John Williams, Stoner (New York Review Books, $14.95 paper). This darkly stoic novel, which tells the story of a Missouri farm boy who became a professor of literature, is reminiscent of and directly comparable in quality to Willa Cather’s O Pioneers! Originally published in 1965, it is an insufficiently heralded masterpiece, one of the most remarkable novels to be published in this country in the Sixties. Don’t look to Stoner if you want to have your heart warmed, but anyone strong enough to look straight into the dual abyss of marital estrangement and frustrated aspiration will find it extraordinary in every way (TT).
Archives for October 1, 2011
The Essential Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys, 1945-1948 (Sony, two CDs). Bluegrass took shape in these classic recordings, the best of which also feature Lester Flatt on guitar and lead vocals and Earl Scruggs on banjo–a supergroup by any conceivable standard. Listen first to “It’s Mighty Dark to Travel” and you’ll hear in three electrifying minutes exactly what Monroe and his colleagues contributed to the history of American music (TT).
Alan Brinkley, The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century (Vintage, $17 paper). This splendid 2010 biography of the founder of Time, Life, and Fortune, now available in paperback, is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of American magazine journalism. Though Brinkley isn’t the most scintillating of stylists, he’s got all the facts at his fingertips and sets them forth them in a sober yet eminently readable way. I don’t know when I last read another biography that I wished had been longer (TT).
A Minister’s Wife (PS Classics). The original-cast recording of the Lincoln Center Theatre production of this musical version of George Bernard Shaw’s Candida is a major event. I called it “the most important new musical since The Light in the Piazza” when I reviewed the show in The Wall Street Journal earlier this year, and now you can revel at leisure in Joshua Schmidt’s astringent yet tuneful score. If you didn’t see A Minister’s Wife on stage, make haste to hear it on record (TT).
Lemon Sky (Keen Company, Clurman Theatre, 410 W. 42, closes Oct. 22). Lanford Wilson’s 1970 coming-of-age play, like the rest of his prolific output, has faded from view in recent years, but Keen Company’s letter-perfect off-Broadway revival makes a powerfully compelling case for this Glass Menagerie-derived tale of a sensitive teenage boy whose long-delayed reunion with his divorced father proves to be wrenchingly disrupting. How good was Wilson? Judging by this superlative production, it’s time for a full-scale reconsideration of his work (TT).
“Bennett was by no means the only pop musician of his generation to be thrown off balance by the coming of rock. But instead of retreating into dignified obscurity, he stopped using drugs, resumed his recording career, and made the kind of comeback that is the stuff of Hollywood biopics. Today his fans include listeners whose parents had not yet been born when he cut his first single in 1950. Amazingly, he brought off this feat without altering or compromising his style in any way. At 85, Bennett continues to sing the songs of the Twenties and Thirties the way he did in the Fifties and Sixties. All that has changed is his audience…”
The Last Picture Show (Film Forum, 209 W. Houston, closes Thursday). Peter Bogdanovich’s classic 1971 study of small-town life in postwar America is now showing at Manhattan’s Film Forum in a brand-new print. Eileen Brennan, Jeff Bridges, Ellen Burstyn, Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman, and Cybill Shepherd are all amazingly, even startlingly true to life. Yes, they really did make better movies in the Seventies, and this was one of the very best of the lot (TT).