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Writer Dagoberto Gilb

Writer Dagoberto Gilb's first book of short stories The Magic of Blood was published in 1993. Since then he has written a novel, The Last Known Residence of Mickey Acuna. His new book is a collection of stories about women, Woodcuts of Women.

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Other segments from the episode on March 8, 2001

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, March 8, 2001: Interview with Rob Sitch; Review of Frank Black and the Catholics' music "The dog in the band;" Interview with Dagoberto Gilb; Review of Nuala O’Faolain's …

Transcript

DATE March 8, 2001 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Director Rob Sitch talks about his movies "The Dish"
and "The Castle" as well as his Australian radio and TV programs
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry Gross.

In his new memoir, former NASA flight director Chris Kraft writes that a
television camera almost didn't make it on to the Apollo 11 flight to the moon
because it weighed too much. Now the new feature film "The Dish" fills in
another little-known part of the story. It's about the small-town radio
telescope facility in Parkes, Australia, affectionately known as the dish,
which was responsible for televising Neil Armstrong's moon walk to the world.
The film lays out the serious and hilarious snafus that almost prevented us
from seeing that first step for mankind. Rob Sitch directed "The Dish." His
first film, "The Castle," lampooned a middle-class Australia family. Here's a
clip from "The Dish." In this scene the mayor of Parkes is hearing some
gossip
about the NASA representatives sent to oversee the operations at the dish.

(Soundbite of "The Dish")

Unidentified Actor #1: How are the boys at the dish?

Unidentified Actor #2: Actually, they're raring to go.

Unidentified Actor #1: And the American chaps, settling in?

Unidentified Actor #2: I think so. Quiet fella.

Unidentified Actor #1: Came in here yesterday wanting pretzels.

Unidentified Actor #2: Pretzels? Yup, it's a world event.

(End of soundbite)

BOGAEV: Let's get to the story. Why was this radio telescope facility in
Parkes, Australia, chosen to be part of the NASA team?

Mr. ROB SITCH (Director, "The Dish"): NASA made a big decision, and I still
think one of the bravest decisions, and that is that they're not only going to
land a man on the moon and get him back, they're going to televise it live.
It was a very courageous thing to do, I think, but it necessitated having a
very large radio telescope to receive what were, at the time, fairly weak
signals. There's still not that many. There was one in Madrid they used.
There's one in California, and they used Parkes because between Africa and
America, there's not much in between except the land mass of Australia. And
then at the last minute they upgraded it to the prime receiving station.

BOGAEV: What does that mean? What was their responsibility?

Mr. SITCH: They intended, if all things went well, on the flight plan, to
use Parkes to receive the television pictures. So suddenly it became pivotal.
Suddenly it became very important. Suddenly more equipment arrived. Suddenly
more exchanges were heard between the two countries.

BOGAEV: Now why was this--it's a huge dish.

Mr. SITCH: It is.

BOGAEV: As I see it in the movie, it's huge. It's the size of a football
field?

Mr. SITCH: Yeah, it's 210 feet in diameter. So to get a measure we stood in
the middle and effectively, like, tried to hit baseballs out of the dish, and
it was very difficult. It's very, very big. You can see it from 20 miles
away, and it just gets bigger. And as you drive out, you expect sort of
fanfares and bugles to start sounding, but in actual fact there's a shape
looking at you from the fence, you know, 10 feet away.

BOGAEV: Why was this huge dish in Parkes, Australia?

Mr. SITCH: Well, as personified in the film, the mayor was a very clever
civic leader, and like civic leaders all over the world, they managed to pull
things off probably with 20/20 hindsight, you'd probably--`Why the hell was
that built there?' A number of towns competed for it, but the basic driving
force--and I'm going to get this totally wrong, because I never read anything
I believed. But I think after the Second World War there was an explosion in
science and, you know, it's worth remembering, we just split the atom then--we
didn't, the Americans did. And so I guess science was exploding, people
wondering about the galaxies. This field of radio astronomy was really
opening up. And Australia had a scientific organization, and I think at the
time they thought there would be these things everywhere. But I think that
once they built a few, they realized you didn't need that many. In fact, it's
still used to this day by NASA, by radio astronomers all over the world.

