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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
The 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.