Sitting across from crime novelist Don Winslow, I’m finding it hard to reconcile this soft-spoken, bespectacled man of 61 with the scene I keep replaying in my head: a drug kingpin throwing two children off a bridge to send a message to a rival. I’ve had nightmares about this scene.
The kingpin is Adán Barrera, heir to a Mexico-based international drug syndicate and a main character in Winslow’s 2005 novel, The Power of the Dog, which documented the birth of the Drug Enforcement Administration and its much-maligned war on drugs. In The Cartel, the hefty sequel that came out in June, Winslow revisits that war and America’s role in it, while Barrera revives his longtime enmity with DEA maverick Art Keller—the so-called “Border Lord”—and everyone from local dope boys to corrupt police officers to prostitutes-turned-traffickers gets caught up in their blood feud, or killed. Often both.
In the past 25 years, Winslow has written more than a dozen novels, many of them also focused on California, Mexico and the drug trade. The SoCal native specializes in thrillers whose breezy pacing and casual language belie the seriousness of their subject matter. In 1997’s The Death and Life of Bobby Z, a hapless prisoner is asked by the DEA to infiltrate the compound of a deceased drug lord with whom he happens to share a resemblance. In 2006’s The Winter of Frankie Machine, a retired hit man tries to outrun his mob past and a lengthy list of would-be killers. In 2010’s Savages, two best friends and marijuana dealers are recruited by a cartel after their shared girlfriend is kidnapped and held for ransom. Continue reading
Oh, how I missed Christian Grey. His stoic intensity, his impeccable suit collection, his way with small words. His twisted cliche of a past and complacent cliche of a future. His contempt for normal relationships and yet powerlessness in the face of the most boring woman on earth. His playroom. His NDA. His overtly metaphorical hatred of being touched.
If there’s anything we’ve learned about E.L. James in the four years since the runaway success of Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed—125 million sold and counting!—it’s that there is zero shame in her game. At one point in 2012, James was reportedly making $1.34 million a week from the series, and rumors of her aggressive presence on the set of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie suggest she’s come a long way from the bemused passivity that typified those early days after FSOG took off. James is the repressed housewife’s J.K. Rowling, living proof that in the age of the blockbuster—movie, album, even book—a rising tide lifts all boats. Like, any boat.
Given Fifty Shades’ ascendancy, it’s little surprise that James has revived the now well-worn tale of elusive sadist millionaire Christian Grey and his (spoiler) semi-submissive-turned-wife, Anastasia Steele. That revival comes in the form of Grey, a retelling of the inaugural FSOG from Christian’s perspective (the original, for those of you with better things to do, was from Anastasia’s). In so many ways, Grey was inevitable—as inevitable as Rowling’s The Tales of Beetle the Bard—because when something clicks with the public, we beat it to death with adoration and replication until it becomes banal in the vast landscape of doppelgangers we’ve created. Consumers of culture—in large part American consumers of culture—are the Lenny to creativity’s puppy. We nurture it and pet it and love it and squeeze it until it dies. After all, this is the country that created eight Fast & Furious movies. Continue reading
In an interview on ESPN last week, Jerry Seinfeld became the latest comedian to decry a culture of political correctness that he says is ruining stand-up. “I don’t play colleges, but I hear a lot of people tell me don’t go near colleges,” Seinfeld told ESPN Radio host Colin Cowherd. “They’re so PC.”
Seinfeld’s sentiments—which sparked predictable backlash and several op-eds by affronted college students—echoed complaints made by Chris Rock in an interview with New York magazine last year. “I stopped playing colleges, and the reason is because they’re way too conservative,” Rock said. “Not in their political views—not like they’re voting Republican—but in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody.”
The comedian outcry against PC culture—Bill Maher, Jeff Ross, Dave Chappelle and others have publicly empathized with complaints about audience oversensitivity—is predicated on a certain belief about comedy: that it’s an art form worth protecting, even when its practitioners cross traditionally sacrosanct lines. “You don’t want comedy watered down; you want it potent,” Ross said during an appearance on HBO’s Real Time last week. “[Comedians] have a responsibility to shine a light on the darkest aspects of society.” (Incidentally, a Comedy Central special in which Ross “roasted” criminals at a maximum-security Texas jail aired on Saturday.)
Stacked up against the cultural institutions of film, music, literature and art, it’s easy to forget the legacy of comedy, which goes back as far as Ancient Greece—or Lenny Bruce, depending on your perspective. After all, we have roughly 84 reality shows focused on singing, and just one—NBC’s middling Last Comic Standing—devoted to stand-up. That’s as many shows about comedy as there are about dog grooming, diving from extreme heights or dating naked. Continue reading
Remember a few months ago when I told you Andy Weir’s stranded-in-space sci-fi novel The Martian is amazing and deserves all the great attention it’s getting as well as its Ridley-Scott-directed, Matt-Damon-starring movie adaptation? Well the trailer came out today and it looks GOOD.
If you haven’t read this book yet, jump on it.
Tis the season of the beach read, and nothing says beach read like Hitler and slavery.
TITLE: Summer House With Swimming Pool
AUTHOR: Herman Koch
PAGES: 387 (in paperback)
ALSO WROTE: The Dinner
SORTA LIKE: Tom Perrotta meets Bret Easton Ellis
FIRST LINE: “I am a doctor.”
Summer House With Swimming Pool is Koch’s second novel translated into English from the original Dutch (I reviewed the first, The Dinner, a few weeks ago). Like The Dinner, SHWSP is a creepy suspenseful family drama involving parents’ actions when it comes to their children.
Doctor Marc Schlosser and his family—wife Caroline and daughters Julia and Lisa—find themselves becoming friends with Marc’s patient, famous actor Ralph Meier, and his family, whom the Schlossers ultimately join on a vacation at the Meier’s summer house. While Marc wiles away his vacay passively loathing Ralph (while half-assedly wooing Judith), both families are suddenly affected by a tragic event that forces them to contend with their true feelings about each other. Continue reading
I suppose it’s not surprising that someone let Chris Harrison write a book. The diminutive all-American host of The Bachelor and Bachelorette has participated in some 29 seasons of televised romantic Hunger Games, during which time he’s perfected the art of soberly watching men and women choose their future fiancees via a series of melodramatic flower handouts. It doesn’t much matter whether the bachelor/ette is bubbly or reserved, smart or dim-witted, good at juggling two-dozen potential significant others or hilariously ill-equipped. Regardless, Harrison is there, be-suited and poker-faced, his benignly sympathetic countenance a cross between the earnest enthusiasm of Carson Daly hosting The Voice and the thinly veiled smugness of Alex Trebek on Jeopardy. Harrison has no qualms about proclaiming each season of The Bachelor “the most controversial ever,” and is a master at addressing “Bachelor Nation” without smirking. One might even think he believes in it all: the frenzied, tumbling romances; the grand proclamations; the too-soon engagements. At the very least, Harrison knows one thing about love: It sells. Continue reading
Every single person in The Dinner, Herman Koch’s 300-page bottle episode of a psychological thriller, is just the absolute worst.
Set in Amsterdam (the book is translated from its original Dutch), The Dinner is about two couples who go to a fancy dinner together to discuss a pressing matter involving their respective children. Paul Lohman, attending the evening’s festivities with his wife Claire, is a former teacher with a petulant attitude and an impatient streak, both of which he exercises freely against his brother Serge, who, along with his wife Babette, makes up the rest of the dinner party. Serge’s burgeoning candidacy for Netherlands prime minister is but one of many things about him that irks the shit out of Paul. Continue reading