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Articles by Sam Sacks

From the Archives: Shining Wild Things

April 1, 2014
From the Archives: Shining Wild Things

Shadow Country was the culmination of a thirty-year obsession with the notorious Everglades pioneer Edgar J. Watson. Sam Sacks treks into the beautiful and blood-soaked territory of Peter Matthiessen’s magnum opus.

Title Menu: Books and Birth

January 1, 2014
Title Menu: Books and Birth

Sam Sacks midwifes a new feature into existence with a list of books containing memorable scenes about childbirth.

Eternal Blazon

November 1, 2013
Eternal Blazon

Led on by a “shared obsession,” a philosopher and a psycyhoanalyst have teamed up to offer their interpretation of Hamlet. With the ghosts of countless critics looming before them, how has this pair fared?

Joseph and his Brothers

September 1, 2013
Joseph and his Brothers

To many the scriptural story of Joseph is ancient and arcane. But its exploration into divine and authorial omniscience make it seem powerfully contemporary.

From the Archives: Fools in Love

May 1, 2013
Aciman_A

Like an overheated love letter, André Aciman’s novel Eight White Nights is easy to mock–but is it perhaps just as candid and emotionally powerful?

From the Archives: Seer Blest

March 1, 2013
FormsofAttentionKermode

Frank Kermode consumed all of the tumultuous 20th century’s literary theories without being consumed by them. A look at the work of this wisest of secular clerics.

Real Full Rich Rank

December 1, 2012
Real Full Rich Rank

Respectable novelists are solemn, meditative, and deliberate–they certainly don’t churn out book reviews every week. Anthony Burgess smashed that fussy mold and left us a lifetime’s work of brilliant, omnivorous literary journalism.

From the Archives: Peer Review: Paul Auster Perplexes

October 1, 2012
scriptorium

Five years ago Sam Sacks surveyed the reviews of Paul Auster’s Travels in the Scriptorium, which caused some confused tail-chasing amongst its critics.

Other Than Faith

September 1, 2012
9780805094725

What does the soul-searching writer do when the concept of the soul–to say nothing of God–has lost its currency? Two new confessional novels try to navigate that uncharted territory.

Love at First Glans

September 1, 2011
Vox

Nicholson Baker’s provocative new book is an attempt at mainstream literary pornography, but does it suffer from the same performance anxiety as other novelistic efforts to depict sex?

Second Glance: Astonish Us

May 1, 2011
Film Critic Pauline Kael

Pauline Kael is out of print today and perhaps known best for the enemies she made. But any immersion into her passionate, intelligent writing shows her to have been one of the best movie critics–or critic of any kind–of the past century.

Young Jew Telling Jokes

January 1, 2011
Cohen-Joshuahp

Assimilation is the nightmare of Joshua Cohen’s daring novel “Witz,” and the book is therefore designed to be strange and prickly to the gentiles who try to read it.

#7 Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang

October 1, 2010
chelsea

Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang
By Chelsea Handler
Grand Central Publishing, 2010
It’s hard not to like Chelsea Handler, only you keep wishing she were funny. Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang is her third book to reach the bestseller list, …

A Certain Perturbation

July 1, 2010
robinsonyale

In Absence of Mind, Marilynne Robinson explores both the dynamics of faith and the complacency of recent anti-faith screeds. But is her own book something of a fall from grace?

Counterfeit Wit

May 1, 2010
Peter_Carey

Liars and impostors have been Peter Carey’s bread and butter for 30 years–so he’s up to mischief when he takes on the beloved and upright Alexis de Tocqueville in a new novel.

All the Sad Young Bankers

February 1, 2010
adam_haslett

Two new novels by Adam Haslett and Jonathan Dee attempt to show us the way we live now by exposing the quality of the characters who handle (or, as the case may be, mishandle) our money.

Uncertainty Principles

December 1, 2009
changing

In Changing My Mind novelist Zadie Smith, long a literary essayist, gathers together her burgeoning belles-lettres. Is it just a chance collection or does a common theme run through them? Sam Sacks reviews her views.

Damage Assessment

November 1, 2009
spooner

Perennially underrated novelist Pete Dexter’s latest, Spooner, continues his fascination with damaged characters. Sam Sacks tours a body of work composed mostly of battered bodies.

#1

October 1, 2009
southbroad

In our second annual Fiction Bestseller List feature, our writers temporarily put aside their dogeared copies of Hume and Mann, roll up their sleeves, and dig into the ten bestselling novels in the land as of September 6, 2009 – in the tranquil days before a certain Dan Brown novel began tromping all over that list like Godzilla in downtown Tokyo. Before you spend your hard-earned money at the bookstore, join us in a tour of the way we read now.

