Thirty years ago—in November 1988—the novel as an art-form sputtered out and died. And a man named Neil Gaiman killed it.
None of that is true, of course. At least, none of it is true in the sense of being the actual particulars, the genuine facts on the ground. Novels didn’t cease to be written. Novelists didn’t forget that book-length fiction was one of the central devices by which modern times tried to explain itself to itself. Publishers didn’t fold up their businesses and steal away into the night. There’s a lot of ruin in an art-form, and the novel, with its sneer of cold command, yet gazes out on the world of art it claims to dominate.
Widows is well cast and perfectly acted, tells a compelling story about how corruption aids outright criminality without being overly didactic about it, and is directed with a firmness one might expect from an Oscar-winning director whose command of visual storytelling verges on the total. If it weren’t for the fact that there’s one twist too many, it would be a nearly perfect movie.
The 20th century German theologian Karl Barth once said that woman “is in her whole existence an appeal to the kindness of man.” Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875) saw in women something more—a side of them undefined by the male gaze—and captured this in his portraits of women that can be seen in the National Gallery’s exhibit “Corot: Women,” open until Dec. 31. Perhaps this is because his stalwart mother provided the primary source of income for his family with a substantial dowry and her successful milliner shops in Paris. From his early years, he recognized that some women could seize a sense of independence that many were denied. His portraits of women convey dignity and strength, not a Barthian fantasy of seduction or feudal delicacy.
The political reporter Steve Kornacki wants to rise above the fray. You can see it in the first few pages of The Red and the Blue, his new book on the 1990s birth of tribalism in American politics. You can see it in the occasional sententious asides. You can see it in the hortatory conclusion. All of it is goo, of course—a little pomposity, a little pleonasm, an attempt or two at highmindedness, and there we are: the fray, successfully risen above.