Staff Picks: ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle,’ “This Bitter Earth,” ‘Boxcar Bertha’


Need a great book to read, album to listen to, or TV show to get hooked on? The Flavorwire team is here to help: in this weekly feature, our editorial staffers recommend the cultural object or experience they’ve enjoyed most in the past seven days. Scroll through for our picks below.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson and Le Femme de Gilles by Madeleine Bourdouxhe

This week I’m immersed in two short mid-century cult classic novels by women. The first is Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, a strange gothic masterpiece about two sisters, a murderous family past, a decaying estate, and hatred from the local townspeople. It has all the elements, and it delivers. I’m also reading the new Melville House translation of Belgian novelists Madeleine Bourdouxhe’s La Femme De Gilles, which is a lyrical but dark exploration of wifely devotion and servitude, also set in a small town. In between immersing myself in the hot new October books and the hot new November books (list forthcoming tomorrow!), these have been a pleasant break: curious and important work by too-neglected women writers of the past. — Sarah Seltzer, Deputy Editor

Dinah Washington’s “This Bitter Earth”

A shit week is a good time for revisiting old favorites that have helped you previously get through a shit week. Dinah Washington’s version of “This Bitter Earth” (written by Clyde Otis) is perhaps one of my favorite songs to listen to when I’m having a shit week, particularly if I feel I’m being hyperbolic and sentimental about my shit week, because what better a way to downplay your own hyperbole than listening to a song that you absolutely cannot outdo, a song that begins with an overwrought sweep of strings that then go completely quiet, allowing Dinah Washington’s crackling voice to slowly intone over no music at all, “This…bitter earth,” as though that fragmentary statement alone were the thesis.

Washington has always had a magnificent ability to pair cheery naiveté with an acerbic world weariness, her voice itself wrinkling upon emphasis, an ability that makes the words “Today your young/too soon you’re old” really strike in this song. In times where one’s feeling hyperbolic in their emotions, it’s also good to listen to songs with nonsensically happy endings. Just as a version of “Gloomy Sunday” ends with the singer waking up from a dream and everything being alright, “This Bitter Earth” resolves its startling darkness with a bit of sentimental, Deus Ex Optimism. — Moze Halperin, Associate Editor

Boxcar Bertha on Blu

This 1972 obscurity has always been an oddity in the filmography of director Martin Scorsese – made after he’d established his voice, via his excellent debut Who’s That Knocking At My Door, but before he had established his name, and was thus at the mercy of whatever jobs he could get. In this case, it was a low-budget Bonnie & Clyde imitation for Roger Corman, another Depression-era crime drama about young bandits in love. But viewed within the context of Scorsese’s subsequent works – and via its recent, excellent Blu-ray upgrade from Twilight Time – it hints broadly at the energy and style of the works to come, and the themes he would explore in them (most notably The Last Temptation of Christ, foreshadowed by the crucifixion climax and the presence of Temptation supporting player Barbara Hershey, seen here in the title role). Not essential Scorsese, but a fascinating roadmap for fans. — Jason Bailey, Film Editor

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg

As a foreigner, it’s always both amused and bewildered me how invested this country is in the idea of itself as a classless society. I’ve only just started White Trash, but it’s already a fascinating examination of how fundamental issues of class have been to the development of America. Isenberg’s book quickly exposes the myth of a classless society as just that, a myth, and delves deep into America’s history to look at how divided this country has been along economic lines, ever since the days of the first colonists. Her research is intimidatingly exhaustive, but her writing is engaging and accessible. Highly recommended! — Tom Hawking, Editor-in-Chief