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‘Groundhog Day’ as a theory of love

3 Mar

WHEN I learned that Harold Ramis died last week, I reacted the way I’m guessing many others did: By queueing up “Groundhog Day.”

The 1993 movie about almost-eternal life, which Ramis co-wrote and directed, is the deepest light comedy of all time, variously held up as a parable of Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Kabbalah, Nietzsche, Camus, the Sisyphus myth, the practice of yoga, the process of recovery.

It’s less celebrated — though it should be — as a theory of love. Because it turns out that Ramis’s true genius was making “Groundhog Day” into a romantic comedy, when it easily could have been something else.

Read the rest of my Boston Globe column here.

Why Phil Robertson = Kim Kardashian

4 Jan

And Archie Bunker. My Boston Globe column about the “Duck Dynasty” saga:


SO I was doing an Internet search on “Duck Dynasty.” These days, it’s the thing to do. And at one point, I Googled “bullets and beef jerky,” a term that came up in this year’s holiday special, when two stars of A&E’s smash-hit reality show were standing in the local Walmart, discussing Christmas gifts for their employees, concluding that, with a certain pair of items, you really can’t go wrong.

“Bullets and beef jerky,” they continued, in such a self-congratulatory way that I wondered if it had become a catchphrase, in the vein of Jersey Shore’s “Gym, Tan, Laundry.” Turns out, not yet. But the phrase did turn up a blog that’s dedicated to refuting everything Sarah Palin says.

This seems a dubious way to spend your time, given Sarah Palin’s current state of relevance. But Palin has been a staunch defender of “Duck Dynasty,” and this blogger, who hates Palin, hates the top-rated cable series by extension. Not that she has ever actually seen it.

“I am proud to say that I have NEVER watched an episode,” she wrote. But she had watched an Internet clip of that Walmart scene, and from that, concluded that the show represents everything wrong with America. “I am astounded, saddened, and scared that this show is so popular,” she proclaimed.

Read the rest of the column here.

My take on Miley

14 Sep

I expected some backlash for this one — and I got it — but I also discovered that plenty of people agree. Take her VMA turn in the context of current pop music  – with its  astoundingly retro set of gender relations — and what Miley did, tongue and all,  looks a little more impressive:

At the VMAs, Cyrus shared the stage with Robin Thicke, whose “Blurred Lines” is a throwback in every way to the days when girls were seen as mere tools for boys’ pleasure. And yes, in a reference to the women in Thicke’s video, Cyrus was almost naked, while Thicke was fully clothed.

But in her tongue-wagging way, Cyrus turned the script around. Unlike the women in the video, she didn’t just prance past him or — oy, Marlo! — allow herself to be pet. She sang with him, teased him, challenged him, and proved herself the bigger star.

Read the rest of the column — including nostalgia for “Free to Be You and Me” — here.

Weiner and Spitzer: It’s not about forgiveness.

13 Jul

A FEW MONTHS after the last presidential election, at a forum at Harvard’s Institute of Politics, a group of seasoned political consultants were discussing what makes a good candidate — someone voters will respond to and connect with. The answer, one said, was “authenticity.”

This isn’t necessarily a trait that voters — or campaigns — would name. Candidates like to pitch themselves as people with grand passions, brilliant ideas, noble backstories, or all-American values. (Not all necessarily at the same time, but hey, we can’t have everything.)

But this different and slightly subversive idea — that voters want, most of all, to know precisely what they’re getting — goes a long way toward explaining why there’s hope for Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer.

They are destined to be paired in headlines all summer: the testosterone boys, recovered from their sex scandals and bidding to be New York City’s mayor and comptroller, respectively. And the standard political narrative puts them in the framework of downfall and redemption: sinners, tapping into America’s grand willingness to forgive….But maybe the public isn’t rewarding these guys’ repentance so much as their honesty. Maybe voters don’t need to forgive, or even forget; they just have to wrap it all into a credible big picture.

