Thomas McGuane's flawed fiction.May 6, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 33 • By WOODY WEST
The Cadence of Grass
by Thomas McGuane
Knopf, 256 pp., $24
IF A REVIEWER expresses "disappointment" in a book, it is evident that the book's author is going to be roughed up. But if that author has achieved a wide reputation for his craft--and had innumerable literary prizes bestowed upon him--then "disappointment" is actually a civil way to put it.
Although often wedged into one of the darker rooms of the literary mansion labeled "Western writer," Thomas McGuane has always been admiringly reviewed.
William Kennedy returns to his novels about New York pols.Feb 25, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 23 • By LAUREN WEINER
by William Kennedy
Viking, 288 pp., $24.95
THE CRITIC William Pritchard probably did not mean to lay down a law of literary excellence when, in his recent study of John Updike, he spoke of "a reader who knows what fairness is and wants fiction to observe something like ideal balance." The ideal balance to which Pritchard refers is the balance between mercy and justice--between engendering our sympathy for fictional characters and holding them accountable for the words they are assigned to say and the deeds they are assigned to perform.
William Kennedy's novels set in early- an
A poor woman's Candace Bushnell makes a bad J.D. Salinger anthology even worse.12:01 AM, Oct 18, 2001 • By DAVID SKINNER
DESPITE HIS SAINTLY RETREAT from the dirty things of this world, J.D. Salinger remains ubiquitous and annoying. It's been thirty-six years since he published anything, but he is reportedly the object of homage in the upcoming Wes Anderson comedy "The Royal Tenenbaums." And only last year, Sean Connery played a Salinger knockoff in Gus Van Sant's "Finding Forrester." In that faulty production, the literary recluse is in hiding in an apartment in the Bronx.
Why Salman Rushdie never lives up to his promise.Oct 1, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 03 • By JUSTIN TORRES
THE ONLY INTERESTING QUESTION left to ask about Salman Rushdie is: How can a writer so good be so bad? There are passages in Rushdie’s novels that are among the best of the past quarter century: funny and moving and written with real verve. He is a prodigiously talented prose stylist with a remarkable ear and broad knowledge. But his novels can also be simply awful. Even in his best books, whole passages are pretentious, slow, confusing, and overwrought. His worst books are close to unreadable.
Why is this so?
The essays of Joan Didion.Sep 24, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 02 • By CHRISTOPHER CALDWELL
Her politics are leftish, and her hottest tirades are reserved for Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, and both George Bushes. But the novelist Joan Didion voted for Barry Goldwater in 1964—"ardently," by her own account—and swears that "had Goldwater remained the same age and continued running, I would have voted for him in every election thereafter." Political Fictions, which collects eight essays she has written for the New York Review of Books since the 1988 election, shows why we ought to believe her.
The life and poetry of Edna St. Vincent MillaySep 17, 2001, Vol. 7, No. 01 • By MIDGE DECTER
COULD THERE BE a more persistent biographer than Nancy Milford? It has been nearly thirty years since she first approached the dragon who stands guard over the memory of Edna St. Vincent Millay—that is, the poet’s younger sister Norma—and asked her to hand over the treasure left in her keeping: the poet’s huge and scattered store of letters, papers, snapshots, notebooks, and drafts of poems.
At that time, Nancy Milford had just published a biography intended to redress the low estate of the reputation of Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of F.
Walter Kirn's delectable novel takes a surprising turn.Sep 10, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 48 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
THIRTY-NINE-YEAR-OLD WALTER KIRN is an uncommon writer—the only American novelist of his generation who has also done serious work as a book critic. He has offered careful and nuanced criticism of such efforts at serious and ambitious fiction as David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest and Russell Banks’s Cloudsplitter, but has always taken on the sacred cows of New York publishing when he feels he has to. Kirn absolutely will not stand for earnest Big Think about the Nature of America at the Turn of the Century.
