“Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes: A Novel” by Jules Moulin— Mother, Daughter and the Same Man

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Moulin, Jules. “Ally Hughes Has Sex Sometimes: A Novel”, Dutton; Reprint edition, 2016.

Mother, Daughter and the Same Man

Amos Lassen

Ally Hughes is a single mother who teaches at Brown University but her life is not easy. She cannot stand her boss and she has a huge class load. At home she has to deal with her overly critical mother, a house that needs repairs and a very sharp daughter. So she really has no time for a man in her life. But then she meets Jake, a student who while quite young in years has a wonderful mind and who challenges his favorite professor to open up her life, and her heart, to love. The two enjoy a passionate weekend and a romance ensues that Ally is forced to end before it can even truly begin. Ten years pass and Ally is still single when Jake re-enters her life and begins to date her daughter who is now an adult.

This quite simply was not my kind of book and even though I understand that it is quite popular, it left me cold. For whatever reason, I just could not get into the plot. We are to assume what happens rather than read about it. I do not have anything against literary fluff if it is fun and keeps me reading but that is not the case here. The characters are not well drawn and Ally comes across as a bore. Her life consists of denying herself sex, love or affection because she once became pregnant and then she has a fling with a student after letting us know that she hates flings.

When Jake re-enters her life (as Noah) after his becoming a movie star with movie star looks and body, she is not interested and so he goes after the daughter who is as vapid as her mother. There is sex in the novel but I did not find that interesting either.

 

“MILES”— A Life Inspired Film

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“Miles”

A Life Inspired Film

Amos Lassen

“Miles” is inspired by the life of director Nate Adloff. It carries the theme of learning from pain. Miles learns patience while dealing with the ridicule of an entire town, while his mother, Pam, finds self-confidence by defending her son. Here, pain leads to learning and that leads to a happier life.

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Miles’ (Tim Boardman)  father (Stephen Root) drops dead from a heart attack and his family were shocked to discover that they were now totally broke. They knew that he had a string of mistresses, but did not know that he has secretly squandered away their entire savings including his son’s fund on these women.  Miles had always been eager to escape his small Midwest hometown and go and study in Chicago but that became impossible now.

Set in the 1990s when computers and chat rooms were relatively new, Miles spent most of his leisure time in these gay chatrooms. But he also used the computer to his advantage researching schools that offered scholarships. He learned that he didn’t have enough good grades to qualify for most of them but then he did come across one school that seemed to offer some hope—there were scholarships to really good volleyball players and even though Miles did not play, nor did his school have a boys team, this lit something in him.

He decided to try out for the girls’ volleyball team and the coach (Missi Pyle) let him join. In effect it was no big deal about the team since only eight people tried out for the open spots.

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Miles was not what we call a good player but he had something his team member did not—height, build and a physical advantage plus he really wanted this as a way to get to college. The team began winning games and there was opposition to his remaining on the team and there was an official campaign to have him taken on at which time his coach who had not been too crazy about having him on the team became his biggest supporter.

To make matters even more interesting, things at home were not going so good. Miles’ mother (Molly Shannon) is a teacher who just started dating a guy that she met at her grief counseling session and he just also happened to me the superintendent (Paul Resier) of the school district so he was not only her boss but also the person who would make the ultimate decision as to whether Miles would be able to continue to play. The time of all of this is also important in that Miles has learned that a scout from the college was due to see him play.The timing was also crucial as Miles had just learned that the Chicago school scout was actually going to come watch him play.

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Quite basically this is a sweet film about a guy (who just happens to be gay) and his fight for equality and the excuses that others have to cover their own homophobia. Miles was determined not to take anything less than that to which he is entitled to have regardless of the feelings of others.

Tim Boardman is excellent as Miles and even with a very experienced cast is able to hold his own.

