October 25, 2006: Books and Arts
David Galef ’81 pens novel and anthology that explore messy things in life
By Jane Carr ’00
David Galef ’81 is something of a literary polymath, driven by what he calls “restless curiosity.” As a student at Princeton and later on, he found it an “annoyance” to be told that he needed to focus on one specialty over another. In short, says Galef, “I crave variety.” Judging from his recent work, Galef’s versatility thrives unabated. He is a professor of English and an administrator at the University of Mississippi. Meanwhile, his third novel, How to Cope with Suburban Stress, came out in September, along with a collection of stories, 20 over 40, he co-edited with his wife, Beth Weinhouse, a journalist and magazine editor. Galef also has collaborated with his father on a research project about Martha Freud (wife of Sigmund) and compiled a collection of poetry scheduled for publication in spring 2007.
How to Cope with Suburban Stress, published by Permanent Press, follows the family drama of psychiatrist Michael Eisler, whose marriage to Jane, a controlling executive, is disintegrating at the expense of their precocious son, Alex. Interjected into Eisler’s narrative is the tale of Ted Sacks, a reclusive computer programmer and recidivist pedophile.
Conceived as a plot device to expose the paradox of suburbia — “on the one hand, normalcy incorporated, and on the other, an artificial enclave,” says Galef — the child-molester character prompted the author to do extensive research and to face the reality that his book would be, in the words of some agents, “a tough sell.” He persevered, and the novel, noted by critics for searing detail and dark humor, has drawn positive early reviews.
Working on 20 Over 40, a collection of 20 short stories by authors over 40 years of age that is published by the University Press of Mississippi, provided an opportunity to initiate a conversation in America about midlife experiences such as caring for children and aging parents, having affairs, and facing one’s own age in a youth-crazed culture. Playing on the title of Debra Spark’s now-famous anthology 20 Under 30, Galef and Weinhouse chose works from writers like David Leavitt and Gish Jen that made the “coming-of-age” narrative “new again by making it older,” explains Galef, 47.
An English major who wrote a creative thesis of short stories, Galef credits Princeton as the first place where he could be “in the company of other serious writers.” He wrote for the Prince and the Tiger, edited the Nassau Literary Review, and participated in workshops with Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen Koch. Galef also counts Samuel Hynes’ course in modern British literature as a primary influence for his own academic focus on British modernism, which he has taught for 17 years at Ole Miss.
Currently, Galef is creating new projects, including a novel and an essay on the poems of W.H. Auden and A.A. Milne. His work verifies his own aphorism that “midlife is not a gap, but a wealth of activity.”
Jane Carr ’00 is a writer and graduate student in Charlottesville, Va.
The Alibi Club — Francine Mathews ’85 (Bantam). An espionage thriller set in Paris in the spring of 1940, this novel follows four expatriates who frequent an elite nightclub, the Alibi Club, while the fall of the city looms. Blending historical fact and fiction, the story focuses on a scientist trying to keep a deadly weapon out of German hands, and the mysterious murder of an American lawyer. Mathews is a former foreign policy analyst for the CIA.
The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million — Daniel Mendelsohn *94 (HarperCollins). The author takes the reader on a journey back in time and around the world and ultimately to Bolechow, Poland (now the Ukraine), to discover how his great-uncle and aunt, Shmiel and Ester Jäger, and their four daughters perished in the Holocaust. The New York Times called his focus on family details “absorbing and novelistic.” Mendelsohn is a humanities professor at Bard College.
Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches — Nolan McCarty, Keith T. Poole, and Howard Rosenthal (MIT Press). The authors argue that the increasing political polarization is related to economic inequality, and show that polarization and income disparity have risen since the mid-1970s. With the poor making up a larger share of the population, and increasing immigration, the authors argue that there is less pressure from the bottom for redistribution of wealth. McCarty is a professor of politics and public affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School.
The Baroque artist and architect Pietro da Cortona (1597–1669) discovered the relics of St. Martina, an early Christian virgin and martyr, when he refurbished the church of San Martina e Luca in Rome. He developed a special reverence for the saint, which he captured in his masterpiece, “St. Martina Refuses to Adore the Idols,” left. That work is the focus of an exhibition at the University Art Museum, running through Jan. 21, which examines the painting in the context of Cortona’s oeuvre and personal piety.
By Van Wallach ’80
Next month, six teams of filmmakers will crank out five- to 10-minute movies in only 16 days, thanks to David Rodwin ’92. He has masterminded these twice-yearly collaborative marathons, called RIPFests, for five years.
Each RIPFest has a theme; past ones focused on topics like desperate measures and anger management. But Rodwin, the artistic director of the company that started RIPFest, won’t say what this year’s theme is. That is, not until the 100 participants gather in a rehearsal studio in New York City to learn the details. “Everybody sits in a big circle and we spend two hours talking about what’s going to happen in the next two weeks,” including who will work together and where they will shoot, says Rodwin, a former opera composer who now writes and directs for film and TV. Each team will include a writer, composer, producer, director, director of photography, two to four actors, and a crew. The participants aren’t paid for their time; they do it for the experience and exposure.
“We delay revealing the theme, so people can’t plan for things. It creates a remarkably even playing field, because nobody has any attachments or preconceived notions of what they want to do for the film,” adds Rodwin, a politics major and musical director of the Tigertones as an undergraduate. He now lives in Los Angeles and has finished a feature screenplay that he’ll direct later this year.
The surprise is part of the charm and strategy of RIPFest, which is named after Raw Impressions, the non-profit company through which Rodwin operates the events. The idea that became Raw Impressions arose after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when Rodwin, who then lived in New York, and his artist friends temporarily lost their creative juices. “We decided to start something to inspire people to be prolific,” says Rodwin. Raw Impressions has divisions for music theater and film. In five seasons, the company has brought together more than 1,500 artists, who have made 52 short films and 172 10-minute musicals.
Dates and locations for the screenings of November’s RIPFest can be found on the company’s Web site, www.rawimpressions.org.
The program has a strong Princeton component: Peter Muller ’85 is on the Raw Impressions board, and participants have included Rob Kutner ’94 and his wife, Sheryl Zohn ’95; David Turner ’02; and Princeton English lecturer Robert N. Sandberg ’70. Raw Impressions’ co-executive producer is Bruce Kennedy ’92.
One RIPFester who has caused a splash is Mora Stephens ’98. A year after participating in RIPFest 2003, she rejoined several team members to direct Conventioneers, which won a 2006 Independent Spirit Award for the best feature film made for under $500,000 and debuted this month in New York.
Van Wallach ’80 is a freelance writer in Stamford, Conn.