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Interview with Gail Godwin about Grief Cottage

Started by Rob Neufeld in AC-T Book Reviews Aug 3, 2017.

Ellington in Asheville--a survey

Started by Rob Neufeld in Local History Oct 6, 2017.

Dave Minneman, heroic portrait

Started by Rob Neufeld in Local History Aug 25, 2017.

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Nancy Werking Poling posted an event

Nancy Werking Poling at Black Mountain Library

June 15, 2019 from 3pm to 4pm
Can women rescue the planet from ecological disaster?Nancy Werking Poling will launch her new novel, WHILE EARTH STILL SPEAKS, set in WNC. She'll tell the stories behind the story: How did Mary (more crone than virgin) get into the narrative? And Mary Surratt, a co-conspirator of John Wilkes Booth?See More
Jun 10
Caroline McIntyre posted events
Apr 29
Rob Neufeld updated their profile
Apr 13
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Flat Rock history via a road

Travelling back in time on a Flat Rock roadby Rob Neufeld             If you walk the one mile length of North Highland Lake Road in Flat Rock, you step nearly 200 years into the past.            At the east end, the 21st century reigns.  Fronting six-lane Spartanburg Highway, a super-Ingles sits above a bog; and a CVS store faces an Octopus Garden smoke shop, a chiropractor, a cell phone provider, and a six-lane avenue to I-26 a mile away .            Neither Ingles nor CVS carries the big…See More
Apr 8
George Ellison left a comment for Renea Winchester
"luv ya Renea ... Kephart bio finally done after 40 years ... free at last ... free at last... great god almighty ... free a last!"
Apr 5
Connie Regan-Blake posted an event
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Connie Regan-Blake Storytelling at Hendersonville Public Library at Henderson County Public Library - Main Branch

June 13, 2019 from 6pm to 7pm
Join Connie Regan-Blake for a family oriented evening of stories at the Hendersonville Library.See More
Apr 1
Connie Regan-Blake updated an event
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Connie Regan-Blake’s 14th Annual Summer Storytelling Retreat & Adventure at StoryWindow Productions

July 14, 2019 at 10am to July 20, 2019 at 4pm
Come to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Asheville for 7 days of story-listening & story-telling along with coaching, community & supportive exploration. This 14th annual workshop welcomes all levels of expertise, from beginner to experienced teller. Participants discover ways of being in the world that nurture your creative flow while developing skills to: Find, create, learn, and polish storiesEffectively integrate voice with image,…See More
Apr 1
Connie Regan-Blake updated an event
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Connie Regan-Blake presents A Slice of Life: An Evening of Stories at Black Mountain Center for the Arts

April 6, 2019 from 7:30pm to 9pm
Please join nationally celebrated storyteller, Connie Regan-Blake, as she hosts her workshop participants in an enchanting evening of storytelling in “A Slice of Life: An Evening of Stories.” Here are the tellers for our April 6th “Slice of Life” performance.  Christine Phillips Westfeldt, Kyra Freeman, Steve Tate, Alberta Hipps and more! The event is hosted by the …See More
Apr 1
Connie Regan-Blake updated an event
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Connie Regan-Blake's Taking Your Story to the Stage Workshop at StoryWindow Productions

April 5, 2019 to April 7, 2019
The focus of this “Taking Your Story to the Stage” 3-day workshop is on storytelling performance. Each participant is asked to come with a story that is almost “stage-ready.” Set in Connie’s home tucked in the beautiful mountains surrounding Asheville, NC, this workshop provides a supportive,…See More
Apr 1
Rap Monster posted a blog post

Stealth Hazy - 'Gun Clap'

Stealth Hazy - Gun ClapI got 80 rounds with a beam on it riding dirty I'm smoking chronic top off hear that system pound 808 thats subsonicI double down quadruple upstraight droppin with no cutwilt chamberlain on the reboundand you a fan just starstruckI…See More
Mar 26
Connie Regan-Blake posted an event

Connie Regan-Blake’s 14th Annual Summer Storytelling Retreat & Adventure at StoryWindow Productions

July 14, 2019 at 10am to July 20, 2019 at 4pm
Come to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Asheville for 7 days of story-listening & story-telling along with coaching, community & supportive exploration. This 14th annual workshop welcomes all levels of expertise, from beginner to experienced teller. Participants discover ways of being in the world that nurture your creative flow while developing skills to: Find, create, learn, and polish storiesEffectively integrate voice with image,…See More
Mar 2
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Feb 8
Sue Diehl posted an event
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Montreat College Friends of the Library Celebrate National Library Week at Graham Chapel, Gaither Hall, Montreat College, Montreat, NC

