Monthly Archives: July 2016

‘Dark Matter’ Is A Jet-Propelled Science Thriller


Your time is valuable. I know that. There are roughly a billion books published every year and you’ve only got time to read a few of them. There are important books and acclaimed books and books you can put down like junk food — like sitting on the couch in your underwear and eating that whole bag of barbecue potato chips because there’s no one there to tell you not to. You have to make some choices.

So with that in mind, and before we decide (together, just you and me) whether or not Blake Crouch’s new book Dark Matter is worth adding to your list, we have to clear a few things up.

How important is coherence to you? Is it vitally important that every little stitch of a narrative holds tight, or can you handle a little wobble in your plots?

How angry do you get at fictional characters made of ink on paper when they do ridiculous things that no normal human would do? Are you the sort of person who has been known to throw books across rooms, occasionally damaging framed photographs or houseplants? Because I’m a book-thrower, and if you are, too, that’s going to be a concern here.

How essential is artistry to you? A graceful and honeyed command of the language? Do spongy physics in your sci-fi drive you batty, or are you cool with black boxes full of SCIENCE being carried around by characters and used to spackle over shaky parts of the narrative?

Here’s the big one: Do you think you can you swallow all of the above — forgive all the various failings of a book which is sometimes maddening in its refusal to be as good as you want it to be — if the payoff is worth it? Can you do it if I told you that Crouch sticks the landing in such a way that I rode an elevator up and down for 20 minutes one afternoon just so I could get to the end of one of his final chapters?

You should say yes. You really should. Because Dark Matter? It’s a whole bag of barbecue chips, man. And it’s just sitting there waiting for you to devour in one long rush.

Here are the basics: Dark Matter is the story of Jason Dessen, a mild-mannered college physics professor who gets abducted one night by a masked man, conked over the head, injected with some SCIENCE and wakes up in a world that is not his own.

It’s one of those stories — the classic “what if I made different choices when I was a younger man” tale, grafted onto a jet-propelled thriller plot made forcibly breathless by Crouch’s maddening addiction to sentence fragments and single line paragraphs which make a chase scene read like this:

Amanda begins to walk.

Faster and faster.

Until she’s jogging.

Then running.

Into a darkness that never changes.

Never ends.

The backstage of the multiverse.

Now granted, “The backstage of the multiverse” is a nice line, but Crouch’s affection for poetical (really, haiku-ical) structure within a work of prose is annoying at first, then infuriating, then simply numbing.

And really, it’s unnecessary — because almost the entire book is one big chase scene anyway. The dogs are always snapping at Jason Dessen’s heels. Every closed door is just waiting to be kicked in. No one has time to breathe, to think, to acclimate to one alternate universe before they’re being chased out of it by assassins, plague, wolves (actual wolves), or worse.

Jason, of course, is just trying to get back to his own, good life and his own, good reality, but that’s tough, you see, because a multiverse filled with infinite worlds means an infinite number of ways to get it wrong. Which Jason does, for a really long time, accompanied by a ticking-time-bomb trope of a limited number of vials of SCIENCE which allow him to skip between realities. He starts with a lot. Very quickly, he is down to a few, the clock ticking.

And that is when Crouch pulls off the big trick that makes it all worthwhile — a killer twist that is dark, horrifying, funny as hell, bizarre, completely earned and utterly original all at the same time. (It’s worth noting that Crouch is also the guy who wrote the Wayward Pines trilogy on which the recent TV series was based, and which had its own pretty wicked twist ending.) And better still, he sells it. When everything suddenly slows down, locks up and starts to spin, he makes the stakes matter.

Which is when I ended up in the elevator, riding up and down, completely hooked by a book that I simply couldn’t put down.

Jason Sheehan is an ex-chef, a former restaurant critic and the current food editor of Philadelphia magazine. But when no one is looking, he spends his time writing books about spaceships, aliens, giant robots and ray guns. Tales From the Radiation Age is his latest book.

