My personal highlights from the past year include some things I got to and some things I got around to.
“Deep-Holes,” a short story by Alice Munro that I have thought about since I first read it in the June 30 New Yorker. The story is simple and puzzling: a young boy falls into a hole in the woods while his family is on a picnic. His father saves him, he passes a happy adolescence with nothing but a small limp, then enters adulthood in a disconnected state that finds him falling over and over again.
“How Fiction Works,” by James Wood, lays out how writers use words, sentences, details and other elements of style to make worlds persuasively grained with reality. Simply and elegantly written, it includes much considered but unpolemical opinions about books, how they are put together and what makes them tick.
“Unpacking the Boxes,” by Donald Hall. A memoire from the great poet.
Classic Muhammed Ali fights were in heavy rotation this year on ESPN Classic, a channel that also sometimes (weirdly) broadcasts sports-related movies. I ran across many Ali fights this year, each of which hooked me. Ali’s quick feet and hands, his aura, his bright, animal daring are as electric in these reruns as they ever were. Most of Ali’s fights end with knock-outs, and they often come with jarring speed. And each time the nimble and witty Ali towers over his opponents with a wild, regal and non-human countenance for a moment before he metamorphoses back to a merely beautiful and perfect athlete.
“Bleak House.” The multi-part Masterpiece Theater version starring, among others, Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock. The story is pre-Modern and specific ally pre-Kafka in its tangle of plots involving a trial, the riddle of inheritance, sex, money, identity. Chilling and despairing.
“Wall-E.” The mis-en-scene of despair for our time, with beautifully deployed – and rare, now – negative space.
“The Dark Knight.” Not easy to follow or care about except for Heath Ledger’s Joker, which is grand and magnetizing, and begs comparisons to Brando. “I’m going to make this pencil disappear” is his bold, crazy, central line.
“Synecdoche, NY.” Under-admired and not well-enough honored, this film is the closest film has come to Tchilitchew’s painting, Hide and Seek: a mesmerizing hall of mirrors about the branching ways life and art feed on each other.
“Our Summary in Sequence” was an ambitious, locally made three-part play mounted in mid-summer by the local company Implied Violence. “Barley Girl,” the first, was the best, and it was as good as any theater I’ve seen in years: the audience sat indoors on sod drinking double portions of cheap whiskey, watching a non-sequential play about the Civil War, love and desire that included inverted dunking, blood and singing.