- Sunday Book Review cover: Colm Toibin on Hiding Man: A Biography of Donald Barthelme by Tracy Daugherty: "And he has been lucky, finally, in having a biographer who has not
dwelt too much on the darkness in Barthelme's soul, the unevenness of
the work or the sadness and messiness of his life. Daugherty, instead,
has managed to make a case for a body of work in which the best stories
have the aura of a second act, and to create a convincing narrative out
of a life that was deeply engaged, passionate and maybe even fulfilled,
despite the demons, and out of a life of the mind that was rigorous,
exacting and, despite Barthelme's early death, deeply productive."
- Kathryn Harrison on Don't Cry by Mary Gaitskill: "Glimpses of what characters would forbid us to see are seductive,
immediately involving. They insist we keep looking, just as we would at
a car wreck; keep eavesdropping, as we would on a couple fighting next
door; keep reading, as we would a diary left open by accident. What
might the author give us in the next sentence, the next paragraph?
Because her subject is intimacy, often but not necessarily sexual,
because she has a gift for inventing details that feel authentic, as if
excised from an unwitting, living victim, Mary Gaitskill commands her
readers' attention as few fiction writers can."
- Kakutani on Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower: "This arresting debut collection of stories decisively establishes Mr.
Tower "” a magazine journalist who has also won two Pushcart Prizes "” as
a writer of uncommon talent, a writer with Sam Shepard's radar for the violent, surreal convolutions of American society; Frederick Barthelme's keen ear for contemporary slang; and David Foster Wallace's eye for the often hilarious absurdities of contemporary life.... [W]e eagerly devour these tales not for their story lines but for Mr.
Tower's masterly conjuring of his people's daily existence, his
understanding of their emotional dilemmas, his controlled but dazzling
language and his effortless ability to turn snapshots of misfits and
malcontents into a panoramic cavalcade of American life." [Ed: I agree!]
- Steven Johnson on How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer: "The anecdotes are, without exception, well chosen and artfully told,
but there is something in the structure of this kind of nonfiction
writing that is starting to feel a little formulaic: startling
mini-narrative, followed by an explanation of What the Science Can
Teach Us, capped by a return to the original narrative with some
crucial mystery unlocked. (I say this as someone who has used the
device in my own books.) It may well be that this is simply the most
effective way to convey these kinds of ideas to a lay audience. But
part of me hopes that a writer as gifted as Lehrer will help push us
into some new formal technique in future efforts."
- Daniel Handler onOne D.O.A., One on the Way by Mary Robison: "The novel's see-Âsawing between laughter and despair captures the
hysteria of the moment and the schizophrenia of the times, but also
finds an underÂcurrent of optimism, buried deep but rising strong, that
carries Eve and the reader forward. 'There's plenty of darkness,' Eve
says on the last frantic night of the novel. 'There's a candy smell.
The only light is in flashes of heat lightning. There's the faintest
sound of far-off people laughing. What a place this is. God almighty.
The amenities you can count on.' Mary Robison's work has always felt
like a glorious amenity, but 'One D.O.A., One on the Way' is a powerful
- Charles onThrough Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden: "
The winner of the 2008 Giller Prize,
Canada's top literary award, has just been released in the United
States, where I suspect the response will be mixed. Much of this novel
reflects its crisp, poetic title, but overall the quality of 'Through
Black Spruce' wobbles erratically, and what's weakest about the book is
its depiction of what we know best: American depravity."
Los Angeles Times:
- George Ducker onPoems: 1959-2009 by Frederick Seidel: "Long regarded as a kind of elegant cult figure in poetry circles,
Seidel has a reputation that precedes him into every room: decadent,
name-dropper, sexual dalliant, Ducati enthusiast, son of privilege.
This runs counter to the man himself. He doesn't do poetry readings and
has, for the most part, shunned interviews. There is no doubt that
Seidel is one of the best poets alive today, and now, with the release
of 'Poems: 1959-2009,' his collected works can be taken at their
measure: They are haughty, funny and terrifying, with plenty of
delicious contention throughout."
- Ed Park onThe Man with the Strange Head by Miles J. Breuer: "Such a stomach-turning cover will pretty much insure that few readers
pick up this book, a diverting, often fascinating grab-bag of fiction
(and some nonfiction) by Breuer (1889-1945). It's a shame, given editor Michael R. Page's objective and the quality
of the work within. A near-forgotten pioneer of the genre -- so
pioneering that it was still called by the portmanteau 'scientifiction'
-- Breuer was (according to Page) the 'first new writer of consequence
who can be said to have started his career in the science fiction
Wall Street Journal:
- Eric Felten on Rebound: A Proven Plan for Starting Over After Job Loss by Martha I. Finney: "'Rebound' is timely in another way as well. The category killer in the
get-a-job bookshelf -- 'What Color Is Your Parachute?' -- could stand
to be retired. First published 39 years and 10 million copies ago, the book keeps
coming out in annual editions. But with its clumsy charts and
checklists, its hokey visualization devices and hollow platitudes -- 'Job-hunting is not a science; it is an art' -- it feels less like a
book than the rummage of a community-college guidance counselor.... By contrast, 'Rebound' is uncluttered, cartoon-free, direct and mercifully brief."
