Media Monday


The New York Times

  • The New York Times describes Jeanette Winterson's new memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? as "unconventional and winning," and a book that "wrings humor from adversity." The book is primarily about Winterson's relationship with her adoptive mother (who first uttered the title of this memoir), a woman whose size, fundamentalism, and derangement make her seem like a character out of fiction. Kathryn Harrison of the Times writes, "It’s a testament to Winterson’s innate generosity, as well as her talent, that she can showcase the outsize humor her mother’s equally capacious craziness provides even as she reveals the cruelties Mrs. Winterson imposed on her in the name of rearing a God-fearing Christian. 'The one good thing about being shut in a coal hole is that it prompts reflection,' Winterson observes."

  • One could argue that Sylvie Brownrigg buries the lede in her review of Carol Anshaw's novel Carry the One. The last sentence of the review compares the novel to the work of Pulitzer Prize-winner Carol Shields, stating that both authors "give readers the reward of paying close, forgiving attention to ordinary people as they illuminate flawed, likable characters with sympathy and truth." That's heavy praise. In Carry the One a group of friends at a wedding leaves together at 3am, only to have the driver of their vehicle strike and kill a ten-year-old girl. Then we follow these characters, Shields-like, through the rises and falls of their lives. But even if Anshaw treats her story with humor and humanism, can it really be as good as Shields? Brownrigg seeks to answer that question in the opening sentence of the review (so maybe she doesn't bury the lede) when she writes, "A very good book is not only more satisfying, memorable and coherent than its lesser neighbors on the shelves. It’s also more relaxing to read." True. And then a little later: "This writer knows exactly what she’s doing. She won’t let you down."


    Peter Behrens took on a tough task when he decided to write The O'Briens, "a family saga spanning roughly 70 years," which "follows four generations of an Irish family from the wilds of Quebec at the turn of the 20th century through British Columbia, California, New York, Montreal, Europe and finally to Maine in the 1960s." Reviewer John Vernon points out that such novels do best to set their characters' actions against the greater backdrop of history. "The best family sagas follow the slow-motion explosion of genes into successive generations but also set their stories against historical change, revealing its power to erode even the strongest characters." In this case, it's World War II, which "hovers in this novel’s path like flak and rips the lives of the novel’s characters to shreds. The last hundred pages are a powerful evocation of that war’s effect." For this alone, Vernon writes, The O'Briens is "a major accomplishment."

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