BOGAEV: Was this a pork barrel project, as they call it, or was this guy, or
this mayor, a real visionary?

Mr. SITCH: I think if you did the DNA test on it, they'd have to be, like,
10 percent pork barrel, 10 percent--you know, there always is. But he was a
visionary. I think he can competed against other possible locations, and he
got it there. And it's in the middle of nowhere for good reason. You know,
you don't have cars and electrical appliances and all the things that can
interrupt, although cell phones have become a real problem, especially--it was
involved, to a great extent, with the search for extraterrestrial
intelligence, and so occasionally what looked like extraterrestrial
intelligence was just the neighbor on a cell phone.

BOGAEV: So the small facility with a huge radio telescope in...

Mr. SITCH: Right.

BOGAEV: ...Parkes, Australia, was responsible for broadcasting the moon
landing to the world.

Mr. SITCH: Correct.

BOGAEV: What went wrong?

Mr. SITCH: In order of it, Armstrong decided to walk immediately, so that
pulled the moon walk forward about six hours, and everybody in Australia kind
of relaxed or got disappointed or--and then Armstrong and Aldrin couldn't get
into their suits, so then the moon walk got pushed back. It was like a kind
of a farce there for a while. But unfortunately, the dish in Goldstone in
California lost their picture, and suddenly it became critical for the dishes
in Australia to actually get the picture and transmit it. But it was this
weird, weird period where the moon wasn't high enough for Parkes to get it,
but Armstrong was getting out of the module and he was about to walk.

And at that period of time, a wind hit Parkes at 65 miles an hour, and this
was a completely dangerous level, and the dish should not have been pointing
at the moon at this time. So you had this sort of confluence of a courageous
act or stupidity, depending on which way you look at it, and this kind of
farce, while the rest of the world thought nothing was going on and were just
about to watch Armstrong.

Now in the film, you know, it's--we condensed the two. The true story's more
bizarre. There was another dish in Australia down the road--I mean, could you
believe it?--that wasn't supposed to be, you know, getting television
pictures. They pointed it at the moon because they thought Parkes wouldn't be
able to get it. They got a rudimentary picture. Again, a wind hit Parkes,
you know, at 65 miles an hour and they weren't supposed to move the dish, but
because there was no picture coming out of Goldstone, they decided to and it
cascades.

BOGAEV: So the telescope could have collapsed when they used it in that high
wind?

Mr. SITCH: Well, I don't know what--yeah. No engineer told me what could
have fallen off its bearings and the forces on it were enough to shake the
entire building and make it jump a cog. It's 1,000 tons, so, you know, you'd
be court marshalled in the scientific community if you did it today. That's
for sure.

And then a little genius move that the guy made. The moon was still too low,
and as it was rising, he did a maneuver. He used what's called an offset
feed, where it effectively uses only two-thirds of the dish, but it
effectively lowers the pointing angle of the dish. And he thought about this
in the midst of it--pointed lower; picked up the television pictures; informed
Houston they had the pictures. And they switched to Parkes almost
immediately.

BOGAEV: They came through on the clutch.

Mr. SITCH: They did. It was like one of those--you know what? We went
through it minute by minute and every single minute mattered. And you can't
believe that. And I said at the time, `Why didn't they tell Armstrong to
stop.' Imagine that message. Look, you know, like in the football. `Can you
hold the, you know, third quarter because we're doing some ads for Procter &
Gamble at the moment?'

BOGAEV: Did you talk to the astronomers who worked the dish...

Mr. SITCH: We did.

BOGAEV: ..during these four days of the moon landing.

