RaveThe New RepublicJoe Gould’s Teeth is far from a dreadful book—it’s a rather wonderful one, in fact—but it is, like Joe Gould’s Secret before it, full of dread. Joe Gould haunts journalists and historians alike as he raises unwelcome questions about the limitations of what they do. At times Lepore’s book feels like an exorcism, an attempt to banish Gould’s unquiet spirit from the archives, to undermine the power he wields. At other times, it falls under that uncanny power itself.
The Idiot.Elif Batuman
PositiveThe NationHowever such detailed realism was achieved—mining old diaries? wolfing down packs of madeleines from Harvard vending machines?—the effectiveness of the evocation is undeniable: We have arrived back in college in the mid-1990s ... This [Hungarian section] is Batuman in her element—writing about Batuman (sorry, Selin) out of her element—but though the setting and subject matter play to her strengths as a humorist, there is a noticeable slackening of narrative focus. A sense of futility starts to take over the novel, which gradually becomes a kind of depressive picaresque ... But if The Idiot is a defiantly imperfect novel, its imperfection feels both true to Selin’s teenage confusion and true to Batuman’s long-standing critique of fictional 'craft.' There is certainly a great deal of writerly skill on display in The Idiot—as a maker of sentences and scenes, Batuman is masterful—but she is committed to retaining a certain randomness that evokes the mess of real life.