MixedThe New RepublicMichael Shelden’s made-for-daytime biography, Melville in Love lets you know up front what new detail Shelden believes he’s disinterred: Melville’s mistress ... Shelden’s panting, cliché-choked style soon has you reaching for the light switch and candle, then the cigarette and bonbons ... Shelden proceeds, page upon page, with the dauntless pluck of a conspiracy theorist out to show that Elvis killed Kennedy. The tenet that bold claims require bold evidence? Shelden is having none of it ... Worse, he’s consistently inept at handling Melville’s language ... an extended gossip column for those voyeurs who believe that every Melville needs an inamorata.
The Violet Hour: Great Writers at the EndKatie Roiphe
RaveThe New RepublicThe critic who parses the artist parsing death must be every inch as intrepid as the artist himself. In The Violet Hour, Katie Roiphe delivers a composite of daring beauty on the deaths of Susan Sontag, Sigmund Freud, John Updike, Dylan Thomas, and Maurice Sendak, a necessary report from 'the deepening shades,' as Yeats has it, rife with her hospitable authority and critical rectitude...Here is a critic in supreme control of her gifts, whose gift to us is the observant vigor that refuses to flinch before the Reaper.
Lit UpDavid Denby
PanThe New RepublicContinuously cheated in their lives, the kids of Hillhouse are cheated anew in Lit Up. Denby’s isolated chapter offers only a glance into their ordeal, and that’s a shame both for them and the book, because the underdog’s story is almost always worthier and more compelling than the champ’s. His brief time at Hillhouse underlines the limits of literature: Those students most in need of great books are by and large too strafed by their environments to invest the necessary force of mind.
Mister MonkeyFrancine Prose
MixedThe Barnes & Noble ReviewProse casts an often shrewd eye over the fine-graded delineations of the New York society her players inhabit ... When Prose hovers over the stage, detailing the various travesties of the show, she’s at her most comically astute. When she exits the theater to chronicle the dutifully unhinged lives of her characters, most of whom come freighted with unnecessarily traumatic back-stories, she trots down avenues of forced earnestness, straining for an emotional gravitas the story doesn’t need or want ... Worse, much the novel is too breezily confected, with no linguistic commitment — the loose, nearly automatic language has all the attendant cliché you’d expect.
Exit WestMohsin Hamid
RaveThe Washington PostThe novel’s Marquezian title might have been 'Love in the Time of Migration,' though this magical love story is, like most love stories told in full, a loss-of-love story — love abraded by the pitiless stipulations of living ... Hamid has been much laureled for the lucent beauty of his prose. The sentences of Exit West are persuasively stressed with a fairy-tale frankness and its sinister undertow ... Hamid understands that the novelist is no pamphleteer, no bitter soap-boxer. Writers of imaginative prose have a responsibility only to their own story, to whatever beauty and wisdom that story demands, and to the moral pulsing manifest in their sensibility, their style ... No novel is really about the cliche called 'the human condition,' but good novels expose and interpret the particular condition of the humans in their charge, and this is what Hamid has achieved here.
Between Them: Remembering My ParentsRichard Ford
MixedThe Washington PostPart of the intermittent charm of this memoir is its restoration of that deleted era, a contemplative delving into what now seems antiquity ... At just 175 pages, spattered with 'I don’t know' and 'I’m not sure,' Between Them is a wisp of a book. It 'might seem incomplete or lacking,' Ford says, and it certainly does ... At its strongest, with simply etched sentences and slow stabs of wisdom, this memoir conjures Rock Springs, Ford’s faultless 1987 story collection...At its weakest, though, Ford’s prose mopes with at-hand utterances ... he has attempted a gentle reckoning here, his own exertion of mercy and mourning — his parents breathe in him still — and the attempt alone makes a loving homage.
The Red-Haired WomanOrhan Pamuk, Trans. by Ekin Oklap
PanThe Washington PostPamuk’s chief handicap as a novelist has always been his eager didacticism, his spotlighting of all the allusions and symbols. Here there are symbolic stars, symbolic books, symbolic women, intercut with loads of uselessly deep musings about the firmament. To be insistently metaphorical is one thing; to be insistently metaphorical while repeatedly explaining those metaphors is something else. Pamuk is forever afraid his reader isn’t paying attention. The marshaling of myth can make for dynamic storytelling, but Pamuk is too frequently a stranger to the potency of nuance, to the furtive unfoldings of character and plot. The real trouble here is the translator’s prose. Ekin Oklap’s incessant reliance on dead language does great injury to Pamuk’s already damaged tale ... What you’ll have to decide is whether Pamuk has penned the Sophoclean tragedy he aimed for or just another Turkish melodrama.
Critics Monsters FanaticsCynthia Ozick
RaveThe New Republic[Ozick's] is a criticism of nourishing potency that finds equal footing with the literature it seeks to augment. Reading her you understand immediately how criticism can itself soar with art, and how the critical essay well done is its own best argument for being ... A sorceress of silken prose, wholly incapable of platitude, of cliché, of even the stray dead phrase, Ozick can make anything happen with a sentence, proving that the valence of sensibility must manifest in style.