Review of Everybody’s Fool – The New Novel from Richard Russo

Anyone who doubts that literature still presents the finest exploration of humanity and the “greatest opportunity for moral inquiry,” to use a phrase from Christopher Hitchens, need only begin with Richard Russo’s new novel, Everybody’s Fool.

In my newest essay for Salon, I review and evaluate the magnificent new novel from Richard Russo, Everybody’s Fool.

Russo is one of America’s greatest living writers. With humor and pathos, he is able to oscillate between comedy and tragedy, to reveal the recesses of race and class, and offer profound insight into the complexity of human psychology.

While his newest novel is not among his best work – The Risk Pool, Nobody’s Fool, and Straight Man – it is a remarkable achievement guaranteed to entertain and enlighten anyone who takes the journey inside of its pages.

Read my analysis here.

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Interview with Daryl Hall, and Follow Up Essay on Right Wing Insanity

I recently interviewed legendary singer/songwriter Daryl Hall for Salon. We had an interesting conversation about a wide range of topics related to his television program, soul music, his career, and the “backward idiots” who run the music industry. I also asked for his insight on the contemporary debate surrounding “cultural appropriation.” When Hall launched a ballistic assault on critics who cry cultural appropriation over everything from dreadlocks to pop music, I replied with the words “I agree with you entirely.”

The conversation then ended on a friendly note, and it is available here.

A few days later, the right wing social media mob created a weird and warped narrative, more indicative of their narrow worldview than anything else, that I attacked Hall with my neutral question, and that by giving an impassioned response, he “destroyed” me.

As much as I hate to get involved with the right wing insanity that occasionally breaks out after I write an essay or conduct an interview, this was too deranged and demented to ignore. I wrote a follow up essay for Salon, which becomes a reflection on the sad and fragile state of most Twitter users.

Read it here.

We Must Shame Trump Supporters

In my latest essay for Salon, I fend off accusations of smugness and snobbery (fine, whatever) by examining the racist roots of the Trump movement, and celebrate the social tactic of shaming as the only viable tactic to defeat the strange coalition of white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, and xenophobes who do not compose the entirety of Trump’s base, but are, without question, his most vociferous admirers.

Some naive leftists believe that the working class status of Trump supporters should immunize them against criticism and condemnation. There is no valid excuse or justification for bigotry, chauvinism, and ignorance. I will not defend or downplay racism simply because the racists are poor.

Read it here.

New Essay at Salon: Norman Mailer and Understanding the Cultural Influence of Presidents

In my new essay for Salon, I revisit the late Norman Mailer’s brilliant essay on John F. Kennedy and the cultural impact of Presidents  – “Superman Goes to the Supermarket.”

The essay applies to the current race, given that one of the dangers of a Trump Presidency, or even a Cruz Presidency, is the ugly and crass cultural influence they present.

Read the essay at Salon.

(FILES) Undated file picture of late pro

New Essay at Salon: Public Education is The Most Important Issue in the USA, But No One Discusses It

Rather than discussing several manufactured crises and phony catastrophes – like terrorism and illegal immigration – American politics would contribute much more to the improvement of the country with focus and emphasis on public education.

The widespread ignorance and illiteracy among the American populace is a true disaster, and it demands aggression and vigilance.

In my recent essay for Salon, I tackle the issue of education in the United States, and analyze the economic, social, and political consequences of neglecting educational infrastructure.

Condolezza Rice recently co-chaired a task force on educational reform, and concluded that the problem of school dysfunction is so severe it amounts to a national security crisis.

Read my essay at Salon.

Jim Harrison, R.I.P.

The stillness of this earth
which we pass through
with the precise speed of our dreams
– Jim Harrison, Returning to Earth, 1977

When I announced to my mother the sad news of Jim Harrison’s death, she said, “He was your buddy.”

At first I found the comment odd. Although he was my favorite living writer, I had never met the man. My mother was not confused. She understood exactly what she was implying, and after a few moments of introspection, I was able to reach into the darkness of my own mind, and grasp onto the small piece of truth in my own experience as a person dedicated to reading and making sentences.

