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Book Review Roundup

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Did you miss any of the weekend's book reviews in your superbowl fervor? Catch up on them here in your weekly book review roundup.


"Monsieur Pain," Roberto Bolano, trans. Chris Andrews
The New York Times

The beauty of Roberto Bolaño's slender mystery novel "Monsieur Pain," originally published in 1999 and now translated from the Spanish by the estimable Chris Andrews, is that it doesn't behave much like a mystery novel.


"Shadow Tag," Louise Erdrich
The New York Times

An introductory note that accompanied early copies of the novel declared that Erdrich wrote this book "straight on," as "a single, gripping narrative," and it does have a headlong quality. Although not especially short, the novel has a pace that's mercifully fast. But what to make of the publisher's claim, which isn't intrinsically positive? To be sure, in places, "Shadow Tag" seems more like notes for a novel than fully realized fiction.


"The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep and Never Had To," DC Pierson
The Los Angeles Times

Pierson is unafraid of being a scribe for the banality of youth, and he does a fine job of it, using gaudy pop culture references (energy drinks, blogs) as his adornment. His big-brother bullies and best-friend betrayals and coming-of-age sexual experiences (voyeurism, porn) are sitcom-ready plot points, and yet his earnest, plainspoken delivery wipes away the reader's arched eyebrow.


"Ordinary Thunderstorms," William Boyd
The Los Angeles Times

"Ordinary Thunderstorms" is an interesting if somewhat odd book. While a standard thriller would resolve with a climactic confrontation between Adam and his antagonists, the "climax" here features no direct interaction at all, and the "resolution" is complex, ambiguous and incomplete -- which is to say, realistic.


"Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend," James S. Hirsch
The San Francisco Chronicle

James S. Hirsch compellingly recounts Mays' career in a new biography, "Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend," giving even Mays' iconic moments, such as "The Catch" in the 1954 World Series, a sense of tension as if they were unfolding anew.


"American Voyeur: Dispatches From the Far Reaches of Modern Life," Benoit Denizet-Lewis
The San Francisco Chronicle

Denizet-Lewis locks his curiosity on what he calls "the lives of people who are ignored, misunderstood, stereotyped or outside the mainstream," which in "American Voyeur" (his second book and first collection of journalism) means subcultures of young people and under-explored gay communities. It says a great deal about Denizet-Lewis' rigor as a journalist that he is also both gay and relatively young (in his mid-30s), but his stories feel exploratory instead of "me too."


"A Dark Matter," Peter Straub
The Washington Post

In offering each of the aging student survivors a separate turn at recalling that night's horror, Straub seems to be trying to one-up his own rather mundane story line.


"It's a Don's Life," Mary Beard
The New Republic

A Don's Life has special qualities that set it--and other blogs like it--apart from the mass, and this anthology helps to make them visible in a new way. Like Alan Bennett's diary installments in the London Review of Books, It's a Don's Life has something of the compelling appeal of a great realist novel. Over the years, entries on cooking and family members, memories of education and travel, the tribulations of professional life and the queasy joys of prominence follow one another, each of them so vivid that as a whole they create the illusion of a life vividly known.


"The Harvard Psychedelic Club," Don Lattin
The Onion A.V. Club

Had Lattin settled for regurgitating Leary's autobiography Flashbacks, the whole exercise might have come off like a square describing a party he wasn't invited to. Instead, Club skates by on the strength of the human drama at the story's core: specifically, the untold story of Weil's sensational Harvard Crimson exposés, and how they yanked Leary and Alpert out of academia and into middle America's crosshairs.

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