In Review: October 7, 1998
Death of a daughter
A novel of loss and finding new life
The Fall of a Sparrow
Robert Hellenga *69
|In Bologna, Italy, a bomb explodes in a train station, killing 86 people, including 22-year-old Carolyn "Cookie" Woodhull. Cookie's mother becomes a recluse, and Cookie's two sisters move away from the family home in rural Indiana. Cookie's father, Woody, throws himself back into teaching Greek and Latin at the local college. For years, Woody, who "didn't need any more adventures," is satisfied with his quiet life.|
But then something begins to stir within Woody. Here, Robert Hellenga's The Fall of a Sparrow begins. With an encyclopedic knowledge of the Western canon and a compassionate touch, Hellenga's second novel makes for rewarding reading.
Seven years after the strage, or massacre, Woody, driving back from his daughter's college memorial service, has a sudden craving for the blues. "Not Eric Claption and Bob Dylan, not Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, but something older, something deeper down." In a music shop, Woody finds a $8,995 National Steel guitar and decides to buy it. Woody "knew that possessions don't bring happiness -- knew it as certainly as he knew anything -- but it had been so long since he wanted something, he was so unused to wanting anything." Woody suddenly needs more in his life.
Including sex. Since his daughter's death, his wife had left him, and he had not invited another woman into his bed. Now, he embarks on an affair with one of his students. In one passage, he compares himself to Odysseus, who, far from home, beds the sex goddess Calypso.
Stories have always been important for Woody, and throughout the novel, Woody relates his own situations to literature's classics. He mentions works like Pride and Prejudice, Remembrance of Things Past, The Lord of the Rings, Paradiso, the Oresteia, and writers like Tolstoy, C.S. Lewis, Ovid, Keats, and Wordsworth. Hellenga, who completed his Ph.D. in English literature at Princeton, treats these many great works with a careful and loving hand -- the allusions are anecdotal rather than academic. The plots and descriptions and dilemmas of the literature enlighten rather than burden.
The books aren't enough for Woody to overcome the death of his daughter. "No matter how he tried he couldn't make sense of her story. It was, he often thought, as if the pages had been ripped out of the book he'd been reading. There was no sense of an ending."
So Woody travels to Bologna, where the trial of the neofascist terrorists accused of blowing up Cookie is taking place. Here, he finally faces his daughter's murder. He testifies on behalf of the parti less, the injured parties, and covers the trial for the Chicago Tribune. He also meets a woman named Gabriela, who teaches him about food and encourages him to play his National Steel for money. Hellenga writes, "And while he was passing around the tray, asking for money, he realized that the new life he'd been longing for, his vita nuova, had already begun without his even noticing it."
There are problems with the novel. Hellenga could have cut 30 pages, and, several times, he somewhat ineffectively shifts the point of view to Woody's daughter Sara. But in the end, the book works. Woody notes that Beowulf, Achilles, and Sir Launcelot cried when they lost a loved one; but Hellenga's novel is more like the blues -- sadness without the tears.
-- Mark Rambler '96
Churchill's Horses and the Myths
of American Corporations:
Power, Stakeholders, and Governance
Mord Bogie '54
Do you have a sneaking feeling that lately capitalism hasn't been all that it's cracked up to be? Has downsizing depressed you or affected your own personal bottom line? Have you had trouble recently distinguishing among the brands of salsa at the grocery store? Then you've had a Mord Bogie Moment, and this book's for you.
The book is Churchill's Horses and the Myths of American Corporations: Power, Stakeholders, and Governance, and reading it brought home to me that an oddly alarming experience I had the other day was in fact a Mord Bogie Moment. I was wandering around a shopping mall in a strange town, somewhere between Leather Goods Purgatory and CD Heaven, when I realized that I had no idea where in North America I was.
I panicked for a second or two, and then figured it out by asking the clerk at the nearby Book Store Nirvana. She said, "Why, y'all's in Virginia, honey," and all doubt was removed.
Bogie addresses this ubiquitous sameness and other alarming trends of corporate life as he explodes a series of more-or-less widely held myths about business in America. "Churchill's Horses" are the companies, businesses, and corporations the former prime minister sees as the sturdy horses pulling a country's economy.
Bogie identifies 28 common myths, or misconceptions, about these important and powerful social organizations. The first myth, for example, is "Corporations are nothing more or less than their people." In discussing this, Bogie brings in law and history in pointing out that, on the contrary, "public corporations are much more powerful than all their people put together." They have limited liability, unlike people, and they can raise money in enormous amounts.