April 9, 2019 from 3pm to 5pm
Patti Callahan, author of the recent novel Becoming Mrs. Lewis, and Don W. King author of Out of My Bone: the Letters of Joy Davidman, A Naked Tree: Love Sonnets to C. S. Lewis, and Yet One More Spring: a Critical Study of Joy Davidman, will co-present on their works about Joy and her husband C.S. Lewis.  The event is free and open to the public on April 9, 2019 in Graham Chapel, Gaither Hall, Montreat College.Reception and Book signing to followSee More
Feb 8
William Roy Pipes posted a discussion

TWO NEW APPALACHIAN NOVELS

I have, just released two Appalachian Novels.OUT OF THE SHADOWS, begins deep in the Appalachian Mountains of in WNC. It is partly a true story about a young man who ran away from home at the age of fifteen. He meets another runaway, and they fall in love.A journey where he faced adversaries, but also success as he walked, hitchhiked, and made his way across the country.GONE LIKE A CANDLE IN THE WIND, is a story of three young people growing up in a farming community in the Appalachian…See More
Jan 28
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

The Main Show

The Main Show: a story-poem stage presentation(part of  Living Poem)See video of Act 1, Scene 1: The SettingProgram Notes (A program note reader comes out to read from the program notes.) Reader: Don’t listen, children, and do not hear.(A monster is coming and there’s no escapeWithin this story, and no good way to tell it, Except to gaze at the horror as at a…See More
Jan 26
Don Talley posted a discussion

Hollywood Pictures Inc in Fairview

In the 1920's it seemed the whole country was caught up in excitement about films and Hollywood.    Asheville and Western North Carolina were well aware of the hoopla of Hollywood.   In fact, Hollywood (or at least filmmaking) was already beginning to come to Western NC.I recently stumble across an article from the Jun 6 1926 issue of The Asheville Citizen Times which mentions that Hollywood Pictures Inc, was planning to film just south of Asheville, near Fairview.  But....was this really…See More
Jan 23

Francine Prose divines the making of a monster

by Rob Neufeld

Read interview with Francine Prose

 

            “Very few people start out their lives saying, ‘I think I’m going to be evil,’” Francine Prose mused in a recent interview, talking about her new novel, “Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932.”

            The book’s title is also the title of a photograph in which a cross-dressing woman supports a female nightclub dancer on her lap.  In the novel, the photo was taken by an émigré Hungarian named Gabor Tsenyi, one of the main characters.

            In actuality, the photo and the novel had been inspired by a Brassai photograph, “Lesbian Couple at Le Monocle, 1932,” which Prose had seen in the National Gallery eight years before starting her story.

            “The wall text (for the image),” Prose related, “said something I didn’t know, which was that the woman in the tuxedo (Violette Morris)…had worked for the Gestapo during the German occupation of Paris and had later been assassinated by the French Resistance.”

            Prose—author of 27 acclaimed books, including 17 novels—brings her exploration of an epic moral downfall to Malaprop’s Bookstore, Thursday night.

 

Fruits of repression

 

            The novel doesn’t start with the tragic girl—Lou Villars—but with Gabor, writing a letter to his parents, thanking them for their financial support, and telling them of his dubious forays into the Parisian demi monde, 1924.

            “Dear parents,” the book begins, “Last night I visited a club in Montparnasse where the men dress as women and the women as men….The place is called the Chameleon Club…The password is: Police! Open up!  The customers find it amusing.”

            You can guess, from the tolerant tone of the opening, that “Lovers at the Chameleon Club” is not about the affinity between deviant lifestyles and fascism, but about people’s need for free expression—and what can happen when that’s repressed in a person who is both full of power and aching with need.

             “I found out,” Prose said, continuing her account of the discovery of Morris, “that she’d been an auto racer and an athlete, and had been forbidden to compete because she was a cross-dresser, and that she’d gone to the Berlin Olympics as a special guest of Hitler, and been recruited by Hitler, and had become a spy and torturer for the Gestapo.”

            “What a story!” Prose commented. 

Wanting to make her protagonist, Lou, sympathetic, Prose imagined Lou’s childhood and then her life path—a series of betrayals by people who seemed to value her, but turned out to be self-interested seducers.

