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Twilight Cowboys

July 1st, 2016
Twilight Cowboys

Once upon a time, Westerns were a staple of American fiction. Now they’ve all but disappeared. Zach Rabiroff asks why cowboys rode off into the sunset.

Out of Some Bygone Era

July 1st, 2016
Out of Some Bygone Era

Master stylist Donald Ray Pollock returns in a violent, beautifullly-written novel about three brothers on a murderous rampage. Aaron Botwick reviews The Heavenly Table

From the Archives: Noble Rot

July 1st, 2016
From the Archives: Noble Rot

Horror fiction may not at first compare with more respectable genres, but look a bit closer. Horror is one of the oldest emotions known to man, and the artists who’ve evoked it have been some of our most brilliant and most strange …

Comfort and Joy

June 1st, 2016
Comfort and Joy

Mary Balogh’s Survivors’ Club novels are romances, which means they tell hopeful stories about people whose struggles end happily. Why should that optimism earn them such disdain?

How We Got From There to Here

June 1st, 2016
How We Got From There to Here

A thoughtful new book about Victorian concepts of space, nation, and mobility reminds us that our own world is vulnerable to unraveling as we move from here to wherever’s next.

The Smooth Handle

June 1st, 2016
The Smooth Handle

Did Thomas Jefferson love his slave, the mother of his children Sally Hemings? A new novel asks the question factually and counterfactually, and Kenyon Gradert sums up the results.

It’s a Mystery: “A man’s ego will kill him faster than any bullet”

June 1st, 2016
It’s a Mystery: “A man’s ego will kill him faster than any bullet”

Stoicism and betrayal vie at the heart of two new mystery thrillers from veterans of the genre.

From the Archives: Playing Lotto with Wittgenstein

June 1st, 2016
dewitt

Since its publication in 2000, The Last Samurai has been defined, but not explained, as a “cult classic.” In this regular feature, Garth Risk Hallberg looks with fresh eyes at Helen DeWitt’s brilliant and jolting novel.

From the Archives: DeLillo and the Three Ps

May 1st, 2016
From the Archives: DeLillo and the Three Ps

The nation’s book critics naturally congregated when Don DeLillo’s Point Omega appeared. In an Open Letters Peer Review feature, John Rodwan supplies a scorecard for the players.

A Question of Character

April 1st, 2016
A Question of Character

In an entertaining new study of Sartre, Camus, de Beauvoir and company, the existentialist movement becomes a personality-driven piece of public performance.

It’s a Mystery: “Good fortune rarely walks you out the door to your car”

April 1st, 2016
It’s a Mystery: “Good fortune rarely walks you out the door to your car”

The 11th novel in Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series and the 2nd novel in John Lawton’s Joe Wilderness series share plenty of thrills and character insights in common.

From the Archives: Claiming the Future

April 1st, 2016
From the Archives: Claiming the Future

Julio Cortázar and Gabriel Garcia Marquez brought Latin American fiction to the attention of the world. Now a young crop of writers are trying to move beyond magical realism–a new anthology charts the diverse approaches.

Both Sides, Now

March 1st, 2016
Both Sides, Now

If everybody’s a critic, as New York Times movie critic A.O. Scott claims in his new book, then where does that leave criticism? Sam Sacks reviews.

I Am Jack’s Contested Legacy

March 1st, 2016
I Am Jack’s Contested Legacy

The book Fight Club – and even more so the movie adaptation – have cult fixtures in American culture. But after twenty years, is there anything left for a sequel to subvert? Justin Hickey reads Fight Club 2.

The Loneliest Number

March 1st, 2016
The Loneliest Number

Is loneliness a failure, or just a sign that one is alive? Olivia Laing’s new book explores the paradox of being alone in one of the world’s most crowded cities.

Punching Up

March 1st, 2016
Punching Up

Can fiction be overtly political without becoming doctrinaire? A new novel about the Seattle W.T.O. protests succeeds by emphasizing the human complexities involved.

Here to Write

March 1st, 2016
Here to Write

Kay Boyle, friend to William Carlos Williams, Katherine Anne Porter, and Samuel Beckett, was famous for her short stories but also wrote a lifetime’s worth of fascinating letters, now sampled in a new anthology.

Creole to Queen’s English

March 1st, 2016
Creole to Queen’s English

The richly diverse voices in A Brief History of Seven Killings paved the way for the novel’s success, but does the whole justify up to the hype?

It’s a Mystery: “It’s always good to know whatever the enemies of your enemies are after”

March 1st, 2016
It’s a Mystery: “It’s always good to know whatever the enemies of your enemies are after”

Locations don’t get much different than the Venice of Donna Leon and the Duluth of Brian Freeman, but as two new mysteries show, they have one thing in common: murder!

Sentience Over Skin

February 1st, 2016
Sentience Over Skin

In a distant future without humans, genetically engineered members of other Earth species have evolved societies of staggering – and problematic – complexity.

No Storm of Roses

February 1st, 2016
No Storm of Roses

Lilliet Berne, hero of Alexander Chee’s highly-anticipated new novel Queen of the Night, enjoys the glamorous life of a diva — but what’s below the surface is both more sordid and more tragic.

It’s a Mystery: “You can choose forgiveness or revenge, but revenge is always costly”

February 1st, 2016
It’s a Mystery: “You can choose forgiveness or revenge, but revenge is always costly”

In two new mysteries – one the start of a new series, one the start of a new career – intricate plots take readers from Upstate New York to the Northern Cascades.

Book Review: The Norton Critical Lazarillo de Tormes

January 10th, 2016
norton lazarillo

The great Renaissance classic gets a spryly-translated new Norton edition

Our Editions, Ourselves

January 1st, 2016
Our Editions, Ourselves

How many copies of Middlemarch does one person need? When the edition is as lovely as this, there’s always room for one more.

“Darkly Luminous”: D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love

January 1st, 2016
“Darkly Luminous”: D. H. Lawrence’s <em>Women in Love</em>

The working title of D. H. Lawrence’s Women In Love was Dies Irae – Day of Wrath. But reading it will make you feel not despairing but vibrantly alive.

This Fatal Land

January 1st, 2016
This Fatal Land

Ukraine is a haunted, confounding country.Yuri Andrukhovych tries to match his prodigious technique to its complexity.

Romantics without Rebellion

January 1st, 2016
Romantics without Rebellion

In the 1930s, a handful of clubbable Christian scribblers got together for tea and conversation and produced both The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. What on earth went on there?

It’s a Mystery: “It’s wonderful how well men can keep secrets they have not been told”

January 1st, 2016
It’s a Mystery: “It’s wonderful how well men can keep secrets they have not been told”

Complex plotting runs through a darkly humorous new caper from Thomas Perry and the third book in Mick Herron’s series about the disgraced spies at MI5’s Slough House.

The One Who Gets Wounded

December 1st, 2015
The One Who Gets Wounded

Adam Johnson’s stories cast us adrift in moral, emotional, even existential uncertainties; the only reassurance they offer lies in the excellence of the fiction itself.

It’s a Mystery: “Love doesn’t visit often, even when it comes, it can always change its mind and walk away”

December 1st, 2015
It’s a Mystery: “Love doesn’t visit often, even when it comes, it can always change its mind and walk away”

A promising debut joins to veteran onging series in a trio of new crime dramas spanning the globe from Santa Fe to Venice to Echo Park.

Pen and Tell Her

November 1st, 2015
Pen and Tell Her

Elizabeth Gilbert wants you to be creative, without fear. Whatever brings you to life, whether it’s learning a dance, writing a song, or drawing on the wall, just do it! But what if you want to review her book?

Friends on the Patio

November 1st, 2015
Friends on the Patio

Essayist, critic, novelist, and public gadfly: Gore Vidal’s long career took many forms and sprang from a life as dramatic as his work. Has that life finally found a biography to do it justice?

Never Have Hands Been So Vital to a Creature

November 1st, 2015
Never Have Hands Been So Vital to a Creature

In Zachary Thomas Dodson’s visionary and inventive debut novel, a violent past and a dystopian future are woven together into a tale of families, legacies … and bats. Justin Hickey reviews Bats of the Republic.

Insurrections of the Bland

November 1st, 2015
Insurrections of the Bland

The New Republic once embodied a vibrant, eclectic liberalism. A new anthology inadvertently tells a depressing story about the decline of that vision.

No Laughing Matter

November 1st, 2015
No Laughing Matter

In Timur Vermes’s bestselling novel, newly translated from the German, it’s 2011, the Führer is back, and he’s not happy at how the world has changed. Is it OK to find that funny?

It’s A Mystery: “The civilized people in the world are the most dangerous people on earth.”

November 1st, 2015
It’s A Mystery:  “The civilized people in the world are the most dangerous people on earth.”

A Banquet of Consequences is an elegant addition to Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley series. Bernard Minier’s mesmerizing The Circle more than fulfills the promise of last year’s auspicious debut The Frozen Dead. And Felix Francis just keeps getting better as he proves with Front Runner.

Open Letters Bestseller List Feature 2015

October 1st, 2015
Open Letters Bestseller List Feature 2015

The Open Letters team of writers and editors divvies up the Fiction list of the venerable New York Times bestseller list and dives right in – with decidedly mixed reactions.

