american writers

Remembering the Genius of Kurt Vonnegut and ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’

Adam Gravano

As a young man, few books exerted anything like the formative power held by Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five. Despite the grim acceptance of a world with conflict and war, Vonnegut still fell into writing an anti-war book, perhaps an anti-war book highly ranked among the best. This year marks the 50th anniversary of its publication, and, accordingly, Modern Library has released a new edition with a foreword by Kevin Powers. And, as the foreword shows in splendid detail, the lessons of Slaughterhouse-Five are just as relevant today as they were in 1969. 

In ‘Voyager,’ Russell Banks Is Restless in Love and Travel

Lee Polevoi

He comes across as alternately guilt-ridden over his treatment of his wives and at times belligerent about demands made on him by women and friends. In recounting the rigors and delights of a magazine-commissioned travel piece (“Thirty islands in sixty days”), he sometimes skims over key details and offers up a glossy summary of his experiences. It seems the article he finally wrote helped to exorcize personal demons, as much as convey the overall experience to readers.

The Art of the Personal Essay Is Still Alive and Well

Lee Polevoi

Is the personal essay “in eclipse” in today’s literary landscape? Jonathan Franzen, guest editor of The Best American Essays 2016, thinks so. As he notes in his introduction to the latest collection, most American publications have ceased publishing these “pure essays,” while smaller publications that still do so “have fewer readers than Adele has Twitter followers.” 

Remembering Jack London

Hal Gordon

Given that he turned out so much in so little time, the quality of London’s work is uneven. He spread himself too thin and he knew it. One reason that he kept relentlessly grinding out one book after another was that because after the deprivations of his youth, he enjoyed living well. So he wrote to maintain his flashy lifestyle. His attempt to escape the treadmill he had constructed for himself only chained him to it the more securely. 

Ann Beattie Returns With New Collection of Compelling Short Stories

Lee Polevoi

Ann Beattie, secure within this elite pantheon, returns after a decade’s absence with a new book, The State We’re In: Maine Stories. Those familiar with her work will immediately recognize the wry perspective, the closely observed details, and the smooth texture of her prose. As the title announces, these stories revolve, directly and indirectly, around people living in the Pine Tree State. 

T.C. Boyle Focuses on Cycles of Rage in ‘The Harder They Come’

Lee Polevoi

In the opening pages of Boyle’s new novel, The Harder They Come, a 70-year-old Vietnam vet named Sten Stensen and his wife are part of a tour group robbed at gunpoint while on vacation in Costa Rica. At some point during the ordeal, his long-ago military training kicks in and Stensen subdues one of the robbers, killing him in the process. On the bus ride back to the Red Cross Clinic, he experiences the adrenalin-charged aftermath of the incident.

Frank Bascombe Returns in Richard Ford’s ‘Let Me Be Frank With You’

Lee Polevoi

Frank Bascombe, the former novelist turned sportswriter turned real estate agent, stages a comeback of sorts in Let Me Be Frank with You, Richard Ford’s newest entry to the Bascombe saga. These linked novellas form a long-awaited coda to three novels describing in detail (and detail is the word for it) the life and times of Ford’s keenly perceptive narrator of our life and times. 

Life by the Pen: Portrayals and Perceptions of Writers in American and British Pop Culture

Sophia Dorval

Unlike Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, an exploration of a literary figure as flawed as Twain is a tough sell to both social media-centric, smartphone-owning Millenials and Baby Boomers brought up during the Civil Rights era.   On both sides of the spectrum, there will be Americans who could care less about his groundbreaking use of American vernacular in literature, who would wince at his minstrel-style portrayal of slaves,  who need to believe that the words and thoughts of Twain belong to an America that is no more.   

Victim and Accuser Clash in David Bezmozgis’ ‘The Betrayers’

Lee Polevoi

The setup of David Bezmozgis’ second novel is refreshingly simple. Baruch Kotler, a prominent Israeli politician (and former political prisoner in the USSR) has fled Tel Aviv in disgrace with his much younger mistress, Leora. They come to Yalta, a resort town in the Crimea, where, after a mix-up over hotel reservations, they rent a room in an apartment owned by a Russian woman, Svetlana. As we quickly discover, Svetlana’s aged husband, Chaim Tankilevich, is the man who long ago denounced Kotler to the KGB, which led to Kotler’s 13 years of exile and imprisonment.    

Joshua Ferris Examines the Life of a Cyberstalking Victim in New Book

Lee Polevoi

The plot, such as it is, kicks in when Paul discovers that someone, perhaps a former patient, has begun to impersonate him online. First, a new company website appears (not of Paul’s doing), with more or less accurate staff bios for everyone but him (which instead of facts about his life promulgates strange notions about religion). Then there’s a Facebook page, a Twitter account and a Wikipedia entry—every upsetting development reported to Paul by Connie or Mrs. Convoy while he’s hard at work deep inside the mouths of his patients.

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