Abraham Lincoln Loved a Good Shawl and Russell Crowe Sported a Monoface

This will probably be the longest blog post in the world. Feel free to jump around to the parts that interest you.

An Administrative Note

All Rumpus essay submissions should be directed to therumpus.submittable.com. You don’t need to e-mail me to ask if I might be interested in reading an essay on a given subject, etc. Simply submit a finished essay and I will respond within a month. I don’t know what I’m going to like. I try to stay as open as I can to a diverse range of topics and writing styles. If after 30 days, you haven’t received a response, please do query.

A Question

When did anything over 1,000 words begin a “longread”? 5,000 words isn’t a longread either.

Recent Writings

A literary flyover at Tin House.

In Mid American Review 33.1, I have an essay where I reconsider the 1962 National Book Awards and to find out my winner, well, you have to read the essay.

I have an essay in Ninth Letter 9.2 about competitive Scrabble which I play, like a boss.

I was on NPR talking about using Twitter while watching TV. My parents are REAL proud. All their hard work is totes paying off.

Break All the Way Down is a top fiction longread of 2012.

I shared my 11 Favorite Small Press Reads at HTMLGIANT.

I wrote about Django Unchained for Buzzfeed and read some comments that just…. chilled my soul so I stopped that right quick.

An Upcoming Project

I am editing the next edition of the Love Letter Collection. Guidelines are here. What is the Love Letter Collection?

The Love Letter Collection is a collection of anonymous love letters submitted by the public since 2001. Letters are selected three times a year by the project director and guest editors including writers, artists, musicians and critics. The collection has been featured in the Times of India, Psychology Today, the Wall Street Journal and BBC radio.

You can submit a letter you’ve sent or received, or a letter you’d like to send but can’t. The love can be a fantasy love, unrequited love, impossible love, naive love, hopeful love, frustrated love, obsessed love, new love, old love or lost love. If accepted, your letter will be archived on the website as part of searchable database.


I Am Judging a Contest

Pinch is holding a contest with $1,000 prizes in each category. I am judging fiction. You should enter. Plz ignore the worst picture of me ever taken.


This one time (2013), during the BCS championship game, the announcers started talking, like pervs, about the QB’s girlfriend and she got 100,000 followers on Twitter overnight.

They are renovating the movie theater in Savoy, about 45 miles from here. Here’s how they are currently listing the movies:

My friend and I went to the movies last week and when we saw this we just laughed and laughed. I took several pictures. CLICK CLICK CLICK!

Also, there is this:


Silver Linings Playbook was good but not nearly as great as the hype. The actors were all fantastic. I enjoyed the movie and thought it was an interesting, but incomplete interpretation of the book. The Best Picture Oscar nomination is… misguided.

Let’s talk about what really matters–Lincoln and Les Miserables.

I didn’t expect to like Lincoln and ended up loving it. Steven Spielberg is maddening in that way, how he always makes these long, ponderous movies that scream, THIS IS A VERY IMPORTANT MOVIE, but he’s so damn good at what he does you forgive him this self-importance. One of the things I didn’t realize about Lincoln is that it is hilarious. I laughed so much and not at the movie but with the movie. Lincoln is, hands down, the strongest script of a movie I’ve seen in recent years. Tony Kushner, who is so brilliant (CAROLINE OR CHANGE!!!), really outdid himself with this screenplay.

Everything about this movie was well done–directing, production, acting–people earned their paychecks.


cast is bananas. Everyone and their mama is in this movie including Tommy Lee Jones, S Epatha Merkerson (I was like Lieutenant Van Buren, what up?!), Hannah’s boyfriend from GIRLS, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Daniel Day Lewis (so fine, always), Sally Field, Lukas Haas (?!), Nurse Jeanie Boulet from ER, the mom from Transformers Julie White who is just so great with comedic timing and delivery, David Strathairn, or as I like to call him, that one guy who is in all the movies, that guy from Pushing Daisies, Lane from Mad Men, the janitor guy from Contagion, that kid who played the boy who was homeschooled and only ate nuts and grains and then shot his baby brother on that one episode of Law & Order SVU, the rosy cheeked doorman who tried to kill himself in Tower Heist, the guy who played that cop in Jack Reacher, Hal Holbrook and a bunch of other people who give you that “hey it’s that guy,” feeling.  I applaud the casting director.

Even though I know how it all turned out, I didn’t know a great deal about what it took to pass the Thirteenth Amendment. Lincoln was a crafty fellow. I also felt a real sense of suspense. Despite some familiarity with the Constitution, I still kept wondering, “How is this going to end?” I was impressed that Spielberg could elicit this response with history that is so well known. He should maybe teach some classes to everyone else who has the nerve to make movies.

