Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2017

New Yorker Fiction Review #181: "Underground" by David Gilbert

Review of a short story from the Feb. 6, 2017 issue of The New Yorker...

A couple posts ago I wrote about what I called "metro" stories -- those concerning middle-class, urban white people with problems that aren't really problems -- and David Gilbert's effort here, "Underground," almost qualifies except that the main character is really rich, and gay, so it's a bit more intriguing than your average ho-hum metro story.

If you're looking for a way to kill 45 minutes before you drift off to sleep (as I was last night) then sure, you can allow yourself to be pulled into the world of a 47 year old gay man in Manhattan, from a wealthy family that owns original Marc Chagall paintings and thinks that $70,000 is "cheap" for a piece of art; a man who came out of the closet only two years before and is feeling all the ups and downs of his new life, the freedom, the restrictions, the new dating possibilities, the effect it's had on him as a fathe…

New Yorker Fiction Review #180: "Quarantine" by Alex Ohlin

Review of a short story from the Jan. 30, 2017 issue of The New Yorker...

It's difficult to encapsulate a person's entire adult life into a short story, perhaps the most difficult thing to do. It is the act of squeezing the entire horizon of someone's view -- their whole context for being alive on this planet, for understanding their own existence and all their experiences -- into 4,000 words or 30 minutes. So it's forgivable if the result -- the story -- makes for less-than-compelling reading material at times; there is just no way to make it interesting the whole way through. The only hope is to cover the important and most poignant emotions and experiences and hope to tie it up properly at the end, which Alex Ohlin does extremely well.

This particular short story follows the adult life of Bridget, a young Canadian woman living in Barcelona in her early 20s. Much like most people's actual lives (hope I'm not sounding to jaded here but let's face it) the m…

New Yorker Fiction Review #179: "Constructed Worlds" by Elif Batuman

Review of a short story from the Jan. 23, 2017 issue of The New Yorker...

Many times a short story starts off slow and it takes a while to get into it. Many times a short story starts out so slowly that you never get into it at all. Not the case with "Constructed Worlds," by Elif Batuman. In this case, the story started out really well but kind of tapered out to the finish. Still, it was good.

Set in the mid-90s, the story covers the main character's (presumably Batuman's own) first semester at college. There is something heart-breakingly touching about Batuman's re-telling of this phase of her life. Perhaps heart-breaking because it reminds me of my own first days at college and how everything -- every new person I met, every new adventure I had, every success and failure -- all felt heightened and more significant in a way that it probably never will again.

Batuman really hooked me with her opening passages in which she describes her first encounters with the n…

New Yorker Fiction Review #178: "Chairman Spaceman" by Thomas Pierce

Review of a short story from the Jan. 16, 2017 issue of The New Yorker...

This is the third time in four and half years that I've been exposed to the work of Thomas Pierce in the pages of The New Yorker and this story, "Chairman Spaceman," is undoubtedly my favorite yet. His other two New Yorker stories -- "Ba Baboon" and "This is an Alert" -- were both entertaining but felt ill-formed and half-baked, as I recall. In "Chairman Spaceman," Thomas Pierce comes a lot closer to what I'd call a fully-functional short story...and still there seems to be something missing.

By way of a slight recap: Dom Whipple, a reformed corporate tyrant, has joined a "church" that is sending a mission to a far-off, recently-discovered planet. He will travel for 15 years in a frozen state, and live out his days as a colonist on the new planet. It's not 100% clear why Whipple wants to do this, but it sounds like he feels guilty for being such a bad-…

New Yorker Fiction Review #177: "On the Street Where You Live," by Yiyun Li

Review of a short story from the Jan. 9, 2017 issue of The New Yorker...

Since my subscription to The New Yorker has elapsed (first time in four years!) I've had to start listening to the short stories online, instead of reading them in the physical issue. I've had to do this periodically over the years when I lost a particular issue or occasionally just felt like it. Thankfully, The New Yorker publishes a full transcript of each of its short stories as well as (for most of them) an audio feed of the actual author reading the story. It's almost as if they want to make it as easy as possible for people to have access to good fiction so... thanks, New Yorker. Some day I promise to start subscribing again.

Anyway, "On the Street Where You Live," by Yiyun Li, is a rather long short story about a young mother, Becky, coping with her six year old son's autism. Told in close third person, the story examines Becky's internal struggles to process and deal with her…

New Yorker Fiction Review #176: "Most Die Young" by Camille Bordas

Review of a short story from the Jan. 2, 2017 (!!) issue of The New Yorker...

