new books

Ghosts and Spies Emerge From London Fog in Kate Atkinson’s ‘Transcription’

Lee Polevoi

Atkinson quickly establishes place, diction, and a credible spirit of wartime and postwar milieus—while rarely getting bogged down in unnecessary exposition. The tone in the early chapters is both keenly literary and vividly cinematic. Confusion arises, however, with a plethora of secondary characters, i.e., the German sympathizers and double agents, some of whom are being “run” by Godfrey Tobey, some by Perry (her boss). The reader might be forgiven for wondering why many of these clandestine members of the Fifth Column talk so openly about “working for Berlin” or “spying for the Gestapo” in the midst of wartime England. 

H. Jon Benjamin and the Art of Failure

Adam Gravano

We all have a friend whom we laugh and have a good time with, but later, when we go through the events of time together, when it's too late to mention and we're too far apart, we wonder if everything is all right — perhaps while lying awake. This is a book written by that friend. You'll cringe; you'll laugh; you'll cringe while laughing. The book does a remarkable job of accomplishing its goal: You'll find that failure is an option and it's nothing to be ashamed of. It's great to read and makes a more helpful suggestion to people who haven't quite found a good fitting place after graduation.

Two Killers Haunt 1950s London in ‘Death in the Air’

Lee Polevoi

Winkler describes these disparate events in impressive detail. She offers a chilling description of how abysmal government policies, combined with a bout of truly terrible weather, created the slaughterhouse effects of 1952. She writes with verve and sympathy about a handful of Christie’s victims, and seems to capture with disturbing accuracy the killer’s mental state as he commits and then hides the evidence of his monstrous crimes. 

A Girl Vanishes, Seasons Pass, in Jon McGregor’s ‘Reservoir 13’

Lee Polevoi

A frenzied, exhaustive search gets underway. But despite the best efforts of residents and authorities, no trace of the girl is found. McGregor, employing a kind of narrative wide-angle lens, travels fitfully among the villagers—Jones, the school janitor; Jane, the vicar; the butcher Martin Fowler and his wife, Ruth; teens Sophie, James, Liam and Deepak—pausing long enough to remark on their circumstances and then moving on. 

Movies and Politics Collide in Jim Shepard’s ‘Tunnel at the End of the Light’

Lee Polevoi

In The Tunnel at the End of the Light, Jim Shepard, a professor at Williams College, exercises a different set of muscles. These essays, written for The Believer during the George W. Bush administration, closely explore a handful of iconic American films for insights they can shed on American ideas of individuality, power and imperialism. Shepard isn’t shy about naming the wrongdoers and political leaders who led the US into unwanted wars and a pernicious global recession.

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.

In New Book, Daniel Ellsberg Warns of Nuclear Dangers

Greg Mitchell

While I wrote about the Pentagon Papers in the early 1970s, my close connection with Ellsberg began only in the 1980s after I became the editor of Nuclear Times magazine. Ellsberg, then (and still) living in the San Francisco area, had started appearing at anti-nuclear protests — the “freeze” campaign was in full swing across the country. Naturally I wanted him to write an essay for the magazine on this subject but I was warned that while he often tried to write articles he “never finishes them.” When he completed a column for us, it drew wide attention as his first published piece in many years.

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.

Man Booker International Prize Awarded to Han Kang

Ju-min Park

South Korean author Han Kang won the Man Booker International Prize for fiction on Monday for her novel "The Vegetarian," a dark, surreal story about a woman who gives up eating meat and seeks to become a tree. The 45-year-old Han had been short-listed for the prize for fiction in translation to English along with Italian writer Elena Ferrante, Angola's Jose Eduardo Agualusa, Chinese author Yan Lianke, Turkey's Orhan Pamuk and Austrian Robert Seethaler.

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