Author: The Coachella Review (Page 1 of 17)

Then and Now: John Schimmel

Welcome to the second installment of our new series on TCR’s blog, Then and Now, a column in which writers reveal and dissect earlier literary attempts which have helped form their current work. This week, John Schimmel takes a look back at an unfinished screenplay from 2006:

By John Schimmel

EXT. STANFORD UNIVERSITY – LATE AFTERNOON 

ESTABLISHING – The glorious campus of one of the more interesting, forward-thinking institutions on the planet. Sprinklers water the ample lawns. 

EXT. STANFORD PHYSICS BUILDING – LATE AFTERNOON 

White, three stories, topped with Spanish tiles, wrapped in semi-Spanish arches. 

INT. PHYSICS BUILDING – JANE GLEIZE’S OFFICE – LATE AFTERNOON 

JANE GLEIZE (35), fit, focused, Stephen Hawking brain in a healthy female body, stands at her whiteboard. Clutches a black marker as she stares at neatly written if indecipherable equations. 

A knock on her door. No reaction. 

                   BOB (O.S.)
Jane? 

Door opens. 

Jane finally looks from the board. Sees BOB MAIRE, tall, academic in dress. 

                   JANE
Oh. 

                    BOB
Ready? 

                    JANE
(from some far away place)
Sure. 

Jane follows Bob out the door. Turns to lock it – with her black marker. 

                   BOB
Probably won’t work. 

                    JANE
No. I think I’m on the right track… 

Bob points at the marker she’s trying to use as a key. 

                   JANE (CONT’D)
Oh. 

                    JANE (CONT’D)
I do that. 

Jane goes back in for her purse and keys. 

                   BOB
It’s okay.

                    JANE
I wasn’t asking for permission. 

                    BOB
I mis-spoke. I should have said, “It’s perfect.”
As in, I envy the equations that intensity. 

                    JANE
(stops)
Too fast. 

                    BOB
I know. Sorry. 

Jane nods, leads him out of the building. 

EXT. PHYSICS BUILDING – CONTINUOUS 

                    BOB
Do you even know where you go
in those trances? 

                    JANE
Someplace blessedly quiet. 

                    BOB
No offense taken. 

It takes a moment, but Jane finally smiles. It’s a gift that makes any day worth living. 

It only lasts a moment. She gets very serious. 

                   JANE
Do you ever get the feeling you know
something you can’t quite access?
Like if you could just go to where
the secret lies… 

                    BOB
It’s a nice thought. 

                    JANE
Is it? 

INT. CONCERT HALL – NIGHT 

Jane and Bob listen to a lone cellist play Bach. Jane is enraptured. Bob is as well, but it’s not the music that holds his attention. 

Bob startles. Looks down. Jane has taken his hand. 

INT. JANE GLEIZE’S APARTMENT – LIVING ROOM – NIGHT 

Books and plants. No computer. Lots of notebooks. Comfortable reading spot for one. 

BEDROOM – CONTINUOUS 

Series of shots – Bob has all the focus he was hoping for. 

LATER 

Post-coital. Jane rolls away, stares at the ceiling. 

          JANE
This is my space. I’m not so good with our. Or we. 

          BOB
We can move at the pace you want. 

          JANE
This won’t be regular. 

          BOB
Occasional?

                    JANE
(wants him to get it)
I’m not… regular. 

                    BOB
Thank God.

                    JANE
Be careful what you wish for. 

                    BOB
Never. 

Jane smiles at that, cuddles into him. 

TEXT. JANE’S BUILDING – MORNING 

Jane and Bob exit. 

                    BOB
See you tonight? 

                    JANE
(disappointed)
I thought we… 

                    BOB
Can we make an exception? It’s my birthday. 

                    JANE
          (smiles)
Okay. See you tonight. 

INT. JANE’S STANFORD OFFICE 

Jane writes on her white board. Complicated equations. Someone knocks. She doesn’t appear to hear. Door opens. Closes. She never looks over. 

                   COLONEL SAMUELS (O.S.)
Dr. Gleize, I need to ask you… 

                    JANE
(never looks from the board)
The answer’s still, “No.” I don’t want a private
sector job. Especially yours. “Do no evil,” was
a great motto. You should have lived by it.

                    COLONEL (PETE) SAMUELS
You should look before you leap. 

