| Reviews in Brief | Jan/Feb
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sports and murder in a small Mississippi town. By Ben Yagoda
A True Tale of the New Old South
Richard Rubin C88.
York: Atria Books, 2002.
pages; $26.00. Order
out of water
is one of the more venerable and reliable scenarios in the history of
narrative. Think of The Divine Comedy. Think of Alice in Wonderland.
Think of My Cousin Vinnie.
was undoubtedly thinking about these texts, and at least one more besides,
in the course of writing his first book, Confederacy of Silence.
The book, a non-fiction narrative, has just come out, but its story
begins in 1988, after the author graduated from Penn. Having decided
during his senior year that he really didnt want to be a lawyer after
all, Rubin found himself with limited employment prospects. One day
he saw an ad for sports editor of a newspaper in Greenwood, Mississippi.
He applied for the job and, despite the fact that his journalism experience
was limited to editing his high-school newspaper and writing a few
columns for The Daily Pennsylvanian, he got it. (With a salary
of $240 a week, there probably werent many other contenders.) And so
Rubin, who had lived in no place other than New York and West Philadelphia,
found himself in the Mississippi Deltathe poorest part of the poorest
state in America.
at the job for a year, then left for points north and a freelance writers
existence. He returned in 1995 because of a telephone call a few months
earlier from a friend in Greenwood. The friend said that Handy Campbell,
the dazzling quarterback who had led Greenwood High School to the state
championship the year Rubin covered the team, who was recruited by colleges
all over the South and seemed destined for a career in the National
Football League, was in jail on a charge of capital murder. (Rubin describes
all this in a prologue, so Im not giving away any key plot points.)
his decision to go back to Greenwood as a way finally to resolve his
conflicted feelings about the town, about the racism and the moral contradictions
he found there: Memories of Greenwood challenged everything I ever
believed about right and wrong and human nature, waging such a good
fight that at times they seemed poised to not only change my mind but
to dismantle it. I had to make my peace with Greenwood, or expel it
from my consciousness forever.
to mention what must also have been in his mind, that it looked like
a good yarn. And that brings up the other fish-out-of-water book referred
to above, John Behrendts ludicrously successful Midnight in the
Garden of Good and Evil, which was published in 1994, a year before
Rubin went back to Greenwood, and which featured murder and other extremes
of behavior, seen though the eyes of a New Yorker in the South.
basic framework, true. But there were differences. One that works to
Rubins advantage, making him a more striking narrator than Behrendt,
is the immense distance of Greenwood from his native waters. One gets
the impression that in his prior life, Rubin had never been south of
Bainbridge Street. Now, people keep shouting things to him like, Richit!
Come over here, you ol Yankee Jew bastard! The first football game
he covers, he steps out of his car and finds hundred of fire ants using
his foot for supper. (He had opted for the preppy look of sockless Topsiders.)
More chillingly, he keeps running into people like 87-year-old Carl
Kelly Jr., who, in the middle of an amiably superficial conversation,
opines that he doesnt take the newspaper because there are too many
pictures of niggers in it, for one thing. Got niggers in there every
day, just about.
of the differences from Midnight crank up Rubins degree of difficulty.
Behrendts book, set in Savannah, Georgia, had an eccentric and capacious
cast: libertine society folks, a brilliantly twisted inventor, a gay
hustler, a transvestite diva. As Rubin discovered, poor people cant
really afford to be eccentric, and the populace of Greenwood, Mississippi,
is nothing if not poor. Both in his original stint and on his return,
he meets his share of marginal characters. But they tend to be either
ignorant whites, who cling to a noxious racism in the absence of any
other touchstones, or blacks drawn to crime by a lack of hope or prospects.
Behrendt spent part of eight years in Savannah, enough to absorb the
internal rhythms of the place and become something more than a fish
out of water. Rubin, in Greenwood for a year the first time and three
months the second, never is seen or sees himself as anything but an
outsider. In almost all the encounters he describes, he is interviewing
people, not interacting with them.
to do with the nature of the story, and the course taken by Rubins
life. It is not his fault. Whats more, hes skillful at evoking people,
cultural landscapes, and his own reaction to them. But the comparative
thinness of the material leads to some problems. The book often feels,
in a word, padded. His interviews become long set pieces that go down
easily enough but that do notyou realize after theyre overadd any
significant facts, interpretation, or color. And Rubins exposition
is not exactly economical. He will devote long sentences and paragraphs
to material readers dont really need to know, sometimes in a Faulknerian
cadence that is regionally appropriate but otherwise puzzling. Here
he tells us what he did after a judge ruled that Handy Campbells trial
would be delayed and moved to another town:
So I stood
there on the courthouse lawn for a while, talking to [an acquaintance]
and reading the inscriptions on the Confederate monument and the historic
marker and jotting them down on the yellow legal pad I had thought
I would be using to jot down opening statements and testimony and
cross-examinations, and then I just stood there some more, not knowing
what I was supposed to do next, and then I went and sat down at the
base of the Confederate monument and watched people coming and going,
all of them with some sense of purpose, while suddenly I had none.
the reader can only respond: You and me both, buster.
does eventually begin, thankfully for Rubin; courtroom scenes squeeze
the narrative slack out of Confederacy of Silence, as they have
for many other books, plays and movies (including My Cousin Vinnie.)
