Old Media Monday: Reviewing the Reviewers

OMM_05-11-09

New York Times:

  • Liesl Schillinger on When I Forgot by Elina Hirvonen: "It’s with an odd sensation of unexpected, wakening connection that you understand, as you read 'When I Forgot,' a first novel by the Finnish journalist and filmmaker Elina Hirvonen, that 9/11 'happened' in Finland too.... In 'Mrs. Dalloway' ...  Woolf embarked on a great experiment, showing how a lifetime may be contained and revealed in small, seemingly inconsequential details. Hirvonen repeats this experiment, differently yet deftly, and Douglas Robinson’s translation is so smooth that, but for the foreign names, one could forget the book was not originally written in English. The novel’s quiet clockwork encompasses a long, reflective 'moment in April,' a single day in Helsinki unlike yet akin to Woolf’s 'life; London; this moment of June.'”
  • Maslin on Road Dogs by Elmore Leonard: "Ordinarily the writer who turns to his own pages for inspiration risks looking lazy. But Mr. Leonard’s crime stories are packed with players who deserve curtain calls. And there’s nothing remotely wheezy about his way of throwing together Foley, Cundo and Dawn (as they’re known in 'Road Dogs'). Foley has the brains, Cundo the machismo and Dawn the shamelessness to make this one of Mr. Leonard’s most enjoyably sneaky stories."
  • Kakutani on American Icon: The Fall of Roger Clemens and the Rise of Steroids in America's Pastime by Teri Thompson, Nathaniel Vinton, Michael O'Keeffe, and Christian Red: "By focusing on Clemens and the people around him, the authors have turned the sprawling story of steroid-use into a sleek narrative that reads like an investigative thriller, peopled by a Dickensian cast of characters, from big-name ball players and their high-powered lawyers to small time bodybuilders and gym owners, from federal investigators and members of Congress to denizens of 'the violent criminal underworld of muscle-building drug distribution.'"
  • David Means on Nobody Move by Denis Johnson: "To give much more of the plot away would be to betray this hugely enjoyable, fast-moving novel.... One senses that Johnson took great pleasure in writing on a deadline, keeping the story tight to the bone, honing his sentences down to the same kind of utilitarian purity he demonstrated in 'Tree of Smoke.' ... If 'Tree of Smoke' — intricately plotted, embracing the entire Vietnam era and bringing it up alongside the war in Iraq — was a huge piece of work, a 'Guernica' of sorts, then 'Nobody Move' is a Warhol soup can, a flinty, bright piece of pop art meant to be instantly understood and enjoyed."

Washington Post:

  • Charles on The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Rief Larsen: "I fell in love with 'The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet' on the first page, and so did the New York publishers who pushed the bids for this enchantingly illustrated novel toward $1 million.... Beware the bookstore display: If you pick this novel up and page through it, you'll be taking it home.... There's a problem, though, when you actually sit down to read it through: 'The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet' loses its way about halfway to Washington.... I can't remember the last time my initial affection for a novel was so betrayed by its conclusion. It's maddening that somebody didn't help this young author polish 'The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet' into the genre-breaking classic it could have been."
  • Benjamin Carter Hett on The Third Reich at War by Richard J. Evans: "Evans is clearly up on all the latest research on Nazi Germany, no mean achievement in a field in which tens of thousands of books have been published. But his goal is to appeal to the general reader rather than the professional historian, and he succeeds brilliantly, producing a book that is beautifully written and, despite its length and grim subject matter, easily digestible, even gripping....This is history in the grand style, the kind of large-scale narrative that few historians dare to write these days. It is difficult to imagine how it could be improved upon, let alone surpassed."

Los Angeles Times:

  • Sarah Weinman on The Way Home by George Pelecanos: "Now, in his early 50s, it is only right that Pelecanos is thick in his middle period. The prose isn't as loose but the edges aren't as sharp. The musical soundtrack plays, but it blends better into the scene. Urban D.C. remains the setting, but with history dispensed with, social concerns are contemporary and do not resort to a younger man's righteous bombast.... 'The Way Home' remains true to its titular purpose; as a result, the structure is perhaps less weighted toward a classic narrative arc and more toward the journey itself. As with his last two novels, Pelecanos demonstrates that redemption, if it comes at all, is hard-won."
  • Susan Carpenter on A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi: "The clean, orderly style is the work of a fully realized artist who's spent 60 years honing his craft, and 'A Drifting Life' represents the 'dramatic pictures' (gekiga) for which Tatsumi is best known -- emotional and realistic renderings of a hard-knock life told from an underdog perspective. Rather than jokes and action, the emphasis is on character and narrative.... 'A Drifting Life' is a beautiful portrait of a dark time during which Tatsumi's artistic experimentation was clearly a guiding light for a fledgling movement. Even at 800-plus pages, it seems to end too soon, stopping in 1960. One can only hope that Tatsumi pens the rest of his illustrious life story."
  • Jon Fasman on Wanting by Richard Flanagan: "Richard Flanagan has written an exquisite, profoundly moving, intricately structured meditation about the desire for human connection in its many forms -- that commingling of compassion, curiosity, care, lust, attraction, intrigue, selfishness and selflessness that is clumsily grouped under that most perilous of all abstract nouns: love."

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