Globe & Mail:
- Richard Bausch on Breaking Lorca by Giles Blunt (available on Amazon.ca): "I won't say more than that the outcome of this development in the novel
is credible, and moving, and oddly reassuring, without a single breath
of sentimentality. Giles Blunt, author of the John Cardinal mysteries,
has given us a tour de force, sorrowing and direct, sharp as a knife
blade, beautifully written "“ an unforgettable window into the human
capacity for cruelty and courage."
- Nicholas Lezard onThe Letters of Samuel Beckett, Vol. 1: We "are particularly fortunate in that the majority of the letters here
have been written to his best friend, Thomas McGreevy, whom he met when
teaching at Trinity College, Dublin, and to whom he wrote in absolute
candour and trust, as an intellectual equal and confidant. A
correspondent like that is gold, and there are times when we wish we
could see McGreevey's letters to Beckett, for to have delighted such an
exacting critic must have taken some talent. Here is the
authentic early Beckettian tang, straight from the source, unmediated
by artifice. He may always have been a verbal show-off but underneath
the pyrotechnics lie real humour, real pain."
- Misha Glenny on War, Guns & Votes by Paul Collier: "This aspect of Collier's books is powerful, making it hard to refute
many of his conclusions, some of which are disturbing, iconoclastic or
both. He is destined to upset a lot of people when he asserts at the
outset that democracy is bad news for the countries of the bottom
billion - it usually ends in tears, not to mention grand larceny,
murder and even genocide. On closer examination, he argues that
elections alone do not amount to a strong democracy. Without
institutions that promote accountability, they are too easily exploited
by cynical, greedy elites. Unfortunately, the 'kumbaya' politics of the 1990s held that voting was an end in itself." In the Observer, meanwhile, Peter Potter finds Collier's recommended action "deeply dotty," but says that "nevertheless, with its verve, wit and lateral thinking, this is a book that changes its readers' horizons."
Times Literary Supplement:
- Karl Orend on Ordinary Lives by Josef Å kvoreckÃ½ (on Amazon.ca): "Ordinary Lives is a miniature masterpiece by one of our greatest living
writers. Profound and moving, it resembles the religious paintings of the
Dutch Masters. The implications of its message are universal.... To read Å kvoreckÃ½'s work as historical
fiction or as an account of a long-lost time is a grave error. He knows that
the past is neither dead, nor truly past. It is only forgotten. The same
forces which drove his country's tragedy rage on within man. His fight is
against the tyranny of ideas and the death of the soul."
The New Yorker:
- James Wood on Lowboy by John Wray: "But John Wray is less interested in Lowboy's picaresque circuits than
in his mental circuits, whose damaged condition is brilliantly,
compassionately evoked in the novel....
Great tact is required to pull off this kind of thing in fiction, since
hallucination can be as boring as someone recounting a very long dream
at breakfast, or it can slide too easily, like any horror story, into a
bloody and relentless vitality. Wray is never boring, largely because
he has an uncanny talent for ventriloquism, and he seems to know, with
unerring authority, how to select and make eloquent the details of
Lowboy's illness." However, "'Lowboy' is exceptionally tender and acute, but it is at times in
danger of falling into the legible stability of case history, in which
the reader might check off recognizable symptoms.... An early review quoted on the book's cover likens it to Dostoyevsky, but 'Lowboy' lacks the bountiful inefficiency of 'Crime and Punishment' or 'The Devils.'"
- Anthony Lane on Beckett's Letters: "What renders this collection, for all its tics and indulgences, far
more of a spur than a letdown is the slowly welling sense of a writer
mustering his powers. The letters that stir me most are not those in
which Beckett grapples with family tensions, or rues the indifference
of publishers, but those which find him at recitals, in front of
paintings, or drowned in a book. That is no mean affair; the only thing
that separates the writer from ordinary folk"”and, far from making him
or her a better or wiser person, let alone a more amenable one, it can
redouble the force of solitude, 'one's ultimate hard irreducible
inorganic singleness'"”is that the reading of a poem, or the pondering
of a Crucifixion, becomes an event. Not a diversion, a flight, or a
release from chores but an experience no less transformative than a day
in bed with a lover."