PositiveThe New RepublicCurtis’s book is much less essayistic, and more traditional [than Dana Stevens\'s new book about Keaton] ... he has produced a book almost 700 pages long and obviously slower, stodgier ... Curtis’s is a narrative history, working interviews and sources into a storyline. There are certain factual parts of the story that Stevens skips over which Curtis clarifies, like the way Keaton actually survived all those extreme stunts as a child ... Curtis substantially updates the previous \'authoritative\' life of Keaton, Tom Dardis’s 2002 Keaton: The Man Who Wouldn’t Lie Down, with new source material ... historians might prefer Curtis ... [he does] excellently in handling the sadder second half of Keaton’s career, after he signed away creative control over his movies to MGM, and gravity, mixed with alcohol, finally began to do its work.
PositiveThe New RepublicStevens is a passionate Keaton fan ... Hers is a critical biography, less bound to the track of chronology and more nimble, alert to parallels and crossed paths. She goes on long discourses through the life of Keaton’s colleagues and contemporaries, like Roscoe Arbuckle or F. Scott Fitzgerald, but her flair is for close reading ... [her book does] excellently in handling the sadder second half of Keaton’s career, after he signed away creative control over his movies to MGM, and gravity, mixed with alcohol, finally began to do its work.
PositiveThe New RepublicWhat explains the gruff-meets-bitchy tone of Putting the Rabbit in the Hat? Cox grew up poor in Dundee, Scotland, and is now 75 years old. Being willing to speak directly and with expertise, even or especially when the subject doesn’t want to hear it, is almost a moral tenet of his generation ... With his dry wit, down-to-earth, slightly macho vibe, and a technique honed across decades in provincial repertory, the Royal Shakespeare Company, Broadway, and the BBC, Cox is an economical performer and intolerant of profligacy. Like a champion swimmer, he simply has good technique and disapproves of splashing ... you can put the book down to watch (or listen, whatever) along as you read. In this respect, Putting the Rabbit in the Hat is an exemplary syllabus ... Cox has a sort of old-fashioned masculinity that means he gets to have it both ways—to be a gossip and a down-to-earth shopkeeper’s son. In the book, he’s pleasingly horrible, often in ways that are genuinely insightful. But the bluster can all be a bit convenient, especially when it comes to the stickier wickets of his acquaintance ... His excursus on \'woke\' is lamentable and best passed over quickly. Meanwhile, Woody Allen and Mel Gibson both come in for hearty rounds of endorsement, while he claims grandly and hazily that Harvey Weinstein gave him the creeps ... It’s in these sleight-of-hand moments, where Coxian acuity might actually be helpful for understanding his place in the culture, that he slips into vagueness ... Cox is a heavyweight who is clearly enjoying his limelight reprise.
RaveThe New RepublicFar from underestimating Magritte, Danchev’s picture of him is pointillist and enormous in scope. It is full of shock, for the casual Magritte fan who knows little about his life ... There is not much discussion of women in political terms in Magritte: A Life, although they appear in Magritte’s life plenty. This is perhaps the book’s one significant flaw, especially since its best surprises often occur at the intersection of Magritte’s politics and his relationship with other artists ... Biographies usually attribute weight to moments or eras in a person’s life, building a narrative which will \'explain\' the artworks, but this one attempts no such thing ... Magritte: A Life paints scenes, all taken from life, but not forced into the realist mode which can constrain works of this type.
Joel E Dimsdale
PositiveNew RepublicWe live in a time of mass persuasion, where disinformation flourishes on social media and vaccine skepticism jeopardizes America’s recovery from Covid-19. Lunatic conspiracy theories and fringe ideologies foster very real violence on the reactionary right, while marketers practice the art of convincing people to buy things at scales too vast to visualize. Dark Persuasion suggests that the language of brainwashing is incommensurate with the problems of our time, and a hangover from the era of America’s most paranoid wars … All these experiments proved was that it’s quite easy to destroy a mind with fear and lack of sleep; it is, however, impossible to then restore a person’s mind in a controlled way. No matter the extremes psychopharmacologists, behavioral scientists, and neuroscientists went to, the effects of trauma on the mind are simply too unpredictable to turn into a system. The idea, then, of ‘brainwashing’ was always a fantasy, born out of a paranoid and violent era in American history, and it blossomed in parts of the counterculture of the 1970s … Throughout Dark Persuasion, Dimsdale shows how the idea of brainwashing has been used to justify something much cruder: not the intricate manipulation of another person’s thoughts but simple abuse, whether conducted by the government or by the leaders of a cult. The term always had more political explanatory power than actual psychological basis. If it does have any real meaning, it is as a way of indicating a broader anxiety—about the threat of a hazily understood ideological foe.
