MixedThe New York TimesBecause Wallace\'s writing often conveys the sense of someone trying to bail out a sinking language by working at higher and higher speeds, with bigger and bigger verbal buckets, it\'s no surprise that many of his stories take as their subject the limits of words themselves ... When Wallace\'s superbrain walks into a room, it notices everything ... When he\'s off on one of these hyperfocused sprees, there\'s no such thing as an unimportant detail; his intensity spreads out in all directions, throwing every feature of the scene into equally high relief. By the end of the story there\'s no such thing as an important detail, either ... Wallace\'s own work is far from flushable -- for one thing it\'s just too big and broad -- and much of it probably partakes of genius, at least in the chess-grandmaster, Bronx High School of Science sense. He has the vocabulary. He has the energy. He has the big ideas. He has the attitude. Yet too often he sounds like a hyperarticulate Tin Man.
RaveThe New York Times...a strikingly empathetic nonfiction narrative by the poet Anthony McCann. The book is that rare beast these days — a chronicle of and a meditation on an intensely politicized affair that delves beneath merely partisan concerns to touch its subject’s absurd and tragic heart. As such, it’s a work of almost foolish courage, given the overwhelming rancor of our current social moment — not because it refuses to takes sides, but because the book sides with the people as a whole, with us, the puny, errant, bedeviled playthings of the all-American colossus ... McCann is unsparing in his critique, in his mockery even, of Bundy’s rhetoric, but he also regards him as a figure of considerable charisma — a sort of leathery Bill Clinton or militant Will Rogers ... McCann is too literate and too farseeing to lay the blame...on any one party or ideology, but toward the end of his agonized narrative, after blood has been spilled in a temporary catharsis, he offers a bitter elegy for Ammon and Cliven’s desert uprising, as ridiculous, shameful and selfish as it was. Their nemesis, in McCann’s final analysis, was not the federal government at all, but the financial forces that have leveled small-scale American agriculture in general.
RaveThe New York Times Book ReviewCall it peristaltic storytelling: that process by which a writer captures his audience not by creating loose ends that must be followed, but by swallowing the reader whole and then conveying him—firmly, steadily, irresistibly— toward a fated outcome. E. L. Doctorow\'s heart-squeezing fictional account of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman\'s fiery, rapacious last campaign through the cities and countryside of the Confederate South moves along in the manner I\'ve described—a narrative style that couldn\'t be more fitting because it reflects, we come to see, the way that Sherman\'s conquering army moved ... Yes, war is hell, and The March affirms this truth, but it also says something that most war novels leave out: hell is not the end of the world. Indeed, it\'s by learning to live in hell, and through it, that people renew the world.
Mario Vargas Llosa, Trans. by Edith Grossman
PositiveThe New York TimesAssisting Trujillo is a cast of zombies that the author must have given himself nightmares raising from the crypt. By alternating fatherly affection with calculated silences, the dictator fosters a chronic, low-level panic among his spiritually gelded lackeys … The novel promises fireworks from the outset as the dictator's enemies load and point their guns, but the author is in no hurry to pull the trigger. He fills the pregnant pause with protocol — the phone calls, meetings, meals and little ceremonies that, taken together, give power its shape and form … In this crackling translation by Edith Grossman, Vargas Llosa's Trujillo is a riveting creation — a corked volcano of vulgar, self-pitying rage who demeans his aids with mocking nicknames … In a dictatorship, Vargas Llosa suggests, remaining self-possessed is the great challenge.
MixedThe New York Times Sunday Book ReviewIf Doc sounds like a literary joke — the Private Eye with drooping lids who can’t trust the evidence of his own senses — then he must be a joke with a lesson to impart, since Pynchon isn’t the type to make us laugh unless he’s really out to make us think … Once the plot gets rolling (spurred by the search for a missing land developer whom his trampy ex-girlfriend has a thing for), the story takes on the shape of his derangement, squirting along from digression to digression and periodically pausing for dope-head gabfests of preposterous intensity … Doc’s manhunt for the AWOL billionaire eventually spirals off into absurdity, becoming a collage of trippy interludes peopled by all manner of goofs and lowlifes. These scenes only fitfully advance the narrative and sometimes cause us to forget there is one.
MixedThe New York Times Book Review...Stephen King’s nostalgic new summer novel about the adventures of a lovelorn college boy in a haunted Southern amusement park. The book delivers chills, not shocks, and is silly-scary in the manner of a yarn that a sophomore might tell a freshman while toasting marshmallows around a fire ... Between the lines is an implied critique of the sanitized, corporate, Disney-style amusements that have supplanted the grass-roots titillations of an earlier, cruder era ... There’s not a lot more to Joyland than that, good fun ... The novel is like a plump wad of cotton candy; it fills the mouth with fluffy sweetness that quickly dissolves when the reader starts to chew.
PanThe New York Times Sunday Book Review...a book so good — so ingeniously designed, irreproachably high-minded and skillfully brought off — that it’s actually quite bad … This may be Beard’s story, but it’s McEwan’s vehicle, constructed to let him pull all the showy turns of the major contemporary novelist and ambitious public intellectual: personalizing the political, politicizing the personal and poeticizing everything else. The tip-off is Beard, who’s endowed by his creator with precisely the vices — apathy, slothfulness, gluttony and hypocrisy — that afflict the society the book condemns, threatening to cook the human race in the heat-trapping gases released by its own arrogance. Because a fictional character can exhibit only so much awareness of his own thematic utility, Beard doesn’t notice any of this, merely regarding himself as a colorful eccentric. But readers will see him for what he is: a figure so stuffed with philosophical straw that he can barely simulate lifelike movement.
Jonathan Safran Foer
MixedThe New York Times Sunday Book ReviewOskar Schell is the 9-year-old New Yorker whose motormouth drives Foer's story. He's a cross between J. D. Salinger's precocious, morbid, psychiatry-proof child philosophers and all those daunting city kids from children's books … A conscious homage to the Gotham wise-child genre, the book features several beloved stock characters, down to the nice doorman and other service folk who help their upper-middle-class young wards get around the urban jungle safely … Once they've cracked open this overstuffed fortune cookie and pondered the symmetries, allusions and truths on the tightly coiled strip of paper, it will dawn on some readers that today's neo-experimental novels are not necessarily any better suited to get inside, or around, today's realities than your average Hardy Boys mystery.
MixedThe New York Times Sunday Book ReviewA darting movie-ready narrative rips along like hell on wheels because it has no desire to break new ground, only to burn rubber on hard-packed old ground, thereby packing it down harder … At times, the whole novel borders on caricature, so unremittingly hard-boiled that it threatens to turn to steam … McCarthy's dialogue is like this: every question sets up a one-two punch, and most of the sparring partners sound alike … Such sinister high hokum might be ridiculous if McCarthy didn't keep it moving faster than the reader can pause to think about it. He's a whiz with the joystick, a master-level gamer who changes screens and situations every few pages.