Read the rest of my Boston Globe column here

Dexter, Walter, Tony, and Dzhokhar

3 May

In Slate this week, I argued that the urge to find a logical backstory for the marathon bombing suspect — to imagine that, in the right circumstances, someone could have stopped him — is a habit we’ve honed by watching “quality TV:”


This is how television crowds into our lives: I know I wasn’t the only one who watched the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing while guiltily making comparisons to Homeland. I thought back to the chilling scenes, in Season 1 of the Showtime series, when Nick Brody, the POW-turned-terrorist, donned a suicide vest and prepared to visit destruction on Washington, D.C. I remembered the carnage at the end of Season 2, when a bomb goes off at a crowded event, killing and wounding scores of innocents. The reality of a terror attack—the senseless deaths, the horrific injuries—was, among other things, a kind of rebuke, a reminder of how easily we lap up these entertainments.

But there’s another way TV has influenced our reaction to the Boston bombing, another screen impulse that has found its way into real life. It’s the urge to see a perpetrator—in this case, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev—as a person we can understand.

Read the rest of the essay here.

#BostonStrong: The search for answers

29 Apr

I wrote two columns for the Globe in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. The first — which I later read aloud on Australian radio — was about the jarring task of telling a child what happened. The second was about the quest to understand why a young man – not much older than a child – could do something like this.

Why do so many people want to understand Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? To find within him some speck of humanity?

That’s not an accusation; it’s a statement of fact. In the weeks since the Boston Marathon bombings — in columns, in tweets, in hushed and guilty conversations — there has been a widespread urge to get inside the suspect’s head, to imagine him somehow brainwashed, bullied, regretful. Not everyone feels this way, of course. But it’s not hard to view Tsarnaev differently from the 9/11 bombers, or from Jared Lee Loughner or Adam Lanza, two other young men who committed mass murder in recent months.

Those men, the common narrative goes, were sick. Distant. Separate. Tsarnaev was different. Before the mayhem, he seemed to be one of us.

This is a pressing mystery of the bombings, and the fact that we’re hunting for answers doesn’t mean we’re going soft. It doesn’t mean we aren’t angry.

It has to do with unanswered questions, both general and specific, and the hope that somehow, answers could prevent further attacks. How do small numbers of young men grow radicalized? How do they lose their humanity? How do they evolve from boys — with friends, parents, social lives — to killers?

Read the rest of the column here.

The honest acceptance speech

15 Jan

Inspired by the Golden Globes. Written very quickly, in a burst of amusement and mild disgust. This column originally ran in the Boston Globe on January 15, 2013.


I WON! I won! And here I am, up here, looking down at all of you, and I’m so nervous! It’s terrifying to be adored during award season! I just don’t know what to say!

Luckily, I prepared this acceptance speech.

First, I have to thank this esteemed body of voters, which has been giving me these awards since I was a child. People say this is a second-tier award, but I don’t care, because everybody wants one anyway. Just look at that pop star across the room, glaring at me. She lost a few minutes ago, and now her soul is turning black.

Next, I’d like to thank my team: My manager Bob, my publicist Sue — I adore you, Sue — my folks at ICA, my peeps at CVS, Ms. Prunetta, who makes all of my daily style and juice decisions, and Orville, who gets my groceries.

(Read on.)

How Anonymous could change the world…

9 Jan

…and why what they’re doing in Steubenville, Ohio is both problematic and incredibly hopeful. This column first ran on Tuesday, January 8 in the Boston Globe.

LAST WEEKEND, more than 1,000 people gathered in Steubenville, Ohio, a small town with a history of high school football glory, to support the victim of an alleged rape. These kinds of rallies happen from time to time, largely on college campuses. What made this one striking was the fact that many protesters were wearing Guy Fawkes masks.

Those masks are a trademark of Anonymous, the shadowy collective of hackers that has taken on Steubenville as a vigilante cause. In terms of criminal justice, this is far from ideal. But for our culture at large, it represents an unlikely glimmer of hope.

(Read on.)



Holiday book sampler

14 Nov

Books make terrific holiday gifts, but finding perfect books for friends and family is always a challenge. If only we could flip through a few sample pages on our own schedules. If only if the bookstore could come to us. Well guess what readers, we’re doing just that!

