Late to Talk
Alice Elliott Darks first novel begins with a stunning chapter. Nine year-old Jane MacLeod is awakened in the middle of the night by a violent scene between her parents. Their struggle has a sexually-charged subtext, but the child is too innocent to comprehend. Jane tries to intervene, and desperately assumes the blame for what precipitated the quarrel, a telephone taken off its receiver.
The parents, Via and Emlin, are engaged in a brute tug of war over the telephone, a flashpoint in their marriage. To Emlin, a doctor, its ring signals his responsibility to his patients. She cannot comprehend how he might care more about strangers than his family. Dark reveals their other battlefield. Earlier the same night, as the entire family sits together to watch the Beatles on television, Via entwines herself around Emlin. Later, the door to their bedroom closesJane hears the metal latch engage, and later, a shout, bleak and full of anguish.
The battle ends at 3 a.m. with an ultimatum; Emlin defies his wife to return to a patient, possibly unnecessarily. In a fury, the mother packs up all four children, and with her visiting brother, drives to their parents home nearby.
Darks craft is remarkable here. She tells a deeply disturbing story, sketching the prologue in swift strokes and creating complex characters, Jane and her parents, in very few words. She also makes the emotional bond between father and daughter very clear. The novel is ambitious and carefully constructed, incorporating some themes from Darks previous short story collections, Naked to the Waist and In the Gloaming [Off the Shelf, May/June 2000]death, family discord, the ghosts of loved ones. The setting is Wynnemoor, a charm on the bracelet of towns that surrounds Philadelphia.
The book covers about 35 years in three bites. Jane is nine in 1964, when the opening chapter takes place. She is a pretty young woman just out of college and living in London, in 1979, in the second. Part three of the book recounts a family reunion in 2000. Midway in the middle section, Dark deftly drops the other shoewe learn that Emlin died in an accident the night he left for the hospital. He never appears again, but his is the ghost Jane carries with her. Similarly, Vias presence hovers over Jane though she is absent until the reunion denouement.
Think of England is a precept of Janes grandmother, with whom the MacLeod family live after their flight. Wynnemoor has cool lawns and gardens, abundant roses, and bright winter berries. People there know the difference between the Colonial Dames and the D.A.R. Dark doesnt need to say more, and she doesnt. The title phrase is a coda throughout the narrative, and much later, Jane calls it a willful absenting of the soul at crucial moments, so that life consists only of what was comfortable.
When Jane gets to London, she is living on her own, using her grandmothers graduation gift, and wanting to write poetry. Almost immediately, she meets an offbeat couple, Nigel and Colette. Dark creates a striking character in Colette, a bold if not bizarre young woman.
The pair take Jane in, providing an eccentric education. Colette is American, wildly sophisticated and pragmatic, clearly a foil to innocent Jane, who knows about the Colonial Dames, but doesnt know the meaning of a beard, even though Vias brother, her Uncle Francis, is openly and comfortably homosexual.
Nigel is handsome, kind, charming, and aristocratic. He is also in need of a beard in order to receive a vast inheritance, and in a plot of Colettes construction, she is the beard. Janes naivetÈ is such that she sees them as the happy family she lost. She is tutored in beauty by Colette, whose other courses include how to be imperious in restaurants and clubs, how to dress, and, most important, how to demand what you want in life. Janes emotional restraint is sorely challenged.
Nigel, like Jane, wants to write. His teacher is another American, Clay, with whom Jane has an affair. His emotional distance dwarfs Janes. His writing is everything, but she endures his priorities, suppressing her own wishes until challenged by Colette. Nigel and Colettes relationship comes to an explosive end; Clay and Jane separate, and she heads home.
Dark shows the violence beneath Janes repression. When she and Colette witness an explosion, Jane thinks about her fathers melting down to shards of bones and teeth in his accident. When she was younger, she tried to think of the most horrific things she could imagine, to diminish her pain for her fathers loss. Colette and she go to (and quickly leave) a rock club in London, where mutual razor slashing is part of the scene.
The plot comes full-circle at the family reunion. Dark swiftly and sketchily re-introduces Janes siblings, then their progeny, and Vias second husband. Jane is now a single parent with an 11-year-old daughter, Emily, who has her own ghost. She has nightmares about her twin, who died in the womb. Jane likens her daughters survivor guilt to her own.
No one in the family seems to like each other much, except for the children, and one wonders about Janes obsession with happy families. Her childhood manuscript, entitled The Happy MacMillans is given back to her at the reunion, with all its title irony. Jane is now an editor. Her personal life is focused totally on Emily. Shes given up on lovers, and Dark doesnt mention friends. Jane apparently sees only her compassionate uncle Francis and Nigel. In another irony, the only happy family in the book is this homosexual pair.
