PositiveBookforumBatuman is demonstrably, incontrovertibly a good writer—but is she a good novelist? ... An awareness of Selin’s conceptual limitations is never far from the surface of Either/Or. On almost every page, the reader senses a second presence: a more knowing Selin ... Her uncertain, ingenuous voice lies somewhere between charming and grating. At times, her cluelessness seems exaggerated ... It’s clear Batuman is taking pains not only to read literature as though she did not have advanced degrees in the subject, but also to imagine herself back into a frame of mind in which the rhetorical question is the most natural way to pose a new thought and a cliché the best way to describe a strong emotion ... Confession serves a dual purpose, not only inoculating the text against potential criticisms, but cloaking it in the mantle of transgression: of course, the novel we are reading now is the one Selin thinks she’s not allowed to write ... By the end, I’d been convinced of the merits of Batuman’s experiment in life-as-art-as-art—its theoretical underpinnings, its value as feminist critique ... If only because Batuman is a wonderful writer, I hope—selfishly—that she sets out to write a wonderful novel next.
PanHarpersTo Paradise appears not to have been edited ... Though her 1893 is a fantasy in which a belief in true love, rather than any financial interests, might have prompted states to secede, she is not content to let the details remain fuzzy, and we get page after page of lengthy explanations ... Yanagihara does not have an ear for the language of the 1890s, and she alternates between the anachronistic...and the archaic ... There’s a natural temptation to treat To Paradise like a David Mitchell novel and try to connect the dots—could these Binghams be descendants of the Binghams from Book I?—but any attempt proves futile ... the rules of the world are explained ad nauseam. We get paragraph after paragraph describing imaginary future procedures for pandemic containment and eradication. Some of the specifics prove relevant to the plot, but most do not ... To Paradise transitions from multicentury gay epic to COVID-19 protest novel ... scientific narration reads like it was drawn from New York Times explainers, as if Yanagihara had been tasked with creating a fictional frame for disseminating the ABCs of pandemics ... There are real questions to be asked, and To Paradise is bold enough to raise them. But between its unlimited supply of Davids and its triptych of American history, no larger lesson emerges. It’s easy enough to depict a metanarrative of civilization’s decline if you can tweak the past to be more egalitarian than it was, and render the future more dully totalitarian than it’s likely to be. And if the antidote to dangerous ideas is didactic storytelling, I have to wonder (apparently with Yanagihara) whether the cure is worse than the disease.
MixedBookforumBirmingham sets out to provide the first \'sustained attention to what Lacenaire meant to Dostoyevsky.\' But amid summary and analysis of the novel, Dostoyevsky’s life up to the point of its completion, and the intellectual climate in Russia, Lacenaire gets comparatively little real estate. The evidence of Dostoyevsky’s engagement with the French murder case is simple ... Birmingham’s continued interweaving of the two stories can feel belabored ... [Dostoyevsky\'s wife] Anna’s dowry, her wedding ring, and even her underwear would be pawned to support her husband and his roulette addiction—but Birmingham cuts off his thread before the love story curdles into something less wholesome.