Critical Notes

NBCC Roundup July 28, 2010

By Bethanne Patrick

Mary Ann Gwinn's Lit Life article in the Seattle Times looks at a local connection to the Google Books Project:

Peter Leonard is a doctoral student in Scandinavian studies at the University of Washington. He's bookish but is equally at home in the computer world (he has been the Webmaster at the UW's Simpson Center for the Humanities). He and a partner, UCLA professor Tim Tangherlini, have just received $45,000 from Google to create tools for large-scale literary analysis through Google Books, part of nearly $1 million Google has committed to support digital humanities research over the next two years.

At, Joseph Peschel reviews Finny, by Justin Kramon:

In the unfolding of Finny’s life, Kramon shares with Dickens a primarily optimistic outlook: His major characters, especially Finny and Earl, mostly get what they deserve. “Finny’’ is lighter social commentary than “Copperfield,’’ but more relevant to the way we live today, the way we face death, disloyalty, and hardship. He’s not quite in Dickens’s league — who is? — but Kramon is a talented young author and “Finny’’ a worthy read, and a dickens of a first novel.

In the Washington Post, Ron Charles on Ayelet Waldman's Red Hook Road:

Waldman's sharp eye for social detail makes her particularly good with the loneliness and awkwardness of modern grief. The abandonment of all those fussy Victorian customs along with the loss of any common religious vocabulary leave her characters wandering in a boundless but unacknowledged cloud of sadness, resenting neighbors' nervous platitudes (“The Lord don't give us more than we can bear”) and empty, earnest questions (“How are you doing?”).

David Means's short-story collection The Spot is reviewed in the Los Angeles Times by David Ulin:

What can we know, Means is asking, except that, whether because of childhood illness or an act so thoughtless as to be unintended, loss is our inevitable due? Seen in those terms, there is no larger meaning, no orderly progression, no pattern by which the past leads into the present, which is why his writing holds time in such loose regard.

In the Book Bag column of the Howard County Times, Rebecca Oppenheimer on thrillers:

In his latest novel about a man just out of prison, following “Small Crimes” and “Pariah,” Dave Zeltserman displays a genius for capturing the brute facts of survival “on the outside.” Leonard is disarmingly sympathetic, which makes the novel's surprise conclusion even more disturbing.

And from The New Criterion's archives, here's Donna Rifkind on The Late Mrs. Dorothy Parker, by Leslie Frewin:

In the end, Frewin’s biography, like Dorothy Parker herself, must be regarded as a victim of its own high-spirited irresponsibility and disappointed good intentions. Readers hoping for a substantial, finely tuned study of a complex writer, of which a book such as Elizabeth Frank’s recent Louise Bogan is representative, will have longer to wait. Frewin states at the end of his book that “Mrs. Parker . . . had spent her life searching for Dorothy Parker. She never found her.” Neither, unfortunately, has Leslie Frewin.

Bethanne Patrick is a freelance critic and blogger.