Another myth is "Public corporations are just private corporations with many owners." Bogie discusses the effects of Wall Street on public corporations to demonstrate that the two forms of organization are in fact quite different. Private corporations don't have to worry about professional investors, stock market swings, or speculators, because their stock is privately held.
One of my favorites is "The first concern of public corporation management is shareholder value," a gem I've read in many a corporate annual report. Bogie marshals an impressive amount of factual data in support of the contrary, that "the first concern of public corporate management is its own interests," which is to say huge salaries, perks, and continued power. If the truth-telling is not always as shocking as Bogie seems to think, the arguments are nonetheless compelling. For example, Bogie says, "Directors aren't elected by the owners and don't control the corporation." But virtually anyone who has worked in a corporation for any length of time knows that the day a board of directors is in town is Happy Face Day and that successfully running a corporation involves keeping the directors in the dark as much as the worker bees. It's known as the Mushroom School of Management.
Nonetheless, Bogie has done his homework. He examines a wide variety of issues in deconstructing his myths, including corporate control, shareholders, customers, managers, CEOs, workers, and capitalists. The cumulative effect of all the myth-exploding is sobering -- and a useful addition to the ever-growing oeuvre of books on the failings of corporate life.
-- Nicholas Morgan '75
Lorraine Goodman '83 sings in musical theater worldwide
Soprano Lorraine Goodman '83 majored in history at Princeton, while, she says, pursuing "a minor in extracurricular theater." She appeared in several Triangle shows, notably the 1983 Under the Influence, in which she portrayed Eva the Diva, "who killed people with high C's."
More recently, Goodman seems to be delighting audiences with her high C's -- one reviewer cited her "silvery yet creamy voice," noting that she "showed superb control throughout her entire range." Goodman's unusually wide range and tonal depth have caused some to call her a lyric, some a dramatic, and some a coloratura soprano.
Reviewers also comment on her acting ability: playing Susannah Polk in Carlisle Floyd's Susannah, she was "utterly convincing in her transitions from blithe to disillusioned, from desperate to heartless."
Goodman characterizes herself as "an aggressive performer. I take risks emotionally. One director told me, 'You're such a tiger!' I said, 'Well, I did go to Princeton.'"
Because she is equally comfortable on the operatic or musical stage, she has sung an unusual variety of roles in the United States and abroad: Violetta in La Traviata, the title role in Susannah, Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance, Grizabella in Cats. She was in the original Broadway cast of Terrence McNally's play Master Class, where, she says, "I had the opportunity to work with three great ladies of the theater: Zoe Caldwell, Patti LuPone, and Dixie Carter."
And there was Les Miserables, also on Broadway, in which she was the "swing" -- she covered (understudied) every female role. "It's the hardest job I've ever had," she says. "If you are a principal, everyone says how wonderful you were. If you cover or swing, you know you did a great job if no one says anything."
Currently represented by Richard Realmuto Artists ("They handle my opera engagements") and LTA Talent Agency ("who handle most of my legitimate theater work"), both of New York City, Goodman recently agreed to return to Germany for a second year as Carlotta in the Hamburg production of Das Phantom der Oper. Carlotta is one of the most demanding roles Goodman has sung. "For example," she points out, "Violetta has the whole first act to warm up before her aria, 'Sempre libera.' But the first thing Carlotta sings -- and I am completely alone, on a bare stage -- is a cadenza that starts on the C above middle C, goes to high D, then back to middle C, then back to high C."
In addition to the role's vocal pyrotechnics, Goodman adds, her Carlotta "wears six different costumes, weighing 30 or 40 pounds each. That takes a toll on the body. And I have to change costumes in 45 seconds."
This coming year, in addition to singing Carlotta, she will be on the faculty of the Stella Academy in Hamburg, teaching young Germans the art of performing in musicals.
"The best part of working abroad," says Goodman, "is that artists are treated like artists. There is actually money for the arts in Germany." Goodman recently took advantage of several weeks' vacation to return to the United States and visit family and friends in New Jersey and New York and to attend '83's 15th reunion.
What is her advice to aspiring performers? "If you can do anything else and be happy, you should, because life in the performing arts is very difficult." However, Goodman says, "If, like me, you have a passion for singing or acting, you must follow the passion wherever it leads.