“TREASURE: FROM TRAGEDY TO TRANS JUSTICE, MAPPING A DETROIT STORY”— Remembering Shelly “Treasure” Hilliard

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“TREASURE: FROM TRAGEDY TO TRANS JUSTICE, MAPPING A DETROIT STORY”

Remembering Shelly “Treasure” Hilliard

Amos Lassen

Shelly “Treasure” Hilliard, a young African American transwoman who died violently in 2011 after Detroit police threatened, coerced, and eventually exposed her as an informant against her drug dealers. In dream hampton’s new documentary, the emphasis is not on Treasure’s death but on Treasure as a member of the trans community and as a daughter and sister in a loving family that totally supported her being who she felt she really was.

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We learn the details that led up to her death and we also learn abut the safe places in Detroit where trans justice advocates and outreach workers teach classes and are there and help each other come to terms with her death and its aftermath. Treasure’s murder was indeed a hate crime but it was also a look at the failure of society in terms of racism, transphobia, the exploitation of sex workers, classism, systematic oppression, government indifference, and the continued criminalization of black bodies.

We first meet Treasure via webcam—she made this video for use on a dating site and of course had no idea that is was going to be the way to introduce a film that has become her memorial. We next go to an empty lot in Detroit and then on to meet Lyniece Nelson, Shelley’s mother, who tries to tell is the details of recovering her daughter’s dismembered body but she is soon overcome with emotion.

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Treasure’s story brings together two issues that are going to haunt us throughout the new century— the fluidity of identity and the many ways citizens can become the prey of their own government. Detroit has come to stand in for the failure of the American city and is a character in this film, but it is not the antagonist. As hampton tells us who Shelley was, she gives us a look at Detroit’s transgender community. However, we really only hear from her once— instead she lets the members of the community, like Emani Love, speak for themselves and shows us that cis-gendered people do care about those who are trans.

We see Treasure’s family as complex human beings that defy the stereotyping fiction that we so often get of African-Americans. Defying the typical story, Shelley/Treasure had love and support from her mother and sisters after coming out as transgender and because they so loved her makes this even more difficult to watch.

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Treasure’s horrific death is as much on the hands of the criminal justice system as it is on the men who butchered her. There are no easy answers as to why it happened to Shelley Hilliard— there is no monstrous individual at work here even if the events are themselves monstrous.

hampton chooses not to end with an image of Hilliard, but of one of her sisters, haunted by the loss, but moving forward in her life. Brandie Brown describes seeing her sibling, Shelly, as a transgender woman. “She had a little black short hairstyle. She was dressed all in black. Nails long. She was looking good,” says Brown, smiling at the memory.

The film is a look at what happened to Hilliard and the overwhelming pain it caused her mother and sisters and it also focuses on the efforts under way locally to help young people like her, who often face prejudice from the outside world, rejection at home and poverty that drives them to prostitution.

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There are interviews with other transgender women, who open up about their lives and share examples of the harassment they endure. And there is footage of the haven of Highland Park’s Ruth Ellis Center, which provides safety and support for runaway, homeless, and at-risk lesbian, gay and transgender youth.

For hampton, the movie is a chance to tell Hilliard’s story and explore its broader issues, including the relationship between police and people of color, drug laws that have a Jim Crow-like impact and the criminalization of sex work.

“INSPIRED”— Basketball is Everything

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“INSPIRED”

Basketball is Everything

Amos Lassen

Maggie Kaszuba’s short film goes into a life of a high school basketball player trying to escape her own deep thoughts. Samantha Higgins (Tyler Kipp) is a talented basketball player who really has no discipline and whose personal life hurts her changes at success on the court. She is quickly distracted and really seems to hurt herself and any changes of success in the sport that she might get. Coach Stafford (Ariane M. Reinhart) pusher her hard and sets limits on her and actually is at the point of harassment regarding Samantha. At times she even seems to go a bit too far but on the other hand that is just what Samantha needs—firm direction so that she can become the best she can be.

Even as I titled my review saying that “Inspired” is about basketball, I realized that it is about so much more. As in any sport, cooperation and relationships are necessary if a team is to succeed and if a player is to succeed.

