Salon recommends

A celebrated screenwriter's exhilaratingly street-smart novel of life in the projects, intimate and elegant letters between two literary lights and more.

By Salon Staff
March 13, 2001 1:52AM (UTC)
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What we're reading, what we're liking

Freedomland by Richard Price
Novelist ("Clockers") and screenwriter Richard Price is celebrated for his unflinching portrayals of urban life: Think the best episodes of "Homicide" or "NYPD Blue" and you're in his neighborhood. But this searing novel delivers much more than dead-on dialogue and street smarts. Inspired by the Susan Smith case, in which a white woman killed her children and blamed a fictitious black man for their deaths, "Freedomland" is a harrowing suspense story that transcends its genre to attain extraordinary, almost hypnotic psychological insight. Price captures the moral complexities of life in the projects, and evinces a tough-minded compassion for his two protagonists, a black cop and a white reporter. But the heart of the book -- a genuine artistic achievement -- is Price's devastating, tragic portrait of a woman whose love for her child is set against the desperation of the rest of her life. He achieves something rare: a realism not just of the streets, but of the soul.

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Gary Kamiya

The Element of Lavishness: Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner and William Maxwell (1938-1978)
If you read a lot of fiction, a collection of letters can be liberating -- letters offer the same chance to enter into other people's lives, but you can jump around and pick and choose. William Maxwell, the New Yorker editor and author of six novels (including the priceless "So Long, See You Tomorrow") and many stories and essays, corresponded for half a century with the British writer Sylvia Townsend Warner, though the two met in person only twice. There's something mysteriously touching about the devotion these two writers show to their correspondence, which became a palpable presence in their lives. In one letter Maxwell describes being at a candlelight demonstration protesting the Vietnam War ("At one point silence began to emanate from somewhere, on whose instructions I don't know, and it grew and grew and spread all through that crowd. I can't tell you how marvelous it was to hear thousands of people being silent"). In her response, Warner tells him that she read it to her companion, who was in the final stage of a terminal illness: "Beyond all, I am grateful to you, for it revived Valentine to the excitement of reality. It set fire to her, perhaps the last thing to do so." The book has dozens of moments like this, dramatic reminders of the unique power of a good letter to wake us up to the world.

Maria Russo

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