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Writer Mary Karr

Writer Mary Karr, author of the best-selling memoir The Liars Club. Her new memoir Cherry which chronicles her teen age years is now out in paperback. In a follow up to what critics call 'a hard scrabble childhood', she returns to East Texas to detail her adolescence. Karr relates anecdotes of rebellion, self doubt and sexual coming of age. The recipient of several literary awards such as the Pushcart Prize and the Bunting Award, she has published two volumes of poetry. She is the Peck Professor of English Literature at Syracuse University.


Other segments from the episode on September 7, 2001

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 7, 2001: Interview with Mary Karr; Review of Susan Isaac's “Long Time No See;" Review of the television show "Band of brothers."


DATE September 7, 2001 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Author Mary Karr talks about her book, "Cherry"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Mary Karr is the author of one of the most highly regarded memoirs of the past
decade, "The Liar's Club." New York Times' book critic Michiko Kakutani
described it as one of her generation's most eloquent, heart-grabbing memoirs,
a pitch-perfect account of her childhood in a hard-scrabble, east Texas town.
Dwight Garner described "The Liar's Club" as one of the best books ever
written about growing up female or growing up, period, in America. Karr's
follow-up memoir, "Cherry," has just come out in paperback. It covers her
early teen years when she was dealing with her sense of identity, sexuality,
self-consciousness and conflicts with parents and teachers. Karr grew up in
Beaumont, Texas. She's now in her mid-40s and is a professor at Syracuse
University. We spoke last year when "Cherry" was first published.

(Excerpt from 2000 interview)

As the title of your new memoir, "Cherry," implies, a lot of your new memoir
is about teen-age sexuality and those early sexual awakenings. And you're
very eloquent about that. Your mother, who, as a teacher, had seen a lot of
pregnant teen-agers, put you on the pill at about age 15 just in case.

Ms. MARY KARR (Author, "Cherry"): Yes.

GROSS: Did that encourage you to be sexual earlier than you might otherwise
have been.

Ms. KARR: Absolutely, it did. Absolutely. I mean, I think--again, I think
she was trying to be progressive and certainly trying to prevent my getting
knocked up, which was a common occurrence in the town I grew up in. I mean, I
had friends who were pregnant and married at 14, so yeah. But at the time I
wasn't even dating, you know. I was this kind of, you know, skinny, still a
kind of borderline tomboy kind of. I was a recovering tomboy, I guess. And
yeah, so obviously. I mean, the amazing thing about this book--everybody
thinks the title "Cherry" is ironic. And I think even despite that--you know,
despite my mother's sexual openness, again, which sort of nudged me, in a way,
to be sexual long before I was prepared to. It's a book about discovering an
innocence that I didn't believe I had. It's in no way ironic.

GROSS: Well, you write that the way people talked about being deflowered, it
was as if something you owned was stolen; something of worth ruined. Now you
had been raped at the age of seven. Did you feel like you had already lost
that thing anyway; that part of you had already been ruined?

Ms. KARR: Well, exactly. And, again, I mean, you know, so I think when I
first started writing this book I was thinking of it as a book about the loss
of innocence. And, again, it became for me a kind of rediscovery of an
innocence I didn't know I had and an innocence, given my reckless behavior, I
probably didn't deserve, even aside from what was inflicted on me as a child,
what I volunteered for, you know, in my teens. So, yeah, I mean, I think,
initially when I started writing the book I believed--I threw away about 500
pages because they were all about this kind of--this steamy sexuality, which,
really, I was superimposing the libidinal feelings of a 40-year-old woman
onto myself at 12. And I kept throwing them out because the pages seemed so
perverted. And they were perverted. They also happened not to be true. And
at a certain point I sort of clicked that, `Oh, I remember. You know, I
wanted this guy to skate over to me with a long-stem red rose.' All my
fantasies and all the imagery that I found so thrilling at that time
had--those images were all very courtly. And the scenes I've been told are
very racy are entirely chaste.

GROSS: Well, you talked about all the pages about early sexuality that you
took out. Let's--let's hear a passage that you wrote and kept in. And this
is about the difference between what you were feeling as someone in your early
teens with a boy who's about four years older than you are. I think you're
around 15. He's around 19 in this.

Ms. KARR: Right.

GROSS: And you know that you're experiencing this little sexual interaction
very differently.

