PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... provides an occasion to revisit not just her improbable life but also her sometimes revelatory work ... Such gestures toward the desire to describe—even in the absence of actual descriptions—powerfully articulate Millay’s rapture. Yet it can’t be denied that, in general, the fuller Millay’s world, the emptier her diary (a peril, perhaps, of the form) ... While the diary entries vary widely in interest level, Mr. Epstein’s biographical summations are reliably fascinating and informative, even as they can betray a certain pro-Millay slant—in his introduction to the book, he compares her, unconvincingly, to George Washington. If the poet’s battles and triumphs were less crucial than the Founding Father’s, they’re nonetheless gripping ... Hopefully the release of this complex woman’s diaries will draw readers’ attention to the complexity of her work, which offers much more than figs and ferries.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalFiona Sampson spins an intriguingly complex account of her subject ... draws energy from the drama of her experience even as it reveals her intelligence, perseverance and power ... Ms. Sampson handles beautifully the complex relationship between Elizabeth and slavery ... Ms. Sampson imitates her subject’s formal adventurousness. Between each chapter on Elizabeth come brief essays that take a philosophical lens to biography ... These interludes, while engaging, feel unhelpfully detached from the narrative and themes of Elizabeth’s life. Perhaps Ms. Sampson intends to break the spell of her own account, reminding us that biography can only do so much. But we might prefer to revel in what her biography does do: provide a refreshing, contemporary take on a poet who, no matter her bodily constraints, ranged freely over subject area, form and feeling.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal... brilliantly observant ... Howland loves a good curiosity; her business, in W-3 and throughout her oeuvre, is with the odd detail and the odd person out. Drawn to the eccentrics who populate Chicago—and her family in particular—she vividly renders the social worlds within the movie theater, the public library, the courtroom and the living room, attending to the essential strangeness of each person she describes ... Some of her most personal moments depict her reluctance to get personal ... She tends to lavish attention on her wonderful weirdos while devoting significantly less space to herself. Then again, authors reveal themselves in what they choose to reveal about others.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Travisano’s portrayal of the fear and volatility that characterized Bishop’s childhood lends depth to our understanding...of Bishop’s poetry more generally. The author suggests, compellingly, that Bishop’s inclination toward her art may stem from the baffling silences of her early life ... Bishop’s reluctance to publish clearly personal poems no doubt relates, in part, to her lesbianism—an element of Bishop’s life about which Mr. Travisano is himself puzzlingly reticent. While he gives Bishop’s many relationships their due, he neglects their social context, raising questions about how Bishop related to her sexuality. What were the prevailing attitudes toward lesbianism in the times and countries where Bishop lived? How open was Bishop with her friends, fellow writers, and employers? That Bishop was understated on the topic...no doubt explains some of Mr. Travisano’s vagueness. Still, the reader would benefit from more knowledge of what we don’t know ... Love Unknown points movingly to the many relationships that moored Bishop, keeping her together even as life—and her own self-destructive tendencies—threatened to split her apart.
RaveHarper\'s...a crucial compendium of Howland’s work ... About half of Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage consists of Blue in Chicago, a series of gritty, funny, harrowing descriptions of urban existence ... The dazzling Public Facilities offers vivid representations of the city dwellers who spend time at a public library ... When Howland isn’t portraying the strangers around her, she’s portraying her own intimates—wonderfully strange people themselves ... Howland rarely engages with the horrors of Jewish history; her Chicago Jews are fairly comfortable in their environs. And yet one senses, in her boundless fascination with the unsettled and in-between, a link to the difficulties her own group has faced ... The matter of belonging arises again and again in Howland’s writing, in every context imaginable, from the university hospital to the public library to the refugee camp to the mundane family outing. Throughout her work, Howland illuminates our seemingly limitless talent for rejecting each other, our proclivity for designing systems that absorb some of us, but never all. And yet, in noting outsiders in so many situations, she confers on them a kind of normalcy. They belong everywhere as well as nowhere.
PositiveThe Wall Street Journal\"In Byron’s Wake—written with undisguised relish by British biographer and critic Miranda Seymour—offers compelling accounts of both Ada and her mother, Annabella ... Ms. Seymour’s volume.. seeks to [portray the women fully] not by arguing for Annabella’s perfection but by portraying her in all her complexity ... Heart-rendingly, Ms. Seymour describes Annabella’s seemingly unjust rejection of her son-in-law, whom she felt had failed to adequately protect Ada.\
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewWhen the English Fall is an apocalyptic oddity of a book: a dystopian take on the utopian world of the Amish ...first-time novelist David Williams describes Pennsylvania 'plain folk' grappling with catastrophe — the destruction of the global power grid in the wake of a solar storm — even as they continue on with more tranquil activities like gathering eggs and making jerky ...novel takes the form of his diary, and his sentences proceed with Amish forbearance: His words are simple and, like a buggy-tugging horse, each pulls its weight ... When the English Fall is, slyly, a parable for climate change and for the horrifying threats it poses to the global order.