RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewGrossman’s evocative gifts are in full force ... reminded me of fiction’s ability to evoke an often intuited but rarely articulated atmospherics of place ... There are many stories within stories in the novel, like concentric circles whirring in the air. Some are underdeveloped...some seem like clanking, superfluous devices rather than intrinsic to the plot...and yet others are alluded to too belatedly and briefly to be successfully integrated into of the novel ... The result is a certain amount of confusion and unnecessary distraction from the main events, yet such is this writer’s skill and generosity of vision that More Than I Love My Life moves beyond its flaws to cast a spell that lingers. Grossman is especially good on women, presenting them as complex and nuanced characters, and his understanding of the opaque ways of love — sometimes subterranean, often unexpected or arbitrary — is unmatched ... David Grossman is one of our outstanding contemporary writers and I have sometimes thought that, despite all the accolades that have come his way, he hasn’t been given his full due because he happens to be an Israeli, although one who is often deeply critical of his country’s actions and moral quandaries. To read him is to understand that there is a world beyond the political, even in these re-tribalized times, one in which there is room for recognition, however incomplete and often painful, of who we are in our own eyes and in one another’s.
MixedBookforumThe book is...a pliable construct that bends to the author’s whim, consenting to be led every which way without regard for the conventions of chronology or context. The reader is implicitly held hostage as well, dependent on the biographer’s confidence and skill to steer one through the narrative, which is usually linked by a more or less persuasive conceit. The whole enterprise is a bet against large odds and the payoff can result in an exciting, even revelatory rereading. When the form doesn’t fully work, however, this approach can seem scattershot and contrived, with any fresh insights likely to get lost amid the welter of surrounding facts and details ... Wilson aims to be innovative above all, even if it means making gnomic assertions that sound profound in a sort of Barthesian way at first reading but don’t hold up to a closer parsing ... I was never convinced that the triadic arc she imposes really fits. Nor was I sure it added much to an understanding of the often conflicting forces that impelled Lawrence’s movements ... I found the references to and summations of the Comedy tedious, in addition to which they interrupted the flow of a narrative that was already insistently digressive. There are, without question, areas in which Wilson shines. She is in some ways a Lawrentian-styled explicator of Lawrence ... Wilson frees herself and us from trying to put his parts together, which, paradoxically, allows us to see him in the round ... I would venture that, if the literary fates are kind, Wilson’s unusual and vividly written approach, studded with nuggets of information and riveting quotes, might succeed in bringing Lawrence back around for another look.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review[Diski\'s] reputation as an original, witty and cant-free thinker on the way we live now should be given a significant boost. Her prose is elegant and amused, as if to counter her native melancholia and includes frequent dips into memorable images ... Like the ideal artist Henry James conjured up, on whom nothing is lost, Diski notices everything that comes her way ... She is discerning about serious topics (madness and death) as well as less fraught material, such as fashion ... in truth Diski’s first-person voice is like no other, selectively intimate but not overbearingly egotistic, like, say, Norman Mailer’s. It bears some resemblance to Joan Didion’s, if Didion were less skittish and insistently stylish and generated more warmth. What they have in common is their innate skepticism and the way they ask questions that wouldn’t occur to anyone else ... Suffice it to say that our culture, enmeshed as it is in carefully arranged snapshots of real life, needs Jenny Diski, who, by her own admission, \'never owned a camera, never taken one on holiday.\'” It is all but impossible not to warm up to a writer who observes herself so keenly ... I, in turn, wish there were more people around who thought like Diski. The world would be a more generous, less shallow and infinitely more intriguing place.
RaveThe New York Times...just as one is wondering whether there can possibly be anything new to be said, here comes Heather Clark’s Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath hurtling down the chute, weighing in at more than 1,000 densely printed pages ... as Plath and her complex, much analyzed legacy fade with the passing of successive generations, and her work grows more removed from the cultural mainstream, now seems a prime moment to revive her tale and try to bring all of its elements together ... poignant ... Clark is at pains to see Plath clearly, to rescue her from the reductive clichés and distorted readings of her work largely because of the tragedy of her ending ... there is no denying the book’s intellectual power and, just as important, its sheer readability. Clark is a felicitous writer and a discerning critic of Plath’s poetry ... Instead of depleting my interest in Plath, the book stimulated it further ... Clark’s talent for scene-painting and inserting the stray but illustrative detail (\'By January 31, the date of her last surviving check stub, she had only 59 pounds\') contributes to create a harrowing picture of the narrow confines of the London that Plath had moved to with such high hopes.