Jane turns at that. Sees COLONEL PETE SAMUELS (40), full uniform complete with medals. 

                    JANE
Oh.
(beat)
I thought people only put all that
on for special occasions. 

                    COLONEL SAMUELS
You’re right, Doctor. There can be no doubt about how important what I’m about to ask of you is. They thought the get-up might help. 

                    JANE
They? 

                    COLONEL SAMUELS
Would you come with me? 

                    JANE
What if I said no? 

                    COLONEL SAMUELS
What if I told you I can prove your theory is right? 

Off her stunned look. 

EXT. LAKE TAHOE – ESTABLISHING – DAY 

A mystical body of water trapped between residential-centric California and casino-mad Nevada. Impossibly deep fresh water. 

DEEP IN THE LAKE: 

A small submersible makes its way. 

INT. SUBMERSIBLE – CONTINUOUS 

Jane and the Colonel are piloted by a SAILOR toward what looks like a small, underwater garage. 

Jane catches the Colonel staring at her. 

                    JANE
Is there something…? 

                    COLONEL
(beat)
I took a huge chance back in your office. 

                    JANE
And what was that? 

                    COLONEL
Telling you I could prove your theory.
I thought it was a way to cut to the chase.
But if you had turned me down, it could
have been really dangerous for you. 

                    JANE
For me? 

                    COLONEL
You need to understand: Nothing you see
or hear today can ever be disclosed, no
matter the outcome of what comes next. 

                    JANE
          (a twinkle – this is all so absurd)
That serious, huh? 

                    COLONEL
It doesn’t get more serious. 

INT./EXT. SUBMERSIBLE 

The sub pulls into the “garage.” THROUGH THE WINDSHIELD: A long, sleek craft rests on a pedestal. “HAIL MARY” is stenciled on the side. 

Jane barely has time to notice as she’s hustled into a waiting… 

ELEVATOR 

It descends. And descends. A distant rumble crescendos. 

Finally, the doors open. Thunder of rushing water is suddenly deafening. 

INT. CAVERN UNDER LAKE TAHOE 

A small cadre of worried PEOPLE – military, bureaucrat, scientists. 

All watch as Jane and the Colonel step into the cavern. 

JANE’S POV: A magic trick. Someone – or something – has drilled a large hole through the bottom of Lake Tahoe. 

Water pours out – into nothing, disappearing into a swirling vortex before it can ever hit the floor. A wormhole devours all it is offered. 

                    JANE
Oh… 

She moves toward the cascading water but is stopped by the Colonel. 

                    SCIENTIST 1
You don’t want to get too close. 

                    JANE
I assume you can’t just stopper the hole. 

                    COLONEL
(A), we don’t think so. (B), even if we
could, this is happening all over the
world. Lakes, rivers, reservoirs.
And (C), we don’t really want to alert
whoever did this that we’re onto them. 

POLITICIAN Not ‘til we’re ready for them. 

Jane rolls her eyes, looks to the Colonel. 

                    JANE
Asshole? 

                    COLONEL
(nods)
Asshole. 

                    JANE
You all know this isn’t really possible,
right? The amount of energy required
to hold even one wormhole open for an
extended period is massive. And you’re
telling me – what? Dozens of them? 

                    COLONEL
Which means what to you? 

                    JANE
(to the politician)
It means, you don’t want to pick a
fight with these creatures. 

INT. SAN FRANCISCO RESTAURANT – NIGHT 

Nice place. Romantic. Or it would be if Bob wasn’t alone at his table. Waiting. 

BACK IN THE UNDERWATER “GARAGE” – CONTINUOUS 

Only Jane and the Colonel are in the room. 

                    JANE
I’d like to go home, please. 

                    COLONEL
You could be the first person to… 

                    JANE
To get spaghettified? To get cooked by
radiation? To get killed by an alien
race?

                    COLONEL
Don’t you want to know how the
wormhole works? 

                    JANE
Uh uh. I want to discover how it works. 

                    COLONEL
While the world dies of thirst. 

                    JANE
Who have you been talking to, Colonel?
Anyone who knows physics? They’d tell you,
any trip to the stars, we’d age differently than
people here. Maybe we’d come back twenty
years older, but hundreds of thousands of years
would have passed here. I’m thinking that
would be too late. 

                    COLONEL
What if the wormhole connects different universes,
not distant places? No distance, no time dilation. 

