Monday, January 4, 2016

This Week at Boswell: James Pickering on "Of Mice and Men" on Wednesday, January 6, and Rebecca Scherm on "Unbecoming," Friday, January 8, 7 pm.

What's going on at Boswell this week?

Wednesday, January 6, 7 pm, at Boswell:
Of Mice and Men preview discussion, featuring James Pickering.

The Milwaukee Rep production of Of Mice and Men opens January 19 at the Milwaukee Rep, and we're excited to host a talk by acclaimed actor James Pickering, who stars with Jonathan Gillard Daly. It's a coproduction with the Arizona Theatre Company and is directed by Mark Clements. As per the Rep, "Mark Clements remounts his critically-acclaimed production using Milwaukee Rep favorites after a record-setting production in Philadelphia, where it won eight Barrymore Awards (including Best Production). The cast also includes Bernard Balbot, James Farrugio, Sean Patrick Fawcett, Kelly Faukner, Scott Greer, and Chike Johnson.

Here's a review from the Philadelphia Inquirer about the original production, which was staged by Clements and starred Scott Greer: "Director Mark Clements' staging squeezes the play's juice and mixes in all the pulp - he serves up not just the story, with all its impact, but also manages a theatrical tension that never lets up. Clements' effort is abetted by the massive frames of wooden slats that Todd Edward Ivins created to exploit the Walnut stage's depth; the six-bed bunkhouse of this farm is real, and the barn is what a barn should be.

"I mention the laughter up top because Of Mice and Men is an exacting play, and when it's over, you're glad for the experience, and for knowing its two principal characters, even though the overall effect was something like taking medicine. I eavesdropped as the opening night let out, ambling back and forth at the theater doors, and the word I kept hearing was sad. No kidding, it's sad from Scene One. But it's also enthralling. And in this production it has not just a character Steinbeck wrote to take your breath away, but also a portrayal that fulfills the aim. Scott Greer, who has won three Barrymores, could add a fourth."

The show runs through February 21. Tickets are available at their website or by calling the box office at 414-224-9490. You can also purchase in person. Prices start at $20. And yes we'll have copies of Of Mice and Men available for purchase at the event. I'm not sure if it's weird or not to have James Pickering sign them, but you can always ask. Here's link to one of the book editions.

Friday, January 8, 7 pm, at Boswell:
a talk from Rebecca Scherm, author of Unbecoming

Last year, a first novel came out that was a literary thriller. It had Hitchcockian elements and featured an unreliable narrator. That book was The Girl on the Train, but just nine days later, another book came out that got lost in the shuffle. And now we're excited to be giving Rebecca Scherm's Unbecoming another chance in paperback.*

If The Girl on the Train is a variation of Rear Window, then Unbecoming is To Catch a Thief**. Julie is working in a small Paris workshop, an artisan repairing intricate sculptures and jewelry. She's working off the books, which allows the workshop owner to slip her some work of dubious origins and even more dubious intent. But that's okay, because Julie is really Grace, on the run from her boyfriend and two of his friends, who unsuccessfully tried to pull of a heist of a historic home in small-town Tennessee.

As the story jumps back and forth in time, the layers are uncovered and Grace is proven to be a more and more unreliable narrator. I'll just note that the boyfriend Riley is actually her husband; they've married in secret and made certain agreements. And yes, while Grace appeared to leave town before the heist could take place, you can bet that her involvement was more than peripheral.

I should note that Unbecoming is as much a character study as a thriller, and the plot, while intricate, is hardly the high-speed chase of many of today's escapist fare. But that's another reason why Hitchcock is a fair comparison - while many of you think of North by Northwest or Psycho when you think of Hitchcock, don't forget that his films Dial M for Murder, Rope, and Rear Window pretty much all took place in one room.

Here's Kim Kankiewicz's review of the book in the (Minneapolis) Star-Tribune:Unbecoming documents the evolution of an antihero, but it also represents the heist novel’s coming of age. Grace argues that art is 'not there to look nice [but] to scratch at people’s brains.' Traditional caper stories 'look nice.' They entertain without provoking deep thought. By introducing complex themes and one of the most compelling characters in recent fiction, Scherm has elevated the heist novel beyond entertainment. Like a painting that becomes more intriguing the longer you study it, Unbecoming is a genuine work of art."

And I should note that the restoration details, much like B.A. Shapiro's The Art Forger, are quite fascinating. This is as much an art novel as a caper novel. Rebecca Scherm is an MFA grad at the University of Michigan, where she is now teaching. Here's an interesting interview with her on Michigan Radio. And I'm excited to hear her talk, which includes slides.

*And it's working! We sold a lot of Unbecoming over the holiday season and word of mouth is good. I'll find out more tonight as our in-store lit group meets to discuss it.

**And Boy, Snow, Bird is Vertigo! Helen Oyeyemi's novel had a lot of folks talking up the comparisons to the Snow White fairytale, but the Hitchcock parallels to me were way more interesting.

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