PositiveThe New RepublicIn the racist trope of the unquiet Indian in modern American horror, the dead are violent by default and stuck in a kind of death match with the living. This is not what the dead do in Louise Erdrich’s writing. Nor does Tookie make Flora into a monster, even though she sort of was one in life. Instead, Erdrich’s fictional worlds bristle with the awareness that we are all ghosts-in-waiting and that the written word is a way to communicate with people both long dead and not yet born. This is how Erdrich can write a haunting story without invoking even the slightest hint of the gothic; how she blends contemporary politics with myth without breaking stride.
PositiveThe New RepublicPress’s cases are diverse and compelling ... by avoiding the seemingly obvious way into the subject, through feminism’s articulation of invisible forms of work, like Arlie Russell Hochschild’s ideas about \'emotional labor\' and \'the second shift,\' Press occasionally seems to miss opportunities to strengthen his own arguments ... may actually be stronger for the fact it does not make the broadest possible claims based on the data and stories it contains: Despite its low-key, sociological timbre, Press’s reporting contains an unusually high-feeling number of women sources, with whom Press appears to have fostered long-term trust ... By extending the concept of moral injury to the workplaces of millions of workers, Press offers readers a chance to be witnesses too.
MixedThe New Republic\"Without Musk, telling the story of Tesla might be a more straightforward endeavor—of the triumph of science and innovation over a seemingly intractable technical problem, or some other version of the Great Industrialist fairy tale. With Musk at its center, it becomes something thornier: that of a tech giant whose extraordinary leaps forward in the art of cooling down batteries justify the lavishly unpleasant behavior of its entitled leader. This tension between figurehead and technology is often spoken of as a contradiction ... The sheer number of people Musk fires in anger in Power Play is nerve-wracking just to read about ... Power Play is both entertaining and tonally unharmonious. Higgins has had to write a fairly detailed book about battery cell technology, while simultaneously painting a portrait of an idiosyncratic investor compelled to take the limelight. He cannot help but present them as two sides of a binary, whether it’s product versus engineering, man versus nature, or Elon Musk versus General Motors. Over the course of the book, what feels like confusion emerges ... The \'contradiction\' Higgins articulates (\'while Musk’s vision, enthusiasm, and determination carry Tesla; his ego, paranoia, and pettiness threaten to undo it all\') is actually an image Musk has long cultivated, making Higgins’s book not a tell-all about a founder’s personality flaws but a reiteration of Tesla’s own self-presentation.
Shirley Jackson, Ed. by Laurence Jackson Hyman
RaveThe New Republic... the letters are startlingly vivacious and emphasize her gift for invention, which she used to transform ordinary people and events into magic ... Hyman comes across as petty and cruel, a man who couldn’t remain faithful and also couldn’t seem to forgive the fact it made Jackson unhappy ... Yet Jackson’s descriptions of his antics in her own letters to friends are cutting. She’s so funny that the misery he causes seems to burn off like mist on a hot lawn ... Jackson’s letters are stuffed with wisecracks and little sketches of Hyman looking stupid ... While she makes light of her obnoxious husband, the letters also show her talent for imbuing the innocuous with malign or mysterious intentions. She seems to have been drawn to the macabre throughout her life, but it was as an adult, ensconced in domesticity, that her feel for the gothic intensified and grew more inventive ... The Letters of Shirley Jackson is a glimpse into one of literature’s most contested personal lives and the bargains she struck in order to live it.