Yes, I'm six (6) months behind in my New Yorker short story reviewing. Almost seven. But, no time for self-flagellation. I do plenty of that in the course my normal, every day life. So...
The short story "Most Die Young," by Camille Bordas, fits neatly into a category I have come to call a "metro fiction" (not to be confused  with the early-2000s term "metrosexual"). To me, metro stories are those about urban, educated, middle-class or upper-middle-class white people in their 30s, 40s, and 50s whose problems are mostly existential (things such as: does Billy like me, I feel alone, did I marry the wrong person, should I break up with this person, should I date this person, what should I do with my life, did my parents really love me, etc., etc. as opposed to: I have a terminal disease or I'm starving or the local cheiftan is trying to kill me, etc.) and about them dealing…

The Tour de France

Most people know the Tour de France is a bicycle race that takes place in France, and that's about it. In fact, that is precisely all I knew about the Tour de France until last summer when I got hooked on it. My goal is for you to get hooked on it as well or at least come away from reading this post with some degree of understanding of what the race is.

In case you didn't know, La Grande Boucle (the Tour's nickname, meaning "the big loop") happens to be going on right now, and will be going on for just about the next two weeks. So if you've ever had any interest in the race whatsoever, now is the time to tune-in and at least attempt to get sucked-in. First, let me help you out with this (very) beginners guide to the Tour de France:

What You Need to Know About the Tour de France (the absolute basics):

The full Tour de France is 3,500 km (2,200 mi) longThe race is completed in 21 phases or "stages" that take place throughout France; one stage is comple…

Movie Review: Baby Driver (2017)

Saw this film at the Manor Theater in Squirrell Hill last night (which, incidentally, is a great place to see a film; there's a little bar/lounge area inside and you can take your drink into the movie). If a poster has ever sold a film, this film's poster sold me. All I needed to know was a.) it was called Baby Driver, which alone was enough for me, b.) it looked like a classic block-buster summer action movie, precisely the kind of movie you need to see on a hot summer night in the comfort of your local air-conditioned theater. I mean...look at that poster. 
I love a good car chase film, and haven't really seen a good one since Drive (2011) which absolutely blew me away. Baby Driver has some of the arty, carefully-produced and stylized qualities of Drive, but Baby Driver tries to be -- and succeeds -- at being a bit more light-hearted and fun. 
What are some of the high-points of this film?
Incredible car-chase scenes, naturally; some of the best I've ever seenKiller s…

USMNT 2 - 0 Trinidad & Tobago

This was the win the U.S. needed and wanted, but based on what I saw last night, I'm not feeling real great about our chances vs. Mexico.

Trinidad & Tobago looked like they were suffering from altitude sickness most of the night (so did the U.S. in the first half), and at some point the game felt like target practice until -- thanks to the magic of Christian Pulisic -- we managed to build two nice goals. Mexico will not be as forgiving.

I think we can stagger our way into the World Cup finals in Russia thanks to, let's face it, pretty weak competition in the CONCACAF other than Mexico, but I don't see us walking away from Sunday night's game in Mexico City with any points to show for it.

The Indianapolis 500

I lived in Indianapolis for five years before I made it to my first Indianapolis 500, but since then I've been to every single one. This year's -- the race's 101st running -- was my fourth in a row, and though I no longer live in Indianapolis, I will be going back every single year I possibly can, for as long as I can. It is without a doubt my favorite holiday and my favorite day of the year.

Here's basically how a typical day at the Indy 500 breaks down (well, my typical day at the Indy 500):
Assuming you're staying in Indy, you leave for the track at about 8:00 AMTraffic depending, you get to your parking spot by about 9:00 AM9:01 AM start drinking11:45 AM leave for the walk to the trackNoon, get settled in for all the pre-race festivities ("America the Beautiful," "Back Home in Indiana," and the "National Anthem")Noon - 3:00 PM watch cars go whizzing by you at 200+ MPH3:00 PM to 5:00 PM work on getting back to your car and clear of a…

Review: Death of a Salesman, starring Zach Grenier, at the O'Reilly Theater (Pittsburgh)

Most of the works of fiction and theater that are closest to my heart are those that I read or saw first in my high school years. Not sure why this is, except that I had a couple outstanding literature teachers at the Linsly School -- specific shout-outs to Mssrs. Robert Hunter and Robert Fisher -- who breathed life into such American classics like Death of a Salesman at a time when my mind was more supple and impressionable than it is now and (perhaps more importantly) I had more time to pore over works of literature and absorb them. For this reason I have always had a soft spot for Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller...and also because it's a fantastic play.

