Must do’s: What we like this week

"Salinger" is the strange new oral biography of a reclusive author, and "Boardwalk Empire" gets a brand-new villain

Topics: Our Picks: Books, our picks: TV, Our Picks: Movies, Entertainment, TV, Television, literature, Movies, Film, cinema, Novels, entertainment news, J.D. Salinger, New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina, Brooklyn, Boardwalk Empire, mother of george,

Must do’s: What we like this week

BOOKS

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital” details the true life events in the days following Hurricane Katrina, when a disaster mortuary team found 45 bodies in Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans. Just how the dead patients came to be there and who was responsible is the crux of what author Sheri Fink reports in this “nonfiction page-turner,” writes Laura Miller:

This important book is the final product of a joint investigative project initially funded by the New York Times and ProPublica. Fink interviewed hundreds of people, ranging from doctors and nurses to law enforcement officers, patients, family members, government officials and volunteers. At the center of this inquiry is the arrest in 2006 of a doctor, Anna Pou, and two nurses from the hospital’s intensive care unit, Cheri Landry and Lori Budo, on charges of second-degree murder. Pou and the nurses, prosecutors contended, had administered lethal doses of morphine and other painkillers to at least four patients of LifeCare, a “hospital within a hospital” that leased a floor from Memorial and used the services of some of Memorial’s doctors. The nurses were compelled to testify after the DA decided not to prosecute them. In 2007, a grand jury refused to indict Pou on any of the charges brought against her.

The new oral biography “Salinger” caused a recent media flurry when it hit shelves, in part because of its gratuitous and highly anticipated revelations of a reclusive author who shunned public life and tightly protected his works. But it is in fact a book whose “pages turn quickly,” writes Kyle Minor, and one that is “as well suited to audiobook narration as any I’ve ever read or heard”:

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The early “Salinger” reviews have been long on criticism of the accompanying film, on moral considerations of Salinger’s mostly epistolary serial relationships with teenage girls, on speculation about the relationship between Salinger’s embrace of the Vedanta religion and his withdrawal from public life, and on the book’s newsworthy hypothesis that “The Catcher in the Rye” is a veiled expression of the post-traumatic stress disorder Salinger brought back with him from World War II.

But very little has been said about “Salinger” as a book, a strange omission, because “Salinger” is a strange book. It pushes the form of the oral biography past the ordinary assemblage of interview transcripts. Shields and Salerno preserve the convention of offering a speaker’s name in boldface, followed by whatever the speaker said.

MOVIES

Pick of the week: A gorgeous African tapestry in Brooklyn

Amid the 2013 global wave of black cinema, Andrew Dosunmu’s ”Mother of George“ is one of the most striking entries — a “wistful and spectacular” realistic drama shot primarily in Brooklyn, writes Andrew O’Hehir. The film follows the story of an immigrant couple unable to conceive a child who must face a tough choice between pursing conventional Western medicine and traditional African practice:

In part, the Brooklyn background of “Mother of George” remains hazy and indistinct because this is a global story that could just as well be unfolding in London or Paris, Dallas or Denver. It’s a story repeated over and over around the world, about how being uprooted can both set us free and destroy us, and how clinging to tradition can bind us in communities for good and for ill. And you needn’t worry, by the way, that you’ll fall in love with Adenike and her struggle and then have your heart broken. If “Mother of George” in some ways resembles a 21st-century update of the naturalism of Theodore Dreiser and Emile Zola, it’s far more optimistic than those models might suggest, far more committed to the possibility that music, food, fabric and love can sustain these strangers in a strange land.

TELEVISION

Season 4 of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” introduces the character of Dr. Valentin Narcisse, the kingpin of Harlem’s numbers racket, played by the stellar Jeffrey Wright. Looking to snag a portion of Chalky White’s (Michael K. Williams) nightclub action in Atlantic City, the good doctor’s arrival adds an engaging new power dynamic that’s steeped in historical conflict, writes Neil Drumming:

Jeffrey Wright, himself, has revealed that his character is based roughly on Casper Holstein, a notorious Harlem hustler from the 1920s who did have both a philanthropic side and a bit of a black power bent. Add to the mix a bit of the soul and semblance of W.E.B. Dubois (I looked him up) and you get this part preacher, part criminal who refers to himself as another “child of God,” teaches self-determination, and despises miscegenation. At his core, though, Narcisse is a coldhearted opportunist and a wicked manipulator, perhaps even more so than Nucky — who is ultimately his true nemesis.

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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