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January 31, 1996 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 1996-01-31

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3_- The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, January 31, 1996

Ivan Doig
Heart Earth
Penguin Books
It seems that just about every piece
of writing - whether it is the poem,
novel or essay - that is published
these days focuses exclusively on the
author's (or character's) narcissistic
little episodes that are supposed to
constitute a life. Alcoholism, divorce,
children, trips to the dentist, seem to
have replaced any sort of larger sub-
ject in today's literature. It is hard to
tell whether or not Ivan Doig's "Heart
Earth" is an exception to this modern
rule.
The book is, as Doig puts it, amemoir
depicting the years before his birth
through the death of his mother when
he was 6 years old. Obviously, provid-
ing an accurate biography ofthese early
years would be difficult for an author
.now well beyond his 50th birthday. But
:Doig goes to fantastic lengths to give us
an accurate portrait of his family and
their lifestyle.
At first it seems as though the sole
purpose of "Heart Earth" is to provide
some esoteric therapy for a man who
has only faint images of his mother.
Through much of the book I kept
saying to myself, "He must have ben-
efited more from writing this than
anyone else could ever gain from read-
ing it."
The plot follows a fairly undramatic
path that does not quickly draw in the
reader. His characters are the products
of both his desire to recapture the truth
and his unavoidable sentimentality
about his loved ones. For much of the
novel I wondered why I should care
about these people; after all, they're
strangers living fairly unexceptional and
unexciting lives.
Because of all this, I was surprised
that, in the end, I really did care. And
though these people never did anything
to constitute celebrity, their lives were
quite interesting.
"Heart Earth"'s family lives in
mountainous, rural Montana and has
for generations. They are the prod-
ucts of a rural poverty that never seem
poor because they know of no other
lifestyle. They have always worked
hard (in countless agricultural posi-
tions, whether those be harvesting
grain or tending cattle) and always
will (since Social Security's paper-
work has always seemed like too much
trouble to bother with). They are a
people who revel (if they revel at all)
in a simple, traditional lifestyle and
define, as much as any group of people
can, the "work ethic."
Doig depicts all this, makes it real for
the reader, but then, without us notic-
ing, makes it so much deeper, so much

more important. When his parents and
his toddler self move to Phoenix during
World War II so that the father can
work in a bomber factory, we come to
appreciate how tied to their rugged
homeland they are. From the moment
they arrive, they yearn for the moun-
tains.
As the story progresses, the family
tries to work out some sort of long-
term plan that will offer stability and
a chance for young Ivan to live in the
same place long enough to attend
school. But the obstacle to all this is
Mrs. Doig's chronic asthma. They
search the dry climate of the moun-
tains, as well as the Sonora desert, for
some repose from her constant at-
tacks. Butjust when they finally think
they have found the stability and
healthful environment they all crave,
Mrs. Doig dies from her frail condi-
tion.
Perhaps this plot doesn't sound overly
compelling. It's not. But as the book
progresses we come to know the entire
family quite well.
Drawing from his mother's letters to
her brother Wally, who is in the Pacific
amidst the constant violence of World
War II and countless other sources,
Doig constructs a vivid portrait of his
parents, Uncle Wally and grandmother.
They come to life for the reader, which
makes the mother's death, Wally's tri-
als of war, and the grandmother and
father's enduring strength seem impor-
tant to us.
But what is more important (to the
reader, anyway) is that these characters
come to represent more than themselves.
Wally, and everything surrounding him,
gives powerful proof of the effects
World War II had on both its veterans
and the veterans' families. The rural-
western lifestyle's importance, beauty
and sadness are all exposed by the Doig
family tree.
If knowing and understanding our
past is important -not just the past of
our families, but of our country and
culture as well - then Ivan Doig has
given us all a touching and powerful
means for doing so.
-James Wilson
Susan Holtzer
Curly Smoke
St. Martin's Press
Possibly the most exciting feature of
"Curly Smoke" is its Ann Arbor back-
drop. For the first few pages, there is a
certain thrill in reading about charac-
ters walking down State Street or lunch-
ing at Cottage Inn. After a few chapters,
however, the reader can only wish that
Susan Holtzer had chosen some other
venue for her poorly crafted murder

mystery.
As the book opens, Anneke Haagen,
the main character, has just lost her
house and everything she owns to a
fire. She moves the remains of her life
into seemingly tranquil Mackinac
Court, a neighborhood threatened by
plans for a high-rise. Since the high-
rise is a major bone of contention
among the residents of Mackinac
Court, all neighbors are suspect when
Haagen discovers the corpse of an
ambitious young preservationist in the
courtyard.
Haagen and her boyfriend, Lt. Karl
Genesko of the Ann Arbor police, spend
the rest of the book figuring out their
relationship and tracking down the killer
in their spare time.
Holtzer is aiming for a franchise with
Anneke Haagen mysteries. To that end,
she gives Haagen "distinctive" traits
that are supposed to make the reader
comfortable with the character. Instead,
the reader ends up yawning over boring
descriptions of the computer business
and tedious references to Art Deco fur-
niture.
Not even Haagen's boyfriend is safe
- the reader is repeatedly reminded
that Genesko is a former Michigan foot-
ball player.
Holtzer also introduces so many ex-
traneous characters into the story, sure
to become future victims or suspects,
that the reader becomes impatient with
the asides. As ifthat weren't bad enough,
few of the characters ever progress past
stereotypes. There's the greedy devel-
oper, the cranky old professor, and the
pushy heiress.
More annoying is the characters' habit
of revealing "suspicious" emotions
without any real prompting: "' It wasn't
me!' Harvey blubbed, staring around
wildly. 'Just because I'm a dentist
doesn't mean ...."'
Even the details of the murder, the
meat of any good mystery, are badly
constructed and often ludicrous. The
second victim is actually strangled with
dental floss. Many of the clues are ob-
scure and aren't given until after the
murderer is identified. Is the reader
supposed to guess that real pearls make
a rough sensation when they're rubbed
across teeth?
Most of the motives for the murder
are shaky and the reader won't be satis-
fied at all with the murder's reasons for
the deed. Haagen doesn't even employ
any logic in solving the murder. She is
visited by a "preposterous supposition"
that doesn't seem to result from any
determined sleuthing. There's not even
any drama in the final confrontation
with the murderer.
In the end, the reader is left mildly
puzzled and vaguely annoyed by
Haagen's exploits. "Curly Smoke" is
one story better left to mystery buffs.
- Mary Trombley