Twelve amazing authors have come together to offer you an amazing opportunity to sample their latest novels just in time for the holidays—12 awesome samples and quirky holiday-themed interviews in one FREE downloadable PDF.

Whether you like to read mysteries, romance, young adult, women’s fiction, or suspense—this group has a book for you.

First Snow – Christine Cunningham
After The Fog – -Kathleen Shoop
A Charming Crime -  Tonya Kappes
Come Back To Me – Melissa Foster
Read Me Dead – Emerald Barnes
The Halo Effect – MJ Rose
Dancing Naked In Dixie – Lauren Clark
The Last Supper – Michaelene McElroy
The Hurricane Lover – Joni Rodgers
The Hounding – Sandra de Helen
Milkshake – Joanna Weiss
The Ninth Step – Barbara Taylor Sissel

Each excerpt is prefaced by information about the book and its author. Concluding each excerpt is an order page with clickable links to several online retailers
You can download the PDF “Holiday Sampler” here, and share it with friends by sending them this link:

So go ahead and sample these fantastic novels from amazing writers! And don’t forget to help spread the word!

Happy holidays and happy reading!

Tag! The Next Big Thing

26 Oct

Thanks to the very funny and generous Samantha Stroh Bailey, the author of Finding Lucas, for including me in my very first “blog hop.” Authors tag each other to answer questions about the next big thing they’re working on, and I’m excited to talk about my very-in-progress next novel.

What is the working title of your book?

Well, the title on my computer file is “Rich Bostonians in Progress,” but I can’t really imagine that on a bookshelf. Titles are hard for me, so I’m going to wait. But the theme is class warfare, and the many ways it plays out in people’s real lives.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

A couple of years ago, a book editor told my former agent that she was interested in books about the very rich. I didn’t take it as a directive, but it got me thinking. I started recalling the encounters I’d had, mostly as a journalist, with very wealthy people. Some characters sprang to mind (I’ll never say who) but also, a specific memory: I was in a cavernous apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which had been renovated n a really ostentatious way, and, in a powder room, I came across the very same ceramic drawer pull that I had recently put in the kitchen of my much, much smaller house. The idea cracked me up at the time – this little blue knob was the one place where our lifestyles intersected! – but now, it got me thinking about those interactions, between upper- and middle-classes, upper- and working-classes, and where people might find common ground.

What genre does your book fall under?

Like my first novel, “Milkshake,” I consider this social satire – it would fit under “humor” in the Amazon listings – though it also counts as general fiction. (And it has a love story!)

 Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Ooh, I love this one! The centerpiece of the book is a patrician matriarch and her husband, and in my dream world, they’re played by Susan Sarandon and Tom Wilkinson. The narrator is a young do-gooder who serves the sort of role Anne Hathaway played in “The Devil Wears Prada” (though perhaps less fashion-forward), so I’ll take her, as well. And for the black-sheep son of the rich family? Paul Dano. There’s also a great part I’d give to Jamie Foxx.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When the ne’er-do-well son of a wealthy family pulls a “performance art” stunt that roils Boston, he and his family try to make amends — forcing them to collide with different classes, and different worlds.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’ll have to see when it’s finished. It’s great to be able to explore both options, and to tap into a growing and vibrant indie community if I decide to go that way.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

It’s still going!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

That’s a tough question, because I don’t want to sound like I’m making false or self-aggrandizing comparisons. But I loved “The Corrections” for the way it really dug into the emotional life of a family, and, more recently, I loved “The Art of Fielding” for the way it explored a specific place. And Christopher Buckley’s books are always models to me, for the way he wields satire and social observation.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

I had so much fun writing “Milkshake” – and got such interesting, heartfelt reactions from readres — that I knew I had to try again. Even if it killed me.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I hope it will be funny! Think an old guy who wears a Speedo around the house and is obsessed with the Mayan flute. And then picture him played by Tom Wilkinson.

Thanks again to Samantha, who has her own second-novel-in-progress. And then go read Meredith O’Brien’s blog, “Notes from the Asylum,” where she chronicles her novel, “Mortified: A Novel About Over-Sharing,” which sounds terrific!


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