We have here the relationship between the coach and the athlete and this lets us know that life is made up of all kinds of relationships and that many of these are challenging. Samantha has problems with keeping issues. She is a loner and she is lonely. Her family is uncommunicative and her coach is a difficult woman who tries to teach into the young women the importance of respecting her teammates and herself.   Sam takes medication but we never know what it is or what it is for but we can guess that she suffers from depression. It comes across that she is dependent on and she is quite an unhappy person. She tells coach that basketball is the only thing she loves. It is hard to believe this when we see her simply get through the days and then be careless when it comes to the sport. She is unable to concentrate at practice and she is taken out for a talk with the assistant coach. When she is constantly late for practice, coach Stafford confronts her and Sam walks away and is angry… and hurt. Neither coach nor player were satisfied how this went down so Stafford makes the first move and goes to see Sam. That visit changed everything.

Stafford is a coach who takes no foolishness or nonsense; the kind of person that we do not like so much when we are with her but realize later that what she did was for us and our memories change. There is a lot that I am not sharing because I do not want to spoil a wonderful viewing experience but suffice to say that there are sad and tragic events that are essential and important to the story. While the subject matter is depressing, the film is uplifting.

In just twenty minutes, director Kaszuba says quite a lot and brings in the themes of life, death, adolescence and mortality. I especially love that she brings in those people who inspire us to do better and guide us to reach what we dream of. (I say that has a person who has logged many years in the classroom and nothing pleases me more than to see a child succeed or to put the hood on a PHD candidate. The film is a quiet one and there is beauty in its subtlety.

“HELL-BENT”— Working for a Promotion

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“Hell-Bent”

Working for a Promotion

Amos Lassen

Michael (Justin Andrew Davis) is a writer for Brimstone Magazine and when he gets a chance at a promotion, he sees this as a chance to prove that he is a good writer (and making more money is always a good thing). Michael’s boss, Bowers, (Timothy J. Cox) decides that he should make the promotion a competitive event with each candidate having to wrote a really good piece and then he will select which one he thinks as best. Beth (Ashley Kelley) is considered a shoo-in but Michael is determined. He loves his career and to write. Michael has an ally, Agatha, the office receptionist, (Leslie Lynn Meeker) and she really wants to see him win as much as he does. as Agatha, the receptionist and Michael’s ally in the competition. Foster Vernon directed this thirty minute film in which I see several themes— writing, producing articles, the mystery of Hell, working together and believing in oneself. Bowers would like to elevate the quality and the kind of stories in the magazine and therefore he holds the competition.

As soon as this is announced, Beth begins to size up her competition and works to get the right people to back her while Michael gets lucky via a chance meeting with Agatha and then getting to know Agatha’s friend Ricky (Steven Trolinger) who conveniently happens to be a demon. Ricky has reverence for nothing and no one and enjoys playing jokes on people. However, he wants to help Michael probably because he enjoys winning competitions and he cannot resist a challenge. Michael lacks confidence but with Ricky and Agatha on his side, he seems to be ok.

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Now we might wonder how Agatha had to chance to meet a demon and then continue to be friendly with him. After all, it is not as if demons are easy to find. We learn that there was a time in her life that she was very lonely so she summoned a demon and Ricky appeared and has been with her ever since. He actually seems to like her almost as much as he enjoys playing trips on others. Ricky is also moved (thanks to Agatha) to help Michael in his quest by the very idea of a competition. It seems that he cannot resist a challenge of any type. 

Michael sees a great story in Ricky but Ricky wanted nothing to do with it. Agatha sympathizes with Michael and convinces Ricky to let Michael interview him. Ricky enjoys being the subject of an article and now there is really only Beth for Michael to deal with. Michael is lucky that she is suffering from writer’s block until she decides that instead of working on a great article of her own that she will use her efforts to shoot down what Michael writes.

The best way I can describe how I feel about the film is simply to say that I had great fun watching it. All of us know that we do need a little fun in our lives every once in a while. I love the touch of the supernatural with the demon and the characters are well drawn. Everything is fine and I am putting that mildly. I understand that this is a student project and I certainly hope it received the “A+” that it deserves.