What's amazing when you go back and re-read or re-watch something that you were first exposed to as a teenager is how differently it resonates with you. Reading this play at age 17 meant something completely different to me than watching it 20 years later. At 17 I pitied and even scoffed at the desperate characters of…

Restaurant Review: Gaucho Parrilla Argentina (Pittsburgh)

Let's start with the good stuff first:

Great atmosphere. Ate at this restaurant on a beautiful spring evening recently, out on their side patio, with a nice view overlooking the North Side of Pittsburgh. It has a great rustic yet contemporary South American feel. Great menu. If you're a meat-lover you'll have tons of options (after all parrilla means grill in Spanish) at Gaucho Parrilla Argentina. So many great steak-based dishes, one trip is not nearly enough.  Now, to the kvetches:
Bad logistical setup. Gaucho Parrilla Argentina has chosen to eschew the normal restaurant format of "sit down, order the meal, have someone bring it to you, eat" in favor of the format of "stand in line for 30 minutes and order at the counter" format. I don't know why this seemed like a good idea to them, but I can personally attest that I never even encountered this style of restaurant when I was in Argentina myself. So...idk what's up here. Portions are a little m…

New Yorker Fiction Review #174: "Pardon Edward Snowden"

Review of a short story from the Dec. 12, 2016 issue of The New Yorker...

This is a short story about a poet (meta) who gets asked to sign a petition regarding Edward Snowden. The petition is in the form of a poem -- called, in the story, a "poetician" -- and in the story the poet, Mark McClain thinks to himself: "...why not just have a petition in the form of a petition? Why drag the poem into the muck?"

Well...I might ask Joseph O'Neill why, if he wants to make a grandiose statement about the purity of the poetic art form, the noble struggles of the unheralded keepers of the flame of "real" poetry, about what a travesty it is that Bob Dylan got the Noble Prize for Literature, then drag this short story into the muck, why not just write an essay about it? The essay would have been far more entertaining, intersting, and convincing than this insipid and pretentious piece of "fiction."

The older I get, the less and less "serious" I g…

International Soccer Star Zlatan Ibrahimovic Treated at UPMC

Rarely do the worlds of top-level international football and the city of Pittsburgh collide but...apparently, Swedish soccer legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic had knee surgery this week at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and is still here in town recovering. Granted, for all the actual impact this has on my life, he might as well be having surgery on Mars. But what kind of football fan would I be if the news that one of the all-time legends of the sport was being treated in my town -- hell, in my neighborhood -- didn't make me at least a little bit excited.

For those of you who don't know, Zlatan is a living legend and one of the most prolific goal-scorers in soccer history, having put more than 400 balls into the back of the onion bag in his professional career, a career which started when he was 17, with Malmo FF. He has since played for the likes of AFC Ajax, Juventus FC, FC Internazionale Milano, FC Barcelona, AC Milan, Paris St-Germain FC, and currently Manchester U…

New Yorker Fiction Review #173: "Tiny Man" by Sam Shepard

Review of a short story from the Dec. 5, 2016 issue of The New Yorker...

Good thing that short stories -- unlike the news -- don't get old, because I'm way, way behind once again. At five months behind, probably the farthest behind I've ever been on my New Yorker short story reviewing. But stories like "Tiny Man," by Sam Shepard, make me glad I keep doing this.

Based on the story's opening, I thought this was going to be magic realism, which I'm not a super huge fan of. But as it progressed, it turned into a finely-crafted meditation on fathers and sons, adolescence, love, lust, and even forgiveness. Sam Shepard is a playwright (as well as an actor, whom you might remember from The Right Stuff or The Pelican Brief) and while I don't usually look for great prose fiction from playwrights, the writing in "Tiny Man" -- the craftsmanship -- is to me what makes this short story unique and memorable.

The short story takes place in two rotating &quo…

Newcastle United FC is Coming Back to the English Premier League

After trouncing Preston North End FC yesterday to the tune of 4 - 1, my reluctantly beloved English football squad Newcastle United FC have successfully dug their way out of the League Championship (the 2nd division of English football) and secured a place in the English Premier League for the 2017/2018 season. Oh, what a fine day it is.

This means a couple of things:

1.) I can actually watch Newcastle United again on TV. The League Championship is shown only on Sky Sports, and watching that requires some combination of subscriptions to streaming services that I'm just not willing to pony up for at this point.