Ms. KARR: (Reading) `It's either spectacularly sad or spectacularly innocent
that while your solar plexus churns and all your body rushes with desire, you
don't long to unzip Phil's pants or otherwise dismantle his clothing, nor do
you even get so far in fantasy as to actually envision sex, the brute
carnality and mechanics of which would ruin all the verdant, soft-focused
power of his kisses. It would slip you both from eternal time into the time
of furrow and field, entering and leaving, start and--no, please,

GROSS: What were some of the other differences in retrospect you feel that
you and the boys you were with were experiencing differently about early

Ms. KARR: Well, I think that culture doesn't have a language for girls being
sexual at this age. There's not much language for women being sexual, but
there's some. But I think it's just part of common parlance. I mean there's
no word like `chubby.' There's no word comparable to the word `chubby' for a
girl to describe arousal, that's so childlike, in a way, and kind of innocent
and silly. You know, I think of my son teasing his friends. `Boy, I bet you
take really long showers.' Or my nephew came to visit me once with a locked
briefcase and I think he was about 14 and we were flying up from Texas and I
said, `So what's in there, your Playboys?' And he turned to me very sharply
and said, `You looked.' And, again, it wasn't--you know, I can't think of
anything comparable. And, again, I think that's partly because the ways we
feel don't ding the cultural bell as erotic. They aren't so carnal. I didn't
have--I wasn't hard-wired to get the deed done perhaps in the way a
17-year-old boy might have been.

GROSS: You write in the book about how after, you know, smooching with a boy
the next morning you'd look in the mirror and you'd think, you know, `What
was I thinking?' You know, looking in the mirror you think, `I'm not that
person I thought I was.'

Ms. KARR: Yeah. I think I used the phrase, you know, that there was some
schism between the kind of wild luxury of these kisses and this kind of, you
know, scabby-looking girl, you know, who still looks partly like a child.
Yeah, I went on a date with some guy who was just a guy. He was just a kind
of regular fellah, you know, nice. I had no particular passion for him and
wound up kissing him. And the feelings that prompted, at the time, were so
out of line with my relationship with this guy. I mean, I guess it's a common
enough occurrence, isn't it? But yeah. I felt that, you know--I felt sort of
lopped off from that person--like, `Who was that? What was that?' And I
avoided this boy like the plague because I was so embarrassed by having, you
know, made out with him at the drive-in like this. I found it very

GROSS: Oh, and I like this, too. Once before being with a boy you said you
wanted to take a shower and brush your teeth, but being concerned with hygiene
at such an instant would sound so uncool. And you also aren't sure that
cleaning up would help. It's the whole blunt corporeal exchange that's eating
away at you.

Mr. KARR: It really is. I mean, you know, it's--again, I felt like, with
this particular boy, who was my first lover who was really a very sweet boy
and smart and kind. But as soon as we'd slept together I had that sense of,
`Oh, my God.' Everything we'd been doing before was sort of--what I liked was
sort of kissing and staring into each other eyes for hours on end. And I
could see for him that had all been this kind of, you know, erotic cheese and
crackers; that that was sort of beside the point at which he sort of crossed
over that line. His experience was just very different than mine was and yet
I had envisioned him as my soul mate, this boy who understood everything about
me and we were so similar and it was so great that we'd found each other so
young because we were going to have this fabulous life together. I mean, I
was 15 years old. Yeah, and that--you know, and to suddenly see in this guy's
face that, in fact, you know, he's hard-wired to get the deed done; that our
experiences were so different.

GROSS: My guest is Mary Karr. Here new memoir is called "Cherry." We'll
talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Mary Karr. Her memoir, "Cherry," about her early
teen-aged years has just been published in paperback.

What were some of the books, movies, TV shows, music that formed your romantic
fantasies in your early teens?

Ms. KARR: Oh, it's funny. I think of that Nick Hornby novel "High Fidelity,"
you know, about how you're sort of shaped by pop music in this awful way.
Books and--gosh, "Anna Karenina" was, I think, my favorite novel; is still one
of my favorite novels, which is this romantic tragedy in which a woman betrays
her husband and then, because of the nature of the betrayal, you know, she
winds up a suicide. I mean, it couldn't be more operatic or unfortunate in
terms of where a woman's libido is going to lead her.

Songs, pop song. I'm trying to think. Well, you know, I listened to The
Beatles, I listened to Joni Mitchell. I also listened to a lot of blues. I
mean, I grew up in a place--I grew up not far from where Janis Joplin was
born, and so, you know, the idea that you were going to suffer at the hands of
some man was sort of built into the deal.

GROSS: Now you mention "Anna Karenina" and suicide. You tried suicide when
you were in your teens. You swallowed a whole bunch of Anacins. What
provoked that?

