MixedThe New York Times Book ReviewSun House may beguile some armchair Montanans — perhaps some real ones as well ... But even the right-brained and the right-thinking may resist its preachiness ... Too often, this earnestness — you might call it writy-ness — makes a wish-dream of renewal feel like an epic snoozer.
Orhan Pamuk tr. Ekin Oklap
MixedThe New York Times Book Review... might pass for an old-fashioned, detail-rich Tolstoyan epic if not for all those writer-at-work signs ... And if not for its immersiveness, the book might pass for an exercise in self-reflexive postmodernism ... Pamuk’s delight in art and artifice is inextricable from his realistic accounts of disease, poisonings and assassinations, political intrigue, cultural and religious enmity, gender inequity and medical futility. Is this the production of a writer who can’t decide what effect he wants? Take it up with the author of Hamlet, a prematurely postmodern work that also leaves us with a glut of corpses, yet continually reminds us that we’re watching a play ... The very heft of Nights of Plague — as well as its thematic omnivorousness, its placement in world history, its epigraph from War and Peace and its author’s 2006 Nobel Prize — seems to declare it a contender for the heavyweight crown. But Pamuk’s too cagey to get into any ring with Tolstoy. Imposing as it seems, Nights of Plague falls short of War and Peace by the length of a middling Victorian novel; it doesn’t even outstrip The Count of Monte Cristo, another of the sultan’s favorite works of Western literature. The book’s self-conscious bookishness, not its bulk, is what presumes to elevate it from a mere page-after-page-after-page-turner. Although Pamuk lays out a traditional feast of traditional plot, character and setting, we’re never allowed to forget that this novel, however convincing in its historical minutiae (feigned and otherwise), is a novel, based on that fictive trove of letters, which the fictive narrator intends to publish when she’s done writing the fictive Nights of Plague ... more fun to reflect upon than to wade through ... a good editor might have pruned some of Mingheria’s oft-mentioned roses, as well as its lindens, pines, planes, palms, acacias, olives, peaches, lemons, oranges, figs, magnolias, cypresses, horse chestnuts and tamarinds — to mention only the trees. The characters deliver paragraphs-long expository speeches, and talk in Old Translationese spiced with the occasional anachronism ... They just don’t have sufficient inner lives to give the illusion that they’re real, knowable people. If one of them were to come leaping off the page at us, it would be a breach of aesthetic decorum.
MixedNew York Times Book ReviewThe opening sentence of The Last White Man, ...may sound overfamiliar...but who wouldn’t read on? ... By the end, a pulp-magazine premise has metamorphosed into a vision of humanity unvexed by racial animosities ... The Last White Man has an additional agenda: to destabilize not just our toxic imaginings but our conventional notions of fiction itself ... In The Last White Man, his newfound inclination to spare characters any serious trouble rises to an aesthetic principle; the renunciation of the tension that powered his earlier novels seems penitential ... The characters in The Last White Man do plenty of \'gazing,\' along with \'wondering\' and \'realizing,\' but they don’t do much doing, nor does anyone do much to them ... Not to sound crass — once you’ve got the customers into the tent (with a killer first sentence, say), you have to keep them in their seats and send them home satisfied that they’ve been through something. The Last White Man wants only the best for them, and for all of us, but such a happy denouement is hard to imagine.
MixedThe New York Times Book Review... didn’t [Theroux] notice that after Part 1 (in which Sharkey hits the homeless man and goes into a funk while Olive has a setback of her own) the book loses both tension and forward motion? Part 2 backtracks into Sharkey’s childhood and earlier life for 177 episodic pages, apparently to account for why he cares only about surfing; we’d have been willing to take his blankness as a given, assume he’d been wounded and get on with the story ... It would be a turnaround worthy of Ebenezer Scrooge — if the pre-conversion Sharkey weren’t a dullard compared to that shrewd comic gargoyle ... Although Under the Wave at Waimea has its implausibilities, this moment seems exactly right. We can accept Sharkey’s transformation into a compassionate human — you see this stuff in fiction all the time — but into a reader? An old pro like Theroux knows that the willing suspension of disbelief has its limits.
Gene Roberts, Hank Klibanoff
RaveNewsweekIt\'s hard to imagine who\'d be better qualified to tell the story of the press and America\'s civil-rights movement ... The Race Beat shows how the press and the story they covered became inextricable ... Roberts and Klibanoff, whose years of journalistic experience have clearly led them to prefer pragmatism over dogma, don\'t try to draw bright lines in this ethical murk. But they do know about decency and common sense ... The Race Beat has good characters, good yarns and good thinking. Just as important, though, it\'s got a good heart.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewVivian’s arrival at a self-knowing self-sufficiency doesn’t have quite the oomph of a heroine throwing herself under a train (Or, for that matter, of a heroine marrying Mr. Darcy.) ... Paradoxically, this open-endedness, this refusal of received literary templates, is what makes City of Girls worth reading. It’s not a simple-minded polemic about sexual freedom and not an operatic downer; rather, it’s the story of a conflicted, solitary woman who’s made an independent life as best she can. If the usual narrative shapes don’t fit her experience—and they don’t fit most lives—neither she nor her creator seems to be worrying about it.
David Foster Wallace
RaveNewsweek... truly remarkable ... We suspect Infinite Jest isn\'t intentionally that postmodern; we\'re still not sure how the two main characters hooked up to search for the MacGuffin, but we assume it\'s either because we\'re too thick or Wallace is too subtle such analysis doesn\'t get across what weird fun Infinite Jest is to read ... The enticements of Infinite Jest range from microdescriptions to macro-episodes ... As with any thousand-page book, we thought we could make some cuts-some of the inside-tennis stuff, say. But maybe we were wrong Wallace has put Infinite Jest together so craftily that one apparently nonsensical reference in the first few pages pays off 917 pages later--and makes clear where the MacGuffin was hidden. Too much fun? For those hooked on the heartfelt and straightforward, yes. Don Gately would never finish Infinite Jest. But Prince Hamlet would love it to death.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewA Mercy has neither the terrible passion of Beloved—how many times can we ask a writer to go to such a place?—nor the spirited ingenuity of Love, the most satisfying of Morrison’s subsequent novels. But it’s her deepest excavation into America’s history ... Postcolonialists and feminists, perhaps even Greens and Marxists, may latch onto A Mercy, but they should latch with care, lest Morrison prove too many-minded for them. This novel isn’t a polemic—does anybody really need to be persuaded that exploitation is evil?—but a tragedy ... In Morrison’s latest version of pastoral, it’s only mercy or the lack of it that makes the American landscape heaven or hell, and the gates of Eden open both ways at once.
PositiveThe New York TimesThe Corrections turns on a single, definingly American question: Will Mom be able to get the whole family home for one last Christmas? Franzen tucks the more momentous questions into a branching system of subplots, starring each of the main characters in turn and making each one equally sympathetic … Franzen likes his fiction smart and larky, with glimpses of scary depths and a flirtatious, on-and-off relationship with realism...the success of David Foster Wallace's epic, minutely interconnected, ultimately unresolved Infinite Jest has made a novel like The Corrections – a far less dense and demanding read – seem part of a new mainstream, in which either teasing hints of formalism dress up the randomness or irruptions of randomness juice up the formalism.
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewThese three novellas aren’t among [Harrison's] very best, but they vigorously reassert his distinctive obsessions and his distinctive voice. No one writes more persuasively about the natural world, the ways of animals both wild and domestic, rural roughneck mores, hunting and fishing, food, drinking, the writing life and, of course, male lust: reflexive, resistless, defiantly unfashionable.