Reviews

Review: Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo

Book by MARCELO HERNANDEZ CASTILLO

Review by MINDY MISENER

cover

“There were moments when I didn’t need to tell my body how to move,” poet Marcelo Hernandez Castillo writes in the opening passage of his memoir, Children of the Land. He’s introducing a scene in which armed ICE agents arrive at his house. He’s a senior in high school. The agents are looking for his father, who isn’t there. They leave. Yet their presence, a longstanding threat finally realized, creates a shift. Hernandez Castillo can no longer act without thinking. He explains, “Even laughter required some kind of effort. I had to remind myself: this is funny, this is how you laugh—laugh now, laugh hard, spit out your food.”

Review: Children of the Land by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo
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Film Review: First Cow

Directed by KELLY REICHARDT

Based on the novel The Half-Life by JONATHAN RAYMOND

Review by HANNAH GERSEN

 

The plain title of Kelly Reichardt’s eighth feature film belies a richlydetailed period piece set in 1820s Oregon Territory. But before immersing you in the past, Reichart opens in the present, with a shot of a large industrial ship making its way down the Willamette River. Along a piece of undeveloped shoreline, a woman and her dog are walking when the dog’s playful digging uncovers a human skull. Curious, the woman continues digging to reveal two full skeletons lying next to each another. As is typical of a Reichardt movie, this action unfolds wordlessly but with attention to the sounds of the natural world: the chirping of nearby birds, the dog’s panting and scuffling paws, and the river flowing by. This quiet, observational approach makes the discovery of two skeletons feel interesting, rather than ominous. However, I must admit that what I found most arresting about this scene was a lightweight pink scarf that the woman was wearing tied around her neck in a loose bow. It was the only warm color in a scene dominated by grays, blues, and greens, and as the woman’s scarf fluttered in breeze, I felt that it, as well as the skeletons, had a secret meaning.

My question about the scarf was partially answered in the next scene, a close-up of dirty hands plucking mushrooms from a damp forest floor. At first I thought we were keeping company with the same woman who had exhumed the skeletons, but as the camera panned out to reveal the foragers identity, I realized we had fallen back in time. The forager was a man with a scraggly beard, rumpled hat, and old-fashioned menswear made of sturdy brown cloth. Around his neck was a red kerchief so faded and dirty it appeared pale pink. This echo in costuming and gesture not only helps to connect the characters across time, but is also a gentle suggestion that our way of life might be more connected to the past than we realize.

Film Review: First Cow
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LitFest Friday Reads: January 2020

Curated by: SARAH WHELAN

Mark your calendars! For the fifth year, The Common is preparing for LitFest, a weekend of events to recognize and celebrate contemporary literature. In conjunction with the National Book Awards and Amherst College, The Common will celebrate extraordinary voices such as Jesmyn Ward, Susan Choi, Laila Lalami, and Ben Rhodes.

LitFest will be held on the campus of Amherst College from February 27th through March 1st. For more details, visit the LitFest website. But first, read on for recommendations from the participating authors.

Recommendations: Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward; Trust Exercise by Susan Choi; Battle Dress by Karen Skolfield, and The World as It Is by Ben Rhodes.

LitFest Friday Reads: January 2020
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Little Women: A Review

Image of Little Women poster

Movie directed by GRETA GERWIG

Review by HANNAH GERSEN

I have friends who cried their way through Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, and I expected that I would, too, but I spent much of my first viewing in a state of mild agitation. I had re-read the novel a few days before seeing the film, and was distracted as I tried to figure out the mechanics of Gerwig’s complex temporal structure. Little Women was originally published as two books: Little Women and Good Wives, and Gerwig braids together these two volumes, going back and forth between past and present. As with Gerwig’s debut feature Lady Bird, the pace is galloping. Not only are there two separate timelines, Gerwig cuts rapidly between characters and locations within each timeline.

Little Women: A Review
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Review: Like Water by Olga Zilberbourg

Book by OLGA ZILBERBOURG

Review by JEN HINST-WHITE

Cover of Like Water

When I was nineteen and trying my hand at novel-writing for the first time, I found myself struggling with a story that alternated between two protagonists, a mother and a daughter. After reading my newest batch of pages, a beloved mentor observed that only the daughter was coming to life on the page. “There has to be more to this other woman than her role as a mother,” she said. I realize now that she was speaking from her own recent, still-raw experiences. “Try going back in time with the mother character,” she said. “Write a scene where she’s twenty, before she has a child, and see what she does. When you become a mother, your old self doesn’t disappear. All the parts of you that were there before are still there.”

Review: Like Water by Olga Zilberbourg
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Friday Reads: December 2019

Curated by SARAH WHELAN

Here it is, the final Friday Reads of the decade! This month, we’re sharing the audiobooks that have entertained and challenged us this year. If you’d like even more listening material, check out The Common Online’s Poetry Recordings here

Recommendations: The Dutch House by Ann Patchett; The Vexations by Caitlin Horrocks; Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt; All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Friday Reads: December 2019
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Portrait of a Lady on Fire: A Review

Movie directed by CÉLINE SCIAMMA

Review by HANNAH GERSEN

Movie poster of woman on fire

In 1770, Brittany, France, a young female painter, Marianne, is hired to paint a wedding portrait of a noblewoman. But the assignment is unusual: she must make the painting in secret because the bride, Héloïse, is reluctant to marry. Héloïse and her mother live in an isolated seaside estate, and her mother explains to the young painter that the portrait is necessary to entice the bridegroom, who lives in Milan. Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) is arrestingly beautiful, and I can imagine many movies that might begin with the groom’s approving gaze upon receiving Héloïse’s portrait, kicking off a storyline that would take viewers into Milanese high society. But Portrait of a Lady on Fire instead focuses on the two weeks that Héloïse and Marianne spend together in a nearly empty house by the sea (the bridegroom in question never appears on screen). Written and directed by French filmmaker Céline Sciamma, and with a nearly all-female cast, Portrait is both a romantic story of two people falling in love, and a sensitive depiction of a female painter’s life and artistic practice in the eighteenth century.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire: A Review
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Friday Reads: November 2019

Curated by: SARAH WHELAN

Already done reading our latest Issue? Prolong the fun with these weekend reading recommendations from our Issue 18 contributors. 

Recommendations: The Weil Conjectures by Karen Olsson; Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk; 7th Cousins: An Automythography by Erin Brubacher and Christine Brubaker; How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell

Friday Reads: November 2019
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Review: Older Brother

Book by MAHIR GUVEN

Translated from the French by TINA KOVER

Reviewed by FEROZ RATHER

book cover

The protagonist of Mahir Guven’s debut novel, Older Brother, is the son of a Syrian emigre taxi driver and a French mother who has died by the time the story begins. He is in his late twenties. An Uber driver addicted to hash, he is living in a suburban ghetto outside of Paris he calls “the dump of France.” He fears his ennui, induced by the indifference of the countless customers he ferries around, might kill him. But despite the jadedness, his caustic humor enlivens him, endowing his fulminations with a faint existential quality.

Review: Older Brother
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Friday Reads: October 2019

Curated by: SARAH WHELAN

Issue 18 is almost here! Pre-order your copy today to enjoy brand-new fiction, poetry, essays, and artwork arriving on October 28th. If waiting by the mailbox isn’t your thing, countdown to the magazine’s arrival with book recommendations from some of our Issue 18 contributors.

Recommendations: Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard by Cynthia L. Haven; Loves You: Poems by Sarah Gambito; A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa; The Farm by Joanne Ramos; and Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors.

Friday Reads: October 2019
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