Abraham Lincoln loved a good shawl. Seriously, half the time, he was wearing a shawl and looking cozy.

Heterosexual men held hands! There were at least two scenes where men held hands to support each other, or because something important was happening. I loved it.

Lincoln loved to tell a good story and it drove the people around him crazy. No matter the circumstance, he would launch into a meandering story that always ended up in a place of charming wisdom.

Some white people REALLY did not want slavery to end and they were really comfortable talking about why.

War has always been brutal.

There’s a really smart moment in the movie when Spader’s character is trying to bribe a Democrat to vote for the 13th amendment and he chases him off with his gun, and has to go through the ceremony of loading a gun with powder and a bullet the way they had to in the 1800s. It reminded me that when the Constitution was written, guns were not nearly what they are today.

It is really eye-opening to see that people during this time were truly offended by the idea of equality. It feels like we havent come very far but in some ways, we have. There was a great moment where someone was pontificating about where abandoning slavery would leave that ended with the horrifying possibility that women might vote. Oh, history!

Congress has always been a hot mess.

The N-word was only used like 5 or 6 times and it WORKED because sometimes, less is more. The word’s usage was jarring. It felt realistic and appropriate. It revealed the cultural attitudes of the time. It wasn’t gratuitous. Now, this movie is an entirely different genre than Django Unchained, but…. Tarantino could take a couple notes.

Spielberg borrowed some ideas from his work in Amistad. I see you, Spielberg. I know your oeuvre.

Tommy Lee Jones’s face has been through LIFE. Brother looks haggard.

You would never in your life see a woman this haggard looking in a movie. Hate the game, though, not the player. He was exceptional in this movie.

Sally Field has still got it. She just wouldn’t quit. She BROUGHT IT to her role. I was delighted. She and Abe had quite the tense little relationship.

Their youngest son kept showing up at the strangest times. It was pretty distracting. I kept thinking, “Why isn’t that kid being told to behave?” Their older son played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt was pretty angsty, wanting to fight for his country. His earnestness was a bit much at times but he looked good doing it so that’s okay.

My primary issue with this movie, and unfortunately, it’s a significant one, is how incidental black people were to the narrative. I’ve seen the counterargument that this movie focused on a very specific time period, but that narrow focus was a CHOICE. Valorizing all the white people for deciding it was probably bad to no longer own human beings, was a CHOICE. When black people were featured, they were stock characters like Humble Maid and Happy Black Butler and Righteous Militant Brotha. They also had magical negro properties, always there to help some white person get a little closer to doing the right thing. It gets old that these are the narrow, selective stories being told about this country’s racial history.

I’m a musicals nerd so I was very excited for the latest adaption of Les Miserables. From the outset, let me say I loved this movie, too. For the most part, it was really well done. I have lots to say but I thoroughly enjoyed myself and look forward to seeing the movie again.

It seriously took all my self control and then some not to break into song. I know the soundtrack by heart. I wore the album OUT when I was a kid. I’ve seen the show on Broadway and in Boston. I’ve seen the anniversary concerts. I have about ten different versions of Les MIz, from around the world. This is serious business. I hope some theater offers a singalong at some point. I will surely be doing this when the DVD is released.

Victor Hugo wrote such a dark book, though. There is so little joy to be found. I was weeping for about the last hour of the movie. My soul was in anguish. Jean Valjean!

When the movie opens, life is miserable for prisoners doing hard labor, trying to pull a big ship. It’s wet and cold and did I say miserable? One of these prisoners is 24601, Jean Valjean, played by Hugh Jackman who is basically a Swiss Army knife. He is so useful in so many different ways, particularly in my fantasies.

Before we really get into this, let’s talk about how every single major number was filmed the exact same way. I made an infographic:


As the prisoners head back after a long day’s work, Javert (Russell Crowe) decides to fuck with Jean Valjean a little and makes him pick up this huge mast. It’s all very phallic. Jean Valjean is basically, “Whatevs.” He doesn’t look like much but he is very strong.

Shortly thereafter, Valjean is released from prison but he’s given papers that mark him, for life, as a prisoner, even though all he ever did was steal some bread for his sister’s child. Justice was brutal way way back in the day. He wanders the French countryside, in misery, and is shunned at every turn. Finally, a priest takes pity on him and gives him food. Cravenly desperate, JVJ steals away in the middle of the night with a bunch of the church’s silver. The police catch him and bring him back to the church and the priest says he gave JVJ all that silver and JVJ has an AHA moment.

Even though he is wretched, God has shown him mercy so he dedicates his life to doing good.