I will not reveal the result of the trial, or the details of Handy Campbells
downward spiral, or whether Rubin eventually made his peace with Greenwood.
I will say the last hundred of the books 427 pages are really good:
dramatic, well-told, and with a surprising and emotional finale that
finally justifies the authors high-pitched rhetoric.
would be that, having gotten his first book out of his system, Rubin
will make his next one shorter and more focused. Im looking forward
G91 is a professor of English at the University of Delaware and author
of About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made and Will
Rogers: A Biography.
A selection of recent books
by alumni and faculty, or otherwise of interest to the University community.
Descriptions are compiled from information supplied by the authors and
ARCHAEOLOGY OF QUMRAN AND THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS
Mich: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2002.
238 pp., $26.00. Order
Close to where the Dead Sea
Scrolls were excavated, the Qumran archaeological site continues to
be the object of intense scholarly debate. Dr. Jodi Magness provides
an overview of the archaeology of Qumran and presents a new interpretation
of this ancient community based on information found in the scrolls
and other contemporary documents. Magness holds the Kenan Distinguished
Visiting Chair in Early Judaism at the University of North Carolina,
Chapel Hill, and has participated in 20 excavations in Israel and Greece.
SPIRITUAL ACTIVIST: Practices to Transform Your Life, Your Work, and
Penguin Compass, 2002.
A practical guide to individual
and social transformation, this book helps readers create opportunities
to slow down, build stronger relationships at home and at work, and
embrace the world around them. By using mindfulness, ritual, art, silence,
movement, and the happenings of daily life, it shows, one can find unity
between inner journeys and outer commitments. Dr. Claudia Horwitz is
the founder of stone circles, an organization that finds ways
to integrate faith, spiritual practice, and social justice, and a Rockefeller
Foundation Next Generation Leadership Fellow.
SOUNDSCAPE OF MODERNITY: Architectural Acoustics and the Culture of
Listening in America, 1900-1933
Mass.: MIT Press, 2002.
500 pp., $44.95. Order
This history of aural culture
in early 20th century America charts dramatic transformations in what
people heard and how they listened. What they heard was a new kind of
sound that was the product of modern technology. They listened as newly
critical consumers of aural commodities. By examining the technologies
that produced this sound, as well as the culture that enthusiastically
consumed it, Dr. Emily Thompson recovers a lost dimension of the Machine
Age and deepens our understanding of the experience of change that characterized
the era. Thompson is assistant professor of history and sociology of
science and coeditor of The Architecture of Science.
VEGAN GUIDE TO NEW YORK CITY
Berry C68 G71 and Chris A. Suzuki.
Ethical Living, 2003.
Detailed reviews of more
than 100 restaurants will lead readers to the best places in New York
for a satisfying meatless meal that wont strain your budgetor, in
a few cases, the perfect setting for an elegant treat. The authors have
included information on where to find cheap organic produce, bulk grains,
and exotic spices, as well as a seasonal schedule of the greenmarkets
in the New York area. Rynn Berry is historical advisor to the North
American Vegetarian Society and the author of several books, including
Famous Vegetarians and their Favorite Recipes.
YOURSELF FREE: Breaking the Cycle of Emotional Abuse in Family, Friendships,
Work and Love
N.J.: New Horizon Press, 2002.
A controlling mother raises
an emotionally stunted son. Manipulative parents produce a fearful,
helpless daughter. An empty, angry woman drives away meaningful friendships.
All are caught in cycles of emotional abuse usually beginning in childhood
that, if unchecked, will slowly poison their adult love and work relationships,
family ties and friendships. This book identifies five major types of
emotional abuse and offers advice on how to end the destructive cycles
they create. SaraKay Smullens is a marriage and family therapist and
best-selling author of Whoever Said Life Is Fair?
Kent State University Press, 2002.
80 pp., $14.00. Order
Kate Northrops first poetry
collection is described as being drawn ineluctably to the place where
passion and intelligence collideand often they end with passion having
fled and intelligence standing alone, surveying the way we travel into
memory. But Northrops intelligence is so coruscating that it possesses
all the passion of passion itself. Back Through Interruption
is winner of the 2001 Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize. Northrop is assistant
professor of English/creative writing at West Chester University in
FISTFUL OF LENTILS:
Syrian-Jewish Recipes from Grandma Fritzies Kitchen
Felicia Abadi C88.