Jane drops her think of England mode, and confronts her mother about the night of the accident. Via allows a few revelations, including the jealousy she felt over Emlins absorption in the infant Jane, but says its too late now to talk. We learn that Clays novel is a critical success. Jane writes him a summary noteJust because you dont see someone doesnt mean you arent in their life. Emlins ghost appears. He knows that in spite of her best efforts, Jane hadnt been able to help him that final night. Im sorry, she says. Its all right, he says. End of book.
The plot bears a passing resemblance to Ian McEwans Atonement. Both begin with a young girl, a would-be writer, observing events that she misconstrues, and both end with a family reuniontwo situations rife with possibilities. Think of England is a provocative and poignant novel, artfully written. Jane MacLeods melancholy pervades the book and haunts.
Virginia Fairweather wrote for the Gazette on the architect Wendy Evans Joseph C77 in the November/December 2000 issue.
FUTURE OF IDEAS:
We cant talk about the Internet without metaphors. Its a highway or its cyberspace, and we variously live and lurk there, surfing and chatting, meeting our significant others and doing business. That figurative language is well-suited for a virtual world, but its a sign as well that we do not yet know how to speak directly of the experiences we have in that space.
Making rules in a space and place so hard to talk about is a tricky business. Even knowing what the rules are and who has made them can be a matter of argument. In an earlier book, Code: and other laws of cyberspace, Lessig, who recently left Harvard Law School (after clerking for judge Richard Posner and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia) for the edgier and more wired world of Stanford University, argued that the controlling forces in cyberspace are deeply programmed into the architecture and operation of the network. In this new and provocative book, he carries forward that argument with a freshened polemical thrust.
The heady early days of frontier Internet, he argues, have blinded us to the reality: the ranchers are moving in, fencing off the plains, dragging along behind them the lawyers and the schoolmarms and (given the acceleration of Internet time) the giant agribusiness conglomerates as well. The great landgrabs take many forms, and Lessig opposes all of them.
For example, in the news since this book was written, Lessig has succeeded in getting the Supreme Court to agree to hear the case of Eldred v. Ashcroft, in which an online publisher is contesting the constitutionality of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998. This act extends the term of copyright to the creators lifetime plus 70 years. In other words, as things stand now, Irving Berlins Alexanders Rag Time Band, written in 1911, will be protected by copyright until the year 2059, and money will go to Irving Berlins estate every time it is played until thenunless the copyright term is extended still further.
On such terms, Elvis Presley has already made more money dead than he did in his entire working career, and the estates of other pop artists of the last half century will be equally fortunate. Winnie the Pooh saw the light of day in 1926 and A.A. Milne died in 1956; Disney purchased the copyright some years ago but saw that the silly old bear would go free to roam the Hundred Acre Wood in 2006the new act keeps him penned up until 2026. The term of copyright has been frequently revised and extended in recent decades (every time Mickey Mouse is at risk of going out of copyright, Disneyphobes observe) with the effect that the extraordinary outpouring of creative work that has marked the post-WWII world shows signs of never going out of copyright.
Should we care? Lessig makes a powerful case that we should. He advances and refines in this book the notion of the commonsthe property shared by the citizenry, property essential to common creativity. Public spaces, common utilities (like highways), and creative work in the public domain are all places where the creativity of a culture can exercise itself to good effect. The fundamental technical dimensions of the Internet were constructed precisely to create a free and open space in which such commonality of interests could meet and interact fruitfully. But as that freedom has shown signs of impinging on the economic interests of the great media corporations, they have reacted by looking for technical and legal ways to restrict the possibilities of the new media in order to protect their old income. The other panicky legal enactment of 1998, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, makes it frighteningly illegal to do anything (or even engage in theoretical research about doing anything) that might undermine technical devices created to restrict access to copyrighted materials.
Lessig is a pessimist in some important ways. Unless we act vigorously in the public foraincluding the law courtsto oppose creeping protectionism, he argues, we will lose the freedom and opportunity that cyberspace offers. He stakes out a position that is neither left nor right, but libertarian and activist. An optimist in this space is one who holds that the power of the technical innovations already loose in the world is such that those who seek legal enactments to protect and restrict will in the end defeat themselves by their own cleverness and the energy of the culture will move elsewhere.
The optimists and pessimists share an important philosophical and societal issue. How far do we go in protecting the economic interests of individual and corporate members of the society? It can be argued that whats good for Disney is good for Americajobs are created, money changes hands, and prosperity flourishes. But how far must we go to protect Disney? Will we look back 20 years from now and see the Disneys of this age in the way we now look back at the Welsh coal mines of a generation agoindustries that have outlived their usefulness? Will legal enactments designed to protect the old economy turn out to be a burden to the new that is finally shaken off, too late to help those they were meant to protect?
