Reviewing the Reviewers: A New Look at Malcolm X and More
The New York Times
Michiko Kakutani has high praise for the late Manning Marable's ambitions biography Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention: "One of the many achievements of this biography is that Mr. Marable manages to situate Malcolm X within the context of 20th-century racial politics in America without losing focus on his central character, as Taylor Branch sometimes did in his monumental, three-volume chronicle of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. At the same time Mr. Marable provides a compelling account of Malcolm X’s split with the Nation of Islam as he moved away from that sect’s black nationalism and radical separatist politics, and as personal tensions between him and the Nation leader Elijah Muhammad escalated further after Muhammad impregnated a woman who had had a longtime romantic relationship with Malcolm X."
Jincy Willet is impressed by the surprising depth of The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer, a novel about a wind that breezes through a small town and takes with it all women's desire to have sex: "Although The Uncoupling is enchanting from start to finish, that owes less to the spell than it does to the way Wolitzer liberally and inventively populates her storytelling. When writers turn to the supernatural, their characters often suffer, losing dimension and I.Q. points as their creators bat them around. But Wolitzer has too much respect for her craft to let this happen.
Poet David Kirby recommends David Orr's Beautiful and Pointless: A Modern Guide to Poetry for poetry fans both serious and casual: "True, no poem speaks to us as directly as a stop sign or a Star of David. But nobody listens to a Jay-Z song and says, “Hmm, I wonder what he meant by that,” and a well-made poem works the same way. Susan Sontag once wrote an essay advocating “an erotics of art,” and that’s the main point of Orr’s passionate, nimble little book: that poetry is for lovers, not cryptologists."
The Washington Post
Steve Donoghue draws a flattering comparison between Raymond Chandler's work and An Evil Eye by Jason Goodwin, a detective story set in the Ottoman Empire: "The complicated plot that unfolds is deftly controlled throughout, with dangers, chases, intrigues and frequent trips back to the harem. Goodwin’s prose is sharp and surprising (about that dead Russian we’re told, 'His skin had wrinkled in the long immersion under water, soft and ridged like the white brains of sheep laid out for sale in the butcher’s market'), and the best part of the entertainment is none other than Yashim, a redoubtable, philosophical hero who finds himself in a dirty, battered world yet still holds out hope: “I think there is always a little gap somewhere, however hard you try to fit everything together. A small space, for something like grace, or mercy.'"
Jeff Turrentine talks about David Foster Wallace as the voice of a generation in a discussion of the late author's newly released The Pale King: "The American author who will surely be remembered as one of our era’s most distinct literary voices knew that all the noise of modern life, including its literature, is really just our collective attempt to stave off “this terror of silence,” as he puts it — the same terror that tormented Beckett’s tramps, waiting there by the tree. “I can’t think anyone really believes that today’s so-called ‘information society’ is just about information,” David Foster Wallace wrote before he took his own life, in the last novel that would be published under his name. 'Everyone knows it’s about something else, way down.'"
The Los Angeles Times
Jonathan Kirsch admires the strong dilemmas in H.G. Adler's novel Panorama, written in 1948 and recently translated from German: "So "Panorama" can be a challenging book, and Adler himself offers it to the reader as an earnest effort to enter a mystery that is ultimately impenetrable. '[W]hen I was deported I said to myself, I won't survive this,' he told a television interviewer in 1986. 'But if I survive, then I will describe it ... and the fact that I have done so is not that important but is at least some justification for my having survived those years.' It's hard to imagine a greater undertaking, moral or literary, by the author of a novel, and Adler has surely achieved what he set out to do."
High praises from Tod Goldberg for Madison Smartt Bell's The Color of Night: "Maybe it's just that violence has always led to voyeurism, but for Mae, the narrator of Madison Smartt Bell's uncomfortable, yet electric novel The Color of Night, an event like the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center engenders another sensation altogether: erotic nihilism. She cuts hours of carnage into "two perfect hours of tape with no commentators or gabbling" and watches the "glittering windows like soap flakes swirling … and the tower shuddered, buckled, blossomed and came showering down." She watches the footage repeatedly, stopping only to admire her naked self in the mirror and check for visible scars of her own destructive life and to view the frozen image of a bloodied woman on the screen. That she recognizes the woman as Laurel, her former lover, is the kind of happenstance that might sink another novel, but The Color of Night is soaked in the radiance of fatalism, with disparate historical elements tethered to Mae by horrific violence."