Not My Job: Sharon Jones Gets Quizzed On Handshakes


Sharon Jones performs at Carnegie Hall in New York City on March 23, 2015.i
Sharon Jones performs at Carnegie Hall in New York City on March 23, 2015.

Sharon Jones’ career didn’t take off until she was in her 40s (making her an inspiring story for millennials everywhere — you have another 20 years before you have to move out of your parents’ house!). Now she leads the band Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings and has just released a new documentary called Miss Sharon Jones!

We’ve invited her to play a game called “Let’s shake on it” — three questions about handshakes. Click the audio link above to hear how she does.

Kristen Bell On ‘Bad Moms': ‘It Was The Funniest Script I Had Ever Read’


Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn play suburban moms Kiki, Amy and Carla in Bad Moms.i

Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn play suburban moms Kiki, Amy and Carla in Bad Moms.

Michele K. Short/STX Productions


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Michele K. Short/STX Productions

Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn play suburban moms Kiki, Amy and Carla in Bad Moms.

Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn play suburban moms Kiki, Amy and Carla in Bad Moms.

Michele K. Short/STX Productions

Bad Moms is a movie about good moms who try to go bad. Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn play suburban Chicago mothers who find themselves ground down by the daily cycle of school drop-offs and pick-ups, soccer games, supermarket runs, errands, chores and endless worries. One night they wind up at the same bar after a PTA meeting and together they decide to let loose.

Bell tells NPR’s Scott Simon that the film spoke to her own experience as a mother: “When you have a baby, everything in your DNA says, ‘I gotta do this right.’ But what should go hand-in-hand in that — and doesn’t often, or it’s not reiterated enough to women — is that ‘and it’s OK if I don’t, because I’m trying and that’s all that matters.’ “

Interview Highlights

On what drew her to the film

It was the funniest script I had ever read. And I realize I am the demographic, because I was going through a lot of those things, and still am, when I read it. … I have a 3-year-old and a 1 ½- year-old. And it just was such an accurate depiction of what moms feel like. It’s so brilliant that this script was written by two guys [Jon Lucas and Scott Moore] because you just can’t imagine that two guys could actually write something this true to life. But they wrote it as a love letter to their overworked wives and they kept such an open mind throughout the whole process. They just nailed it — even women’s locker room talk, because the movie is quite raunchy at times. … It’s a modern, realistic portrayal of what moms go through.

On one racy scene about circumcision, which was inspired by a true story

Jon and Scott interviewed so many women to get stories about: What’s your most embarrassing moment? What scares you about dating again? What do you hate most about your kids? What do you love most about your kids?

Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn demonstrate one of the messiest ways to make a white Russian in Bad Moms.i

Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn demonstrate one of the messiest ways to make a white Russian in Bad Moms.

Michele K. Short/STX Productions


hide caption

toggle caption

Michele K. Short/STX Productions

Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn demonstrate one of the messiest ways to make a white Russian in Bad Moms.

Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn demonstrate one of the messiest ways to make a white Russian in Bad Moms.

Michele K. Short/STX Productions

It’s funny, I know who [the circumcision] story came from. … In the scene, Mila Kunis’ character is going to go out on a date again, and she’s only ever been with her husband. And she’s talking to my character and Kathryn Hahn’s character. Kathryn Hahn’s character is very sexually experienced and Mila Kunis says, “What if I meet an uncircumcised man? I’ve only ever been with my husband.” And Kathryn Hahn describes how it differs from a circumcised man.

It’s a very, very funny scene but it’s also pretty realistic. I mean, you know about locker room conversation with guys but you don’t ever hear about it with women. And that’s a bit of a fib. It’s a bit of a white lie to keep us in this very pristine ladylike box, because we talk about that stuff. Maybe not as often and maybe not as graphically as in this movie, but it does happen and women are sexual beings as well. And so I really appreciated that they really went there with letting these two characters give advice to Mila Kunis about her upcoming sexual experience.

