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Rips, Michael 1954-

RIPS, Michael 1954-

PERSONAL: Born 1954, in NE; married; wife's name Sheila (an artist); children: one daughter. Education: Graduate of Oxford University.

ADDRESSES: Home—Chelsea Hotel, New York, NY. Agent—The Marsh Agency, 11 Dover St., London W1S 4LJ, England.

CAREER: Writer and lawyer. Has worked as a criminal litigator, law clerk to a U.S. Supreme Court justice, and an adviser to museums and foundations.

WRITINGS:

NONFICTION

Pasquale's Nose: Idle Days in an Italian Town, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2001.

The Face of a Naked Lady: An Omaha Family Mystery, Houghton (Boston, MA), 2005.

SIDELIGHTS: Michael Rips's Pasquale's Nose: Idle Days in an Italian Town and The Face of a Naked Lady: An Omaha Family Mystery are both autobiographical, but they are widely divergent in subject matter. The first is a humorous chronicle of a year Rips spent in a village in central Italy. The second is a sometimes humorous but sometimes harrowing account of Rips's investigation of his family's secrets, something he was moved to do when he discovered paintings of a naked, unfamiliar woman when going through his late father's belongings. Both books present a variety of eccentric characters and anecdotes.

Rips wrote Pasquale's Nose after taking a break from practicing law and moving with his wife, Sheila, and their young daughter to the village of Sutri, in the hills near Rome. He wanted to reflect on his life; Sheila wanted to paint. In the small, picturesque town, filled with medieval and Renaissance architecture, Rips passed the time in a café where he learned much about the local citizens. One man is said to have a hand like a cat's paw; a blind bootmaker has difficulty fitting his customers, but they remain faithful to him; the postman cannot read and mixes up the mail, but the townspeople fix his mistakes; and the Pasquale of the title has a nose hypersensitive to foot odor.

Some reviewers praised the quirkiness of Rips's tales. Reading the book is "like sitting around a dinner table listening to friends tell their best yarns, replete with whimsical exaggerations," according to Rex Roberts in Insight on the News. A Publishers Weekly critic commented that, "in tiny, glittering vignettes, Rips paints an extraordinary picture of interwoven sublimity and absurdity." Book Reporter online contributor Ann Bruns summed up the book as "part travelogue, part memoir, and unquestionably a study in human behavior," enlivened by "a whole parade of marvelous people that Rips encountered."

The Face of a Naked Lady studies human behavior that is sometimes much darker than that featured in Rips's first book. Several years after his father, Nic, died, Rips happened upon some paintings done by his father, all which depict the same naked woman, an African American (Rips's family is white). He set out to find the woman, and in the process learned much about his father and other family members. For instance, his father, a straitlaced, respected businessman, had grown up in a brothel run by relatives who had dealings with organized crime. Rips also tells of his grandmother being sucked into a trash chute during a tornado, of his own witnessing of a circus acrobat's fatal plunge when he was a child, and of family acquaintances with odd sexual habits. "It seemed to me that what I was finding was mysterious and unexpected," he told Publishers Weekly interviewer Jeff Zaleski. When he finally meets the woman in the paintings, he must still ask, as he told Zaleski, "Why was my father, a conservative, Republican Nebraskan, fixated on a poor black woman with a mutilated face? And the answer to that is, because she was unknown to him."

"Rips displayed his affinity for the absurd in his first memoir … but he hadn't seen anything yet," observed Donna Seaman in a Booklist review of The Face of a Naked Lady. Some reviewers saw touches of magical realism in the book; this is "a rarity in nonfiction," noted a Publishers Weekly commentator, adding that Rips offers an "intelligent and musical meshing of memoir and philosophy." A Kirkus Reviews critic was skeptical of some of Rips's stories, but noted that the book is "written with skill and humor and with a vulpine eye that sees much and winks often." The Publishers Weekly critic concluded: "This is a book readers won't forget."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Rips, Michael, Pasquale's Nose: Idle Days in an Italian Town, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 2001.

Rips, Michael, The Face of a Naked Lady: An Omaha Family Mystery, Houghton (Boston, MA), 2005.

PERIODICALS

Booklist, January 1, 2005, Donna Seaman, review of The Face of a Naked Lady, p. 809.

Esquire, March, 2005, review of The Face of a Naked Lady, p. 60.

Insight on the News, June 11, 2001, Rex Roberts, review of Pasquale's Nose, p. 33.

Kirkus Reviews, January 1, 2005, review of The Face of a Naked Lady, p. 41.

Library Journal, May 15, 2001, Janet Ross, review of Pasquale's Nose, p. 151; March 15, 2005, Sara Jent, review of The Face of a Naked Lady, p. 92.

Publishers Weekly, April 16, 2001, review of Pasquale's Nose, p. 54; February 21, 2005, Jeff Zaleski, "Encountering the Unknown," p. 169, and review of The Face of a Naked Lady, p. 170.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 2005, Dale Singer, "Secret Paintings of Naked Women Send Son on Quest," p. C8.

Time, May 21, 2001, review of Pasquale's Nose, p. 92; March 7, 2005, Lev Grossman, "The Parent Booby Trap," p. 78.

ONLINE

Book Reporter, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (June 16, 2005), Ann Bruns, review of Pasquale's Nose; J. McAfee, review of The Face of a Naked Lady.

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