Cover to Cover

Books by UNH faculty and alumni

Child of My Heart, by Alice McDermott '78G
Shakespeare and Modern Popular Culture by Douglas Lanier

Also of note:
Paula J. Massood '87
Elizabeth Slomba and William E. Ross
Elaine Sexton '76
Russell M. Lawson '87
Linda Morse '73
Cathy A. Frierson
Walter Holden, William E. Ross and Elizabeth Slomba
Nina Chandler Murray '62G

Child of My Heart
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Alice McDermott's fifth novel has the dream-like quality of a much-loved memory, a time whose enchantment deepens because it marks a passage from one period of life to another. Theresa, the narrator, acknowledges she knew things "the way fifteen-year-old girls know things—intuitively, in some sense; in some sense based purely on the precise and indifferent observation of a creature very much in the world but not yet of it."

The novel takes place in East Hampton on Long Island, and Theresa, the product of a middle-class home, takes care of the children and animals of her neighbors, mostly wealthy summer people. She is an inspired caregiver who meets both the physical and emotional needs of her charges in ways that their bored, harried or indifferent parents can't begin to.

The author describes Theresa as "Titania among her fairies," and there are many other references to "A Midsummer Night's Dream" as well. Theresa spins elaborate tales out of everyday sadnesses, infuses mundane objects with magical properties and decorates the backyard trees with lollipops and licorice shoelaces. But while she creates an idyllic summer world for the children to enter, she is also very adept at recognizing the broken places in their parents' lives. A beautiful only child whose parents have moved to East Hampton so that she might meet wealthy people who could offer her "every opportunity," Theresa is very sophisticated at decoding the adult world around her. "I knew what he was trying to do here in his kingdom by the sea," she says of the famous artist whose baby daughter, Flora, is one of her charges, "where art was what he said it was and the limits of time and age were banished and everything was possible because everything that mattered was inside his head. My advantage was that I knew what he was trying to do—and I was better at it."

The child of Theresa's heart is Daisy, her 8-year-old cousin, who comes to stay for a few weeks, bringing with her a secret that will mark the place where Theresa loses the last of her own childlike innocence and gains a bitter wisdom, the knowledge of "the inevitable, insufferable loss buried like a dark jewel at the heart of every act of love."

This is a lovely, lyrical novel by the National Book Award-winning McDermott, who renders "the permutations in the weather of a house with people in it" as well as anyone writing in the United States today.

Shakespeare and Modern Popular Culture
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Shakespeare and Star Trek, Shakespeare and Schwarzenegger, Shakespeare and rap. What's up with that?

In this provocative study, UNH associate professor of English Douglas Lanier explores how and why it is that Shakespeare, perhaps more than any other major literary figure, is alluded to or adapted in so many different ways, and for so many different audiences.

The reasons are varied and complex, and Lanier's book is particularly compelling in its discussion of how culture functions in illuminating the tension between high culture and popular culture. He argues that at the heart of Shakespearean appearances in popular culture—"Shakespop" he terms it—is a "contest for authority between the two cultural systems and the institutional interests they represent." It's the Shakespeare of the schools versus the Shakespeare of the streets.

Popular culture appropriates Shakespeare in a variety of methods, as Lanier's chapters suggest, and he focuses on Shakespearian language especially. There are parodies in advertising, for example, when Hamlet's solemn phrase is invoked with much less solemnity: "to or not" and "to beep or not to beep."

Various rap and hip-hop artists, too, have parodied Shakespeare, forming a rap Shakespeare sub-genre, although in some venues, Lanier points out that "the street culture of the modern Bronx is not that different from that of Elizabethan London." He also notes the stylistic similarities between rap and Shakespearian language: "both are poetry designed for performance, not the page; both feature language delivered against a strong metrical beat and display a mastery of rhythmic effects; both use what is for mainstream speakers of English a largely non-standard vocabulary, dense in allusions; both are self-consciously virtuosic in their wordplay. Rap's stylized qualities... provides an analogue for how Shakespearian English strikes the contemporary ear."

As Lanier shows, it is too easy to assert that Shakespeare's appeal is broad because his plays contain something for everyone. But he nods to this idea when he explains that "high culture depends upon reverence and professional distance, popular culture depends upon approval and identification. Thus 'Hamlet' might become high culture if we attended to Shakespeare's recasting of revenge tragedy conventions, and popular culture if we booed Claudius and cheered for Hamlet in the final dueling scene."

The issue is more complex than that, and as the author deftly unpacks the cultural baggage labeled with the "Shakespeare" tag, he invites us to think more fully about cultural production, and more seriously about the effects of popular culture.