New York Trilogy

September 1, 2009
homerlangley

A local, a booster, and a tourist take on New York; Sam Sacks tours the city with E.L. Doctorow, Colm Tóibín, and Colum McCann.

Review of The Signal

August 8, 2009
9780143117551

“You always felt time as a tangible heartbeat in the mountains. The days were short.” Dive into Ron Carlson’s novel, The Signal, by starting with this review by Sam Sacks.

Review of An Expensive Education

August 6, 2009
9780802118936

In his review of An Expensive Education, Sam Stacks unearths the vast geopolitical conspiracies being hatched in Nick McDonell’s Harvard.

No Hugging, No Learning

June 1, 2009
sagharbor

Colson Whitehead, one of our most intellectually satisfying writers, has written a “novel” that meanders suspiciously like a memoir. Sam Sacks reviews Sag Harbor.

The Flâneur

April 1, 2009
songisyou

Arthur Phillips’ new novel, The Song Is You, takes a sentimental bachelor’s soundtrack and sets it to adult themes of family tragedy. Sam Sacks listens to hear whether the opus reveals new growth in the novelist—and whether it will grow on the reader.

Foreign Items, Quality Various

March 1, 2009
vagrants

China’s burgeoning modern literature – by citizens and expats alike – presents challenges to Western audiences (and sometimes to Chinese censors). Sam Sacks samples three new novels, including Yiyun Li’s The Vagrants.

Book Review: Delicate Edible Birds

February 13, 2009
delicateedible

Lauren Groff’s Delicate Edible Bird is a story collection packaged for women readers but of interest to any reader

The Sounds Are Not the Flowers

February 1, 2009
lark

In her new novel Lark and Termite, Jayne Anne Phillips grapples with the challenge of using intricate language to convey wordless innocence. Sam Sacks is sympathetic to her goal, but he can’t help thinking of William Faulkner …

Book Review: The Holy City

January 4, 2009
holycity

Patrick McCabe’s new novel imagines the life of Irish playboy Christopher McCool. Sam Sacks reviews The Holy City.

Microreview: Tierra del Fuego

December 22, 2008
tierradelfuego

Francisco Coloane’s collection of short stories takes readers into little-visited corners of southern Chile. Sam Sacks reviews Tierra del Fuego.

The Evidence of Absence

December 1, 2008
2666

Roberto Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives took the literary world by storm, and his latest posthumous release, 2666, is five times as long and ten times as ambitious. Find out what tales dead men tell as Sam Sacks tackles this immense and problematic monster.

Laughter in the Darkness

November 1, 2008
whitetiger

What is it about Booker and Nobel judges that make one reach for Chambers Biographical Dictionary only to hurl it across the room in despair? Sam Sacks seeks the source of prize-winner Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger.

Book Review: The Dart League King

October 26, 2008
DartLeague

In Keith Lee Morris’ novel, a rogues gallery of characters come together at a league dart tournament. Sam Sacks reviews.

#4

September 1, 2008
sawtelle

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski

Disaster Prep

September 1, 2008
cityrefuge

It was only a matter of time before Hurricane Katrina and the havoc it wrought on New Orleans filtered into the fiction we read, and Tom Piazza’s latest novel City of Refuge is set squarely in and around the disaster and its victims. Sam Sacks tours the result.

Familiar Wishes

August 1, 2008
lostinuttar

For sixty years, the great and shapeshifting American author Evan S. Connell has woven strands of short stories through the fabric of his ongoing larger works. These beguiling stories have changed (and often deepened) with time while many of their ardors and tensions have remained the same, creating an irresistible dialectic. The three founding editors of Open Letters, united in their appreciation for this living legend of the American literary scene, pay tribute by writing a piece apiece on Connell’s life, career, and latest short story collection, Lost in Uttar Pradesh.

Peer Review: Rushdie on the Richter Scale

July 1, 2008
enchantress

Since Salman Rushdie’s published The Enchantress of Florence, plenty of critics have trotted out what Martin Amis calls “the bullshit factfile” to to make their wordcount. Sam Sacks, for one, has heard more than enough about the fatwa, thanks…

Book Review: Palace Council

June 11, 2008
palacecouncil

Stephen L. Carter’s Palace Council occupies the rarefied territory of the 1960s Harlem elite. Sam Sacks reviews.

Peer Review: Rumble in the Alley

June 1, 2008
brightshiny

Near the punchbowl, within reach of the finger sandwiches, the early critics of James Frey’s Bright Shiny Morning had an oh-so-polite set of things to say about it. Out back in the alley, other critics were ready to pounce. In this regular feature, Sam Sacks officiates between the Sharks and the Jets.