Ms. KARR: It's funny, I don't think of it as trying suicide, so much as--it
felt to me like a gesture, in retrospect. It didn't feel quite as dramatic as
I meant it to be. And, in fact, I sort of intended the scene in the book to
be comical, because I sort of put on my black dress and laid down and crossed
my hands over my chest, and my neighbors were yelling at each other outside
the window. And I thought, you know, `Socrates didn't have to deal with this.
You know, he had Creito(ph) saying, "Please, master, tell us something else."'
And my attempt with a handful of Anacin sort of lacked that drama or

You know, my home was unstable and I was depressed. Yeah, I was depressed. I
mean, whether that was hormonally prompted or endemic to my nature or
certainly, you know, it's the result of having a very chaotic household.

GROSS: When you realized that your suicide wasn't going to have the drama of
Socrates and the gravity of Socrates, did that ruin the kind of romance of
suicide and make it something not worth messing around with again?

Ms. KARR: I never, after that, turned a hand to myself. I never--now when
I'm upset, I sometimes consider homicide. But it stopped seeming like a
solution, even though the poetry of darkness or dark sensibility or
depression--you know, Keats' "Ode to Melancholy," `I've been half in love with
easeful death.' And, you know, certainly there's a lot of great art that
surrounds that kind of despair. I just wrote an introduction to "The
Wasteland" for the Modern Library. I mean, that's a classic example of
someone creating a kind of psychic landscape where suicide might indeed be a
logical extension.

But, yeah, I think it seems to me now really cowardly. And my mother had
threatened suicide. She never really did anything about it, but frequently, I
think, when she was overwhelmed, that was her solution. So, yeah, I just--it
ceased to be an answer to anything, and became a kind of cowardly act.

GROSS: You know, actually, you wrote a poem about suicide that's published in
a recent collection of poems, and I'd like you to read that poem for us. And
this is in a book called "Viper Rum," and the poem is called "Incant Against

Ms. KARR: Yeah, it's funny--I mean, I should mention that I got a letter from
a psychiatrist in New York saying that he's given this poem to so many of his
patients. I was very moved by that. I mean, it's nice if you can help.
"Incant Against Suicide." `By neither gun nor blue-edged blade. Avoid green
rope, high windows, rat poison, cobra pits and the long vanishing point of
train tracks that draw you to horizon's razor. Only this way will another day
refine you. Natural death's no oxymoron. Your head's a bad neighborhood.
Don't go there alone, even if you have to stop strangers to ask the way, and
even if spiders fall from your open mouth. This talk's their only exit. How
else would their scramble from your skull? Escape. You must make room first
that the holy spirits might enter. Empty yourself of self, then kneel down to

GROSS: I like that poem a lot, especially...

Ms. KARR: Thank you.

GROSS: ...`Your head's a bad neighborhood. Don't go there alone.'

Ms. KARR: Exactly.

GROSS: It's very funny.

Ms. KARR: You know, I still have that. I mean, you know, I don't get that
kind of black depression I describe in my book, but, you know, my head will
talk to me of a given day. It will start prattling at me. But I'm better at
turning the volume down on it.

GROSS: How do you do that?

Ms. KARR: Physical exercise, which generates endorphins. But sort of the way
I say in the poem. I mean, I talk to people. If I'm feeling bad, I have a
number of friends, and I'm not above going to see a mental health
professional. I'm happy to get professional help if it'll help, if it'll shut
my head up. I haven't been in long-term therapy for more than a decade, but,
you know, it's the way all of us heal ourselves as you find people to love
you, you know, people who will buy your act. And, you know, to have someone
sitting across from you with a caring expression on your face when you're
talking about your pain is comforting.

I also go to church. I mean, I converted to Catholicism, so I pray.

GROSS: When did you convert?

Ms. KARR: '97.

GROSS: How come?

Ms. KARR: My son came into my room, he was about five years old, one Sunday
morning, and he said, `I want to go to church.' And I wanted to read The New
York Times. So I said, `Why?' And he said, `I want to see if God's there.'
And I thought, `Oh.' You know, I didn't like soccer either, but I went and
stood out on the frozen field, you know, watched him run up and down. So we
did this thing we called Godorama where anybody we knew who had a spiritual
practice of any kind we went with them. So we went to a number of Jewish
temples, including conservative temples, and small, private groups. We went
to Baptist churches, Episcopal, Unitarian. We even did a Buddhist Zendo(ph).
We never made it to a mosque. But I found myself in a Catholic Church that a
friend of mine actually, Tobias Wolfe, had invited me to, and I was very
moved. And if you told me I would join the Catholic Church, I just would have
laughed myself sick. And I'm sure I'm not the pope's favorite Catholic, I
mean, let me just put it that way, but I go to church every Sunday and I pray
every day. I think--it puts me in perspective, I think. It puts my
difficulties in the right size.

