Author Archives: Mark Peikert

Books: ‘Paralyzed by Triviality’

Penelope Mortimer always seems poised to have a moment, and yet never quite breaks through. That’s a shame, because her semi-autobiographical writing—sharp, clean, and dispassionate, but not unkind—has withstood the test of time.

Never mind her family life, famous husband, large household. Mortimer’s mordant wit sets her apart from fellow novelists of the mid-century years. The Pumpkin Eater (made into a film starring Anne Bancroft) may be her best-known novel, but there are treasures aplenty to be discovered. And chief among them is Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting (McNally Editions, May 17), her 1958 novel initially published in the states as Cave of Ice.

Cave of Ice as a title seems like a joke played on the novel, about Ruth, a frustrated wife and mother who throws off a nervous breakdown caused from suburbia as much as anything else to help her daughter secure an abortion. Her daughter doesn’t necessarily want one (though that depends on her ever-fluctuating desire to annoy her mother); Ruth long ago gave up on connecting with her husband; and the commuters who sleep and breathe in their sleepy neighborhood are exactly the types of adulterous, gossipy neighbors you’d expect in a town like this.

Continue reading
Tagged ,

Books: Refusing to Look Away

Bette Howland, the MacArthur Genius who published three acclaimed books in her lifetime and then fell into obscurity, has been hailed as a major rediscovery with the reissues of her books. (Never mind the cultural implications of why only women seem to become so forgotten that they are cause for celebration upon rediscovery, let’s just be happy that writers like Howland and Eve Babitz and, the queen of rediscovered genius, Dawn Powell continue to be in print.)

If Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, the collection of her selected short stories, seemed slightly underwhelming, the reissue of her three novellas proves the enthusiasts correct. The women in Things to Come and Go (A Public Space Books, May 10) are sui generis and yet utterly recognizable. Howland is grappling with big themes via minutiae in these stories: The careful physicality of the family at the center of the first story lays bare the X-ray vision of children; is it any wonder the narrator recalls all the people who were forever “imitating me staring at them.”

Continue reading
Tagged ,

Books: The Walking Wounded

Nobody Gets Out Alive (Scribner, April 12) is the title, but nobody gets out intact, either, in Leigh Newman’s stellar new story collection punctuated by two stellar long tales. In “Alcan, an Oral History,” we’re introduced to two sets of travelers along the Alcan Highway, on a collision course that takes place in a dreary restaurant. “Chops. Pasta. Cocktails” reads the sign, and a weary waitress is too tired and worn out by the business of living to prevent the explosion when it comes. And in the closer, “An Extravaganza in two Acts,” Newman takes the reader into 19th-century Alaska, where two marriages are put to the test among conflicting desires and machinations.

But it’s the opening story, “Howl Palace,” that sets the tone. As the much-married (and divorced) first-person narrator prepares for an open house—instead of baking cookies, she plans a caribou burger grill station—neighbors and exes drift in and out as frequently as she drifts in and out of reverie about her past. She’s wry, tough, and regretful, and her world is that of a typical American suburb slightly skewed. The backyards all have float plane parking. A room is covered in animal pelts. And the dog just got into the caribou burgers and moose dogs.

Continue reading
Tagged ,

Books: How to Save Your Own Life

Megan Mayhew Bergman’s women tend to exist in the liminal space between leaving and gone. They are tough—some for years, some only recently—tender-hearted women who are exploring the boundaries of selfishness for the first time, tentatively trying on the notion of saving their own lives. And all of them are frustrated. With the people in their lives (often the men), with their own shortcomings, with society, with geography.

But in her new collection How Strange a Season, they’re also the walking wounded, shell-shocked by life and clinging to a dryness of tone and outlook that insulates them against more pain. “We’d planned to divorce, but neither of us liked paperwork,” the narrator of “Workhorse” says in the collection’s opener, adroitly introducing the reader to Bergman’s world, where women ruminate, question, regret, plan—and work.

Losing oneself in work—while simultaneously eking out a living—is a running theme in the collection, as is leaving. Some, like the women in “The Heirloom” and “Peaches, 1979,” are on the precipice of making the tiny shift from thinking to doing. “People were engaged in a cycle of coming and going, perpetually deciding to stay or to leave,” Regan thinks in “The Heirloom.” “Sometimes they returned after a mental absence, you never knowing they’d left in the first place, lying next to you in the dark.”

Continue reading
Tagged ,

Voices: Clara Bow’s Year as “Crisis-a-Day Clara” That Helped End Her Career

Clara Bow was born in 1905 and she was a has-been by 25.

The original It Girl, Clara’s life was a study in tragedy. Her mother fell out of a window when she was 16 and was later diagnosed with “psychosis due to epilepsy,” which didn’t make Clara’s childhood any better. At one point, Clara woke up to find her mother holding a knife to her throat. She got away, but that set the tone for her life: Peaceful one minute, fighting for survival the next.

Initially dreaming of becoming a gym teacher, Clara’s fascination with films and movie stars led to her film debut in 1923’s Down by the Sea in Ships, which earned her great reviews. She’d be a star for most of the next decade. The major difference between Clara Bow and her contemporaries: She was singularly open about everything and, more importantly, she never put on airs or attempted to imitate class. Needless to say, she was not overly popular in Hollywood. Certainly not with women.

