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Showing posts from April, 2017

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 …

Biggest Soccer Transfer News

Here's a good, quick summary of the latest international football transfer news, involving some of the absolute top players in the EPL: Alexis Sanchez, Zlatan, Diego Costa, Olivier Grioud, and others.


New Yorker Fiction Review #171: "Flower Hunters" by Lauren Groff

Review of a short story from the Nov. 21, 2016 issue of The New Yorker...

So...I recently saw Lauren Groff give a talk here in Pittsburgh, about her 2015 novel Fates and Furies. And I can say without doubt it was the most boring author reading/lecture I've ever been subjected to. I left after 15 minutes. Why?

First off, when anyone, anywhere, starts talking and gushing about Shakespeare, my eyes glaze over and I start looking for the nearest exit. But when an author starts talking about what a big influence Shakespeare has been on her work, and starts reading specific passages of Shakespeare plays and comparing them to parts of her own book, it's enough to make me want to puke.

This is what Lauren Groff did for the first 15 minutes of her talk a couple months ago and it angered me at a deep, deep level. I just feel it's incredibly pretentious and boring to claim influence of hallowed writers like Shakespeare and Homer. It would take me pages and pages to explain why. But I…