Historical Picture Archive / Corbis / Getty, Penguin Random House
Rae Nudson | Longreads | March 2019 | 12 minutes (3,277 words)
In Helen Oyeyemi’s books, reality can twist and bend until the distinction between what’s fantasy and what’s real disappears entirely. In previous novels, Oyeyemi takes familiar tales, like Bluebeard’s unlucky wives and Snow White’s unlucky youth, and breaks the well-known stories, putting them back together in new ways that jump through time and space. The result is always something weird, dark, and unfailingly interesting. Her latest book, Gingerbread, uses a well-known symbol from fairy tales, the eponymous dessert, rather than a tale itself to spark the story, one in which children take on adult responsibilities and come to experience the effects of work, capitalism, and the complexities of family.
Gingerbread is narrated with the help of a Greek chorus of dolls who come to life to hear the story that the gingerbread-maker Harriet is telling to her daughter Perdita about where Harriet came from — a place called Druhástrana that may or may not exist at all. While evidence of Druhástrana’s existence is scarce (it’s name translates to “the other side” in Czech), Harriet’s memories of growing up there are vivid.
It is during her childhood in Druhástrana that Harriet learns how to make gingerbread, a treat that provides sustenance to her family when times are hard and eventually provides a path to leaving Druhástrana behind — Harriet makes friends with a changeling named Gretel and moves to the city to work in a gingerbread factory, sending her wages home to her family. As she grows up, Harriet learns more about what’s true and what’s false and what matters in life. But one thing Harriet remains sure of is the quality of her gingerbread. She knows it’s good, and she knows that she can add value to the world through the treat she bakes. Read more…
Ginger Rogers and Katharine Hepburn in "Stage Door" (1937), Getty / Howard Hughes, Associated Press / Collage by Katie Kosma
Rae Nudson | Longreads | November 2018 | 13 minutes (3,545 words)
Listening to Karina Longworth’s conspiratorial drawl on her podcast “You Must Remember This” feels like you’re about to hear some really great gossip at a party. It’s my favorite podcast, partly because I love stories about old Hollywood, which she studiously researches and shares, featuring legendary figures like Clara Bow, Marilyn Monroe, and John Wayne. But mostly I love it because of the way Longworth critically views each of her sources and dissects old studio narratives to discover the story closest to the truth.
Her new book, Seduction: Sex, Lies, and Stardom in Howard Hughes’s Hollywood, takes that sharp critical thinking and applies it to pilot turned filmmaker turned hermit Howard Hughes and the women he groomed and abused during his lifetime. Step by step, Longworth illustrates how Hughes created and maintained his millionaire playboy image, often at the expense of the careers and well-being of the long line of women he used to prop up his lifestyle. Hughes’ actions are sometimes so horrifying it sounds like an urban legend, told to would-be starlets to warn them of the horrors of men and Hollywood.
Hughes basically held women hostage, stealing years of their lives and careers by keeping would-be actresses off the screen and in his debt. He kept a staff of people to spy on and manipulate young women, like Billie Dove, Ginger Rogers, and countless others. He held meetings with censors where he calculated just how much of Jane Russell’s breasts he’d be able to show on screen in the film The Outlaw. One woman, a 19-year-old named Rene Rosseau, attempted suicide a few months after arriving in Hollywood, saying that Hughes keeping her from working was partly to blame. She survived, but her career didn’t. Read more…