A Review of Mayhem by Elizabeth Harris
“A young woman climbing out of an old Essex in a cloche hat and a flowered maroon rummage-sale dress in front of the Prince Carl County courthouse, that’s what some observers will remember . . . part of her fascination, escorted and left waiting in the lemony light of the October morning, is that she seems almost in custody . . . she is the trial’s most intriguing spectacle, the origin of the crime, the modest, obedient, well-regarded woman taken in adultery.”
Riding to the opera through the New Mexican landscape of twilight mountains and ever shifting clouds, I wondered why Jennifer Higdon, a Pulitzer Prize-winning female composer, had chosen the novel Cold Mountain as a basis for her first opera.
Photo: J.D. Scott
I hadn’t come to Amsterdam for the food. Although I meant to sample regional dishes—mainly Dutch apple pie and pancakes—what I’d really come for was the art, the seventeenth-century houses, and the canals. I‘d reserved a place on a food tour that would take place the day before I left. It was later in my stay than I had hoped, but in the end, the very timing of my culinary excursion would reveal, as never before, the role that food tours can play in finding intimacy with a city—and, in this case, a city I hadn’t initially liked that much. Continue reading
Young people, and especially our children, can revive our capacity for wonder at the world and a sense of intimate connection to it. I felt closer to the landscape because I saw my daughter come alive to it with an intensity that no longer comes so easily to me.
I stand on high ground looking out at the Vale of Evesham, a wide expanse of grass, rows of darker trees, and distant hills of patchwork green. Clouds cluster overhead, sometimes threatening rain, sometimes parting to admit slants of sun and patches of bright blue sky. My daughter, who’s come with us on this trip to England, becomes part of the landscape, her scarf adding a splash of azure against the many shades of green, her face lit with a touch of light. I feel a rush of love for her and for the landscape as well.
To read this novel is to feel the wonder of life anew and to become, however momentarily, a better person.
It’s been said that women’s novels have great characters but that they never do anything. That depends on what you mean by do. In Alice McDermott’s Someone, an unexceptional woman, Marie Commeford, is born into a lace-curtain Irish household in Brooklyn in the 1920s and undergoes familiar rites of passages—childhood, sexual awakening, work, marriage, children, and growing old. Such family and neighborhood-centered experiences—as lived by women at least—are often construed as non-events in a culture dominated by action adventure plots about heroic—and usually male—risk, struggle, and ultimate victory or defeat. But in Someone these “non-events” are rendered with such emotional and sensuous fullness that they bring home, with new force, the existential conditions in which we all live. Continue reading
“Even siblings we don’t see, who live differently from us, who move in their own world, may be shoring up our lives, our sense of family, our feeling of being at home in the world without our knowing it.”
Two years ago, in March, my younger brother died, quite unexpectedly. He’d been my only sibling and, both of our parents being gone, the only other person left from our original family. His daughter had asked my daughter to tell me the news. “Mom?” she said on the phone, and the sorrow in her voice stopped my breathing. Had something awful happened — to her? “Gary died.” Continue reading
There are as many forms of love as there are moments in time. Jane Austen, private letters.
I met him in graduate school during the early sixties, the kind of smart, studious young man I‘d always been drawn to but never managed to date. He said “oops” a lot and was so funny that being in his company felt like having childhood for the first time. He knew music, wrote poetry in a serious way, and was, in my eyes, the smartest person in our circle. We only saw each other in a group or in a threesome, but we began to rest in each other‘s company, to draw close without touching. Continue reading
It’s walking through one door that enables you to try the next.
While writing a blog about “retirement as an open door,” I decided this August to attend a Screenwriters Conference in Los Angeles and, despite my reluctance to embarrass myself in public, signed up to present my screenplay at the conference “Pitch Fest.” The latter was to consist of sixty to eighty tables staffed with representatives from film agencies and production companies. Participants would line up at tables, pitch their scripts for three minutes, receive two minutes of critique, and then move to the next table on their list. A form of speed dating, I called it, in which all your dates are there for the express purpose of giving you criticism. I feared it like I feared sporting a bikini–thirty years after it looked good on me. The average age of script readers has been pegged at 22 to 27 years. Would I be the oldest person there? Continue reading
Avid Reader, Davis
The question of who gets to be a story teller and of whose stories are read and acknowledged is crucial–not just for women, but for men and for the way civil society as a whole is constructed.
The “She Writes” in my title alludes to two things–my publisher, She Writes Press, and the fact that more women are writing for public consumption than ever before. One factor in the surge of Continue reading
“The door is only a door. It makes no promises.”
Earlier today I read about a screenwriting conference to be held mid-August in Los Angeles. The conference will include the usual workshops, speakers, and panels along with a “pitch slam”–a chaotic, noise-filled event at which a hundred or so screenwriters line up to describe their scripts to sixty agents and producers. The screenwriter’s “pitch” is followed by three minutes of critique from the agent.
Were I to attend this conference, I’m certain I would be the oldest person there. (I’ve seen pictures of these gatherings, and aspiring screenwriters, along with most agents and producers, appear to be pushing twenty-seven.) I can already imagine the awkwardness, the possible alienation, I might experience, and yet I’m strongly thinking about going and about paying to do the pitch. (Imagine speed dating in which it’s understood that all your “dates” are there for the express purpose of being critical.)