Critical Notes

Roundup: Brad Gooch, Daniel Mendelsohn, Jayne Anne Phillips, Amy Bloom, Darin Strauss

By Jane Ciabattari

Your reviews seed this roundup; please send items to Make sure to send links that do not require a subscription or username and password.


What's Your Favorite First Book Ever? NBCC biography finalist Brad Gooch on Edmund White's “Forgetting Elena,” the latest in this new NBCC Reads series. It's not too late to send your favorite to

NBCC Balakian winner and autobiography award winner Daniel Mendelsohn has a review-essay on John Williams’ (“Stoner”) final novel, “Augustus”, which will be newly reissued by New York Review Books next month (with Mendelsohn's introduction).  Here's the essay, just published in the New York Review of Books.

“Stephen Crane, whose likeness appears on the album cover of 'Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, was America’s first rock-star writer.”  NBCC fiction finalist Jayne Anne Phillips reviews Paul Sorrentino's biography of Stephen Crane for the New York Times Book Review.

NBCC fiction finalist Amy Bloom in the New York Times Book Review's “By the Book“:
What do you plan to read next?

“Americanah,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; “The Flamethrowers,” by Rachel Kushner; the Edward St. Aubyn “Patrick Melrose” novels; Nathan Englander’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank”; and “Gathering of Waters,” by Bernice McFadden. I can’t wait.

NBCC autobiography winner Darin Strauss on two new collections by Stuart Dybek in the New York Times Book Review:  “…not only our most relevant writer, but maybe our best. That’s a big claim. (It surprised me, too.) These books, “Ecstatic Cahoots” and “Paper Lantern” — the first composed of very, very short stories — share what we’ll come to recognize as the Dybek method, the Dybek mode: lightning switches between unlike parts.”

“Do novelists experience euphoria?” Four questions for Lily King from NBCC fiction finalist Michelle Huneven in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Maureen Corrigan reviews “Ride Around Shining,” a first novel inspired by “The Great Gatsby”'s nouveau riche excess.

Prolific Heller McAlpin's book review trifecta:Amy Bloom's “Lucky Us” for Barnes and Noble Review.Yelena Akhtiorskaya's “Panic in a Suitcase” for the Los Angeles Times. And Anya Ulinich's “Lena Finkle's Magic Barrel” for

The tenth installment of NBCC board member David Biespiel's essays, “Poet's Journey,” on The Rumpus, concludes:
“By giving yourself over to the unknown provinces of your imagination, you allow the complexities of the world to act upon you so that you can write your way into renewing, first your own, and then our understanding of existence.”

Edan Lepucki reviews the third novel in former NBCC board member Lev Grossman's trilogy for the New York Times Book Review:
“If Lev Grossman’s 'The Magicians' was like 'The Secret History' crossed with 'Harry Potter,' and if its sequel, 'The Magician King,' was a descendant of 'The Chronicles of Narnia' (with a touch of the 1990s flick 'The Craft' thrown in), then what cultural mash-up does Lev Grossman conjure in 'The Magician’s Land,' the trilogy’s final book? I can’t tell you, because I was too thoroughly swept away by this richly imagined and continually surprising novel to be concerned with cute comparisons.”

Former NBCC board member Celia McGee's latest column for the Center for Fiction.

Paul Wilner reviews Erik Tarloff's “All Our Yesterdays,” for the San Francisco Chronicle: “Try writing a novel about Berkeley in the '60s, underground politics, the perils of parenthood, the mixed bag of marriage, with inexorable undercurrents of infidelity and forgiveness and the heavy lifting involved in sustaining lifelong friendships.Erik Tarloff makes all this look easy in 'All Our Yesterdays,' an account of life in the East Bay express lane that avoids the twin sins of romanticism and noir despair.”

“A masterpiece of desperation, delusion and misdeeds, Los Angeles Times review of Jim Ruland's new novel, “Forest of Fortune.”

Michelle Newby Lancaster reviews “Backswing” by Aaron Burch for Monkeybicycle: “The supposed banality of average lives is no less profound simply because it happens every day.”

Charles Blackstone reviews Maximillian Potter's “Shadows in the Vineyard” for the Chicago Tribune's Printer's Row Journal.

Heather Seggel interviews Ariel Schrag about her novel “Adam” for Lambda Literary Review.

David Cooper's review of Stephanie Feldman's “The Angel ot Losses” in The New York Journal of Books.