Roger Stone, the sharp-dressed, right-wing political operative who is no fan of any Democrat, has it in for Lyndon Johnson. Mr. Stone says the architect of the War on Poverty and the Great Society is better remembered as the Great Conspirator and accuses him of responsibility for nine murders, including the greatest crime of the 20th century, the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Read More
Who Killed JFK and Why Do We Want to Keep Reading About Him? (Or Her? Or Them?) The Enduring Charm of Kennedy Conspiracy Books
Jeff Greenfield’s If Kennedy Lived: The First and Second Terms of President John F. Kennedy: An Alternate History is, as is clear from the title, a bit of speculative history. Everyone—especially this year, as we mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the 35th president—knows that Kennedy died in Dallas in 1963. What this book presupposes is…maybe he didn’t?
With literally thousands of books devoted to the Kennedy presidency and assassination, it’s hard to claim definitively that If Kennedy Lived is the silliest. Even if you could, one must consider the countless other cultural products the devilishly handsome and tragically doomed chief executive has inspired: an Oliver Stone movie starring Kevin Costner as Jim Garrison, the only man to ever prosecute anyone in connection with the assassination (JFK); quasi-fictional portraits of Lee Harvey Oswald by Don DeLillo and Norman Mailer; a Canadian miniseries starring Katie Holmes as Jackie Kennedy; a new Roger Stone book that claims LBJ murdered the president; the last line in the Nicolas Cage-Sean Connery movie The Rock. (Cage, playing Dr. Stanley Goodspeed, the FBI’s top chemical weapons specialist, to his wife: “Honey, uh, you wanna know who really killed JFK?”) Read More
The novelist Robert Stone has lived long enough to be old. “I seem to have somehow, quietly and secretly and in spite of myself, become 76,” he said recently in his Upper East Side apartment. “I don’t know exactly how that happened. I have no explanation for it.”
Mr. Stone never knew his father, and as a child he ran around between S.R.O. hotels in New York with his schizophrenic mother. He witnessed the air attack on Port Said and traveled to Antarctica as a teenage officer in the Navy, where part of his duties included putting out a small daily newspaper. He has been married to the same woman, Janice, for more than 50 years. He wrote hack journalism to support his family before the release of his first novel. He endured a brief stint in Vietnam in 1971, where he traveled as a reporter with the short-lived INK magazine (his press accreditation was always a hassle), during the country’s so-called Vietnamization. He didn’t see a lot of action but “found out more than I wanted to know” about the dope trade in Saigon. He was something of an honorary member of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters and was the only person Esquire could find who knew where Kesey was living after he left the U.S. to escape a possession charge (the magazine eventually killed the piece because it wasn’t “neutral” enough). He saw through the production of his first two novels into Hollywood flops. He used to deep-sea dive, but his lungs are busted from emphysema. He has won a National Book Award and lost the Pulitzer Prize twice, one to John Updike, the other to Philip Roth, his better-known but less-consistent contemporaries. He has written two short-story collections, a memoir and eight novels, one of which, Death of the Black-Haired Girl, is being published this month. He wishes he had written more.
Once upon a time, I took a meeting with a book agent who handled some of my favorite comedians. I pitched him a couple of ideas, to the vein of “Like David Sedaris, but not as funny, and for Lena Dunham money.”
He gently pulled my head out of my ass and told me that no one made Lena Dunham money (except Garth Risk Hallberg, I guess), and if I really wanted to cash in, I would need to write for the YA genre. “Like Twilight,” he said, “but you know, not actually Twilight.” (Though based on the success of 50 Shades of Grey, I could have written actually Twilight.) Read More
Bernard Berenson: A Life in the Picture Trade
(Yale University Press, 344 pp., $18.98)
“I wanted to become a work of art myself,” the art historian Bernard Berenson (1865-1959) wrote late in life. Over his 94 years, he fashioned himself into the foremost scholar of Italian Renaissance painting, perhaps the most envied and Read More
The small, luminous painting after which Donna Tartt’s third novel takes its name, The Goldfinch, is by the Dutch painter Carel Fabritius, a student of Rembrandt. You can go see it in New York if you like, at least until Jan. 19, at the Frick, where it’s included in an exhibition that shared an opening day with Ms. Tartt’s release date. The painting was made in 1654, the same year Fabritius was killed at age 32 due to an explosion at a gunpowder store in Delft, a tragedy that left more than a hundred people dead and is echoed in the stunning set piece that opens Ms. Tartt’s expansive, resonant novel. In an ambiguously dated near-contemporary Manhattan, 13-year-old Theo and his mother, left to depend on each other after his deadbeat father’s departure some months before, are visiting a Dutch Masters exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum when a bomb explodes, killing her and others. Theo escapes the wreckage but first has a dreamlike, otherworldly interaction with an old man who isn’t so lucky, whom Theo had seen wandering the gallery with his striking niece before the blast. About to die, he convinces Theo to take The Goldfinch, a longtime sentimental favorite of Theo’s mother, out of the museum and asks him to deliver a ring to what turns out to be a West Village antiques store.