RaveThe New Republic... the book’s purview is technically all of history, but the incredible paucity of interaction people have had with the deep sea means that most of the information here takes the form of news delivered as a dire, last-minute warning ... a manifesto for change as much as it is a description of an ecological crisis. Its overall effect is not to clarify the waters—to create something as bright and blue as a Cameron scene—but to insist that what’s already down there matters, even or especially when it is hidden from our view.
RaveThe New Republic... rather than dissect the much-analyzed power dynamics of Silicon Valley corporations, Wang capitalizes on the thrill factor. She reimagines the predicament of women in tech as a more gripping problem altogether, one in which the little ways in which women are either rewarded or disregarded are magnified by a plot with geopolitical stakes ... It’s such failures of soft skills that can destroy careers, these days, and can also make them, and it’s exactly the right place for Wang to locate her horror ... This is one of the many satisfying things about Impostor Syndrome, alongside Wang’s willingness to pit women against each other and the book’s blend of Hollywood plot values with unusually intelligent humor. For while it shares certain features with dystopian workplace books, Wang’s novel better recalls the fish-out-of-water mixed-genre screen comedy...all of which allow their female leads to be funny and likable while competent. Wang uses that flexibility to explore the power tensions inherent to the digitized world, both at the interpersonal level and at the level of international diplomacy, while never straying into didacticism. She restyles Silicon Valley’s famed \'toxicity\' around gender and race into actual poison and translates workplace politics into a caper of geopolitical consequence. Impostor Syndrome, like its two heroines, wears its greatness lightly.
PositiveThe New RepublicSuch a life, such a career, and such a death seem almost beyond explanation. But Kanigel shows that, curiously, Parry’s research tackled a comparable problem. In telling the story of his life—and his atrocious marriage, hitherto not much discussed—Kanigel unites it with Parry’s work to frame a single, massive question: What’s the relationship between tradition and inspiration? ... Kanigel’s biography shows that those definitions have led historical lives of their own, through a portrait of a man who best embodied Hippocrates’ old axiom: \'Life is short, and art long\'.
PositiveThe New RepublicAs if unsure how to control the pitch of all this emotion, Cusk has borrowed the novel’s rough conceit from Mabel Dodge Luhan’s novel about D.H. Lawrence, Lorenzo in Taos ... But we learn nothing at all about this second Jeffers, and so the form of address reads like a send-up of the epistolary novel more than an epistolary novel, with the ridiculous name of her confidant evoking a chauffeur or some other aristocrat’s professional acquaintance ... Instead of turning away from criticism, Cusk leans into the idea of protagonist as a property owner in Second Place, as if Cusk is daring the people who called her \'petty and irritable\'...for writing about being unhappy in her remodeled London house, to hate her now for being unhappy in her coastal compound. This way, the narrator becomes a little cartoonish and self-pitying, and therefore fit for the horrible burlesque that cranks into being ... This erring into the freakiness of tradition, into stories about snakes and divine revelations of knowledge, gives Second Place a looser feel than Cusk’s previous works about gender and domesticity ... she finds the limits of detachment, and the possibilities opened up by occasionally allowing oneself to be provoked.
PositiveThe New Republic... a vague sense of magical destiny and a dose of inexplicable charm ... scenes of disintegration are what lift Beautiful Things from an even-toned press release line-edited by somebody from the Democratic Party into a pretty interesting minor thriller about homelessness and drug addiction ... the best of Beautiful Things lies in the pages Biden spends with Rhea (a pseudonym), an older woman from Washington, D.C. ... Hunter (or whatever combination of ghostwriters and editors composed this book) manages to establish himself as a real human being. The advantages of his background, education as a lawyer, and clear contempt for responsibility should count against him, but the thing about addiction is that it levels people with no regard to social status, and that makes a difference to his story. Unlike the celestial owl, Hunter’s crack years do have a moral to them: the innate equivalence of all people’s worth ... Beautiful Things reminds you how powerful a force tragedy is in American electoral politics, how difficult it is to analyze, and how successfully Joe Biden has wielded its invocation in his rhetoric.
