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In the Book Review

In which we have a look at this week's New York Times Book Review, even though we're on vacation.

We interrupt our vacation (ha!*) to bring you an express review of the Book Review. One or two sentences have been chosen from each review, not because it will give an idea of what the book's about but rather because it betrays the quality of the review. Will Blythe's review of Talk Talk, for example, is every bit as windy and pointless as is my extract. ("Longstanding virtuosities"? - chalk on a blackboard!) Caryn James was probably not the right choice for Grief. And surely Neil Genzlinger could have foreseen that Execution is, as he says, to be read in random swoops, not all at once, as he apparently read it.

On the whole, this week's reviews were diligent and sensible. There's nothing sensationally egregious to laugh at/rail against.


The Keep, by Jennifer Egan. "The opening of her new novel, The Keep, lays out a whole Escherian architecture, replete with metafictional trapdoors, pitfalls, infinitely receding reflections and trompe l'oeil effects, but what's more immediately striking about this book is its unusually vivid and convincing realism. Egan sustains an awareness that the text is being manipulated by its author, while at the same time delivering character and story with perfect and passionate conviction." - Madison Smartt Bell.

The Ruins, by Scott Smith. "The Ruins is superior horror literature, but it does not entirely overcome the pile-driving limitations of the genre; it might have been more effective as a short story." - Gary Kamiya.

The Cottagers, by Marshall N Klimasewiski. "One of the strength of Marshall N Klimasewiski's first novel lies in his willingness to create a cast of characters who are unlikable in very human ways - and who become less sympathetic as their story unfolds." - Steven Heighton.

Talk Talk, by T Coraghessan Boyle. "Talk Talk is a merely good novel, what Graham Greene, in categorizing his own literary endeavors, would have termed an "entertainment." But even a merely good Boyle novel should remind readers of the author's longstanding virtuosities." - Will Blythe.

Grief, by Andrew Holleran. "Holleran's earlier novels can seem so determined to speak for their disenfranchised gay characters that the works become inaccessible to anyone else, like looking through a window at someone else's world. Taken on its own, Grief is more generous in its reach. The narrator speaks for everyone when he says, "That's where the dead exist - in our hearts." Through this self-absorbed hero, Holleran has gained a perspective more expansive than ever before." - Caryn James.

Sleepwalking Land, by Mia Couto. "But Couto's novel stands apart: it shows the world that war creates, a dreamscape of uncertainty where characters and readers alike marvel not at the abnormal becoming normal but at the way we come to accept the impossible as reality." - Uzodinma Iweala.

Fiction Chronicle, by Etelka Lehocaky

Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die! by Mark Binelli. "But its joyous nostalgia, pinpoint characterizations and postmodern brio more than make up for a weak second reel."

Mammals, by Pierre Mérot (translated by Frank Wynne). "But that's a testament to the author's talent: there may not be much of a plot in the uncle's story, but he tells it supremely well."

Everfree, by Nick Sagan. "Sagan's story eerily parallels the city's fate, crumbling as New Cambridge does."

The Lambs of London, by Peter Ackroyd. "Mary's struggle is the most dynamic element of a rather sparse story, but Ackroyd's short, brisk sentences and spare but well-chosen descriptions provide a compelling forward momentum."

Hello, I Must Be Going, by Christie Hodgen. "The result is less diverting than depressing."


Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code, by Matt Ridley. "Ridley convincingly shows Crick to be much more than the boisterous braggart behind the double helix." - Peter Dizikes.

Guantánamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power, by Joseph Margulies. "In a sense, Margulies doesn't give himself enough credit. ... Thanks largely to the work of pro bono lawyers like him, Guantánamo has taken some meaningful strides toward legal accountability." - Jonathan Mahler.

The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq, by Fouad Ajami. "But one is left wondering how someone so cynical about the dysfunctionality of Arab political patterns could have been so optimistic about the "Baghdad spring" in the first place." The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End, by Peter W Galbraith. "The Kurds have as strong a claim to self-determination as anyone, but for now it should be up to their leaders, not someone else, to call for something more than the de facto autonomy they currently enjoy." - Noah Feldman.

The Librettist of Venice: The Remarkable Life of Lorenzo da Ponte, Mozart's Poet, Casanova's Friend, and Italian Opera's Impresario in America, by Rodney Bolt. "The tale of the chance meeting of [da Ponte and Clement Moore] in a bookshop of Broadway is well told, one of many artfully shaped episodes that make The Librettist of Venice irresistible reading, even for those who prefer Italy's olives to its operas. - Megan Marshall.

Conservatives Without Conscience, by John W Dean. "With Ahab-like monomania, Dean discovers that every objectionable conservative Republican action - from "taking America to the war in Iraq on false pretenses" to Dick Cheney's obscene outburst at Senator Patrick Leahy to harsh right-wing criticism of the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court - reflects triumphant authoritarianism." - Nick Gillespie.

The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for an Age of Commerce, by Deirdre N McClaskey. "But it is a little dispiriting to hear McCloskey announce that this book is merely the first of four (!) projected volumes by her on the subject of virtue and capitalism. Somewhere within this loose, baggy monster there has to be a slim, cogently argued treatise struggling to get out." - Jim Holt.

The Horizontal World: Growing Up Wild in the Middle of Nowhere, by Debra Marquart. "Marquart concludes her memoir with an 11-page rendition of a classic farmer's-daughter joke. Only in her take, the daughter not only has her way with the salesman, she also steals his car and speeds out of town at morning light. It's a fitting end to an empowering story." - Julia Scheers.

Execution: The Guillotine, the Pendulum, the Thousand Cuts, the Spanish Donkey, and 66 Other Ways of Putting Someone to Death, by Geoffrey Abbott. "Anyway, this all gets numbing fairly quickly. But, of course, only a psychotic or a book reviewer would ever read this volume from cover to cover. It's mean tyo be taken in small bites, randomly; any more than that is just too disheartening." - Neil Genzlinger.

Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home, by Nano Parrado with Vince Rouse. Obviously, Parrado survives to tell his side of things, but the story of how he does it should humble even the most jaded adventure seeker." - Louise Jarvis Flynn.

Rachel Donado's Essay, Backlist to the Future, muses somewhat distractedly on the impact of Chris Anderson's "long tail" upon the publishing houses' backlists. So far, not much.

* I spent the morning rebuilding about a hundred old Daily Blague entries, disabling comments and trackbacks. We're talking tedious.


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