 

 

 

“TOUCH GLOVES”— A Human Story

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“TOUCH GLOVES”

A Human Story

Amos Lassen

Felipe Jorge’s “Touch Gloves” is a documentary about amateur boxing and the story it tells is very human. We follow several hopeful boxers in Haverhill, Massachusetts as they train. The boxers are not the only focus here; we also meet the adults who give their time to help those who come to the club in the hope that they will become good future citizens. While the emphasis might seem to be on boxing, we also realize that this is about community. Focus, hope and love are part of what we see here as we watch young men work to attain their dreams and deal with the hurdles of life.

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I understand that this was a film that was made with no budget and that it is a labor of love for director Felipe who received help from filmmaker Chris Esper (who I have also reviewed here).

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I have to mention that the film is incredible, We see Jorge’s shots that were taken as close to the boxers as possible but without disturbing their training. We also see interviews that totally back up what we see on the screen. Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the film is seeing how the young people and the benefits they reap from those who give them their time, knowledge and friendship. The young learn the importance of being on time, to listen to and to respect others. Bravo!!! A job well done,

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The film will premiere at Haverhill High Auditorium on Sunday, June 26.

“PRINCESS”— A Dark Journey

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“Princess”

A Dark Journey

Amos Lassen

Twelve-year-old Adar’s mother is a workaholic and when he mother is at work, she and her stepfather push their role-playing games into dangerous territory. Adar (Shira Haas) is a 12-year-old girl who’s reached puberty. Her mother (Keren Mor) is a doctor whose boyfriend, Michael (Ori Pfeffer) has recently lost his job. Adar detests going to school while her hormones rage, but it also becomes increasingly clear that life at home isn’t particularly healthy: Michael plays “games” with Adar that sits on the line between fun and molestation. Adar is well aware of the dynamic between her mother and Michael and this excited her. When she and Michael play together, there is a sexual tinge to the horseplay she enjoys with the handsome, affable Michael.

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Playing hooky as usual one day, Adar sees a vaguely androgynous Alan (Adar Zohar-Hanetz), a street boy who is her slightly older and taller male doppelganger. They immediately click, as if they were psychic as well as near-physical twins. As he’s apparently homeless, Adar invites him home — and he immediately slips right into the seductively easygoing household rhythms. His presence also raises the sexual tensions. Michael, who already has a curious tendency to address Adar by the male pronoun seems to be infatuated with her boy double. His playfulness takes on a more ominous, aggressive character until it crosses the line into assault. We become very aware of the erotic atmosphere and we begin to feel implicit when Michael is revealed as a sort of omnisexual monster. We should have been alarmed earlier but we had been coaxed instead into a tactile stupor. The three characters live in a bubble where desires rule and the exterior world is simply “out there”.

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Alma and Michael share a sensuous relationship, constantly grabbing and deep-kissing one another as if Adar wasn’t in the room, just several feet away from them. In their small apartment, their bedrooms separated only by a thin wall and they have enthusiastically loud sex that Adar covers her ears to block out their moaning.

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Michael who is always playful (one of his games with Adar is to refer to her as “Prince” or “boy”), takes an immense like to Alan, who loves the attention he’s getting. Michael becomes increasingly aggressive with his devotion, stroking both Alan and Adar with his hands and becoming more and more inappropriate, building to a terrible scene where he visits Adar in her room at night and forces himself upon her. Alan, meanwhile, seems to come and go from Adar’s bedroom like a phantom.

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The film strongly suggests that perhaps Alan is some kind of Adar surrogate, the boy Michael keeps insisting she is, someone who might take offense on her behalf. With her mother seemingly helpless to stop Michael, or even care much about what he’s doing, Adar is forced to take action on her own behalf. We watch as Adar’s sense of empowerment builds yet we also see that it comes at a terrible price Israeli director Tali Shalom Ezer’s debut film is an evocation of shameful desire, adolescent trauma and very bad parenting. The performances are brilliant but the ambiguity of the screenplay is sure to divide viewers. The conclusion is quite troubling and the rape scene is quite explicit.

