Rowling’s new book is less than enchanting

In February 2012, fans of the fantasy book and movie series “Harry Potter” received news that J.K. Rowling would publish another book. Their enthusiasm was slightly dampened by confusion when Rowling said she had switched over to writing for adults.

“The Casual Vacancy,” released on Sept. 27, is about an idyllic town that significantly changes after the death of well-known councilor Barry Fairbrother. Barry’s death results in a ‘casual vacancy,’ an empty spot on the Pagford council.

Eventually the townspeople must decide on who should replace the deceased. Most importantly, the inheritor of Barry’s seat would determine the fate of the Fields, a housing project that is a blemish on the perfect façade of sleepy Pagford.

The fight for the seat leads to what Little, Brown and Company had described as “the biggest war the town has yet seen.” However, what the novel’s summary boasts is not fulfilled because the plot falls flat.

Each chapter consists of different characters’ coping with Barry’s death and the imminent voting that would change the town. Naturally, one would think more characters would add plenty of colors to the plot. The saying is: “The more, the merrier.” Yet, this gets repetitive and monotonous.

Crammed into the first 350 pages are descriptions of the town of Pagford and day-to-day thoughts of too many characters to count. The rest of the 500-paged novel details the characters’ emotional unraveling. Loyalties are reconsidered. Families break apart. Posts revealing secrets about the running candidates slowly appear on the Pagford council’s website and further enrage locals when the user’s name is The_Ghost_of_Barry_Fairbrother.

Harry Potter fans might resort, out of sheer boredom, to comparing this novel to the beloved series, but the only comparable aspect is a Vernon Dursley doppelganger named Howard Mollison, who is a pot-bellied, lecherous councilman with an abhorrence for the Fields. His wife Shirley, a gossiper, most definitely fits the mold of Vernon’s horse-faced wife, Petunia Dursley. Otherwise, Rowling does succeed in separating herself from her bestselling series.

Though the plot falls flat and characters crowd the novel’s pages, Rowling deserves praise for her story-telling; she has the sought-after ability to conjure (see what happened there?) a different world. Sadly, this fictional world is just not as interesting as the wizarding world.

When Rowling said this was an adult novel, she was definitely correct. Within the first hundred pages of “The Casual Vacancy,” the story branches into topics of sex, drugs and affairs. One sexually frustrated wife fantasizes about the men in town. The son of the local school’s headmaster fornicates with the daughter of a drug-addicted woman from the Fields. Every curse word in the dialogue causes a jolt, a sheer indication that Rowling has, in fact, moved on.

Recently, at the Cheltenham Literature Festival in England, Rowling said she would return to writing a children’s book. Perhaps this might be a better choice for Rowling.

9/11 Movie is “Incredibly” Beautiful

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The trailer for “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” undoubtedly caused some people to say that the movie about 9/11 is the film industry’s way of exploiting the American tragedy for a couple of bucks.

It’s true: any media portrayal of the 9/11 attacks toes the line between being respectful and being exploitative. However, the film adaptation of the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, directed by Stephen Daldry, makes the attacks the backdrop of the film.

“Extremely Loud” primarily takes place a year after the 9/11 attacks. Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn) had lost his father Thomas (Tom Hanks) in the attacks, and he and his mother Linda (Sandra Bullock) still feel the emptiness from losing a beloved figure in their lives. His mother is trying her best to keep the small family afloat, but she is still floundering on how to deal with her son, who, to the audience, displays some symptoms of Asberger’s syndrome: he is bright and talkative, his attention jumps from one thing to another, he hates loud sounds and he has a fear of public transportation.

One day Oskar finds a key in an envelope with the word “Black” written on it, and he believes that the key will unlock an important possession of his father’s. He then takes on the ambitious task of visiting all of the people in NYC with the last name Black, hoping to uncover something which will keep his father’s memory alive. As a sensitive kid who experiences anxiety around everyday things that most people are perfectly comfortable with, Oskar must overcome his fears to complete his mission.

Along with his tambourine—something of a security blanket for Oskar—and a business card listing his various occupations, he sets out every Saturday in search of the right Black and an explanation for the key. Through his weekly journeys, he encounters people who, irresistible to Oskar’s charm (in most cases), open up to him about their life experiences.

Most of the movie proceeded like a lighthearted mystery because people wanted to know what the key unlocked. But it turns out that the movie is not all about the key.

The most important part of the movie is Oskar dealing with the loss of his father while trying to find some way to stay connected to him. The film is about the act of moving on from a devastating turn of events, just like the one Oskar had experienced.