GROSS: Now your first memoir, "The Liar's Club," was a best seller. It was
also, you know, important in popularizing the memoir. Why did you first
decide to write a memoir?

Ms. KARR: It's a form that always interested me. I write in this book--the
only journal that I have from ever, really--I never really kept a journal, but
the only journal I have from childhood, in that I write, `When I grow up, I
want to write half poetry and half autobiography.' I don't even remember an
autobiography I read as a child.

So the form always interested me. I started teaching classes in it. When I
was teaching composition and rhetoric in the academic ghetto around Boston, I
often taught courses in family memoir. I think I wanted to know how people
lived their lives. I had tried to write "Liar's Club" as a novel, and when I
did the character who was me behaved way better in fiction than I ever had in
fact. You know, she was beautiful and noble and wise. She did volunteer work
at the nursing home. I mean, for me, fiction would have been an opportunity
to correct--and also, I was endowed with these amazing characters.

So I don't know, I think it's the psychological tilt. You know, why does
Philip Roth write books that, you know, he basically admits are
autobiographical and yet they're labeled fiction, you know? I don't know, I
think it must be the writer's psychological position.

GROSS: Now I know you kept a diary as a girl. Did a lot of your memoir come
from memories revived by that diary?

Ms. KARR: Virtually none of it. Actually, that's not true. I mean, what I
discovered from that--it was only less than one volume. I mean, it's not very
thorough. I was a lazy kid, I think, intellectually, and so I--you know, I'd
keep it for a few days or a week and then I'd kind of stop and I'd get
disinterested. But, for instance, you know, I think we remember ourselves in
convenient packages, and I like to remember myself as very smart at this age,
you know. And I had been a very smart little girl. I think I was precocious.
I read very early, at age two and a half. But when I read the poems I had
written in 1965, it was very clear that even though I occasionally had the
sense to read e.e. Cummings or Shakespeare, I in fact wasn't very smart. You
know, I was writing love poems to the star of "Branded," you know, and drawing
pictures from "Song of Bernadette," you know, drawing pictures of Jesus.

So, you know, I think, again, I very conveniently remembered myself as being
this great intellect and, in fact, you know, I was just kind of a average kid
in terms of intelligence probably. I mean, I was more interested in reading
because I think my family was, but...

GROSS: Do you keep a journal now?

Ms. KARR: Oh, goodness, no. I don't have time. And I also lead a pretty
banal life, I mean, in many ways. I'm a soccer mom, you know. I live in
Syracuse. I teach at Syracuse University. And I have a son. I'm a single
mom, although my ex-husband is great and we co-parent really well and he's
very involved in raising our son. So, I mean, I lead a really--I sort of live
in this Country Time Lemonade commercial is the way it looks. All the things
that everybody in the '50s were trying to escape, I'm trying to re-create, you
know, in the year 2000. I literally have a picket fence, you know. I mean,
the whole shooting match. And I stand out on the soccer field and watch kids
run up and down.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Ms. KARR: And shoot hoops in my driveway when my son comes home from school.

GROSS: Mary Karr is the author of "The Liar's Club" and "Cherry." "Cherry"
has just been published in paperback. We'll hear more from Karr in the second
half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Coming up, writing memoirs when you know that memories are often
inaccurate. We continue our conversation with Mary Karr. Also, Maureen
Corrigan reviews Susan Isaacs' new novel, "Long Time No See." And David
Bianculli reviews HBO's World War II miniseries "Band of Brothers."

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with more of our interview
with Mary Karr. Her memoir, "Cherry," has just been published in paperback.
It's a follow-up to her best-selling memoir, "The Liars' Club." Both books
are about growing up in a small town in east Texas. "Cherry" covers her early
teen years. When we left off, we were talking about the process of writing
memoirs and keeping journals.

What about memory, though? You know, your two books, outside of the poetry
books, have been memoirs which requires remembering. And I don't know if you
experience this, but sometimes memories really start to disappear and you're
able to remember less and less, and you trust less and less the things you are
able to remember. So isn't there the temptation to keep a journal just to
kind of preserve what it is that you've experienced and know that you
experienced it?

Ms. KARR: Well, I mean, if I were going to do that, I'd strap a video camera
to my head, you know. I mean, for me a memoir is an act of--I mean, I mean
that seriously, in a way. For me, a memoir is an act of memory and not an act
of history. So, I mean, it's remembered experience, it's not lived
experience. So, you know, there are all kinds of theories about ways we
remember, and I have no doubt that my memory is as--I do have a better
long-term memory than most people. You know, I write--I basically wrote this
book and I gave it to all my friends and no one said, `That didn't happen,' or
`That didn't happen that way.' People told me things I didn't remember or
they augmented events or they told me how they felt that I didn't--in ways
that I had no way to know. But, you know, it's a very--it's a corrupt form.
You know, memory informs imagination and imagination informs memory, so--when
people ask me how I remember all this stuff, I always say, `Well, obviously, I
don't, I just think I do,' which I think is true.