Jane can only stare. 

                    COLONEL (CONT’D)
It makes sense. If your planet was dying of
thirst, would you embrace a solution that
took thousands of years to enact? 

                    JANE
No one’s proven they even exist. 

                    COLONEL
They have. 

Jane stares at the Hail Mary? 

                    JANE
Is someone on your team Catholic? 

                    COLONEL
Desperate.

                    JANE
You can’t fit an army in that thing. 

                    COLONEL
Just you and me. 

                    JANE
That makes no sense. How do the two of us
shut it down? What do you need me for?
(a revelation)
Oh… You want the technology.
“While the world dies of thirst.” Take me home. 

                    COLONEL
Do you always hate people you’ve just met? 

                    JANE
No. I’m more democratic than that.
I hate pretty much everyone. 

                    COLONEL
You’re going to be a great traveling companion. 

As if on cue, the door to the elevator opens, disgorging two SOLDIERS. On the other side of the room the port into the craft opens. 

                    JANE
Oh, come on. 

One of the soldiers Colonel pulls out a Taser. Jane’s eyes widen. 

EXT. LAKE TAHOE – UNDERWATER 

The garage doors open. The craft powers out, deep in the lake. 

———————————————————– 

This is the start of a project I began – but never completed – back in 2006. There are reasons both trivial and less than trivial for its hopefully temporary demise. The trivial reasons were all built around the class of “life happens” excuses. Distractions proliferated; time to write shrank. 

And then there’s the more profound. There is a kind of seduction in screenwriting that makes the process infuriating. It isn’t so tough, relatively speaking, to launch a character on a journey. So we can block out a first act and think, wow, I’m onto something. And then that gigantic second act looms up and we have to map that journey out and it turns out that brilliant first act didn’t actually establish all we need as foundation for all that follows. 

Billy Wilder, I think it was, described a good screenplay this way: create a character you love, send them up a tree, set the tree on fire, and watch them try to get down safely. That first phrase is all first act stuff. First acts absolutely have to establish the protagonist, what disrupts their life and sends them on the journey of the film. We have to leave the first act knowing what the protagonist wants after their life is disrupted, and what personal flaw of issue they’ll need to overcome to get to the other end. I hadn’t been able to do all that, I think, because I was unclear about the end point of the film. Heading off into the vast wasteland of act two, which has very few structural signposts as guides, is seriously unwise if you don’t know where you’re headed. 

So, lo and behold, I found myself in development hell with no time or energy to take up the hammer and chisel needed to shape that sucker. 

When a recent break in my schedule gave me the time to get back into a more natural and productive rhythm, I decided that I wanted to get back to this project. So I began the process of reviewing my original starting place for the script to see if there was anything worth salvaging.

The archaeology was fun. As I dug, I remembered… 

– I wanted to make an allegory by transporting a modern scientist into a parallel world where the inhabitants had made far greater scientific progress than we had, but even less toward solving certain fundamental problems humanity faces; namely, overpopulation and the increasing scarcity of resources that implies. 

– I liked the idea of sending an anti-social genius as one half of the tactical team assigned to somehow stop the plundering of earth’s water. 

– My cynical side really liked the idea that the military’s top priority was not to save the planet but rather to get its hands on the alien technology that allowed for interdimensional travel. 

– I really liked the challenge of finding a credible (in the context of sci-fi) version of a bridge between two parallel worlds. 

Looking at this list, I realized that these are all themes and themes are not, as I often tell my students, a story. So I started hunting through my various outlines for clues to what that story might become. 

Part of the stumbling block, I have to admit, turned out to be that there are aspects of the premise that are preposterous, even for science fiction. Now, a zillion years ago, I worked on Face/Off, which was based on the entirely absurd notion that two men with entirely different body types could masquerade as one another simply by swapping faces. Every part of that sentence is loopy, but we got away with it because John Woo, John Travolta, and Nicholas Cage were so thoroughly invested in the idea and so good at their jobs. It was so interesting watching a good guy become a bad guy and vice versa that the silliness of the premise vanished. But the whole thing was possible because the basic story was clean and simple and easy to understand. 

During this process of digging, I quickly realized that there was nothing simple in my piece. The water transfer seemed like it could be made to make sense. But how could an army of two stop the sacking of earth? Also, the relationship I’d defined between a by-the-books military guy and an independent-minded scientist started to feel like a cliche. 

