Must do’s: What we like this week

Love and suffering plagues the Brangelina of the Big Top, and a recap of an epic "Game of Thrones" season finale

Topics: Our Picks: Books, our picks: TV, Our Picks: Movies, Entertainment, TV, Television, literature, Movies, Film, cinema, Novels, Fiction, entertainment news, Karen Joy Fowler, Lillian Leitzel, Queen of the Air, David Kato, Call Me Kuchu, Game of Thrones,

Must do’s: What we like this week (Credit: Benjamin Wheelock/Salon/HBO)

BOOKS

Following the trail of the coquettish Lillian Leitzel, the “World’s Most Marvelous Gymnast,” and her gravity-defying partner, Alfredo Codona, “Queen of the Air” is an irresistible romantic biography of the Brad and Angelina of the Big Top, writes Laura Miller.

Jensen knows how to tell this story, with just the right degree of old-timey melodrama. Here’s how he describes an argument during the long years when Codona drove himself to perfect the Triple: His father and brother “begged him to abandon his quest for the feat before it killed him or, worse, left him such a pathetic cripple that he would be belted into a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Codona could not be persuaded.” In counterpoint, he pulls back the curtains concealing the brutality of the performer’s lot: celebrated and fawned over one year, forced by an accident to work as an auto mechanic the next. Leitzel was surrounded by admirers and showered with gifts, but before going to bed every night she injected caffeine into her shoulder socket to tame the “pulsating, and some nights, hammering pain.” Unlike even the most battered professional athletes, she performed twice a day, every day during the circus’ season, and on off-season gigs in Europe.

 
Rosemary Cooke was born to narrate novels, according to Laura Miller. She brings her distinctive voice to read Karen Joy Fowler’s “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves,” a touchingly comic novel about growing up with scientist parents and a chimpanzee sister named Fern.



“We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” is that rare thing, a comic novel that wrestles seriously with serious moral questions. Rosemary has a distinctive, fully realized voice on the page, which ought to make the audiobook version of the novel easy to perform. Too often, though, books like this receive a disastrous narration. (Last year’s Exhibit A: Kathleen Wilhoite’s botched reading of Maria Semple’s “Where’d You Go Bernadette?”) Fortunately Orlagh Cassidy’s performance of “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves” is exactly what’s called for: supple and fluent, able to accommodate both Rosemary’s wisecracks and her grief. The best audiobook narrators sometimes feel like an ideal friend who’s sharing the book with you, while others (most often when reading first-person narration) seem to speak for the book itself. Cassidy’s performance here belongs to the latter kind.

MOVIES

Pick of the week: Fighting the world's worst homophobia

In “Call me Kuchu,” issues of homophobia, evangelical Christianity and anti-Western resentment come to a boiling point in post-colonial Uganda. Andrew O’Hehir recommends this heartbreaking tale of love, hatred and courage, saying he’ll be “surprised if any other movie this year affects me as much.”

So that’s the context in which David Kato lived and died, a context where the notorious proposed law that would have mandated the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” – which seems to mean refusing to go back into the closet after coming out once and getting caught – was supported by most Ugandan legislators and a wide swath of the public. As a local law professor explains in the film, this isn’t simply a question of “traditional African attitudes,” but also of stern ideas about sexual morality introduced by the colonizing Western powers, which have now left those ideas behind and moved on to a more liberal mind-set. Intense pressure from Western leaders (especially President Obama, beloved in Africa) and the United Nations has so far kept this nightmarish law off the books, but for understandable historical reasons that kind of interference often hardens local attitudes.

TELEVISION

Willa Paskin recaps the finale to an epic season 3 of “Game of Thrones.” But the story doesn’t end there — “All the characters, all the circumstances, all the politics are ongoing. They don’t stop — it’s too bad we have to,” she laments.

As it has in season’s past, the last episode served a structural-spiritual function, both tracking the fallout of the epic events in the penultimate episode and reminding us that things go on. With Robb’s death, Westeros is nominally united under the Lannisters, but actually more fractured than ever, and as proof, the finale showed us the Greyjoy’s for the first time all season and finally really introduced us to the Boltons, who seem as cuddly as teddy bears stuffed with glass. (Ramsey, who has been torturing Theon “Reek” Greyjoy all season, even managed to take “dick in a box” and turn it from a joke into a nightmare.) The episode did minimal to no wrapping up, leaving the characters, when it could, at a crossroads.

Liz Fields is an Australian freelance journalist based in New York who has previously scribbled for Slate, ABC News, Sydney Morning Herald and more. Follow her on Twitter @lianzifields

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