Open Letters Bestseller List Feature 2015 Continues

October 1st, 2015
Open Letters Bestseller List Feature 2015 Continues

The Open Letters Bestseller Feature continues, and the body-count rises!

Unstable Atoms

October 1st, 2015
Unstable Atoms

Anne-Marie MacDonald’s Adult Onset is full of extraordinary encounters. For Kerry Clare, some of them are between her own past and present, her life and her (re)reading.

Border Reports

October 1st, 2015
Border Reports

How do we become ourselves? For Vivian Gornick, wandering the city streets is one way to both ask and answer that question; for us, her book becomes a bracing guide to doing the same.

It’s a Mystery: “We live in a world in which paranoia is a requirement”

October 1st, 2015
It’s a Mystery:  “We live in a world in which paranoia is a requirement”

Three nifty new thrillers star some reigning champs of the genre: Lisbeth Salander, Jack Reacher, and James Bond.

Learning How To Read: William Goldman’s The Temple of Gold

September 1st, 2015
Learning How To Read: William Goldman’s <em>The Temple of Gold</em>

In Stephen Akey’s personal essay, the sex and squalor of William Goldman’s The Temple of Gold appeals to the thirteen-year-old he was when he first encountered it – and prompts an adult reassessment.

Elena Ferrante and the Art of the Left Hand

September 1st, 2015
Elena Ferrante and the Art of the Left Hand

Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels — which form a sprawling epic about art, friendship, and power — are what Goethe called Weltliteratur: books that speak to the world, not just to a nation.

Boy, Interrupted

September 1st, 2015
Boy, Interrupted

For the protagonist of Jim Shepard’s heartbreaking novel The Book of Aron it is terrible to be a poor Jew in anti-Semitic prewar Poland – but it is hardest of all to be a child, at the mercy of everyone else.

Know Your Name

September 1st, 2015
Know Your Name

Game of Thrones is remarkably faithful to George R. R. Martin’s original epic series, except for one vital element: it transforms his subversive morality into conventional fantasy.

It’s a Mystery: “The only species that is dangerous to humans is other humans”

September 1st, 2015
It’s a Mystery: “The only species that is dangerous to humans is other humans”

A mystery trio: Louise Penny’s 11th Gamache novel is a stellar addition to the series; Elsa Hart’s debut is a fine historical murder mystery set in 18th-century China; Bernhard Aichner’s first appearance in English is spine-chilling.

Book Review: Latest Readings

August 16th, 2015
latest readings

Ailing cultural critic Clive James turns in what may very well be his final collection of essays. Robert Minto reviews.

Book Review: Moral Agents

August 14th, 2015
moral agents

A collection of profiles of eight pivotal American literary men of the 20th century – Robert Minto reviews

Starship Captains Do It On Impulse (Unfortunately)

August 1st, 2015
Starship Captains Do It On Impulse (Unfortunately)

In fan-favorite Ernest Cline’s new book, a young man raised on video games and cheesy sci-fi movies finds that they just might be the key to Earth’s salvation. But is the 80’s nostalgia of Armada self-defeating?

The Edge of Sin

August 1st, 2015
The Edge of Sin

Robyn Cadwallader centers her debut novel on a young nun who volunteers to be walled away from all human contact for the rest of her life. Such women existed and, surprisingly, their lives were enormously full.

Eileen Chang’s Changes: from Love in Redland to Naked Earth

August 1st, 2015
Eileen Chang’s Changes: from <em>Love in Redland</em> to <em>Naked Earth</em>

Eileen Chang would never have written her hot-button anticommunist masterpiece Naked Earth without US Government encouragement and support. What should contemporary readers make of this?

“A Reputable Outlaw”

August 1st, 2015
“A Reputable Outlaw”

Was the duel at twenty paces a cancer on civil society or a gesture of defiance and an expression of individuality? Touche: The Duel in Literature looks to provide the reader satisfaction on that question.

The Happy Misanthrope

August 1st, 2015
The Happy Misanthrope

Milan Kundera’s newest and possibly final novel returns to the ideas he’s pursued across his career, including his “categorical disagreement with being.” Y. Greyman reviews.

It’s a Mystery: “It’s not important who fires the shot. It’s who pays for the bullet.”

August 1st, 2015
It’s a Mystery: “It’s not important who fires the shot. It’s who pays for the bullet.”

From the Perigord region of France to North Yorkshire, England to the Appalachian Trail – the locations of this trio of new mysteries by old hands might be far-flung, but for our mystery maven, crime is a universal language!

Peer Review: Front Row Seats

July 1st, 2015
Peer Review: Front Row Seats

Biographer Zachary Leader takes his readers on a long, detailed tour of the first half of Saul Bellow’s life, and while those readers may be loving it, the critics have been complaining!

The Truth of a Thing

July 1st, 2015
The Truth of a Thing

Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life emphasized the contingency of any single story. In contrast, her new novel focuses on one life lived to the full. But for better or for worse, Atkinson can’t resist the lure of metafiction…

The Whip Descends

July 1st, 2015
The Whip Descends

Why do we read the same story over and over? In Virginia Woolf’s case, it’s to learn again how great art emerged from her strange life of privilege and grief.

The Book and the Boy

July 1st, 2015
The Book and the Boy

A thousand years ago, a refined lady at the Japanese Court wrote the first and one of the greatest novels of all time, The Tale of Genji; Dennis Washburn does the latest translation of this immense work, with stunning results.

A Moon, A Girl … Romance!

July 1st, 2015
A Moon, A Girl … Romance!

Sure, we all know Superman, Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man – but what about the also-rans? Who played the Captain and Tennille to the Avengers’ Sonny and Cher? Zach Rabiroff looks at the heroes who didn’t quite make the prime-time cut.

All Our Revels Ended

July 1st, 2015
All Our Revels Ended

For decades, famed academic and critic Harold Bloom has been tilting against the windmills of cultural fads and forgettings. But in his latest (and last?) book, he strikes a different pose.

It’s a Mystery: “Trust is the mother of deceit”

July 1st, 2015
It’s a Mystery: “Trust is the mother of deceit”

A trio of mysteries cum thrillers from Stephen King, Peter Lovesey, and Mike Lawson—each one in its own way stylish, suspenseful, and sharp.

Yes, Dear

June 1st, 2015
Yes, Dear

Hausfrau is a grim addition to the array of contemporary novels exploring an old theme: women’s discontent. Rebecca Hussey reviews.

Nobody’s Novel

June 1st, 2015
Nobody’s Novel

In Anna North’s new novel, many narrative voices attempt to tell the story of film director Sophie Stark – but can any number of perspectives reveal an essentially unknowable character? Katie Gemmill reviews.

It’s a Mystery: “Delat’ iz mukhi slona, don’t make an elephant out of a fly”

June 1st, 2015
It’s a Mystery: “<em>Delat’ iz mukhi slona</em>, don’t make an elephant out of a fly”

The dark, crime-ridden world of Putin’s Kremlin and Victorian Scotland Yard aren’t as different as you might think – as two gripping new mysteries demonstrate.

Book Review: Where I’m Reading From

May 3rd, 2015
where i’m reading from cover

The Tim Parks essays collected in this pretty volume range over the whole landscape of the book-world, from endangered copyright to foreign-lit chic to the inescapability of Jonathan Franzen

The Great Blacksby

May 1st, 2015
The Great Blacksby

If Richard Pryor had spent time in the ghettos of L.A. County and had any interest in writing a novel, he might have come up with a book like Paul Beatty’s The Sellout: a beautifully offensive meditation on riches and race.

Second Glance: Fatal Beauty

May 1st, 2015
Second Glance: Fatal Beauty

Nothing shakes up the literary establishment like women writers — or women readers — who won’t stay quietly in their place.

“Are You Living or Dead?”

May 1st, 2015
“Are You Living or Dead?”

Usually Kazuo Ishiguro’s narrators implicate us in their world, reminding us of all we have in common. But in his new novel we are strangers looking at an unrecognizable landscape.

Protean Things

April 8th, 2015
Protean Things

Hilary Mantel’s best-selling Tudor novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, have made their way to the stage on the expert handling of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Zach Rabiroff had front row center.

“Il n’y a pas d’Israël pour moi”

April 1st, 2015
“Il n’y a pas d’Israël pour moi”

In Michel Houellebecq’s uncannily timely new novel, the triumph of an Islamist government relieves the dreary banality that defines the secular France of the 21st century.

Thinking in Quotations

April 1st, 2015
Thinking in Quotations

On its schematic blueprints, the latest book by noted literary polymath Alberto Manguel is “about” Dante’s Divine Comedy – but as Robert Minto discovers, this author is at his best when he’s digressing.

Unconditional

April 1st, 2015
Unconditional

An Orwellian dystopia, a deposed humanity, and a cat passionately in love with a dog – Justin Hickey reviews Robert Repino’s fiendishly clever novel Mort(e).

Ruins, Mourning, and Cigarettes

April 1st, 2015
Ruins, Mourning, and Cigarettes

Set in the precarious territory between fiction and history, Nicolas Rothwell’s beautiful, haunting Belomor explores the ways storytelling serves as an impetus for self-discovery.

