- Going Dutch Fifty-Two Pickup, Swag from Four Novels of the 1970’s by Elmore Leonard. Library of America. 808 pp. $37.50
Elmore Leonard wrote great—I would almost say groundbreaking—dialogue, but the rest of his writing was ordinary, even pedestrian. Let’s the opening of Fifty-Two Pickup.
“He could not get used to going to the girl’s apartment. He would be tense, ... Read more
- And Gets Back Up Again Empire Falls by Richard Russo. Vintage. 483 pp. $16.95. ****
Richard Russo has done it again, written a book where I was full of a kind of mild admiration through the first half, seeing how he had set up an interesting situation, sketched in some sympathetic characters, done some writing that was mildly humorous, then somehow, ... Read more
- He Cared Too Much Stories by John O’Hara. The Library of America. 860 pp. $40.00
John O’Hara was an Irish Catholic and doctor’s son from Eastern Pennsylvania who believed—apparently for much of his life—that he would have been a happy man if he had just gone to Yale. That didn’t keep him from getting booted from three prep schools, one ... Read more
- Academic Hack Straight Man by Richard Russo. Vintage Contemporaries. 391 pp. $14.00. ****
I read this book because of Jennifer Senior’s review of Richard Russo’s latest book, in which she called Straight Man a better academic novel than David Lodge’s Campus Trilogy. I was so impressed by that remark, and the general tenor of Senior’s review, that I ... Read more
- Pip Pip Hooray! Purity by Jonathan Franzen. Picador. 598 pp. $17.00. *****
I had an odd and unique experience reading Purity. I got slightly bogged down in the book’s first section, which focuses on the title character; her name is Purity but she goes by Pip. She seemed clueless and helpless, living with a collection of strange roommates, burdened ... Read more
- Old Corn-Drinking Mellifluous Absalom, Absalom! By William Faulkner. 315 pp. $15.95
I’m obsessed with the subject of telling stories. I’ve spoken before about how all stories are false, or all stories true; they are, in any case, human fabrications, which may have little to do with what actually happened. We love them nevertheless. Human beings tell each other stories, ... Read more
- Stories Short and Long Autumn by Ali Smith. Pantheon. 264 pp. $24.95
Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned by Walter Mosley. Washington Square Press. 208 pp. $14.00
There are short stories that seem to have enough material for novels. Alice Munro’s late work was like that, any number of mid-length stories, forty or fifty pages, which encompassed an entire life. Frank O’Connor said ... Read more
- James Baldwin Has a Question I Am Not Your Negro a film by Raoul Peck. With James Baldwin, Samuel L. Jackson, Dick Cavett. ****1/2
In a way I wish the title of this film had gone further. The speech in the movie that it most closely reflects it is one by James Baldwin on a television interview: “What white people have ... Read more
- Distinctly Praise the Years Atlantis: Three Tales by Samuel R. Delany. Wesleyan/New England. 212 pp.
Every now and then I reread something by Samuel R. Delany because all of his work is intelligent, beautifully written, and unfailingly deep. The fact that I’ve read it before doesn’t in the least diminish it. I love spending time in the presence of such ... Read more
- This Movie Is About You (Put Away Your Phone) Paterson A film by Jim Jarmusch. With Adam Driver, Golshifteh Farahani, Barry Shabaka Henley, Nellie.
Every now and then people call something a Zen movie, and the candidate this year is Paterson, a film whose script Jim Jarmusch apparently wrote twenty years ago and in which almost nothing happens. A man (Adam Driver) awakens every morning ... Read more