Books

Skylight Confessions by Alice Hoffman

Connie Ogle [The Miami Herald]

A troubled family struggles toward redemption in Alice Hoffman's 'Skylight Confessions'.


Skylight Confessions

Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
ISBN: 0316058785
Author: Alice Hoffman
Price: $24.99
Length: 272
Formats: Hardcover
US publication date: 2007-01
Amazon

The magic that permeates Alice Hoffman's novels flows from a source more redemptive than the dark headwaters from which spring nastier fairy tales. And yet Hoffman's modern-day sorcery is not benign. In her new novel, a downbeat but enchanting generational drama, a ghost haunts the guilty; a pearl necklace absorbs and reflects the shades of its owner's moods, and bold souls who have the nerve to rise above their sorrow often find themselves literally tumbling to the ground.

Supernatural elements often arise in Hoffman's work, but her matter-of-fact tone casts an easy spell of acceptance, transforming the fantastic into the unremarkable outcome of a topsy-turvy world. And so it's not difficult to believe that young Arlyn Singer may accept her father's tales about men who can sprout wings and bear themselves from harm.

Arlyn's father is not so blessed. He dies, leaving a 17-year-old sure that her future will unfold like a flower at the hands of the first man who stumbles along. (While apparently familiar with fantasy, Arlyn is not so well-versed in feminism.) She is "young enough not to see a glass as half empty or half full, but as a beautiful object into which anything might be poured."

But Hoffman, Yankee magical realist that she is, also possesses a wide streak of pragmatism: Destiny, not benevolent, sends Yale student John Moody into Arlyn's arms, where he lingers for several days, then flees.

Through persistence, denial and what we would uncomfortably define as stalking, Arlyn manages to ensnare John, but Hoffman quickly forestalls notions of great romance. Assigning arbitrary motives to fate, she seems to say, has its consequences. The unhappy union leads to betrayals, a tragedy and a legacy of sorrow for the next generation: wild, wayward Sam and book-loving Blanca. They will spend troubled childhoods in the famous Glass Slipper, an architectural marvel that Hoffman uses to accentuate a hard truth. With glass panels and reflective swimming pools, the spectacular house shelters but can't quite comfort the brooding or inconsolable.

Hoffman uses imagery of the elements, particularly water, to create a somber, otherworldly atmosphere, although she goes overboard in her attempt to convey wonder and meaning with trite dream sequences. But Skylight Confessions -- which also introduces the sensitive misfit Meredith, who believes a ghost has led her to Sam and Blanca -- refuses to give in to despair. There is a path toward healing.

Pay attention: "A road map isn't easy to follow. Any document made of blood and bones is tricky. Wrong turns are easily made, and there are often piles of stones in the road. A person has to disregard time and sorrow and all the damage done. If you follow, if you dare, the thread always leads to whomever or whatever you've forgotten."

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

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TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

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The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

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To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

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