Realism and Russia’s Fate

April 1st, 2015
Realism and Russia’s Fate

The star translating team of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (aided this time by Richard Nelson) translate Turgenev’s A Month in the Country, with predictably disruptive results. Jack Hanson reviews.

Book Review: On Elizabeth Bishop

March 24th, 2015
on elizabeth bishop cover

In the latest Princeton “Writers on Writers” installment, novelist Colm Toibin writes about poet Elizabeth Bishop

Book Review: The War That Used Up Words

March 17th, 2015
the war that used up words

At the outbreak of the First World War, American writers flocked to Europe and headed for the Western Front in order to find their Muse – and to make some quick cash. A new book follows a handful of these earliest chroniclers

Book Review: Those Who Write For Immortality

March 13th, 2015
those who write cover

“I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work,” Woody Allen famously quipped; “I want to achieve immortality through not dying.” Robert Minto reviews a new book on what it takes to make it big in the literary afterlife

Book Review: Oscar Wilde’s Chatterton

March 10th, 2015
the death of chatterton

For over a century, Oscar Wilde’s notebook on Thomas Chatterton has been regarded as a ‘smoking gun’ of Wilde’s plagiaristic tendencies. A new book radically re-examines the issue

Shallow Sargasso Sea

March 1st, 2015
Shallow Sargasso Sea

Can you improve on a classic? A new novel retells George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda — but much more is lost than gained in the attempt.

Inheritance of Anger

March 1st, 2015
Inheritance of Anger

The great Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa claims he became a writer in order to annoy his father; his new novel takes up this age-old theme of the strife between fathers and sons.

Kafka with a Happy Ending

March 1st, 2015
Kafka with a Happy Ending

As we should expect from someone whose previous work is both experimental and kinky, Miranda July has written a first novel that refuses to play by the rules.

Pros and Con Men

March 1st, 2015
Pros and Con Men

Despite his iconic status today, in the 19th century Sherlock Holmes was neither the alpha nor the omega of crime fighters: a fascinating new book introduces us to his many contemporaries.

Leviathan in the Offing

March 1st, 2015
Leviathan in the Offing

Ron Howard’s adaptation of Nathaniel Philbrick’s bestselling In the Heart of the Sea will soon appear, but even the trailers raise rich questions: Why does this story still have the power to fascinate? A Moby-Dick fan ponders.

Flail and Thrash

March 1st, 2015
Flail and Thrash

When we say of someone that they died too early, does this posit that there is a perfect time? How does the meaning of a life change the longer it’s lived. Jenny Erpenbeck’s new novel End of Days explores some answers.

The Familiar is Strange

March 1st, 2015
The Familiar is Strange

Stalking the pages of Thomas Pierce’s debut story collection, where the surreal shares quarters with the ordinary, are dwarf mammoths, genetically modified guard dogs, baby Pippin monkeys, and a parakeet named Magnificent.

It’s a Mystery: “Danger is the spur of all great minds”

March 1st, 2015
It’s a Mystery: “Danger is the spur of all great minds”

The Friendship of Criminals by Robert Glinski is a fresh, original and totally entertaining perspective on mob relationships; A Murder of Magpies is Judith Flanders deliciously wry take on murder and publishing.

Book Review: Table Talk

February 11th, 2015
table talk cover

For twenty-five years, the “Table Talk” feature of The Threepenny Review has offered occasional musings on a wide range of topics by some of the best freelance writers and critics in the business. A new hardcover collects a generous helping of highlights

“Why, It’s I!”

February 1st, 2015
“Why, It’s I!”

Any new translation of a classic like Anna Kareninainevitably raises an awkward question: what was wrong with all the old translations? Debut writer Zach Rabiroff takes it line-by-line

The Buildup of Erasure

February 1st, 2015
The Buildup of Erasure

Claudia Rankine articulates the truths of the black experience so poignantly in her celebrated collection Citizen by putting them, paradoxically, both plainly and artfully.

Book Review: Sympathy for the Devil

January 12th, 2015
Book Review: Sympathy for the Devil

Michael Mewshaw comes not to praise Gore Vidal but to bury him in this new memoir of a friendship that did not outlast Mr. Vidal’s funeral.

What Jona Knew

January 1st, 2015
What Jona Knew

It’s comforting to believe there are lessons to be learned from the Holocaust, or to treat it as a story about the triumph of the human spirit. Jona Oberski’s Childhood rightly refuses us these consolations.

Title Menu: 6 Lyric Voices of Witness

January 1st, 2015
Title Menu: 6 Lyric Voices of Witness

The voice of poetry can often be the voice of lyric witness, turning our attention to moments in history that would have eluded us, or that might never have been felt as well as understood. These titles perform this function about as well as it can be done.

Short Tales on a Tight Rein

January 1st, 2015
Short Tales on a Tight Rein

The contemporary American short story is a kind of stunt double for the novel. Monica McFawn’s Bright Shards of Someplace Else is one such collection, each of its eleven stories posturing like a dare accepted.

Harm Him, Harm Me

January 1st, 2015
Harm Him, Harm Me

Historical novelist Andrew Levkoff stuffs the last installment of his “Bow of Heaven” trilogy with battles, love, loyalty betrayed, crucifixion, cross-purposes, loyalty regained, and deep reflections on what it all means.

James Wood and the Fall of Man

December 1st, 2014
James Wood and the Fall of Man

Book critic James Wood is a fascinating collection of contradictions: an apostate true believer, a champion of experimental fiction, an earnest searcher in empty temples. Sam Sacks reads one of our foremost readers.

A Long Time in the Making

December 1st, 2014
A Long Time in the Making

Nora Webster may be Colm Tóibín’s slightest novel yet, but his later novels are born from and echo this wise and intimate investigation of the interior life.

Double Consciousness

December 1st, 2014
Double Consciousness

Literature by post-Yugoslavian writers is often about identity in flux. That includes the books of David Albahari, one of the most widely read of contemporary Serbian authors and one of the most worth reading.

Something Beyond the Chaos

December 1st, 2014
Something Beyond the Chaos

The author made immortal by the novel Dune also wrote a career’s worth of short stories. Robert Minto looks at the first-ever complete collection of those stories.

The Fighter

December 1st, 2014
The Fighter

Norman Mailer was as fiery and mercurial a letter-writer as he was a novelist and journalist – and ten times as prolific. A big new volume collects the highlights of a lifetime in the post.

Keep on Losing

December 1st, 2014
Keep on Losing

Now back in print: an English translation of iconic Polish writer (and compulsive re-inventor of himself) Marek Hlasko’s most powerful novel.

“Cambridge should come to us”

December 1st, 2014
“Cambridge should come to us”

“Our belief in Literature has collapsed” Lars Iyer once wrote, but his new novel Wittgenstein Jr, the story of a passionate philosophy professor and his apathetic students, bristles with literary faith.

It’s a Mystery: “Irreverence is my only sacred cow”

December 1st, 2014
It’s a Mystery: “Irreverence is my only sacred cow”

A veteran and a newcomer give us two gripping thrillers: The Big Finish by the critically acclaimed master of suspense, James W. Hall, and The Life We Bury, a mesmerizing debut by Allen Eskens.

Stop Their World Spinning

November 1st, 2014
Stop Their World Spinning

Against a pervasive American sports culture, author Steve Allmond pits a devastating critique of the savage violence – and staggering toll in injuries and deaths – of football.

The Attempt to See

November 1st, 2014
The Attempt to See

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson returns to small-town Iowa in this new novel full of deceptive calms and clear mastery.

It’s a Mystery: “Forgive your enemies but never forget their names”

November 1st, 2014
It’s a Mystery:  “Forgive your enemies but never forget their names”

Felix Francis continues to artfully follow in his late father’s footsteps with his newest thriller, Dick Francis’s Damage. The Button Man, Mark Pryor’s fourth Hugo Marston novel, is a prequel that adds a fascinating dimension to the highly charismatic protagonist of this splendid series.

Terminal Lost and Found

October 1st, 2014
Terminal Lost and Found

Martin Amis’ new novel not only delves into the souls of a small group of characters involved in the running of concentration camp – it also interrogates the very nature of Holocaust fiction. Jack Hanson reads the latest from the author of Time’s Arrow.

Post Re-Bop

October 1st, 2014
Post Re-Bop

James Ellroy begins a second L.A. Quartet with his new novel Perfidia. But does it harness the demonic madness and stylistic panache of the author’s earlier works of historical crime fiction?

Coalition of the Chilling

October 1st, 2014
Coalition of the Chilling

A British historian’s richly-sourced accounting of Molotov-Ribbentrop offers fresh insights into this Nazi-Soviet pact of “non-aggression.”

John Domini’s Transformations

October 1st, 2014
John Domini’s Transformations

With literary criticism disappearing as a popular artform, we increasingly look to the book reviewer to do the critic’s work. A new collection by John Domini offers an example of reviews that transcend their form to provide analysis alongside mere evaluation.

It’s a Mystery: “Morality is like an industry, you use what you have”

October 1st, 2014
It’s a Mystery: “Morality is like an industry, you use what you have”

Sophie Hannah revives Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot with panache in The Monogram Murders, and Joe Gannon’s debut thriller Night of the Jaguar is a tightly wound, gut-wrenching read.

