Posts Tagged ‘John Hart’


Congratulations to John Hart!

April 30, 2010

North Carolina’s own John Hart won his second Edgar Award for Best Novel of 2010 last night at the Mystery Writers of America’s annual awards banquet (complete list of winners here). The Last Child (which I reviewed for the Washington Post) took home the top honor, just as Hart’s previous novel, Down River (which I also reviewed for the Post, not quite as favorably), did in 2008. I’m still scratching my head a little over that earlier honor, but this new one is more than deserved. (And incidentally, I’m pulled once more toward Dave Cullen‘s Columbine, which earned the Edgar for Best Fact Crime — a possible addition to my fall True Crime course, along with two other of this year’s Edgar nominees already in the line-up: Megan Abbott‘s Bury Me Deep and Jeff Guinn‘s Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde.)

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NC Literary Review: New Issue, New Look

August 17, 2009

The North Carolina Literary Review has just announced the publication of its 2009 issue, boasting a focus on N.C. drama and a smart new design! 

As always, NCLR offers a combination of scholarly criticism and creative works. For example, this issue includes both a recently discovered interview with Paul Green and the text of White Dresses, one of Green’s plays; and  the balance of the drama section includes both critical perspectives on works by Tennessee Williams (whose Clothes for a Summer Hotel was set in Asheville), Elizabeth Spencer, and Jim Grimsley, and insider views on the state’s history of “musician’s theater” by none other than Bland Simpson himself, and original plays by June Guralnick, Richard Krawiec, Kat Meads, and Sam Post

Beyond that focus on drama, the new issue also covers the full range of genres: an interview with Betty Adcock, a review of one of her poetry collections, and a sample of her own poetry; a short story by Malcolm Campbell, winner of last year’s Doris Betts Prize in short fiction; an interview with first-time novelist William Conescu (also interviewed by me in Metro Magazine), and much more. I’m proud to have an essay of my own included here as well, discussing mystery novelist John Hart‘s three books, The King of Lies, Down River, and The Last Child.

In all, a great issue, even without my bias in being included in its contents! I can’t wait to work my way through it, and glad to encourage it here.

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John Hart’s “The Last Child”

July 29, 2009

Today, the Washington Post runs my review of John Hart’s third — and in my opinion best — novel, The Last Child. While I generally enjoyed Hart’s first two novels, The King of Lies and Down River, those books still struck me as uneven at best, often slipping into melodrama, and their mysteries seemed marred by solutions that most readers probably figured out about eighteen steps ahead of the narrators themselves. I was amazed and even a little disappointed (I’ll admit it) when Down River won the Edgar for best novel a couple of years back. In contrast, however,  The Last Child seems to have put aside any clumsiness and keeps the surprises coming at a furious pace. I rushed through this new novel at a fast clip myself, enjoying every moment, and soon after submitting my review, I had the opportunity to hear some of the audiobook version, read by Scott Sowers, and got pulled in again!

Want a longer assessment of Hart’s novels? Look for my upcoming essay in the North Carolina Literary Review, in which I try to come to terms with why the author’s first two books found such critical and commercial success despite being matched, at the Edgars for example, against far superior mysteries.

Don’t agree with my digs at those first books? Well, even The Last Child has illustrated for me that it’s tough to find consensus among critics. My own review calls it an “early masterpiece” in Hart’s hopefully much longer career; critic Sarah Weinman of the L.A. Times and the Baltimore Sun said that she remained “amazed at how his storytelling ability draws me into his North Carolina gothic tales”; and Rod Cockshutt at the Raleigh News & Observer began his glowing review with the phrase “John Hart had me at ‘I’ve’.” Meanwhile, on the other side, Marilyn Stasio‘s New York Times review concluded that “borrowing from Huck Finn doesn’t turn Hart into Mark Twain, and his methodical writing style plods along these Southern roads without kicking up anything but dust,” and my friend and fellow writer Laura Ellen Scott — whose opinions on all matters I greatly trust — admitted to me offline that she couldn’t get past the opening and simply put the book aside. 

A wide range of experiences with this book, to say the least, and a wide range of opinions all Hart’s novels.

