Let’s begin with books. I read, and loved, so many.*
Most recently, A.M. Homes’ novel May We Be Forgiven, which begins with a series of unforgivable acts: a mindless and deadly car crash, adultery, murder. The only arc could be upwards, yes? Well, no — not in Homes’ New York suburbia. Before we arrive at one of the sweetest, oddest and most fitting endings we experience Internet hookups, elder abandonment, job loss, the workings of an insane asylum, Nixon scholarship, survivalist prison, a prep-school predator, an adoption, and a bar mitzvah in Africa. Strange: yes. I loved every page, and suffered acute book grief giving up this family.
Next, Tom Perrotta’s collection of stories, Nine Inches. They blend together — life and longing in the New Jersey suburbs — but each gives us distinctive characters that made me laugh, cringe, or root for. My sister Liza, who travels for business and so reads everything, pressed this collection on me. Thanks, Liza.
Finally, Emily St. John Mandel’s luminous Station Eleven. I am not a reader of dystopian fiction: those books scare me. I can’t remember why I agreed with myself to pick this up — probably its Shakespearean troupe preforming ‘til the end of days — but when I did, I was quickly entranced. This is a fractured story of present, past and future: it concerns a movie star, his wives and offspring, his friends, and the players in his final performance, as Lear. Haunting, and beautifully told.
Movies: Birdman. If you haven’t seen it, run, don’t walk. It’s the movie of the year, a film made in one continuous take that reveals the workings of New York theater, and brings us, intimately, into the life of an aging star making a comeback. Perfect.
TV: Homeland’s best season yet, its fourth. My friend Dino asked if he needed to start with the first season. Hell no! Jump right in; you’ll be hanging on the edge of your seat. Each episode left me stunned.
Restaurants: A childhood friend was in town for a convention, and had been eating hotel room bagged nuts for days. Where could we eat and catch up on each other’s lives, Friday night, Michigan Avenue? Cafe Spiaggia, 980 N. Michigan Ave. Their tables for two face the avenue (there’s not much of a view) and feel both separate and part of this casual chic restaurant. We could talk easily as we shared formaggi, butternut squash ravioli, brussel sprouts. Delicious.
Another standout: Charlatan, 1329 W. Chicago Ave., in West Town. Anne, a friend and colleague, invited me to a press opening for a holiday circus at Chicago Theater. The show was dreadful: we needed a great meal to make it a night. She led me to her neighborhood, with hopes of getting into Charlatan. It was cold, not late, the place was packed…we got a table, and a memorable meal: black pepper pasta with a rabbit ragu, squash pillows with thick slices of grilled venison. Mmm…Nice wine pairings; attentive service.
Museums: Davie Bowie Is at MCA Chicago, through Jan. 4. See it.
Plays: My favorite, now closed, was the Court Theatre’s Iphigenia at Aulis. Euripedes’ heartbreaker, magnificently staged and performed. I also loved Lookinglass Theatre‘s Lookingglass Alice, which I’ve seen a half dozen times over the years. It never fails to delight, frighten, enchant. Through Feb. 15.
Comedy: New in town since this summer is Mission Theater’s Trap, sketch comedy that’s dark, edgy, guffaw-worthy and not raunchy. As the girl in box office said, “They don’t cheap out.”
What a year! Here’s to a new one filled with equal pleasures.
* In no particular order, Ian McEwan’s The Children Act, Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, Adrian Nicole Le Blanc’s Random Family, Jonathan Miles’ Want Not, Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels, Alfred Hayes’ My Face for the World to See, Sari Botton’s Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York.