“IRRAWADDY MON AMOUR” Love Does Not Wait

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“IRRAWADDY MON AMOUR”

Love Does Not Wait

Amos Lassen

Directors Nicola Grignani, Valeria Testagrossa and  Andrea Zambelli bring us a beautiful documentary about love, beauty and defiance in Myanmar on the banks of the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar/Burma. Kyauk Myaung is a unique gay-friendly village, where trans activist and shaman Myo Nyunt protects “the Third Sex” in an alliance with the local Buddhist monastery. Watermelon vendor Soe Ko and construction worker Saing Ko want to be married. While the family opposition is one hurdle, the real problem is the country’s military junta Under its rule, a person can be sentenced to a minimum of ten years in prison for engaging in consensual gay sex, and of course same-sex marriage is illegal. However, things are changing in Myanmar, with longtime human rights activist and stateswoman Aung San Suu Kyi who is at the threshold of a new regime. Myo Nyunt helps organize a pioneering gay meeting and a radiant wedding ceremony complete with the blessings of three monks, colorful dance performances, and the beautiful ritual of floating candles. Trans patriarch and teacher Thet Htar Phyu says, “Tell them that our love flows over men like the Irrawaddy River—it never stops flowing.”

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It is easy for us who live and love where there have been tremendous advances regarding sexual orientation equality to forget that in most of the rest of the world homosexuals are less than accepted in their respective societies. LGBT people in such places face discrimination, social exile and physical beatings as punishment for their existence, and as such have largely been forced to stay closeted.  Love is one of those things that is very hard to keep hidden and it often “finds a way”. For some gay men in Myanmar, a country redefining itself in the wake of a brutal totalitarian regime, that way is Myo Nyunt, who is the focus of this film.

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Nyunt leads a group of homosexuals based along the Irrawaddy river in central Myanmar who have been shunned from their homes and communities and this group acts as a makeshift family for gay men with no where else to turn. However, its main role is even more subversive than that: in a nation where gay sex is still forbidden by law, Nyunt covertly organizes gay marriages, presided over by Buddhist monks in alliance with his cause.

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In the film we concentrate on one specific couple. The film is shot in what is known as direct cinema in which we see all the players as they are, without any commentary and very little artifice. The film opens with a powerful shot of Nyunt riding in a boat down the Irrawaddy. He appears both strong, confident, but also feminine— he wears a shining earring. Myanmar is a young nation with a female founder so femininity is by-and-large accepted. Nyunt is referred to as “mother” because he takes care of his boys as a mother would, sheltering them from harm and guiding them through life as gay men in Myanmar.

We see that the subjects of the film are simultaneously othered and assimilated by watching their daily activities and rituals that are outside the norm of Myanmar’s society, as they likely would be for men in our own, acts such as dressing in drag, doing women’s dances and working in hair and make-up. In the context of the film, and by extension the context of the Irrawaddy homosexual community, they are completely commonplace and accepted, showing how inclusion is entirely subjective and tied to particular situations.  It is frustrating that for all the globalization and modern imperialism that has become the universal norm that only the most benign cultural aspects of the West are assimilated by developing nations. Few of the progressive political ideas about sexuality and gender seems to have permeated Myanmar’s culture, at least outside of those directly affected..

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 “Irrawaddy Mon Amour” is beautifully photographed and paced, taking the time to be meditative when it’s over, we want to see more. Nyunt exclaims that the love of the men to be married “flows like the Irrawaddy river”: you have to enjoy it while it’s there, because soon it will have moved on.

“CONVERSATIONS WITH GAY ELDERS: AN INTERGENERATIONAL FILM PROJECT”— A Work in Progress

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“CONVERSATIONS WITH GAY ELDERS: AN INTERGENERATIONAL FILM PROJECT”

A Work in Progress

Amos Lassen

This will not be so much a review but rather some news about a film in progress that is so very important to our community. Director David Weissman is currently working on a film that

brings us inside both the stories and the unusual process that comprise his ongoing mission to capture the experiences of gay men of the pre-Stonewall generation. Weissman who now lives in Portland, Oregon is dedicated to listening to and hearing the voices and stories of a generation of gay men that is quickly passing. But in this project, after conducting his on-camera conversations with “gay elders,” “Weissman turns the filmmaking itself into an intergenerational collaboration by pairing each elder’s footage with an editor from a much younger generation. The resulting filmed dialogues become an informal history as listened to and, in a sense, interpreted by a new generation of gay men”.