Mr. SITCH: Yeah, we did and, you know, what's a sad footnote is the American
who was in charge of the American side of things--a guy called Robert
Taylor--only died recently we heard. But a lot of them are still alive and
it's kind of cool to--a television station in Australia brought some of them
back and it was just like in the movie. They came back and looked at it and
wore the same expressions as you see at the start of the movie. So it's--none
of them wrote, kind of, books about themselves. This is what you do today,
but they didn't. They accepted that they'd done something great amid
something that was much greater and that was it.

BOGAEV: How old were you? Do you...

Mr. SITCH: I was seven and it was 1:00 in the afternoon in Australia and
somebody asked me, `Has someone ever done a film about Apollo 11?' And the
answer is, to my knowledge, no. And it's a good reason. The big story just
dominates you and I think you've got to come at it through a small story and
from somewhere else because I think it's a hard thing to--Americans will make
Apollo 13, but Apollo 11 looks like chest thumping. But when you see it done
by another country and see it through their eyes, you know, you see the event,
which I think, unquestionably, is the greatest moment, you know, in human
history, or the greatest achievement. And that's how it was seen by the rest
of the world.

BOGAEV: Well, what is wonderful about the movie is that you see it through
the eyes of a number of different characters...

Mr. SITCH: Right.

BOGAEV: ...of different ages. And one of my favorites is the little boy, the
son of the mayor in the film.

Mr. SITCH: Right.

BOGAEV: He has a toy model of the lunar module. He knew everything technical
about the operation. He watches the television coverage and explains to all
the grownups all the acronyms that are being tossed around on TV. The moon
landing had such a huge influence on boys of that age.

Mr. SITCH: You know what? Yeah. Well, I was seven and that's kind of
autobiographical, that bit. It's impossible to overestimate the amount of
press that was generated at the time. I mean, there were truck drivers that
knew the flight plan of Apollo 11, so it's like when you watch the Olympics.
You become an expert in diving or something or ice skating. Everyone knew at
the stages, and as a kid, I remember the countdown, so, you know--and then,
you know, growing up at that time, I thought everything in the world was
possible. It's hard to be seven seeing men land on the moon and think that,
`Well, you know, we're going to have a cure for everything in about three
years.' That was the thinking.

BOGAEV: So you were the kid flying the lunar module in front of every adult
you could find?

Mr. SITCH: Yes, I was annoying. I admit it.

BOGAEV: Did you dig up real television footage from the era from Australian
TV?

Mr. SITCH: We did. It's so amusing. I think the contrast of 1969 is
extraordinary. You had enormous changes around the world; a very tumultuous
time but still incredible conservatism and then also juxtaposed against
incredible technological advances, very rudimentary electronics. And
television is an example of that. You had--in Australia we had people hosting
programs that, you know, looked like kids would do it, 11-year-old kids would
host programs today. And we went back and looked at that and it amused us to
no end.

And there was one thing that we show in the film where there's a huge Earth,
and about one foot away, there's a huge moon and the presenter warns the
viewers, `And I must warn you. These are not to scale.' And, I mean, it was
kind of the...

BOGAEV: Oh.

Mr. SITCH: ...that school principal view of instructing viewers. `We must
warn you.'

BOGAEV: Rob Sitch is my guest. He's the director of the new film "The Dish"
about Australia's role in the Apollo 11 moon landing. We'll talk more in a
minute.

Mr. SITCH: Sure.

BOGAEV: This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BOGAEV: Back with Rob Sitch, director of the new film "The Dish" about how a
telescope in a small Australian town ended up bringing the television coverage
of the moon landing to the world.

Now did you see the comedy in this story right away, this idea of the
Australian chip on the shoulder, that here is Australia's moment on the world
stage and we could blow it?

Mr. SITCH: Well, yeah, because when we started reading about this huge radio
telescope, one of the first stories we read was that when the governor
general, which is like the nominal head of state, like the president in
Australia, came to visit for the grand opening, the control disk malfunctioned
and so one of the guys got underneath and hot wired the disk. So our first
image of the dish was a guy underneath, hot wiring it like you'd steal a car,
while, at the front, a guy in full British dress regalia and a whole entourage
was standing there saluting the dish as it dipped and the guy's hot wire.

