Steve Zaillian’s adaptation of Robert Penn Warren’s 1946 Pulitzer Prize–winning novel All the King’s Men, about the making of a demagogue—modeled on Louisiana governor (and later senator) Huey Long—is languid, undramatic and shapeless. Zaillian has a talent for streamlining big, incident-filled books.
It was the age of levitations and decapitations, of ghostly apparitions and sudden vanishings, as if the tottering Hapsburg Empire were revealing through the medium of its magicians its secret desire for annihilation.” So writes Pulitzer Prize–winning author Steven Millhauser in “Eisenheim the Illusionist,” one of the finest stories in his 1990 collection The Barnum Museum.
This morning’s miracle: dawn turned up its dimmer, set the net of frost on the lawn to shining. The sky, lightly iced with clouds, stretched from horizon to horizon, not an inch to spare, and later, the sun splashed its bucket of light on the ground. But it’s never enough. The hungry heart wants more: another ten years with the man you love, even though you’ve had thirty; one more night rinsed in moonlight, bodies twisted in sheets, one more afternoon under the plane trees by the fountain, with a jug of red wine and bits of bread scattered around. More, even though the dried grasses are glowing in the dying light, and the hills are turning all the syllables of lavender, as evening draws the curtains, turns on the lamps. One more book, one more story, as if all the words weren’t already written, as if all the plots haven’t been used, as if we didn’t know the ending already, as if this time, we thought it could turn out differently.
My neighbor scrapes old paint from the fence around his pasture, an annual chore he attends to, for he knows the white he applies revives each slat. I think of his recent essay, peeling back the layers, as he said, of online education, revealing a barren base devoid of the body’s subtle gestures— how a screen cannot replicate confusion written on a brow, engagement flashing in the eyes, or a hand touching a shoulder. How a cursor cannot translate the voice’s inflections, nuanced as the nod of his head, greeting me, while he lays down his tool to rub my dog’s ears, while he motions toward the remaining wood, tells how he’ll finish the job before winter.
Nathan Eckstrom teaches English in the Boston Public Schools, one of the most diverse school systems in the country. Its more than 9,000 students come from about 100 countries, and they speak more than 80 languages. Instead of taking a vacation this past summer, Eckstrom went to Haiti to find the places where several of his students live and to visit their extended families. He knows that he will be able to make better connections with his Haitian students after learning about their culture and country. Over the past ten years, Boston teachers have made similar trips to Cape Verde, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, and other countries. Fund for Teachers, a Houston-based nonprofit, helps fund these trips (Boston Globe, September 12).