GROSS: You know, you--one lives through life trying to keep certain
unpleasant things kind of secret from other people. It's certainly not the
first thing that you tell them. I mean, you don't meet somebody and say, `By
the way, and I was abused when I was seven,' you know. But when you've
written a memoir, before people even meet you in person, they may have read
your book and found out all these, you know, really private, personal things
that you, you know, probably kept secret from most people for most of your
life. So I'm wondering if that's changed your interactions with people who
you're meeting now because if they've read your work, they know so many

Ms. KARR: It's funny, I have a great switch that I've thrown. You know, I've
never reread "The Liars' Club" and wouldn't, you know. I managed to not
remember or not know that people know those things. I think people are
actually kinder to me in some way, or they feel they know me when they meet
me. And so I think in some ways people are much more open with me, perhaps,
than they would have been. They feel as if I've let them in on something,
which I guess I have, even though I manage to deny that. And also, like most
writers, I'm never interested, really, in talking about something I've already
written. Once it's written, I'm kind of done. So if someone comes up to me
and says, `Oh, you know, that part where your mother has a psychotic break in
"Liars' Club" was so important to me,' I usually say something like, you know,
`Thank you very much. Why do you think you were so interested in that? Did
you have anything like that in your family?' And, you know, I'm not--Martin
Amis has a great line I think he stole from Ian McEwan, which is, `You go on
the road or you start talking about a book you've already written and you
become an employee of your former self.'

GROSS: That's great.

Ms. KARR: Isn't that good?

GROSS: Yeah.

Ms. KARR: And so my interest in talking about--I would still talk about those
events intimately if they came up--if they came up in my psyche with people
I'm close to. But otherwise, I mostly just don't talk about it.

GROSS: When was it in your life, would you say, that you knew you wanted to

Ms. KARR: When I was five. We had this big edition of "Riverside
Shakespeare." My sister still has it. You know, I've sort of been trying to
bully it away from her. But then I actually used it as a booster seat when I
was a little kid. And so my mother was always so interested and excited. If
I recited poetry to her, she would just sit with her chin in her hands and
look enthralled, which when you're a kid and you have a mother who's kind of
eccentric and whose attention is a little bit hard to get, you know, it causes
you to be interested in that stuff. So I--when I was five years old, if you
asked me what I wanted to do, I would have said I wanted to be a poet. And
that basically never changed. There was a brief time when I used to say I
wanted to be a journalist. My mother had written for a newspaper, and I
always liked newsrooms, to walk in at that time, you know, there was
typewriters that clacked and all that. I thought it was really exciting. But
basically, I never wrote any journalism, so, you know, it was always poetry,

GROSS: I have a kind of technical question about your memoir. Most of it is
written in first person past tense. You're telling a story about an earlier
part of your life. But the first chapter is written in the second person,
it's written in the you as if, you know, you're waiting for the car to come,
you're waiting to leave your hometown. Why did you write in the you in that
first chapter?

Ms. KARR: Well, it's funny because I actually do it--I take that up again
later. In the last section, I also go to second person present--I go second
person present tense, whereas in the prologue I think it's second person past
tense, which has more elegiac feeling to it. And I start in first person
past, and then I do first person present. I sort of was trying to change the
voice slightly because I did have a sense of myself changing. I had a sense
of estrangement from myself in high school, and I don't know if it was
drug-induced or if it had to do with my hormonal levels or if I was depressed.
But I thought to write in the first person just didn't convey that sense of
estrangement for myself that I had, that kind of abstracted way the world was
coming at me. Again, I think I didn't much have a self. I was kind of
assembling this self. And, you know, when I was a kid, even though it was a
kind of a self that had been donated to me in some ways by genetics and my
family situation, I at least was responding to things with some natural
impetus, out of some natural core, I think. And I was much more
self-conscious at this age and was always kind of looking at myself, you know.
I mean, you know, the hours I spent worrying about my pores was just

GROSS: You have a teen-age son now, yeah?

Ms. KARR: He just turned 14.

GROSS: Right, OK. And that's part of the age that's covered in your memoir.
Do you want your teen-age son to read your memoir, and in the hopes, perhaps,
it would help him understand something about girls' sexuality? Or do you
think if he read the memoir he'd be learning more than he needs to know about
his mother?

