Saturday, October 6, 2018

Writing as a Sensual Act: In Conversation with Sallie Tisdale

Sallie Tisdale's most recent book is Advice for Future Corpses. (Photo: Robbie McClaran)

Sallie Tisdale, a literary libertine, is laid out on a divan in a downtown Toronto bar called Harmony Lounge, gorging on cakes and finger sandwiches. It's not that she's ravenous – she just had lunch – it's just that she is loath to deny herself pleasure, any pleasure – food, liquids, sex. Especially sex.

The author of Talk Dirty To Me, a book celebrating orgasms, pornography, fantasies, prostitution and other things that make the libido go bump in the night, became a cause célèbre immediately upon its publication in 1994. She has since authored nine non-fiction books, as well as dozens of articles for The New Yorker, The New Republic and Harper's magazines. Her latest title is Advice for Future Corpses (and Those Who Love Them): A Practical Perspective on Death and Dying, published by Touchstone Books in June.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Neglected Gem: Breach (2007)

Ryan Phillippe and Chris Cooper in Breach (2007).

Like his previous film, the 2003 Shattered Glass, writer-director Billy Ray’s Breach is a true-life narrative that builds to the uncovering of a fraud. In Shattered Glass the fraud was Stephen Glass (played by Hayden Christensen), the wunderkind journalist for The New Republic, who, it turned out, had concocted most of his stories. In Breach it’s Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper), a CIA operative whose 2001 arrest revealed him as the most egregious spy in American history. Both of these movies are extremely suspenseful, but not in conventional ways, because there’s no surprise about the identity of either of the two perpetrators. Once a Forbes writer (Steve Zahn) starts to unravel one of Glass’s articles, we know where the film is going, and the only revelation in Breach – which comes in the early middle of the movie – is that the reason the CIA sets the aspiring young agent, Eric O’Neill (Ryan Philippe), in Hanssen’s office and on his tail isn’t, as Eric is originally told, that his new boss is a pornographer but that he’s a traitor. What appears to draw Ray to both his subjects is astonishment that they could have been who they were and gotten away with what they did for so long. What creates the suspense in both pictures is the way they move from incredulousness to certainty: both ours and that of the other major male characters – Eric in Breach, Steve Glass’s editor Chuck Lane (Peter Sarsgaard) in Shattered Glass – who have the charge of bringing them down.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Ghosts of October (1): The Green Man

Albert Finney, Sarah Berger and Linda Marlowe in the BBC's The Green Man (1990).

Each week this month, leading up to Halloween, Devin McKinney will highlight one of his favorite ghost stories, in fiction or film.

Even those of us who seek to avoid the intentional fallacy may be susceptible to the true (or “true”) stories that surround cherished works. The best of them add a dash of predestination, and suggest creativity mystically mingling with other invisible elements of our world. Kingsley Amis’s The Green Man (1969), one of my favorite novels of the supernatural, engendered one of the best such true-slash-“true” stories I know of. Trailing the novel are one short memoir, two television adaptations, and at least enough frisson to warm a pot of tea – making the novel not merely a discrete artwork, but also the main hall in an eccentric house of adaptation and spinoff. (As it happens, the novel is named for a house – the country inn, tended by a sex-obsessed alcoholic and haunted by a centuries-old curse, which is its main setting.)