Fast forward some years (this movie LOVES doing that), and some women are toiling in a factory. Odd thing though. They are supposed to be in France but most have a cockney accent. It’s like the cast of Oliver decided to just stroll over to Les Miz and join in on the misery. One of these working ladies is Fantine (Anne Hathaway). DID YOU KNOW SHE STARVED HERSELF FOR HER ART ON THIN OATMEAL WAFERS AND GRUEL? Anyway, she has this letter about her daughter and a woman snatches it and they tease her and the dirty foreman wants to know what’s going on and all of this is accompanied by a song.

Suddenly JVJ appears and wants to know what the fighting is all about. “This is a factory, not a circus!” He’s now the mayor of his town and a reputable businessman, okay? He can’t have ladies fighting on the factory floor. JVJ sees Javert heading to his office so he leaves the foreman to deal with the ladies. The foreman is a dick so he fires Fantine and it only gets worse from there.

In his office, JVJ is kind of panicking because Javert once told him he’d never forget his face. Javert was wrong because he doesn’t recognize JV. He just tells him he’s now stationed in the town.

Here is the facial expression Crowe Javert makes throughout the entire movie:

This guy was just terrible from the beginning to the end of the movie. He was either trying too hard or not trying hard enough, I cannot be sure, but every time he was on screen, it was agony and that’s saying something given that the whole movie is about misery.

Fantine is having a rough go of it without work. She sells her hair. She sells her teeth. Eventually, she sells her body, all while singing about how she used to dream that she’d meet a kind man and live happily ever after and then life fucked all that up.

This is Anne acting her ass off (literally), and looking super emo for Vogue. Like Lincoln, Fantine enjoys a good shawl.

Here is Anne demanding her goddamned Oscar:

One of the stranger directorial choices was the literal darkness of this movie. Throughout this sequence, I kept wanting to apply a brightening filter from Photoshop. I couldn’t see a damn thing and kept thinking, “Aren’t movies made to be seen?”

Anyway, things happen and Javert is about to make trouble for Fantine when JVJ comes to the rescue and takes her to the hospital because it’s totally his fault that she has become as wretched as he once was.

Not much later JVJ shows off his amazing man strength by lifting a cart off a man and Javert is there and suddenly, HE has an AHA moment. JVJ! At last! When Javert questions him, JVJ brushes it off. Then some man is arrested who is supposed to be JVJ and JVJ is wracked with guilt because he wants to be a good man and he wants to be free and he doesn’t know what to do. So. Much. Angst.

At Fantine’s bedside, as she lays dying, JVJ promises he will care for her daughter like his very one child. Anne makes her last bid for an Oscar and won’t be seen for about three hours.

Javert shows up and there is a bit of a confrontation, (this is one of my favorite songs when Russel Crowe is not involved). They sing their hearts out or at least JVJ does while Javert is shamed for being unable to sing the role.Worry not. He has his go-to facial expression to rely upon. JVJ begs for mercy, for a few days to go save this poor woman’s child Cosette. He’s the only one! Javert is unmoved but JVJ has his way.

Cosette played by someone who looks suspiciously like a Fanning but isn’t, is basically in indentured servitude to some really shady French people with cockney accents–the Thenardiers played by notorious overactor Sascha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. They play the Thenardiers all wrong. At times, they are really almost unwatchable. I also don’t understand their costuming and make up. They looked like mawkish clowns which isn’t quite what V. Hugo was going for. The choice was just overly indulgent and absurd.

We meet Cosette singing a song about her dreams (like mother, like daughter) and see just how miserable her life. Do you see a pattern here? The Thenardiers sing about how sleazy they are. I felt a desperate urge to bathe and disinfect them. This was a rough scene to get through. Also, their inn is filthy. I cannot stop thinking about it.

JVJ shows up and offers to buy Cosette (?!). There’s some song and dance to get more money and when he leaves with the child, who is just so happy to be out of that filthy inn she goes along without a word of protest, the Thenardiers are pissed because they think they could have gotten more money.

JVJ is also not opposed to a shawl.  It is the year of the shawl!

Fast forward through time once more and Cosette is now 18 or so and played by that girl from Big Love and that shiteous movie Gone, Amanda Seyfried who is good enough as Cosette. Mostly she stares at the camera wide-eyed, with her lips slightly parted. She knows she’s not going to be considered for an Oscar so she doesn’t over exert herself. I respect that choice.

Anyway, things are rough in Paris. People are hungry. The royals and wealthy have no mercy for the people. There are rumblings of revolution. Things never change! We learn all about this in, you guessed it, a song!

Meanwhile, Javert has a bit of an emotional crisis as he considers his nemesis JVJ who still remains just beyond his grasp. As he mopes about outside and looks up at the sky, he SINGS! The original Broadway Javert probably wanted to stab himself in the eye when he saw what Crowe did with this song, but it is what it is.

