Arts & Life

When a man vanishes in a Hollywood studio movie, the disappearance is usually the prelude to disclosing a hidden, violent life. But Claire in Motion is an indie domestic drama, so its revelations are less sensational. In fact, they're kind of bland.

Claire (Breaking Bad veteran Betsy Brandt) and Paul (Chris Beetem) are a faculty couple at Ohio University. Their shared surname is Hunger, but Paul is the only one who's been experiencing it.

When Otto and Anna Quangel, a middle-aged couple in early '40s Berlin, receive a letter informing them their only son has died in the Battle of France, they take the news with curious resignation. Otto can't even bring himself to open the envelope, leaving his wife alone to process its contents. Their reaction is somewhere between shock and a grim acceptance of the inevitable, and it stands in sharp contrast to a city buoyed by Nazi victories and nationalist propaganda. They've lost their child and they've lost their country, perhaps long before.

Rummage through the many movies that get dumped into distribution in the run-up to Oscars night and you'll often find, amid all the prestige, cinematic awards-bait, a smaller film that's perfectly fine — not great — yet that tells us something consequential about the culture that produced it. That's 100 Streets, a sour-sweet British drama about a bunch of walking-wounded Londoners crossing paths as they struggle through life-crises we all recognize — a marriage on the skids, a longed-for child, an uphill battle to rise above poverty and petty crime.

The firm of Wahlberg and Berg, LLC is a highly specialized one. Patriots Day, an absorbing and detail-rich account of the terrorist bombing of the 2013 Boston Marathon and the four-day manhunt that followed, marks the third time in three years that director Peter Berg and star Mark Wahlberg have collaborated to dramatize recent history. (Deepwater Horizon, their thriller about the 2010 Transocean oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, came out all of four months ago.)

Free speech advocates see President-elect Trumps's testy relationship with the media and his middle-of-the-night tweets reacting to critics as evidence that he is — at best — insensitive to the First Amendment. And they say one recent controversy, the decision by Simon & Schuster to publish a book by social media provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, has grown out of an atmosphere that encourages hate speech.

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DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

The bustling Paris streets were rutted and caked in thick mud, but there was always a breathtaking sight to behold in the shop windows of Patisserie de la Rue de la Paix. By 1814, people crowded outside the bakery, straining for a glimpse of the latest confection created by the young chef who worked inside.

Latin American literature has an excellent tradition of short and creepy novels. The leader of the pack is Juan Rulfo's classic Pedro Páramo, set in a town where everybody is dead, but Rulfo is in good company. Chilean masters José Donoso and Roberto Bolaño wrote breathtaking novellas; so have present-day Mexican stars Valeria Luiselli and Carmen Boullosa. And so has the Argentine short story writer Samanta Schweblin, whose first novel, Fever Dream, is an exceptional example of the short-and-creepy form.

If reading more in 2017 was one of your new year's resolutions, Nancy Pearl is here to help. Every once in a while, the Seattle-based librarian sends host Steve Inskeep a big stack of books. They're generally "under-the-radar" reads — titles she thinks deserve more attention than they've been getting.

This year, the stack includes breathtaking thrillers, a multi-generational crime story, an unforgettable family tale, and more. Pearl tells Inskeep why she loves these novels, and why she thinks you will, too.

Copyright 2017 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies in for Terry Gross, who's off this week. Most of us have jobs where we have to behave ourselves. In Joe Buck's job, he gets to yell.

Italy has been described as the world's biggest open-air museum.

And with illegally excavated antiquities, looting of unguarded, centuries-old churches and smuggling of precious artworks, it's also an art theft playground.

But thanks to an elite police squad, Italy is also at the forefront in combating the illicit trade in artworks — believed to be among the world's biggest forms of trafficking and estimated to be worth billions.

Earthy 'Lotus' Is A Fascinating Flower

Jan 11, 2017

"A Newborn Calf Isn't Afraid of Tigers" is a typical chapter title in Lotus, Lijia Zhang's compelling debut novel. Readers will find the entire text rich in Chinese proverbs, as well as folk wisdom of a more prosaic variety.

“Mr. X and Mr. Y”

Author: Donald Brown  

Publisher: Borgo Publishing

Pages: 122

Price: $20.00 (Paper)

In June of 1959 Donald Brown, 23 years old, recently graduated from Birmingham Southern College, was a cub reporter for the “Birmingham News.” When a report came in that two armless, legless torsos had been found in two different counties in northeast Alabama, the city editor sent Brown to cover the story.

The two torsos will be, for a time, known as Mr. X. and Mr. Y.

“Greetings from Alabama: A Pictorial History in Vintage Postcards”

Author: Wade Hall with Nancy B. DuPree and Christopher Sawula

Publisher: NewSouth Books

Pages: 224

Price: $24.95 (Trade Paper)

"Homegoing" By: Yaa Gyasi

Jan 10, 2017

“Homegoing”

Author: Yaa Gyasi  

Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf,

Pages: 300

Price: $ 26.95 (Hardcover)

The author of this debut novel is Yaa Gyasi— pronounced “Jessie.”

