Review Redux 10-26-09

Kingsolver Barbara Kingsolver’s new novel, The Lacuna, has many readers waiting in the wings. They’ll have to linger just a bit longer, though, since the lay-down date is November 3rd. But the book is currently offered at Amazon for $9.00 on pre-order, $17.99 off the list price. Kingsolver is joining Grisham on the mass discount list? Wal-Mart and Target can’t be far behind.
I can see why Kingsolver is getting a push, since this novel looks to be a humdinger. Bookforum notes: “Kingsolver has dreamed up a series of private journals, fictitious news accounts, invented book reviews, and other faux-archival stuff to make a riddle of [Frida Kahlo’s] story. And though Kahlo is a character, as are Trotsky, Diego Rivera, Zelda Fitzgerald, and Richard Nixon, the shyly sweet heart of the novel is the completely made-up Harrison William Shepherd. He is also its not always dependable narrator, because much of the truth Kingsolver wants to reveal about human nature caught in the sweaty grasp of historical events is uncovered by unpeeling the layers of a personality—Shepherd’s—belonging to someone who writes fiction himself.” Bingo, I’d read that.

Irving John Irving is a polarizing writer; apparently it’s love him or hate him. (Caveat: I very much like, on average, about a third of his titles so must be semi-demi-rara avis amongst Irving readers.) His new novel has one solid critical fan so far: Daniel Mallory, writing in the LA Times, thinks Last Night in Twisted River “doubles back… going over ground [Irving] traveled before in his earlier writings, and yet the story is fresh and excellent.” Actually, he seems entirely entranced: “Majestic yet intimate, shot with whimsy, dread and molten pathos, Twisted River compresses the panoramic scope of his midcareer legacy without diluting its brio.” I go for brio so that’s a click for me.

Lethem Jonathan Lethem is catching contradictory grief from Ron Charles in the Washington Post’s review of Chronic City: “Lethem’s brilliant, bloated new novel about the hollowness of modern life should delight his devoted fans—and put them on the defensive. They will point, justifiably, to the exquisite wit and dazzling intricacy of every single paragraph. In the pages of Chronic City, all 467 of them, this super-hip, genre-blurring, MacArthur-winning, best-selling novelist proves he’s one of the most elegant stylists in the country, and he’s capable of spinning surreal scenes that are equal parts noir and comedy. But ultimately, these perfectly choreographed sentences compose a tedious reading experience in which redundancy substitutes for development and effect for profundity.”

Taylor The REAL Elizabeth Taylor, the novelist, gets a glowing Observer mini-review for A Game of Hide and Seek: “Taylor’s forte as an author is acute observation and the devastating precision of her understated prose. Her brilliance is particularly evident in this, her fifth novel, set in her familiar milieu of middle-class married couples whose unfulfilled lives are crisscrossed with unspoken tension and stifled ardour.”
Thank the goddesses for Virago and their reprints. This Elizabeth Taylor is finest kind.

Auster Those Brits do like their understated snarky fun. For instance, this brief London Times review of Paul Auster’s Invisible: “Some of us have often wondered how good Paul Auster would turn out to be if he actually wrote a proper novel for once instead of another volume of experimental creative-writing coursework; if he offered us a square meal instead of intellectual sushi. Well, heaven knows why… but he has gone and done that very thing.” Difficult to say if that’s damned with faint praise or praised with fainting damnation—or maybe even grudging admiration.

DavisThe Village Voice has good things to say about the very substantial Collected Stories of Lydia Davis: “Style is character, Joan Didion once observed…. Davis’ prose has been unmatched in mirroring the workings of the mind. Few are better than this writer at representing thought on the page; she captures not just the peculiar rhythm of internal speech but also its cycling, digressive mechanics. Here’s one character, waiting for a phone call from a lover: ‘When he calls me either he will then come to me, or he will not and I will be angry, and so I will have either him or my own anger, and this might be all right, since anger is always a great comfort, as I found with my husband.'” This collection has been garnering much positive press and I’m tempted, although I am not generally a fan of short stories. But one must not, after all, be too categorical.


