Old Media Monday: Reviewing the Reviewers
by Tom on February 26, 2008
New York Times:
- Sunday Book Review cover: D.T. Max on Dangerous Laughter by Steven Millhauser: "In his postmodern world, meanings are never unpacked. These are fables, not allegories, and their hermetic quality discourages us from wandering outside the text. It is for this reason that Millhauser seems less a descendant of Jorge Luis Borges, to whom he is sometimes compared, than of, say, Shirley Jackson or even 'The Twilight Zone.' These stories are offered for your consideration, nothing more."
- Polly Morrice on Beautiful Boy by David Sheff and Tweak by Nic Sheff: "'Beautiful Boy' is an addiction memoir once removed, depicting the collateral damage that a drug-abusing child inflicts, yet it underscores how the heartbreaking circle game of addiction can fetter a writer’s sense of what to include and, more important, when to stop.... While his father’s decision to lay open much of his life stems from a desire to help other families of addicts, Nic’s urge to tell all seems to derive in part from the lessons and language of rehab — his goal is to be 'authentic.' But Nic also admires chroniclers of wild descents — Rimbaud, Charles Bukowski — and the 25-year-old writer’s infatuation with them shows." On Thursday, Maslin wrote, "On the long, crowded shelf of addiction memoirs 'Beautiful Boy' is more notable for sturdiness and sense than for new insight." And tomorrow, Chip McGrath profiles both Sheffs.
- Stacey D'Erasmo on Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolano: "Cross-referenced, complete with bibliography and a biographical list of secondary figures, 'Nazi Literature' is composed of a series of sketches, the compressed life stories of writers in North and South America who never existed, but all too easily could have. Goose-stepping caricatures à la 'The Producers' they are not; instead, they are frighteningly subtle, poignant and plausible."
- Alex Beam on The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead: "There is plenty not to like about this book, but here is what I did like: It is almost impossible to define. It is not exactly a memoir. A heart-tugging panegyric to father-son togetherness? Far from it.... It is sui generis, and that’s high praise these days."
- Kakutani on Love and Consequences by Margaret P. Jones: "Ms. Jones’s portraits of her family and friends are so sympathetic and unsentimental, so raw and tender and tough-minded that it’s clear to the reader that whatever detachment she learned as a child did not impair her capacity for caring. Instead it heightened her powers of observation, enabling her to write with a novelist’s eye for the psychological detail and an anthropologist’s eye for social rituals and routines."
- Charles Matthews on Pictures at a Revolution by Mark Harris: "The conventional way of writing about five movies would be to devote a section of the book to each. But Harris does something more difficult and far more illuminating: He weaves together the stories of how each movie was conceived, crafted, released, critiqued and received.... Harris has created what seems likely to be one of the classics of popular film history, useful to dedicated students of film and cultural historians, and also to trivia buffs."
- Stephen Budiansky on The Republic of Suffering by Drew Gilpin Faust: "If nothing else, this finely written book is a powerful corrective to all the romantic claptrap that still envelops a war that took as many American lives, 620,000, as all other wars from the Revolution to Korea combined."
Los Angeles Times:
- Susan Salter Reynolds on Reading Boyishly: Roland Barthes, J.M. Barrie, Jacques Henri Lartigue, Marcel Proust, and D.W. Winnicott: "It is a sigh of relief, this book, a defense of things that make us feel guilty: nostalgia, apron strings, the 'good-enough mother,' the lost mother, the nest, the childhood home, the beauty of boys at play. It is a defense of adolescence: 'The adolescent has time. The adolescent, perhaps, is the one who in actuality does not waste his time, but simply takes his time.'"
New York Sun:
- Eric Ormsby on Memoirs of an Anti-Semite: A Novel in Five Stories by Gregor von Rezzori: "Though 'Memoirs of an Anti-Semite' provides a caustic analysis of a deep moral malady, rendered all the more ominous by being set against the horrors of the Nazi rise to power, the novel is much more than this. A tremendous exuberance underlies its irony. Von Rezzori drew a long-forgotten world out of oblivion without the slightest note of sentimentality. It was as though he could rescue that world in its astonishing fullness only by exposing its deepest flaws."
Globe & Mail:
- Lynda Grace Philippsen on The Boys in the Trees by Mary Swan: "The magic of Swan's fiction is in her ability to reveal and conceal at the same time. Her characters and her readers are simultaneously enmeshed in a fiction real as illusionary life. The pleasure for the reader is in the smudged distinctions between reality, memory, dream, illusion and image - the sense of being played by a fine mind and enjoying it."
- Adam Mars-Jones on Something to Tell You by Hanif Kureishi (out in the U.S. in August): "If Hanif Kureishi's new novel has a fault, it is that its secondary characters are often so full of life that they upstage the principals and this is a fault for which most writers would cheerfully kill.... Something To Tell You is a return to the territory of his first and still best-loved novel, The Buddha of Suburbia."
The New Yorker:
- James Wood on His Illegal Self by Peter Carey and My Revolutions by Hari Kunzru: "Carey’s often beautiful novel, one of his best recent works, has the bruising tang of all his fiction, in which crooked colloquialism (frequently Australian vernacular), and poetic formality combine. The result is brilliantly vital: the world bulges out of the sentences.... 'My Revolutions' is dense and accumulative where 'His Illegal Self' is fleeting and photographic.... 'My Revolutions' is a strange, involving book, powerful in its utterly unembarrassed relation to the mundane."