Ms. KARR: The latter, I mean, obviously. I have no investment in his reading
either of the books. And, in fact--and he hasn't read either. So, no, I--and
he just turned 14; I don't think he needs to know anything about girls'
sexuality. I'm his mom, you know, that's my little bitty baby boy. But we
actually had some interesting conversations about it. He came home a couple
of years ago and burst in the door and said, `I can read any memoir I want for
English.' And I thought, this is my big moment. And he said, `I'm going to
read, "This Boy's Life."

GROSS: Oh, great; that's a great book by Tobias Wolff who's a friend of

Ms. KARR: He's a friend of mine who's also Jeff's(ph) godfather. And so I
sort of breathed a sigh of relief. This summer, he said to me--I think it was
The New Yorker excerpt of "Cherry," and I think it was when the excerpt came
out, and he looked at the picture, but he didn't read it. And he said, `You
know, Mom, I don't think I'm ready to read either of these books.' And I
said, `You know, I have no vested interest in your reading either one of them.
I mean, if you ever want to talk to me about anything that's in them, I can do
that--I'm happy to do that.' But, you know, he's a kid, he wants to know me
in my pajamas, sort of, not in--not through--I intend this book to be a work
of art and I don't think he wants to know me as an artist; he wants to know
something sort of more fundamental, something that's going to actually get him
some French toast in the morning. But I remember Toby Wolff's sons didn't
read "This Boy's life" until, I think, he made it a contingency of their
seeing the movie.

So, you know, I think it's kind of common for the sons and daughters of
writers, possibly, I don't know. I mean, I remember meeting Dimitri Nabokov
and hearing him talk about his father's work and--obviously, I should be so
lucky as to write so well or to have a son so devoted to my writing.

GROSS: Mary Karr, recorded last fall after the publication of her memoir,
"Cherry." It's just been published in paperback.

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Analysis: Posthumously released CD by Susannah McCorkel

In May, we dedicated a show to singer Susannah McCorkel after she committed
suicide. We had a big response to the broadcast and many listeners asked
where they could find a song that we had featured her singing called the
"Waters of March." Well, that song is included on a new posthumously released
CD called "Susannah McCorkel Most Requested Songs." It collects tracks from
her CDs dating back to 1977. She wrote the liner notes before she died.
Here's what she said about this 1993 recording of the "Waters of March."

`This is my most requested song, and I love singing it every single time. By
one of the great songwriters of our time, Antonio Carlos Jobim, this unusual
composition always inspires me with its meandering lyrics full of contrasting
images, its sweet sadness and its gentle but insistent spirit of survival and
renewal.' Here's the song.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. SUSANNAH McCORKEL: (Singing in foreign language)

A stick, a stone, it's the end of the road, it's feeling alone, it's the
weight of your load. It's a sliver of glass. It's life, it's the sun, it's
night, it's death, it's a knife, it's a gun; a flower that blooms, a fox in
the brush. I'm not in the woods, the song's a thrush. The mystery of life,
the steps in the hall, the sound of the wind and the waterfall. It's the moon
floating free, it's the girl with the slope. It's an ant, it's a bee, it's a
reason for hope. And the riverbank sings of the waters of March. It's the
promise of spring, it's the joy in your heart.

(Singing in foreign language)

A spear, a spike, a stake, a nail, it's a drip, it's a drop, it's the end of
the tape. A dew on the leaf in the morning light, the shot of a gun in the
dead of the night. A mile, a must, a breath, a bump, it's the will to
survive, it's a jolt, it's a jump. Blueprint of a house, a body in bed, a car
stuck in the mud, it's the mud, it's the mud of fish, of flash, of fish. Oh,
wait, it's a hawk, it's a dove, it's the promise of spring and the riverbank
sings of the waters of March. It's the end of despair, the joy in your heart.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Susannah McCorkel, from her posthumously released CD, "Most Requested

Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews "Long Time No See," the sequel to Susan
Isaacs' 1978 best-seller, "Compromising Positions." This is FRESH AIR.

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

Review: New Susan Isaacs novel "Long Time No See"

The new novel by Susan Isaacs is called "Long Time No See." For some of her
fans, including book critic Maureen Corrigan, any length of time is too long
to go without an Isaacs novel.


This past August was a dead time for books, but deliverance from literary
despair has arrived with the splashy start of the fall publishing season.
Already the first book scandal has erupted, that business about Faye Weldon
selling product placement space in her new novel to the jewelry firm Bulgari.
The Authors Guild immediately protested this crass cross-breeding of high art
with the commercial. But I don't think there's anything to worry about. Once
Bulgari and other curious companies look at the low sales figures for literary
novels, like the kind Weldon writes, they'll realize that advertising in
literature is akin to advertising on Antarctica. The most telling line in the
story The New York Times ran about the piece was that the chief executive of
Bulgari, who originally came up with the idea of literary product placement,
has never read any of Weldon's books.

