3.5 stars. I can appreciate O'Neill's ambition. I loved the experience of reading this book, how lush and immersive even the smallest detail felt, how3.5 stars. I can appreciate O'Neill's ambition. I loved the experience of reading this book, how lush and immersive even the smallest detail felt, how the language and the world felt vividly, sonorously alive. But although I enjoyed HOW he said it, WHAT he had to say didn't grab me all that forcefully. The romantic aspect of this book was pretty cliche, bordering on histrionic. (Let's just leave its very confused ideas about pedophilia and consent for another time, like never.) By far the most beautifully drawn and emotionally rich relationships in the book were the ones between fathers and sons, and between men and their maiden aunts. Don't come here looking for a love story; this is a story about a boy, a man, and a country all growing up and learning how to play well with their elders....more
So refreshing to read a truly adult novel -- written by, for, and about adults, and interrogating their adult problems. Yes, on paper, this book has bSo refreshing to read a truly adult novel -- written by, for, and about adults, and interrogating their adult problems. Yes, on paper, this book has been done a million times before: oh woe is me, I'm a ridiculously rich, successful, and overprivileged old white guy facing down a completely banal and cliché midlife crisis from the back seat of my BMW town car. Straight from the heart of Updike Country....No thanks. But in Bialosky's hands this whole exercise feels totally new and different, something nuanced and effortlessly readable (it helps if you are an art fan).
One minor confusion: the titular prize is mentioned for the first time literally 30pp. before the book ends, and has very little bearing on the novel. Wha?...more
4.5 stars. The Wake should be taught alongside Said and Rushdie and Things Fall Apart: this is a rich postcolonial text from the pre-pre-colonial era,4.5 stars. The Wake should be taught alongside Said and Rushdie and Things Fall Apart: this is a rich postcolonial text from the pre-pre-colonial era, a novel of the horrors of systematic oppression from way before the idea of "white people" even existed.
But what really matters here is the writing, which is utterly enthralling (though perhaps I should phrase that differently, since, of course, in our narrator Buccmaster's world, being in thrall is pretty much the biggest insult ever). Kingsnorth -- even his surname is a perfect linguistic fit for this tale of Anglo-Saxon villainy! -- is an accomplished poet, and it shows: the gorgeous, lushly feral language is totally what makes this book, turning what is basically an 11th century version of a Fox News commentator tirade into something conpletely unforgettable....more
This book was more basic than Taylor Swift Instagramming a pumpkin spice latte. Ooooh, parallel universes? Suburban ennui? Give this guy a McArthur GeThis book was more basic than Taylor Swift Instagramming a pumpkin spice latte. Ooooh, parallel universes? Suburban ennui? Give this guy a McArthur Genius and a Pulitzer right now. If you want a book with something worthwhile to say (or even if you don't) skip this and read the only great "post-9/11" book that's been written (so far): Amy Waldman's brilliant and unnerving "The Submission" from 2011 (not to be confused with the bigoted shart of the same name that Houellebecq pinched off earlier this year)....more
As someone who handles the printing and manufacturing of high production value illustrated books for a living, I have to say I was not at all impresseAs someone who handles the printing and manufacturing of high production value illustrated books for a living, I have to say I was not at all impressed by this package. (No offense to the legendary Andy Hughes who handled the production on this -- quality is lovely, just not all that impressive.)
So apparently this artful jumble of 14 supposedly varied and unique pieces are meant to be a celebration of the lost art of printed matter, a return to the tactile ur-wonders of comics art, a paean to the many vast and varied ways we process memories. BUT...well....all 14 pieces are printed on the same paper (which Ware says is deliberate), colored in the same palette, drawn in the same style, paced in the same way, every panel sized and plotted out in precisely the same fashion. The only difference between one piece and the next is what size it's been cut down to! That's not a celebration of the physical book as objet, or a manifestation of how varied and rich our memories render the past. That's basically saying here's this half-formed comic that I couldn't cohere into an interesting story, so rather than putting normal chapter breaks in it and slapping it between 2 covers, I just chopped it up into a bunch of arbitrarily different sizes and threw it in a box in hopes that you would be so distracted by all the shuffling and unfolding and page-turning that you wouldn't notice I don't have all that much to say.
