PositiveThe New York Review of BooksPermanent Record is an attempt to reverse the binoculars and offer a self-portrait of the man—whistleblower? leaker? dissident? spy?—who walks the earth, these days in Moscow, under the name Edward Snowden ... Snowden’s book is straightforward, admirably so. He has taken the risk of assuming that his reader is interested not only in...the brazen act that earned his fame and notoriety, but also in the formation of his personality, and the slow growth of his understanding of technology, espionage, surveillance, and human rights. Despite his gifts at computer programming, he has no interest in persuading you that he’s unusual; quite the opposite ... His memoir is also a before-and-after account of September 11. Here again, his book succeeds in the act of earnest witnessing ... How does one decide to become the dissident, the scapegoat, the whistleblower? Snowden seems as mystified as we are. It is as if one day the question simply appears, fully formed: Why am I the one who cares? ... Permanent Record peaks a bit earlier than Snowden thinks, and than the reader might expect. The intimate drama of his discoveries and self-discoveries, of the inception of his appetite for virtuality and for systems, of the rise of his patriotism in both its early-naive and late-embittered phases, of his minor adventures as an ordinary operative with an extraordinary mind, and, above all, the helpless formation of his ethical crisis—these make terrific reading. What a strangely ordinary man: Snowden’s either the least enigmatic cipher or the most gnomic nonentity ever to live. You could watch him study himself forever. Yet from the moment Snowden hits the public sphere, the book wilts ... One feels that from the instant Snowden opens the door in the Hong Kong hotel and decants himself to Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras...he’s a ghost in his own tale.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewThe frozen disaster overtaking the planet in Ice evokes that Cold-War, bomb-dreading, postwar 20th century we still, in many ways, live inside; it echoes images as popular as episodes of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone or Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle. The presentation is scattered with scenes of war, civil unrest and collective societal dysfunction, both vivid and persuasive … Kavan’s commitment to subjectivity was absolute, but in this, her greatest novel, she manages it by disassociation … The book has the velocity of a thriller yet the causal slippages associated with high modernist writing like Beckett’s or Kafka’s. The whole presentation is dreamlike, yet even that surface is riven by dream sequences, and by anomalous ruptures in point-of-view and narrative momentum.
RaveThe New York Times Book Review...enthralling and essential new study of our collective American love affair with pernicious and intractable moonshine ... Bunk is a sort of book that comes along rarely: the encompassing survey of some vast realm of human activity, encyclopedic but also unapologetically subjective ...a panorama, a rumination and a polemic at once, asks more of the reader. It delivers riches in return ...represents instead a deliberate and even violent confrontation with our determination to locate a susceptibility to bunk elsewhere, whether in the deplorable past or merely in the deplorable other ...his tone at times eccentric or amused...a reader’s feast, a shaggy, generous tome with a slim volume of devastating aphorisms lurking inside; it also shimmers with moments of brief personal testimony, glimpses of Young’s life as a poet, a family man and a black Ivy Leaguer.
PositiveThe New York Times Sunday Book ReviewAre you ready for Thomas (Screaming Comes Across the Sky) Pynchon on the subject of Sept. 11, 2001? On the one hand, his poetry of paranoia and his grasp of history’s surrealist passages make a perfect fit. Yet his slippery insouciance, his relentless japery, risk being tonally at odds with the subject … Bleeding Edge unnervingly plays footsie with 9/11 trutherism, but I think the discomfort this arouses is intentional. Like DeLillo in Libra, Pynchon is interested in the mystery of wide and abiding complicity, not some abruptly punctured innocence … In Pynchon’s view, modernity’s systems of liberation and enlightenment — railway and post, the Internet, etc. — perpetually collapse into capitalism’s Black Iron Prison of enclosure, monopoly and surveillance. The rolling frontier (or bleeding edge) of this collapse is where we persistently and helplessly live.
RaveThe New York Times Sunday Book ReviewOur appetite for Ian McEwan’s form of mastery is a measure of our pleasure in fiction’s parallax impact on our reading brains: his narratives hurry us feverishly forward, desperate for the revelation of (imaginary) secrets, and yet his sentences stop us cold to savor the air of another human being’s (imaginary) consciousness. McEwan’s books have the air of thrillers even when, as in On Chesil Beach, he seems to have systematically replaced mortal stakes — death and its attendant horrors — with risks of embarrassment, chagrin and regret … The bulk of On Chesil Beach consists of a single sex scene, one played, because of the novel’s brevity and accessibility, in something like ‘real time’...The situation is miniature and enormous, dire and pathetic, tender and irrevocable. McEwan treats it with a boundless sympathy, one that enlists the reader even as it disguises the fact that this seeming novel of manners is as fundamentally a horror novel as any McEwan’s written.