.There is no argument that Diane Arbus was one of the masters of 20th century photography. Her images are intensely personal, her subjects both sublime and grotesque. Born into a comfortable upper-middle class family, she early displayed both a strong will and a bold originality. She found her calling first as a fashion photographer. But her portraits of “eccentrics, weirdos, and freaks” stick in our minds not because they are odd and often grotesque. Rather, it is the sense of intimacy between photographer and subject that resonates in each image. Arbus was a genius, albeit a deeply troubled one. Lurid accounts of her personal life threaten to overshadow her immense creative talent. Her suicide cut short a still-ascendant career and leaves us to speculate about the paths she might have followed.
They are iconic images: Patty Hearst as Tania during the robbery of the Hibernia Bank in 1974 and posing with other members of the Symbionese Liberation Army. The story of her kidnapping shocked the country, just as her seeming complicity with her captors dismayed and angered. The 1970s were a period of violence, tragi-comic anarchy, and determined normalcy. Patty Hearst, born to wealth and privilege, was the perfect target for the small SLA. Meanwhile, abused and brainwashed, Patty slowly morphed into Tania, soldier of the SLA—or did she? Was it the Stockholm syndrome? Mere survival? Or something more? Toobin gives us a remarkable look at a difficult and conflicted period in American history and a young woman whose life was transformed by it.
Appalachia remains a world apart and largely hidden from most of us. It is a world of tight family ties and deep roots in the hills and “hollars” that define home. It is also a place of grinding poverty, despair, and ignorance that seeks relief in drugs and alcohol. This is the world that J. D. Vance’s family sought to escape. They established themselves on a small farm in Ohio, but despite their success, their escape was only partial. The talons of Appalachia dig deep. For the Vance family, the demons born of abuse, alcohol, and poverty continued to plague the family. Vance’s memoir attempts to define the roots of his family’s dysfunction, a search that takes him back to Appalachia. Note: This book launches our Fall Book Discussion groups, on Wednesday, Oct. 26, at 9:30 am. Roberta Rubin is the leader.