I recently started watching shows like Killing Eve and Fleabag and Chernobyl. The thing that struck me about them, which seems so obvious now as to be embarrassing, was that pretty much every character was a walking contradiction, behaving in ways that constantly surprised. 

I came to feel that pushing this envelop is part of what defines the current sensibility of the recent crop of great shows. 

At the same time, I realized that I could use an obsession that is powering my current spec: runaway tech is destroying democracies around the globe. So, I thought, why not make the scientist the one whose drive to push the scientific envelope nearly leads her to betray her own mission? It certainly seemed like an idea worth trying. 

The other thing was that I’d constructed my various outlines around the premise that this needed to be a mission in which two people might save the world. That could work, I suppose, in a superhero flick, but this was not intended to be that. Back when I was working on it, the time crunch made it impossible to lift myself out of the granular. But breathing space and a willingness to abandon the original idea has freed me up to contemplate a really simple change: What if this is instead a fact-finding mission that could, if successful, lead to creating a plan to save the world? What if the scientist becomes enamored with this parallel world and the scientific progress it’s made and decides to stay behind while the military guy returns to our version of earth in order to plan an attack? 

I have no clue yet if any of that even makes sense. But, suddenly, embracing these changes instead of trying to force the original premise to work has opened a door that just might lead me out of development hell. 


John Schimmel is in the middle of an extraordinarily diverse career as a writer/producer/musician. He is currently senior producer (narrative content) for Cloud Imperium Games’ Star Citizen and Squadron 42, an executive producer on the feature film Foster Boy, writer/producer on the film No Time For Kings, and part of the core screenwriting faculty at the University of California at Riverside’s Low Residency MFA Program in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts. He’s been the President of Michael Douglas’ Furthur Films and Ascendant Pictures, a production and development executive at Douglas-Reuther Productions, Belair Entertainment, and Warner Bros, co-penned the Tony-nominated musical “Pump Boys and Dinettes,” and published both fiction and nonfiction.


Want to be part of ‘Then and Now?’ Send your early stories, essays, poems or one-act plays—and a short craft essay discussing your piece—to TCR’s Blog editor Diana Love at tcrmultimedia@gmail.com. Open to all writers with at least two books out from recognized presses.

Summer Blockbusters of Yore: The Twentieth Anniversary of an Overshadowed Trilogy

By Pallavi Yetur

Early this year, New York magazine published a feature entitled “We Are Living in the Matrix.” The February 4, 2019 issue included several pieces about the lasting impressions left by The Matrix on everything from the way we think about and engage with the internet, to how it inspired fashion houses to send tiny-lensed sunglasses and billowing leather coats down the runways, to the film’s role in the propulsion of Keanu Reeves to the top of the A-list. The whole editorial undertaking was meant to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the launch of the iconic sci-fi trilogy. But there was another iconic trilogy that launched just three months after The Matrix and has not received the same level of attention. On May 4, 1999, Universal Pictures gave us The Mummy.

The Mummy was conceived by writer and director Stephen Sommers as a remake of the 1932 Karl Freund film starring the OG king of horror, Boris Karloff. In keeping with the original, Sommers sets his film in 1920s Egypt. Where Sommers begins to depart from the earlier film is in choosing a female protagonist. Rachel Weisz plays Evie, a librarian desperate to be taken seriously in male-dominated academia. Her awkward Egyptology geek is a charming foil and unlikely love interest for the muscly and sarcastic gunslinger-for-hire Rick O’Connell, played by the beefy Brendan Fraser. In their search for the lost city of Hamunaptra, Rick and Evie become entangled in the vengeance quest of an ancient Egyptian priest, Imhotep, who had been cursed to mummyhood after having an illicit affair with the queen and murdering the pharaoh.

