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Category: Nick Owchar

Stieg Larsson's next girl

Stieg LarssonThe Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest


Swedish writer Stieg Larsson was relatively unknown when he delivered his now-megaselling mystery "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," and its two sequels, to his publisher. Larsson died shortly after -- of a heart attack, at age 50 -- before seeing how successful his works would become. "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" remains at the top of our paperback bestseller list, with its sequel, "The Girl Who Played With Fire," right behind at No. 2.

This week sees the American release of the third book in the series, "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest"; Richard Schickel has our review.

Larsson's nominal protagonist is a good-natured, if hard-driving, journalist named Mikael Blomkvist, who is rather obviously a projection of the author, though without any spikes, verbal or behavioral, to snag the reader's attention. That's where "The Girl" of his titles comes in. Lisbeth Salander is a genius-level computer hacker who is also, essentially, a psychopath — rendered almost mute and unable to trust anyone after a lifetime of abuse, both parental and state-sponsored, both vividly physical and cruelly institutional.

Salander quickly demonstrates an ability to give as good as she gets. You really don't want to be the guardian who sexually tortures her when she takes her revenge. Or, for that matter, her brutish father, a sometime Soviet spy, now running (in "Hornet's Nest") a sex-trafficking ring in which, as one might say, "the highest levels of Swedish society" are complicit.

"Hornet's Nest," which carries on without pause from its predecessor, finds Salander near death from a bullet wound to her head and awaiting desperate medical measures. Mostly, she remains confined there, but physical passivity does not imply helplessness. Give this kid a smuggled computer and a lot of help from her few allies and you can be sure she will confound her smug, well-connected enemies.

While Schickel isn't much of a fan of Larsson's prose, he notes that the plots are lively and intricate. Perhaps that makes the books prime candidates for screen adaptation. The 2009 Swedish film of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" has been released in the U.S., and an American version -- rumored to star Carey Mulligan and be directed by David Fincher -- is in the works for 2012. 

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Actress Noomi Rapace stars in the Swedish film version of "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo." Credit: Knut Koivisto / Music Box Films

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Forget flowers: What Mom needs this Mother's Day is a Vicodin

Ayelet WaldmanLaura Bennettmommy mafiaMother's DayProject Runwayrookie moms


"Ask your mother." Three precious words that most of us lame dads use before escaping out to the mancave.

And what do our wives receive in return? One day a year, they get the Hallmark treatment: a lousy box of chocolates, overpriced roses and a rubber-chicken dinner at a crowded restaurant. If this year's crop of Mother's Day-related books are any indication, however, what Mom really needs is something else entirely.

Mom needs a drink. She needs it bad.

Or maybe she needs something even stronger.

"If things get too overwhelming, I just schedule myself a dentist appointment," writes Laura Bennett in "Didn't I Feed You Yesterday: A Mother's Guide to Sanity in Stilettos." "There is nothing like a root canal to secure some guilt-free me time. One medicated hour in the chair with no disturbances can be pure bliss, and as a special bonus, I get to leave with a Vicodin prescription."

Bennett's book is a hilarious plunge into what it's like to manage a household of children -- try six! -- as well as a career as a fashion designer. Bennett was a finalist on season 3 of the Bravo series "Project Runway, and she says that compared with running a household, "competing was easy. For the first time in 17 years, I didn't have to feed or bathe someone else. ... The producers drove us everywhere we needed to go, provided endless food and drink, and even told us when to sleep and when to sew. It was a lot like being a fashion-conscious toddler."

In "The Survival Guide for Rookie Moms: The Things You Need to Know That No One Ever Tells You," Erica Wells and Lorraine Regel start off at ground zero: the arrival of an infant in the house. Even though their informal, conversational style is directed at moms, they make it very clear that they're hoping fathers will be reading over their shoulders: "Dads will undoubtedly benefit from hearing some mommy water-cooler talk to get insights into what is making Mom tick these days." There's also the added bonus, for dads, of "learning how to avoid getting their heads bitten off quite so often" in those anxious early days.

Heads bitten off -- usually that happens because we don't really know what our wives deal with while we're at the office. According to "The Mommy Files," there are all kinds of stresses heating moms to the boiling point right as we're walking up the driveway at the day's end. Like what? Among other things, the book describes, there is the chaos that pregnancy wreaked on their bodies, lack of sleep, dealing with tantrums, the dynamics of playgroups and a miserable form of mom peer pressure known as "the Mommy Mafia": It "takes many forms, from judging how your neighbor throws a birthday party to how a mom in your playgroup disciplines her child to criticizing a decision to get a part-time job. It invades everything."

Here's the thing: Maybe the stress levels wouldn't be so high if so much wasn't expected of mothers. Ayelet Waldman calls this expectation the "burden of perfection" in a reissue of her book "Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace." Sharon Lerner writes that "women who attempt to do it all' suffer" in multiple, devastating ways, and the title of her new book says it all: "The War on Moms: On Life in a Family-Unfriendly Nation."

If you're less interested in arguments, though, and actually want a taste of the Hallmark treatment, you might check out novelist Brad Meltzer's Youtube tribute to his mom. Or, if you have more time than that, there's a lovely little book from Getty Publications, "The Art of Motherhood" by Marta Alvarez Gonzalez, that surveys depictions of motherhood across time and civilizations.

Among the images in "The Art of Motherhood" is a 14th century BC Egyptian tomb carving of a mother carrying her sons on her shoulders, while paintings and sculptures from around the world -- Greece, Ecuador, India, Mexico and points elsewhere -- all attest to mothers not just as life-givers at birth but as continuing sources of nourishment and nurturing. Later works by French, Flemish, Russian and other artists show that same ideal enduring even as the world changes around them.

But, after thinking of the other books in this roundup, I have to say that, even in a picture so idyllic as Renoir's "Maternity," there's that faraway look in the nursing mother's eyes that makes me think she's wishing she had either a good drink or a Vicodin about now.

-- Nick Owchar 

Photo: Flower bouquets at a stand in Dresden, Germany, in preparation for Mother's Day last year. Credit: Matthias Rietschel / Associated Press

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