- Sunday Book Review cover: Review editor Sam Tanenhaus on How It Ended by Jay McInerney: "'How It Ended' reminds us how impressively broad McInerney's scope has
been and how confidently he has ranged across wide swaths of our
national experience. It reminds us too that for all the many literary
influences he has absorbed, McInerney's contribution "” and it is a
major one "” is to have revitalized the Irish Catholic expiatory
tradition of F. Scott Fitzgerald and John O'Hara, with its emphasis not only on guilt but also on shame:
on sins committed and never quite expunged, always in open view of the
sorrowing punitive clan."
- Maslin on Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead: "'Sag Harbor' isn't about much more than the hilariously trifling
intricacies of this self-discovery process. Credit Mr. Whitehead with
this: He captures the fireflies of teenage summertime in a jar without
pretending to have some larger purpose. 'Sag Harbor' is not a book
about that special summer when everything changed, when this boy became
a man, when the scales fell from his eyes about adult life, or even
about when he experienced the balmy joys of first love. Its plot is so
evanescent that the removal of Benji's braces counts as a milestone."
- Mark Ford on Our Savage Art by William Logan: "The most obvious advantage of Logan's Diogenes-like approach to much of
the contemporary poetry he writes about is that it transforms the
normally rather stultifying genre of the poetry review into something
more akin to a blood sport. Logan's hounding and slashing, parodying
and chastising, make for what editors call good copy. Occasionally he
exempts a passage, or a complete particular poem, from his mocking
strictures, but in general one learns to expect "” and even, in a
slightly shameful way, like a member of the crowd at a Roman circus, to
demand "” the final turning of the emperor's thumb down, and the
consigning of another poet to oblivion."
- Joan Silber onOnce the Shore by Paul Yoon: "The beauty of these stories is precisely in their reserve: they are
mild and stark at the same time. By mild I do not mean cozy. Harshness
is always close at hand here, and no one is surprised by betrayals,
thefts, brutal mistakes of war. Nor do the stories entirely lack acts
of will. A couple whose son has probably been killed in a bombing test
resolutely set off at sea to search for him. A child whose family farm
has been sold tells the buyer's wife to go home. But even these
resolves feel not altogether voluntary. Most of the collection's
characters move through events with a resignation or forbearance rare
in contemporary fiction. 'Once the Shore' is the work of a large and
- Dirda on Endpoint and Other Poems by John Updike: "In their last years, many artists cast aside all their usual
flourishes, dismiss the circus animals and simply set down, as directly
as possible, the realities and inevitabilities of old age. So John
Updike has done in this moving book of poems."
- Yardley onThe World in Half by Cristina Henriquez: "I quote that passage at length because I like it a great deal and
because everything it says is true. Latin America is simultaneously
desperate and hypnotic, and HenrÃquez gets this aspect of it exactly
right, not only in this passage but elsewhere in the novel as Mira
gradually comes to love this place that is, in part, her own. For all
its implausibility, 'The World in Half' is engaging and touching."
Los Angeles Times:
- Taylor Antrim on Whitehead's Sag Harbor: "You can't help but admire Whitehead's writerly gifts, but there's
something idling and indolent about his method here. 'Sag Harbor'
reminded me, not in a good way, of 'The Colossus of New York,'
Whitehead's book-length love letter to his home city: stylistically
virtuosic but stubbornly hard to finish. It's poor form to speculate, but I'll go ahead: Whitehead seems uneasy
with the confessional demands of autobiography. For that's surely what
this is -- memoir masquerading as a novel.... Perhaps novels don't require plots, but it seems to me they do need
something: a sense of excavation, some deeper fathom of character
attained. For all its amusements and felicities of language, 'Sag
Harbor' never dives very far below the surface. Emotionally, it's a
low-stakes affair, which is another way of saying it's a little too
much like summer for its own good."
