Now celebrating her twentieth year as the host of the world's most influential talk show, Oprah Winfrey is to television what Bach is to music, Giotto to painting, Joyce to literature. Time magazine hit the nail on the head when it recently voted her one of the world's handful of "leaders and revolutionaries." (Condoleezza Rice wrote Oprah's citation: "She has struggled with many of the challenges that we all face, and she has transformed her life. Her message is empowering: I did it, and so can you.") Like all seminal creative figures, her essential gift lies in her synthesizing power.
MANY CATHODE-ILLUMINATED years have passed since the term "infotainment" settled into reality and started appearing without quotation marks. The devolution of the evening news into a hybrid sort of entertainment is an old tale. In its original form, it simply meant that hard news stories would still be broadcast, but that there would be fewer of them, and more segments about lifestyle issues, celebrity shenanigans, and the like. How quaint it all was.
The speed at which popular culture now dramatizes actual events is extraordinary. I'm not sure whether a movie was made about Kennedy's assassination not long after the event, but it was decades before a film appeared that portrayed Kennedy's murder with real provocative detachment, Oliver Stone's tendentious JFK. Two years later Hollywood finally applied itself big-time to the Holocaust with Schindler's List. There were previous Holocaust films, obviously; but Hollywood gigantism in the treatment of the subject had to await Steven Spielberg.
ONE EVENING LAST OCTOBER, Mark Fisher, a nineteen-year-old student at Fairfield University in Connecticut, who had gone into Manhattan with friends, met a girl in a bar on First Avenue on the Upper East Side, got separated from his group, and was found dead the next morning on a Brooklyn sidewalk, his body wrapped in a yellow blanket, five gunshot wounds in his chest. According to a long article in The New York Times, Fisher's case remains unsolved mostly because no one who was with him that night seemed to want to tell the police everything that they knew.
Once upon a time, in magical New York City, a certain cable- television station began broadcasting from its Midtown headquarters a weekly series about four single women who lived right there, in magical New York City.
I. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (HarperFlamingo, 546 pp., $26) Barbara Kingsolver is the most successful practitioner of a style in contemporary fiction that might be called Nice Writing. Nice Writing is a violent affability, a deadly sweetness, a fatal gentle touch. But before I start in on Kingsolver's work, I feel I must explain why I feel that I must start in on it. I do so for a younger version of myself, for the image that I carry inside me of a boy who was the son of a sadistic, alcoholic father, and of a mother who was hurt but also hurtful, and abusive.