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Whatever happened to last year's breakout stars?
NEW YORK (AP) — Before Joseph Heller satirized the madness of war in “Catch-22,” he told a serious tale about the tragedy of racism.
“Almost Like Christmas,” to appear next week in Strand Magazine, is a grim short story about the stabbing of a Southern white, the town’s thirst for revenge and the black man who has resigned himself to blame. Written in the late 1940s or early ’50s, after Heller had returned from World War II, the story has rarely been seen and offers a peek at the early fiction of one of the 20th century’s most famous writers.
“Heller was to a large extent a guy who saw through hypocrisy, greed, and the backward nature of a mob better than most writers — so it’s no wonder that he turned his pen to a racist mob in a small southern town,” said Andrew Gulli, managing editor of the Strand, a publication based in Birmingham, Mich., that has unearthed little known works by Mark Twain, Graham Greene and others.
From the start, “Almost Like Christmas” is a portrait of a worn out community. One character has the “hopeless, stupid, waxen look of a drunkard.” A window’s “coarse patterns of grime” reminds another character of “diseased tissue,” while the voice of a third man has a “shrill, whinnying, malicious hysteria.”
In this unnamed place, a terrible fight (“the primordial brutality of an alley fracas”) has left a white man in a coma, local residents seething and a young black man, Jess Calgary, as the prime suspect. A white school teacher, identified as “Carter,” has the awful task of convincing Calgary that he should come into town for questioning.
“Almost Like Christmas” is as bleak as any of Heller’s novels, but without the dark humor he would become famous for. Heller biographer Tracy Daugherty said that at the time Heller had yet to develop his own literary voice and was instead mimicking the style of magazine stories.
“William Saroyan was a huge influence on Heller at the time — stories of Depression-era hardships, written in a hard-boiled style,” said Daugherty, whose “Just One Catch: A Biography of Joseph Heller,” came out in 2011. “The story’s lack of humor is very uncharacteristic of the Heller readers would come to know.”
Heller, who died at age 76 in 1999, spent much of his life in or near his native New York City. Daugherty said that Heller trained for the military in South Carolina, but otherwise had little first-hand knowledge of the South and almost surely did not base “Almost Like Christmas” on any direct experience.
Daugherty does find some personal elements in the story, noting that Carter is a “flawed mentor,” perhaps inspired by Heller’s brother and father, “who never really helped him in the ways he needed, with his education and his ambitions.”
Heller started writing “Catch-22″ in 1953 and the novel came out eight years later, not long before the Vietnam War would make the novel required reading in the 1960s and ’70s. Daugherty says she found evidence that Heller was working on a story based on his war service around the time he wrote “Just Like Christmas.” But editors advised him that the market for war fiction was already well served by such novels as Norman Mailer’s “The Naked and the Dead” and James Jones’ “From Here to Eternity.”
“So Heller set his war story aside and continued to imitate magazine writers for a while, doing things such as ‘Almost Like Christmas,’ while feeling that he had not broken through to his best material,” Daugherty said. “Many years would pass before he’d return to his true calling, the war story — and in doing so he would change our culture’s idea of what a war story could be.”
The star of “Beasts of the Southern Wild” charmed practically everyone at the Oscars, where she was the youngest best actress nominee ever; she went on to film a remake of “Annie” opposite Jamie Foxx and Cameron Diaz.
Carly Rae Jepsen
Jepsen, who had 2012’s song of the summer with “Call Me Maybe,” released the fifth and final single from her debut album in January 2013. She toured the U.S. in mid-2013 -- just as Daft Punk and Robin Thicke battled to succeed her as icons of the summer.
Honey Boo Boo
2012’s biggest reality star, the young pageant contestant Alana Thompson, had a quieter time this year, with a second season whose ratings were strong but whose buzz was a bit muted. America was, by now, accustomed to young Thompson, and outraged or scandalized reactions were reserved for other TLC programming, like “The Man With the 132-Pound Scrotum.”
Ocean missed out on the top Grammys for which he was nominated in early 2013; he bounced back quickly with featured appearances on albums by Kanye West, Jay Z and Beyoncé, and is at work on a new album. Things are looking up!
The “21 Jump Street” and “Magic Mike” star had a marginally less charmed 2013, with “White House Down” failing to connect with moviegoers and “Foxcatcher” delayed until next year. It may get worse before it gets better: His big 2014 sci-fi flick, “Jupiter Ascending,” looks … well, a little weird!
With their third album in 21 months hitting No. 1 immediately upon its fall 2013 release, the boy band that broke into America in 2012 would seem to be here to stay for a while. Still, they looked a bit nervous in their reaction shots during the Video Music Awards’ ‘N Sync reunion; maybe not this year, maybe not next, but eventually, the Justin of One Direction is going to break out. For now, though, things look good!
Lana Del Rey
The famously uncomfortable “Saturday Night Live” musical guest overcame endless mockery from 2012 to land her first top-10 hit in the summer of 2013 -- a remix of a year-old song, “Summertime Sadness.” As the co-writer of “Young and Beautiful,” the love theme from “The Great Gatsby,” Del Rey is such a front-runner for the best original song Oscar (last won by Adele) that there has been a direct-mail campaign to academy voters against her. The song was also played at the most romantic event of the year: Kanye West’s stadium marriage proposal to Kim Kardashian.
Wilson, who charmed fans of 2012’s “Pitch Perfect,” had a rockier 2013, with her sitcom “Super Fun Night” struggling creatively and in the ratings. Her next planned movies are both sequels, to “Kung Fu Panda” and -- hoping lightning will strike twice -- to “Pitch Perfect.”
Another 2012 music icon, Gotye won the record of the year trophy at the 2013 Grammys for “Somebody That I Used to Know.” He released no new singles in 2013, and has told the press he has been struggling to complete new material. Good luck, Gotye!
The golden boy of the 2012 Olympics, without feats of aquatic derring-do to distract the public this year, saw his always-tenuous persona completely shift from “amiable jock” into “utter dolt” with his E! reality series. Worst of all, the series was canceled.
In 2012, the young actress -- best known for her role in the indie “Winter’s Bone” and a supporting part in the “X-Men” franchise -- had marquee roles in the first “Hunger Games” film and in David O. Russell’s comedy “Silver Linings Playbook.” In 2013, she played to her strengths: After winning an Oscar, she starred in the second “Hunger Games” movie, on whose publicity tour she managed to charm everyone in America, and had another role in a David O. Russell comedy, “American Hustle,” for which she might just win ANOTHER Oscar. By 2014, she may end up running a major studio, or serving as president.
The breakout bikini model of 2012 made a repeat appearance on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue -- and got to do high-fashion spreads in Elle, Vogue and Vanity Fair. She was cast in a Cameron Diaz comedy, too. Some types of appeal are eternal!
E. L. James
The “50 Shades” novelist now gets to help share some input into a movie adaptation set for release in 2015. She probably never needs to work again! Isn’t that great? Isn’t that … just … great?
The “Gangnam Style” phenom performed at New Year’s 2013, but will spend New Year’s 2014 flipping channels to find his pistachio ad, his goofy antics having been outdone in the past year by “The Fox” singers Ylvis. Nothing meme can stay.
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