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Tag: brooklyn rail

Exquisite Corpses

by on May.05, 2011, under The Truth Is In Here

Review for the Brooklyn Rail of Down Among the Dead Men: A Year in the Life of a Mortuary Technician by Michelle Williams; 2010; Soft Skull Press

by Jeffrey Stanley

What lay in front of us was a headless body; fully clothed, but headless. Curiosity got the better of me and I just had to pull back the top of the body bag to see what other injuries this poor individual had sustained. Resting between his knees lay his motorbike helmet…‘Where’s his head?’ I asked.

Clive picked up the helmet with his gloved hands and said in a voice of perfect seriousness, ‘He had it gift-wrapped.’ Hanging from the bottom of it were ragged tatters of flesh and what appeared to be cervical vertebrae…looked into the visor and found myself fixated by the face behind it…As I was preparing myself to start the evisceration, I began to wonder how we could hope to make any difference to this man.

2010 was a year of the macabre in creative nonfiction. First came the popular The Poisoner’s Handbook by award-winning science writer Deborah Blum, followed closely by Douglas Perry’s The Girls of Murder City which I reviewed in the Rail last September. Michelle Williams’s Down Among the Dead Men: A Year in the Life of a Mortuary Technician completes the grisly triptych and differs from the other two in that it’s not a history lesson but a you-are-there contemporary memoir. Set in suburban Gloucestershire, about two hours west of London, the book details Williams’s rise from somewhat passionless health care assistant for the National Health Service to medical technical officer working in a hospital morgue, to manager of her own hospital mortuary.

The most surprising element of the narrative is Williams herself, who is neither a serious physician, impassioned science nerd, nor weird loner. She is a young, attractive,    CONT’D AT BROOKLYNRAIL.ORG>>

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Holey Logic, Batman

by on Mar.04, 2011, under The Press

Brooklyn Rail review by Jeffrey Stanley of Richard Poplak’s The Sheikh’s Batmobile: In Pursuit of American Pop Culture in the Muslim World; Soft Skull Press, September, 2010

Richard Poplak’s quick-witted survey of U.S. pop culture throughout the core of the Muslim world functions as a meaty, detail-laden addendum to Lipstick Traces, Greil Marcus’s famed pop culture book. The latter claims to be a secret history of the 20th century, but nearly forgets that everyone has had a 20th century, not just a subculture of white people worshipping at the feet of Johnny Rotten and Malcolm McLaren. Punk rock is hard to take as anything other than really good rock-and-roll, and its so-called “philosophy of negation” is hard to take seriously when the music’s chief adherents are a bunch of white, middle-class kids shocked to discover that society is hypocritical. Really? It is?

The Sheikh’s Batmobile takes a step in the right direction, focusing on how U.S. pop culture, especially punk, heavy metal, and hip-hop, impacts upon and co-mingles with the cultures of the Middle East. The author is a Canada-based, white, South African journalist and director of music videos and commercials; he has a particularly keen eye and ear for the U.S.’s cultural influences, having been raised on a full diet of it himself.

During his two years of travels, Poplak dines with the Muslim world’s top CONT’D AT BROOKLYNRAIL.ORG>>

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Rivers of Gold

by on Nov.05, 2010, under NYC

Please enjoy my new Brooklyn Rail book review. Rivers of Gold is a tech noir novel set in New York City 5 minutes from now.  It’s got all the elements that the genre requires — girls, guns, drugs, noir, and lots of tech — but unless you’re a 14 year old straight boy you can probably skip it.

Not quite a detective story, Adam Dunn’s tech-noir novel lives up to its front-cover claim that it’s “a mile a minute” page-turner. Set in New York City in the year 2013, in which the five boroughs have been reduced to one giant South Bronx circa 1975, our chief docent is a hipster named Renny. An up-and-coming photographer, Renny uses his career to gain entrée to the city’s thriving underground nightclubs, or “speaks”—short for speakeasies—so he can deal Ecstasy to the city’s steadily dwindling number of affluent Beautiful People.

On the streets, violent crime is rampant, despite a pervasive surveillance culture propagated as much by NYPD’s street cams as by anyone with a  MY FULL REVIEW CONT’D AT BROOKLYN RAIL>>

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Daddy, Who’s Grover Cleveland?

by on Oct.07, 2010, under Politics

If you’re all about the Gilded Age (hey, some of us are), please enjoy my latest book review in the Brooklyn Rail‘s 10th anniversary issue.

Charles W. Calhoun
From Bloody Shirt to Full Dinner Pail: The Transformation of Politics and Governance in the Gilded Age
(Hill and Wang, 2010)

The phrase “Gilded Age” started as a satirical term co-coined by Mark Twain and co-opted from Shakespeare in 1873. It was an apt description of the post-Civil War United States. The increase in industry and modernization, the ostentatiousness of high profile wealth, and extremely high voter turnout made our culture look as good as gold on the outside even while it festered on the inside. Greed and rampant get-rich-quick schemes were the norms of the day. Political partisanship and sectionalism were at their egg-throwing worst. Bloody injustices were perpetrated almost daily against newly freed slaves in the South, and increasingly against striking factory workers in the North. Three presidents were assassinated.

For the serious student of U.S. history or political science, Charles W. MY FULL REVIEW CONT’D AT THE BROOKLYN RAIL>>

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Theater of Cruelty

by on Sep.06, 2010, under Theatre

[7/23/13 – Talk about a crazy commute. My Hindu-Jewish connection with a persistent Lubavitcher aboard a New York to Philly train – read about it in the Washington Post]*

My friend John tossed me this book to review for monthly arts and politics journal The Brooklyn Rail about one of the 20th century’s first women playwrights, crime reporter turned dramatist Maurine Watkins, author of Chicago, which was a biting, satirical straight play long before it was a Kander, Ebb & Fosse musical.  Enjoy the review, or, more importantly, enjoy the book.



Douglas Perry
The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers Who Inspired ‘Chicago’
(Viking, 2010)

Close on the heels of Deborah Blum’s The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York (Penguin, 2010), comes Douglas Perry’s true crime history The Girls of Murder City: Fame, Lust, and the Beautiful Killers Who Inspired Chicago, which turned out to be a welcome companion piece.

The former is a dissection of New York City’s use and rapid improvement of nascent forensic medical techniques during the Prohibition era.  Murder after murder is lovingly recreated—especially those involving poisons—and then deconstructed by über CSI experts. The latter book takes us to Prohibition-era Chi-town, where the weapon of choice wasn’t poison but pistols, and the bad guys were bad gals.    **cont’d at the Brooklyn Rail>>

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