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Thursday, September 17, 2015

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

[no podcast this week]

Here’s my book review of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.
I don’t often review recent releases. But there was such a buzz about The Girl on the Train, I couldn’t help myself. Especially since, after I’d downloaded the ebook sample, that Buy Now button was burning a hole in my digital wallet.
(The book has been out for months, so maybe, given the nanosecond pace of social media, it’s a classic by now?)
Yes, I was engrossed. But before you rush out to the e-store, be warned.
Right off, this is a book for and about women. The two male main characters – both thirty-something husbands – are strapping hunks of man-flesh. They exude charm and flash winning smiles. And they are both abusers. Several walk-on male characters are nicer, sort of metrosexual candidates. But one has a drug habit, another is a drunk, and the third is a spineless shrink.
The wives and ex-wives are smart but vulnerable, emotional sponges thirsty for guy-sweat. They spend a lot of their emotional energy in cat-fights with each other.
Okay, here’s the gist of it. The Girl on the Train is a chilling psychological drama centered – not on a love triangle, but a pentagon – or is it a hexagon? Anyway, the permutations and combinations don’t quite include the entire neighborhood.
Main character Rachel is recently divorced from Tom, who seems like a nice guy who just couldn’t put up with her drinking habit. (She had her reasons.) He’s now married to Anna and they have a new baby. The couple live in a the same bungalow where Tom and Rachel once thought they were happy. A few doors down, Scott and Megan seem like childless lovebirds. Megan occasionally babysits for Anna.
Although it’s been a while since the breakup, Rachel can’t help spying on her old house from the commuter train she takes to work in London every day. She occasionally catches sight of Megan and Scott lounging on the porch of their cookie-cutter cottage. She doesn’t know them well, but she develops a fantasy about their perfect relationship. It’s the relationship Rachel thought she had with Tom, a love now presumably lost.
It turns out that Rachel is more than casually curious about Tom and Anna. Rachel is a stalker. She phones him at all hours, she leaves notes at the house, and she wanders the neighborhood as she stares at the front door.
One night when she’s there, neighbor Megan goes missing.
A problem is – and it’s huge – when Rachel has been drinking she’s prone to mental blackouts. There are whole chunks of time – from minutes to hours – for which she has no memory. So combined with her guilt and self-loathing over her failed marriage, Rachel begins to wonder whether she’s been bad. Maybe really, really bad?
Like, maybe, did she somehow hurt perfect-housewife Megan? And what happened to Megan, anyway? Did she run off with a lover, or will they find her body in a ditch?
That’s as far as I’ll go. No more spoilers. But I’m just priming the pump. This is a big book, and, by turns, Rachel, Anna, and Megan tell their first-person stories.
Debut novelist Paula Hawkins knows her craft. At its basis, The Girl on the Train is an ingeniously twisted  mystery. It’s a woman-jeopardy plot with multiple victims. But, be warned, there are occasional bouts of intense domestic violence.
You might wonder whether this bestseller will be a movie, and apparently it will. DreamWorks has it in pre-production with Tate Taylor (The Help) to direct. Emily Blunt has been cast in the title role of Rachel. In the book she’s described as pudgy and somewhat homely. I guess Hollywood (UK office?) thought that was a bad idea. I doubt if the svelte Ms. Blunt will be donning a fat-suit or actually putting on weight for this role. Perhaps a touch less makeup, dear?
As I say, this is a big book, and what probably won’t make it to script or screen are Rachel’s agonizing internal monologues.
But what you will see, I can predict, is every one of those wife-battering fights.
Even more titillating to movie audiences than a good wartime firefight with semiautomatic weapons is to see some sweaty guy slapping his hot babe around.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Art Thief by Noah Charney

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 40

Here’s my book review of The Art Thief: A Novel by Noah Charney.

