The Boston Citgo sign, all 3,600 square LED feet of which has served as the backdrop to Red Sox games since 1965, is now officially a "pending landmark."

Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dalí spent much of the 1940s in the U.S., avoiding World War II and its aftermath. He was a well-known fixture on the art scene in Monterey, Calif. — and that's where the largest collection of Dalí's work on the West Coast is now open to the public.

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The middle of summer is when the surprises in publishing turn up. I'm talking about those quietly commanding books that publishers tend to put out now, because fall and winter are focused on big books by established authors. Which brings us to The Dream Life of Astronauts, by Patrick Ryan, a very funny and touching collection of nine short stories that take place in the 1960s and '70s around Cape Canaveral, Fla.

When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union last month, the seaside town of Port Talbot in Wales eagerly went along with the move. Brexit was approved by some 57 percent of the town's residents.

Now some of them are wondering if they made the wrong decision.

The June 23 Brexit vote has raised questions about the fate of the troubled Port Talbot Works, Britain's largest surviving steel plant — a huge, steam-belching facility that has long been the town's biggest employer.

Solar Impulse 2 has landed in Cairo, completing the penultimate leg of its attempt to circumnavigate the globe using only the power of the sun.

The trip over the Mediterranean included a breathtaking flyover of the Pyramids. Check it out:

President Obama is challenging Americans to have an honest and open-hearted conversation about race and law enforcement. But even as he sits down at the White House with police and civil rights activists, Obama is mindful of the limits of that approach.

"I've seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change," the president said Tuesday at a memorial service for five law officers killed last week in Dallas. "I've seen how inadequate my own words have been."

Mice watching Orson Welles movies may help scientists explain human consciousness.

At least that's one premise of the Allen Brain Observatory, which launched Wednesday and lets anyone with an Internet connection study a mouse brain as it responds to visual information.

The FBI says it is giving up on the D.B. Cooper investigation, 45 years after the mysterious hijacker parachuted into the night with $200,000 in a briefcase, becoming an instant folk figure.

"Following one of the longest and most exhaustive investigations in our history," the FBI's Ayn Dietrich-Williams said in a statement, "the FBI redirected resources allocated to the D.B. Cooper case in order to focus on other investigative priorities."

This is the first in a series of essays concerning our collective future. The goal is to bring forth some of the main issues humanity faces today, as we move forward to uncertain times. In an effort to be as thorough as possible, we will consider two kinds of threats: those due to natural disasters and those that are man-made. The idea is to expose some of the dangers and possible mechanisms that have been proposed to deal with these issues. My intention is not to offer a detailed analysis for each threat — but to invite reflection and, hopefully, action.


A Pale Imitation Of Magic In 'Scent Of Darkness'

Feb 9, 2013

Over the years, I've come to the conclusion that what's generally referred to — often disdainfully — as "women's fiction" (not quite literature, not quite romance, definitely not Fifty Shades of Grey) is really a catch-all category into which almost any literary genre will fit.

For example, after the magical realism in Like Water for Chocolate was a huge success with women, we've read about things like apple trees that predict true love, and a glassblower's work that transforms into butterflies. These are charming novels, aimed less at a lit-fic critique of society, and more at enabling love.

Margot Berwin's Scent of Darkness falls squarely in this category; it's a work of magical realism in which a magically bestowed scent causes a young woman to be irresistible to all who meet her. We're in the realm of fairy-tale gifts here, with the perfume bottle playing the role of a shiny red apple that leads to a glass coffin and a very long nap.

In the course of the novel, the heroine, Evangeline, or Eva, encounters three elderly women endowed with extranormal facilities. The first of these is Eva's grandmother, Louise, who dies early on; she is an "aromata," a woman who considers herself a magician of scent. She's fond of issuing cryptic statements, such as, "I can smell the scent of time clinging to you, closing your body like scar tissue." She bequeaths the bottle of perfume that, paradoxically, Eva isn't supposed to use.

It will surprise no one that Eva succumbs to the temptation (yes, go with the Biblical parallel), only to discover that the scent causes people to follow her irresistibly, if not slobber on her neck and shove their noses into her hair. Eva accepts this turn of events fairly stoically, particularly when Gabriel, a hot medical student, ditches his girlfriend and spends most of his time making love to Eva instead. When he goes off to study in New Orleans, she follows.

The plot proceeds — and now we've left Genesis behind and have entered Macbeth — and dire predictions continue to crop up: "Trouble, toil and perhaps even death itself are in your cards." That particular prophetess — a Madame Susteen — telegraphs her witchy credentials with her mangled quotation, but she's never truly creepy, unlike Shakespeare's women who "look not like the inhabitants o' the earth, and yet are on't." Shakespeare's brand of chilling magical realism has faded to an echo.

The novel's principal problem is not the suspend-your-disbelief nature of Eva's unruly scent or the witches' predictions (this is, after all, magical realism), but Eva herself. She's too dim-witted to think her way through the prophetic rhymes her grandmother delivers in her dreams. She does seem to realize there's something wrong with Gabriel's "love" for her, but does she care? Not really. She claims to be in love with Gabriel but betrays him with Michael, a painter.

There is something of a love story here, insofar as Eva is torn between Michael and Gabriel (the Biblical allusions are as heavy-handed as the Shakespeare overlay). But it isn't really a love story, because both men are bound to Eva not by her own natural appeal (dubious in the extreme), but by her grandmother's scent, the taboo perfume she was unable to resist.

For a while I toyed with the idea that Berwin was drawing on Longfellow's Evangeline, an epic in which the heroine spends her life searching for her beloved Gabriel, only to find him dying. But even though a lot of Evangeline takes place in Louisiana — and, frankly, mortal consequences here would have been welcome — it's clear from the beginning of Scent of Darkness that neither Eva nor Gabriel will die. There isn't even a sense of possible punishment, a la Macbeth. Eva complacently betrays everyone she meets, from Gabriel to her grandmother, without regard for the consequences.

In the end, Berwin's novel is like that mangled Shakespeare quote: a pale imitation whose magic is tedious rather than terrifying.

To readers of romance novels, English professor Mary Bly is better known by her pen name, Eloisa James, but the academic side of her literary personality takes ownership of this review, due to its more critical tone.

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