I have noticed myself in my work in the LGBT community both here in Boston and before that in Little Rock, Arkansas that the young do not always want to hear what we, the elders, have to say and they often forget, just as we did, that they will one day be where we are.

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I understand that Weissman’s focus is to create multiple in-depth individual character studies rather than a single feature film, and in that way to amass a rich repository of these histories for future generations who won’t have direct access to the men who lived them. In the film that will be shown at this year’s (2016) Frameline Film Festival, will feature excerpts from four of the conversations shot thus far, selected by the young editors themselves. These excerpts include San Franciscans Robert Dockendorff (76) and Jack Lasner (87) as well as New Yorkers Gene Fedorko (72) and Daniel Maloney (77).

“Conversations With Gay Elders” will be a series of single-character video documentaries of varying length, focused on older gay men. In addition to creating a repository of passing history, it will also function as a vehicle for facilitating intergenerational dialogue and understanding.

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Weissman says what I have often felt—those of us who lived through the AIDS epidemic became premature elders in our communities. This is directly related to the deaths of so many men, many of whom would have been our mentors, and whose memory we wanted to preserve. Like Weissman, the Holocaust plays a part in my life today having had family members who survived it just as the gay men who survived the AIDS Holocaust. In us this creates a sense of awareness and the ability to hear and share very painful stories that sometimes inspire and depress but that bring generations together. “Conversations With Gay Elders” is a documentary storytelling project that focuses on older gay men—initially those currently in their 70s and older. Their stories are emotionally reflective and historically informative interviews that are the histories of men whose gay preceded Stonewall, and also those of the Gay Liberation generation. These men are also survivors of the AIDS era. The focus here is on gay men exclusively so now the door is open for someone else to tackle, the lesbian, bi and trans communities of the same period.

For whatever reasons, communication between generations of gay men is often difficult; and combined with all the losses from AIDS in the 1980s, we find ourselves living in very different times with different social and political climates. It is sad to think that both existing and future generations of gay men will have little direct access to the stories and wisdom of the elders who were responsible for the gay world as it is today, the world that today’s youth sometimes takes for granted. created the world gay youth may take for granted.

“The Lost Child: A Novel” by Caryl Phillips— Orphans and Outcasts

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Phillips, Caryl. “The Lost Child: A Novel”, Picador, 2016.

Orphans and Outcasts

Amos Lassen

I have never understood why some authors enjoy rewriting or, in this case, reimagining the classics. It is dangerous to do and a lot of hard work and many times these rewrites do not work. It is very difficult to take someone else’s plot and character and reinvent them. Caryl Phillips, however, not only shows that it can be done but that it can be done well. “The Lost Child” is a gripping and inventive reimagining of “Wuthering Heights” and Phillips sees it as “a lyrical tale of orphans and outcasts, absence and hope”. Here is a novel that spans generations and tells the story of young Heathcliff’s life before Mr. Earnshaw brought him home to his family. We read of the Brontë sisters and their brother, Branwell; Monica, whose father forces her to choose between her family and the foreigner she loves; and a boy’s disappearance on the moors and the brother he leaves behind.

These are disparate lives that are tied together by the past and that struggle to be free of it. The themes are those that are important to us today— migration, alienation, and displacement. The result is a haunting and heartbreaking story that comes from a classic but that is reworked so that it is relevant today. While it is somewhat dark and depressing and requires patience to read, it offers the reward of its being an important book.Caryl Phillips captures us with his ability to write about those who are marginalized by social norms in Britain during certain time spans. It is the author’s prose that drew me in immediately as he captured present and the past with brilliant imagery and gorgeous language. For those of us who have ever felt alienated, there is something here that we can partake of. The portrait of children who live in poverty and tragedy is unforgettable and brilliantly rendered especially when we read of their having to take care of themselves after they have been abandoned both physically and metaphorically.