New York Times:
- Sunday Book Review cover: Joseph O'Neill on The Letters of Samuel Beckett, Vol. 1, 1929-1940: "Beckett, in his published output and authorial persona, was rigorously spare and self-effacing. Who knew that in his private writing he would be so humanly forthcoming? We always knew he was brilliant — but this brilliant? Just as the otherworldliness of tennis pros is most starkly revealed in their casual warm-up drills, so these letters, in which intellectual and linguistic winners are struck at will, offer a humbling, thrilling revelation of the difference between Beckett’s game and the one played by the rest of us."
- Terrence Rafferty on The Glister by John Burnside: "The reason the novel isn’t the downer it might have been is that Burnside’s writing conveys an almost palpable thrill of discovery, a delight in the play of his imagination over this bleak terrain, an irrepressible joy in cultivating metaphor after metaphor and seeing them all, improbably, bloom. Though the town is dying, Burnside has populated it densely, with characters whose different doomed strategies for staying alive give color and variety to the book’s vision of social decline. And plenty happens, at a speedy pace. The narrative has the quick urgency of a threatened creature: it moves like a cockroach streaking from light to the safer dark."
- Maslin on Columbine by Dave Cullen: "His grasping for hard facts (not long before he died, 'Dylan apparently had potato skins') in the face of limited evidence (the autopsy report may instead have been referring to French fries) does his book more harm than good. Most valuable for its passages about psychopathic behavior and the press, which should of course be seen as two separate subjects, 'Columbine' must hack its way through thickets of useless data and self-promotion to arrive at any worthwhile conclusions."
- Kakutani is ambivalent about our guest this week, Arthur Phillips's The Song Is You [stay tuned to next Sunday's Book Review, though, for a different take]: "It’s a novel with a ridiculous, poorly articulated plot, and yet at the same time it’s a novel that showcases Mr. Phillips’s sparkling gifts as a prose stylist and demonstrates a psychological depth and emotional chiaroscuro that was missing in earlier works like 'Prague' and 'The Egyptologist,' which tended to be clever and eye-catching but often glib."
- Dirda on Beckett's Letters: "Admirers of Samuel Beckett, arguably the greatest writer in English of the second half of the 20th century, have grown used to waiting for Godot, who will surely come tomorrow or, just possibly, the day after. In the meantime, these similarly anticipated letters have quite definitely arrived, and in an edition more sumptuous than one ever imagined. Has any modern author been better served by his editors than Beckett?"
- Sybil Steinberg on The Help by Kathryn Stockett: "Southern whites' guilt for not expressing gratitude to the black maids who raised them threatens to become a familiar refrain. But don't tell Kathryn Stockett because her first novel is a nuanced variation on the theme that strikes every note with authenticity. In a page-turner that brings new resonance to the moral issues involved, she spins a story of social awakening as seen from both sides of the American racial divide."
Los Angeles Times:
- Michael Harris on Burnside's Glister: "A far-out, ambiguous tale, in the end. Yet we keep on reading it and hoping for answers, because Burnside's prose, full of feeling yet hyper-controlled, logical and convincing, seems to assure us, line by line, that we will find them, even when we doubt we will. Meaning seems to be inherent in it, as in the world at large -- even in a world filled with suffering, a world of puzzles only the mercenary Smiths seem able to crack."
- David Ulin on Cullen's Columbine: "'Columbine' is an attempt to re-create, methodically, what happened, to re-sort the data and come to conclusions that are correct. It's a book that hits you like a crime scene photo, a reminder of what journalism at its best is all about.... As Cullen argues, it was easy to buy into the narratives already in place: tales of bullying and alienation, of tension between rival cliques. That's the problem with quick-hit journalism, a style of reporting 'Columbine' convincingly refutes. Indeed, if Cullen's book offers any overarching lesson, it's that some stories can only be demystified by taking the long view -- especially a story as troublesome and complicated as this."