The result is visually absorbing and a damn good time. The satisfaction inherent in watching a quippy set of mismatched heroes defeat men with evil ambitions and supernatural powers is like licking peanut butter right off the spoon. What sets this trilogy apart from other ’90s action or fantasy films, and even those of today, is the unexpected feminist bent with which the trilogy wholeheartedly embraces its main female character. The homage to conventional noir romance is clear, between Rick’s planting an aggressive nonconsensual kiss on Evie, and his being stunned by his own attraction when Evie dons an exotic harem-esque outfit after their luggage is lost. But The Mummy breaks with convention when, in this case, the brawny brute is enraptured by a brainy and opinionated woman who bosses everyone around without being called a “shrew.” Though he is a bit of a lout who relies on street savvy and the strength of his imposing physicality, Rick is astonishingly not an embodiment of toxic masculinity. He sees Evie’s intelligence as an asset and does not belittle her or feel compelled to mansplain. Rick and Evie’s partnership throughout the films is one of mutuality. Despite having gender roles that are meant to reflect the reality of the era in which the films are set, the two are respectful of and curious about one another’s expertise, and genuinely enjoy each other’s company without the involvement of pesky power dynamics. Though Evie is captured and must be rescued in the first film, her knowledge and abilities are necessary to saving the day. Rick’s macho crudeness could easily become the obligatory domineering protector but manages instead to complement Evie’s talents by grounding her ivory tower. In the sequel, The Mummy Returns, Evie even finds new abilities with the discovery of her past life as Nefertiri, the pharoah’s daughter who has some impressive skills with an ax By this time, Xena and Buffy had been dominating fight scenes on the small screen for several years, proving the staying power of ladies who kick ass. Thus, the opportunity was there for Sommers to flip the proverbial script, showcasing intense fight scenes between Evie and Imhotep’s lady who herself in one scene throws two daggers that hit a couple statues of male figures squarely in their man regions.

The Matrix trilogy and The Mummy trilogy have much in common aside from their shared twentieth anniversary—compelling leading men, exceptional leading women invaluable to their respective stories, distinctly stylized sets with costumes to match. They are alike in one other respect: Each series concludes with a widely disliked (or completely ignored) third installment. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor grossed nearly a third less in its opening weekend than The Mummy Returns. But this third film, which seeks to explain the famous Terra Cotta army in China via a similar curse narrative, contains some hidden gems in the same feminist tradition as its predecessors.

Time has passed since the events of the previous film, and Rick and Evie, now that their son is grown, have retired from their lifestyle of quests to thwart an oncoming apocalypse. Though Evie is now played by Maria Bello (Weisz’s absence considered a large part of the film’s lack of popularity among fans), the character remains commanding and uncompromising. In her retirement, she stills longs for adventure, and to have sex with her husband. Most importantly, she can still fight her own mummies. The film also features Michelle Yeoh (Memoirs of a Geisha, Crazy Rich Asians), who, like Rachel Weisz, saw a career turn from foreign import actor to bona fide film goddess. Yeoh plays the guileful witch who curses the emperor and facilitates his defeat by crouching-tiger-hidden-dragoning like a boss in a fight scene with Jet Li. As in the first two films with Oded Fehr (Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo) as Ardeth Bay, leader of the Medjai warriors, people of color are represented as fully formed characters, integral non-caricatures with equal weight in the plot. Even with dreamy kung fu sequences bordering on cliché, this third film manages to avoid the level of racist stereotyping that permitted all the monkey brain eating and heart removals in the name of Kali that happened in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. However ridiculed it has been for its use of yeti and an emperor mummy who can animorph into some kind of giant horned bear, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor has a story that empowers and even centers around women (even giving them more clothes to wear than when they were in Egypt), proving itself as an early example of a film in support of feminism and inclusivity.

Though twenty years later, people tend to remember The Mummy fondly, actual reception has been mixed. The first film received 59 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, on which the Critical Consensus is: “It’s difficult to make a persuasive argument for The Mummy as any kind of meaningful cinematic achievement, but it’s undeniably fun to watch.” Not a meaningful cinematic achievement? Aside from featuring an enormously admirable female lead, subverting typical noir romance tropes, and being a successful reboot of a classic horror film before reboots were even a thing, The Mummy launched several significant Hollywood careers. Rachel Weisz was but a British blip in American cinema prior to her role as Evelyn Carnahan. She has since gone on to develop an illustrious, Academy Award-winning acting career (and she happens to be one half of the Rachel Weisz/Daniel Craig power couple of perfection). In fact, her recent role in The Favourite has caused a lot of lady fans on Twitter to revisit their formative Evie girl-crushes (see our previous coverage here). Speaking of crushes, though Brendan Fraser had gained massive popularity in the ’90s from Encino Man (1992), With Honors (1994), and George of the Jungle (1997), The Mummy allowed him to show off new range in his aptitude as an action hero who delivers lines (as opposed to grunts) with both gravitas and humor (Fraser has not yet won an Oscar but his multifaceted performance in 2000’s Bedazzled probably should have). Rick O’Connell was Fraser’s hunkiest role sans loincloth, earning him serious leading man status. And, most importantly, let’s not forget that it was from his role as the Scorpion King in The Mummy Returns and subsequent spinoffs that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson began his prolific acting career. Somewhere, Stephen Sommers is sitting back in his poolside lounge chair saying, “You’re welcome.

