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Culture Index: Julie Buntin’s Debut Novel, ‘Amelie’ on Broadway, ‘The Ticket’ and More

Six great things you should check out this week

Culture Index Amelie 13 reasons why the ticket read see

April is supposedly the cruelest month. And while that might be true if you’re getting rained on like a good chunk of the U.S. has been over the last few days, at least you have plenty of options to occupy your time and attention until it starts getting nicer out. 

Julie Buntin's 'Marlena'

Julie Buntin’s ‘Marlena’

It’s still so early in 2017 that calling something a best debut novel of the year is a dicey thing to try and do. But if the Lorrie Moore blurb on the front cover doesn’t tip you off that Julie Buntin’s Marlena is a book you should be paying attention to, the fact that the author created something that could easily be called the millennial Midwestern version of the celebrated Elena Ferrante Neapolitan Novels crossed with Robin Wasserman’s great Girls on Fire, should do the trick. 

'Amelie' the Musical

Sara Krulwich/Redux

‘Amelie’ the Musical

An actor wears a goldfish puppet on his head in one of the first scenes in Amélie on Broadway. It’s an early indicator that the musical adaptation of the beloved 2001 French film – the one that launched Audrey Tatou’s career – is going to try to find ways to be as quirky as the original. Much of the responsibility to be both aggressively cute and boldly sexual rests on Phillipa Soo as the titular pixie character. The actress is now known best for originating the role of Eliza in Hamilton (as well as the original Natasha in the Off-Broadway production of The Great Comet, also currently in a stunning production on Broadway), and here’s she’s a darling gamine. But it’s the eccentric ensemble cast – of all shapes, sizes and unusual talents – that really pulls this show together. Props to Daniel Messé (of the Brooklyn-based band Hem) for the music, especially that Elton John parody/homage by Randy Blair, who does his best “Crocodile Rock.”

'Say Who' Podcast

‘Say Who’ Podcast

Looking for a podcast hosted by two smart, funny people to help you feel a little bit better in the great big mess that is Trump’s America? Look no further than writer Maureen Johnson and Punk Planet founder Dan Sinker’s Says Who?, which makes its return this week with guest Ted Leo. 


’13 Reasons Why’

Based of off Jay Asher’s acclaimed YA novel of the same name, and created by Brian Yorkey (Next to Normal), the new Netflix series that has people talking – and not just because Selena Gomez is an executive producer. About a high school student who mysteriously receives a box filled with 13 cassette tapes recorded by his friend and classmate who killed herself, it explores the dark traumas of today’s teen experience. Each tape gives a different reason why she did what she did, and addresses topics from rape to online bullying in a disturbing way that you maybe want to take your time with instead of simply binge watching. 

Leah Carroll's 'Down City'

Leah Carroll’s ‘Down City’

Downcity is a section of Providence, Rhode Island that Leah Carroll describes as “sedate, nearly silent” as if the land itself is a grave. Its main identifying building is a convention center, she writes, but there is no convention. Through sparse prose like this, Carroll writes about her parents’ deaths through disparate lenses: as a detached crime reporter, as a creative storyteller, as a victim seeking closure, as a mourning daughter.

Carroll’s mother disappeared when she was just old enough to remember her, murdered by two drug dealers with mafia connections. Her father, a depressed alcoholic, died when she was 18. Carroll dissects old police reports and interviews witnesses the same as she fact-checks her earliest memories: the way her father laughed, the almond-y smell in her mother’s car. Carroll’s life story is harrowing to read on its own, but the way she meticulously processes each new detail gives the book startling clarity. In that way, Down City is a chilling rebuttal to the old writing 101 adage of “write what you know.”