Why the Ghost of Hamlet still haunts Stephen Greenblatt.Aug 20, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 46 • By PETER KANELOS
STEPHEN GREENBLATT prefaces Hamlet in Purgatory with an extremely personal anecdote. He tells of his father who, obsessed with death his entire life, feared that his sons would not perform the Kaddish, the traditional Jewish prayers for the dead, after his death. So, in his will, he set aside a sum of money to ensure that an organization that provides such services for a fee would carry out the ritual. When he discovered this bequest, Greenblatt felt slighted: His father had not trusted him to meet his filial duty.
The world according to John Irving.Aug 13, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 45 • By MICHAEL LONG
THE DISSONANCE OF A JOHN IRVING NOVEL—the typically staid John Irving prose used to express the typically steamy John Irving topics—can be overwhelming. It’s like listening to a schoolmarm reading aloud the letters to Penthouse.
Irving’s novels are a parade of cross-dressers, kink freaks, transsexuals, obsessives, adulterers, and romanticizers of incest—with fantasists, fetishists, emotional nomads, and intellectual onanists. If your definition of a good book is a book about sex, then Irving is the place to go, because does this guy ever write about sex. Constantly. Continuously.
The nineteenth century's greatest poet.Aug 6, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 44 • By THOMAS M. DISCH
WHO WAS THE GREATEST FRENCH POET of the nineteenth century? André Gide’s immortal comment—"Victor Hugo, alas!"—is as true today as it was when Gide wrote it in a letter to Paul Valéry almost a century ago.
But English readers have had to take it on faith. Few French poets of equivalent magnitude have been so bereft of worthy translators. Molière has Richard Wilbur, and Baudelaire has Richard Howard. For Racine and Rimbaud, there are whole schools.
Anne Tyler's wistful nonsense.Aug 6, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 44 • By JAMES BOWMAN
THERE IS A CERTAIN KIND of young man’s novel—George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying comes to mind —that simply can’t get over the fact that men settle down, marry, have children, and get steady jobs to support them. Orwell seems to find such behavior outlandish, at once horrifying and admirable, instead of what most men have always done.
In several recent books, Anne Tyler has written a sort of middle-aged female equivalent of this kind of novel.
The art of Robert Louis Stevenson.Jul 30, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 43 • By BARRY MENIKOFF
PHILIP CALLOW’S NEW BIOGRAPHY, Louis: A Life of Robert Louis Stevenson, comes exactly one hundred years after the publication of Graham Balfour’s The Life of Robert Louis Stevenson, the writer’s first biography, authorized by his widow and penned by his young cousin.
In the intervening years, the volumes on Stevenson’s life by devoted followers, occasional scholars, and professional writers have formed nearly a genre unto themselves. Perhaps that’s because he died just after his forty-fourth birthday, and biographers, like the gods, love those who die young.
After three good novels, Philip Roth reverts to his old sex-obsessions.Jul 2, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 40 • By J. BOTTUM
THIS WILL NEVER DO. You can measure the failure of Philip Roth’s latest novel, The Dying Animal, by the comments on the back cover. There’s the blurb from the Times Literary Supplement that acclaims Roth’s three prior novels for the "radical individualism" of which they were, in fact, the greatest denunciation recent fiction has produced.
David Lodge does what he does best.Jul 2, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 40 • By MARGARET BOERNER
DAVID LODGE’S LATEST NOVEL, Thinks..., explores the long-deplored and still-continuing divide between the "two cultures" of Britain, science and the humanities. Scientific investigation is represented by Ralph Messenger, womanizing professor and director of the prestigious "Holt Belling Center for Cognitive Science" at the very new University of Gloucester.
Richard Russo shows how to write the novel today.Jul 2, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 40 • By JOHN PODHORETZ
RICHARD RUSSO is a writer who dares to repeat himself. His fifth novel, Empire Falls, is about a small town in the Northeastern United States that has seen better days. The only notable difference between the town of Empire Falls and the town of Mohawk (the setting of his first two novels, Mohawk and The Risk Pool) is that Empire Falls is in Maine, while Mohawk is in New York.