RaveNew York Journal of BooksDavid Means has long been acknowledged as a present-day past-master of the short story. And in this, his seventh volume, he extends his range ... The stories are not always simple to follow or track in terms of throughlines ... It’s masterful, really, and characteristic of the way Means moves—from the specific to the general and back again, without a hitch in his stride.
PositiveThe New York Journal of BooksMantel manages to describe life in an insular village in northern England in the 1950s as if it too were history and, even in its trivia, not to be trifled with. Although this effort is more modest than that of the great trilogy, there’s the sense of a lost place and time recaptured here as well ... a deal of mordant wit ... There are many lines one wants, while shivering, to quote ... Few contemporary authors have so stern and spare an aesthetic, even when the language grows —as in these quotations—ornate. What Mantel provides in Learning to Talk is a vision of constricted life that enlarges on close viewing. Thomas Cromwell—that gimlet-eyed witness to human ambition and folly in the 16th century—would find an inheritor here.
PositiveThe New York Journal of Books... Dolnick does a first-rate job of storytelling; his scenes are vivid and his cast of characters wide-ranging. Too, he writes with wit ... A goodly portion of this work instructs us in the art of reading—or, more properly, deciphering the signs and signifiers of the lost Egyptian alphabet. We take small side trips to decoding Linear B and cuneiform, the Zodiac cipher ,and the Nazi Enigma machine. But the bulk of this inquiry takes us through a tortious process of deduction, the way to see a cartouche representing Ptolemy or Cleopatra or the female pharaoh Hatshepaut. It’s a heady business: full of pitfalls, pratfalls, wrong turnings, and dead ends.
MixedThe New York Journal of BooksMost novels reach a climax or at least a dénouement. We’re asked, as readers, to believe a book’s characters change and grow, but are offered scant evidence here. Our narrator at journey’s end resembles the narrator at story’s start; it’s hard to see what changed ... What we have and take away from the experience of reading Whereabouts is its sonority, its verbal precision and play ... the strength of this slim book lies in its particularity. Passage after passage offers detail after detail, and these are always vivid and persuasive. The landscape, whether rural or urban, is carefully limned; the spoken encounters compel attention, and the train rolls on.
PositiveThe New York Journal of BooksThis brief book does much to remind us of the ways that literature lasts. The back and forth between an author, a text and its reader is, or should be, an ongoing one. And Kim McLarin’s bookmarked discussion of the enduring resonance of Another Country—though she does not include or date it in her list of \'Works Cited\'—is one writer’s testimonial to how the language lives. The \'obligation beyond herself\' is indeed a vital lesson, and one she both teaches and learns.
PositiveThe New York Journal of Books[Barnes\'] knowledge is encyclopedic, and his attitude bemused ... The book is lavishly illustrated, almost as though its author pages through an album of celebrities ... At times this portrait of a period can seem over-detailed. There’s a kind of cultural name-dropping that may seem relentless ... interspersed throughout this compendium are—to continue in the Gallic mode—bons mots and apercus ... Such sentences enliven every page. Barnes is a delightful raconteur, and there’s a good deal of first-person rumination here throughout. His love of detail is infectious, his eye exact, and his narrative energy compelling. We could not wish for better company, except perhaps for that of Dr. Pozzi himself, The Man in the Red Coat.
RaveNew York Journal of BooksThe Illness Lesson...is an astonishing book. Its opening paragraph establishes tone, and that tone is notable: a mix of closely observed physical gesture and spiritual abstraction ... The novel’s plot is slowly paced but with a gathering horror and in the Gothic mode ... There’s enough suspense and mystery engendered—What to make of those beautiful and vengeful birds?—so the plot-twist of the ending should be kept a surprise. Suffice it to say that Beams shows a kind of mastery in yoking the natural to the surreal and linking grief and fear to rage.
PositiveThe New York Journal of BooksChristopher Benfey reminds us of both the merits and demerits of both the man and work ... The studies of this writer’s life and work are numerous; yet taking his full measure remains no easy thing. Still, If offers compelling research, information, and speculative insight. It reminds us all that we should read Kipling again.
RaveNew York Journal of Books...[an] astonishing new novel ... It’s a dizzying performance—12 such tableaux of roughly 10 pages apiece—in which a world is both described and circumscribed. Always, the relations are strained, always the hunt for stability is foredoomed by \'turbulence,\' and each of the novel’s personae feels at risk. Yet somehow the mood of the book is cool, dispassionate, as though the writer looks down on human scenery from an airplane’s height ... Szalay’s prose is lapidary and his range impressive. He seems equally at home describing a wealthy businessman in the back of a chauffeur-driven limousine and a gardener in a hot shack who never once has entered his employer’s house ... It’s inescapably the case that each of these stories are truncated, and the reader cannot linger or savor encounters at length. At times the structure feels merely schematic, and it would have been welcome to pause or flesh out the characters. In Euclidean geometry, the whole is always equal to the sum of the parts. But David Szalay’s art accomplishes what arithmetic can’t: The whole adds up to more than its individual components, and in sum his Turbulence is a tour de force.
PositiveNew York Journal of Books\"At times the language can grow strained ... By and large, however we’re invited to relinquish the stern exigencies of realism and to go along for the ride. To insist on plausibility is to miss most of the fun. There’s a lilting music to this writer’s sentences, a love of language throughout ... The reader won’t be [disappointed]. There’s neatness to the plot’s loose ends and a wholly satisfying if unexpected conclusion.\
Charles J. Shields
PositiveNew York Journal of Books\"Charles J. Shields... serves his subject well. This is neither an easy writer nor—on the basis of these pages—an easily approachable one ... Shields does not wholly cotton to his subject. And his indictment can be general ...
The throughline is the writing, and the writing soars ... Charles Shields has done us all a service by pointing up and pointing out the novelist’s unyielding ambition and rigor. By Stoner’s end both the book’s eponymous hero and his creator find honor on the page.\
PositiveNew York Journal of Books\"Pleasure is the operative word as one turns and turns these pages. To spend hours in this writer’s company as he records the days and years is to have an instructive and unfailingly urbane companion.\