to evoke the idea that life is nothing but a variety of jazz riffs.

What I did like very much, and why I think this is getting all the award love, is the way the movie looks. Mr. Chazelle dresses everyone in primary colors against wide open backdrops. The sequence in the first chapter where Mia goes to a party is an example of bravura direction in getting these moving parts together. This is the one consistent high quality thing in La La Land.

I do now have my rooting interest and first and foremost I want a La La Land shutout. I know it will get the nominations but everything I’ve seen so far is so much better than this.

Mark Behnke

The Sunday Magazine: The Nix by Nathan Hill

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I miss bookstores. When I got my first job I used to go to my local bookstore every Thursday when the new releases would arrive. I would read the description on the dust cover and decide if it was something I wanted to read. The bookseller would learn my tastes and would recommend something they thought I would like. I no longer have that weekly visit because the internet keeps me updated in real time. My authors are on a list and the moment their new book is released I get an alert. Which is great. What I miss is that chance of holding a book by an author I have never heard of. Eventually liking that debut effort so much they would be added to my list of writers I read. The other problem with that is I feel like I am out of touch with the best new authors.

This all came together at the end of the year and I was looking at the various Top 10 fiction lists. As I looked I realized that I now had barely read a third of the books that were being lauded. The main reason was 2016 seemed to be a year where first-time authors were really making a mark. As I looked at these books there was one which leapt to the top of my list; The Nix by Nathan Hill.

The Nix is the story of Samuel Anderson in 2011 an English professor who once published a novel which allowed him to have a moment but that moment had seemingly passed. That is until 2011 and the mother, Faye, who abandoned him becomes a media sensation for an act of civil disobedience. Asked to do a biography of her Samuel realizes it is his opportunity to even the score for her leaving him at 11 years old. The story leapfrogs from 1968 to 2011 making stops in between as Faye recounts her story to her son. It all comes together in a moment of elegant storytelling

Mr. Hill can follow an acerbically witty passage with one that touches depths of emotions. I would go from wiping away tears of laughter to doing the same with emotional versions a few pages later. The Nix is one of those disjointed narratives that can be frustratingly aloof to get in to. Mr. Hill’s prose especially early on doesn’t draw you in as effectively as it might. But once The Nix get to the heart of its story I found it hard to stop reading. This is a book where I urge you to get past page 200 before giving up. What happens in the last two thirds makes up for the too careful construction of the plotline.

If, like me, you miss finding new authors at the local bookstore let me be your guide this time. Mr. Hill looks to be a major new talent and The Nix shows why.

Mark Behnke