By 1926, when It was released and made her “The It Girl” for all time, she was a massive, bankable star. Directors like Victor Fleming and Josef von Sternberg routinely called her the greatest actress on screen, though now she’s just known as the OG Marilyn Monroe. After a slew of scandals, not to mention the advent of the talkies, she married movie cowboy Rex Bell and retired. But Rex became a politician, and who better to trot out to events and dinners than his gorgeous movie star wife? At one point in 1944, Bell ran for Congress and Clara tried to kill herself, writing in a suicide note that she preferred death to public life. In 1949 she checked into a sanitarium, where no one could agree on what was wrong with her (if anything).

When she checked herself out, she went straight to a bungalow and lived alone, away from her family, until her death in 1965 at age 60.

So what happened to Clara Bow?

Continue reading
Tagged , , ,

Words: TV’s New Comfort With the Dead

Shining Vale

We’ve welcomed the undead into our living rooms since the days of “Dark Shadows.” But in the decades since, most of those stories have been about life and death battles between the living and the dead, with a dose of forbidden romance tossed in.

“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “The Walking Dead” focused on averting the apocalypse. Other shows, like “Ghost Whisperer,” zeroed in on the spooky. But in today’s TV landscape, death is something we’re far more comfortable with, and the no longer living aren’t treated as monsters or even as metaphors. Instead, they’re used as tools to investigate a wide array of topics as varied as feminism, political disenfranchisement, and trauma. And in the case of “The Good Place,” all of the above and more.

The last six months alone have seen the premieres of CBS’ “Ghosts,” Starz’s “Shining Vale,” and Season 2 of Prime Video’s “Upload,” all of which revolve around the undead and all of which take radically different approaches to how we interact with death.

To read the full story, visit

Tagged , , , ,

Words: Nancy Cunard Really Didn’t Give a Fuck About Society

Almost 100 years before Kim Kardashian was advocating for prison reform, Nancy Cunard was wielding both her fortune and her notoriety for social justice.

A combustible combination of Art Deco chic and aristocratic activist, Cunard made shock waves throughout London society, publicly feuding with her mother—renowned London society hostess Emerald Cunard—and thumbing her nose at almost every conceivable convention of an era not necessarily known for its staidness, even while shielded somewhat by her mother’s reputation and the Cunard shipping line fortune.

“She was dedicated to obliterating the social class to which they all belonged. And I think she meant that,” historian and biographer Laura Thompson says. Cunard is one of a slew of wealthy women prominently featured in Thompson’s delicious new book Heiresses: The Lives of the Million Dollar Babies, alongside Vanderbilts and Huttons and others, stretching back to the 17th century. Cunard’s was a generation dedicated to decadence and refuting their parents’ values—but Cunard often took it to extremes.

To read the full story, visit Town & Country.

Tagged , , ,

Voices: That Time Gay New Yorkers Freaked the Fuck Out About ‘Cruising’

A decade after the Oscar-winning success of The French Connection—maybe the definitive NYC cop movie?—William Friedkin returned to NYC cops with an edgy tale of sweaty sex and sweaty serial murders. And a lot of sweaty LGBTQ+ protests. Yes, today we’re discussing the scandalous production of Friedkin’s 1980 movie Cruising, starring Al Pacino.

Continue reading
Tagged , , , ,

Voices: The True Story Behind Roxanne Pulitzer’s Messy, Scandalous Divorce Trial

“The Strumpet with the Trumpet.” “Nympho Dyke.” “Cocaine Sut.” “Black-Magic Voodoo Queen.”

Somehow, a former cheerleader from upstate New York got branded all of those things by the national media when her wealthy older husband decided to divorce her after six years of marriage. They were not famous (well, sorta). But their marriage coincided with the last gasp of the freewheeling decadence of the ‘70s, so there were plenty of lurid details to air in public. And neither Roxanne Pulitzer nor estranged husband Herbert Peter Pulitzer held back in their Palm Beach divorce trial, with accusations of seances, lesbian affairs, threesomes, drug addictions, and incest flung back and forth in testimony. And some of those were true!

Continue reading
Tagged , , ,

Words: The Ambitious, Social-Climbing Bisexual Gossip Chips Channon

“Sometimes I think I have the character of a very clever woman—able, but trivial with flair, intuition, great good taste and second-rate ambition,” Henry “Chips” Channon wrote in a diary entry dated July 19, 1935. “I am susceptible to flattery, and male good looks; I hate and am uninterested in all the things men like such as sport, business, statistics, debates, speeches, war and the weather; but I am riveted by lust, bibelots, furniture and glamour, society and jewels.”

Those qualities may have made Channon an unremarkable Member of Parliament, but they earmarked him as a particularly insouciant cicerone through the interwar years of London high society. American-born, the bisexual and snobbish Channon married into the Guinness brewing family in 1933 and then pursued politics and social climbing, with a firm emphasis on the latter. His political career stalled after his vociferous and prolonged endorsement of appeasement in the late 1930s, but his social life was a resounding success. With a knack for being on the scene of historical moments and a particularly waspish wit, his diaries have been required reading for aesthetes and Anglophiles since they were posthumously published in heavily expurgated form in 1967. Only now are they being published in their full form; edited by Simon Heffer, the two volumes covering 1918–1943 are out now, with a final volume hitting American bookstores September 8.

To read the full story, visit Town&

Tagged , , ,