August 21, 2012

Everything is a Question: Jorge Amado’s The Double Death of Quincas Water-Bray 11


Is he alive, or is he dead? There are moments in this very funny, very ghoulish novella when he seems definitely one or the other; other moments when he might somehow be both. He’s roughly the fictional equivalent of Schrödinger’s cat.

August 9, 2012

Unsettled and Unsolved: Tana French’s Broken Harbor 10


The detectives in a Tana French novel can solve crimes, but they can’t solve themselves.

August 2, 2012

Truth Through Deception: On Norah Vincent’s Thy Neighbor 0


Ms. Vincent has produced her first novel. It’s called Thy Neighbor and, like its two non-fiction predecessors, it’s built on the premise that truth is best reached by a road paved with deception. The protagonists in all three books are voyeurs, people who use deceit to make themselves invisible, literally or figuratively, so they can see people in their most unvarnished states.

July 30, 2012

Gold Mine: The Rugged Love Stories of Claire Vaye Watkins’ Battleborn 5


It isn’t a stretch to say that anyone familiar with the Manson Family legacy is also wondering how the daughter of Paul Watkins is doing. Battleborn is the answer to that question: she became a storyteller.

July 27, 2012

Elect Donald Antrim for a Better World 6


They knew there were people who needed these novels — frustrated people and weird people and people who prefer a very correct, very unusual deployment of the English language: formal but personal, arch, hilarious, possessed of a slightly antiquarian flavor. Even very great writers don’t often write like this.

July 26, 2012

Always Someone Turns Up: On Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas 7


Yes, always someone turns up you never dreamt of; and sometimes just as quickly he vanishes, remaining a ghost, a mystery. Literature has always been fascinated with these uncanny entrances and exits, the comings and goings that in life are so commonplace, but that, on the printed page, we often imbue with such significance.

July 25, 2012

47 Endings Can’t Ruin A Great Novel: Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms 1


Would you want to read a war novel called Love Is One Fervent Fire? Or Death Once Dead? Or, God forbid, One Event Happeneth to Them All? Evidently, Hemingway considered all these and many more even worse ones before making a note to himself, “Shitty titles,” and going with A Farewell to Arms.

July 20, 2012

Mothers and Daughters: On Natalie Serber’s Shout Her Lovely Name 1


The mothers and daughters in these stories are working out how to hold on to one another even as they scramble to get out of each other’s way.

July 10, 2012

The Many Middles of Nowhere: Donald Ray Pollock’s The Devil All the Time 6


Without ever verging into the supernatural, Pollock’s brand of homespun grotesquerie achieves moments of genuinely satanic power.

July 5, 2012

Out of the Pool: On Leanne Shapton’s Swimming Studies 3


What her elegant prose allows to float slowly to the surface with the fluid definition of air bubbles is the fact that because she did not succeed at the Olympic trials she has succeeded in life by learning that life is “complicated, mostly sad, and mostly beautiful.”