Old Media Monday: Reviewing the Reviewers
by Lynette Mong on September 20, 2010
New York Times:
- Aimee Bender on Room by Emma Donoghue: "Donoghue navigates beautifully around these limitations. Jack’s voice is one of the pure triumphs of the novel: in him, she has invented a child narrator who is one of the most engaging in years — his voice so pervasive I could hear him chatting away during the day when I wasn’t reading the book. Donoghue rearranges language to evoke the sweetness of a child’s learning without making him coy or overly darling; Jack is lovable simply because he is lovable."
- Julie Myerson on Sourland: Stories by Joyce Carol Oates: "Oates has written about the grief and shock of her first husband’s death in 2008, so it’s not surprising that loss and bereavement are dominant among the collection’s themes. But don’t expect a widow’s resignation. Don’t expect timidity. This book is angry and tough and deeply, viscerally unsettling, not least because Oates seems determined to explore the idea that the bereaved wife is a kind of guilty party, a victim who in some way deserves everything (and it’s usually a violent 'everything') that comes her way."
- Holly Morris on The Wave by Susan Casey: "The relationship Casey builds between investigating big waves nautically and scientifically — and riding them — feels at times like a marriage of convenience: not entirely sympatico, but by and large the partners hold their own. Casey is fluent in 'gnarly' and proficient in 'wonk,' and she writes lucidly so the rest of us can come along for the ride."
- Steven Strogatz on Proofiness by Charles Seife: "Seife, a veteran science writer who teaches journalism at New York University, examines the many ways that people fudge with numbers, sometimes just to sell more moisturizer but also to ruin our economy, rig our elections, convict the innocent and undercount the needy. Many of his stories would be darkly funny if they weren’t so infuriating."
- Connie Schultz on Big Girls Don't Cry by Rebecca Traister: "By the middle of Chapter 2, Traister's book felt increasingly like the minutes of the Mean Girls Club -- and a waste of this 53-year-old woman's time. But with age comes patience. Good thing, too. I ended up admiring Traister and loving her book. In its best parts, it is a raw and brave memoir of a journalist who discovered that all is not well for women in America, and a description of how she and other young women are laying claim to their rightful place in the fight."
- Eugene Rogan on The Balfour Declaration by Jonathan Schneer: "British historian Jonathan Schneer has produced a remarkable book on this complex and divisive subject. His 'Balfour Declaration' is engagingly written, adding to our knowledge of this frequently told story without ever taking sides."
- Charles Kaiser on American Dreams by H.W. Brands: "Brands does a passable job of summarizing the facts behind major political events, but when it comes to social and cultural change, he never has anything interesting to say. The author avoids controversy so assiduously that his book sometimes reads as if its main purpose were to win acceptance by the Texas Board of Education, which decides what facts are appropriate for high school history books."
Los Angeles Times:
- Wendy Smith on Yellow Dirt by Judy Pasternak: "Studded with vivid character sketches and evocative descriptions of the American landscape, journalist Judy Pasternak's scarifying account of uranium mining's disastrous consequences often reads like a novel — though you will wish that the bad guys got punished as effectively as they do in commercial fiction."
- David L. Ulin on Zero History by William Gibson: "In the end, this leaves 'Zero History' oddly unfulfilling, like a facsimile or a knockoff in which the material that once felt so fresh has come to be a little worn. Gibson may have had to improvise a new kind of science-fiction novel in the wake of 9/11, but the cultural implosion that the tragedy set in motion is now the substance of daily life."
The Globe and Mail:
- Lynn Coady on The Death of Donna Whalen by Michael Winter (amazon.ca only): "The adjective I would have chosen previously to describe Winter's style is 'expansive.' Here, however, he has produced a novel that feels in some ways like moving through a tunnel – narrow, focused, deliberate while at the same time gloomy in the literal and figurative senses of the word. The deeper you go into 'The Death of Donna Whalen,' as one character's divergent, often self-contradictory perspective is layered on top of another's, the more obscured your vision becomes."
- Matt Kavanagh on Zero History: "A standout thriller and vital introduction to Gibson’s trademark style, 'Zero History' also bears the burden of a final volume in a trilogy: tying up loose ends and bringing the overall narrative to satisfying close."
- Blake Morrison on Freedom by Jonathan Franzen: "All the characters in 'Freedom' have periods – long periods – of being on their own, and try to embrace the isolation... But people need their chains – of work, marriage, family. The subtext of 'Freedom' is something Franzen himself learned while blocked and depressed in the 1990s – that anyone suffering from 'an overwhelming estrangement from humanity' needs to get out more. Other people might be hell, but loneliness is worse."
- Jacqueline Rose on To the End of the Land by David Grossman: "'To the End of the Land' is without question one of the most powerful and moving novels I have read. But we do the novel, and Grossman, no favours if we turn it into a sacred object, beyond critical scrutiny and outside the reach of the history to which it so complexly and sometimes disturbingly relates."