There's a very good group of books to talk about this week, and unlike last week, there's a good representation of fiction to counterbalance the nonfiction that dominated the previous week. So without further ado...
Eleanor Henderson begins her review of Amber Dermont's much-talked-about The Starboard Sea by tipping her hat to another reviewer. "Writing in Salon in 2009," Henderson begins, "Laura Miller noted that the canon favors books about 'men in boats' over 'women in houses,' and it’s true: the boat is the beloved vessel of the Great American Novel." With a title like The Starboard Sea, you'd be crazy not to expect to see a gunnel or two by the end of the first chapter, so it appears she's on the right path. Henderson then points out, "Unless it’s that other favorite setting, the boarding school." In other words, this book is full of canon fodder. Or, as Henderson writes, "So The Starboard Sea, Amber Dermont’s engrossing debut novel about a talented young sailor at a New England academy, has the mighty wind of two traditions at its back."
At some point in his review of Robert Harris' thriller The Fear Index, John Schwartz asks, "What’s more frightening than a geek with power?" What follows is a description of a "gothic horror" that's based on the brainiac who creates something that threatens to become powerful than its creator- in this case, a hedge fund algorithm that "thrives on panic." Schwartz summarizes the book as follows: "Humans have emerged as the top predators of the biosphere, but Harris warns that a new life form, brilliant and brutal, could be emerging from our algorithms, silicon chips and fiber-optic lines." Definitely worse than a dot-com crash.
Curtis Sittenfeld describes the key to Thomas Mallon's Watergate by stating, "What Mallon captures particularly well is the fundamental weirdness and mystery at the center of the scandal." She also compares the book to "The West Wing," while admitting that it's likely a faux pas to compare a book to a movie. The point to that comparison, though, is that the normally caricatured Nixon is presented as believable, and that bases the novel in believability. "Mallon abandons the usual sweaty, paranoid caricature of Nixon, offering instead a nuanced man who can even be endearing — quite a feat for those of us in the generation for which a Nixon Halloween mask is as much a reference point as Nixon himself."