Noah Charney is a professor of art history and an expert in fine art forgery and theft. And in this novel he proves himself to be a sly spinner of detective yarn. The Art Thief is a tale of brain-teasing complexity involving multiple, interconnected forgeries and thefts of historic paintings from several institutions. And its resolution necessarily involves multiple detectives and forensic experts, each as colorful and eccentric in his own way as Inspector Clouseau. The victims – museum curators and aristo collectors – are a classier bunch who tend to both snobbery and hypocrisy – not the most admirable human beings. Classiest of all are the scheming thieves and forgers. You see, in today’s genre fiction, perpetrators of  these presumably victimless crimes against the upper class have the cachet of winners at Wimbledon. Well played, chaps! In a previous generation, this place of honor was held by jewel thieves who connived to execute intricately plotted heists. Remember Cary Grant – never more dashing than in his role as John Robie in Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief? Or Melina Mercouri and her artful crew in Topkapi?

Along the way, Prof. Charney is going to teach you a lot about art history and criticism. And that’s even if you consider yourself well versed. He’s never happier or more entertaining than when his donnish characters tear off on rants to their dunderhead students about how to study paintings.
Here’s an example. His Professor Barrow pontificates: “I speak of observation, looking in order to gather information, rather than merely looking. Look deeper. Observation followed by logical deduction leads to solution. You shall see.”

And isn’t this just what the reader of a detective story must learn to do? Observe and deduce?
The Art Thief is great fun, but my advice would be to keep a scratchpad handy. The plots, the players, the crosses and the double-crosses are so intertwined you’ll want to make a diagram to keep track.

For Boychik Lit, I’m Gerald Everett Jones. My new novel about an art scandal in 1890s Paris - Bonfire of the Vanderbilts – comes out in September. Barnes & Noble is taking advance orders. And by all means catch these podcasts at!

Available for preorders at

The Forgery of Venus by Michael Gruber

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 39

This week's radio book review was a reprise of The Forgery of Venus by Michael Gruber.

Available for presale at

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 38

Here’s my book review of The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley.

Novelist Walter Mosley is best known for his Easy Rawlins crime stories and the feature film Devil in a Blue Dress. But The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey isn’t a whodunit. It’s artful, introspective literary fiction about a 91-year-old man near the end of his life.

Ptolemy Grey lives by himself in a shabby one-bedroom apartment in a poor neighborhood in Los Angeles. His place is stacked with the trash of a lifetime. You see, he hasn’t paid any attention to it since he woke up one morning to find his beloved last wife Sensia lying dead beside him.

When Sensia passed, he threw a tarp over everything in the bedroom and closed the door. He now sleeps on a mattress under a table in the kitchen. He rarely goes out, except when his grand-nephew Reggie walks him to the store for a few meager supplies. And he’s terrified to open the door for anyone.

The narrative is full of Ptolemy’s fretful thoughts. He has outlived almost all of his closest friends and loved ones. And early in this story, he finds that Reggie has been killed in a drive-by shooting.
Another nephew, Hilly, drops by to take him to Reggie’s wake. There Ptolemy meets Robyn, a gorgeous, slender girl who is about to turn eighteen. She decides to take care of him, becoming his last love, albeit Platonic, but intense as any of the romances in his long life.

As Ptolemy says to her:  

I love you and I couldn’t be here right now if it wasn’t for you taking care of me. And if you were twenty years older and I fifty years less I’d ask you to be my wife and not a soul on this earth would have ever had better.

This may well be Walter Mosley’s best book.

(In 2013 actor Samuel L. Jackson said in an interview with Red Carpet News TV that he had acquired the movie rights to Ptolemy Grey. However, as of this writing, does not list the project.)

For Boychik Lit, I’m Gerald Everett Jones. I’m the author of Mr. Ballpoint. Be sure to catch these podcasts at

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Ballad of the Black and Blue Mind by Anne Roiphe

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 37

Here’s my book review of  Ballad of the Black and Blue Mind by Anne Roiphe.

