Old Media Monday: Reviewing the Reviewers

OMM_04-13-09

New York Times:

  • Sunday Book Review cover: Kate Christensen on The Song Is You by Arthur Phillips: "Now comes 'The Song Is You,' another radical departure in a career of radical departures. This novel is a pas de deux between a young singer-songwriter and the much older man who actively, obsessively inspires her.... A less rigorous writer might have turned this story into a sentimental, overwritten swamp. But thanks to Phillips’s thwarting of our (and his characters’) expectations, and to his objective, amused intelligence about the deep ways music affects us, he dances like Fred Astaire over any alligators and mangrove roots lurking in turgid waters.... The whole novel zings with fresh insight and inspired writing. 'The Song Is You' is smaller, more focused and more ­character-driven than Phillips’s earlier books, and it’s not only a welcome new direction, but also a novel impossible to put down." [Side note: I thought I called dibs on the use of "pas de deux" to describe The Song Is You, but no doubt Ms. Christensen had already turned in her piece before my review went live.]
  • Maslin on How It Ended: New and Collected Stories by Jay McInerney: "Mr. McInerney was a callow, facile and extremely entertaining writer from the very first. He had a smart student’s command of technical virtues and an eagerness to show them off. He also had such a tiresome infatuation with 1980s-style decadence that it lingers sentimentally even now. But his stories have grown more elegant, subtle, shapely and reflective over time, to the point where some of the recent works are perfect specimens. He has quietly achieved the literary stature to which he once so noisily laid claim."
  • Maslin also on The Addict by Michael Stein: "'The Addict' winds up defying expectations and conquering its own worst impulses. If Dr. Stein has a tendency to dramatize Lucy’s plight, palpitate in her presence and even swoon a little (“Was meeting the eyes of a man in a small, closed room a form of surrender?”), he also has a different take on a familiar situation. He writes with genuine professionalism and compassion. And he makes this story idiosyncratic enough to keep it interesting."
  • John Leland on The Beats: A Graphic History by Harvey Pekar et al.: "The medium provides a new angle on a familiar story, in a voice more directly empathetic than those of many prose histories. It gives the hipsters back their body language. In a book that is largely about license and the enlightened rebel, it is easy to find reflections of both in the graphic form. The panels, which are flat and often horrific, capture the dullness and insanity not only of the lives the Beats sought to escape but of the ones they made in their place. The Beats here inhabit a world that looks a lot like Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland. No wonder they had to go go go and not stop till they got there."

Washington Post:

  • Dirda on Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg: "Now widely regarded as Robert Silverberg's masterpiece, 'Dying Inside,' first published in 1972, has just been reissued in a handsome trade paperback with a new preface by its author, one of science fiction's most distinguished writers. Yet this book is hardly what most people think of as science fiction. As a character, Selig has more in common with Philip Roth's Portnoy than with the more typical superwarriors of, say, Robert Heinlein's 'Starship Troopers.'... It's insane that 'Dying Inside' should be subtly dismissed as merely a genre classic. This is a superb novel about a common human sorrow, that great shock of middle age -- the recognition that we are all dying inside and that all of us must face the eventual disappearance of the person we have been."
  • Charles on A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick: "Don't be fooled by the prissy cover or that ironic title. Robert Goolrick's first novel, 'A Reliable Wife,' isn't just hot, it's in heat: a gothic tale of such smoldering desire it should be read in a cold shower. This is a bodice ripper of a hundred thousand pearly buttons, ripped off one at a time with agonizing restraint. It works only because Goolrick never cracks a smile, never lets on that he thinks all this overwrought sexual frustration is anything but the most serious incantation of longing and despair ever uttered in the dead of night."

Los Angeles Times:

  • Sarah Weinman on Britten and Brulightly by Hannah Berry: "Such hopes are rare for crime in prose but are even scarcer with graphic novels, so when one comes along that hits the proverbial sweet spot of standout storytelling and ruminative reflection, the reader is advised to create a permanent space in his or her home library. That recommendation suffices for ... 'Britten and Brülightly,' 26-year-old Briton Hannah Berry's audacious, wise-beyond-years debut.... [W]hat makes Berry's graphic novel linger long and move into a remarkable strata is how it understands the terrible price and awful sense of loneliness that comes to those seeking salvation when there is none to find."

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