PositiveNew York Review of BooksDoherty focuses on five women: three writers, Kumin, Sexton, and Tillie Olsen; the painter Barbara Swan, who specialized in expressionist portraits dense with texture and emotions; and the sculptor Marianna Pineda, a Brookline mother of three who longed for recognition from an artistic community ... Doherty, despite suggesting that bridging the two spheres is doable with some financial assistance and mutual goodwill, sidesteps the possibility of happy compromise right in her introduction, even before she starts laying out her argument.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review... approaches the mysteries, gaps and obstacles in Tallent’s own story with the same psychological precision and elliptical motivation she applies to her fictional characters ... This central blurriness in the midst of hypercharged description, furthered by a non-chronological structure, is both fascinating and confounding. It is also, I think, exactly the tantalizingly elusive effect Tallent intends ... stunningly demonstrates that she no longer believes her own rationalizations ... a subtle and idiosyncratic account that tries to elucidate her decades-long writer’s block even as she recognizes that — as with so much in anyone’s life — she cannot fully grasp it. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a memoir quite like this, one that spills its many dark secrets with so little self-pity, so much acuity and such a deliberate lack of authorial certitude.
RaveThe New York TimesThe book, in fact, takes as its overt theme what has been the ever more insistent subtext of Carson\'s prior writing -- the \'dilemma of desire\' and the ways in which intellectual discernment (a familiarity, say, with \'the passive periphrastic\' tenses in Latin) and erotic taste often pull in opposite directions ... Carson\'s willingness to implicate herself in the discussion at hand -- her refusal to edit out the personal, even at its most pathetically lovelorn -- has become more obvious with each successive book, and The Beauty of the Husband takes her farther out on the precarious limb she has claimed as her own ... There is far less of the brainy braggadocio that has marked her previous work, especially if one looks beyond the tap-dancing around the Keatsian equation of Truth and Beauty that is invoked in epigraphs preceding each section ... I don\'t think there has been a book since Robert Lowell\'s Life Studies that has advanced the art of poetry quite as radically as Anne Carson is in the process of doing.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review...this particular book satisfies all my inchoate readerly impulses—including the primary one of getting out of my own skin and into someone else’s—in a way that, say, Donna Tartt’s more explicitly pitched The Goldfinch decidedly does not ... Nobody is Ever Missing has its longueurs, to be sure, and some of its lineaments seem a bit wobbly—I was never quite persuaded of the reality of Elyria’s New York life. But it is never less than strikingly original. By the novel’s end—which is blessedly free of even a whiff of so-called closure...we have reached the idiosyncratic heart of the human mystery: we know this person profoundly well, but she might surprise us at any minute ... Lacey has written a postmodern existential novel ... I was excited by its sustained attunement to the disjunctive universe its protagonist inhabits, and the way the writer nimbly hop-skips around, cutting squibs of arresting dialogue into the meditative sections and gimlet-eyed details ... Lacey is a very gifted writer and thinker, and if this is what post-wounded women sound like—diffident about the pain of being alive, funny and dead-on about the obstacles to being their best selves—I say bring ’em on.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review\"Whether the book works as a whole (I’m not sure it does) seems to me less important than the parts that sum it up, which in Thomson’s case contain more original insights, provocative asides and thought-inducing speculations than several volumes of a less talented writer’s efforts ... In the end, though, Sleeping With Strangers is larger than any of its hypotheses about \'the unease of straight manhood,\' or its obvious points (\'Porn is full of male hatred of women\') — or, again, its sweeping statements, replete with slightly smarmy wordplay ... Thomson is set on linking our frenetic carnality on screen to our vexed carnality in real life, and in doing so he elucidates the cultural impact of film on the shadowy areas of our collective psyche — whether it be gender, racial politics or the male pursuit of power — with an unflinching, sardonic eye ... If it is true that he sometimes substitutes free association for deep thinking and throws out aperçus just to see if they’ll stick, it is also true that Sleeping With Strangers is dazzling in the effrontery of its opinions, even when they don’t quite hold up. Thomson, a stylist extraordinaire, has written an unaccountable and irresistible book.\
RaveThe New York TimesA trauma is a trauma is a trauma. Or is it? Over the past decade, the words \'trauma\' and \'traumatic\' have been used so profligately and have entered our cultural discourse to such an extent that they have almost lost their depth-charge, the reactive implosion of psychic damage to which they were originally meant to refer. Everyone in this era is traumatized by everything ... And then along comes a book, like Kurt Eichenwald’s A Mind Unraveled, that makes you rethink not only the concept of trauma but its potential impact—the ways in which trauma can work not only to weaken but to strengthen the character of the person who has experienced it. His...memoir reads, unaccountably, like the most hair-raising of psychological thrillers ... A Mind Unraveled is inspirational in the true sense of the word rather than in a gimmicky, self-help sort of way. It is written with great verve and wisdom by someone who has closely and thoughtfully detailed his own plight as well as the journey out of it.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalThe fewest memoirists manage the sort of balancing act that characterizes Claire Tomalin’s A Life of My Own, which navigates artfully between tantalizing revelations and unobtrusive elisions ... Ms. Tomalin does an excellent job of evoking Cambridge in the early 1950s ... The pleasures of reading this book are many, not least the one of watching as Ms. Tomalin navigates the professional landscape as a strikingly attractive woman in a world of men. She deftly sidesteps offenses of the patriarchy ... I hesitate to call this book enchanting because Ms. Tomalin’s life is strewn with tragedy...but it is certainly an exceptional account, daunting and inspiring at the same time, written with no end of poignancy, humor and perspective.