2.) Saturday mornings will now be more a source of stress than pleasure. It has not been easy being a Newcastle United supporter; the club have struggled badly in the EPL during the two seasons I followed them. In 2015 they came in 17th. Last year they were abysmal, and were relegated. Moments of joy have been extremely rare. I'd like to be optimistic, but the fact is: …

Thai Place in Shadyside has closed

Shadyside's very own place for awesome Thai food and not-so-awesome service -- the aptly-named Thai Place -- has closed it's doors. Permanently? I'm not sure, but something in my bones tells me Thai Place ain't comin' back. This place has been a Shadyside institution at least since I was in college back in the year *ahem*...I can even recall eating there with a friend when I was 19 and ordering a Thai beer and not being carded, back in the days when I.D.-ing people was still sort of optional.

Flash forward to modern day, and Thai Place had become my favorite neighborhood restaurant for a quick pad Thai or a bowl of curry on a cold winter's night to clear up the sinuses. Good food and not super expensive. However, I'm not super suprised it's closing, for two reasons:

1.) There was barely ever anyone eating in the restaurant. In fact, the place always had a little bit of that eerie, "David Lynch movie" kind of feeling. You felt like you were be…

Juventus 3-0 Barcelona, Champions League Quarter Final Leg 1

I saw the portion of this game leading up to half time (a little thing called "work" got in the way of my enjoying the whole game), just as Juventus had gone up 2-0 and was tucked into full scale Italian "catenaccio" mode: essentially a stifling defensive posture that allows nothing past its gates. I missed all the goals (natch); two by Paulo Dybala and one by Georgio Chiellini (pictured celebrating). You may (but probably not) remember Chiellini as the Italian player Luis Suarez did his Dracula impression on back in the 2014 World Cup, earning his exit from the tournament and dismissal from Liverpool FC. Which, let's face it, Liverpool got the worst of that deal it seems...

There's nothing better that I like to see than Barcelona go down, especially in a clean sheet and in a big tournament like the Champions League. Where does this sudden hatred of Barcelona come from? I'm a fan of the underdog, remember...and not the Juventus is the underdog (not by a…

Australian Rules Football

To hell with soccer. That's right, I said to hell with soccer. Australian Rules Football is where it's really at.

Known as Aussie Rules Football or "footy," this sport seems to combine the best aspects of soccer and rugby into a rugged, fast-paced game I've never seen the likes of. I can't believe this sport is not more popular in the United States, except that we're probably too wussie to play it over here.

I've spent exactly one evening watching footy and maybe it's just late at night, but I'm feeling a new addiction coming on. Why is this sport more appealing than other forms of football?

American football: Play stops and starts so much there's something like 10 minutes of actual playing time in an entire 60 minute game. Endless penalties and commercial breaks try my limited attention span. Rugby football: For me, this sport is too choppy and the tackling and formations too unnatural. It's like a highly structured form of thuggery, …

New Yorker Fiction Review #172: "The Hanging of the Schoolmarm" by Robert Coover

Review of a short story from the Nov. 28, 2016 issue of The New Yorker...

Getting closer to being caught up here, and tiny-little stories like this one help a lot so...thanks Robert Coover!

Anyhoo...bizarre little story from master fabulist and meta-fictionalist Robert Coover, but what Robert Coover story isn't bizarre, I ask you? Along with Steven Millhauser, Robert Coover has got to be one of my favorite writers in The New Yorker's fiction writing stable. I place his writing in the same sort of ballpark as Kurt Vonnegut (yeah, yeah I can just hear the gasps from the Vonnegut devotees) in that while you're reading it you are constantly entertained, even if you frequently have to ask yourself: "What the hell am I reading about?"

For example, "The Hanging of the Schoolmarm," in which a group of cowboys gets fed up of playing cards with a proselytizing, over officious schoolmarm -- who is also handy with a pistol -- and decide to have her hanged. Only in C…

DiAnoia's Eatery in Pittsburgh (Strip District)

From the outside it looks like a garage or a diner/cafeteria style joint, but I assure you at DiAnoia's Eatery in the Strip District, right here in Pittsburgh, Pa. you will have the best Italian food you've ever had outside Italy. 
What did I have:
Appetizer: Cauliflower baked in a ricotta/pesto sauce First course(s): Squid ink spaghetti with oil & garlic Papardelle in a veal osso buco ragu Main course: Roasted Branzino  Dessert: assorted Italian cookies and espresso
I don't even know where to start other than to say DiAnoia's knocked it dead on absolutely every one of these dishes. To me the real highlight of the meal was the squid ink spaghetti. It's not something you find very often on menus in this country, and it's not for everyone. But these guys nailed it; the homemade noodles (black) would have been tasty enough on their own, but the come in a nice, light garlic and oil sauce, tossed with pieces of fresh, lightly roasted squid. Unbelievable.
Points …