As with The Matrix, the 1999 release of The Mummy also made a cultural impact, setting off not only a slew of similar monster movie remakes like Van Helsing (2004) and King Kong (2005), but also signaling the start of an entertainment trend toward treasure hunter intrigue. Dan Brown’s first Robert Langdon book, Angels and Demons, was released the following year, and in 2003, Brown’s The Da Vinci Code became a worldwide phenomenon kicking off another film franchise that followed an academic solver of historical puzzles. Then came Angelina Jolie as an English archaeologist of video game fame in 2001’s Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. In 2004, ER’s Noah Wyle headlined the first of a trio of original movies on the TNT network entitled The Librarian the same year as the release of National Treasure starring Nicolas Cage.

If The Matrix had a futuristic dystopian sci-fi legacy that opened the door to the onslaught of dystopian fiction we’ve gotten since 1999, then The Mummy had its finger on the pulse of a whole new set of sexy scavengers in the vein of Indiana Jones, writ nerdy. So why was a society at the turn of the new millennium so seduced by bookish badassery? As evidenced by The Matrix, nerds had finally become cool toward the end of the dot-com era. Rather than taking a hacker approach, these archaeological stories essentially use the study of history to serve as a feel-good fantasy of potency and prowess in an era of powerlessness. As we approached the unknown of the year 2000 and what lay beyond, these stories suggested that if you’re smart and you know things, you can figure out how to beat the bad guy or unlock the big secret mystery. With the Clinton impeachment proceedings revealing lies and investigative overreaches, thinking of the Knights Templar must have been a far more palatable conspiracy theory than whatever was going on in our government. Each of the Mummy films shows a takedown of a power-hungry man by a clever and talented woman in a pre-#MeToo world. And for those of us who were the “booksmart” ones in high school, if being an ingenious history buff gets us academic accolades, a trove of priceless goodies, and a guy like Brendan Fraser, sign us up. Thus, if the inspiration of an entire subgenre of popular and lucrative books, films, and television that taps into several collective wishes does not qualify as a cinematic achievement, then we may need to re-investigate our standards.

Amidst Y2K anxieties (as well as the advent of MySpace), it would make sense for The Matrix to be the defining film of the 1999 zeitgeist. Perhaps the reason The Matrix has reappeared so much more in the news than The Mummy did this year is that the deep relevance of the former to our current social and political climate is pressing, while the latter is essentially viewed as a campy throwback. With our curated virtual personas taking center stage on the internet and in our lives, the idea that we exist in a technology-ruled simulation feels more real than ever, all as our corporatocracy of a government tries to regulate our bodies, making democracy seem ever more oppressive. But when we are drowning in the dregs of dystopic nihilism and existential dread, clinging desperately to some sense of human identity and the hope for joy, which movie do you think we’d rather watch?


Pallavi is the Lead Copyeditor and a blog contributor for The Coachella Review. Her pop culture nerddom got out of control during her undergraduate studies in Communication and Literature/Writing at UC San Diego, after which she earned her MA in Mental Health Counseling from NYU. Pallavi splits her time between practicing psychotherapy in Manhattan, freelance coaching for a consulting firm, winning silver medals in amateur pole sport competitions, watching a lot of TV, and working toward her MFA in Nonfiction at UCR Palm Desert. She was born and raised in Southern California and now lives in Jersey City, where she and her husband watch Bravo and argue over whose home state has the best tomatoes. @pallaviyetur on Instagram and Twitter

 

Book Review: Little Fires Everywhere

By Jhenna Wieman

Celeste Ng’s first novel, Everything I Never Told You, was a national and international bestseller, and her second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, now available in paperback, does not disappoint. The novel is set in Shaker Heights, a community planned so specifically that there is a siren on Halloween announcing the start and end of trick-or-treating festivities. Trash is picked up from each resident’s backyard to avoid the unsightly appearance of trash cans on the curb, and the city’s motto is “Most communities just happen; the best are planned.”

