A new biography paints a not-so-idyllic picture of Norman Rockwell.
During the years when he painted Boy Scout calendars and covers for The Saturday Evening Post, what Norman Rockwell really wanted was to be taken seriously as an artist. Now, some 20 years after his death, America’s once most popular artist is getting his wish — a major exhibit, a fresh and approving look from scholars, and this big new biography by Laura Claridge, Norman Rockwell (Random House, $35) — which is nothing if not serious.
Though her writing is occasionally clumsy, the author has produced a fascinating narrative of a life as inwardly troubled as it was outwardly placid. Who would guess the painter of those scenes of small-town America (men practicing music in the back of a barbershop; boy and grandmother in blue-collar cafe pausing to say grace) was a cold, distant, and often deeply depressed husband and father? -
OUR READ: Good observations on the man who observed America.
Molto Agitato: The Mayhem Behind the Music at the Metropolitan Opera
By Johanna Fiedler, Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $30
Ah, the opera! Passion, betrayal, revenge, murder. And that’s just what happens behind the curtains.
The author knows her way around offstage and on. Daughter of distinguished Boston Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler, she was The Met’s press representative for 15 years and knows how to make her cast of characters sing.
One tenor dislocates a diva’s jaw as they grapple onstage. Another sings the lines “How brief is life,” collapses, and dies. Imperious patrons, manipulative directors, and jealous divas make their entrances and exits, and there are fascinating portraits of such Met stalwarts as Rudolf Bing, Joseph Volpe — who rose from stagehand to become general manager — artistic director James Levine, the Three Tenors, and the very aptly named Kathleen Battle.
You don’t have to love opera, though a taste for the dramatic, the occasionally tragic, and frequently comic will help.
OUR READ: We’re singing this book’s praises.
A Season in Dornoch
By Lorne Rubenstein, Simon & Schuster, $23
Among real aficionados of golf, the course that resonates more than any other is Royal Dornoch in (of course) Scotland.
The town of Dornoch is remote and settled comfortably in another epoch. It is a place of bookstores, pubs where the barman recites poetry, and the kind of golf that was played before the age of elevated tee boxes, railroad ties, carts, lushly watered and fertilized grass, and the driver/wedge game that has become the standard in the sport. Royal Dornoch is a links course, and it plays best when the grass is a little brown, the wind is stiff, and you play three woods and irons from the tees, knock down approach shots, and some-times use a putter from 30 feet off the green. It is a course you play by feel and, when you succeed, by grace.
A Season in Dornoch is a leisurely, informed portrait of this great course. The book is full of moments that could serve as epiphanies of the game, the best of which might be when an instructor tells Rubenstein not that he is hitting better shots or, even, good shots. What he says, instead, is that the shots “have character.” Like the great old course, in fact. — G.N.
OUR READ: A fine book on the finest of courses.
Hope To Die
By Lawrence Block, William Morrow & Company, $25
After Hannibal Lecter, it would take a pretty formidable talent to create a serial killer with any freshness or panache. Lawrence Block, though, is old-pro and gifted writer enough not to be daunted by the example of Lecter. In Hope to Die, he has created a killer of eerie plausibility.
Block’s killer is a psychiatrist — or might be, anyway — and he has an original way of solving his patients’ problems. One woman patient is allergic to her dog, so “Doc” kills the dog and gets her to take up stuffed animals. The killer actually admires himself for solving her problem.
He does not, however, stop at the killing of dogs, and that’s where Matthew Scudder, a Manhattan private detective, comes in. His solution to the case is done with Block’s usual effortless craft. Manhattan is expertly rendered. And when Block takes readers into the mind of his killer, they feel the chill. — G.N.
OUR READ: A chilling, well-done performance.
By Bill Marvel and Geoffrey Norman. Marvel is a senior features writer for The Dallas Morning News. Norman is the author of nine novels and several nonfiction books.