The movie highlights the power of finding strength in the people around you. Oskar certainly found his supporter in his mother, who, like her son, still misses the sound of her husband’s voice. He also finds a friend in a mysterious and voluntarily mute man, played by Max von Sydow who rents his German grandmother’s apartment. The Renter acts as a replacement-–though short-lived– for Oskar’s father.

The level of acting in this film should be heralded as a key aspect. Oskar is played by 14-year-old Thomas Horn, a boy who—wait for it—had no acting experience before this movie. He was spotted by Daldry after Horn appeared on “Jeopardy! for Kids.”

Every scene was brought to life by Horn’s innocent and eccentric portrayal of Oskar. Hanks (who doesn’t like him?) was cast as the right person to play a loving father and playmate for Oskar. Bullock also played a convincing mother, making some wonder how she could have been in such a bomb film like “All About Steve.”

In spite of earlier fears, the movie turned out not to be exploitive in the least, but rather a heartfelt and uplifting movie on moving on.

Some critics are calling Oskar “the obnoxious kid,” yet I definitely disagree with such a description. C’mon, all kids are obnoxious. Oskar has the symptoms of autism, therefore his actions are meant to come across as invading or “obnoxious.” It’s how he behaves. Maybe these critics should take a note of patience from Oskar’s father.

Yesterday, the Oscars announced that “Extremely Loud” was nominated for Best Picture. Clearly some people liked the movie.

Nickelback’s “Here and Now” is the Same Old Thing

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If Nickelback haters made up the 99 percent, then I would represent the 1 percent.

However, the rock band’s recently released album “Here and Now” makes me want to join the other side.

Until a few weeks ago, Nickelback had been keeping a low profile and working on their album. Fans waited patiently for about three years.

Unfortunately, the album was not worth the wait.

[Read more…]

Fall Concert a Bust

8:10 p.m.

Girls in blue, pink and leopard print heels strut back and forth across the floor. A guy with crutches hobbles over to his group of friends. On the left side of the stage, a group of six or seven security guards clutter together. On stage, someone played music from his Mac laptop, but few paid attention to him.

Kev Nish plays the guitar during the University's fall concert performance. Photo by Mitch Bell

That someone was a DJ from The Hood Internet, one of the featured artists of the fall concert, but no one seemed to know this until the end of his performance.

Keep reading

Right Bite: Las Vetas

During the winter, it’s convenient to look for a small, cozy area to relax and find warmth in. I think I may have found one on 27 Unquowa Road. Las Vetas Lounge is an intimate coffee shop with its own character and style. Just five  minutes away from Fairfield University by shuttle, it is a fantastic venue, seemingly the quintessential “hang-out” spot for college students.

Las Vetas serves an eclectic crowd, which is another reason why I like the place so much. It boasts an informal atmosphere for college kids to study in, for tired moms who just want some peace and quiet, and for town drifters who are looking for a place to think. Business people waiting for their trains always stop by in the morning and buy a cup of coffee, while asking the employees to put the cost “on their tabs.”

Las Vetas has a look like no other coffee place in Fairfield. The front counter is decorated with colorful old-fashioned posters from the sixties and seventies and is lined with jars of candy and coffee products. All of the furniture has a vintage, time-worn vibe. There are tables that seemed to be taken from a garage sale. Many of them are etched with the signatures of past young customers. No chair in Las Vetas is matched.

Las Vetas is a popular place for Fairfield residents, as well as students. Photo by Peter Caty/The Mirror

“I just like it because it’s quirky; nothing’s the same, and each piece has its own entity, but that makes it all the more charming,” said Eric Lynch ‘14, a frequent hot-chocolate drinker.

Las Vetas serves inexpensive yet delicious food, including breakfast and lunch, and a wide array of mugs that are used to hold the different beverages offered. Last time I visited, I ordered a chai tea, which I received in a mug with alien characters adorning the outside. Needless to say, I was incredibly satisfied with that.

Another appealing aspect of Las Vetas has to be their offer of entertainment, books and board games. Visit on an Open Mic Night. Find a corner and dig into your latest read. The first time I came to Las Vetas, I played Scrabble for hours with my friends.

So, if you feel trapped in the silence of the university library, and if you can’t concentrate in your dorm or dislike the noise of Jazzman’s, find refuge at Las Vetas Lounge. It’s open on weekdays from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m, Saturdays from 8 a.m. to midnight, and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. With the quality of Starbucks and personality of a classic yet eccentric venue, Las Vetas Lounge is perfect for relaxation.

Las Vetas has Wi-Fi and is in the inexpensive price range on Yelp.com.

Published on January 26, 2011 in The Vine