Critical Notes

Roundup: August 25, 2010

By Bethanne Patrick

Grace Talusan’s debut review in The Boston globe of Emily Fox Gordon’s “Book of Days: Personal Essays:”

This new collection of her work over the intervening years is stunning, not only in the precision and beauty of the language, but also in the author’s willingness to revisit events in her life — even ones she’s already written about — and to change her mind about them. Though each essay stands alone, the book as a whole traces the path of a woman becoming a writer.


The Washington Post’s Ron Charles takes on “Freedom: A Novel” by Jonathan Franzen:

But far too often, Franzen uses Walter's environmental work to arrest the story, turn toward the audience and hector us about the loss of wildlife, particularly the extinction of songbirds. In the unlikely event that some strip-mining, ocean-dumping, panda-hunting rube stumbles onto this novel, he'll get his comeuppance for sure, but everybody else will probably use these cranky public service announcements as a chance to stretch their legs. Same for the book's worn-out satire of Republicans and the Iraq war, which hangs on the wholly unbelievable involvement of Walter's son with a corrupt Halliburtonesque corporation. Oddly discordant with the story's sophistication, these corny bits are like watching Dick Cheney shoot fish in the face in a barrel.


Joseph Peschel’s review of Emmanuel Carrère’s “My Life as a Russian Novel:”

Don’t let the lullabies fool you: This is no wimpy biography. Memoirs often meander; some are filled with half-baked or overdone tell-all anguish, guilt, and soul-searching that are hard to digest. But this memoir blends its confessional ingredients and somewhat cloying childhood memories with action, suspense, and exotic detail to construct a tale that is often sensual and always intriguing.


Jacob Silverman discusses “Lost Masterpieces” by the likes of Hans Keilson and others for The Daily Beast:

The refusal to name—people, religion, country—in Adversary may seem like a stab at universality through generality, but there's a clever method at work here. Calling Hitler “B.” strips away some of the reader's hindsight, the iconic images of the dictator's verbal fire and brimstone, the accreted layers of painful history. In its place, Keilson brings to the fore the narrator's bewilderment at the changing times and makes us a partner in his obsession with his oppressor (“we were bound to each other by the ties of an enmity in life and death”; “I needed him”). We follow as his increasingly baroque philosophizing leads him down rabbit holes of denial and accommodation. The resulting story is an authentic vision of 1930s Germany, one in which few could predict the horrors ahead—and those who did were often faced with the very sort of disbelieving and self-deceiving people represented by our narrator.


“Minefields of the Heart,” reviewed by Chuck Leddy in The Christian Science Monitor:

It would be wrong to think that Diaz sentimentalizes her relationship with her soldier son. Her book is unblinkingly determined to dig deep, to ask big questions and move toward the answers. She’s also wise enough to see far beyond her own worries, to ask if the sacrifice of so many young soldiers has been worth it: “We as a country lose,” she says, “when even one of them falls.” The mother in Diaz competes with the journalist in her, and the book benefits mightily from this unique combination of heart and head. As Diaz focuses her lens on Roman, she simultaneously widens it to encompass all families of Iraq soldiers. While she loves her son, she’s against the war.


An appreciation of Ray Bradbury at 90, by Ted Gioia in Conceptual Fiction”

This genre has always struggled for respectability because its conceptual brilliance has too often been compromised by shoddy writing and a passive acceptance of familiar formulas.  Bradbury deserves our gratitude for being incapable of the former, and seemingly unaware of the latter.   In the current day, when almost every type of story telling—from the novel to the movie theater and beyond—seems
dominated by gimmicks and formulas, he is a role model that we need more than ever.

Bethanne Patrick is an NBCC member and freelance critic.