Ng builds a large cast of characters that run deep. Mia Warren is a quirky artist who travels around the country with her daughter,Pearl. When they land somewhere, they stay just as long as it takes Mia to complete one project. Then, she sends the project off to a gallery in New York where her work is sold. She makes just enough money to get by with the help of various side jobs. Mia has promised her daughter that Shaker Heights is where they will finally let their roots grow. They are able to afford to rent half of a duplex thanks to the generosity of Mrs. Richardson, her wealthy landlady.

Like the town they live in, the Richardsons’ life did not “just happen.” Instead, it is a life planned meticulously. Mr. and Mrs. Richardson have four kids: Trip, a senior; Lexie, a junior; Moody, a sophomore; and Izzy, a freshman. Trip is the typical jock, and the character with the least depth, though we do see some complexities emerge as the book goes on. Lexie, like her mother, finds pleasure in doing good deeds for other people. Mrs. Richardson chooses Mia and Pearl as tenants because they fit the ideal profile she had set out to find: “a kind person to whom she could do a kind turn, and who would appreciate her kindness.” It gave her “immense satisfaction” to imagine them in her apartment, “Pearl doing her homework at the kitchen table, Mia perhaps working on a painting or a sculpture.” Lexie takes it upon herself to give fashion advice, old clothes, and social capital to Pearl, transforming her into her carbon copy.

Moody and Izzy, the younger two, are the counterculture in the family. Moody writes songs, plays the guitar, and reads poetry. Izzy donates all the dresses her mother buys for her and protests her enrollment in dance classes by standing on stage with “not your puppet” written on her forehead. In the beginning of the book, we hardly see Izzy. Usually we just hear her “above them, somewhere overhead” practicing her violin. She becomes almost a mythical creature to the reader. The rest of the characters ignore her unless they are commenting on her questionable mental state. When she meets Mia, however, she emerges and becomes very important to the story.

Moody becomes infatuated with Pearl the first day the Warrens move into the duplex. He tries for some time to keep her hidden, but eventually she goes to his house and grows a similar infatuation with his family. Moody marvels at Mia and Pearl’s unique life, thinking, “Watching the Warrens live was like watching a magic trick.” Pearl feels that “the Richardsons must have arranged themselves as a tableau for her enjoyment” as if each part of their life was so carefully put together that it could be one of her mother’s art pieces. The same goes for Mrs. Richardson and Mia. The whole novel is a study in the idea that “opposites attract,” except for the bond between Mia and Izzy, who are arguably the two most important characters to the bigger plot. The relationships that Ng builds between each character are really what make the story. The true nature of each individual is revealed based on what they latch onto in the other characters, making each character’s depth enhance that of the others.

Everything is going fine until a twist, outside of both families, causes Mia and Mrs. Richardson to choose sides. First, Pearl begins to notice the income gap between the two families when she asks her mother an important question in front of the Richardsons. Ng juxtaposes the two lifestyles perfectly in one paragraph:

Pearl realized she’d gone about this all wrong. She should never have asked her mother like this, in the Richardson kitchen with its granite countertops and its stainless-steel fridge and its Italian terracotta tiles, in front of the Richardson kids in their bright, buoyant North Face jackets, especially in front of Lexie, who still had the keys to her Explorer dangling from one hand. If she’d waited until they were alone, back at home in the dim little kitchen in their half a house on Winslow Road, perched on their mismatched chairs at the one remaining leaf of their salvaged table, perhaps her mother would have told her.

 Arranging these details in this way not only shows the reader the collision between the two worlds, but also shows that Pearl is finally starting to realize not just that the Richardsons lead an impressive life, but that, when the two are compared side by side, her own life is much less glamorous. Then, Mrs. Richardson and Mia find themselves on opposite ends of a very publicized local issue. From there, each relationship begins to falter, and past and present secrets begin to come to the surface.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the story is that it begins at the end. Ng gives us a glimpse into the outcome of all the conflict, then flashes back to when Mia and Pearl arrive and it seems that there will never be any conflict at all. With every turn of the page it becomes harder and harder to stop reading.