Edited by Ann Goldstein
(Prestel USA, 400 pp., $85)
The considerable gap left by the suicide of the artist Mike Kelley last year is only more apparent in light of his retrospective show at MoMA PS1. That show should be experienced firsthand, though a close second is this comprehensive catalog, published in conjunction Read More
Getting Roth Wrong, But That’s the Point: The Great Man’s ‘Reader in Chief’ Walks Through the Career of Literature’s Favorite Retiree
There’s a passage early in American Pastoral where Nathan Zuckerman, Philip Roth’s most durable alter ego, turns his inability to predict the shocking course of his childhood idol’s life into a universal lament about the limits of perception: “[Y]ou never fail to get them wrong,” he muses. “You get them wrong before you meet them, while you’re anticipating meeting them; you get them wrong while you’re with them; and then you go home to tell somebody else about the meeting and you get them all wrong again. Since the same generally goes for them with you, the whole thing is really a dazzling illusion empty of all perception, an astonishing farce of misperception.”
Struggling through the stultifying, toothless, inappropriately titled documentary Philip Roth: Unmasked on PBS last year, it was hard not to imagine that Mr. Roth had slyly encouraged his unmaskers to get him wrong. The fawning filmmakers lingered on shots of the Great Man composing his work, checked in with some old neighborhood pals and an odd assortment of talking heads and asked Roth no question that he hadn’t already tackled and twisted into a richly ambiguous quandary in one of his novels. The film reeked of good taste and politesse, suggesting that its good Jewish boy of a subject, the one with the bemused twinkle in his eye, would never dare misbehave. In other words, just give him the Nobel already.
Penguin Press, 144 pp., $26.95
There’s a combative little essay in Blue Pastures, Mary Oliver’s excellent 1995 prose collection, that has stuck with me through the years. “Nothing in the forest is charming,” Ms. Oliver writes. “And nothing in the forest is cute.” It’s a particularly damning argument against the way Read More
The Father, the Son and Norman Mailer: A New Biography Reassesses America’s Most Loved and Hated Writer
Norman Mailer’s writing was about dualities and disappointments. God and the Devil were engaged in an epic battle, and, no matter which side won, life was still excrement and death, “a bath in shit with no reward.” That last bit comes from his 1972 review of Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris, published in Mind of an Outlaw, a recent compendium of many of Mailer’s uncollected or out-of-print essays. The book culls together a lot of minor work, the Bertolucci review included, with a few of Mailer’s greatest hits mixed in. Still, Bad Mailer is better than a lot of other writing produced in the 65 years since he set in motion post-World War II fiction with the first line of The Naked and the Dead: “Nobody could sleep.”
As an example, Mailer most clearly outlined his philosophy, which remained consistent even as his styles and topics changed with each book, in an otherwise forgettable profile of Jimmy Carter from 1976, reprinted in Mind of an Outlaw: “Mailer,” he writes, referring to himself in his preferred third person, “had a notion of God as not clearly omnipotent but rather as a powerful God at war with other opposed visions of the universe.” As with God, so too Mailer. The first complete biography of Mailer, by J. Michael Lennon, the author’s longtime friend and archivist, suggests even with its title, A Double Life, that for all of Mailer’s concerns with the universe at large, more interesting was that good and evil were continuously waging war over his own soul.