A good friend and former teacher of mine, Roger, recommended I read Harrison’s breakout collection of novellas, Legends of the Fall, when I was in college. Before I could make good on his wise advice, he called me; “Don’t buy the Harrison book. I just went to Borders and bought it for you.”

When I saw him a few weeks later, I did not realize that when he placed the book in my hand, he was not merely passing on a literary gift of excellence. My old friend was introducing me to a new friend.

Jim Harrison once said that he read more for “strength than pleasure.” With Harrison’s own novels and poetry, I found an abundance of both, and his hard-boiled beauty was much like an endless supply of life affirming water to continually help fill the reservoir of my spirit.

I read and reread many of his books, always seemingly able to alchemize his poetry and story into a centering force in my life. His words, as a writer but more importantly as a man, helped me get my bearings, and reminded me of what truly has value in a world too often eager to evaluate everything according to a commercial criterion. If there is one glimpse into reality a reader can consistently get from Harrison it is that life is for enjoyment, pleasure, love, and artistry. Any person who still registers a pulse must aggressively tackle all of the opportunities of life with gusto.

The cruel teacher of trauma inculcated this wisdom in Harrison. His father and sister died in a car wreck when he was in his late teens, and it was in the fog of his grief that he saw his own life clearly. He thought that if two people could be taken out of the world so arbitrarily, there was no point in not doing what you wanted to do. He did what he wanted for decades, making an invaluable contribution to American literature.

Like a true friend, Harrison challenged and comforted me, and in a bastardization of what Mikhail Bahktin called, “the dialogic of the novel,” I developed an internal discussion with Harrison, often drawing on that discussion in moments of tragedy and triumph, pain and pleasure, joy and confusion.

In 2010, following the publication of my first book, Working On a Dream, my mother invited me over to my parents’ home to celebrate. We toasted my marginal literary success with a glass of wine from an expensive French bottle that my mother bought because she read that it was Jim Harrison’s favorite.

My book was a hybrid of musical criticism and political commentary about Bruce Springsteen. It was vastly different from anything Harrison ever wrote, and not nearly as good, but with its publication I felt that I, at a minimum, acquired a ticket of entry onto the great ship of my imagination. Jim Harrison was one of my heroes in the captain’s quarters, and I was somewhere deep in the bowels, but I found great pride in the fact that I made it on board.

Harrison was my buddy, but a buddy of a different sort. I never met him, but he seemed like a man of madness. He ate madly, fucked madly, drank madly, wrote madly, but most of all, loved madly. He loved his family, his wife, his friends, his animals, and the natural world.

I can love a little fuller and a little deeper for having read his books.

I wrote about Jim Harrison’s series of novellas about an indelible and lovable character, Brown Dog, for the Daily Beast – “The Legend of Brown Dog: A Great American Hero Gets His Due.”

In an unlikely coincidence, my latest essay, published by Salon just a few days before Harrison’s death, is a review of his newest book – “Want To Reject American Puritanism, Workaholism, and Toxic Obsession with Stuff? Read Jim Harrison’s Books.”

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New Essay at Salon: Who The Hell Are These Trump Supporters?

In my new essay at Salon, which caught hell from conservatives and liberals, I review the data, and draw some logical and reasonable conclusions about Donald Trump’s supporters.

The conclusions are not pretty, but given what Trump has already done, and promises to do, to the United States, they are deservedly hideous.

Read the essay at Salon.

Interview with Dawn Porter, Documentarian, at AlterNet

In a new feature at AlterNet, I interview documentary filmmaker, Dawn Porter, about her important and moving new film, Trapped.

Trapped tells the story of abortion practitioners, and the women they serve, in Southern states where prohibitive regulations have all but stripped away the constitutional rights of women seeking reproductive health services.

Read the feature at AlterNet, and keep an eye out for the film, which is set to air on PBS soon.