At Bookforum, Alexander Benaim reads the latest novel by Jess Row, which I wrote about as part of our most recent book preview. The novel poses a charged, intriguing question: what would happen if it were possible to change your race? (It might also be a good time to read the author’s Year in Reading entry.)
If in the first stage of a transition one is full of expectation and in the final stage the expectations are realized, then the liminal phase is marked by the twin emotions of desire and disappointment, which feed off each other cyclically. The Nasmertovs have desires that don’t correlate with the reality they must endure, but that gap alone is not what causes their disappointment. Their new reality appears riddled with an artificiality that causes a specific disappointment. Will their lives never regain the authenticity of the one they’ve left behind?
It’s not often that a writer has an essay collection and a debut novel come out in the space of a few months, but that’s exactly the situation of Year in Reading alum Roxane Gay, whose novel An Untamed State and collection Bad Feminist are both getting published this year. At Bookforum, Margaret Weppler reads An Untamed State,which displays, she writes, “a staggering sense of strength, confidence and integrity.”
When Damien Searls first read W.G. Sebald, he thought the German writer was uniquely good at factoring historical circumstance into his thinking. Sebald’s unyielding reminders of the horrors of the past were a nice corrective to the feel-good pablums of the ‘90s. But reading Sebald now, Searls thinks something has changed. What happened? The world went online. (Related:Greg Walklin on Sebald’s A Place in the Country.)
For the most part, Alexis de Tocqueville had good things to say about the young United States in his book Democracy in America, which is probably why we tend to forget that he thought Americans weren’t funny. What de Tocqueville missed, according to a new history of American humor, is the extent to which American funniness emerged from subversive groups of outsiders. In Bookforum, Ben Schwartz takes stock of the arguments in American Fun.
At Bookforum, Rebecca Donner talks with former Granta editor John Freeman about his new book of interviews, How to Read a Novelist. Freeman says that he enjoys interviewing writers in their homes because it allows him to observe them more closely: “The writer thinks you’re taking notes about what he’s saying, but you’re really writing, ‘His head looks like a lion’s head.’”
So why is GONE GIRL scary rather than kooky? Primarily the characters’ apparently everyday behavior—their motivations and how they view one another. Amy and Nick do not resemble actual people so much as grotesquely smiling masks driven by forces of extreme artifice, and it’s exactly that extreme artificial quality that’s frightening to the point of sickening.
"Some critics have called Flynn’s portrayals of women misogynist, but to me it seems like she’s just amplifying an attitude that’s shoved in front of us all the time—on TV, online, in countless tabloids, which are constantly informing us that some woman is “humiliated” because her husband “cheated” or because she gained weight or because, after being dumped, she had the nerve to get drunk and dance in public, that is, because she did not have absolute control over herself or the behavior of her man, and is therefore a legitimate object of derision or pity or both."
Eagleton copes with his problem—that he’s retailing clichés throughout—by repackaging them. Most of the time, he does so in a pedestrian way. So we hear that the qualities we most value in daily existence are ‘strength, heroism, glamour, spectacle, self-discipline, stamina, recklessness, a winning spirit, a consuming desire for wealth and ferocious competitiveness.’ We’re also reminded of America’s ‘hunger for progress, achievement, expansion, advancement, possession, consumption.’