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Archive for Monday, March 23, 2009

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The Edge

March 23, 2009

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‘Nothing But a Smile’ (books)

Steve Amick pulls off quite the trick in his latest novel.

He populates “Nothing But a Smile” with mostly naked women romping across the pages in a number of risqué poses and barely there costumes. Yet his is a tale that feels innocent and pure, a hard maneuver to achieve in these wicked times.

Maybe that’s because Amick sets this pitch-perfect novel in the 1940s near the end of World War II, an era that is viewed through a gauze-covered lens these days, no matter the reality.

“Nothing But a Smile” begins with the honorable military discharge of Wink Dutton, an illustrator for Yank Magazine. He heads to Chicago to find a job and promises to visit the wife of a pal he left behind in the South Pacific. When he meets up with Sal Chesterton, they hit it off. She’s working on an idea to help make ends meet, and it’s not long until Wink stumbles across photos of a buxom, naked woman who looks very familiar. He soon finds himself an apprentice cameraman turning out artistic pinups of his landlord and a leggy brunette with a Betty Page hairdo and a hankering for fun.

Amick alternates narration between Wink and Sal, and it’s clear from almost the moment they meet that they’re destined to be together.

‘Happy-Go-Lucky’ (DVD)

There certainly is some truth in advertising at work with “Happy-Go-Lucky,” which is a movie more in the technical sense than the traditional sense.

“Lucky” is about Poppy (Sally Hawkins), a schoolteacher whose clumsy disposition and penchant for social awkwardness is matched only by her inhumanly cheerful demeanor. She drives her driving instructor (Eddie Marsan) crazy, chats up random strangers who may not necessarily talk back, puzzles a dancing instructor (Karina Fernandez) to her own great delight and basically roars through life while her contemporaries grumble, shrug and occasionally blow a vein. And that, for the most part, is all “Lucky” is about.

Stuff absolutely happens, but it isn’t necessarily the stuff that matters so much as how the characters deal with it. That’s the beauty of the whole thing, too. Find Poppy’s demeanor infectious and her brand of comedy hilarious, and you can simply ride “Lucky” out in awe of her. On the other hand, if she aggravates you to no end, the film offers no shortage of characters through which you can see those frustrations materialize. Sarah Niles, Alexis Zegerman, Samuel Roukin, Andrea Riseborough, Sinead Matthews and Kate O’Flynn also star.

‘A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers’ (books)

It was a daunting task that Elaine Showalter set herself in “A Jury of Her Peers”: to put together a history of more than 250 American female writers from 1650 to 2000.

The title comes from a one-act play, “Trifles,” that became a short story, “A Jury of Her Peers,” in 1917. Both the play and the story were written by Susan Glaspell, a Des Moines reporter, after covering a sensational murder case.

When a farmer is murdered, the sheriff and some helpers, and their wives, come to the farmhouse — the men to hunt for clues, the wives to pack some clothes to take to the widow, who is in jail awaiting trial for her husband’s murder.

While the men search for clues to support their foregone conclusion, the women read the clues quite differently; they set out to conceal or destroy whatever might be to the widow’s detriment — in effect, constituting themselves “a jury of her peers” — and in doing so, they acquit her of the crime.

Not only does Showalter trace the development and treatment of what has come to be called “the female experience,” but she says she is “interested in women writers’ efforts to move beyond female experience, to create male characters and to write outside of their own race and place.”

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