literature

Love and Mayhem Take up Residence in ‘Men in Miami Hotels’

Lee Polevoi

In Smith’s novel, a character’s wig, “like an orange egret nest, sat puffed and glistening on the table.” A “tiny, ambidextrous breeze” floats down an alley. In Albertson’s headquarters we find “the factotums and skill men and hangers-on, the rumble boys and the slack, ruined characters kept around by Albertson to remind him of worlds and episodes most men would want to forget.” Cot “sits in the shade looking out at the ocean, a bleak expression on his face like that of a man marooned on an island nobody will discover for years.”

Literary Flashback: Reading ‘The Devil in the White City’

Kimberly Tolleson

Despite being a work of historical nonfiction, Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City is surprisingly capable of leaving readers with mouths open and hairs on end; it’s a wonder that such a tantalizing true story is not already a part of America’s mainstream lore. For this reason, however, the book reads like good fiction, replete with foreshadowing, suspense, and enthralling characters. The author backs up his narrative with vast research, digging into the history surrounding the improbable construction of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and America’s first serial killer who preyed there.

Chuck Klosterman Offers No Sympathy for the Devil

Lee Polevoi

A book about villainy by the pop culture writer Chuck Klosterman would seem (on paper, as it were) like a terrific idea. Klosterman is a smart, funny writer who has expanded his beat beyond sports and popular culture to serving as The Ethicist for The New York Times Magazine. The resulting effort, however, is a strangely abstracted work that isn’t so much about evil as about our popular conception of evil—not necessarily the same thing.

Crisscrossing the Pond in Colum McCann’s ‘TransAtlantic’

Lee Polevoi

Fictional characters that appear fleetingly in these early sections rise to prominence later in TransAtlantic. From the 19th century to nearly the present day, McCann brilliantly draws us into the lives of several generations of women: Lily Duggan, a penniless maid in Webb’s Dublin household who immigrates to America; her daughter Emily, a journalist, who reports on Brown and Alcock’s historic flight; Emily’s daughter, Lottie, who suffers a mother’s loss during the Troubles and later exhorts Sen. Mitchell to end the violence. These characters’ lives are deftly intertwined, adding considerable texture to a story that otherwise threatens to be sprawling and diffuse.

Remembering Proust and His Literary Masterpiece

Karolina R. Swasey

The riddles this masterpiece allures us with might act as invitations to follow up on the mysteries and secrets of its exceedingly imaginative author, whose contemporaries shaped the reductive image of Proust as the nervous, extremely shy and reclusive hypochondriac hidden in his cork-lined room. Above all, the story is a journey into the monad-like structures our consciousness is trapped in. 

A Toast to New York’s Literary Watering Holes

Gabriella Tutino

White Horse Tavern is infamously known as the bar where poet Dylan Thomas proceeded to drink himself to death. The story goes that Thomas declared to drink roughly 18 whiskeys, retired at the Chelsea Hotel and died a few days later. The tavern was founded in 1880, and its original patrons were docksmen, sailors and other workers in the marine industry (the West Village was originally a port neighborhood). It wasn’t until the Beatnik, hippie and counterculture movements of the ‘50s and ‘60s that the Village became known for its artist communities. 

Literary Flashback: Reading Miranda July’s ‘No One Belongs Here More Than You’

Kimberly Tolleson

Though the protagonists are often sad, the book itself is not; on the contrary, it is lovely and life-affirming. The characters in No One Belongs Here More Than You are so uncomfortably human and delightfully flawed, that whether the reader ultimately decides to embrace or reject them, he or she will undoubtedly be affected by their stories. In this way, July’s characters do make the human connection which they seek so eagerly.

A Writer’s Rage: Reading Claire Messud’s ‘The Woman Upstairs’

Kara Krauze

The Woman Upstairs is a novel about female experience and about the coexistence of power and powerlessness, metastasized through the tight prism of Nora’s friendship with Sirena (and her husband and son) while sharing an artist’s studio for the year, at Sirena’s behest. Nora and Sirena might almost be one woman, two parts of one female being, living in a world (our world) rife with contradictions and fraught with self-betrayal. 

Author Tom Drury Revisits Grouse County in ‘Pacific’

Lee Polevoi

Anyone familiar with his work knows this is Tom Drury’s world and the rest of us just happen to live in it. Ever since chapters from his first novel, The End of Vandalism, appeared in The New Yorker some 20 years ago, readers understood they were in the presence of a unique voice—deadpan yet deeply insightful, slightly off-kilter yet in its assessment of the ebb and flow of the human spirit, wonderfully on target. Pacific is a sequel of sorts to The End of Vandalism, revisiting the fictional Midwestern domain of Grouse County (might be in Iowa, might be in Minnesota) and inhabitants known to readers of his earlier work. 

Auster-Coetzee Letters Shed Light on Literary Friendship

Lee Polevoi

Here and Now is a collection of letters between the Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee and the American novelist Paul Auster. The correspondence began in 2008 when Coetzee, author of the Booker-prizewinning masterpiece, Disgrace, sent a letter to Auster, author of The New York Trilogy, suggesting that an exchange of letters “might be fun, and we might even, God willing, strike sparks off each other.”

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