Peer Review: Elena Ferrante’s Hunger, Rebellion, and Rage

September 1st, 2014
Peer Review: Elena Ferrante’s Hunger, Rebellion, and Rage

The critical consensus around reclusive Italian novelist Elena Ferrante is enough to make you suspect collusion – but to what end? and at what cost? Rohan Maitzen reviews the reviewers.

Words Plucked from Our Tongues

September 1st, 2014
Words Plucked from Our Tongues

Can Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda heal Canada’s colonial relationship with its First Nations? Why should we expect literature to succeed where our leaders have failed?

All Manner of Damned-Fool-Bravery

September 1st, 2014
All Manner of Damned-Fool-Bravery

A disaffected British colonial officer with a yearning for heroism is relegated to a doomed imperial outpost where he meets a native boy with a yearning for heroes – and from this unlikely pairing, Nick Harkaway’s Tigerman weaves its fantastic, moving story.

A Kind of Humanity: Herzog at 50

September 1st, 2014
A Kind of Humanity: <em>Herzog</em> at 50

It’s been half a century since the appearance of Saul Bellow’s seminal novel Herzog – Jack Hanson revisits the work to see how Bellow’s various machinations have held up over time.

Call It His Soul

September 1st, 2014
Call It His Soul

Christopher Beha’s new novel Arts and Entertainments aims to be that weirdest of all things: a serious, even elegant, book about … reality television. As our reviewer reports, the oddity is that it was even attempted, and the wonder is that it succeeds so well.

A Walker in the City

September 1st, 2014
A Walker in the City

In the world of Julie Hayden’s stories, the contingency of all experience, let alone of literary creation and reputation, is inescapable.

It’s a Mystery: “Fear is a contagious disease”

September 1st, 2014
Stitched Panorama

A tightly drawn disturbing novel, The Frozen Dead is Bernard Minier’s auspicious debut. The Long Way Home is the tenth in Louise Penny’s celebrated Armand Gamache series.

The Very Edge of Fiction

August 1st, 2014
The Very Edge of Fiction

Ben Lerner has followed his breakout novel Leaving the Atocha Station with a metafictional tale of a second-time novelist trying to throw a book together. Is it more than a game?

Grand Affiliations

August 1st, 2014
Grand Affiliations

Metaphor: a tool for poets and rhetoricians, but also, perhaps, the way that people connect to the world at large. Lianne Habinek reviews a gamesome new study by the great literary critic Denis Donoghue.

It’s a Mystery: “My world is a jungle of threats”

August 1st, 2014
It’s a Mystery:  “My world is a jungle of threats”

A Colder War is the latest from Charles Cumming, one of the best at depicting the frail and brutal world of spydom. Neely Tucker’s The Ways of the Dead marks the debut of what promises to be a first-rate series.

To Brave the Swollen Waters

August 1st, 2014
To Brave the Swollen Waters

Powerful South Korean writer Kyung-sook Shin’s second novel to be translated into English tells a touchingly human tale set in a world which, for most of her Western readers, could scarcely be more alien.

Dream-to-Desk

July 1st, 2014
Dream-to-Desk

Michael Cunningham’s beautiful new novel The Snow Queen follows the wisdom of fairy tales: its revelations occur at dusk, because the hour of despair is the most fertile of the day.

Beethoven in the Soul

July 1st, 2014
Beethoven in the Soul

Over time, the books of our youth make way for titles better suited to the grown-up readers we have become. But not all of them: YA or not, some books — such as K. M. Peyton’s Pennington trilogy — deserve a lasting place on our shelves.

Title Menu: 12 Hot Summer Reads

July 1st, 2014
Title Menu: 12 Hot Summer Reads

It’s summer at last, and you won’t find any relief from the heat in our editors’ round-up of the hottest books they know.

Wilson 2.0

July 1st, 2014
Wilson 2.0

Daniel Wilson’s first book, Robopocalypse was a straightforward adventure story about robots rising up against their human makers. His new book takes that simple premise and expands on it in complex and timely ways.

Passing Roncesvalles Again

July 1st, 2014
Passing Roncesvalles Again

The new Scribner “Hemingway Library” edition of The Sun Also Rises offers annotations, rough drafts, and alternate line-edits – but how much light does it shed on its “near-perfect work of fiction”?

It’s a Mystery: “It’s hard to be murdered for any reason”

July 1st, 2014
It’s a Mystery: “It’s hard to be murdered for any reason”

Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, those supersmart, sophisticated sleuths, are back in The Late Scholar, a savvy new detective story by Jill Paton Walsh.

Their Bloody Instruments

July 1st, 2014
Their Bloody Instruments

A ticking clock hangs ominously over every page of Craig DiLouie’s genuinely creepy new horror novel, filled with beings who aren’t quite zombies and not quite vampires. Our resident horror maven Deirdre Crimmins tells us all about it.

The Sun Was Bad

June 1st, 2014
The Sun Was Bad

Rusty Barnes’ debut novel Reckoning is both a hardbitten Appalachia noir and tender coming of age tale, both real art and real fun.

Coral Waxwork Classic

June 1st, 2014
Coral Waxwork Classic

Rjurik Davidson’s stunning debut – an epic of espionage, magic, and beasts migrated out of mythology – isn’t the sixth in a series, or the tenth, or the fifteenth; it’s that rare thing in the genre: a stand-alone novel

The 5 Commandments

June 1st, 2014
The 5 Commandments

Major Kolt “Racer” Raynor doesn’t salute the U.S. flag – it salutes him. He punches bad guys so hard their grandkids are born with bruises. He garrotted a terrorist using a string made from his own eyelashes. He stars in Dalton Fury’s action novel – and if you don’t read the book, he’ll know.

Dervishes and Gypsies

June 1st, 2014
Dervishes and Gypsies

Legendary Indian author Saadat Hasan Manto’s choicest short stories – depicting a teeming Bombay that’s both long-vanished and eternal – receive an attractive new paperback edition from Vintage International

It’s a Mystery: “Destiny is invincible; it always triumphs in the end”

June 1st, 2014
It’s a Mystery: “Destiny is invincible; it always triumphs in the end”

Our mystery columnist looks at a highly anticipated debut, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker, as well as the second novel in Jonathan Holt’s brilliant Carnivia trilogy, The Abduction.

The Important Difference

May 1st, 2014
The Important Difference

Is it really the immigrant writer’s job to represent third-world suffering for the sake of first-world catharsis? In All Our Names, Dinaw Mengestu resists the pressure to substitute autoethnography for art.

Title Menu: 8 books where bad decisions make good protagonists

May 1st, 2014
Title Menu: 8 books where bad decisions make good protagonists

Characters never go wrong when their poor life choices make for fascinating reading. Kathleen Rooney supplies us with eight unmissable examples.

The Selves in Ourself

May 1st, 2014
The Selves in Ourself

In Valeria Luiselli’s debut novel, a young Mexican woman imagines the real life of a long-dead man whose writings she has forged in the voice of a famous American poet. Then things get complicated.

It’s a Mystery: “The past lies like a nightmare upon the present”

May 1st, 2014
It’s a Mystery:  “The past lies like a nightmare upon the present”

A troika of mysteries—one a gripping debut, Precious Thing by Colette McBeth, the others superb new novels from two very special authors: Peter Robinson returns with Children of the Revolution and Donna Leon is back with By Its Cover.

The Ogre’s Guests

April 1st, 2014
The Ogre’s Guests

In his latest novel In Paradise Peter Matthiessen dramatizes a collision between the thoughtful philosophy of Zen and the worst of the 20th Century’s horrors.

The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit

April 1st, 2014
The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit

William S. Burroughs’s notorious Cut-up Trilogy was his fiercest broadside against what he felt was the tyranny of linear thought. Steve Danziger delves into their Word Hoard.

In the Land of the Free Brain

April 1st, 2014
In the Land of the Free Brain

“Your field is the mind, mine is the brain – will the twain ever meet?” Master novelist E. L. Doctorow’s latest deals with the traumas of duality.

It’s a Mystery: “Memory: that place where personal recollections collide with history”

April 1st, 2014
It’s a Mystery: “Memory: that place where personal recollections collide with history”

The Cairo Affair is an elegant new espionage thriller from the highly accomplished Olen Steinhauer. And in The Revenant of Thraxton Hall, Vaughn Entwistle teams Arthur Conan Doyle with Oscar Wilde – what could be better?

Thingamajig Unbound

March 1st, 2014
Thingamajig Unbound

B. J. Novak, the gamine and unassuming star of the American version of The Office, has written a collection of short stories, and that collection, remarkably, got published. Justin Hickey decides to judge it on its merits.

The Idea of Kenya

March 1st, 2014
The Idea of Kenya

A dazzling, kaleidescopic debut novel journeys through Kenya’s fraught post-colonial history while unpacking the tangled question of what it means to be a Kenyan.

A Place Out of a Story Book

March 1st, 2014
A Place Out of a Story Book

A close reading of Elisabeth de Waal’s The Exiles Return reminds us that the dream of every returning exile is to savor not only a lost land but a lost time.

Lost in Eliot

February 1st, 2014
Lost in Eliot

The books we reread say a lot about who we are or who we hope to be. They also shape us, as Rebecca Mead discovers in exploring her own long relationship with George Eliot’s Middlemarch.

