French has said that she would shamelessly hang around bus stops and shopping centers to listen to teenagers talk to each other, and my strongest impression of the book is how she used realistic teenage vernacular to convey enormous complexity. I’m a fan of YA books, but the characters in them are frequently aspirational (unless all the super hot, sensitive, artistically-inclined boys in my high school were hiding somewhere). The girls in The Secret Place are very recognizably obnoxious teenagers, and yet their lives and relationships are intricate and compelling — to the extent that I thought they were all idiots, and at one point or another I thought all of them capable of murder.
Like Jonathan Franzen, he has a strong prescriptivist streak about which it does not occur to him to be embarrassed. He uses humor to leaven what gradually emerges as a rather severe Emersonian message about the state of the American soul in the consumer age. He really does want you to put away your iPhone—no kidding.
Tuesday New Release Day
Out this week: The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis; A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Nonfiction by Terry Pratchett; Ballroom by Alice Simpson; Hello Mr. Bones & Goodbye Mr. Rat by Patrick McCabe; Rooms by Lauren Oliver; and How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran, who released an essay collection two years ago. For more on these and other new titles, check out our Great Second-half 2014 Book Preview. Support The Millions: Bookmark this link and start there when you shop at Amazon.
Writing is difficult. Writing is difficult in the beginning, difficult in the middle and difficult at the end. And then, when you’ve finished, there is a whole new raft of difficulties having to do with publication—but I will save those issues for a much longer speech entitled The Trouble with Publication.
Writing itself is a series of problems to be solved, problems that constitute the hard work of writing and being a writer. Sometimes you can be surgical and rational in solving various difficulties, but it is the peculiar distinction of writing and much of the creative life that the inherent difficulties of writing have a propensity to become internally, personally disturbing and confusing, agitating, and otherwise psychologically problematic.
"These stories are loaded with memorable snapshots. But for a writer of Taylor’s wit and intelligence, that’s no longer enough." Our own Bill Morris reviews Justin Taylor’s Flings.
It’s a tricky thing, success. How do you write a book to follow your own breakout novel, a title that leapt off shelves and became a phenomenon? That’s a good problem to have, but a challenge nonetheless.
"Most fiction about Jewish immigrants takes place in New York. I wanted to explore a different setting." Lisa Peet interviews Ronna Wineberg about On Bittersweet Place.