Against Lessig, I am an optimist, but would gladly share with him the sense that old and deeply entrenched ways of thinking about business and the mass media are unlikely to survive, and unlikely to go quietly. This years Penn graduates will live to see a world, I believe, in which both Disney and Microsoft have faded or disappeared. (Lessigs book is published by Random House, once the cranky and creative offspring of Bennett Cerf, now a corporate wing of the German media conglomerate Bertelsmann. Its still a free country.)
To focus on the hot button issues raised here is to do an injustice to this book. It is very much a partisan case in favor of a series of positions about the future of an information society, and deserves to be read, considered, and argued about, but it is surprisingly well written and lucid, and surprisingly comprehensive. If you have found the sound bites and newsmagazine tidbits about the controversies and possibilities of the Internet age hard to follow, this book includes not only polemic but extraordinarily clear and comprehensible accounts of how the Internet works, how it came to work the way it does, and what the issues and possibilities of the present and foreseeable future will be. Many will disagree with Lessig, but all can learn from him.
Until July 1, when he became provost of Georgetown University, Dr. James J. ODonnell was professor of classical studies and vice provost for information systems and computing at Penn.
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 publishers.
FENTON HERTER III
Quentin Fenton Herter III remembered always to say Please, to wash behind his ears and knees. He never ran but always walked, and sat quite still when grown-ups talked. But Quentin Fenton has a shadow (named Quentin Fenton Herter Three). Never good and always bad, this Quentin loves to make a mess, break rules, and boss his friends. The two Quentins are careful to stay at arms length, but one afternoon, during a long, boring tea with doilies, dust and aged ones, each does something completely unexpected. Amy MacDonald has written a number of picture books in verse, including Rachel Fisters Blister and Cousin Ruths Tooth. She lives in Falmouth, Maine.
and The Eight
writes about eight legendary, enigmatic, and interrelated composer-pianists
of the instruments golden age and goes on to consider their present-day
advocate and interpreter, Marc-AndrÈ Hamelin. This book portrays The
EightAlkan, Busoni, Feinberg, Godowsky, Medtner, Rachmaninov, Scriabin,
and Sorabjias the pianos aural sensualists and explores the relationships
of their music, their music-making, their ideas, and their lives. When,
in 1996, Hamelin played a series of three recitals in New York featuring
works of the very composer-pianists Rimm was researching, Rimm struck
upon the idea of including him in this book; their collaboration took
the form of a series of long interviews as well as a CD, Marc-AndrÈ
Hamelin Plays the Composer-Pianists. Rimm teaches piano and
HISTORY OF PHOTOGRAPHY AS SEEN THROUGH THE SPIRA COLLECTION
From the very first dark rooms to the latest digital high-tech breakthroughs, the development of photography has changed the way in which Americans view their history and themselves. Looking through the prism of the Spira collectiona vast private assemblage of photographic equipment, images, books, and ephemerathis illustrated book chronicles photographic history as well as the emerging relationships between photography and other disciplines, such as painting, history, and the sciences. S.F. Spira, Eaton S. Lothrop, Jr., and Jonathan B. Spirafounder of the research firm Basexlecture and write frequently on photographica and the history and future of technology.
YOUNG ATHLETE: A Sports Doctors Complete Guide for Parents
Dr. Jordan D. Metzl, cofounder and medical director of the Sports Medicine Institute for Young Athletes in New York, fields many questions from parents on how to encourage safe sports play for their children. In response to the need for information of this kind, he has writtenwith Dr. Carol Shookhoffa guide to everything from working with the coach to preventing and treating sports injuries. Shookhoff, who lives in New York, writes frequently on educational issues and is the mother of a teenage soccer player who also plays basketball and lacrosse, and runs track.
INDIVIDUALITY IN WILLIAM KOTZWINKLES THE FAT MAN, E.T.,
Doctor RAT, AND OTHER WORKS OF FICTION AND FANTASY
This is the first full-length, critical study discussing at length all of the most ambitious novels of William Kotzwinkle. In addition to analytical examinations of his most prominent works, including The Fan Man and his adaptation of the film E.T., the book identifies patterns of coherence, recurring themes and subjects, and strategies of comic invention. Dr. Leon Lewis, an English professor at Appalachian State University, is the author of Henry Miller: The Major Writings and numerous articles on contemporary American and British writers.
ON THE AMERICAN YIDDISH STAGE
By the early 1890s, New York was fast becoming the worlds center for Yiddish theater. And Americas Yiddish actorsliving on Second Avenue and Manhattans Bowerywere wild about Shakespeare. This book constructs the history of this unique theatrical culture by focusing on the 1892 production of The Jewish King Lear and Yiddish versions of The Merchant of Venice, Hamlet, Othello, and Romeo and Juliet. Joel Berkowitz is assistant professor of modern Jewish studies at SUNY Albany.