Harvard Common Press, 2002.
372 pp., $24.95. Order
Growing up a member of New
Yorks Syrian-Jewish community, Jennifer Abadi went to parties where
the sounds of Arabic mixed with Hebrew and the smells of cumin and allspice
mingled with rose water and almond. With the help of her grandmother
Fritzienow deceased Abadi recorded more than 125 recipes, along with
numerous family anecdotes, to celebrate her heritage. A graphic designer
and illustrator, she now teaches cooking classes in the New York area.
OF FAITH: Living and Working as a Catholic
by James Martin, S.J., W82 and Jeremy Langford.
Wisc.: Sheed & Ward, 2002.
183 pp., $12.95. Order
Professions of Faith
brings to life the interplay of faith and work in the Catholic tradition
through the voices and experiences of 13 active Catholics working in
the real world. Each author explains how faith influences his or her
daily experiences at work, and likewise how work influences his or her
day-to-day experiences of faith. James Martin, S.J., is associate editor
of America magazine and is also the author of Searching for
God at Ground Zero (Sheed & Ward, 2002, $12.95), a book about
his time working among the firefighters, police officers, and rescue
workers in the weeks following September 11, 2001.
AS TEXT: Communicating Cultural Identities Through Ritual
Leeds-Hurwitz G80 Gr83.
N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002.
308 pp., $29.95. Order
A wedding can predict the
future success of a marriage: if a couple is to manage cultural differences
throughout their relationship, they must first pass the hurdle of designing
a wedding ceremony that accommodates those differences. Dr. Wendy Leeds-Hurwitz
documents the weddings of 112 couples from across the United States
and examines how real people are coping with cultural differences in
their lives. Leeds-Hurwitz is professor of communication at the University
THE NEWEST FASHION:
Masterpieces of American Neo-Classical Decorative Arts
Feld C96 and Stuart P. Feld.
Hirschl & Adler Galleries, 2001.
103 pp., $35.00. Order
Celebrating its 50th anniversary
in New York, Hischl & Adler Galleries has assembled photographs
and descriptions of some of the finest examples of decorative art by
the best craftsmen of the early 19th century, including cabinetmakers
Lannuier, Duncan Phyfe, and Joseph B. Barry; silversmiths Fletcher &
Gardiner; porcelain makers, the Tucker Factories; and the Boston Sandwich
SOULS: Finding Hope in the Heart of Darkness
Elliot Goldstein C88.
Bell Tower/Crown Publishing Group, 2002.
190 pp., $22.00. Order
This book is about the universal
experience of being lost, whether the loss involves loved ones, a job,
freedom, or anything else. To illustrate the different stages of despair,
Rabbi Niles E. Goldstein uses biblical characters as well as people
he has met through his work as a rabbi. He brings the message that going
through this wilderness and emerging on the other side is a transformative
and strengthening process. Goldstein is founding rabbi of The New Shul
in New Yorks Greenwich Village.
| Reviews in Brief | Jan/Feb
Contents | Gazette Home
Copyright 2003 The
Pennsylvania Gazette Last modified 01/05/03
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is publisher and editor of New York-based Acanthus Press, founded
in 1992. The press specializes in books on architecture and
Here are two books published in 2002:
SPLENDOR: The Residential Architecture of Horace Trumbauer
Michael C. Kathrens.
pp., $79.00. Order
This book represents the first extensive study of the renowned
classical revival architect Horace Trumbauer, who overcame his
modest background and education to become a leading practitioner
of residential design on a grandest scale. (His firm also designed
Penns Irvine Auditorium.) Working with prominent industrial
and financial moguls living in Washington, Newport, New Yorks
Fifth Avenue, and Philadelphia and its suburbs, Trumbauer executed
commissions whose finesse and elegance rivaled the work of CarrĖre
& Hastings, Stanford White, and other leading architects
of his generation. This book features hundreds of period photographs
in duotone and floor plans, as well as an introduction by architectural
author and critic Henry Hope Reed.
THE MAIN LINE:
Country Houses, 1870-1930
pp., $67.00. Order
Once a rural backwater, the suburban region northwest of Philadelphia
known as the Main Line is today synonymous with quiet wealth
and exclusivity. Beginning with the Pennsylvania Railroads
development of the area in the 1870s and continuing through
the 1920s, this book records the successful efforts to establish
the region as the paradigm of aristocratic country life in democratic
America and documents the architectural evolution of the American
country dwelling. The text is illustrated with nearly 300 vintage
and contemporary photographs, plans, and drawings.