Category Fiction

Philippe Petit’s Art of the High Wire, and the Artworks It Inspired

At root, we go to art, whatever its form, to be changed. To alter our perception, to see something new or something we have seen before in a new way, to contemplate the mysterious, the beautiful, the joyous, the awful, the searing.

The best art upends our world, shatters our assumptions, pierces our ignorance and venality. It inspires question upon question, wonder upon wonderment, and as it does so, it assaults us physically—roiling our stomachs, fluttering our hearts, goosebumping our necks, disturbing our sleep.

All art aspires to these things if it is to be worthy of its name.

In this post, I want to discuss three related works of art that in my estimation accomplish all—or at least a good deal—of the above.

1. Tightrope walker Philippe Petit’s unparalleled 138-foot traverse between the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York City in 1974.

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John Steinbeck’s Muddled View of Sunsets

Of course I was moved by The Grapes of Wrath, though I think East of Eden was a superior novel.

And Of Mice and Men? Who wasn’t reduced to blubbering at Lenny’s sorry fate? I sure was!

So this post is not to impugn the renowned and honorable John Steinbeck, champion of the dispossessed and travel companion of a dog named Charlie, among other estimable virtues.

It is only to hold up the fact, in graphic detail pertaining to one short sentence of Steinbeck’s prose, that writers don’t always get it right, that they most always benefit from conscientious editing, and that sometimes, even writers as gifted as Steinbeck, rewarded for their talents and toil by being assigned accomplished and decently paid editors, can fail and then be failed by those editors as well.

To such a degree, as a matter of fact, that the following kind of sentence can occasionally sneak past the sentries guarding against ambigui...

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Pathos and Redemption: An Analysis of Lorrie Moore’s “Terrific Mother”

A mid-30s woman, childless, told repeatedly what a “terrific mother” she would be but beginning to doubt it and even growing awkward and unsure around babies, has one thrust into her hands at a backyard Labor Day party by a solicitous mother, whereupon the picnic bench she is sitting down to with the infant cracks and the baby flies out of her arms and smashes its head on the cement, dying a short while later. Our protagonist, Adrienne, then retreats to hole up in her attic apartment for seven months, too dark and deranged to even feign an interest in living.

This is the setup for a short story, Terrific Mother, that rarely goes a page without a laugh-out loud moment of insight about the foibles of human beings, followed by profound, sometimes tender but always incisive probing into the behavior and compensations that keep us psychically afloat amidst the need for near constant forgiveness of both self...

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State of Impermanence: A Review of Richard Ford’s “Let Me Be Frank With You”

When I was living a solitary would-be writer’s life in a musty studio apartment above a garage in Dillon Beach, California back in the early 1980s, I took daily constitutionals along the shore with my terrier Bilbo, most always in a reflective, appreciative and occasionally ecstatic mood. On one such late afternoon walk, I reached my usual turnaround point and swung back to behold the tiny town’s cliff- and hillside coastal homes bathed in a misty, diffused and pale yellow light, as if a photographer had placed some giant colored lens cap over the entire landscape.

All the houses and the hills to which they clung looked suddenly small, mute, and tentative, dialed back many degrees from anything approaching sharp relief.

I found myself suddenly seized with laughter.

Not a derisive laughter, but a compassionate and accepting one, as an observation and admission of the depth of human folly, including my ...

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The Cry for Freedom in “The Adulterous Woman”

She is sitting on a bus crossing the wintry Algerian desert, seated tight up against her slumbering merchant husband and surrounded by Arabs tucked deep into their burnooses to ward off the cold and the fine grains of sand that find their way through cracks in the vehicle. Suddenly, she notices a French soldier across the aisle who gives her a glance, carrying just a tinge of suggestion.

That glance and a couple of other feeling states to follow are about as far as the “adultery” in this story’s title ever goes, but it sets in motion a long and impassioned emotional storm inside our protagonist, with the reverberations extending far beyond this story and her life.

What transpires from there in Albert Camus’s 1957 short story, The Adulterous Woman, speaks in profound and enduring ways to the human condition...

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