THROUGH TIME: Walks of Life to the Nobel Prize
The discovery of the femtosecondone quadrillionth of a secondhas meant new ways of viewing molecular landscapes for scientists around the world. It has also meant, for the author, an unshared Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1999. Born in an Egyptian delta town, Dr. Ahmed Zewail chronicles the story of his personal life alongside the scientific achievements that took him to California and culminated in his invention of a laser camera to capture events in the split-second world of femtochemistry. Zewail is the Linus Pauling Chair of Chemistry and professor of physics at Caltech and director of the National Science Foundations Laboratory of Molecular Sciences. He was awarded the Grand Collar of the Nile, Egypts highest state honor.
PHILADELPHIA: University City to 52nd Street
In the first half of the 19th century, West Philadelphia consisted of farmland and virgin stands of timber. The area soon became home to wealthy businessmen who built elegant mansions and villas in University City and Powelton Village. West Philadelphias growth accelerated northward into Belmont and Parkside-Girard after the 1876 Centennial Exposition and westward into Cedar Park, Spruce Hill, and Walnut Hill in the 1890s with the introduction of electric trolley lines. This is the first photographic history of the area in the last 100 years. Images of modest West Philadelphia rowhouses, which slowly took over the open farmland after the Market Street Elevated opened in 1907, illustrate why Philadelphia became known as the City of Homes. Rarely seen photographs of the streets where people lived and worked fill this history. Robert Morris Skaler is a forensic architect and historian who has been collecting historic images of West Philadelphia for more than 35 years.
WOMENS VOTES: Propaganda and Politics in Weimar Germany
In November 1918, German women gained the right to vote. Suddenly, a deluge of written and visual propaganda addressing motherhood, fashion, religion, and abortion appeared, as campaigns for female support ignited across the political spectrum. This book documents the ways in which propagandaaimed at women by parties from Communist, to Catholic, to Nazisought to reconcile traditional assumptions about women with their new stance as voters. Dr. Julia Sneeringer is associate professor of history at Beloit College in Wisconsin.
TO THE HIGHEST BIDDER: The Presidency from Dwight D. Eisenhower to George
A broad indictment of the American presidency, this book laments the vast influence of money on elections and subsequent policies of all the occupants of the White House since Eisenhower. After detailing what he terms the legalized corruption of the American electoral system, Daniel Friedenberg calls for a series of reforms, including the use of new technology to create a more equitable future. He is president of John-Platt Enterprises, Inc., a New York general investment company.
DECISIONS: Getting it Right the First Time
High-speed decision making in the business world can be stressful, haphazard, and often unavoidable. This book attempts to pin down rapid thinking to a teachable, four-step science. Based on the authors 30 years of decision coaching at the University of Chicagos Center for Decision Research, it uses worksheets, questionnaires, and case studies to teach business professionals how to make intelligent decisions in an atmosphere of uncertainty. Dr. Paul J.H. Schoemaker is the founder, chair, and CEO of Decision Strategies International, Inc. and research director for the Emerging Technology Management Research Program at the Wharton School.
GLORY: A History of the Philadelphia Phillies
The Philadelphia Phillies have lost more games and finished in last place more times than any other Major League club. The lost seasons have established their reputation as one of the most unsuccessful teams ever to take the fieldbut even so, the Phillies have had some unforgettable players and notable triumphs. This work is a history of the baseball club from its inception in 1883, when the Worcester (Mass.) Brown Stockings moved to Philadelphia, through the 2000 season. David Jordan, an attorney, is also the author of The Athletics of Philadelphia: Connie Macks White Elephants, 1901-1954 and president of the Philadelphia As Historical Society.
DUEL OF GIANTS: Bismarck, Napoleon III, and the Origins of the Franco-Prussian
The clash of two extraordinary personalitiesOtto von Bismarck and Napoleon IIdrives this account of the events leading up to the Franco-Prussian War. Historian Dr. David Wetzel tells how this utterly avoidable war that unfolded in the brief, eventful days of July 1870 ushered in an era of power politics that would reach its apocalyptic climax in World War I. Wetzel, also author of The Diplomacy of the Crimean War, works in the administration of the University of California, Berkeley.
Reported to treat and prevent a host of illnesses, acupuncture has gained acceptance in this country in recent years; in response, this book aims to make acupuncture even more accessible. Providing advice on everything from the first visit to an acupuncturist to identifying the most easily treated diseases, the author explains this ancient system of medicine from a Western point of view. A clinical assistant professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, Dr. Glenn S. Rothfeld is also medical director of WholeHealth New England, Inc.
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