Bigger with More and More

February 1st, 2014
Bigger with More and More

Spike Jonze is the most mainstream of indie directors — or the most indie of mainstream directors — and his newest film Her is a triumph of quirky charm and visionary depth. Matt Sadler reviews.

It’s a Mystery: “Always take the favor over money”

February 1st, 2014
It’s a Mystery: “Always take the favor over money”

Martha Grimes’ The Way of All Fish is a delectable satire set in the cutthroat world of New York publishing. Max Kinnings’ Baptism is a taut thriller of unbridled terror in the London subway.

What Passes for Hope

January 1st, 2014
What Passes for Hope

One could argue, from the evidence of cable TV ratings, that we’ve entered the age of the anti-hero. But why are they so popular? Adam Sternbergh’s debut novel provides some unexpected answers.

Muses Far From Home

January 1st, 2014
Muses Far From Home

Romance, nostalgia and beguiling delusions are hallmarks of Lara Vapnyar’s novels, including her sinuous newest, The Scent of Pine

It’s a Mystery: “There’s no trap so deadly as the trap you set for yourself”

January 1st, 2014
Mayhem 72 dpi copy

Two fine, first-rate thrillers usher in the New Year. One centers on a major drug bust in a cutting edge contemporary setting, the other tackles one of the most baffling and notorious crime sprees of the Victorian era.

Bridget of Sighs

December 1st, 2013
Bridget of Sighs

The new Bridget Jones novel will make you laugh and cry — but it might also make you fret, as it continues the series’ ongoing celebration of incompetence. Is blue soup really the best we can hope for, or the most we should strive for?

Second Glance: Wretched Creatures

December 1st, 2013
Second Glance: Wretched Creatures

John Ford’s story of star-crossed lovers is bloodier than Shakespeare’s and more heart-wrenching, too, for it’s a tragedy of childhood, of innocence lost.

Bonfire of the Inanities

November 1st, 2013
Bonfire of the Inanities

A murder, a trip to the dump, and oh yah – September 11. That wacky Thomas Pynchon is at it again!

Second Glance: No Lesser Crime

November 1st, 2013
Second Glance: No Lesser Crime

“The Moonstone will have its vengeance on you and yours!” Those fateful words propel us into one of the first and best of modern English detective novels — still sensational after all these years.

Eternal Blazon

November 1st, 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?

What Does an African Woman Want in America?

November 1st, 2013
What Does an African Woman Want in America?

Chimananda Ngozi Adichie’s expansive novel Americanah centers on a Nigerian woman’s immigration to the United States and eventual return to Nigeria. Orem Ochiel explores what her story says about complex, often traumatic experience of being black and African in the West.

Spray-Paint It Black

November 1st, 2013
Spray-Paint It Black

Vintage records, black dogs, and lost souls fill Dead Set, a teen novel for readers (of all ages) who are sick of half-hearted Hunger Games clones.

The Art of Losing

November 1st, 2013
The Art of Losing

A light mantle of frost settles over the crowded events of Jumpha Lahiri’s new novel, which is “about” loss in the way that Anna Karenina is “about” love

It’s a Mystery: “A man who lets guilt ruin pleasure is the pincushion of fate”

November 1st, 2013
It’s a Mystery:  “A man who lets guilt ruin pleasure is the pincushion of fate”

The splendid Tatiana is Martin Cruz Smith’s eighth Arkady Renko novel, while Sins of the Flesh is the fifth thriller to feature Colleen McCullough’s offbeat detective Carmine Delmonico.

In Search of Lost Tirades

October 1st, 2013
In Search of Lost Tirades

Jonathan Franzen has translated and annotated a collection of essays by Karl Kraus, the Austrian polemicist known as the Great Hater and one of the signal curmudgeonly influences behind Franzen’s fiction.

October 2013 Issue

October 1st, 2013
October 2013 Issue

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An Inglorious Life

October 1st, 2013
An Inglorious Life

Elizabeth Gilbert’s ambitious novel imagines the life of a 19th-century woman botanist, as insightful as Darwin but lost to history. It’s an interesting project, and a worthy one, but does the novel live up to its premise?

Beyond Thought

October 1st, 2013
Beyond Thought

The style of Clarice Lispector’s unconventional and uneasy fiction was driven by both social anxiety and physical pain. How did this transubstantiation take place?

Somebody Ate Her Gerbil

October 1st, 2013
Somebody Ate Her Gerbil

Fearless reporter Renata Adler’s novel “Speedboat” has been stirring debate and controversy since it was published in 1976; now, in a new reprint from the New York Review of Books, it retains its power to shock, subvert, and just maybe seduce.

It’s a Mystery: “It is always easier to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission”

October 1st, 2013
It’s a Mystery: “It is always easier to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission”

Never Go Back, Lee Child’s 18th Jack Reacher adventure, is a winner; plus, the second in a nifty new series, Mortal Bonds by Michael Sears, redefines “follow the money.”

Joseph and his Brothers

September 1st, 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.

Hot and Cold

September 1st, 2013
Hot and Cold

Distance is complicated: it measures intimacy, but in unpredictable ways. Rebecca Solnit’s evocative new book explores the meaning of distance and closeness.

September 2013 Issue

September 1st, 2013
September 2013 Issue

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It’s a Mystery: “Only dead men and idiots believe in coincidence”

September 1st, 2013
It’s a Mystery: “Only dead men and idiots believe in coincidence”

Two special thrillers, The Edge of Normal by Carla Norton and Alex by Pierre Lemaitre: They “star” a duo of sexual predators—each a particularly nasty piece of work that makes for heart stopping suspense.

From the Archives: Elizabeth Smart, Queen of Sheba

September 1st, 2013
by-grand-central-e-smart

A wild fever-dream of a book, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept careers between thrilling emotion and absurd histrionics.

Behold the Man

August 1st, 2013
Behold the Man

The meek and peaceful Jesus has become the standard Christian image of the Messiah. Religious scholar Reza Aslan’s controversial new book shatters that image and replaces it with something very different: a violent revolutionary who came not to bring peace but a sword.

In Prague on an Errand

August 1st, 2013
In Prague on an Errand

In Caleb Crain’s debut novel, a young man puts his ordinary life on hold and goes to post-revolution Prague in search of all the usual things young people go searching for in Prague. But, as reviewer Yulia Greyman observes, “false selves are a part of love.”

Sparta, Iraq

August 1st, 2013
Sparta, Iraq

“We must compensate the man for the loss of his gun,” wrote Virginia Woolf. Roxana Robinson’s riveting novel challenges us to imagine how we can do that as we work for peace.

Lord of the Round Table

August 1st, 2013
Lord of the Round Table

The Lord of the Rings draws on many medieval stories and myths. Oddly absent, however, are overt references to the one myth that ruled them all. A recently published poem fills that gap – but it may bemuse Tolkein’s usual readers.

The Heartless World

August 1st, 2013
The Heartless World

‘Everyone knows who won the war,’ runs the refrain of Muriel Rukeyser’s Savage Coast; her newly published 1930 novel about the Spanish Civil War shows what it meant to be a witness to it.

When One Lives Among Greyhounds

August 1st, 2013
When One Lives Among Greyhounds

The stories of British writer H.H. Munro, known by his pen-name Saki, are devastating studies in torment and cruelty; they’re also exceptionally funny. A new collection offers a bracing reminder of that duality.

It’s a Mystery: “The Devil’s lair never looks like you expect”

August 1st, 2013
It’s a Mystery: “The Devil’s lair never looks like you expect”

From the surfeit of Scandinavian thrillers comes one that stands out with the best: Bad Blood by Arne Dahl.

Nothing Like Being Scared

July 1st, 2013
Nothing Like Being Scared

Shirley Jackson is best known – infamous, even – for her chilling story “The Lottery.” But it’s her novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle, where battle rages between evil within and without, that’s her masterpiece.

Arendt in New York City

July 1st, 2013
Arendt in New York City

When Hannah Arendt published Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1964, her moral authority was called into question. Now Margarethe von Trotta’s new film Hannah Arendt explores both who has the right and who has the responsibility to speak about the Holocaust.

Keeping Up with the Tudors: Him Again

July 1st, 2013
Keeping Up with the Tudors: Him Again

In the famous jingle ‘divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived,’ Katherine Parr comes last – the sixth wife of King Henry VIII. But she was far more than that – scholar, regent, and passionate young woman – as a new Tudor historical novel attempts to portray

It’s a Mystery: “There is within every man and woman a core of evil only lightly held in check”

July 1st, 2013
It’s a Mystery: “There is within every man and woman a core of evil only lightly held in check”

An auspicious debut, The Abomination is a riveting conspiracy thriller by Jonathan
Holt. Plus, Philip Kerr’s cheeky, charismatic Berlin cop Bernie Gunther is back in A Man Without Breath.

From the Archives: Summer Reading 2012 Continues

July 1st, 2013
From the Archives: Summer Reading 2012 Continues

Our feature continues, as more Open Letters folk share their annual Summer Reading recommendations!

Full of High Sentence

June 1st, 2013
Full of High Sentence

Richard Ford likes complexity, and he filled his novel, The Sportswriter, with sonnet-like weights and counterweights of tangled and gorgeous intricacy. As Spencer Lenfield’s reading demonstrates, single sentences can contain worlds.

