MixedPublic BooksA Wonderful Stroke of Luck is, weirdly enough, [Beattie\'s] Millennial novel, unapologetically and explicitly so ... Instead of plot, it has an entropic deflation of events: things threaten to happen but never quite do, cooling weakly into fragmented memories. Take Sentimental Education and eliminate 1848; take and eliminate fascism ...The novel has the mesmeric quality of remembering late youth, its chaos and loose ends, the sweet taste of being free to make bad decisions, the astringency of their potential consequences ... There is no general artistic obligation to be up to date, yet Beattie’s art always thrived on its disenchanted kind of currency. In A Wonderful Stroke however, the entire tonality of the novel seems anachronistic in relation to its material. It is on the one hand too insistent on alienation ... But on the other hand, there is another of Beattie’s familiar tones, which gives the anomie its gentleness: a sense that if the world is static, it is at least durably so ... Disaster doesn’t threaten so much as slow soft decline. That has always been Beattie’s note: the sheer reliability of the world’s ordinariness, alternately disheartening and comforting, so resistant to melodrama. She does it justice better than almost anyone else in her generation; it’s at the core of her realism. But a later generation likely will find it hard to credit. What if, instead, absolutely everything feels unstable, rickety, in a terminal state of emergency? What if decline and its moods no longer suit?
PositiveThe Atlantic\"Miller is unafraid of anachronisms and applies them vividly ... Miller delves eagerly into the menacing, male-dominated world of magazines and publishers ... Compared with the anodyne picture of the culture industry in most scholarship, Miller’s portrait is detailed and tenaciously cynical—and truer. In her hands, Landon’s story is a recognizably modern tragedy, that of the female artist forced to earn attention by reshaping her exploitation into a febrile glamour, knowing all the while that eventually titillation will become condemnation.\
Laurent Binet, Trans. by Sam Taylor
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewAt once a buddy-cop plot, a fish-out-of-water comedy and a spy thriller, Bayard and Herzog’s adventures become exercises in incongruity ... Along the way, no small pleasure is to be had from the amusing, sometimes scabrous, satirical portraiture of illustrious figures ... On its surface it’s a romp, then, a burlesque set in a time when literary theory was at its cultural zenith; knowing, antic, amusingly disrespectful and increasingly zany as it goes on ... The parodic idea of a world where secret agents and government ministers pursue the insights of literary theorists ends up less a pointed satire than an occasion to gather a crowd of beloved figures into one narrative — and maybe a way to mask affection ... The baroque workings of the novel’s detective plot spin into dizzying exhaustion. What works best here is a quality reminiscent of Barthes: the narrative’s attentiveness, particularly to sharp details that resist the effort to read them as clues.
Grace Paley, Ed. by Kevin Bowen
RaveThe AtlanticIf the Reader was intended as a memorial, published a decade after her death, it now seems more pressing—a necessary antidote to the current demoralization of the American left and the disorientation of what remains of the country’s center ... There are no easy conversions here, and while Paley has a stern understanding of her political enemies, she refuses to soften into acceptance. Instead she dwells on protracted acts: long, difficult conversations; long, painful vigils; many drenching nights and blazing days without obvious results. They are what the stories give us, fragmented into brief, vivid glimpses. Of the voices of mid-century American radicalism, few could ever make perseverance seem so vital.
Joyce Carol Oates
PositiveThe New York Times Book ReviewOates bounces here between these critical modes. These essays are often carefully undogmatic. But at times a philosophy creeps in ... A high-modernist, Promethean vocabulary — by now its own kind of consensus — is her touchstone of praise: the unsettling, the rebellious, the subversive. Perhaps as a result, Oates is most engaging when thinking about more eccentric, even marginal, writers ... It is a Romantic aesthetic, this restlessness for the open and unfettered. The room or the view? How you answer that question will go some distance toward determining how useful a literary guide you find Oates.