Jhenna got her BA in English Writing Practices from Humboldt State University and is currently a MFA candidate at University of California Riverside. She also teaches Freshman English and Language Development at Citrus Hill High School. She lives in Murrieta with her husband, her goofy Beagle Shih Tzu mix, and her indifferent cat.

Times Change

By Bruce Shearer

CAST OF CHARACTERS
Bob Dylan, musical legend and survivor
Fan, A music lover who may or may not be a journalist

SETTING
The play is set in a backstage corridor.

SYNOPSIS
A fan or journalist meets Bob Dylan in a backstage corridor and asks him a few questions.

BOB DYLAN IS WALKING DOWN A BACKSTAGE CORRIDOR WHEN A FIGURE STEPS OUT OF THE SHADOWS AND SPEAKS TO HIM.

 Fan: What was it about Donovan that so upset you, Bob?

(BOB STOPS AND ALMOST STEPS BACK.)

Bob: Who are you?

Fan: I’m a fan.

Bob: Not from Rolling Stone?

Fan: We’re all rolling stones, Bob.

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TCR Talks with Steve Almond

By: Kaia Gallagher

Described by commentators as funny, big-hearted and joyfully obsessive, Steve Almond has been a newspaper reporter, an acclaimed writer of short stories, an essayist and the author of ten books over his twenty-year writing career.

Almond’s published short story collections include My Life in Heavy Metal (2002), The Evil B.B. Chow and Other Stories (2005), God Bless America: Stories (2011), and Whits of Passion (2013). Many of his 150 short stories have been featured in Best American Short Stories, Best American Mysteries, the Pushcart Prize, and Best American Erotica.

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Crow Cento, Time Cento

By Jessica Goodfellow

Crow Cento

There was a broken jaw of light at dusk where the crows
pinned to each tree
the hammer’s shadow in the shadow of a hand.
Sound of a crow, pulling the one nail from its voice,
claim the far away in me—
a never air, the lens for being.
Every microcosm needs its crow,
and the crows are up to no good:
They invented the earth for people,
inventing pizzicato as they fled the horizon.

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Book Review: Dealing in Dreams by Lilliam Rivera

by Daniela Z. Montes

In a time filled with terms like “fake news,” when it can be hard to tell what’s true, Liliam Rivera’s Dealing in Dreams reminds us to be aware of the rhetoric that shapes our society and to be mindful of its effect on us.

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TCR Talks With Michele Filgate

By: Felicity Landa

Shortly after Michele Filgate’s deeply personal essay about her relationship with her mother was published on Longreads, it went viral. “Our mothers are our first homes, and that’s why we’re always trying to return to them,” she begins in her poignant and moving piece. In her essay, Filgate breaks her silence to tell the story of why her relationship with her mother is so painful.

“I wrote this essay because I felt like we couldn’t have this conversation in real life,” she tells me during our interview. In doing so, Filgate unearthed a community of people who also had stories about all the things they couldn’t talk about with their mothers. “Knowing that something can speak to a stranger and make them feel less alone, and really resonate with them—that’s the power of words,” she says. The overwhelming response to Filgate’s words gave her the idea to compile an anthology named for her original essay: What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About.

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Desert Seas

by: Anca Segall

Lars’ baby blue VW bug, rusty and dented, came to a stop in the rutted parking lot at the trailhead into Dark Canyon. Covered in nearly as much dust as the car, we both tumbled out into the scrub desert, already parched in May. Fable Valley had enough flash floods to make leaving our names at the BLM box prudent, though it was still early in the season. Eager to stretch our legs, we shouldered our backpacks and started down the steep trail into the valley.

We had driven down from Logan and stopped in Provo for a Saturday fair in the city park, where Lars did a brisk business drawing portraits of fair-going kids. He’d kept them captivated with stories on a rickety stool as he rendered their character in strokes of charcoal and Conte crayon. At midday, while families lunched and the kids trickled in more slowly, Lars had me pose for him, to pass the time and entice paying customers.

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Book Review: The Flight Portfolio

by: Rachel Zarrow

How do you assign a price to a human life? Are some lives worth more than others? In a world that is on the verge of collapse, do the rules of the living apply? In her second novel, The Flight Portfolio, Julie Orringer explores these questions.

The Flight Portfolio is a riveting fictional story of a real person, Varian Fry. In the novel, Varian, an American journalist, works for the Emergency Rescue Committee (ERC) evacuating artists and intellectuals from Europe during the second World War.

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