Yossi Klein Halevi
RaveThe Wall Street Journal...a clarion call, not to arms but to empathy ... So rare is it to hear an uncynical voice on the subject of Arab-Israeli relations that it’s tempting to dismiss this slim but intensely felt book as naive, a soft-hearted offering of the olive branch with no takers in sight. To do so would be a mistake, for Mr. Halevi is a fierce defender of Israel’s sovereignty as well as a clear-eyed observer of Palestinian obstructionism and disingenuousness ... Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor is a profound and original book, the work of a gifted thinker whose allegiance is not so much to a religious or political ideology as to a \'discourse of spiritual dignity.\' It is, in its way, a shot in the dark, and if some readers will question its assumptions and its conclusions, none can question the humanity that characterizes its every page.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewMoore rarely condescends to her subject except when she is writing in a spirit of sophisticated disgust about politics ... She is generous, sometimes to a fault ... Her voice throughout is clear and informed, easily amused, psychologically nuanced and polished without being brocaded ... As might be expected from a stylist as accomplished as Moore, her essays about other writers are intriguing even when the book in question is minor or has been eclipsed by the passage of time — or when you don’t agree with her assessment ... If I have reservations about See What Can Be Done, they have mostly to do with the fact that the collection seems a bit overstuffed ... That said ... I found myself nestling into the book the way one does with the most gripping of novels...curious to read the next essay.
RaveThe New RepublicBy all rights, Leslie Jamison’s new memoir, The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath shouldn’t work ... And yet The Recovering bursts with insight on how we scramble together our identities, told in a voice that manages by some literary legerdemain to be both winsomely idiosyncratic and resoundingly collective ... Although several reviewers have complained that this part of the book lags, I found the disparate sobriety stories of Sawyer, Gwen, Marcus, and Shirley essential to Jamison’s book, serving to widen its scope ... The Recovering creates its own grainy context, defying all the usual tropes of addiction memoirs.
MixedThe Wall Street Journal\"The Rub of Time is divided into 16 somewhat arbitrary sections, the better to corral a wide variety of pieces, and has a yoked-together quality—as it necessarily must have, given that it contains reviews, essays and reportage written over the last 23 years. That said, there is much in this rangy miscellany that sparkles ... There are three pieces each on two of Mr. Amis’s literary idols, Bellow and Vladimir Nabokov, which showcase his talents as a close and generous reader ... Mr. Amis is a good enough political journalist and can hold his own as an entertaining, politically incorrect observer. The purely personal contributions, on the other hand, in which he interviews himself via questions submitted to a London paper or recounts his first trip to America at the age of 9, are either insubstantial or annoying; they strike me as an expense of ego in a waste of paper.\
MixedThe Wall Street Journal\"Certitude would seem to be a welcome thing in a critic; it lends his opinions ballast and force. And yet, while reading Martin Amis’s latest collection of essays, The Rub of Time,” I found myself longing for a little less of it, and for a few grace notes of tentativeness, a soupçon of doubt ... One comes away with the feeling that if he focused on the world a bit more and on his image a bit less, oh what a mighty writer he’d make.\
Sylvia Plath, ed. by Peter K. Steinberg & Karen V. Kukil
MixedThe Wall Street Journal\"I would go so far as to say that the unabridged nature of this book does Plath a disservice, encouraging even the ardent reader to skim for fear of one’s eyes glazing over at the mention of another frugal purchase or another lyrical description of the weather. Except that at some point—about 200 pages in—the close-up, almost microscopic focus began to exert its own fascination and I found myself caught up in the clean-cut, white-gloved ’50s atmospherics and the emerging facets of Plath’s complex character that together form her strong yet fragilely put-together identity … For anyone familiar with the ins and outs of Sylvia Plath’s life, these letters provide an added gloss to the known contours, tweaking her image without seriously revising it. There is, though, a certain thrill in reading along as Plath the dedicated artist hoves into view.\
RaveBookforumIt may well be the first truly feminist (in the best, least didactic sense) novel I have read in ages—the novel, candid about sex and the intricacies of female desire, that Virginia Woolf hoped someone would write, given a room and income of her own … The Woman Upstairs is an extraordinary novel, a psychological suspense story of the highest sort that will leave you thinking about its implications for days afterward. Messud’s skills are all on display here, but they seem to be in the service of a more heartfelt and profound tale than those she has previously told.