And that came up time and time again. They were isolated. They're near this
town, but they're out in the middle of nowhere in the middle of farming land.
And even when we were out there, it promotes a kind of a mischievous--the
isolation gives you a mischievous bent. And we knew. We went up on the dish.
We saw--cricket is an Australian national game. You know, you could play
baseball up there as well. It looked like the perfect place to play a pick-up
game. And everyone solemnly looked at us and said, `Oh, no, this is a highly
developed scientific instrument. You know, no one would ever do that.' So we
put it in the film. And then after the film came out, a few of them admitted
to us, `Ah, yeah, we used to play.'

BOGAEV: The truth comes out.

Mr. SITCH: The truth comes out. There's lots of that. I think something
about the isolation produces that kind of larrikinism.

BOGAEV: Now to film "The Dish," did you have to move it? Did you get the
cooperation of the staff of the dish today?

Mr. SITCH: Yeah, we did. Yeah, we did. It's still used 24 hours a day,
seven days a week.

BOGAEV: For what?

Mr. SITCH: To search for extraterrestrial intelligence for NASA. NASA uses
it just about on every mission. And they still map the galaxies. They search
for black holes. It's amazing how many things they do. So we had to--some
German astronomers who were looking for black holes while we were there had it
at night and we had it for the day. And it was a funny some kind of way to
get to work with the coffee and drive up and the German astronomers would be
getting on little bikes to ride away. And they go, `Yes, we off to bed. Yes,
good luck with your film.' And then later on in the day, they go, `Yes, we're
back to look for some black holes. Are you finished?' But it was kind of
cool, yeah, to have a huge radio telescope for two weeks.

BOGAEV: For the set of the movie--for the control room of this radio
telescope, did you get stuff from NASA, the machines, because this is all
pre-technology...

Mr. SITCH: Right.

BOGAEV: ...pre-modern computer? And it looks like ancient reel-to-reel
machines.

Mr. SITCH: Well, I think it's one of the most fascinating back stories to
this film, is we didn't want it to look like a "Star Trek" set, you know, with
three flashing lights and one button, so we rang around and someone said, `Oh,
I've got stuff that will look very much like that.' It turns out that it was
some of the original equipment and it was left in Australia when everyone went
back to America. But they said, `We just don't need it, but don't sell it.'

BOGAEV: Was it just too big? They can't ...(unintelligible).

Mr. SITCH: Yeah. It's big and heavy Hewlett-Packard computer equipment and
S-band receivers, whatever. I don't even know what they called them. Anyway,
we had installed it in, turned it on. It still works 30 years later and
someone came around the back--and I didn't believe the NASA story--and said,
`Look under here.' And there was a NASA bar code and it turns out that one of
the first uses of bar codes--and someone said that bar codes were even
invented for the space program. And there it was, a NASA bar code. And this
was the original equipment that had transmitted the pictures. So it was kind
of--that side of the authenticity was easy.

BOGAEV: Rob Sitch is my guest. He's the director of the new film "The Dish"
about Australia's role in the Apollo 11 moon landing.

You and your production team who worked on this film started out together in
radio.

Mr. SITCH: We actually--the first job, we were at college and did, like, a
comedy review show. And we were young. We thought, `What the heck. Let's
take a year off and tour it around the country.' And a fellow from the
Australian Broadcasting Corporation saw it and said, `Do you want to do a
television show?' So we were kind of tweaking with our own resolve to move
with our own television show. And it was after that that someone from a radio
station said, `Well, how about you take another year off and do a radio
program?' So that--then we never stopped and we kept doing things and
chopping and changing and...

BOGAEV: This is the four of you...

Mr. SITCH: Yeah.

BOGAEV: ...all together on the radio interviewing people?

Mr. SITCH: Yeah. We sort of do it as--we're a wolf pack, I think,
officially.

