Books and Arts

No Man's Land
April 18, 2006

For fans and critics alike, Brokeback Mountain will forever be known as the "gay cowboy" movie. Almost invariably, the emphasis will be placed on the first half of that label--and understandably so: The love, briefly indulged and long inhibited, between Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist is the narrative and emotional core of the film and of the Annie Proulx short story on which it is based.

The Gray Lady Wears Prada
April 17, 2006

Praise Jesus and pass the chinchilla, fur is hot again. For the last several years, the skinned-animal taboo has been receding, and now, with Beyonce sporting the look and Neiman Marcus hawking fur scrunchies, everyone is panting after fashion's ultimate luxury symbol. Muffs, socks, mittens, wraps--you name the accoutrement, it can be upgraded with a touch of mink. Or, better yet, sable. When contemplating an expenditure of this financial and spiritual magnitude, however, it is important not to go off half-cocked, rummaging through the racks at any old department store.

Without a Doubt
April 03, 2006

Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, And The Splendor Of Truth By Richard John Neuhaus (Basic Books, 272 pp., $25) Liberal modernity exasperates traditional religion. It fosters a pluralism that denies any one faith the power to organize the whole of social life. It teaches that public authorities must submit to the consent of those over whom they aspire to rule, thereby undermining the legitimacy of all forms of absolutism. It employs the systematic skepticism of the scientific method to settle important questions of public policy.

Uncertainty Principle
March 22, 2006

Violence is scary. Violence is sexy. Violence is wrong. Violence is righteous. Violence is a problem. Violence is the solution. Befitting its title, David Cronenberg's film A History of Violence comprises all these definitions and more. Just released on video, the film opens with a pulpy paean to small-town murderousness, as two drifters check out of a dusty, rural motel. The air of lazy depravity is palpable; bad acts are hinted at--"I had a little trouble with the maid," one man tells the other--before they are revealed.

A Thousand Darknesses
March 20, 2006

NightBy Elie Wiesel Translated by Marion Wiesel(Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 120 pp., $9) NIGHT IS THE MOST DEVASTATING account of the Holocaust that I have ever read. It is devastating first because of its simplicity. The basic outline is this: after the Germans invade Hungary in 1944, the teenaged Eliezer and his family, religious Jews who live comfortably in their community, are deported to Auschwitz. He and his father, separated from the rest of their family, are assigned to hard labor.

The Prohibition Era
March 20, 2006

COVERING: THE HIDDEN ASSAULT ON OUR CIVIL RIGHTS. By Kenji Yoshino(Random House, 268 pp., $24.95)  I. IN 1998, A Missouri court granted custody to a lesbian mother, after finding that “the children were unaware of Mother’s sexual preference, and Mother never engaged in any sexual or affectionate behavior in the presence of the children.” Many courts have gone the other way, after determining that same-sex parents engaged not in overt sexual conduct that would be inappropriate for any parent to display before any child, but in displays of affection, such as hugging or holding hands, which clear

Stanley Kauffmann on Films: Slums, Snobs
March 20, 2006

TSOTSI (Miramax) THE FILM SNOB’S DICTIONARY (Broadway Books)  AN OLD MYTH TELLS OF A bird that had to press its breast against a thorn in order to sing, which it then did beautifully. Political troubles have served as that thorn for some writers, and the end of those troubles has, along with its benefits, deprived them of their singing. George Konrád, the Hungarian author of major novels about the travails of life under totalitarianism, has dwindled as a novelist since democracy reached Hungary.

Oscar Wild
February 27, 2006

Nature, in its limited wisdom, gave us four seasons. The New York Times and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have added a fifth: Oscar season--the time of year when movie studios advertise their most "important" films, when over 6,000 members ponder whom or what to grant Academy honors, and when millions of Times readers slog through tens of thousands of words of Oscar news. The forecast: parties and celebrities with a chance of irrelevant gossip. The Oscars, of course, are nothing new, but the relentless attention the Times has given them this year is.

The Names
February 20, 2006

"It satisfied desire and created desire."—DeVoto For my sister All night it kept up its music, the Boulder River, skirmishing across a shallow bed of stones beyond the cottonwood, Russian olive and poplar, the tangled mosquitoey woods where cattle browse.

The Siegfried Line
February 20, 2006

SIEGFRIED SASSOON: A LIFE By Max Egremont (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 597 pp., $27)    I. WHAT, IF ANYTHING, do Americans know, or think they know, about Siegfried Sassoon? To judge by Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, not very much. There they will find four short and surprisingly limp passages from Sassoon’s war poetry, which give no idea of the hysterical loathing, fear, and compassion that generated them (the only one that might have done so is carefully removed from its context).