RaveAir MailNo one in Roth World walks into anything without ego, personal failings, biases, hang-ups—issues. And yet, as Bailey, our intrepid goy from Oklahoma, observes and reports, we always wonder, like a Philip Roth character, what’s behind that elegant prose and seamless research ... If there was going to be one person other than Philip Roth that could take on Philip Roth, it appears to be Blake Bailey. He never gilds Roth’s lilies, he never calls attention to himself, and he doesn’t even show off most of his interviews. He seems to have taken Flaubert’s advice that a writer should be like God: present everywhere and visible nowhere. He doesn’t have to tell us not to try this at home. He is behind the scenes, giving us the picture, accurately, elegantly, obscenely.
PositiveLos Angeles Review of Books\"[The book] makes you wince at times, but it is never boring or banal or predictable. It is stuffed with well-turned phrases and fresh observation ... At one level, this is an unremarkable story. Guy meets girl, cheats on other girl, excitement, guilt, and dishonesty follow. But it’s not the tale, it’s the teller ... Early Work is wall-to-wall with erudite repartee, from bar chatter to pillow talk; it is filled with the subtleties of flirtation, the details of dissatisfaction, the ironies of miscommunication ... The deception at the center of the novel is ultimately unsustainable, and things unravel accordingly. What keeps the reader engrossed is not the cheating but the writing, the author’s sharp insights into his characters.\
MixedSlateIn Hilburn’s book, Simon’s quotations never disappoint and often dazzle. But when we are in Hilburn’s prose, we are in a holding pattern: waiting for the next gem from Simon or Randy Newman or Carrie Fisher. The writing is always clean and clear. There is not a single bad sentence. But this is a prosaic account ... Paul Simon is exacting about every last syllable, every beat, every line, and even when something is a hit, he sometimes questions it ... Is this same Paul Simon going to let a writer into his head? Not one that makes him uncomfortable. So we never really feel that static because we never really feel our subject being challenged by his interlocutor ... I’m not suggesting that a biography of a major artist should be dominated by gossip, but I am insisting that it be filled with life ... Hilburn’s book, with its unprecedented access, is still not nearly enough for Paul Simon.