Book Review: Peace

May 26, 2008
PeaceBausch

Richard Bausch takes his talents to Italy in World War II. Sam Sacks reviews Peace.

Book Review: God’s Middle Finger

April 5, 2008
Godsmiddle

Richard Grant take a trip to the hellhole of the Sierra Madre a (barely) lives to tell about it

Writing and Nothingness

April 1, 2008
myrevolutions

In My Revolutions, Hari Kunzru attempts to show the moral emptiness of antigovernment violence. The problem is, Sam Sacks thinks, Kunzru sees emptiness in everything he writes about.

Book Review: The Blue Star

March 13, 2008
Bluestar

Tony Earley’s sequel to Jim the Boy is as rich and powerful as its predecessor. Sam Sacks reviews The Blue Star.

Debs

March 1, 2008
altschul

Two new novelists, Charles Bock and Andrew Foster Altschul, have paraded into the public eye with the help of ticker tape and noisemakers from their publishers. Sam Sacks takes the bait and looks to see if their novels merit the hubbub.

Book Review: The Reserve

February 27, 2008
reserve

Russell Banks pens a Lost Generation fairy tale. Sam Sacks reviews The Reserve

Everyday Jacket

February 1, 2008
price

Richard Price has called The Wire “as close to a novel as anything on TV.” Sam Sacks examines whether Price’s new book Lush Life is as close to TV as anything in a novel.

Catalog Reading

January 1, 2008
dirda

Sam Sacks reviews Michael Dirda’s Classics for Pleasure, an old-fashioned reading guide that wants desperately to believe it hasn’t been made altogether anachronistic by the Internet, that elephant in the corner of the library.

Second Glance: Marilynne Robinson’s Psalms and Prophecy

December 1, 2007
rembrandtt

This month our regular feature is devoted to a study of the small but potent canon of Marilynne Robinson. Sam Sacks dives back into her famous fiction and formidable essays.

From the Archives: Memento Mori

November 1, 2007
From the Archives: Memento Mori

Elisabeth de Waal is just the latest midcentury novelist to be reclaimed from obscurity. Before her there was the great Irène Némirovsky.

Peer Review: Enter Sophist

November 1, 2007
ghostwriter

James Wood, Christopher Hitchens, Michiko Kakutani, and many others have competed to put forth the definitive word on Philip Roth’s Exit Ghost. Sam Sacks is off to the races with them in this regular feature.

Richard Russo’s Mirror on America

October 1, 2007
bridgesighs

Thomaston, the setting of his new novel Bridge of Sighs, is the most diverse and complicated town Richard Russo has yet created. Sam Sacks navigates its vivid highways and byways.

The Long Puzzling Absence of Junot Díaz

September 1, 2007
diazpic2

Juno Díaz’ Drown was as impressive a debut as any in the 90s. Eleven years later, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is finally on the shelves. Sam Sacks reviews what the burden of expectation on the author’s shoulders has produced.

To the Outback and Back

August 1, 2007
malouf

David Malouf may have written more thoroughly about Australia than any writer in history. Now that his Complete Stories is out, Sam Sacks assesses the fruit of his thirty-year career.

Peer Review: Sex on the Beach

July 1, 2007
chesil

In our monthly feature, Sam Sacks clambers over the mountain of
reviews of Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, spotting perspicacity,
purple prose, and possible pickpocketing along the way.

Useful Disasters

July 1, 2007
thousandsuns

Like The Kite Runner before it, A Thousand Splendid Suns owns
real estate on the top of the bestseller list. Sam Sacks dares to
unlock the secret of Khaled Hosseini.

The Evasionist

June 1, 2007
yiddish

Sam Sacks reviews the fun and flawed new novel The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and tries to answer the question on everybody’s lips: what exactly is Michael Chabon doing?

Christploitation

May 1, 2007
heartbook

Sam Sacks laments the great divorce of Christianity from literature

Twain in Vain

April 1, 2007
finn

Sam Sacks reviews Jon Clinch’s Finn, a novel about Huck Finn’s father, and decides that it owes a heavy debt to a literary figure apart from Mark Twain.

Childe Harold’s Children

March 1, 2007
fitzgerald

Sam Sacks looks into the breakout debuts of young novelists to determine how youth, ambition, and general cluelessness affect the writing of these early works.

The Poison Tree

March 1, 2007
castleforest

Sam Sacks reviews The Castle in the Forest, Norman Mailer’s new novel about evil and Hitler and, amazingly, not about Norman Mailer.