"BEAUTY IS rarely soft or consolatory. Quite the contrary. Genuine beauty is always quite alarming."
So says one of the characters in Donna Tartt's first bestseller -- The Secret History. I had determined to read Tartt's other works after The Goldfinch. I am down two for three. The Little Friend comes next.
The Secret History is not quite as massive, though much more complicated than The Goldfinch. On the surface, it is a fairly straightforward thriller about murder, the covering up, the consequences and repercussions. It is shot through with magnificent writing, compelling characterizations and literary references that are not as challenging as one might imagine. (I was told, "a lot of this will be over your head." I didn't find it so. I happen to know quite a bit about ancient Dionysian revels and aspects of Greek culture. And here you thought I was just a superficial red-carpet columnist!)
I recommend The Secret History without reservation. Ms. Tartt's literature seems to inspire extremes. People love it or loathe it. There's no "meh" in the vocabulary of Donna Tartt readers.
Oh, and I quite agree with the opening quote. Genuine beauty is quite alarming. And often quite strange.
•YOU HAVE to hand it to HBO. They have put out an eagerly awaited series, The Leftovers with remarks from the creators which serve as a warning/proviso that the central mystery of the story will never be solved. That's enough to discourage viewers who expect something to happen every minute they are willing captives in front of the TV. (Or the laptop or computer screen, now.)
The mystery of The Leftovers is why millions of people disappear suddenly from the earth in a Rapture-like event. But it wasn't the Rapture -- good and bad people vanished. And Gary Busey. But forget that. I mean literally, because the producers and writers are not going to tell us. The show is about those who are missing their loved ones, and how they are coping. The premiere episode on Sunday night was grim and frustrating. A daunting hour of television. It had a gritty indie feel, and some European existentialism -- like those "cool" 60s black and white movies where everybody walked around and did nothing, but we where supposed to divine something significant from it. Or were we?
The Leftovers is not so cool, but based on the first episode (and what I've read from reviewers who saw four more), people who invest in this series can't expect much more than a great deal of confusion, with no payoff. It's like Last Year at Marienbad without Delphine Seyrig's famous asymmetrical hairstyle.
There is an audience for such unrelenting fictional navel gazing, and The Leftovers might find itself more popular than even its creators hope -- and their hope seems rather tentative. (Damon Lindelof, the man behind Lost, is also at the helm here. Given the increasing confusion and then the wildly controversial finale of Lost, Lindelof's presence has attracted and repulsed, in equal measure, those aware of The Leftovers.
Justin Theroux stars in this as a small-town sheriff going kind of bonkers -- it is three years after "the event" but naturally people are still a bit edgy. Theroux is very attractive (Jennifer Aniston, you lucky girl!) but so far has been given two emotions and two expressions -- anger and confusion. I'm sure he'll progress.
Amy Brenneman is speechless as his estranged wife. (She belongs to a cult that doesn't allow talk.) Various others -- his son (in another cult), daughter (sex, drugs and ennui), a dog-killing stranger, etc, wander in and out miserably. Nobody is terribly sympathetic.
The show has a "feel" to it, it's quality, but I don't know if it can sustain, especially as HBO was brave (or foolish) enough to tell people in advance that this was a character-driven exercise, don't expect a neat wrap-up. (Apparently, the book upon which this show is based is equally non-forthcoming.) One reviewer called it a "fever dream" from which one cannot awake. Others say the millions who "departed" are the lucky ones -- they won't have to watch this show!
If nothing else, Mr. Theroux is super eye-candy and was shirtless at least three times. I guess when producers said things wouldn't be "wrapped up" they were including Justin's torso.
•YOU HAD to be there, I guess! I went to a benefit party in the Hamptons over last weekend -- yes, they have them there, too, just like everywhere. The very wealthy Fred and Robin Seegal turned their Georgica Pond mansion into a venue for money-raising for Dr. Mitch Rosenthal's Phoenix House, which does such great work for the addicted. (They could illuminate you on the latest "date drug" called Molly which is very dangerous indeed.)
Movie director Joel Schumacher was "honored" though he couldn't see anything to do with getting off drugs as "honoring" but I notice his pal, the generous financier -- philosopher Pete Peterson gave over a third of all the money raised by a lot of folks who want to stand near the water at night where they drink, eat and look over the accumulated wives in their high, high heels and sleeveless clothes. (The colder the fashionable woman is at night near the ocean, the better.)
It's not like those years when we huddled at the beach in sweaters and blankets before a roaring fire and told ghost stories. Nevertheless, I had a good time and saw a lot of nice people I used to know.
•MY CRAZY friend Howard Rosenman talked me into a recent symposium at the Players Club down on Gramercy Park and we discussed our long knowing one another, how I went one way in NYC and he went the other in Hollywood where he has made a series of good and bad movies over the years. If you missed this eccentric discussion, it was conducted under the ethical auspices of fashion maven Fern Mallis. You can hear it tonight, Tuesday July 1, at 8 p.m. on Sirius XM stars 106.
You'll probably be driving in your car somewhere. Don't have a wreck!