Reviews

November 19, 2012

The Lies We Tell: Ian McEwan’s Sweet Tooth 4

by

In a traditional spy/thriller/whodunit, the end reveal is never as interesting as the tension-filled pages of clues and red herrings that got you there. On the contrary, Sweet Tooth is a much finer novel in retrospect, once the final chapter and its revelations have been absorbed.

November 15, 2012

Thank God for Uncle Joe: On Joseph Epstein’s Essays in Biography 5

by

Bound to elicit peals of outrage is the dust jacket’s assertion that Epstein is “the greatest living essayist.” Whether he has earned this accolade is open to question; he certainly does not deserve it on the basis of this collection alone.

November 9, 2012

Addiction, Apathy, and Sputtering through Life: On Hugh Sheehy’s The Invisibles 1

by

Though many of the stories have an element of mystery, Sheehy isn’t interested in finding out who did what — he knows the dramatic cornucopia lies elsewhere, with the living and the mistakes they have to examine in light of the dead.

October 24, 2012

NBA Finalists for Young Readers: On Patricia McCormick’s Never Fall Down 2

by

Of the novels selected as National Book Award finalists in the Young People’s Literature category, Patricia McCormick’s Never Fall Down is the title that my high school students would reach for.

October 23, 2012

The Defeated Write History: Chinua Achebe’s There Was a Country 6

by

Over two million Biafrans – primarily civilians and disproportionately children – perished. Biafra is now largely forgotten outside the region, but one of Africa’s best known authors has just published a book which he certainly hopes will bring it back to our collective consciousness.

October 23, 2012

There Is a Miami Beyond This Miami: On Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe 14

by

Miami is a veritable treasure chest of weird. Hell, they eat people’s faces here. They overdose on bugs. They alternately molest and cockblock manatees. Wolfe, who loves realism, should’ve been able to uncover these things and more.

October 19, 2012

Comforting the Disturbed, Disturbing the Comfortable: A.M. Homes’s May We Be Forgiven 14

by

One can certainly follow the advice of the dust jacket and read the novel as a darkly comic tale about a family reinventing itself after a series of blunders and tragedies. But wouldn’t it be more fun to pay attention to the book’s duplicity?

October 19, 2012

My Eyes Are in My Feet: On Robert Macfarlane’s The Old Ways 1

by

It appears that the pleasures of ambling, dawdling, sauntering, strolling, and even straight-up walking have been subordinated to the means/end logic of appointments, schedules, and target bodies. Activities get slotted into temporal compartments so that maximum utility is gained and the humble walk is relegated to nuisance.

October 16, 2012

A Departure from Reason: César Aira’s The Miracle Cures of Doctor Aira 1

by

César Aira’s novels are the narrative equivalent of the Exquisite Corpse, that Surrealist parlor game in which players add to drawings or stories without knowledge of previous or subsequent additions. The final result never fails to surprise and amuse.

October 15, 2012

Strange Long Dream: Justin Cronin’s The Twelve 3

by

Once again Cronin has superbly handled the difficult task of writing a character-driven adventure story. The vampires remain terrifying, but they’re arguably less terrifying than the humans who have decided to collaborate with them in order to survive.