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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


Books by Debra Hamel:

THE BATTLE OF ARGINUSAE :
VICTORY AT SEA AND ITS TRAGIC AFTERMATH IN THE FINAL YEARS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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KILLING ERATOSTHENES:
A TRUE CRIME STORY
FROM ANCIENT ATHENS
By Debra Hamel


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READING HERODOTUS:
A GUIDED TOUR THROUGH THE WILD BOARS, DANCING SUITORS, AND CRAZY TYRANTS OF THE HISTORY
By Debra Hamel


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THE MUTILATION OF THE HERMS:
UNPACKING AN ANCIENT MYSTERY
By Debra Hamel


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TRYING NEAIRA:
THE TRUE STORY OF A COURTESAN'S SCANDALOUS LIFE IN ANCIENT GREECE
By Debra Hamel


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SOCRATES AT WAR:
THE MILITARY HEROICS OF AN ICONIC INTELLECTUAL
By Debra Hamel


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ANCIENT GREEKS IN DRAG:
THE LIBERATION OF THEBES AND OTHER ACTS OF HEROIC TRANSVESTISM
By Debra Hamel


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IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET:
FIVE HUNDRED 1ST LINES IN 140 CHARACTERS OR LESS
By Debra Hamel


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PRISONERS OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WAR
By Debra Hamel


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Selwood, Jonathan: The Pinball Theory of Apocalypse

  Amazon  

3.5 stars

Isabel Raven paints kitsch, technically impressive recreations of famous paintings updated for the celebrity age: an American Gothic featuring Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Kurt Cobain in The Death of Marat. Since teaming up some months earlier with bull-dogish art dealer John Dahlman, her career has taken off. Dahlman is obnoxious and vulgar, wholly driven by profit, but he's proved himself an indefatigable advocate since stepping in to seize control of her career. Unfortunately Dahlman's brand of management involves posting naked pictures of Isabel on the web and pushing her to advertise "vaginal rejuvenation" surgery. Isabel, meanwhile, ponders too long a question whose answer should be obvious: would participating in the ad campaign be "selling out"? Her vacillation on the issue is part of Isabel's larger problem, that she too readily surrenders control of her circumstances to others: she is bullied by Dahlmann and manipulated by her boyfriend Javier and pushed around by a thirteen-year-old delinquent, Cordelia, a fan of Isabel's paintings. What spirit Isabel shows in response to their importunities has little practical effect.

Because of her spinelessness Isabel is not a particularly likable character: she is a blank canvas herself, registering the will of others. More importantly, she and the other characters in the book are two-dimensional: Isabel is passive, Dahlman offensive, Javier shallow. The self-proclaimedly "dissolute" Cordelia, meanwhile, is so unrealistically precocious that suspending disbelief is impossible:

"'What can I say? I'm dissolute.' She winks. 'Runs in the family. My grandpa once did ninety days for desecrating a taxidermy shop in Pasadena.'

Before I can ask, she cuts me off.

'You really don't want to know. Trust me... Smoke?' Cordelia stuffs the gold lighter in the cellophane and tosses me the pack. 'So is it true that you get hornier when you get old?'"

In Selwood's defense one could argue that the  superficiality of his characters is purposeful: he is, after all, playing with the idea of finding authenticity in a skin-deep world, specifically in appearance-obsessed L.A. But that doesn't make me appreciate their cartoonishness very much more.

Selwood's writing can be clever, and he writes about big events as well as big ideas--earthquakes and conflagrations and the end of the world. Still, there isn't much of a story here. The book, like the character types it derides, is a little empty. 

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