June 2013 Issue

June 1st, 2013
June 2013 Issue

Olivia Manning: A Woman at War
By Deirdre David
Oxford University Press, 2013
When is a woman writer not a “woman writer”? What does it mean to claim or resist that identity — for a woman who writes, …

Mé Féin

June 1st, 2013
Mé Féin

Fintan O’Toole is an idealist about Irish republicanism and his books begin a desperately necessary conversation. It’s a bad sign, though, that he can’t quite get past the preliminaries.

Home from the Raj

June 1st, 2013
Home from the Raj

Nice as it is to revisit old friends, readers of Jane Gardam’s latest may end up wondering if all the most interesting things happened somewhere else, at some other time.

It’s a Mystery: “If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one”

June 1st, 2013
It’s a Mystery:  “If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one”

John le Carré, the pre-eminent spy writer of the 20th century and beyond, dazzles us again with A Delicate Truth. Plus a debut addition to the ranks of the genre, Red Sparrow, might just earn the author Jason Matthews a pat on the back from the master.

It Might Have Been

May 1st, 2013
It Might Have Been

In life there are no second chances, no do-overs. But what if we could keep trying until we got it right? Kate Atkinson explores the possibilities in a novel that just might win her a coveted literary prize or two.

Snobs of Extraordinary Ability

May 1st, 2013
Snobs of Extraordinary Ability

In Andre Aciman’s latest novel, a man recalls his time as a graduate student at Harvard, revisiting the early days of a long-estranged friendship.

The Madwoman and the Critic

May 1st, 2013
The Madwoman and the Critic

On Kate Zambreno’s Heroines and the crime of dismissive criticism in both Bookforum and The LA Review of Books

Second Glance: Another City

May 1st, 2013
Second Glance: Another City

Mark Wallace’s novels won’t be found at a Barnes & Noble, and that may be a shame beyond words: both Dead Carnival and The Quarry and the Lot reveal haunting truths and wrestle language into terrifying attitudes.

Razing Hell

May 1st, 2013
Razing Hell

In a new memoir packed with garbled madness, we get a funhouse-mirror autobiography of the legendary Richard Hell, who did more than anybody to invent punk rock and only haphazardly survived to tell the tale

No Kaddish For Old Men

May 1st, 2013
No Kaddish For Old Men

Does love create an unbridgeable distance between two souls? Marco Roth’s searching memoir of his microbiologist father alternates between longing and numbness in its search for what, if anything, binds fathers and sons

Infinite Reflection

May 1st, 2013
Infinite Reflection

Born of ancient Buddhist philosophy into the fragments of the modern world, Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge asks essential questions about what it means to be human.

It’s a Mystery: “Half of the future is buried in the past”

May 1st, 2013
It’s a Mystery: “Half of the future is buried in the past”

Two seductive thrillers: one starring a fearless female cop, the other a boatload of washed-up MI5 spies.

Master of the Morbid

April 1st, 2013
Master of the Morbid

The lurid pathology of Patrick McGrath’s fiction – its endless procession of madmen, derelicts, and misguided psychiatrists – can often blind us to the fact that he is first of all a historical novelist – and a great one.

Of Mice and Men

April 1st, 2013
Of Mice and Men

Why, asks James Meek’s latest novel, should the rich get smoother, easier lives than their less well-paid fellow men? And what can an innovative novelist do with the oft-visited ‘immoral rich versus honorable poor’ premise?

From the Archives: Embossed Coins

April 1st, 2013
From the Archives: Embossed Coins

Elie Wiesel once claimed “a novel about Treblinka is either not a novel or not about Treblinka.” How does Steve Sem-Sandberg grapple with representing the unrepresentable in his sweeping chronicle of the Łódź ghetto, The Emperor of Lies? A review from our archives.

Her Hands Full of Sugar-Plums

March 1st, 2013
Her Hands Full of Sugar-Plums

George Eliot’s Middlemarch is beloved for its wit and wisdom. But behind its many beauties lurks a disquieting possibility: that misery is the price we must pay for morality.

The Flimsiness of Difference

March 1st, 2013
The Flimsiness of Difference

After fictionalizing his experiences in his previous four books, Aleksandar Hemon revisits his memories in a new collection of essays.

Exit the Dragons

March 1st, 2013
Exit the Dragons

Yes, we know Sam Lipsyte’s stories are laugh-out-loud funny. But all that low comedy–the pratfalls, the dirty jokes–serves as the ballast for some of the darkest stories in contemporary fiction. Steve Danziger elaborates.

Trauma Room

March 1st, 2013
Trauma Room

To make something we must first unmake or take apart something else. Why, then, in a novel preoccupied with acts of destruction and reconstruction, does Pat Barker not offer a corresponding deformation of form? Has her critique of Modernism led her to disavow art altogether?

Unhappy In Its Own Way

March 1st, 2013
Unhappy In Its Own Way

Car crashes, suburban swingers’ societies, accidental prostitution, Nixon enthusiasts, and a cameo performance by Don DeLillo – in her latest novel, A.M. Homes maintains her equilibrium

It’s a Mystery: “The most successful criminals don’t look the part”

March 1st, 2013
It’s a Mystery:  “The most successful criminals don’t look the part”

Ghostman, by Roger Hobbs, is a dazzling debut that deserves a place as a benchmark of the crime-thriller genre

Queen of the Gypsies

February 1st, 2013
10

Spoiler alert! It’s a familiar warning — but isn’t it also a silly one? There’s so much more to novels than their plots. And yet what if we’re better readers for not knowing? Consider The Mill on the Floss, for example.

A Little Cryptic, A Little Proud, A Little Mad

February 1st, 2013
storm of wings

In M. John Harrison’s lyrical Viriconium trilogy, the high science of quantum physics meets the low art of fighting giant locusts. Justin Hickey finds a quiet spot to watch the chitin fly.

Epstein’s Kaleidoscope

February 1st, 2013
Epstein’s Kaleidoscope

Joseph Epstein has a cult following as a sharp-tongued critic and essayist. His latest collection showcases his love of words and ideas as well as his caustic wit.

Absent Friends: “Warm, funny, sad, true … It is Perfect”

February 1st, 2013
conflict of interest – brattle – oct 2012

“The proper function of a critic is to save a tale from the artist who created it” wrote D. H. Lawrence, but sometimes – most of the time – despite the best efforts of the best critics, both tale and artist disappear. What do we do with the criti-cal darlings of yesteryear, now filling the library bargain sale? And what of the critics, who called them imperishable?

It’s a Mystery: “To the dead we owe only truth”

February 1st, 2013
It’s a Mystery:  “To the dead we owe only truth”

Watching the Dark, the latest in Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks series, shows the master crime writer at the top of his form.

From the Archives: A Map of Faces

February 1st, 2013
From the Archives: A Map of Faces

In 2011, Aleksandar Hemon chooses his favorite short fiction from all across Europe. From our archives, Kevin Frazier celebrated these bracing imports.

Tea with the Pushkins in Brussels

January 1st, 2013
Tea with the Pushkins in Brussels

Say “Evgeny Onegin” to any educated Russian and you will trigger the first stanza or two of Pushkin’s great novel in verse. Now Russia’s national poet is finally coming into his own in the West as well.

It’s a Mystery: “Life is what happens to ‘trust no one’”

January 1st, 2013
It’s a Mystery: “Life is what happens to ‘trust no one’”

Dan Fesperman’s The Double Game is a complex literary novel of intrigue that makes spy fiction a central character, “doubling” the reading pleasure.

Moving-Away

January 1st, 2013
Moving-Away

The Hemingway Library has given us a variorum edition of A Farewell to Arms with 39 alternate endings. But how might Hemingway himself have felt about the resulting collage?

The Prince of the Powers of the Air

December 1st, 2012
The Prince of the Powers of the Air

Anthony Burgess is famous, but not for his best book. John Cotter sees your A Clockwork Orange and raises you the new Europa edition of Earthly Powers.

A Great and Sustaining Mystery

December 1st, 2012
A Great and Sustaining Mystery

Anthony Burgess the novelist had dreams of being a composer. He had little success, but along the way he delved deep into the nature and meaning of music.

Closest to Perfection

December 1st, 2012
Closest to Perfection

Europa Editions has reprinted Anthony Burgess’ masterpiece Earthly Powers. Our editors talk about that seminal volume which has inspired an issue wide celebration of Burgess and his work.

Real Full Rich Rank

December 1st, 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.

Rarest Spun Heavenmetal

December 1st, 2012
Rarest Spun Heavenmetal

A Clockwork Orange turned 50 this year and received the gift of an anniversary edition. Justin Hickey looks anew at the novel Anthony Burgess claimed to have knocked off in three weeks, and which made him famous.

Unorientalized

December 1st, 2012
Unorientalized

Anthony Burgess’ first novels were a series of dark comedies set in colonial Malaya. Did he fall prey to Edward Said’s Orientalist crtitique, or did he anticipate it?

Entitled to Extravagance: Some Historical Fictions of Anthony Burgess

December 1st, 2012
Entitled to Extravagance: Some Historical Fictions of Anthony Burgess

Some of Anthony Burgess’ most accomplished inventions roam into the past, to Shakespeare and Marlowe’s England and Jesus’ Judea. How well has his historical fiction stood up across the years?