"It's a calling. You really don't have a choice."
-- Caroline Moseley
What is life? And why does it need so many area codes?
Brave is the Website that attempts to answer, "What is life?" For one opinion, look at W. Brigham Klyce, Jr. '70's www.panspermia.org, which gives an overview of Cosmic Ancestry, summarized as follows: "Cosmic Ancestry is a new theory of evolution and the origin of life on Earth. It holds that life on Earth was seeded by bacterial spores from space, and that the genetic programs necessary for the evolution of life come from space....The first point, which deals with the origin of life on Earth, is known as panspermia." Klyce, who began studying Cosmic Ancestry three years ago, has organized a handsome site, rich with references to astronomic and biological research and extensive footnotes and links. Klyce does ask why any of the theory matters, and he provides answers in the site's philosophical final pages, melding elements of science fiction and existentialist fervor. After speculating on colonizing space by loading "all of our genes onto space-traveling bacteria," he writes, "Our actual human descendants wouldn't emerge there for several billion years probably. But if this were our only chance to survive, we'd do it, wouldn't we?" Looking at the results of successful colonization on the planet we call home, he declares, "Life on Earth belongs here. We all belong here. There is purpose, intelligence, and intentionality behind our existence. Our hopes and dreams spring from something cosmic. We have descended from Cosmic Ancestors. They had a motive for launching us, the perpetuation of life. In the words of another cause, 'I am somebody.' " In all, it's a curious site, one that shows how the Internet can showcase one person's determination to tell the world his version of truth.
Telecommunications consultant Lincoln Madison '84 asks the more prosaic question, "Why do we need so many new area codes?" on his riveting Website, www.lincmad.com. He answers his question and covers the last half-century of telephone numbers in obsessive detail. While the site is mostly text, it works extremely well. Madison walks viewers through the evolution of area codes since 1947's original 86 numbers, into the modern era of realignments, splits, overlays, jeopardy, and extinction. As to why so many area codes, Madison blames it on inefficient allocation of phone numbers, and examines different solutions. He suggests adding one number to both the area code and prefix to get a 12-digit phone number. "This proposal," Madison writes, "would expand the numbering capacity of the North American Numbering Plan by a factor of 100, which should allow ample room to assign a telephone number to every person, computer, fax machine, pet, and household appliance. A twelve-digit numbering space would allow more than 500 billion possible numbers....Thus, a 10-fold increase in capacity might be adequate to last for decades or even centuries; then again, why not go for the 100-fold increase and be certain?"
-- Van Wallach '80
The Reasonable Art of Fly Fishing, by Terry Mort '64 (Abenaki Publishers, $24.95) -- How-to books on fly fishing have been around for 500 years, and most take a utilitarian approach to their subject. In a work that is as much philosophical as it is instructional, Mort covers the basics of equipment and techniques for catching trout on a fly, but with an élan and sense of humor rare for the genre. A sampling from a section on hooks: "The word 'angler' stems from 'angle,' which stems from the Anglo Saxon word 'angel,' meaning hook. Modern anglers could therefore refer to themselves as hookers, but probably the term will not become popular." Mort sprinkles his text with quotations from Shakespeare, Donne, Joyce, and Twain, among others, and in the discursive tradition of Izaak Walton, he often strays from his subject to make some larger point about the place of the "lovely and reasonable art" of fly fishing in a well-lived life. I'd like to go fishing with this guy.
-- J.I. Merritt '66
The Mythology of Native North America, by David Leeming '58 and Jake Page '58 (Oklahoma, $22.95)--An introduction and commentary on 72 myths drawn from a variety of Native American cultures and language groups. Leeming is a professor, emeritus, of English and comparative literature at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. Page has been an editor for Natural History Press and Smithsonian.
Objectivity Is Not Neutrality: Explanatory Schemes in History, by Thomas L. Haskell '61 (Johns Hopkins, $39.95)--The author argues for a moderate historicism that acknowledges the force of perspective and reaffirms the pluralistic practices of a liberal democratic society. Haskell is a professor of history at Rice.
Reconcilable Differences: Confronting Beauty, Pornography, and the Future of Feminism, by Lynn S. Chancer '78 (California, $18.95)--The author calls for a "third wave" of feminism based on respecting differences and commonalities. Chancer is an assistant professor of sociology at Barnard.