Fun out of the Sun
Can you name another recent
movie in which Quentin Tarantino,
.-..and Robert Rodriguez worked
together? If so, today is your
lucky day! Just stop by the Daily
:. Arts office on the second floor of'
the Student Publications Building,
420 Maynard St., to tell us your
answer and win free passes to
"From Dusk Till Dawn," the new
horror-action flick directed by
Rodriguez and starring Tarantino
and "ER"'s George Clooney.
And because we're so nice -
there's more! If you are one of the
first 10 people to answer the
question correctly, you will
receive the grand prize - an
official "From Dusk Till Dawn"
Skeleteens soda. Hold it in your
hand and it looks like you are
drinking blood. What could be
cooler?! Or just put it on your
shelf and you're roommates will
think you're really wild. How can
you pass up an opportunity like
this?
Jazz7 orchstraretrs to Aln ro

By David Cook
Daily Arts Writer
Led by the one and only Wynton
Marsalis, Jazz at Lincoln Center will
make what is becoming an annual stop
in Ann Arbor tonight at the Michigan
Theater, as a part of their 21-city 1996
tour. Thetheme for this year's concert,
"Morton, Monk, Marsalis," will fea-
ture such diverse works as "Crepescule
With Nellie," "King Porter Stomp" and
"Criss Cross."
With so many big-name jazz artists
WYNTON
MARSALIS AND
SPECIAL OCTET
Where: The Michigan Theater
When: Tonight at 8 o'clock.
The show is sold out.
taking the time out of their own per-
sonal schedules to play with Lincoln
Center at one point or another, the
personnel rarely stays the same year
to year. This particular collection of
musicians is no exception; in fact, the
band name this year is not the Lincoln
Center Jazz Orchestra, instead billed
"Wynton Marsalis and Special Oc-
tet." Joining Marsalis are horn play-
ers Wycliffe Gordon, Wess
"Warmdaddy" Anderson, Victor
Goines and Michael White. And lay-
ing the foundation are Reginald Veal
on bass, Herlin Riley on drums and
pianist Eric Reed.
The musical accomplishments of
Marsalis - considered by some to be
the most influential jazz musician of
his generation - are well docu-

mented, from PBS series to collabo-
rations with the New York City Ballet
to his 1994 epic "Blood on the Fields."
That particular composition, a big
band/vocal work depicting the story
of American slavery, received imme-
diate nationwide critical acclaim.
Marsalis has released classical and
jazz albums in the same year, winning
awards in both genres in 1984. Be-
sides the Lincoln Center Winter tour,
his upcoming projects for 1996 in-
clude a collaboration with the Alvin
Ailey Dance Theater for the inaugu-
ral Lincoln Center festival in August.
Although much of the attention to-
night will be directed towards Marsalis,
25-year-old pianist Reed is on his way
in his own right. He has three albums
out as frontman, and has a fourth on the
way in the fall. Recent Lincoln Center
pianists Marcus Roberts and Cyrus
Chestnut have seen their careers profit
from working with the band, which
must have factored into ,Reed's accept-
ing this tour's position at the keys. And
while his solo career, by his own admis-
sion, comes first and foremost, he'll
gladly take the time to experience some-
thing like playing with a group from
Lincoln Center.
"I've played just a couple of tours
with a big band. I don't prefer to play
with a big band because there's really
not a whole lot of room for a piano
player," said Reed by phone last Fri-
day. "But I enjoy it because I really
enjoy, more than anything else, lis-
tening to the arrangements; if they've
really arranged it, I enjoy that. But I
don't just go out playing with big
bands - it has to be something really
special ... I don't just go out looking

for big band work."
Playing for a group fronted b.
Marsalis is hardly new to Reed, w*
had been touring with the trumpeter for
seven years in the now-defunct Wynton
Marsalis Septet. Although the prospect
of playing with the Lincoln Center oc-
tet must have fallen into his definition
of "special," the pianist has one word to
describe the experience of playing
alongside the legend: "Demanding." He
went on to say "It's music, it's all mu-
sic. I enjoy it, it's a wonderful experi-
ence. He's got a real love for music
You can always guarantee that there'
going to be some really high level of
performance going on when you're on
stage with him."
Reed seems to have found a strong
connection with his other trio mem-
bers, bassist Ben Wolf and drummer
Mark Simmons. "We all have pretty
much the same vibe towards music,
we've played different types of music;
Mark and I grew up playing in churc'
so we've got a very similar concep
going on. Ben - he can't do anything
else but swing. If he doesn't swing,
he'll die. When we come together,
there's enough of a variety of experi-
ences that we can come together and
bring all those things together to hook
our concepts up as far as jazz is con-
cerned."
But the trio dates will have to be put
on the shelf for the time being as Ree
and the rest of Wynton Marsalis' octi
begin their 21-city winter tour. Don't
look forthe pianist to be left out-"1'11
take as much room as possible," he said
- but look for the group itself to be as
strong as ever, high level of perfor-
mance and all.

yow the 92 attacks nt4.

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