SEAN BURNS REVIEWS 'ARE SNAKES NECESSARY?' FOR WBUR
"A tawdry tale of a political fixer playing whack-a-mole with the skeletons in an oversexed U.S. Senator’s closet," WBUR's Sean Burns states in his review of Brian De Palma and Susan Lehman's Are Snakes Necessary?, "the book mixes and matches elements of the John Edwards pregnancy scandal with Rep. Gary Condit’s missing intern case much in the same way that De Palma’s 1980 masterpiece Blow Out fused Chappaquiddick and the JFK assassination into a paranoid hall of mirrors awash in awful ironies. I couldn’t put it down."
Here's more from Burns' review:
I kept seeing these characters as played by members of De Palma’s regular stock company, with roles for Nancy Allen, John Lithgow, Gregg Henry and Melanie Griffith, while imagining a swelling Pino Donaggio string score to exacerbate the tension. There’s a plot turn about halfway through that struck me as DePalma’s attempt to do a second take on a twist that had been elided by studio execs who wanted a PG rating for his 1976 “Obsession.” The penultimate chapter so resembles one of the director’s distended, crosscut, climactic montages that a character even says it feels like they’re seeing it in slow-motion.
A few years ago, I went to a Coolidge After Midnite 35mm screening of De Palma’s deliriously lurid “Dressed to Kill.” Before the show, their projectionist warned me that the print was really dirty. “That’s okay,” I told him. “So’s the movie.” As you might imagine, “Are Snakes Necessary?” takes tremendous interest in the female form, mimicking the gaze of De Palma’s tumescent camera as one character is unable to so much as stop for a fast-food hamburger without staring at the girl behind the counter and imagining “a wrestling match between her breasts and the tight seams of her Ronald McDonald wear.” To quote my friend the late, great Jim Ridley’s review of De Palma’s glorious 2002 “Femme Fatale,” it is “the work of a happy, horny man.”
We can probably credit co-writer Lehman for keeping him just barely on the right side of dirty old man territory, and being a former New York Times editor, she’s presumably responsible for keeping the prose so propulsive. Billed on the back cover as “a female revenge story,” the book falls into familiar De Palma archetypes of his male protagonists being incompetent buffoons who think they’re Prince Valiant, their grand plans to rescue damsels in distress backfiring in the cruelest ways imaginable. Meanwhile, the women turn out to have it all together, with the character you’d least expect here emerging as a heroine to rival Griffith’s street-savvy porn star in “Body Double” or Rebecca Romijn’s eponymous "Femme Fatale."
What the book’s fleet writing can’t do is fill in much soul for these figures as the authors so expertly move them around the story’s chessboard. You gain a deeper appreciation for De Palma’s actresses and how much extra dimension they bring to his sometimes schematic setups. Nevertheless, this swift page-turner left me cackling with delight right through to its epilogue, the final twist being one of those easily predicted developments that De Palma allows you to savor for the whole time you can see it coming. Maybe not exactly “Necessary,” but enormously enjoyable all the same.