BOGAEV: How pleasant to be a guest.

Mr. SITCH: You know what? It actually works. It works really well because
it's like a conversation with a special guest there as well. It's like
friends coming over to your house.

And so we took that idea on to television in Australia and I think it's ended
up being really a big hit there, but we still get the reaction that, you know,
it's cheating. You're not allowed to just talk on television, but, of course,
you can. People say, `Oh, no, that's radio. You can't do that on
television,' but people enjoy it just as much.

BOGAEV: What kind of guests do you get on? And I get the impression that
you could even get a prime minister.

Mr. SITCH: Well, we do and have done and...

BOGAEV: The prime minister of Australia came on your show?

Mr. SITCH: Who came on recently? The leader of the opposition, the
treasurer, the deputy prime minister. They--funny enough, the politicians are
the most nervous because it's not adversarial. They are terrified that they
have to show something of themselves.

BOGAEV: They have to be spontaneous.

Mr. SITCH: They have to be themselves and they don't want to be themselves,
but we'll have anybody. I mean, you know, Jerry Lewis came. We'll have him;
k.d. lang, a sing--in fact, the American guests love it, possibly, the most
because we don't pre-interview them all as you would do on a big tonight show
here. And so I think they find it a relief for us to say we don't require you
to do anything. You don't have to tell us, you know, three funny anecdotes
and then we're going to plug your album, then go. It's much more relaxing.

BOGAEV: Your first film was "The Castle." It's about the happy, in quotation
marks, "Kerrigan family." Their biggest moment is when their pretty daughter,
Tracy, is on "The Price Is Right" television show.

Mr. SITCH: That's right. That's right.

BOGAEV: And they do have a son in jail, but they don't let that get them
down.

Mr. SITCH: No, it doesn't get them down.

BOGAEV: There's a lot of--you have a lot of fun with the parody in that film.
Did you draw on any of your own family story?

Mr. SITCH: Oh, I did a lot because my father--I mean, when you're 16, you
realize your parents aren't perfect and then you start to turn against them.
But when you're 13, I thought my father had done no wrong, but for a good
reason, and that was he thought he was the luckiest person in the world. And
I can't tell you the effect that someone like that has on you. So he
would--my mother would cook a meal and put it down on the table. He would
stop, look at the meal, look at us, like, in stunned disbelief and say, `Boys,
why would you go to a restaurant when this keeps coming up night after night?'
as in she--What is it, Belle(ph)?--and she'd say, `Oh, chicken.' `But you've
done something to it.' `Oh, I put a bit of seasoning.' `Oh, that's it.
That's the secret.' And he lived his life like this. And so I used to regale
my friends with these stories about the father that thought he was the
luckiest person in the world. And so when we were coming to put a character
into it, we gravitated towards that character.

BOGAEV: Do you get any angry feedback from Australians about a film like,
say the happy Kerrigan family?

Mr. SITCH: Can I tell you this is...

BOGAEV: `You're making fun of us.' And now this film is about how we almost
screwed up the television coverage...

Mr. SITCH: Well, this...

BOGAEV: ...of the moon landing?

Mr. SITCH: Yeah, it's really interesting and I hope, like, a master's
student does a thesis on it one day because he's the paradox. Well, it's not
a paradox for me. Occasionally, but only occasionally, writers would write
and go, `Oh, it's patronizing the working class,' and in actual fact they're
being patronizing. The film was the number one film when it was at the box
office. It was the number one film on television. I think it's second only
to "Sound of Music." And when it was repeated a year later, it became the
number one film again for that year on television. And it was the number one
rented video. And people--this is what happened is that people saw someone
from their own street as the hero in a film. They know what's right and
wrong.

And also there's a protective delusion there that we all have, too. One of
the people that was a neighbor of mine that we based something on and I
thought she'd spot it. And she walked up to me one day when I saw her and
said, `Oh, I have to have a word with you. I've got neighbors just like
that.' I mean, I think we see the best things; we don't see the worst. But
yet it's not--I think, in the end, the film is interesting because--and I
think we knew it would happen this way is, in the end, the guy, because he's
got a really core part of life worked out--you start off thinking you're
smarter than him and you end up realizing you're dumber than him.