Because Ware doesn't have much to say here. The plot is banally melodramatic, the pacing torturously dull, the characters utterly mundane in their thoughts and preoccupations. Yes, Ware's books have always been about the oppressive schlubbiness of existence, but his teeming, OCD-inflected drawing style and unique (literal and figurative) perspective on how humans interact always sea-changed that into something rich and strange. Here, Ware seems to leave the transformative heavy lifting to the "unusual" (ahem, not at all unusual and actually completely uniform) format, and it's a bit of an Emperor's New Clothes situation. Go ahead and tack one of the flashier panels of this up in your cubicle if you're feeling artsy, but to derive true pleasure in Ware's work, stick to the pieces you can find between 2 standard book covers. ...more
This was a clever short story idea that someone felt deserved a droning, actively boring novel-length treatment (and not one of those "novels" we seeThis was a clever short story idea that someone felt deserved a droning, actively boring novel-length treatment (and not one of those "novels" we see so much today where they blow up the type size and add a bunch of chapter opener pages and half title pages to fill it out to 200pp. -- this was actually truly a 70,000 word project). Why is this still allowed to happen? Where have all the editors gone to nurture, develop, and EDIT Moshfegh's talents so she can gain the skill to sustain a true novel-length idea, rather than just copy and paste the same thing over and over again in a mockery of "Shirley Jacksonesque" (to quote the flap copy) relentless horror? I work in publishing (not in editorial) and I'm surrounded by people who draw down a salary against the title of editor, but I guess like all of us we can't always devote attention to all the parts of our job that we'd like to. Or at least that's the case at Penguin in 2015 if this novel is to be taken as representative....more
3.5 stars. Impressively ambitious in its scope, especially considering Kurniawan was just 26 when this was originally published (in early 2002). By co3.5 stars. Impressively ambitious in its scope, especially considering Kurniawan was just 26 when this was originally published (in early 2002). By comparison, Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez were both 40 when their generation-spanning fabulist masterpieces first appeared on shelves.
I bring up Garcia Marquez and Allende not arbitrarily but because magical realism (whatever that means anymore!) is unquestionably the main influence on Kurniawan's 470pp charmer (as you no doubt realized from the blurbs, other reviews, and the evocative Bali in the Time of Cholera cover design by John Gall. Indeed, Gall's cover does a lot of heavy lifting for Kurniawan's ambitions: put aside the dreamy, artsy assemblage of this New Directions English edition for a second to feast your eyes on this photo of the horror that is the original Indonesian editions, and just try to picture this book in conversation with a Nobel Prize winner.) Of course the plot is jammed full of not-quite-100-Years of tricksily insolent ghosts, multiple people with identical names, endearingly impossible plot leaps, and sexy women in sexy tropical settings; but more crucially Kurniawan's narrator is keen to echo magical realism's high mythic tone, fanciful folkloric flourishes, and that patented wry, romantic, charmingly sexist voice throughout (the mimicry of which Salman Rushdie has turned into an entire literary career).
I bring up mimicry and the folly of youthful ambition because, unfortunately, this book is not quite successful as it wants to be. In the fictional town of Hallimunda where the book takes places, the age difference between 26 and 40 years old is actually an entire generation, and that's key. Kurniawan's book is jammed most full of rookie mistakes. The book struggles to keep its convoluted plot from falling in on itself, and many parts drag. Kurniawan is glitteringly brilliant at writing multifaceted women (the first 50pp. about Dewi Ayu, Beauty, and Rosinah are an unquestionable masterpiece), but his men are interchangeable cyphers, and also boors (and also a bore to read about). The lag between sections of looping-back-on-itself stories is way too long, and as such much of the narrative feels inert, the momentum gone.