JVJ and Cosette are living a very quiet life of charity and good, feeding the hungry, etc. One afternoon, Cosette spies this guy, Marius, sporting a 1800s Bieber haircut. They look at each other for approx. 24 seconds and are instantly in love! That’s how it works.

This guy also works in the Crowe style of monoface.

Before Marius can get Cosette’s digits, she disappears. Back at revolutionary headquarters or, as we call it, a bar, Marius’s friends are talking about the impending revolution. Marius moons about Cosette. He tries to explain, through song as if there were any other way, that if they had been there, they would have known what a big deal it is that he’s in love but Enjolras, the leader of these student revolutionaries tells him to get his priorities in check.

In a big group number, everyone sings about how the people are going to rise up. It’s Occupy Paris, 1832 Style!

At home, where her father is furiously planning their departure because Javert has ONCE AGAIN reared his ugly head, Cosette is singing about her life which has been good but a bit confusing what with being sold into child slavery and then bought by another man who keeps her sequestered and doing good works. She muses about Marius wondering if he’s thinking about her and because they don’t have cellphones she can’t text him, “r u thinking abt me?”

JVJ tells her she just have to accept things but he loves her blah blah blah, and then there’s this Marius who is just as in love. His eyes are open as Matthew Crawley might say. And then there’s a bit of a twist. Eponine, daughter of the rotten Thenardiers (what a ridiculous coincidence, right?), is in love with Marius who only sees her as a friend. It’s the oldest story in the book, literally.

When I was younger, I was Team Eponine all the way. She was so tragic with her unrequited love (“and now I’m all alone again” and so on). I could not get enough of her tragic life. I WAS Eponine, loving all these people I couldn’t have. You should have seen me singing this song to myself as a means of trying to heal my sad little heart. Ugh. I would never be a teenager again, not for anything.

The young woman who played Eponine in the movie was good enough but she did not make me feel Eponine in my soul the way one is supposed to feel Eponine.

A barricade is built out of various household furniture items as if that can stop the French Army. Oh, how strong the hope of the young and righteous.

The action picks up at this point. Javert pretends to be a revolutionary and promises to get information on the enemy’s attack. When he returns, adorable little Gavroche (cockney accent), calls him out for the Liar he is.

JVJ realizes Cosette is in love with Marius and decides to do what he can to save the boy. When he shows up, he asks the revolutionaries to let him take care of Javert. He gives Javert his freedom and Javert cannot bear owing his life to this man he has spent most of his life hunting. Javert, drama queen extraordinaire, throws himself into a swirling pit of water. It should be a sad moment but mostly there is a sense of relief because we will no longer have to endure Crowe’s flat singing and monoface.

Eventually there’s a battle, mostly one-sided. Lots of young men die. Eponine dies in Marius’s arms, singing about how the rain now falling cannot possibly hurt her because she’s in his loving embrace. Quelle tristesse! Marius is injured and JVJ uses his amazing strength to carry the boy to safety, through the sewers of Paris. It’s really a repulsive situation but also heroic because JVJ is the man. He sings what is probably my favorite song of the show, “Bring Him Home,” and Jackman serves the song quite well. Fine. I admit it. I cried anew.

After the melée, women scrub the streets of the blood of young men and Marius realizes he’s the only man left standing. He is wracked with guilt but he’s alive and with Cosette and they’re probs going to live happily ever after so all’s well that ends well!

JVJ is somehow sickly now even though it’s not clear how or why. At the wedding, he tells Marius his dark secret that he used to be JVJ, a prisoner, (this isn’t really that dark a secret at all and that kind of makes the entire story annoying and predicated on nonsense). It’s all the singing that makes us go along with it.

JVJ runs away, skipping out on his daughter’s wedding. Cosette is almost beside herself but because she’s about to marry this guy she barely knows, she goes through with the ceremony. As an aside, it’s hilarious that earlier in the movie, we learn Marius is a rich kid who is playing at revolutionary when his uncle tells Marius he has shamed the family and so on, and at the end of the movie, Marius runs right back to his rich family. BRO!

At the reception, the Thenardiers show up and try to blackmail the newlyweds because they have this ring they took of JVJ in the sewer when he was carrying Marius, who they assumed was dead. Marius recognizes his ring and realizes JVJ saves his life.

The young couple run to a convent where they find JVJ who has aged about a decade in 5 minutes, sitting in a chair by the fire. The end is completely muddled and distractingly divergent from the musical. Fantine shows up to lead JVJ to heaven and Cosette cries and that’s pretty much the end of the movie.

Given the movie’s length, it’s bizarre how rushed the ending felt, an afterthought, as if the director thought, “Oh shit, I better end this thing.” No matter. I and most of the people in the theater had been openly sobbing for the past hour. It was a relief that the misery finally ended with a bit of peace.

This is a long blog post. I better end this thing.

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