BOGAEV: Rob Sitch, director of the new film "The Dish." It opens this month
in theaters nationwide.

I'm Barbara Bogaev and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Frank Black and the Catholics' CD "Dog in the Band"
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev.

Charles Thompson IV has gone through a number of name changes in his rock 'n'
roll career. When he fronted the highly-regarded post-punk band The Pixies,
he called himself Black Francis. As The Pixies began to dissolve, he started
calling himself Frank Black. Now, after releasing a few solo albums, he's
billing himself and his band as Frank Black and the Catholics. Rock critic
Ken Tucker reviews their new CD "Dog in the Band."

(Soundbite from "Dog in the Band")

Mr. FRANK BLACK (Singer): (Singing) I'm gonna make my mark maybe in showbiz,
maybe on solid ground, I do not know. But I'm thinking all the time and I'm
saving all my dimes.

KEN TUCKER: Frank Black and the Catholics commence their new CD with a song
called "Blast Off," and is really does. After a slow, truculent beginning,
lead guitarist Rich Gilbert finds the melody in Black's tuneless vocal, which
is, in turn, picked up by drummer Scott Boutier and the song is off and
running. Here's the song going at full speed.

(Soundbite from "Dog in the Band")

TUCKER: Black has never been much for crooning. He usually gets his best
effects from barking out his lyrics. On this new recording, though, he seems
to have been listening to some old Rolling Stones records to prepare for his
performance. He's adopted Mick Jagger's surly drawl to good-effect on a song
such as "Hermaphraditos is my Name."

(Soundbite from "Hermaphroditos is my Name")

Mr. BLACK: (Singing) Hermaphroditos is my name. What's your plan?
Hermaphroditos is my name. What's your name? Hermaphroditos is my name.
What are you saying? Hermaphraditos is my name. How do you love me deeply
with your scalpel? I got a mouth full of suicidal drugs. I am a dog. I am a
sculpture. You hate my features and you made me for a dog.
Hermaphroditos...

TUCKER: One of Black's most fruitful new collaborations is with the
keyboardist Eric Drew Feldman, who's played with two of the finest avant-garde
rock acts ever, Per Ubu(ph) and Captain Beefheart. As part of Frank Black and
the Catholics, Feldman often plays atypically playful country rock piano on a
song such as "Stupid Me."

(Soundbite from "Stupid Me")

Mr. BLACK: (Singing) Stupid me. I deserve it. Now I'm standing all alone.
Stupid me. I'm reserving all my thoughts just for her. Now she's gone. She
gave me her whole heart and I threw it away. I practiced about her. If the
fact she would come back for just one day, oh.

TUCKER: You'll notice that the lyrics in any given Frank Black song don't
make very much sense or, when they do, as on a goofy Western tune here called
"Bullet", they're pretty dumb. In his better songs, Black uses words as
chunks of metered sound that echo the mood of his melodies. It's the kind of
method that keeps him on the fringes of the music world. Black's first band,
The Pixies, presaged the grunge rock of Nirvana. His new material, by
contrast, is just the opposite: a throwback journey into recent rock 'n' roll
history, a clever scavenger's hunt for bits of melody, dissonance, abstraction
and passion that ends up sounding like something brand new and all his own.

BOGAEV: Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for Entertainment Weekly.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BLACK: (Singing) Take my hand.

BOGAEV: This is FRESH AIR.