RaveThe New Republic... an unusually readable Hollywood memoir ... It’s the stuff of promotional profiles to observe that there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to a famous person, but Stone is a celebrity so classic that all the clichés seem fascinating in her case ... Insightful first-person writing about the experience of being commodified is rare; there aren’t exactly a lot of her peers around, let alone ones who can write. But Stone does seem to have written the book herself ... She’s a good storyteller ... The gossipy moments in this book are juicy...Her occasional lapses into divahood, meanwhile are frankly more entertaining to read than the more virtuous edit of the same event would have been. There’s a touch of Eve Babitz to her style ... She depicts childhood abuse with exquisite control ... Stone is a strong portraitist of the instant in time, and aware that stardom, like identity, is mostly a phenomenon of the memory—the true movie star is the one you remember compulsively, long after seeing her on screen. That person is now a memory to herself.
PositiveThe New RepublicWith this combination of abrupt acts of God, childish misapprehensions, and subtly layered thefts, The Promise thrums with the nonsensical aspect of apartheid, when white families like the Swarts experienced the historically freakish circumstance of true minority rule over a subjugated majority of nonwhite compatriots. By focusing on a small piece of land and the acrimonious, drawn-out disputes over its ownership, and keeping the narrative voice loose and roving, flitting among the Swarts’ minds, Galgut punctures their sense of their own importance with sharp doses of reality, eventually finding a nasty kind of hilarity in an era of history whose traumatic remnants still bear useful scrutiny ... just as good as all the rapturous reviews suggest, but it contributes to an already bristling quiver of fiction about white existence under apartheid.
RaveBookforumPeters simplifies nothing, explains nothing to the outsider, which is why she is treasured by readers who are also protective of her and her work ... Detransition, Baby embraces the reality that relationships, especially romantic or familial ones, place people with different styles of gender into conflicts of interest. By forcing this idea into narrative form, Peters fashions ordinary conversations out of what is often either screamed online or left unsaid ... Writing through the particular confusions facing trans characters seeking love, however, lets Peters show that fiction as an art form has a relationship to fiction as a misrepresentation ... Provocation, in her hands, becomes a method for inviting such misrepresentations into the work. The word detransition performs just this function ... A nonsensical exhortation embedded in a vaguely sexualizing form of address, somewhere between a catcall and B-movie dialogue, the title Detransition, Baby turns out to be a flash-bang strategy for confusing the oncoming reader ... Detransition, Baby has a conventional plot, as far as novels go, and its satirical bite invites comparison to novels of marriage and self-sabotage like Mary McCarthy’s A Charmed Life or John Updike’s Couples. Like those writers, Peters takes swipes at the bad ideas in her way, but only in order to formulate different ones ... This is an artful book, and in it, Peters creates a literary style out of the particulars of gendered misunderstanding ... The white-hot and scandalizing effect of Detransition, Baby burns all whose fascination compels them to reach out and touch.
Maria Dahvana Headley
PositivePoetry FoundationIt’s worth asking: what does it mean to call a version of Beowulf feminist? It’s a difficult question because the poem is arguably feminist all on its own—no assistance needed ... Headley certainly deserves credit for bringing those gender-conscious analyses to the mainstream ... Headley’s Beowulf is kindred in spirit to The Mere Wife—highly conscious of gender and modernized to the hilt—but totally different in form. Instead of changing names or places, Headley sticks closely to the original Old English text while updating the vocabulary with flourishes of internet humor ... The feminism in Headley’s translation is embedded in the texture and language of the poem itself rather than in its individual events or characters ... Her Beowulf is a tragicomic epic about the things men do to impress one another. It’s as fierce an examination of masculine weakness as The Mere Wife was of feminine strength.
RaveThe New Republic\"The novel shifts from one surreal adventure to another … [The] subplot develops the theme of true madness so that it can be understood in the main plot, which is otherwise simply full of stupidity, or folly … The stories of Alice and Amar hang, of course, in asymmetrical tension. One is born lucky, one not so much. Both are American, but one was once Iraqi, and so is subject to a total recategorization by ethnicity. Crucially, Alice’s world is an unreal adventure, while Amar’s is totally concrete. Asymmetry is a debut burnished to a maximum shine by technical prowess, but it offers readers more than just a clever structure: a familiar world gone familiarly mad.\