PositiveThe New York Times Book Review... [McEwan] has not lost his knack for intimating the unconventional -- his dark glance reminds us that normal behavior conceals but does not banish unsavory truths ... [the appendix] is an impressive transformation, the rearing up of a fictional world around summary notations from the realm of the actual. Impressive, but also curiously ballasted, as if by hewing to the highly eccentric contours of what really happened, the novelist were tethered on some deeper level. Interesting and credible though Joe and Clarissa are, there is some way in which they don\'t seem thoroughly known, as if McEwan didn\'t trust that he had permission to imagine them all the way into existence. The same constraint is felt, at times, about the developing situation: it is so unusual that it seems to lack some of the hard granularity of true invention ... The deeper implications of McEwan\'s novel begin to reach us just when we want to believe that all erratic forms of behavior have been tagged and dealt with.
David Foster Wallace
RaveThe Atlantic... not only does [Wallace] share with both a mordantly black view of modern and late-modern experience, but he also has a penchant for weaving long braids from enticingly antiphonal plots, each of which is differently absorbing, if not for its characterizations or imaginative brio then for the sharp snap of its thought, the obsessiveness of its informational reference (hence the notes), or—and—the incandescence of the writing ... comes, in time, to seem like some great clattering vehicle that is powered by a rudimentary three-stroke engine ... Each of the narrative sections has its own compelling dynamic, often against the odds. Why read countless pages detailing the Byzantine logistics of daily tennis drills? Because, for one thing, Wallace’s writing is edgy, accurate, and darkly witty ... Wallace rebuts the prime-time formula. Think Beckett, think Pynchon, think Gaddis. Think ... Wallace is, clearly, bent on taking the next step in fiction. He is carrying on the Pynchonian celebration of the renegade spirit in a world gone as flat as a circuit board; he is tailoring that richly comic idiom for its new-millennial uses. To say that the novel does not obey traditional norms is to miss the point. Wallace’s narrative structure should be seen instead as a response to an altered cultural sensibility. The book mimes, in its movements as well as in its dense loads of referential data, the distributed systems that are the new paradigm in communications ... a postmodern saga of damnation and salvation. The novel is confusing, yes, and maddening in myriad ways. It is also resourceful, hilarious, intelligent, and unique. Those who stay with it will find the whole world lit up as though by black light.
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksAnecdotal and associative, thoughtful without the usual posturing of thoughtfulness, the work attains a meditative momentum that very nearly overrides the bereavement at its heart ... The Art of the Wasted Day is not a widow book, even as the ghostly subnarrative, start to finish, is the recent death of her husband. That her sadness at the loss is felt throughout illustrates the paradox of restraint—how reticence, handled artfully, can resonate an emotion as fully as any direct expression ... The effect is of an intensified intimacy; it is at once sorrowful and affirming. Even in absence she keeps his immediacy ... A reader could easily speed through these sentences, carried along by the sway of the language, but they repay a closer attention. That \'DNA of detail,\' and the exhilarating suggestion that the precise capture of a subject can render it transcendent —these are insights that can only come after long apprenticeship, and their meanings deepen with contemplation.
PositiveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksAway from Everyman and, at least in part, toward getting inside the perceptions of the singular self — the 'I.' I say this without prejudice. The macroscopically and collectively seen Dublin of Joyce becomes the idiosyncratically inhabited Dublin of Banville ... If Joyce worked with a cartographer’s attention, using the most minute place details to create paths through the city — paths that are still regularly walked by Ulysses aficionados — Banville goes the other way. He puts himself almost entirely in the care of chance and the seemingly unscripted logic of personal association, allowing memories and digressive asides to proliferate as they will. His memoir has almost no sense of sequence. Instead, a curious constraint is imposed ... Though billed as a memoir, Time Pieces is only occasionally personal in the memoiristic way. Banville works in many pages of chatty travelogue, complete with pocket histories of this or that building or event. There are also occasional philosophical interludes, even a few teasing personal asides. Such a mash-up of things may sound like a liability — to some extent it is — but it does also free the author from his penchant for full-on lyricism ... Time Pieces comes across as a vexingly undecided little book. But though it doesn’t always live up to what had seemed its larger promise — that it will be a deeper mining of place and time — there are pleasures to be had ... Time Pieces does not find a logical place to stop. There is no real culmination, no sense of circuit completed. The book ends because — well, maybe just because everything ends.
MixedThe Los Angeles Review of BooksFor a writer reading McPhee’s newest collection, Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process, this is a sobering takeaway. It’s all about work and more work, and where’s the fun in that? ...his 32nd book, comprises eight essays, all of them originally published in The New Yorker ...differs from the others in his oeuvre by billing itself as a look into the process and craft behind that other work ... Recounting anecdotes, offering practical and anecdotal instruction. Significantly — interestingly — it may be the least interesting of his books. Something is missing ...essays take up various aspects of the writing life, ranging from the collection and ordering of materials...if McPhee has a core obsession in Draft No. 4, it is, as I’ve suggested, structure ... His impulse to elaborate detail is as strong as ever, but for some reason the vital accompanying context has lost its vitality.
Laurent Binet, Trans. by Sam Taylor
MixedThe New RepublicThe pages of The Seventh Function of Language are scattered with forensic and semiotic breadcrumbs, and for those inclined to track them they comprise part of the Barthesian ‘pleasure of the text.’ As do the madly improbable cameos by so many intellectual superstars, who chatter away, or degrade themselves with drugs and alcohol and orgiastic sex, or suffer events and fates unlike anything that is known to have befallen them in real life. But Binet’s aim is not just to send up the egos and abstracted excesses of academia, or to reveal that discourse is subject to manipulation; it is to suggest that the ultimate aim of such manipulation is to wield real political power … Amusing and unsettling enough at first, the business becomes less tenable the more wildly Binet spins out his scenarios. To maximize his effects, the novel would have to be half as long, for little is gained by the repetitions.
RaveThe Los Angeles Review of BooksFor this gathering, he admits, he has favored his pieces on photography, but he has also included a good number of literary reviews and reminiscences, as well as a sampling of political reflections and travelogues. It makes for a nice variety ... [An] alert scavenging instinct is deployed across Cole’s wide spectrum of interests and it results, as noted, in an excitingly heterogeneous mix of topics ... Happily, Cole does not confine himself to high-end journalism. In a number of his longer pieces, he shows himself to be a superb personal essayist. He knows how to control anecdote and digression, create suspense, and hold everything together with the spell of a natural, even confiding, voice.