Coming up, a review of a new book by Irish journalist Nuala O'Faolain.
This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Nuala O`Faolain's book "My Dream of You"
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:

"My Dream of You" is a first novel by Irish journalist and best-selling
autobiographer Nuala O'Faolain. It's left book critic Maureen Corrigan
dreaming of many more novels by O'Faolain to come.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN: I know better to declare a book the most absorbing novel of
the year when it's only March yet. But after reading Nuala O`Faolain's sexy,
sweeping and emotionally wise debut novel, "My Dream of You," I'm tempted to
let passion run away with me. I'm also recklessly prepared to wrest the crown
of aging Irish literary phenom away from Frank McCourt and bestow it upon
O'Faolain's head instead. After all, she's now bested him.

Like McCourt, O'Faolain wrote a best-selling memoir about her miserable Irish
upbringing. Hers bore the sardonic title "Are You Somebody." With "My
Dream of You," however, O'Faolain has crossed nimbly over into fiction.
That's the reverse of the traditional pattern, where novelists and poets cap
off their careers with an autobiography. Somehow, irrationally, I never
expect established nonfiction writers to have that kind of talent for creating
a tale out of nothing. Or almost nothing because the inspirational core of
O'Faolain's novel is a historical document pertaining to an actual 19th
century divorce case in Ireland called the Talbut Case(ph).

The Talbut Case features Lord Jane Eyre-type elements of cross-class romance,
madness and annihilation, with a special Irish twist. The illicit couple in
the Talbut Case greedily pursued their love against the background of the
potato famine in the late 1840s, what the Irish call `The Great Hunger.'
Here's the gist of the verbatim record of the Talbut divorce case which
O'Faolain intersperses throughout her novel.

In 1848, Mary Ann Talbut(ph), a married English gentlewoman, living with her
husband and young daughter on a remote estate in the boggy northwest of
Ireland, began an affair with an Irish groomsman named William Mullen(ph). It
seems to have lasted for three years and when the two were found out, Mullen
immigrated to America while Mary Ann Talbut was torn away from her child and
placed in an English insane asylum.

Just another woman gone mad for love. That's what O'Faolain's contemporary
heroine, Kathleen Deburka(ph), believes for a long time about Mary Ann Talbut.
Kathleen is a 50-ish career gal, a travel writer who emigrated from Ireland to
London some 30 years ago to escape a family and a country she found
insufferable. After an early catastrophic love affair with an English law
student, who gave her a copy of the court records of the Talbut Case, Kathleen
has lived a loner life composed of constant travel and brief, often depressing
sex with strangers.

`Like many another woman,' Kathleen tells us, `I was baffled and even
frightened by the distance there can be between the instinctive generosity of
the body and any good coming of it.' Except for the fact that she jumps into
the sack a lot, Kathleen is like an Anita Brookner heroine in her stinging
awareness of her own self-willed emotional entombment. All that changes
utterly, however, when a gay male colleague who's her only close friend, dies.

Kathleen succumbs to a major midlife crisis, quits her job and travels to
Ireland on a whim to research a book about the Talbut Case, which has always
intrigued her. While in Ireland, Kathleen begins a potentially overwhelming
affair with a married man. She also revisits memories of her own
Irish-Catholic girlhood. And those grim memories make up the third fragmented
story line in this restless novel.

So much is going on in "My Dream of You," that just summarizing the various
plots takes up time I'd also like to devote to raving about O'Faolain's gifts
for evoking place and mood through haikulike descriptions, like that of `The
acid-yellow grass of the bog land, around the ruins of the Talbut Manor
house.' I'd like to sing O'Faolain's praises for writing a novel that, like
her autobiography, takes a properly sour look at Irish misogyny and
repression.

When a colleague enthuses to Kathleen about the charms of her homeland, she
retorts, `Why don't you count the terrified women at the check-ins in Dublin
Airport on their way to England for secret abortions?' Most of all, though,
I'd like to genuflect before O'Faolain for managing to write such an evocative
novel about hunger of all sorts--hunger for companionship, for sex, for
purpose--without diminishing the reality of The Great Hunger, the actual
historical horror that haunts these literary metaphors and, suggests
O'Faolain, still haunts the collective unconscious of the race.

BOGAEV: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University.

(Credits)

BOGAEV: For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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