PositiveHarpersIf you read the books in order, you might find Stella Maris...coldly underwhelming despite, or perhaps because of, the erudition of the twenty-one-year-old, debatably schizophrenic, suicidal math genius Alice Western ... McCarthy is not interested in the psychology of character. He probably never has been. He’s interested in the horror of every living creature’s situation. Brilliant, beautiful Alice is barely believable as a female human being. And why should she be? ... Alice is the sturdy vessel for McCarthy’s thinking. Perhaps too sturdy a vessel; one might prefer a bit of spillage, some froth, some fun.
RaveHarper\'sThe novel is dizzyingly, meticulously constructed, the orchestration of time—of passage, essentially—conducted rigorously, unfathomably, like a mathematical inquiry into the spiritual. For all the classic McCarthy turns here—the rowdy regionalisms and high rhetoric, the attention to the gear and tackle and trim of working life, the stratagems of music and conspiracies and spending gold, the stuff of things built, houses, oil platforms, violins—the primary, the overwhelming subject is the soul. Where can it be found? By what means does it travel? Is it frightened when we take leave of it? Can it find rest in the darkness? ... This is a book that demands that we pay attention, an outrageous skirting of today’s rules of literary engagement.
RaveBook PostThere were many obstacles [in writing this biography] and Angier had no choice but to ignore them, skirt them, plough over them, turn them to her purpose. She is tenacious, unthwartable, courteous, sympathetic, creative in approach ... She places Sebald’s work squarely in the literature of the Jewish Holocaust but when she more subtlely and heroically examines the writing and pursues the quiet, considerably cloaked life, her approach becomes more nuanced, more befittingly complex ... So captivating, so intelligent has been her tale. The prohibitions explain the increasingly non-linear approach of Speak, Silence as it progresses, the ghostliness of W. G. \'Max\' Sebald, his absence from the very livingness of his life ... Angier retreats for forty pages to the remarkable books, analyzing their imagery and patterning, the sourcing and merging of their characters, the blending of the stories and lives and texts of others. This is fascinating and meticulously researched.
RaveBook Post... marvelously executed and absorbing ... In his novel about Mann’s life, Toíbín deftly omits descriptions of the great works, he brings us right up to the about-to-open door. The Magician is the story of everything that went on around that door. The effect only emphasizes the mystery of artistic transmutation ... There is so much to admire and enjoy in The Magician, not least of which is the mastery and wit of the telling ... Toíbín’s intelligence is great as his knowledge of literature and his empathetic imagination. He’s a magician too, a conjuror, but he reconstructs ghosts rather than banishes them. And it’s become clear that in his estimable body of work he’ll take on the cloaked lives of anyone.
MixedBookforumIn her new biography Clairvoyant of the Small, translator Susan Bernofsky admits that little is known about Walser’s final decades (certainly a great deal was going on outside the oblivion of Walserworld at this time), but when he was publishing he was known and admired ... Bernofsky is deeply fond of Walser ... he loves his syntactical and semantic complexity, his impulsive aleatory connections, his permeating irony, his verbal opulence, his neologistic compounds, his relativizing adverbs, his empowering way of rejecting power ... Clairvoyant of the Small [...] accumulates with details of no great import, such as a lengthy list of Walser’s known addresses ... An unwaveringly committed fan, Bernofsky is often tempted to float above some of her subject’s more unsettling behavior.
RaveBook Post... superb ... palliative not in the least and any \'hope\' it offers is an inclusive but spiritually explosive one. It is a remarkable book and it serves Literature in the most insistent, dedicated, and demanding manner ... Any novelist writing at this moment should write in such a way that no reader can remain indifferent or feign ignorance or innocence of our role in the subjugation of the world, our brutal and heedless subtraction of her wonders, the fact that plastic and ash will be our legacy. The Novel, the most sociable of the arts, must no longer tread the same familiar arid anthropocentric paths ... There is an ending before the ending here. It is extravagant, savagely memorable ... Flanagan’s novel is brave enough to say It’s not about us any more. It really isn’t.