If you’re in therapy or considering it, you may find this novel unsettling. It’s about Manhattan psychiatrist Dr. Estelle Berman, and two of her colleagues – middle-aged men identified only as Dr. H and Dr. Z. Most of the other characters in the book are their students or their patients. And all of these lives intersect and become entangled.

To some of her patients and even her friends, Dr. Berman can seem cold and calculating. She thinks of herself as wise and practical. All of the therapists in this story are trying improve the lives of their patients, who range from troubled to disturbed, many of them needing medication but not hospitalization.

There’s Justine, the gorgeous young movie star, who is anorexic and a kleptomaniac. There’s homely and lonely Anne, who fears she’s unlovable and gets coaxed out of the closet, only to be jilted. And the doctors refer their own children to each other for treatment. Dr. Z’s daughter Ronit is stressed because she can’t get pregnant, then Dr. Z is stressed about the possible complications when he finds out she’s carrying twins.

These are psychiatric case histories flavored with personal drama. We get insight into the mental processes and disorders of the patients, as well as those of their doctors. Because from Roiphe’s vantage point, all human minds are troubled. It’s just that some of us live with our demons better than others.

This is Anne Roiphe’s tenth novel, and she’s been described as a first-generation feminist. She’s also done nonfiction books and articles on family issues and mental health. She has an insider’s grasp of the psychiatric profession, and at times it’s not at all flattering.

Ballad of the Black and Blue Mind is a peek into the tangled psyches of a few intelligent people, most of them well-to-do and white, in today’s New York City. To paraphrase the narrator of the old TV series, “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This is just a few of them.” And whether outwardly healthy or visibly disturbed, each of us suffers daily from self-doubt, jealousy, rage, guilt, arrogance, fears, phobias, and nightmares.

This dark novel could make for a fascinating book report. But a summer beach read, it’s not.
For Boychik Lit, I’m Gerald Everett Jones, the author of the humorous novel Farnsworth’s Revenge. Catch these podcasts at

Sunday, June 21, 2015

I Do and I Don't by Jeanine Basinger

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 36

Here’s my book review of I Do and I Don’t: A History of Marriage in the Movies by Jeanine Basinger. Basinger is professor of film studies at Wesleyan University, my alma mater, and during her tenure there, she’s been mentor to many of the Hollywood filmmakers who are today referred to as the Wesleyan Mafia. She is one of the most influential of our present-day film historians.

I Do and I Don’t is a critical survey of studio pictures from the silent era up through recent times. Movies in America were formally censored during the ’Thirties and ’Forties, the main reason that even into the ’Fifties, all screen married couples slept in twin beds. The rich ones had separate bedrooms, perhaps for other reasons. But Basinger emphasizes that Hollywood’s view on marriage evolved over the decades for primarily commercial reasons – to appeal to the people – most of them women – who bought tickets.

First off, if you’re considering writing a screenplay about your happy marriage, forget it. Even before the talkies, moviemakers understood that happy couples are just plain boring. Conflict is drama, as Aristotle once said. And the most hilarious romantic comedies are the same, with the volume turned way up.

Basinger tells us that marriage movies are rooted in problems, including money, infidelity, children, illness, death, and forced separation.

In every era, the studios were skilled at giving the audience what it wanted but might not admit – namely stories about their secret fears and suppressed desires. In the movies, any misbehavior, any sin, any abusive behavior can be indulged in, as long as the responsible party is punished before the lights come back up. That way, the audience can leave the theater feeling both satisfied and self-righteous.

Take for example George Cukor’s Adam’s Rib, in which Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy are trial lawyers married to each other and squared off as opposing counsel on the same case. In the famous massage scene, Tracy gives Hepburn a playful slap. She takes it the wrong way, and the scene ends as she gives him a swift kick in the ankle. If that movie were made today, you know her aim would be higher.

For Boychik Lit, I’m Gerald Everett Jones, the author of the humorous novel, Mr. Ballpoint. Catch these podcasts at