Along with the debut scandal comes the first sublimely good read of the fall:
Susan Isaacs' "Long Time No See." Isaacs is in that exclusive niche occupied
also by Maeve Binchy, of masterful writers for whom storytelling is not a
shameful artistic act. If I ran the world, Isaacs would be showered with all
those hoity-toity literary prizes that so far have been denied her. I can
think of no other novelist, popular or high-brow, who so consistently
celebrates female gutsiness, brains and sexuality. She's Jane Austen with a
schmear, or Philip Roth without the woman problem and the self-absorption.
She's certainly their equal, if not in felicity of phrasing, then in her
shrewd and hilarious social observations.

Isaacs' trademark first-person narrators, usually lower middle-class Jewish
women who've married up, are quintessential insiders-outsiders and thus
brilliantly positioned to offer canny takes on everything, from WASP speech
patterns to designer Tampax holders. But Isaacs hasn't gotten the literary
respect she deserves because her strengths are also her weaknesses. She's a
plus-size storyteller in an age when, narratively speaking, thin is in and
rumination is valued more than plot. Also, many of her books are shelved,
however haphazardly, within the disparaged category of detective fiction.

I think the real answer to Isaacs' image problem, however, is that she leaves
her readers, her female readers especially, feeling too happy. A writer's
reputation usually sinks in inverse proportion to the degree she or he raises
their readers' spirits. The optimistic moral of Isaacs' collected works is
that down-to-earth, over-the-hill, funny women who are nothing special in the
looks department can solve the crime, find true love and/or defeat the Nazis,
if only they summon up enough pluck.

"Long Time No See" is sure to win Isaacs more adoration from the masses and
further scorn from the academy. Sequels, after all, are among the lowliest of
all literary genres. And "Long Time No See" is a sequel to Isaacs' first
novel, the 1978 best seller, "Compromising Positions." Yippee! That means
the return of one of Isaacs' most beloved heroines, Judith Singer, the
Shorehaven, Long Island, stay-at-home mother of two with the nose for danger.
A sequel also means the return of Judith's best friend, that boozy Southern
belle man trap, Nancy Miller; and Nelson Sharpe, the dreamy homicide detective
who ignited illicit sparks in Judith's bosom when he first stepped into her
suburban Tudor living room.

Nelson, we learn, has been out of Judith's life for decades. They ended their
affair out of consideration for their kids. A lot else has changed. Judith
is now 54 and a widow. Her overbearing, but not completely awful, husband
died of a heart attack two years before the story opens. Judith has gotten
her PhD and is teaching history at a local college. Her situation, that of a
youngish widow still pining for an indifferent husband, allows Isaacs the
opportunity to ruefully dramatize the loneliness of bright women rendered
invisible by their age and the absence of a male partner.

What lifts Judith out of her grief and maneuvers Nelson into her life again is
yet another Shorehaven murder mystery. Courtney Logan, a former investment
banker, wife and mother of two toddlers, disappeared on Halloween night. Her
body is eventually found in the family swimming pool. Courtney's husband is
the police's prime suspect, but as of old, Judith can't help second-guessing
the professionals. Along with discovering the identity of the murderer,
Judith also finds out, with Nelson, that love is, indeed, lovelier the second
time around.

Beyond its wit and smart social observations and the pleasure its central
second-chance fantasy offers readers, "Long Time No See" also serves as a
casual but unsettling commentary on the triumphs and shortcomings of the
second wave of feminism. "Compromising Positions" was first published in the
heady days of the women's movement. Young Judith's consciousness was raised,
but her resolve was weak. She still cooked Bob's dinner every night while
confronting killers. "Long Time No See" gives us a sadder, but more
self-possessed, Judith, one who earns her own living and refrains from rushing
into another serious relationship with a man.

At the same time, the younger women around Judith seem to have taken two steps
back. In an alcohol-fueled discussion about feminism, her friend Nancy says to
Judith, `I don't understand all these stay-at-home moms you're speaking to.
What do they do? Remember jobs, Judith? Remember all those husbands in 1972,
yours and mine included, who said, "My wife isn't going to work," and how we
stood up to them and that idiot mentality? So what are all these women doing

That larger mystery, about women's lives and the price of fulfillment, remains
unsolved. But in "Long Time No See" a fully evolved Judith Singer seems to
have achieved the two things that Freud said were necessary for happiness:
work and love.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "Long Time No See" by Susan Isaacs.