Kay Redfield Jamison
RaveThe Wall Street JournalAlthough her approach to Lowell bears some similarities to Ian Hamilton’s 1982 biography in its detailed immersion in the life, Ms. Jamison’s impassioned advocacy and attempt to understand Lowell’s bipolar experience from the inside out are at a far remove from Hamilton’s dispassionate recounting ... Kay Jamison has provided us with a remarkably poignant, in-depth (and occasionally repetitive) look at the making of art under often hair-raising circumstances. She doesn’t skimp on the damage Lowell caused, both to himself and others, when he was at his worst, which makes the insistent re-emergence of his best self an act worth marveling at, as courageous and full of stamina in its way as that of any war hero.
MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewWhat is one to make of The Genius of Judaism? Its emotional logic — which is in part the logic of an unconscious penitent, that of a secular universalist yearning to be a yeshiva bocher, engaged in daily pilpul — goes in one direction and its intellectual logic in another. And yet, even if one doesn’t agree with its predicates or its conclusions, there is a lot here that is genuinely provocative and, on occasion, insightful. If only more time had been spent organizing the book and filling in the context, this effort might have carried greater weight. As it stands now, The Genius of Judaism reads like a trawling manuscript in search of an editor — or, perhaps, a more introspective author.
RaveBookforumIn many ways, Where Memory Leads is a reshaping of the contours of the first memoir, written from the perspective of old age; it is possibly a less artful book but also a richer and more candid one, providing glimpses of the turmoil and conflicts that afflict Friedländer under his public persona and 'the construction of a normal life' ... it's hard to get a sense of his fairly dazzling ascension because he keeps sidestepping his own achievements, picking up just when a juicy job offer comes into view, attributing much of his professional and academic success to 'luck' rather than his own gifts ... Where Memory Leads is an intellectual as well as personal meditation, and among the many pleasures of reading it is the lucid and insightful analysis it provides of the Israeli occupation ... it's a tribute to his consuming honesty and taste for understatement that the reader comes away with a sense of the complexity and hesitancy that marks a life that, in other hands, might have been presented as one long triumphal march.
PositiveThe New York Times Book Review...this collection decodes subjects both Hi and Lo, from the meaning of life and the philosophy of contemporary warfare to the implications of rap and reality television ... There is more than a whiff of the student Marxist in him, but instead of narrowing his view, this slightly censorious impulse lets him see things most of us prefer to overlook ... There is, in truth, nothing that Greif writes that doesn’t have a kernel of interest at its core, even if his prose frequently bristles with abstractions ... In our dumbed-down, social-media-driven age, Against Everything embodies a return to the pleasures of critical discourse at its most cerebral and personable.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Lubow is unflagging in his effort to understand Diane Arbus and to unravel her many persistent mysteries, including 'the psychological need that had drawn her to photography: the desire not only to see but to be seen.' Diane Arbus is as digressive a biography as I’ve read in a long time, with stops along the way to provide a brief history of, say, New Journalism or to fill in the contours of the lives of Arbus’s women friends, even the ones she barely stayed in touch with. Mr. Lubow might have done the reader a favor by filtering out some of the information he has so assiduously gathered, but his 'more is more' approach also builds on itself as the book goes along, giving you the sense that you are learning about the history of photography as well as about Arbus.
PanThe New York Times Book ReviewIt would be easy to dismiss this novel, which comes bearing high praise from British reviewers, as an affront to good taste, but that would be to play into its hands. Better, it seems to me, to say that there is something too easy about its provocations, too unearned about its shock effects. [Tidhar] certainly knows his Holocaust, but the uses to which he has put his knowledge are of questionable value, suggestive of little that is enlightening about that catastrophe or the mad genius who set it in motion.
PositiveBookforum[Harman] comes without intellectual agenda other than her own curiosity; her life of Charlotte doesn’t offer a brand-new perspective so much as a subtle shift in our understanding of this 'little woman,' as her contemporary William Thackeray called her. In the process of conjuring up a Charlotte animated by a zeal to write as well as by intense feelings of love and desire for Constantin Heger, the married professor she studied with in Brussels and eventually fictionalized in both Shirley and Villette, Harman infuses her with an intriguingly modernist spirit ... A Fiery Heart is a welcome and clear-sighted addition to a growing literature, one that respects the impenetrable mysteries that still cling to the female scribes of Haworth while offering a plausible perspective on what made them into quiet revolutionaries of the nineteenth-century novel.