My beloved Kentucky Wildcats will be mixing it up with the Tigers of Louisiana State in a little bit, but there’s no reason I can’t watch and blog simultaneously, is there?
Last week, I mentioned that I was looking forward to the arrival of Tombland, the latest installment in C.J. Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake series of Tudor-era mysteries. The book showed up a day or two later, and I finished it off a couple of nights ago. While the previous episodes took place in Henrician England, we’re up to 1549 this time, during Somerset’s Protectorate. The Ladies (and future queens) Mary and Elizabeth are establishing land holdings and power bases, and Shardlake is working for the relative underdog, the 15-year-old Elizabeth. She asks him to look into a murder case involving a Boleyn relative in Norwich, and Shardlake finds himself caught up first in the investigation, and then in a relatively overlooked event in the period’s history — Kett’s Rebellion. Complications, as they say, ensue.
As I mentioned in my earlier post, this book is a doorstop, coming in at about 800 pages of story (with another 80 or so of historical essay and bibliography — Sansom holds a Ph.D. in history from the U of Birmingham). And since I do have something that passes for a life, I wound up spreading my reading over a couple of days, with some other reading along the way. While it never reached the point of becoming a hard slog, I did find myself wondering if Sansom may have fallen in love with his research at the expense of keeping the story moving. The attention to and development of the panoply of characters are immersive, but of course, some immersions are preludes to drownings.
There are numerous spots in the story where Sansom puts a great deal of effort into the characters, but winds up underutilizing them or dispatching them with a suddenness that risks bathos. Most notably, the two most threatening characters in the story — the murder victim’s twin sons, who are more than a little insane and evil — are settled with less sound and fury than their presence would have warranted. There are also familiar characters from earlier in the series, but some of them feel less like participants this time than props.
Finally, I think Sansom may have tried a bit hard to encourage the reader to see parallels between the complaints of the rebels in the story and our contemporary political scene. I’m not going to do a deep dive here, but parts of the book get a bit preachy. Despite these cavils, the book does entertain, and Sansom handles action scenes with real dexterity. By the book’s end, Shardlake’s life has taken some significant turns, and although the lawyer is aging, there’s still room for a few more adventures, I hope. Again, Sansom has created a fine character in Shardlake, and it would be a shame to leave him behind at this point. But maybe the next book could tighten up a bit?
And speaking of books , I’m pleased to inform you that At Home in The Dark, Lawrence Block’s latest anthology (including a story from Your Genial Host) is available for advance order in electronic form, with a paperback version arriving in late April. (The limited edition hard cover version is currently available for order as well, but supplies are… well, limited.) And as I mentioned recently, Greasepaint and .45s will be coming out pretty soon as well, with my story “Command Performance.” On top of that, LB’s next anthology, From Sea to Stormy Sea, will include a story of mine that I think is really special — I’ll tell you more about that in the months ahead.
I think that I may be the last person in the country who has neither seen Hamilton nor heard any of the soundtrack’s numbers. It’s not that I bear any animus toward the show — it’s just that it hasn’t really crossed my path, and it isn’t like I’m short on media. But neither do I live in a cave, so I’m aware of the work and its impact. And so when Kyle Smith posted a column this afternoon at National Review Online, I thought I’d give it a look. The title was certainly a grabber: “Why Is Lin-Manuel Miranda Throwing Away His Shot?” I didn’t know that or how he might be doing such a thing, much less why, so I thought I’d check it out.
Apparently, the problem is that, well… here’s Smith:
Could Miranda be the next Cole Porter? Maybe. But at the moment he seems content to be a combination of Stuart Smalley and Dick Van Dyke. It’s as if Stephen Sondheim followed up West Side Story by doing guest shots on The Flying Nun while contributing a few songs to The Aristocats. But that’s being generous. Sondheim would probably prefer to die in a fire rather than put his name to Sesame Street–style inspirational thoughts such as “Look at you! / The miracle of you, the thrill of you / becoming who you’ll be!” The exclamation point alone would make Sondheim retch.
Why is Miranda wasting his time guest-starring on sitcoms and writing vacuous you-can-do-it verse? It’s been 20 years since even fortune-cookie sayings started to contain attitude. Yet with Gmorning, Gnight! [Miranda’s forthcoming collection of the abovementioned “inspirational thoughts’] Miranda has taken such a giant step backwards, he could be writing lyrics for the Carpenters.
So what should Miranda be doing, according to Smith?
Few among us have the capacity to do something truly exceptional. Lin-Manuel Miranda has proven he does, and every day he isn’t trying to do something as brilliant as Hamilton, he does a disservice to himself and to the rest of us.
Maybe so, and I suppose that in a way Smith is offering Manuel a backhanded compliment, but he forgets something very important. It’s Miranda’s talent, not Smith’s. to use as he chooses. As the late Harlan Ellison observed on numerous occasions, the artist is under no obligation to meet someone else’s demands. (Now the artist may choose to do exactly that, and there will be commercial ramifications of those choices, but those are matters of business, not art.) And speaking as a maker of liver-flavored toothpaste myself, I tend to raise my hackles when people tell me what I “should” be writing. I write what I write. Manuel writes what he writes. Smith doesn’t have to like it, nor does anyone else. But Smith does not own Manuel’s talent — or even mine, such as it is. It is not his to direct. He may like what Manuel does, or he may dislike it. But it isn’t his call, nor should Manuel listen to him. I suspect that taking direction of the sort Smith offers is a quick route to poisonous levels of confusion. Don’t take the bait.
Well, it’s halftime in the ballgame, so I’ll wrap things up with a bit of music. The Magicians (one of several bands by that name) were a British psych band in the late 60s. They released one single on MCA in 1968, and this was the delightfully fruity A-side, rife with Ye Olde Tyme Medieval Bogusitye, yet somehow charming in its twee way. Here’s “Painting on Wood.”
See you soon!