- Susan Salter Reynolds onFollow Me by Joanna Scott: "Joanna Scott has one of those imaginations that recasts details in her
own image.... You feel the strong powers of
observation and imagination at work in her writing, crashing and
working against each other: This is true, this can't be true; how could
that happen? Of course that's what happened. You feel forces bigger
than us swirling around her plots, especially this one, but you don't
know what to call them. You think it must be her story, the story of
her ancestors, but then you remember she's an accomplished fiction
writer. She knows how to ride and break a good, feisty story. After
it's broken, and the pieces lay all around, you realize that you could
not, in a million years, ever reconstruct it, even though, in so many
ways, it has become your story too."
- Ben Ehrenreich onNews from the Empire by Fernando del Pas "'What happens,' writes the Mexican novelist Fernando del Paso, 'when an
author can't escape history? . . . what can you do . . . when you don't
want to avoid history, but do want to achieve poetry?' ... Del Paso's answer consists of the page on which those
words appear and all the many pages of 'News From the Empire,' his
variously fascinating, frustrating, hilarious, dull, mesmerizing,
maddening, absurd and tragic novel, which, in its breadth and depth and
massive reach, manages to achieve something of the noise and sweep of
Wall Street Journal:
- Alexander Theroux onClosing Time by Joe Queenan: "At 59, Mr. Queenan's life story is far from over, but he seems to feel
compelled to look back in anger, as if to close off, for good, a
desolate past that keeps reasserting itself and, one can easily
imagine, poisoning his present happiness.... The book is an acrid portrait of Mr. Queenan as a man short on forgiveness.... In the end, it is hard not to conclude that 'Closing Time' was a book
that Mr. Queenan felt he had to write -- for his own demon-chasing
purposes. Its urgency will be less apparent to the rest of us."
- Michael Judge onIn Hanuman's Hands by Cheeni Ra "After the revelation in 2006 that James Frey's 'A Million Little
Pieces' was a fact-tinged piece of fiction, plenty of readers swore off
ever picking up another memoir that purported to recall a writer's
squalorous, drug-abusing past. That's a shame, because Cheeni Rao's 'In
Hanuman's Hands' goes a long way toward redeeming a dubious genre. But
this lyrical, haunting book is much more than just an account of Mr.
Rao's descent into crack-cocaine addiction, criminality and
homelessness on the streets of Chicago. Remarkably, he also weaves into
his story fully realized visions of his Hindu ancestry."
Globe and Mail:
- J.C. Sutcliffe on The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt (coming to the US in October): "Before I was even a 10th of the way through the book's 600-plus pages,
I was converted. This book made me thirsty: Whenever I put it down, it
nagged me to pick it up again.... The writing style is one of the book's biggest mysteries. There are no
intellectual flourishes, no flashes of genius wordsmithery, no dazzling
riffs. At first sight, each sentence is as nothing: clear, like water,
simple, without any craft or elegance. The words just are: baldly
stated, sometimes a little repetitive, straightforward, no sparkling
fizz. Yet by a slow process of accretion, the writing takes on the
majesty of a glacier: monumental, pure, beautiful."
- Olivia Laing onWolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (also coming here in October): "By ending without a dramatic resolution, she allows the "what
happened next" of the historical record to underscore her central,
sobering message: that human kindness and idealism are no match for the
fickleness of fortune....
This is a beautiful and profoundly humane book, a dark mirror held up
to our own world. And the fact that its conclusion takes place after
the curtain has fallen only proves that Hilary Mantel is one of our
bravest as well as most brilliant writers."
The New Yorker:
- Peter Conrad on Antonio Lobo Antunes (including The Fat Man and Infinity, Knowledge of Hell, andWhat Can I Do When Everything's on Fire): "Saramago is a benign magus whose fictions smilingly suspend reality;
Lobo Antunes is more like an exorcist, frantically battling to cast out
evil and to heal the body politic. Saramago's secular parables, set
mostly in unnamed or imaginary countries, easily float off into
universality. Lobo Antunes remains obsessively local, worrying over the inherited ailments of Portuguese history and the debilities of its culture."