RaveWall Street JournalA second translation arrives as an affirmation of enduring value and an implicit admission of shortcoming: We didn’t do you justice the first time around ... Such is the fate of the magnificent Icelandic writer Halldór Laxness, whose early novel Salka Valka, first rendered into English in 1936, now sports an able, fresh translation by Philip Roughton that restores some vital passages in the process ... This is a better novel (richer, deeper) than anything else you’re likely to meet this year. Its people are as real as you or me—as are its shorebirds and its blizzards and its dreams and its cows ... This is Laxness’s keenest portrayal of romantic love ... Icelanders have long taken justifiable pride in the centrality of women in Laxness’s fiction. Arguably, his finest creations are female: fanciful girls, disillusioned young women, desperate mothers, maundering but sage old ladies.
Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, Tr. Anthony Chambers and Paul McCarthy
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalThat there are still delights [by Tanizaki] to be uncovered, however, is confirmed by the arrival of Longing and Other Stories ... Better work was yet to come, but the stories are satisfying in themselves and additionally pleasing for their hints of an emergent mastery ... At times (some of the best times in his fiction), Tanizaki seems more poet than novelist. For one thing, his characters are often literary folk, given to quotation. For another, he nurtured a poet’s ardor for isolated, self-illuminated images, the remoter the better. In his historical fiction he was forever plunging across the centuries to seize upon some neglected but glittery tableau.
MixedThe Wall Street Journal... appealing ... Mr. Bate’s radical focus is less political than literary. He illuminates Wordsworth’s poetic originality ... Mr. Bate clarifies some of the ways—multifarious, incongruous—in which Wordsworth marshals various voices to forge the complex tone of The Prelude ... Mr. Bate sees the 1805 version of The Prelude, as I do, as the zenith of Wordsworth’s art. But with a charming forthrightness rare in academic biographers (he’s an Oxford don), he goes a step further ... Given this conviction, Mr. Bate was probably wise to offer readers a mere \'lightning sketch\' of Wordsworth’s final decades. But it’s as though Wordsworth’s creative enervation saps Mr. Bate’s own analytical powers; the book’s final 150 pages, encompassing more than half of Wordsworth’s life, feel piecemeal and perfunctory. And the book’s subtitle—\'The Poet Who Changed the World\'—feels unearned; there’s no adequate discussion of Wordsworth’s ramifying influence down the ages.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Kaplan’s take on Irving Berlin is a more streamlined and sedate affair. But—like the Sinatra books—propulsive and appealing ... Perhaps to protect Berlin from those sentimental trappings that could easily enwrap the composer of A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody” and White Christmas and God Bless America, Mr. Kaplan is sometimes guilty of romanticizing and roughening his subject.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalOne of Ms. Tyler’s most appealing talents is difficult to illustrate in brief, as it’s typically the happy outcome of page after page of careful accretion: a gift for evoking the moment when the heart goes out, when a mute call for sympathy sparks a responsive note in another’s breast ... Clock Dance is a double Cinderella story. Readers will quickly gather that Willa has embarked—willy-nilly, not always consciously—on a psychic transformation. What clarifies more slowly is that Cheryl is likewise metamorphosing ... If Willa’s journey is ultimately less moving than, say, Macon’s in The Accidental Tourist, I blame Peter, Willa’s husband. He’s a good provider, I suppose, and intelligent and good-looking. But there’s nothing formidable about him, and Willa’s gradual emancipation from his self-absorption and condescension lacks the drama that might arise were he more oppressor than pest.
RaveThe Wall Street Journal...it seems patent to me that Anne Tyler is the most dependably rewarding novelist now at work in our country ... One of Ms. Tyler’s most appealing talents is difficult to illustrate in brief, as it’s typically the happy outcome of page after page of careful accretion: a gift for evoking the moment when the heart goes out, when a mute call for sympathy sparks a responsive note in another’s breast ... In her fertility, she has created a series of worlds giving onto a larger world, one governed by its own pattern of artistic and emotional expectations. Fans can speak meaningfully of an \'Anne Tyler novel\'—as you might of a Faulkner novel.
Todd S. Purdum
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalRodgers and Hammerstein have inspired a spate of books and articles over the years, and anyone acquainted with this literature will traverse much familiar ground in Something Wonderful. But Mr. Purdum has dug up some fresh material as well, and the result is a neatly proportioned study of a reasonable length and a commendable clarity. Mr. Purdum mostly avoids that perennial pitfall of Broadway books, the exhaustive cataloguing of minor revisions and cast-changes as a play wends from out-of-town tryout to Broadway opening ... Where Mr. Purdum is perhaps most helpful is in reminding us of the bold breadth of the business—in the broadest sense—of the Rodgers and Hammerstein partnership.
RaveSlateIn a dark book—My Father's Tears is probably the bleakest of any of Updike's story collections; for all the gorgeous prose, death and the disabling indignities that are its forerunners are ubiquitous—’The Walk With Elizanne’ strikes a welcome counter-note. It scintillates with Updike's conviction, borne out in a lifetime of devotion to the writing desk, that the amassing of sharp-eyed observation can be salvational.