authors

James Atlas Shares His Own Life in ‘Shadow in the Garden’

Lee Polevoi

James Atlas, the author of Delmore Schwartz: The Life of an American Poet and Bellow: A Biography, has written a sort of “summing-up” of his own life, large chunks of which he’s devoted to chronicling the lives of an obscure poet of the 1930s and Saul Bellow, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist of more recent times. His memoir, The Shadow in the Garden, is an often fascinating—and, at times, very personal—account of the nearly insurmountable tasks of completing an in-depth literary biography.

A Death Haunts Sheila Kohler’s ‘Once We Were Sisters’

Lee Polevoi

Relating events that occurred a half-century or longer ago in present tense does convey a certain kind of urgent immediacy.  On the other hand, when the narrative jumps around in time from chapter from chapter—alternating between the aftermath of her sister’s death and the years they spent growing up together (and apart)—a certain lack of clarity may emerge. When exactly did a particular event take place? 

Laughing in the Dark With Ottessa Moshfegh’s ‘Homesick for Another World’

Lee Polevoi

Yes, these stories are bleak and the author seems strangely obsessed with acne, scars, and other unglamorous bodily functions. But Ottessa Moshfegh’s vision surpasses these particulars and Homesick for Another World emerges as among the most profound, absorbing short story collections to appear in years. And you can take that critical hype to the bank.

Fiction and Memory Blend Uneasily in John le Carré’s ‘Pigeon Tunnel’

Lee Polevoi

Before examining the virtues and shortcomings of The Pigeon Tunnel, it’s worth pointing out to readers who don’t already know it that le Carré is among the great writers of our time. Of his many novels, at least two (The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) will endure long after most contemporary fiction has scattered like sand on a windy day. And even now, in his 80s, le Carré still produces fiction of superb craftsmanship.

Losing the Forest for the Trees in Annie Proulx’s ‘Barkskins’

Lee Polevoi

Well-known for her novel The Shipping News and her masterful short stories (including “Brokeback Mountain”), Proulx has, at age 80, taken a different tack, sailing into the headwinds of a 700-plus-page novel. Barkskins follows the exploits and adventures of multiple generations of the Sel and Duquet (later renamed “Duke”) families. It also charts the progressively more destructive actions taken by the logging and timber industries over the course of the following centuries.

Hell is a Cold Place in Ian McGuire’s ‘North Water’

Lee Polevoi

Inevitably, The North Water carries echoes of Melville and Lord Jim, but the sensibility behind Ian McGuire’s engrossing new novel is unmistakably Cormac McCarthy. With its exquisitely detailed acts of violence – each more graphic and disturbing than the next – the author depicts a hellish world that, like much of McCarthy’s work, is both unsparing and utterly convincing. 

 

Simon Winchester Tackles the History of the Pacific Ocean in New Book

Lee Polevoi

How does someone go about writing a history of the Pacific Ocean? If you’re Simon Winchester, you come to the challenge with one “oceanic biography” already under your belt. In Atlantic (2010), he looked at the ocean from its “birth” more than 500 million years ago on through modern times, an account suffused with broader themes of justice, warfare and pollution. Winchester proved more than equal to the task of addressing such a vast topic.

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.

Author David Downie Unravels the Mysteries of Paris

Gabriella Tutino

Ask anyone about the most romantic cities to visit, and Paris will undoubtedly be on the list. The city seems to be in everyone’s subconscious; Paris screams ‘romantic.’ But what is it about the City of Light--with its turbulent yet mesmerizing history of politics, violence, art and sex--that attracts thousands of visitors? What is that special essence of Paris that deems it so romantic? These are a few of the questions David Downie sets out to answer in his latest book A Passion for Paris: Romanticism and Romance in the City of Light.

Truman Capote’s Tale of Murder: ‘In Cold Blood’ Fifty Years Later

Mike Peters

Almost from the moment of first publication in book form In Cold Blood - soon to be a best-seller and Book-of-the-Month Club selection - is surrounded by controversy. Has the author, by not doing enough to prevent the two culprits` executions, compounded the ruthless and chilling murders depicted in his book?  After all, without them and their co-operation, there would be no book. In spite of Capote`s furious protests and in spite of such notable defenders of his cause as the notable cultural commentator, Diane Trilling, the phrase `in cold blood` begins to take on additional significance.

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