That said, I would press this lightly into the hands of my friends. The story is really quite charming and Kurniawan is vividly, callously, sweetly, voraciously imaginative. As a book that has been heaped with lavish high-literary praise alongside more dour, polished, hegemonically canonical bitter pills like Ferrante, Franzen, etc., this odd project deserves praise (as green as its style is) for being so refreshingly different, and unapologetically so. I guess I would not so much recommend this book specifically as I would recommend all English speakers wait anxiously for more of Kurniawan's later books to be translated -- after all, he turns 40 this year....more
Abandoned at page 46. My patience for these self-fellating, aggressively pointless, over-workshopped, look-I-have-an-MFA exercises in pretentious tediAbandoned at page 46. My patience for these self-fellating, aggressively pointless, over-workshopped, look-I-have-an-MFA exercises in pretentious tedium was always pretty low, but I don't know man. I just can't stomach these books anymore. Ever since I choked down that Valeria Luiselli horrorshow and learned that it's not just Brooklyn white bros who pinch these things off, I think that was it for me. I mean while reading this I literally had the thought for a second that I would rather be reading the new Jonathan Franzen, that's how bad it was....more
2.5 stars. Kaling's second book outing suffers somewhat from what could be called the David Sedaris Effect -- when your fame grows so great it eclipse2.5 stars. Kaling's second book outing suffers somewhat from what could be called the David Sedaris Effect -- when your fame grows so great it eclipses your ability to be relatably funny about yourself. As I wrote back then, Sedaris's execrable When You Are Engulfed in Flames was his first humor collection after he hit it super-big, and it shows. An alcoholic department store elf ridiculing working class human foibles is funny, if slightly alarming; a millionaire flagship NPR property ridiculing working class human foibles is pretentious and unbearable.
Similarly, though less dramatically, since first introducing us to the ditzily insecure but brilliant Mindy of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Kaling has become actor-director-producer-style star-showrunner-Emmy winner Mindy, and again it shows. The anecdotes are less winsome, wacky, and charming, more about voicing Kaling's personal work and success philosophy and the advancing of the impeccably successful though still enjoyably approachable Mindy Kaling brand (in case you didn't get the point that this is about living the Mindy Kaling lifestyle, the book is capped by a verbatim reprint of a Harvard Law School commencement speech she gave). Of course, any Mindy Kaling is still a pretty charming Mindy Kaling, so you can't hate it. ...more
Silver is bold to put Bennington right in the title, since as we all know, the best book about Bennington girls (and boys) -- and one of the best bookSilver is bold to put Bennington right in the title, since as we all know, the best book about Bennington girls (and boys) -- and one of the best books ever -- has already been written. I'm speaking, of course, about Donna Tartt's 1992 masterpiece The Secret History (There's also Bret Easton Ellis's lesser though still enjoyable Bennington chronicle The Rules of Attraction.) Smartly, Silver covers the actual college years in just a few pages, and indeed skips over nearly completely the sort of nostalgic, twee, Instagram-filtered memories of college life the cover seems to promise.
At first I was really put off by that, finding the characters and storylines incredibly unpleasant and unlikable, nearly leading me to cast the book aside unfinished. But once I embraced the fact that this was not actually another ironic post-Brooklyn hipster chronicle but in fact a mean, unrelenting, diamond-sharp, lacerating satire of nearly everyone in New York in the manner of Dawn Powell or Edith Wharton, I was in heaven. Everyone in this book is completely awful and pretentious, and I enjoyed every second of watching them get eviscerated on the page. I'm a modern dance-loving liberal arts major who is nearly exactly contemporary to the Bennington class of 2003, and I live among people of various economic instabilities in hyper-gentrified Brooklyn. This is the book I needed to remind myself what really matters (ridiculing everything around you), and that it's ok to let the hate out once in a while. To paraphrase Belize from Angels in America: "I live in Brooklyn, Louis, that's hard enough, I don't have to love it. You do that. Everybody’s got to love something."...more