I listened to the audiobook of Purity (FSG, 576 pages) as I was held captive on a thirty-five hour road trip. Although the first fifty pages or so had some wit and interesting characters, such as Andreas Wolf, a Julian Assange persona, Purity soon devolved into stylistically bland chicklit. Jenna Lamia narrates the part of the twenty-something title character, with, appropriately for the writing style, that special millennial lilt that seems to run out of energy at the end of every sentence. The remaining 526 pages were concerned with relationship negotiations between men and women, children and parents. People complain, worry about their self-image, elaborate the details of “he said, she said” and, instead of having interests in the world, all the characters try to control and manage how other people feel about them. The characters are pure self-interest without any self-reflection. Worse yet, the plot is straight about of a women’s drug store novel: Purity’s love relationships fail as she seeks a father figure, having grown up without one. Confronting hard economic times and suffering through dead-end jobs, she finally stumbles upon her father and discovers that she is an heiress.
Seriously. An heiress. Continue reading
As the title confesses right up front, The Marriage Plot (FSG, 416 pages) is all plot, all 19th-century-style plot, with full biographical sketches and family histories for everyone who walks onstage for more than a few paragraphs to alter the action. Which of the two men will Madeleine, English major and lover of Jane Austen and George Eliot, end up with? Will it be Leonard, the big, broody sex-crazed boyfriend, a biology/philosophy double major? Or will it be Mitchell, the worshiping-from-afar religious studies student, whom Madeleine’s parents prefer? Continue reading
It may very well be that Nathaniel Popkin’s novel Lion and Leopard (The Head and The Hand Press, 345 pages) requires more than one reading in order fully to appreciate its argument. Certainly the discerning reader should have no trouble recognizing the quality of its painterly effects that so thoroughly complement the subject matter of this passionate work. Whoever seeks out literary writing for its own sake will not be disappointed. Nathaniel Popkin is a writer’s writer and possesses the prized capacity to render the essentially poetic not only in accessible but also in original phrases and images:
As I begin to write this on January 20, 2015, the news from Buenos Aires isn’t good. Albert Nisman, the federal prosecutor assigned to finally uncover the truth about the 1994 bombing of the Argentina Israelite Mutual Association, a Jewish community center, was found dead in his apartment. Nisman was about to reveal a high-level government conspiracy to cover up Iran’s role in the bombing, which killed 85 people. Argentina has long struggled with corruption and politicization of its government institutions, making it almost impossible for the nation to confront its demons—from sheltering Nazis to the 1970s/1980s rounding up and killing of leftists, communists, intellectuals, and Jews who became known as the desaparecidos opposed to the ruling right-wing Junto. The powerful are usually protected. Continue reading
There’s a long tradition of writing about sport that tries to be more than writing about sport. Journalism, it seems, is not enough. The events of a game and the constraints of its rules become raw materials for allegory. Much fuss has been made in recent years about the rise of nonfiction and its power over the popular imagination—but when it comes to sport, the lure of myth remains strong. Continue reading
The premise here is interesting: an anthology of flash fiction with the bylines removed so that the reader can’t know the identity of the author. According to Nicole Monaghan, editor of this collection, the purpose is to question a reader’s assumptions about gender.
As an experiment, Stripped: A Collection of Anonymous Flash Fiction (PS Books, 102 pages) recalls I.A. Richards’ Practical Criticism and his withholding authors’ identities from his Cambridge students in the 1920s in order to come to grips with their literary values. It was a step forward in reading awareness. We live in a very different world now, to put it mildly—gender was not on Richards’ radar—but some of the same questions of reception persist. Continue reading
God’s all-time bestseller, The Book, might be described (I wish to offend no one) as metafiction; it was written, divinely, by its main character, Who appears in various forms, at crucial cliff-hanger moments, as Himself. Unfortunately, so the story goes, God’s sixth-day creation, us — or more accurately our ancestors — made a muddle of His work, so God recruited Noah & Sons to cruise.
Mr. Julian Barnes launches A History of the World in 10½ Chapters (Knopf, 307 pages) with his own mock-knowing version of history, as reported by a wiseacre, truth-telling woodworm (baby termite?) stowaway, one of several who survived the trip. Why the need to sneak? Woodworms were not one of God’s chosen species, which leads Continue reading