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N.C. Events: John Hart, Elizabeth Edwards, Michael Malone & More

May 14, 2009

The next week brings some heavy-hitters to bookstores in the Triangle and throughout Eastern North Carolina, so even if there’s rain in the forecast, there’s still plenty to enjoy indoors: not just a chance to meet and greet some great authors but also a good book to take home and curl up with while the rain continues its onslaught.

John Hart returns with his third book, The Last Child, and while I was an occasional skeptic of the first two, this one proved a real joy of a read. I’ve got a full review coming up soon, and then an essay on Hart’s novels in the upcoming North Carolina Literary Review, and will alert you to both. In the meantime, don’t miss the author at a couple of bookstores in the coming days: Durham’s Regulator Bookshop on Friday evening, May 15, and then McIntyre’s Books in Fearrington Village on Saturday morning, May 16. More events ahead for Hart; you can find the full calendar at the MetroBooks link to your right. 

Elizabeth Edwards comes to Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books on Saturday evening, May 16, to discuss her much-hyped memoir, Resilience: Meditations on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life’s Adversities, which discusses her grief over the loss of her teenage son, her struggles with breast cancer, and her husband’s affair during his failed bid for the Democratic nomination for president. FYI: Just don’t mention that other woman’s name. 

Michael Malone, interviewed here, continues his book tour with an event on Monday night, May 18, at the Regulator.

And a couple of books with local interest round out a list of great highlights:

  • James Dodson writes in his new memoir,  A Son of the Game: A Story of Golf, Going Home, and Sharing Life’s Lessons, about returning to Southern Pines and finding new meaning in his life; he’ll be at the Country Bookshop in Southern Pines this afternoon, Thursday, May 14, and at Quail Ridge Books on Monday evening, May 18. 
  • And Ray McAllister discusses his new book, Hatteras Island: Keeper of the Outer Banks, at the Barnes & Noble at The Streets at Southpoint in Durham on Wednesday, May 20; at the Barnes & Noble in Cary on Thursday, May 21; and at Manteo Booksellers in Manteo on Saturday, May 23.

For a full calendar and for links to these and other bookstores, visit the MetroBooks listings here or at the right.

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The Anxiety of (Assigning) Influence

October 7, 2008

I’m rereading John Hart’s books now for an essay I’m writing for the North Carolina Literary Review, and I’ve also been reading and rereading some old Ross Macdonald novels this year, those just for fun. As I was writing the essay on Hart, I began building what I thought were some original and interesting connections between the two — building off the idea about how a genre develops, how new authors reflect on and incorporate what’s come before, how literature is a tradition with the past influencing the present and the future…. 

So far I’ve come up with several things wrong with this — including, on the one hand, the fact that other people already made that connection with Ross Macdonald (critic Sarah Weinman mentioned it casually and effortlessly in an email exchange, as if it were old news), and on the other, John Hart’s own statement in an online interview that he hasn’t read anything by Macdonald, so really how much influence could there be? 

In the fiction workshops that I teach at Mason, I once had my students do an exercise as part of the revision process. Basically, building off of a couple of ideas I mention above, I ask each of the students to choose a favorite author — one whose works are of the kind and quality that the student him- or herself would like to write — and then try to articulate what’s compelling or interesting about that author: style, content, theme… the way the author describes a character’s face, the way the author handles dialogue, the way the author crafts a sentence… whatever has drawn the student to this writer in the first place. After that, they are each asked to choose a passage from their respective author’s works and analyze it more closely for nuances of style and technique — something that the student might take from this chosen writer and incorporate into his or her own writing —  and then to turn to their own writings and actually incorporate it: try to describe the face of their own characters with the same accuracy or get the same snap in their own dialogue or push an exploration of an idea in that favorite writer’s work in a new direction in their own. (I model the whole thing by showing what I did with the opening passages of Mario Vargas Llosa’s Conversation in the Cathedral.)

By and large, the students hate this. It saps the joy out of reading! they tell me — and worse, saps the joy out of their own writing, which they see as driven more by unfettered creativity and an imagination let loose to play than by the idea of self-conscious craftsmanship, of reading as an integral and necessary part of our writing lives. 

While I don’t think I’m entirely wrong, I haven’t done the exercise since… and I’m really beginning to wonder about how to frame the whole Macdonald-Hart comparison I’m working on.
—Art Taylor

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