Old Media Monday: Reviewing the Reviewers

New York Times:

  • Sunday Book Review cover: Francine Prose on The Death of the Adversary and Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilson: "Although the novels are quite different, both are set in Nazi-occupied Europe and display their author’s eye for perfectly illustrative yet wholly unexpected incident and detail, as well as his talent for story­telling and his extraordinarily subtle and penetrating understanding of human nature.... Rarely have such harrowing narratives been related with such wry, off-kilter humor, and in so quiet a whisper. Read these books and join me in adding him to the list, which each of us must compose on our own, of the world’s very greatest writers."
  • Michael Wood on Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart: "[F]or a while it seems as if a pre-post-human realist novel is trying to sneak into the satirical pages. But the writing is never less than stylish and witty, and the sense of disaster, here as in Shteyngart’s other novels, is unfailingly lyrical, performed for full, funny rhetorical orchestra.... The sheer exhilaration of the writing in this book — Lenny’s confessional tones, Eunice’s teenage slang — is itself a sort of answer to the flattened-out horrors of the world it depicts. It’s not that writing of any kind will save us from our follies or our rulers; but words are a form of life, and we can’t say we haven’t been warned."
  • Kakutani on My Hollywood by Mona Simpson: "It is only halfway through the volume, as Lola’s story takes over, that Ms. Simpson finds her groove, throws off the cloying tone of liberal condescension that hovers over the opening pages, and uses her mastery of psychological detail to create a deeply felt character, torn between her own family back home in the Philippines and the babies she cares for in Los Angeles."
  • Clancy Martin on The Four Fingers of Death by Rick Moody: "[T]his may sound odd, but the comedy works best when Moody isn’t trying to be funny and falls flat when he is. Moody’s powers of invention, his ease in his own prose, his ability to develop interesting characters — in short, his enormous gifts as a writer — are on full display here. And when he wants to write a gorgeous paragraph, he delivers as you know he can, even when he’s still spoofing.... When Moody tries to be funny though, when he’s being too cute, he exasperates the reader. And exasperation occurs quite a few times over the course of these 729 pages."
  • Dwight Garner on A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb by Amitava Kumar: "'A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb' [is a] perceptive and soulful — if at times academic — meditation on the global war on terror and its cultural and human repercussions. Mr. Kumar’s book isn’t especially long, but it is a many-tentacled beast.... At its heart ... 'A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb' ... is about the ordinary men and women, brown-skinned in general and Muslim in particular, who have had their lives upended by America’s enraged security apparatus. Mr. Kumar calls them the 'small people,' and to them he extends his own impressive and trembling moral imagination."
  • Garner on Mentor: A Memoir by Tom Grimes: "Don’t give this forthright and bewildered book to the would-be writer in your life. It might make him or her climb a tall tree and leap from it. You don’t need that on your hands. In any case, I suspect many aspiring writers will find it on their own, and read it between the cracks in their fingers."

Washington Post:

  • Dirda on Grimes's Mentor: "From now on, anyone who dreams of becoming a novelist will need to read Tom Grimes's brutally honest and wonderful 'Mentor.' While there have been plenty of books on how to write, or how to get published, or how to promote your work, as well as a number of triumphalist accounts of 'making it,' this is a story of what it's like to just miss succeeding."
  • Charles on Father of the Rain by Lily King: "King poses the questions so powerfully that you can't answer them easily: What kind of abuse finally abrogates one's responsibility to a self-destructive parent? What is too much to ask of a child? Daley claims, 'The way I cope is to never have expectations, so I'm not disappointed,' but she's lying, ignoring the desperate hope that keeps her attached to this man, keeps her sacrificing her own life for his. It's an absorbing, insightful story written in cool, polished prose right to the last conflicted line."
  • See on The Doctor and the Diva by Adrienne McDonnell: "Some novels just naturally enslave you, and this is one of them.... We forget it all too often, but the world offers us immeasurable enchantment -- if only we keep our eyes open, our ears alert, and remember to inhale. In this brilliant, debut novel, Adrienne McDonnell gives us bouquets of fresh flowers in modest apartments overlooking the Arno, where passing strangers pause, enraptured, to listen to the exquisite music being sung from above."

Los Angeles Times:

  • Sarah Weinman on Savages by Don Winslow: "I'm of two minds about whether 'Savages,' Don Winslow's marvelous, adrenaline-juiced roller coaster of a novel, is a rookie reader's best introduction to his work. There's a delicious sense of satisfaction in seeing how Winslow has chiseled his increasingly lean prose to diamond-like precision over the course of 12 novels.... 'Savages' is both a departure and a culmination, pyrotechnic braggadocio and deep meditation on contemporary American culture."

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