I can't remember a novel I've read that's rawer or more brutally unsparing—the prose is cut from a diamond and practically every page smolders. BrilliI can't remember a novel I've read that's rawer or more brutally unsparing—the prose is cut from a diamond and practically every page smolders. Brilliant....more
This is the 12th Roth book I've read, and it's the equivalent of a napkin drawing in his canon. The first 40 pages describing Axler's downfall were prThis is the 12th Roth book I've read, and it's the equivalent of a napkin drawing in his canon. The first 40 pages describing Axler's downfall were pretty compelling, but how to begin classifying the rest? If you have never read him, you could (and should) start with just about anything else. The Human Stain, Portnoy, American Pastoral, The Counterlife. Of his slimmer later novels, all of them are leagues better.
However, quoting one levelheaded review of this book (because ultimately I agree): "I see [this book] as Roth trying to exercise some final demons before putting his pen down. I'm not sure if the demon is gone, or if I even liked this book, but it still is impossible to not respect and like Roth even when he disappoints."
It's true: The man cannot write a bad sentence....more
In the wake of the election there was rage, anger, and fear, but there was a lot of simple lamentation, too. "We don't know each other," "We never talIn the wake of the election there was rage, anger, and fear, but there was a lot of simple lamentation, too. "We don't know each other," "We never talk to each other, "We're living in two different countries." This vital, deeply humane book addresses those statements brilliantly. Hochschild, a liberal sociologist from Berkeley, had been talking to members of the American right for years before Trump the politician was even a twinkle in anyone's eye.
In trying to make sense of the election, I relied on the old "nothing is as apparently good or bad as it seems" mentality, and that there was always a more complex or nuanced backstory to the soundbites and stereotypes that were being slung around, had been slung around for years. Strangers in Their Own Land reflects that. Grounded in clear-eyed observation and research but in plenty of character-driven narrative too, it confronts the paradox of how Louisianans in Lake Charles (the petrochemical capital of the world) apparently vote against their own interest, using their crumbling environment as a central "keyhole" issue. Hochschild, looking to climb over the "empathy wall" with this group and get a clearer view, is less focused on pure economics or plumbing institutions like the media and church. Instead, she wants to know how her Tea Party subjects' emotions and emotional self-interest—grounded in what she calls their "deep story"—play such a huge role in their hatred of government and especially policies like welfare.
The result is a book that feels like a genuine reach across the divide of our national moment. Anyone who cares about deepening their understanding of where we're at would do well to skip the scorched-earth op-eds or cable news shouting fests and check this book out. It is worth way more than the price of admission.
Update: Adding this quote from Obama's interview on the role that books and stories have played in his presidency: "When so much of our politics is trying to manage this clash of cultures brought about by globalization and technology and migration, the role of stories to unify — as opposed to divide, to engage rather than to marginalize — is more important than ever."
I began this novel wanting to love it unconditionally. Many parts of it were fantastic, but the sum is not quite greater than its parts. This is a KitI began this novel wanting to love it unconditionally. Many parts of it were fantastic, but the sum is not quite greater than its parts. This is a Kitchen Sink novel—like Charles Bock's Beautiful Children, it's a debut that the author poured his entire soul into. Which is wonderful in many ways—it has a great big beating heart that it wears on its sleeve. It has humor. It mines deep reserves of feelings for its central mother and son characters. But it also very much tries to be a Great American Novel about the Way We Live Now (the kind of novel I often love, by the way), touching on everything from Occupy Wall Street to Iraq to the turbulence of 1968 and Vietnam to white male hypocrisy and violence and social media and the all-consuming world of video games and the American Dream and did I mention that it holds up a mirror to the toxic political environment we're living in and our inability to have a constructive dialogue about anything and that also there is also a penchant in this novel for the breathlessness of the run-on sentence?
Ultimately, The Nix didn't stick the landing for me. And when I commit to a novel this long, the last thing I want to do is put it down for something else (which I did, once) and then feel ready to move on. But I did. In a nutshell, it's impressive but exhausting, even exasperating. Will be fascinating to see what JJ Abrams and Meryl Streep do with the adaptation, though. It could be phenomenal....more