Ou-Boum

December 1st, 2012
Ou-Boum

“I knew my trip would mean an encounter with Adela Quested”: Victoria Olsen reflects on what she found, and what was lost in translation, when she travelled to India with E. M. Forster on her mind.

It’s A Mystery: “Three things that come without asking: fear, love and jealousy.”

December 1st, 2012
Blackhouse

A city in northern England and a remote Scottish island are appropriately bleak settings to launch two impressive new series.

A Year in Reviews at OL Weekly

December 1st, 2012
A Year in Reviews at OL Weekly

Open Letters Weekly has been the venue for hundreds of book reviews in 2012. For your reading pleasure and holiday book-buying convenience, we gather them here in chronological order.

The Ghosts of Monmouth County

November 1st, 2012
The Ghosts of Monmouth County

Bossophilia: The idolization of Bruce Springsteen that comes from midlife nostalgia and a fear of dying. Steve Danziger confronts the phenomenon, and a new biography.

Performance Anxiety

November 1st, 2012
Performance Anxiety

What does it mean to say “only the music matters?” In her bleakly intelligent new novel, Lynne Sharon Schwartz challenges us to consider what we really value in music and how our own demand for superhuman perfection strips it of its soul.

It’s a Mystery: “The only way a man learns the true spirit of a rock is to stub his toe on it”

November 1st, 2012
It’s a Mystery: “The only way a man learns the true spirit of a rock is to stub his toe on it”

William Kent Krueger and Steve Hamilton, authors of two critically acclaimed series, have winning new detective novels. Irma Heldman reviews.

This Light is Enough

November 1st, 2012
This Light is Enough

Renowned reviewer and cultural critic Daniel Mendelsohn has a scintillating new collection of his recent work; John Cotter and Steve Donoghue compare notes on “Waiting for the Barbarians”

The Least Inauthentic Self

November 1st, 2012
The Least Inauthentic Self

How can writers depict the fragmented modern soul? For Zadie Smith, the solution is an untidy, fragmented novel. M.K. Hall reviews NW

First Person Singular

October 1st, 2012
First Person Singular

Can a famously cold and impersonal writer like Paul Auster make a memoir of aging that works against his strengths? And are they strengths after all?

It’s a Mystery: “Nobody escaped the desire for vengeance. Nobody.”

October 1st, 2012
It’s a Mystery: “Nobody escaped the desire for vengeance. Nobody.”

The seventeenth Lee Child is vintage Jack Reacher and the eighth Louise Penny is, as always, compelling and charismatic

Other Than Faith

September 1st, 2012
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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.

Books Before and After

September 1st, 2012
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It’s a bridge, a barrier, and a burden; it’s used in the bedroom, the kitchen, and the outhouse. Leah Price helps us think again about what we can, should, or want to do with that most fetishized of objects: the book.

Wagner’s Inferno

September 1st, 2012
0406minos (2)

The worlds of fine art, porno, hollywood, meth addiction, and quality lit cross and recombine in Bruce Wagner’s latest Dead Stars. We made this culture, now what do we make of it?

Trouble in Mind

September 1st, 2012
10

What would it mean if history were a joke, a shaggy dog story? J. G. Farrell’s bleakly funny Troubles reflects the struggle of post-war British literature to come to terms with the inheritance of modernism.

It’s a Mystery: “No one is infallible or invisible”

September 1st, 2012
FranckThilliez

A rare film is the centerpiece of Syndrome E, a cutting-edge, mesmerizing thriller.

It’s a Mystery: “Every man has his price”

August 1st, 2012
HouseBlood

Two scalpel-sharp political thrillers that mark the welcome return of the thoroughly winning, charismatic protagonists: Charlie Muffin and Joe DeMarco.

Much God damned Entropy

July 1st, 2012
WGaddis

2012, a William Gaddis renaissance year, sees the reissue of the author’s awesome, strangely prescient 1975 novel J R. Greg Gerke and Gabriel Blackwell discuss their experiences tackling the tome.

The Twilight(ing) of the Superhero

July 1st, 2012
spiderman 2 poster

Nerdy teenager Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider – and a super-franchise was born! As a new blockbuster Spider-Man movie hits the summer theaters, Justin Hickey takes us on a tour of the character’s colorful – and often tortured – past!

A Measure of the Master: Georges Simenon’s romans durs

July 1st, 2012
GSimenon

The inventor of the beloved Inspector Maigret was gigantically prolific – hundreds of novels, churned out at lightning speed (80 pages a day, according to the author himself) – and in this as in many other things, Georges Simenon was a world unto himself.

In Advance of Failure Foreseen

July 1st, 2012
In Advance of Failure Foreseen

John Updike once affably damned James Agee as a wasted talent who failed to cultivate his craft. Liza Birnbaum replies with a defense of the glories of Agee’s ragged, heartfelt work.

It’s a Mystery: “A good detective assumes nothing”

July 1st, 2012
PLovesey

Cop to Corpse, the 12th in Peter Lovesey’s Detective Supt. Peter
Diamond series, finds the master at the top of his form.

The Dangers of Failing to Lesnerize

June 1st, 2012
galaxy

Dubbed the Voltaire of science fiction, Robert Sheckley often denied that there was anything serious in his fabulations. But a new collection belies the claim, displaying inventive satire mixed with wisdom

Second Glance: The Conrad Connection

June 1st, 2012
heartofdarkness

This picaresque classic by Colombian novelist Álvaro Mutis doubles as an extended valentine to the author of Heart of Darkness. Robert Latona revisits it.

It’s a Mystery: “Life is an ever-unfolding panoply of marvels”

June 1st, 2012
nicevillecarstenstroud

Carsten Stroud’s Niceville is a wildly edgy thriller with the heart of a dark comedy–our resident mystery maven reviews

From the Archives: Supping with Glaucus: A Tour of Roman Historical Fiction

June 1st, 2012
barba_the_slaver

Steve Donoghue takes the emperor’s box to thumbs-up or thumbs-down an array of Roman historical novels, as “A Year with the Romans” continues.

Second Glance: The Radicalism of Felix Holt

June 1st, 2012
Eliot

Felix Holt, the Radical may be one of George Eliot’s least-read novels, but its questions about a democracy that puts power in the hands of “ignorant numbers” still have both moral and political resonance.

Affliction Fiction

May 1st, 2012
immobility

Brian Evenson’s work is a violent exploration of a violent medium: language. His new novel Immobility and the stories collected in Windeye continue that journey into dark territory.

Facts, And The Lying Liars Who Tell Them

May 1st, 2012
JD’AgataJFingal

Art, Truth, Data, Sex, and Facebook–rabble-roused by John D’Agata and Jim Fingal’s The Lifespan of a Fact, Max Ross connects them in a key to all nonfiction aesthetics

Monumental and Fragile

May 1st, 2012
sikuquanshu

No form of literature seems as thoroughly doomed in the 21st century as the printed encyclopedia, but even dinosaurs can have rich and rewarding life-stories. Where did we go, before we all went to the Internet?

Ghost Town Apostle

May 1st, 2012
abandoned-house

Ken Layne’s political writing is sharp and raucus, and a novel about a financially devastated near-future United States would seem like a perfect vehicle for more anger. But though that fire is still there, a gentle-but-compelling spiritualist tone has risen to to the fore.

Aid in the Labyrinth

May 1st, 2012
RJ1914-1965

Randall Jarrell was suspicious of attempts to turn criticism into a science: he wrote as a reader, for other readers, with the work itself foremost in his mind.

A Rasp in the Air

May 1st, 2012
KBTALK

A thumping mix-tape of dystopian fantasy and gangster noir, Kevin Barry’s City of Bohane defies easy categorization–but does it offer a story to match its stylistic bravura?

Into the Breach: Battle Royale and Hunger Games

April 1st, 2012
HungerGames

The box office record-setting movie adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games is the latest incarnation of an unsettling children-as-prey plot that’s been with us in one form or another for a long time – and never more vividly than in Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale

The People’s Prisoner

April 1st, 2012
TiananmenSquareJune289

When the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in 2010, it was given to an empty chair. Its recipient, Liu Xiaobo, was in prison for advocating human rights in China. Though he is still incarcerated, a collection of essays sheds light on his thought and struggle.

Second Glance: Seth Morgan and the Kamikaze Novel

April 1st, 2012
jhouse

With its headspinning wordplay and lunatic cast of characters, Seth Morgan’s 1990 novel Homeboy blazed like a comet into the literary pantheon. Steve Danziger revisits this grime crime classic.

Making the List

April 1st, 2012
sutherland

Long-time critic John Sutherland’s latest book The Lives of the Novelists takes readers on a biographical tour of 294 creators’ lives. But does it work? Long-time critic Steve Donoghue and novelist John Cotter try to figure that out.

It’s a Mystery: “The world is a great honeycombed thing”

April 1st, 2012
NHarkaway

In Nick Harkaway’s altogether remarkable novel Angelmaker, blistering gangster noir meets Rabelaisian comedy

Humanitarian Disaster Romance

April 1st, 2012
kimproces

In The Orphan Master’s Son, Adam Johnson evokes the brutality of North Korea’s authoritarian regime by way of an over-the-top love story. Joyce W. Lee investigates whether torture and romance can coexist in one novel.

