Does Julian Fellowes Have a Heart?

As the HMS Downton Abbey nears the end of her final voyage, everyone has found a home or is finding one.  But does Julian Fellowes have a heart?

Carson has a Mrs. Carson. Daisy has a Daddy and a school career ahead. Edith is bound to have the newly minted Marquess rush back from Tangiers saying he can’t live without her despite her being a coward. Noblesse oblige squared.

Mrs. Patmore has saved her retirement B&B investment with some savvy PR help from His Lordship et al. (and scone power).

The Bitch-Formerly-Known-as-Lady-Mary has gotten married to someone who can deal with her attitude. It’s also a perfect match since they both look great in black and are equally stiff-backed and dull.
lady mary henry talbotShy Molesely (with the Dickensian name) is emerging from his tunnel and turning into an educator and liberator of the lower classes. Perhaps he’ll join the Communist Party in the next decade and prove another kind of mole when he goes into government service.

Anna and Bates are free, free, free and as passionate as Carson and his inamorata.

Tom is fat and sassy and belligerently full of his own insight. He should run for Parliament.

tom season 6Isobel is holding her ground and likely to get what she deserves: rank, position, and perhaps a tiny Titian (Sondheim fans will know what I mean).

Even perpetually constipated Spratt has a new career as an “agony aunt” (advice columnist) under a pen name.

But what about Barrow? He’s done and said lots of nasty things in previous seasons, but he’s been wandering through this season looking like St. Sebastian without the arrows (or the loincloth). And Fellowes had him attempt suicide. Seriously?

Isn’t it time he got a break–and some love?

I’m hoping that in the final episode, Big Ears (Andy) will reveal that he really doesn’t want to learn about pigs–that he was just trying to be a manly man (and Yorkshire Lumberjacks Ltd. weren’t hiring).

andyWhat Big Ears really really wants is to get all D.H. Lawrence with Thomas–especially now that he’s helped the others take off Barrow’s wet clothes after the suicide attempt and put him to bed. Change of clothes, change of heart, perhaps by way of a sponge bath? Or some surprisingly gentle towel action?

The love that dare not speak its name doesn’t have to. An epiphany wouldn’t be in his vocab, but why can’t Big Ears have one all the same, and why can’t Barrow have a happy ending?

Pun intended.

Lev Raphael is the author of The Edith Wharton Murders and 24 other books in genres from memoir to biography.

Michigan Book Awards Discriminate Against LGBT Books

Every year since 2004 the Library of Michigan has publicized as many as 20 Notable Michigan books “reflective of Michigan’s diverse ethnic, historical, literary, and cultural experience.”

notable bookBut that diversity seems to have a huge gap. No book with major LGBT content has ever been among the books annually celebrated and publicized statewide. That fact was confirmed to me by one of the judges, who had no explanation.

The 2016 Library of Michigan press vaunts the 2015 awards this way:

“The MNB selections clearly demonstrate the vast amount of talent found in writers focusing on Michigan and the Great Lakes region,” State Librarian Randy Riley said. “The list continues to offer something for everyone – fiction, short story collections, history, children’s books, politics, poetry and memoirs.”

great lakes regionThe awards program actually stretches all the way back to 1991 under different names. It sponsors statewide author tours for the winning authors, so it’s a big deal. The Detroit Free Press describes what it mean to be a winner:

While no cash award comes with making the list, there is a real economic reward for writers and publishers in terms of increased sales. Emily Nowak, marketing and sales manager at Wayne State University Press, said appearing on the list can lift sales by several hundred copies. For regional titles with small press runs of between 1,000 and 3,000 copies, that’s a significant boost and could push a title into a second printing. Many Michigan libraries often buy multiple copies of books that appear on the list.

And then of course there’s the free publicity, which has no valuation, and the invitations to speak that an award generates, and the prestige.

But evidently since 1991 there hasn’t been a single book with major LGBT content published by a Michigan press or written by a Michigan author living here or elsewhere worthy of recognition.

Think about it: No notable LGBT books by talented queer Michigan authors in almost twenty-five years the judges of this program thought deserved being honored. Not one. The Library of Michigan’s web site claims that the awards “help build a culture of reading here in Michigan.” Perhaps so, but the culture being built is limited in its diversity.

Before the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, Rolling Stone rated Michigan as one of the five worst states in the country for gay rights because of hate crimes, but there are other forms of oppression, including forced invisibility.

Isn’t it well past time that the sponsors and judges of the Michigan Notable Books stepped into the 21st century, out of the darkness and into the light?  What are they afraid of?

sunrise

Lev Raphael is the author of 25 books in genres from memoir to mystery which you can find on Amazon.

Susan Cheever’s Louisa May Alcott Biography is a Hot Mess

When a friend told me she was reading Susan Cheever’s book American Bloomsbury about Emerson and his circle in Concord, I was intrigued, because I’d read Cheever’s memoir about her father years ago and had lost track of her career after that.

I went to Amazon, but was drawn to Cheever’s biography of Louisa May Alcott instead. I didn’t know much about Alcott and I’m a huge fan of biographies (I have hundreds in my study). The book grabbed me based on the sample: Alcott didn’t want to write Little Women–her editor pushed her to.

What a great hook.

Louisa_May_Alcott_headshot

When the book arrived, though, I gradually discovered it was awful. I hadn’t bothered reading the thoughtful critiques on Amazon–I learned its varied faults myself (reviews of American Bloomsbury are even more scathing, btw, and more numerous).

Cheever’s assessment of Alcott is marred by trivialities. You learn things like this: Alcott dropped a pie box in Boston. Not only that, it tipped “end over end.” Wow. Alcott was teased by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. about her height, and in Boston she had hyacinths in a window box. None of these details (and more just as inane) add to an understanding of Alcott’s life or writing.

Cheever’s prose can be gag-worthy: “Death is a mystery, but life is filled with light and clarity.” Sounds like a Hallmark Card. Then there are dubious assertions like “good writing is almost always subversive.” How? Why? Makes a good quote for Pinterest or Tumblr, I suppose.

Cheever claims that the Transcendentalists in Concord “essentially created American literature as we know it.” Seriously? The first two American authors to be international best sellers, Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper, got there before Emerson et al. and had a huge influence on major authors like Poe, Melville, and Hawthorne. Perhaps to hedge her bets, Cheever loves mentioning Hawthorne as often as possible, but he was peripheral to the Concord crew and mocked them in his novel The Blithedale Romance.

hawthorneJust as egregiously, Cheever totally misrepresents Alcott’s relationship with Henry James and basically gives Alcott credit for more books of his than you can imagine. Without her, we apparently wouldn’t have The Portrait of a Lady, Daisy Miller, The Bostonians or any of his books with a young woman character. They were also fast friends, Cheever says, despite every James biography I’ve read which barely mentions Alcott–and Cheever doesn’t offer any proof of this supposed relationship.

james 1890Sadly, Publishers Weekly gave the book an attention-getting starred review and called it “authoritative.” Somebody at PW was lazy (or dim) and didn’t do their homework.

Why did I keep reading? Morbid curiosity. That’s right: I couldn’t believe how badly written, badly researched, and badly edited a book by a well-known author could be. In the end, it had a kind of freakish charm.  This tripe got published.

Lev Raphael books is the author of The Edith Wharton Murders and 24 other books of fiction and non-fiction.