            Histories about Lou’s era—France’s slide from national pride and people’s attraction to totalitarianism—reveal the psychological roots: privation, put-downs, and resentment.

 

Life’s a cabaret

 

            “Lovers at the Chameleon Club” is a teeming social portrait, told through several peculiar voices—Lou’s is not one of them—and made real by astonishingly authentic details.

            One of the fantastic details is the pet chameleon after which Yvonne, the nightclub owner, names her place.

            “One night,” Yvonne said (according to Gabor), “I was working out front.  My friend, a German admiral whose name you would know, let himself into my office and put my darling Darius (her first chameleon) on my paisley shawl.  He died, exhausted by the strain of turning all those colors.”

            I feel a little bad citing this example because it’s the only place in the book in which the absurdly real seems unreal—but there are other things going on with that anecdote.

            First, perhaps unwittingly, Yvonne is telling a parable about identity.  And second, it’s not fact; it’s Gabor making a tale for his parents.

            The narrators in “Chameleon Club” are wonderfully unreliable.

In addition to Gabor, we have: Lionel Maine, Gabor’s dissolute writer friend, penning a Henry Miller-like memoir; two other memoirists—a baroness, who supports the arts, and a young Frenchwoman, Suzanne, who embraces artists—and, most notably, Nathalie Dunois, a present-day biographer of Lou Villars, purporting to be Suzanne’s great-niece.

            A sixth point of view belongs to Yvonne, though it’s not known who narrates chapters headed by her name.  Are they third person omniscient? 

Prose is versatile and fluid.  You never tire of her voices: sometimes they are intimate; sometimes witty or recording dialogue; and sometimes distant, like a chronicler’s account.

 

Unreliable narrators

           

            “I have had to embroider a bit,” the biographer, Dunois, admits, stating that the key figures in her account were either dead or denying her interviews; and noting that there have been “concerted efforts to remove Lou Villars from history and, one could say, from the planet.”

            This points to the brilliance of Prose’s novel.  It flies in the face of political correctness for humanely correct reasons.

            It is not acceptable, most of us think, to make a sympathetic protagonist out of a Nazi.  But how else are we to avoid the kind of non-sympathy that fosters hateful self-righteousness in the first place?

            Think of the people you hate or fear, and who hate you.

            You have to get to the haters and bullies while they’re young, you think—and Prose, through Dunois, gives us pictures of Lou as a child: her neglectful parents; her autistic brother, shuttled to a cruel institution; her discovery of her physical prowess; and her removal to a convent school, where she finds validation for the qualities others have considered freakish.

            Lou eventually gravitates to the Chameleon Club; a right-wing faction takes over in Paris, disrupting her life; Lou finds other outlets, such as race car driving, and—following Violette Morris’ history—she falls into the arms of the Third Reich, which celebrates her, aligns with her feelings about “true” French nationalism, and uses her.      

 

Viva la difference

 

            Dunois supposes that Lou had been clinically depressed (another marker that makes one not fit in).  She takes an opportunity to interpret Lou’s state of mind just as Lou is accepting the French right-wing world view.

            “Once Lou had dreamed of being a star,” Dunois writes.  “But she was a reasonable person.  Meaning, she was French.  She could lower her expectations and get through the day.  Like Saint Joan, she could accept, even glory in, shame and degradation.”

            Prose nimbly navigates the littlest vanities as well as the biggest historical themes—such as the Saint Joan legend, and how a myth can fuse with different political movements or personal rationales from one era or enclave to the next.

            The openness with which Prose considers the various possible roots of evil is one of the novel’s virtues; and leads to its only problem.

            We do not get inside Lou’s mind and soul through either a first- of third-person narration.  She remains a mystery—a very well-documented one.  This shifts the impact of the book from being disturbingly felt to being brilliantly observed.

            You might say that “Chameleon Club” is a social novel, but it is even more than that since you get to feel the moods of the observers.

In addition to rigorous research and the development of authoritative details (such as Adolf Hitler’s dinner table talk), Prose’s process involved channeling the minds of her speakers.

“I felt immersed in a world that wasn’t my world,” Prose said, “and that I wasn’t myself when I was writing (the novel).  One of the great pleasures of writing it was the freedom to be other people.”

 

THE BOOK

Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose (HarperCollins, Apr. 22, 2014, 443 pages, $26.99)

 

THE EVENT

Francine Prose talks about “Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932” at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café, 55 Haywood St., Asheville, 7 p.m., Thursday.  Call 2543-6734.

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