Critical Notes

Roundup 5


Mary Ann Gwinn on Seattle author Robert Clark’s “Dark Water:Flood and Redemption in the City of Masterpieces:”

“Clark went off to Italy for a few years on a Guggenheim, intending to study art, belief and the intersection of the two. There he discovered the 1966 flood that devastated Florence, Italy, a deluge that almost succeeded in wiping out an irreplaceable trove of Renaissance art. “Dark Water” is, like Clark’s other work, difficult to categorize: a meditation on art, religion, the power of nature to destroy man’s legacy on this Earth and the against-all-odds determination of people — young and old, working class and cultured, rich and poor — to save it.”

Geeta Sharma-Jensen on David Rhodes, who finds his way back to his Wisconsin roots:

“After a silence of 33 years, Rhodes has published ‘Driftless,’ a profound and enduring paean to rural America inspired by the community in which he has lived since the mid-1970s. And his editor at Milkweed Editions in Minneapolis, who tracked him down and persuaded him to publish, is also reissuing his third novel, ‘Rock Island Line.‘If his first three novels were forgotten, “Driftless” resurrects them and secures Rhodes a place in American letters as a major contemporary writer of the rural Midwest.”

Verisimilitude rocks? Nigel Beale on the ancient art of keeping it real.

Christine Thomas reports from Aloha land:“Space at the Miami Herald has been cut, which means my reviews have gone from up to 600 words to 450.  (Her latest review: Paul Theroux’s “Ghost Train to the Eastern Star.” In Honolulu, reviews at the Honolulu Advertiser remain at one children’s and one regular review (by me) a month, while an independent paper, the Honolulu Weekly, has upped its review coverage to weekly, not just in one or two books issues.”

David L. Ulin on the silver lining in our economic crisis; it may slow down the frenzy and hype: “A month or so ago, I was on a panel at the West Hollywood Book Fair when the conversation turned to just how difficult, in the face of what are now nearly constant distractions, it can be to settle down and read. I keep thinking about that as a metaphor, a signpost for all that’s wrong with how we interact with literature. We talk too much and listen not enough; we respond to personalities as much as we respond to prose.”

Susan Larson on “Dream Homes: From Cairo to Katrina, An Exile’s Journey,” by Joyce Zonana (Feminist Press):

“In one of the sweetest domestic descriptions of home, Zonana describes cooking stuffed grape leaves alongside her mother at home in New Orleans, where Zonana would live first with partner Kay Murphy in the Bayou St. John neighborhood, then on her own in a house on Venus Street in Gentilly, while her mother lived in Woldenberg Village. Zonana taught at the University of New Orleans for 15 years.

“Then came Katrina. After much persuasion, Zonana evacuated to Lafayette, though her mother insisted on remaining behind with her friends on the West Bank. This is a relatively brief part of the overall book, but it packs a punch, even now, even to those of us who know how this part of the story goes—the frantic sense of dislocation, the loss of communication, the desperate search for relatives (Zonana finally located her mother in Houston), and the painful choice to stay or leave the city after the storm.”