Cato of the Antipodes

March 1st, 2012
Cato of the Antipodes

Of his 60+ books, one in particular, The United States, is best representative of his work as a whole and, by readers, best loved. On the Collected Essays of Gore Vidal.

Seer Blest

March 1st, 2012
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.

Shore to Shore

March 1st, 2012
ewilson

For two generations, the great American critic and man of letters Edmund Wilson has been instructing and delighting his readers – and inspiring some of them to become critics themselves.

Queen Elizabeth the First

March 1st, 2012
HardwickAmericanFictions

Elizabeth Hardwick joined the literary world of mid-20th century Manhattan with every intention of making her mark upon it – which she did, in review after inimitable review, taking American book-discourse to levels and places it had never reached before

The Tigers of Wrath

March 1st, 2012
WhyTrillingMatters

Where would Lionel Trilling, godfather of the liberal imagination, fit into our contemporary culture of ideas? And how much of that culture is of his making?

The Knower and the Sayer

March 1st, 2012
leaves_of_grass

Most criticism is reactive, but in his essay “The Poet,” Ralph Waldo Emerson proved prophetic. He set a challenge and Walt Whitman took him up on it.

Acts of Rendition

March 1st, 2012
PoetryPragmatism

Richard Poirier was one of the great bridge-builders–his sorely neglected classic A World Elsewhere drew upon the writing of Emerson but presciently anticipated the postmodernist ideas that would soon enter the mainstream.

How Pleasant to Know Mr. Lane

March 1st, 2012
LaneCurrentCinema

The best of Anthony Lane’s many New Yorker reviews and essays were collected in Nobody’s Perfect, a big volume that amply displays this writer’s wit and subtlety.

A Fine Romance

February 1st, 2012
everything-i-know-about-love-i-learned-from-romance-novels

Is there more to romance fiction than perfect people meeting cute and living happily ever after? Sarah Wendell thinks so, but her arguments in defense of this most reviled of genres may themselves sell it short.

Trompe L’oeil

February 1st, 2012
now_you_see_him_cover

Eli Gottlieb’s novels are built on dissimulation: lies to be cruel, lies to be kind … how does this formula hold in The Face Thief, and what is Gottlieb getting at?

Falling for the Big Con

February 1st, 2012
NightClass

This new novel has all the grit, violence, and hopelessness we expect of the noir sub-genre, but here it’s infused with an almost philosophical edge.

Crowd Control to Major Tom

February 1st, 2012
Remainder

Tom McCarthy’s Derrida-inspired linguistic and narrative fixations are once again on full display in Men in Space, his first novel now reissued after the popularity of Remainder and C

It’s a Mystery: “He’s the gray cardinal of the Kremlin”

February 1st, 2012
ChrisMorganJones

The Silent Oligarch is a smashing debut thriller that has Chris Morgan Jones assuming the le Carré mantle in his own very original way

Radical Acceptance

February 1st, 2012
akhtar_author_photo_by_nina_subin-hi-res

Ayad Akhtar’s debut novel American Dervish describes joins a Pakistani-American boy’s coming-of-age story with the exploration of a Muslim family’s assimilation into picket-fenced suburbs. What traditions will be kept or compromised? And more importantly, how well does the author present his vision?

Coterminous

January 1st, 2012
Whitman of Tikrit

If anything’s taboo in our society it’s a thoughtful, humanistic portrait of a terrorist, which is why more established writers failed where Jarett Kobek delivers something new.

Devil Twins

January 1st, 2012
cosmopolis

Is Don DeLillo’s short game as good as his long? Is it better? His first collection of short fiction — or is it his first? — offers occasion to take the much-lauded writer’s measure.

It’s a Mystery: “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery”

January 1st, 2012
prideandprejudice

P.D. James takes on Jane Austen: a match made in elite whodunit heaven.

“The Desire for Motion”: Tagore’s Three Voices

January 1st, 2012
tagoreb

Prince of the Bengali renaissance, internationally feted poet, composer, painter, educator — why don’t we know Rabindranath Tagore today? And will a new book open our eyes?

It’s a Mystery: “Small clues save you. Small errors kill.”

December 1st, 2011
casinoroyale

Carte Blanche is bestselling author Jeffrey Deaver’s new take on James Bond—bringing Agent 007 into the post-9/11 age.

Desultory Vivacity

November 1st, 2011
middlemarch

Does marriage mean much anymore? Does the novel? Jeffrey Eugenides sets out to reinvent the classic literary story—but can he combine the style and the substance of the greats he hopes to update to our times?

An American in China

November 1st, 2011
wartrashhajin

A meticulously-researched rendition of the horrifying massacres that comprised the “Rape of Nanjing” is the backdrop for Ha Jin’s latest telegraphic and affecting novel.

There Will Be No More Great Ideas

November 1st, 2011
themanwithoutqualities

Robert Musil’s magnum opus The Man Without Qualities was groundbreaking not because it’s unfinished but because it’s unfinishable. A new study attempts to take scope of its deep and mesmerizing pointlessness.

It’s a Mystery: “A Father’s No Shield for His Child”

November 1st, 2011
authors

A gripping thriller, the debut collaborative work from a duo of Danish writers, is the first in a trilogy you won’t soon forget.

Skulking in the Sewers

November 1st, 2011
foucaultpendulumeci

Umberto Eco’s potboiling new novel The Prague Cemetery was denounced in Europe for anti-Semitism, and then went on to become a best-seller. Is the controversy valid? What strange creation has Eco brought forth?

In Lieu of a Drink

November 1st, 2011
hitchenshat

Provocative public intellectual/muckraker Christopher Hitchens offers an enormous volume of collected essays and articles, probably his last.

Time Wounds All Heels

October 1st, 2011
TTLighthouse

In Alan Hollinghurst’s new novel The Stranger’s Child the renown of a minor English poet balloons and distorts in each succeeding decade after his death

Down and Out in Luanda and Lisbon

October 1st, 2011
antunes

Novelist António Lobo Antunes’ books are searing and wildly original indictments of Portugal’s needlessly protracted and bloody colonization of Angola.

A Crucible of the Human Spirit Guy

October 1st, 2011
meanfreepath

Ben Lerner’s arresting first novel sets a funhouse mirror before the author’s own formative years as a poet, poseur, and pill-popper in Madrid.

The Birth of a Salesman

October 1st, 2011
dewitt

Eleven years after her breakout novel The Last Samurai, Helen DeWitt returns to satirize the chattering nonsense of the corporate world.

Satanic Maggots

September 1st, 2011
MrFortune’sMaggot

Colonialism, feminism, witchcraft, the Lord of Darkness — themes such as these once made Sylvia Townsend Warner’s novels bestsellers. Now her charmingly subversive fiction is back in print.

Love at First Glans

September 1st, 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?

Three for the Boys

September 1st, 2011
rot&ruin

Newly released in paperback are three Young Adult novels aimed at that sometimes-elusive reading demographic: teen boys.

Byronic Interludes

August 1st, 2011
Lord Byron at 20

The larger-than-life exploits of Lord Byron drew an erratic and daunting trajectory through the lives of those nearest him. A trilogy of novels attempts to go where so many biographies have gone before.

A Jester During the Third Reich

August 1st, 2011
IrmgardKeun

Irmgard Keun depicted exceptionally naive women and seemed even to play the the role herself, even suing The Gestapo for banning her books. But was there a strategy behind playing dumb?

The Bad Man Comes to Stay

August 1st, 2011
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A witty young woman meets a devastating man — literally, he devastates her. From the wreck of her life she tells her tale, and it is a tale well told. Sex meets death in Deborah Kay Davies’ brilliant True Things About Me

Sorokin’s Tyrannical Chosen

July 1st, 2011
icetril

Vladimir Sorokin’s gruesome (and frequently censored) satires puncture Russia’s surprising nostalgia for the glory days of Stalin and Khrushchev; Amelia Glaser reviews two newly released works.

Not merely because of the fate of character

July 1st, 2011
boully-spector

The self is strange and divided in Jenny Boully’s new book of poetry; Karen Hannah tries to piece it together.

On the Barricades with the Bourgeoisie

July 1st, 2011
MillenniumPeople

Visionary novelist J.G. Ballard’s penultimate book “Millennium People,” about an outbreak of middle-class revolution and terrorism, has finally been published in the U.S.

The Old Stories

June 1st, 2011
rcoover

Good writers borrow, great writers steal. Sure, but should they steal whole characters? plots? authors? Robert Coover and the writers of Re: Telling steal it all and let their readers sort it out.

Michigan Falls

June 1st, 2011
train ferry

Scott Sparling’s first novel Wire to Wire has rushed up at the reading world full of glue-sniffers, freight-hoppers, wedgeheads, and knives midair — so what’s it really about?

The Zither and the Worm

June 1st, 2011
newimpressionsofafrica

French trailblazer Raymond Roussel created teeming and fertile worlds from a secret process of wordplay. Two of his most spectacular works are coming back into print after a long, undeserved absence.

Ah, the Merry Widows!

June 1st, 2011
Michelle Latiolais

Widowhood is lonely, darkly comic, defiant, and emotionally vital in Michelle Latiolais’s new story collection. Jeff Bursey reviews.