Reviews — March 7

Being a journalist, it is impossible for me to watch HBO’s “The Newsroom” and not have criticisms – as is no doubt true of pilots about “Flight,” cops about shows like “CSI,” etc. But despite producer Aaron Sorkin’s signature absurdities (hyper-intelligent characters who speak at lightning speed, to cite the most obvious), I will say that the show occasionally reveals disturbing truisms about the media that make the accompanying silliness worth it.

Jeff Daniels is great as network anchorman Will McAvoy, whose public meltdown opens the series and prompts a mid-career life change: He will dispense with politeness and banality and start … well, reporting the news. (He would have been fired 10 minutes into the pilot, but never mind.) The drama of each episode is draped around an actual national news story, but the action begins in 2010. So you have the Giffords shooting, the Gulf oil spill, Occupy, etc.

Sorkin’s “West Wing” vision of American politics was, in my opinion, laughably romanticized. This problem is less pronounced in “The Newsroom,” but greatness (and realism) would have required taking a cue from a show like “The Wire” and offering a broad, nuanced view of the world where news stories originate. Instead, it opts for reporters’ love lives.

Still, the breakneck scenes occasionally veer into incendiary territory — a showdown between a news division head (Sam Waterston) and the network’s owner (Jane Fonda) is breathtaking in its raw honesty. Also: The first season anticipated by two years Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing. If you loved “The West Wing,” but don’t get HBO, be grateful this is on DVD. But if you want to know what journalism looks like (or ought to), “All the President’s Men” (nearly 40 years old!) is still the one to beat.

“The Newsroom” (2012) Created by Aaron Sorkin. Starring Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, John Gallagher Jr., Sam Waterston and Jane Fonda. Season 1 comprises ten 1-hour episodes on four discs. Unrated, but profanity would make it an “R” if it were a movie rated by the MPAA.

David Bates




There’s enough material in “The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns” for at least three novels, but author Margaret Dilloway skillfully weaves all the strands together into one charming and challenging whole.

Galilee Garner — she was born soon after her parents’ trip to the Holy Land — is a no-nonsense biology teacher at a private Catholic high school in a small California town. After school, Gal tends to her yard full of roses and the special plants in her greenhouse, where she’s attempting to breed a new variety of Hulthemia roses.

She also spends every other night in the hospital getting her blood cleaned because her second transplanted kidney failed almost a decade earlier. She’s comfortable in the hospital — she’s been in as much as out since she was born with a defect that led to the failure of her own kidneys.

Most of the time, Gal delights in her roses and has her mind firmly focused on the future, when one of her hybrids will be the talk of the rose world. She doesn’t mind that her students and colleagues consider her inflexible; in her opinion, she’s a good teacher who demands the best from her students for their own good.

But sometimes she has a “blue day,” when she fears she’ll never get another transplant and can’t stand the thought of ongoing dialysis. Her mother is always there to comfort her, which is both wonderful and stifling. Her older sister is no comfort; while Gal was fighting for her life as a child, she misbehaved her way into being the black sheep of the family.

Suddenly, Gal’s settled life is upended by the arrival of her 15-year-old niece, whom her sister has all but abandoned. The girl is as prickly as a rose bush — or maybe she’s just a mirror in which Gal is finally able to see her own thorns.

“The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns” contains a great deal of information about rose breeding and kidney failure, and it gives us a lot of insight into what transplant patients go through. Dilloway dedicates the book to her late sister-in-law, who suffered from kidney disease. With that inspiration, the author produces a sensitive novel, well worth reading.

“The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns,” by Margaret Dilloway, 2012, Putman Books.

Starla Pointer 


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