On a particularly poignant line from her character: “You don’t know if you’ve done a good job until your kid is grown and then it’s too late.”

That rang true to me as well, because the reason you want to do such as good job is because when you have a baby I feel like you realize everybody — even people that have done awful things in their life — they were brought home from the hospital at one point and celebrated. And it just changes your perspective a little bit to realize the experiences you have shape who you are. Of course, it can be hereditary or in your DNA. But a lot of it is nurture, and you want to create an individual that thrives. And you try to give them, I guess, self-esteem lessons to not let the world shatter them. Because it’s a big crazy world and you really don’t know if you’ve done a good job until they’re older and it’s too late.

Kristen Bell On ‘Bad Moms': ‘It Was The Funniest Script I Had Ever Read’


Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn play suburban moms Kiki, Amy and Carla in Bad Moms.i

Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn play suburban moms Kiki, Amy and Carla in Bad Moms.

Michele K. Short/STX Productions


hide caption

toggle caption

Michele K. Short/STX Productions

Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn play suburban moms Kiki, Amy and Carla in Bad Moms.

Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn play suburban moms Kiki, Amy and Carla in Bad Moms.

Michele K. Short/STX Productions

Bad Moms is a movie about good moms who try to go bad. Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis and Kathryn Hahn play suburban Chicago mothers who find themselves ground down by the daily cycle of school drop-offs and pick-ups, soccer games, supermarket runs, errands, chores and endless worries. One night they wind up at the same bar after a PTA meeting and together they decide to let loose.

Bell tells NPR’s Scott Simon that the film spoke to her own experience as a mother: “When you have a baby, everything in your DNA says, ‘I gotta do this right.’ But what should go hand-in-hand in that — and doesn’t often, or it’s not reiterated enough to women — is that ‘and it’s OK if I don’t, because I’m trying and that’s all that matters.’ “

Interview Highlights

On what drew her to the film

It was the funniest script I had ever read. And I realize I am the demographic, because I was going through a lot of those things, and still am, when I read it. … I have a 3-year-old and a 1 ½- year-old. And it just was such an accurate depiction of what moms feel like. It’s so brilliant that this script was written by two guys [Jon Lucas and Scott Moore] because you just can’t imagine that two guys could actually write something this true to life. But they wrote it as a love letter to their overworked wives and they kept such an open mind throughout the whole process. They just nailed it — even women’s locker room talk, because the movie is quite raunchy at times. … It’s a modern, realistic portrayal of what moms go through.

On one racy scene about circumcision, which was inspired by a true story

Jon and Scott interviewed so many women to get stories about: What’s your most embarrassing moment? What scares you about dating again? What do you hate most about your kids? What do you love most about your kids?

Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn demonstrate one of the messiest ways to make a white Russian in Bad Moms.i

Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn demonstrate one of the messiest ways to make a white Russian in Bad Moms.

Michele K. Short/STX Productions


hide caption

toggle caption

Michele K. Short/STX Productions

Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn demonstrate one of the messiest ways to make a white Russian in Bad Moms.

Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn demonstrate one of the messiest ways to make a white Russian in Bad Moms.

Michele K. Short/STX Productions

It’s funny, I know who [the circumcision] story came from. … In the scene, Mila Kunis’ character is going to go out on a date again, and she’s only ever been with her husband. And she’s talking to my character and Kathryn Hahn’s character. Kathryn Hahn’s character is very sexually experienced and Mila Kunis says, “What if I meet an uncircumcised man? I’ve only ever been with my husband.” And Kathryn Hahn describes how it differs from a circumcised man.

It’s a very, very funny scene but it’s also pretty realistic. I mean, you know about locker room conversation with guys but you don’t ever hear about it with women. And that’s a bit of a fib. It’s a bit of a white lie to keep us in this very pristine ladylike box, because we talk about that stuff. Maybe not as often and maybe not as graphically as in this movie, but it does happen and women are sexual beings as well. And so I really appreciated that they really went there with letting these two characters give advice to Mila Kunis about her upcoming sexual experience.