MixedBookforum[Stone] was always accepting assignments because he was almost pathologically restless and because he tended to procrastinate on the promised big productions. The nonfiction can show him at his most playful ... Only the inclusion of \'Coda,\' written two years before his death and never before published, is an editorial mistake. It is rambling, mawkish, and seems to be addressed to his \'small, loyal band of readers on whose love I have lived.\' ... I don’t even want to believe he wrote this.
MixedBook Post...a swift, abrasive, seemingly merciless book about the horrors that await us in our very near future ... David Wallace-Wells, speaks American, as Don DeLillo would say, or the well educated, articulate, ironic, vaguely amused, capable-of-being-engaged-yet-not-really-caring variety of American ... Right away, on page 6 actually, Wallace-Wells sassily and sincerely identifies himself just so you know there’s no need to feel guilty about anything. He is not an environmentalist ... A bit later comes this announcement: \'In the course of writing this book, I did have a child …\' Rather vaingloriously put, perhaps, but once again reproduction is presented as the path of optimism ... This frothy, possibly even deranged enthusiasm, is front-loaded at the beginning of Uninhabitable and reappears only at the end when Wallace-Wells speaks of the new stories, the new metaphors and parables that our children (and their children’s children of course) will employ as they journey through the sparse and bony future ... Stylish jacket aside, the catchy title, The Uninhabitable Earth, is a bit of a misnomer because Wallace-Wells envisions the earth still inhabited by the likes of us, just nothing else ... Wallace-Wells’s major suggestion though is that we demand policy change. Which is so...quaint ... Uninhabitable is a text for the informed and the secularly comfortable. Reading it can make you feel bad but not bad enough to tear yourself apart. The cake was baked while we were eating pie.
Tatyana Tolstaya, Trans. by Anya Migdal
RaveBookforumTolstaya is divinely quotable—slangy, indignant, lyrical, crude. She picks you up—you’re light as a feather—and carries you along. You’re blown this way and that, cuddled and cast down, mocked and treasured. You don’t know where you’re going. None of it makes a lick of sense. It’s all detritus. It’s all sublime. The important becomes unimportant ... It is difficult to convey the gaiety and breadth of Tolstaya’s witchy craft.
PositiveThe New York Times Sunday Book ReviewRussell is no coy or mannered mistress of the freaky. Much of the pleasure in reading her comes from the wily freshness of her language and the breezy nastiness of her observations … A grim, stupendous, unfavorable magic is at work in these stories. They are not chicly ironic or satiric and certainly not existentially or ethically curious (though punishment for childhood cruelty is pretty much self-inflicted and eternal in ‘The Graveless Doll’). The innocent do not fare well, not the funicular ticket girl in the title story nor the obedient boy attempting to deliver an all-important window in an unworldly blizzard over bone-strewn prairie … Many of the stories are marvelous, but the collection is marred by the inclusion of the overlong and uncharacteristically sentimental ‘New Veterans’...and the rather mundane tale ‘The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979.’
RaveBookforumThis is, unfortunately, not a terrific title—too arch, and a puzzling prompt for a reader unfamiliar with the style and delights of Berlin’s tough, joyous, and slantwise sensibilities. Lydia Davis, in her excellent foreword, speaks of the 'buzz and crackle' of Berlin’s stories, her companionable and engaging voice, her clarity and unpredictability. Davis finds her writing 'exhilarating.' And it is. It’s swift and real. She is never mannered, never false or corrupt. She serves up perfect slices of life’s pie on clean cracked plates.
PanBookforumThis—seeing herself as a suicide-loss survivor first and foremost—is the most egregious aspect of the book ... Sue, we don’t find you responsible for the massacre at Columbine High School. But we don’t want to hear any more about your survival mechanisms, or your work on behalf of 'brain health,' or your gastrointestinal issues, or the feeling you had on the day Dylan was born that a big dark bird of prey was passing overhead ... We just wish you hadn’t written this offensive, self-serving, mendacious mephitic book.