Born in Ghana, Gyasi was brought by her parents to the United States at the age of two. After stops in Ohio, Illinois, and Tennessee, they settled in Huntsville, Alabama when she was ten, her father becoming a teacher of French at UAH. Gyasi is, then, an African immigrant, not an African-American, a difference which is brought out in the novel.

"The Whole Town's Talking" By: Fannie Flagg

Jan 10, 2017

“The Whole Town’s Talking”

Author: Fannie Flagg  

Publisher: Random House

New York

2016

Pages: 402

Price: $28.00 (Hardcover)

Fannie Flagg’s novels are usually somewhat sweet, and, as they say, heart-warming stories of ordinary people going about their lives in small town America. One does not find or expect overt violence or sexuality. The novels are hugely successful and, even if most people don’t realize it, the road to mass popularity and wealth in America is “Everybody Loves Raymond,” not Lennie Bruce or Chris Rock talking blue.

“El Paso: A Novel”

Author: Winston Groom  

Publisher: Liveright: a Division of W. W. Norton

New York

2016

Price: $27.95 (Hardcover)

Pages: 477

After publishing 7 novels, including the mega-hit “Forrest Gump” in 1986, Groom left off writing novels and turned to nonfiction. He has published 10 works of history, mainly on military subjects, from the Civil War battles of Shiloh and Vicksburg to WWI fighting in Flanders to the darkest period of WWII, the year 1942.

“H is for Hawk”

Author: Helen Macdonald 

Publisher: Grove Press

Pages: 283

Price: $16.00 (Paperback)

“H is for Hawk” has come to my attention because it has already won prizes in Britain and was a “New York Times” bestseller in spite of being nearly unclassifiable by genre.

“Freedom of the Mask”

By Robert McCammon           

Subterranean Press

Burton, MI

2016

$ 26.95 (Deluxe hardcover Edition)

530 pp.

After a series of highly successful novels in the horror genre, Robert McCammon switched to a series of historical murder mysteries, set in the years around 1700.

In the first Matthew Corbett novel, “Speaks the Nightbird,” Corbett, a magistrate’s assistant, investigates charges of witchcraft in Fount Royal, South Carolina.

The novel Lucky Boy focuses on two women and two very different pictures of immigration. In one story, 18-year-old Soli enters the U.S. from Mexico without papers. In the other, an Indian-American woman named Kavya is struggling to have a baby with her husband, who works in Silicon Valley. Their stories converge around a baby, the "lucky boy" of the book's title.

What Is Driving The 'Unbanking Of America'?

Jan 10, 2017

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DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

For a lot of writers, crafting fiction can feel like an exercise in trying to describe something — a concept, a sensation, an emotion — that really doesn't want to be described. It's a problem that can be solved by sticking to obvious themes and well-worn story arcs, but the best writers would rather put down their pens forever before surrendering to cliché.

Many of us feel irked when we hear people speaking "incorrectly." Whether it's using "like" a few too many times, or the word "literally" to mean "figuratively," we have a sense that there is a correct way to speak, and that that isn't it. While new speech patterns might be irritating, the linguist John McWhorter says they can't possibly be wrong. His new book is Words on the Move: Why English Won't and Can't Sit Still (Like Literally).

NPR's Audie Cornish talks to director Damien Chazelle about his latest film, La La Land, which is a modern version of 1930s Hollywood musicals. This story originally aired on Dec. 9, 2016 on All Things Considered.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

From head to toe, a first lady's look is heavily scrutinized, and Melania Trump will be no exception. But Trump is no stranger to the spotlight: In 2005, she was on the cover of Vogue in her Dior wedding dress, and she's modeled for Harper's Bazaar and posed nude for GQ. She also once sold her own line of costume jewelry and watches on QVC.

As the child of two Hollywood actors, Jeff Bridges can't remember the first time he was on a film set. He wasn't yet 2 years old when he appeared in the 1951 film The Company She Keeps with his mother, Dorothy Dean Bridges. Later, he and his brother, Beau Bridges, sometimes appeared in the TV series Sea Hunt, which starred their father, Lloyd Bridges.

But despite his early exposure to show business, Bridges tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies he wasn't always sure he wanted to be an actor.

She's one nasty woman, that Betty Fussell. Now 89, Fussell came of age in the heyday of bright and breezy Bettys — Betty Grable, Betty Hutton, Betty Crocker — but she clearly gravitated toward the one dangerous dame of the bunch, Bette Davis.

An essayist and author of some 20 books on food and travel, as well as the acclaimed memoir, My Kitchen Wars, about her marriage to and divorce from the late cultural historian Paul Fussell, Betty Fussell doesn't mince words.

Sunday night's Golden Globes were, in the great tradition of the Golden Globes, full of unexpected winners and a certain fondness for Hollywood itself. In this case, that fondness manifested itself in part through a sweep of the musical/comedy film awards for La La Land, which — in case you haven't yet heard — is about dreamers.

Elsewhere, Meryl Streep talked Trump, Donald Glover cleaned up, Tracee Ellis Ross had her moment, and awards shows continued to be the gift that may not keep on giving, but certainly keeps on going.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're going to talk about "Hidden Figures" for just a few more minutes. The movie is just out this weekend, but it is already a hit with young women of color who are interested in science, technology and math.

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