On a particularly poignant line from her character: “You don’t know if you’ve done a good job until your kid is grown and then it’s too late.”

That rang true to me as well, because the reason you want to do such as good job is because when you have a baby I feel like you realize everybody — even people that have done awful things in their life — they were brought home from the hospital at one point and celebrated. And it just changes your perspective a little bit to realize the experiences you have shape who you are. Of course, it can be hereditary or in your DNA. But a lot of it is nurture, and you want to create an individual that thrives. And you try to give them, I guess, self-esteem lessons to not let the world shatter them. Because it’s a big crazy world and you really don’t know if you’ve done a good job until they’re older and it’s too late.

‘I’m Supposed To Protect You From All This’ Is Memoir Fraught With Mystery


Family stories get passed between generations, and like a lot of cherished possessions, they sometimes get nicked, smudged, frayed, or otherwise changed.

Nadja Spiegelman has written a memoir of a mother she thought she knew, which resonates through the recollections of the grandmother she might have misunderstood.

Her mother is Françoise Mouly, art editor of The New Yorker, and her father is Art Spiegelman, the graphic novelist. In fact, her father’s Pulitzer prize-winning graphic novel Maus is dedicated to Nadja.

Her memoir is called I’m Supposed to Protect You From All This. She tells NPR’s Scott Simon that she always knew there were missing pieces in her family history. “I grew up knowing there was a life my mother had left behind in France, and a reason she had wanted to get away,” she says. “Understanding that there were hidden dangers and certain things in our relationship that to me had no explanation.”

Interview Highlights

On how she knew there were missing pieces

I noticed how she reacted when we would go for Christmas dinners in France, and her anxiety would skyrocket, and she would suddenly revert to a version of herself that was so different from the powerful woman that I saw every day going to the New Yorker offices and making her own children’s books. And there were also things that happened when I started becoming a woman that were tensions I just didn’t understand.

On her grandfather, an esteemed plastic surgeon and an unpleasant person

My grandfather was a very renowned plastic surgeon in France and constantly had women coming up to him and saying, “what do you think, Doctor, can you fix me?” And therefore really didn’t have a clear understanding of boundaries, even when it came to the women in his own family, and crossed a few of those with me … I do regret that my grandfather passed away before I started working on this book, and that this is an incredibly one-sided vision of him in which he doesn’t get to speak for himself. I don’t think anybody is black and white. On the other hand, I was trying to make a story that was very focused on just the subjective memories I, my mother and my grandmother had of our own lives. And in that subjectivity, he does not come off very well.

On her mother revealing her reasons having a second child

She says, “did I ever tell you when I decided to have a second child?” and then tells me that when I was a baby, she loved my bathtime, because it was the only moment where she was able to have a second to herself. I loved being in the water, and she could smoke a cigarette or read a book, or do whatever it was that she wanted to do, but that one afternoon I insisted, “no no, don’t leave me, stay with me,” and so she stayed, but felt very trapped by me. And the force of how trapped she felt scared her, and she left, slamming the door, letting me cry, and decided to have a second child to break the intensity of the bond between her and I.

It’s a difficult story to be told. On the other hand, whatever the reasoning was, I am so grateful to have had a brother … and I think that need to break the intense bond between mother and child is something that allows the child to grow.

On her mother saying, “I don’t need your forgiveness”

She doesn’t. My mother was such a ferociously powerful mother — and I don’t, at this point, having learned so much about her life and what she’s been through, I don’t feel the need for her to apologize or a need to forgive her either. I just feel this very profound understanding.

