RaveThe New CanonIn each of these stories, Wallace establishes himself as the modern-
day master of the run-on sentence, able to rival even José Saramago
and Thomas Pynchon in his elongated periods. Yet his range of attitudes in presenting these excursions is seemingly endless, moving from the clinical and theoretical to the psychological and confessional. Often two seemingly contradictory tones fight for dominance of the same sentence, a masterful achievement on the part of the author, and one that imparts a vertiginous sense of dislocation to the narrative ... This work not only withstands the scrutiny, but invites and deserves it.
MixedThe Wall Street Journal...a genial account, around half the size of Mr. Pollack’s magnum opus, that demonstrates his passion for Gershwin on almost every page ... In 500 pages, Mr. Crawford offers rich details of this life in music ... No Gershwin scholar has done a better job of digging into newspaper reviews and magazine articles from the 1920s and 1930s, culling quotes and commentary and providing an almost week-by-week study of how the composer made his mark on American cultural life ... Mr. Crawford skillfully navigates through the disputes stirred up by Gershwin’s ascendancy, but there are curious gaps in this book. His lack of interest in Gershwin’s posthumous legacy is extreme by any measure. After describing the immediate aftermath of the composer’s death, Mr. Crawford wraps up his 500-page book in just two paragraphs. It’s almost as if Gershwin’s influence on the cultural landscape over the next 80 years is deemed unworthy of inclusion ... In the current environment, many readers will view George Gershwin’s ascendancy as a major jazz figure and the creator of a famous opera drawing on African-American themes as problematic ... Mr. Crawford might have been the perfect person to mount such a defense. He clearly loves Gershwin’s music and has studied the larger context of American music at a deep level. But he doesn’t even touch on these issues ... Instead, Mr. Crawford devotes a third of his work to plot synopses of Gershwin stage productions and films. Each scene and most of the significant characters are painstakingly described ... The result is a lopsided biography that has momentary highlights but fails to do justice to one of our greatest composers. Perhaps Mr. Crawford felt that the best way to defend his subject was to pass over the controversies and complications, but Gershwin deserves better. We still need a book that makes a strong case for this towering figure’s relevance in our own time. For now, you might get a better sense of Gershwin’s enduring genius simply listening to the songs playing at a nearby Starbucks.
RaveThe Wall Street JournalFor Crosby’s renown to endure, he needs to make the transition from faded star to timeless artist...fortunately for Bing, Gary Giddins has taken up the gauntlet with surprising vehemence ... Mr. Giddins’s thorough research pays dividends. By digging into day-by-day and week-by-week itineraries, our biographer demands our admiration for Crosby’s unflagging efforts, often with little concern for personal rewards or favorable publicity ... Mr. Giddins is surprisingly non-judgmental about this subject—especially when compared to his strong opinions on Crosby’s recordings. He chastises the performer when he \'misses each and every high note\' on a track ... But Crosby’s approach to child-rearing is never directly criticized, and often presented as symptomatic of its time and place ... But no one can accuse Mr. Giddins of shortchanging us on the facts. Every aspect of Crosby’s life is laid bare for close inspection in this penetrating biography ... I especially enjoyed previously unpublished extracts from a fan’s diary that recount minute details of Crosby’s life from the perspective of two sisters who followed him wherever he went ... It’s hard to reconcile the different facets of this oddly private man who thrived in the limelight while maintaining such reserve.
RaveThe New CanonAnn Patchett’s Bel Canto will defy every expectation you bring to this rich book ... Imagine Henry James tackling a Tom Clancy scenario, with a dose of Lost in Translation added in for good measure, and you will get some idea of the piquant flavor of this odd, but endearing, book ... Patchett daringly moves in the exact opposite direction. The pace becomes languorous and the intensity of interactions between captors and captives lessens. The plot conflicts become softer and more ambiguous as we get deeper and deeper into the novel ... This deep book works on many levels. Patchett masterfully handles a large cast of characters, bringing each one to life, and giving ample space to various player’s quirks and foibles. Few recent novels do a better job of creating a true ensemble piece.
PositiveThe Wall Street JournalMr. Hilburn didn’t interview Mr. Garfunkel for this biography—one of the few unfortunate gaps in his otherwise thorough investigations. But he works hard to share both sides of the story in a contentious relationship with almost as many breakups as the \'50 ways to leave your lover\' enumerated in a famous Simon song. Mr. Hilburn wrestles with a lot of other breakups in these pages. Mr. Simon has a history of contentious dealings with others famous in their own right, from Nobel laureate Derek Walcott, who worked with Mr. Simon on the ill-fated Broadway musical The Capeman, to actress and ex-wife Carrie Fisher. Both are dead now, but Mr. Hilburn secured interviews while they were still around. Even with all this help, he can only offer glimpses into a well-hidden private life. Some of the revelations here are small, but still shocking ... Most biographers would be tempted to use these incidents to psychoanalyze Paul Simon, probing for inner traumas and deep-seated neuroses. Mr. Hilburn avoids this to an almost extreme degree. Even Mr. Simon’s long history of nightmares is hardly mentioned in these pages. I am no fan of gossipy books about celebrities, but I wish our author had pushed harder to get behind the facade and tell us not just what Mr. Simon says, but what fuels his many fires. Mr. Hilburn makes up for this by offering insights into the artist’s creative process. Mr. Simon is often described as a great songwriter, but Mr. Hilburn grasps that his career longevity required a gradual shift from writing tunes to shaping elaborately constructed recordings ... I grew more sympathetic with Paul Simon the deeper I got into this book. I saw how his stubbornness and willingness to provoke conflict were the price he needed to pay to reach his own artistic potential.