Coming up, David Bianculli reviews HBO's World War II miniseries, "Band of
Brothers." This is FRESH AIR.

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

Review: HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers"

This Sunday, HBO presents the first two installments of a 10-part World War II
miniseries called "Band of Brothers." It's based on the non-fiction book by
Stephen Ambrose. The executive producers are Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.
TV critic David Bianculli has a review.


The reason "Band of Brothers" exists at all and has turned up on HBO is
because of some of the previous work by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. Hanks
had starred in Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan," the World War II movie on
which historian Stephen Ambrose served as an adviser. So the three of them
already trusted one another. From that movie, they all knew the value and
importance of making the battle scenes as intense and realistic as possible.
From "Schindler's List," Spielberg knew the value and the power of getting the
real-life survivors on film. And Hanks, by producing HBO's "From the Earth to
the Moon," knew how to mount an ambitious, intelligent, large-scale TV
miniseries and why HBO, with its creative freedom, was the right place to do

So with all that, it's no surprise at all that the 10-hour "Band of Brothers"
is on HBO. It's not even a surprise that HBO paid $120 million for it.
That's a ton of money by TV standards. But whatever HBO doesn't make up in
new subscribers or home video and foreign sales it'll earn in buzz. What is
surprising, though, is how good it is.

"Band of Brothers" tells the remarkable history of the Army's Easy Company,
one unusually cohesive unit of the 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne
Division. In part 1, shown Sunday, we see their first members undergoing
training. In part 2, also on Sunday, we see them parachuting into France on
D-Day. From that point on, we follow the Easy Company paratroopers and their
younger and greener replacements to the Battle of the Bulge, to the frozen
forests of Bastone(ph), to a Nazi concentration camp and to Adolf Hitler's
mountaintop retreat. Every episode we get to know them a little better, and
almost every episode we're thrown into battle situations as intense and
unrelenting as that unforgettable early section of "Saving Private Ryan."
Before too long in "Band of Brothers" you learn to fear the war and treasure
the peace.

Except for David Schwimmer of the sitcom "Friends" who plays Easy Company's
first commander, the actors in "Band of Brothers" are relative unknowns. Some
of them give performances that should change all that, especially Damian Lewis
as Richard Winters and Ron Livingston as his best friend in the company, Lewis
Nixon. Spielberg doesn't direct here, but serves as executive producer with
Tom Hanks. Hanks co-wrote one episode and directed another. He doesn't act
in the miniseries, but his son Colin does, and he's really good.

Nothing in the miniseries, though, is as powerful as the real-life veterans
whose comments open the first nine episodes and close the 10th. They aren't
identified until the very end, when we have a strong appreciation for what
they endured and accomplished. But from the very beginning, their words make
"Band of Brothers" a haunting TV viewing experience.

(Soundbite of "Band of Brothers")

Unidentified Veteran #1: Well, our country was attacked. It's different. It
wasn't like Korea or Vietnam. We was attacked. And, you know, it was a
feeling that maybe we's just dumb country people where I come from, but we--a
lot of us volunteered.

Unidentified Veteran #2: `Who would like to volunteer for the tank corps?
Who would like to volunteer for the Air Force? Who would like to volunteer
for the Navy?' Or whatever. And then they said, `Who would like to volunteer
for the Airborne?' So I says, `What the hell's the Airborne?' Nobody ever
heard of it.

BIANCULLI: As a dramatic form, "Band of Brothers" is closest to two other
miniseries I can think of. One is the British World War II drama "Danger
UXB," where the heroes were assigned the task of locating and disarming
unexploded bombs dropped over England. The other is the American Western
"Lonesome Dove." In both of them, we got to know the characters very slowly,
but very well, and because of the dangers constantly surrounding them, we knew
we could lose them at any moment, and often did.

The very best episode of "Band of Brothers" is number six, which focuses on
actor Shane Taylor as a company medic. But all of them are excellent and
intense, and every one adds to the meaning and impact of the others. This is
appointment television of the highest order, and even when it's tough to
watch, it should be seen.

GROSS: David Bianculli is TV critic for the New York Daily News.


GROSS: I'm Terry Gross. Here's Rosemary Clooney.

(Soundbite of "I'll Be Seeing You")

Ms. ROSEMARY CLOONEY: (Singing) I'll be seeing you in all the old familiar
places that this heart of mine embraces all day through: in that small cafe,
the park across the way, the children's carousel, the chestnut tree, the
wishing well. I'll be seeing you in every lovely summer's day. In everything
that's light and gay, I'll always think of you that way. I'll find you in the
morning sun...
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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