There’s a moment in the book where my mother gets into a fight with her mother and relates it to me later, saying, “my mother snapped at me, ‘shut up!’ and I felt so grateful, I felt like a child again, and I felt like I hadn’t invented that mother who had hated me when I was a girl, and I was so grateful to see that she still existed.” When my mother told me that story, I couldn’t understand what she was talking about. But now I do, because the past has the same quality as dreams, in the sense that as soon as it’s over, it’s hazy and murky, but while you’re living through them they’re so vivid. Our adolescence feels so vivid to us while we’re living through it … and by the time you’re a little bit older, even just outside of that intense moment, your adolescence feels like a dream, and it’s hard to remember there was ever that intensity there.

‘Meat Cake Bible’ Is Packed With Frills, Chills And … Pez?


The free-floating, perverse mischief of Dame Darcy — graphic artist, musician, fortuneteller and worldmaker extraordinaire — is on display in the title of her big new book. Meat Cake Bible isn’t the same book it would be if it were called The Meat Cake Bible. The latter would be a straightforward thing: Simply, a collection of the comic Dame Darcy published from 1993-2008. Take away the “the,” though, and Meat Cake Bible can be read as “Meat, Cake, Bible!” — a parade of potent delicacies, possibly a children’s chant. Or it could be “Meat. Cake. Bible.” That has a ritualistic sound, like a recital of some occult philosophy.

That’s perfect for an artist whose vision is as weird as it is engulfing. Meat Cake helped set the aesthetic tone of the hothouse 1990s zine scene, with countless self-publishers dipping into Dame Darcy’s grab bag of obsessions: death, retro femininity, pirates, circus freaks, vintage fashion (in her case, a lust for ensembles from Victorian times through the 1920s) and, under it all, a sense of irony as dry as the Gobi.

Also, there was Pez. Remember that candy? Plenty of zinesters latched onto Pez dispensers as a kitsch symbol, but only Darcy created a human Pez dispenser — a character who, ghoulishly, extrudes the stuff from a bleeding gash in her neck. She’s called Strega Pez. Then there are conjoined twins Hindrance and Perfidia, Effluvia the mermaid and a beautiful blonde girl called Richard Dirt. The ladies poison, shoot and stab each other, steal each other’s dolls, dig up graves to wear the corpses’ dresses to a party, swallow swords, knit, and go on picnics.

The dizzying effect of these antics is heightened by Dame Darcy’s freaky, virtuosic artwork. At first glance almost every page seems to seethe. The compositions are chaotic, the rules of human anatomy are treated with breathtaking carelessness and the drawings shift from poised to scribbly from panel to panel — and even within panels. But it’s all part of the plan. The Dame’s skill is clear when she draws a set piece like an undersea scene or a nineteenth-century morgue. When she switches between styles — as she does adroitly in “Hungry is the Heart,” a collaboration with Alan Moore — it’s to keep the reader off-balance.

The one thing Dame Darcy doesn’t do in this sprawling book is evolve. In 2008, Richard Dirt and her friends are still getting up to the same hijinks they were in 1993. Darcy herself seems to tire of her own shtick: The final issues of Meat Cake include a knitting lesson and a recipe for hummus. Even Effluvia is over it. “Sailors down, ship sunk by siren song,” she reads from the newspaper. “How boring, this always happens.”

But however static Dame Darcy’s world, within that world she can be relied on to provide engaging, unsettling delectations. That’s saying something, considering that all her favorite themes have become mainstream over the past couple of decades. Neo-Victorian ensembles, whether goth or steampunk, are paraded at every fan convention — not to mention on the runways of Gucci, Rochas and Rodarte. Arch creepiness is the order of the day on American Horror Story and in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The former even had a whole season set at a freak show. In literature, “there has been a vogue in the last 25 years for the ‘neo-Victorian novel,'” writes author Charles Palliser in the Guardian. “It lets the writer exploit [a] cozy/menacing ambivalence.”

Replace “cozy” with “girly,” and you’ve got a pretty good description of Dame Darcy. Her imagery and style may have caught on in the wide world, but the originals are as menacing as ever.

Etelka Lehoczky has written about books for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and Salon.com. She tweets at @EtelkaL.