9 Comments to Review Redux 10-26-09

  1. PatD's Gravatar PatD
    October 27, 2009 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    Another yeoman’s job well done, Kat. I was on the fence about the new John Irving (I loved two and couldn’t finish any other books by him), but I pre-ordered it after I read EW’s review:
    “And so it rolls, this new John Irving novel, galumphing along like logs bumping their way down river rapids, clunkety-clunk-clunk. There’s a passage of present tense here, some meta novelist-as-celebrity stuff there, a grocery list thrown in before a moment of accidental, cataclysmic violence. This structure means that it takes a while to fall wholly for Last Night in Twisted River, but if you’re a fan of ambitious, chaotic, plot- and character-driven storytelling, you’ll love this book.”
    You can read the whole thing here:,,20314276,00.html

  2. Sean Long's Gravatar Sean Long
    October 27, 2009 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    You know Kat, if you ever stop this feature I will have to hunt you down and kill you.
    I am really interested in the new Kingsolver. I just finished her non-fiction book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which documented her family’s year of procuring as much of their food as possible from neighboring farms and their own backyard.

  3. Karen Wall's Gravatar Karen Wall
    October 27, 2009 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    I’ve never read Kingsolver but that sounds great. I’ve liked what Irving I’ve read, especially Garp, but I haven’t read any of his recent stuff.
    Ooh, the Elizabeth Taylor is already on my wish list. Viragos are terrific. Kat, have you read The Tortoise and The Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins, another Virago I recently put on my wish list?

  4. PatD's Gravatar PatD
    October 27, 2009 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    The Times has an engrossing interview with Irving:
    Life According to John Irving.

  5. October 27, 2009 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    My dad asked me about the new John Irving the other day. I haven’t read him in years. Dad has always been particularly fascinated by the Garp schlong chomp.
    Poisonwood Bible has always been a favorite of mine.
    I’m reading Lethem now, and have to say, it is a huge disappointment for me.

  6. Kat Warren's Gravatar Kat Warren
    October 27, 2009 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    >the Garp schlong chomp
    Hah, that’s being inscribed in my notebook of memorable literary phrases. Thanks to your Dad, Chazz. The evil in me can’t help but note that dude still had a tongue, um.
    Karen, haven’t read The Tortoise and the Hare yet but long to. Which is true of most of the Viragos, Persephones, Europas and NYRoB (Yae for small presses). If I am successfully reincarnated as a reading being, that life is all sorted our for me. That imprimatur of destiny must be karma of a sort, no?
    Sean, I can’t promise weekly roundups but hope to get ’round to ‘em twice a month or so. I didn’t know they were that appealing, truth to tell, so BIG thankees to y’all. You, too, Pat.

  7. Kat Warren's Gravatar Kat Warren
    October 28, 2009 at 12:29 am | Permalink

    Meanwhile, the new Irving tome is giving rise to amusing reviews, e.g., this NYT piece by Kakutani. You can tell she really wanted to hate it but couldn’t quite and she’s therefore “Not Happy.”
    >“Last Night in Twisted River” showcases all of John Irving’s biggest liabilities as a writer: a tricked-up, gimmicky plot; cartoony characters; absurd contrivances; cheesy sentimentality; and a thoroughly preposterous ending. And yet, at the same time, it evolves into a deeply felt and often moving story — a story that with some diligent editing might have ranked right up there with “The World According to Garp” (1978) and “A Widow for One Year” (1998) as one of Mr. Irving’s more powerful works.

  8. October 30, 2009 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    I’m looking forward to the Kingsolver. This is one time I agree with Kakutani – all of those liabilities have overwhelmed so many of his novels. But I’m not ready to trust on Twisted River. I want to hear from some other readers before taking the plunge.

  9. October 31, 2009 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    I didn’t care for the Irving or the Lethem at all. But the Kingsolver sounds really interesting.

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