Book Review Roundup
Just in case your Memorial Day Weekend was also a holiday from book reviews, here are some high points of what you missed:
"Your Presence Is Requested at Suvanto" is eerie for three reasons. First: It is Maile Chapman's first novel, and it is shockingly, bracingly good.
"Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself," David Lipsky
The New York Times
Some of Lipsky's material is trivial and incoherent, yet the two writers speak profitably enough to give us a vivid snapshot of Wallace at the golden moment when he realizes that his words have struck a public nerve. I met Wallace just once, but the genuine, funny and compassionate figure who emerges here comports with the guy I encountered. Lipsky is kind of interesting too.
"Necessary Secrets,"Gabriel Schoenfeld
The New York Times
In his aptly titled book, "Necessary Secrets," Gabriel Schoenfeld, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, has presented a subtle and instructive brief challenging the right of the press to make unilateral decisions to "publish and let others perish," as he puts it somewhat tendentiously or, as he quotes a newspaper editor, to publish "no matter the cost."
"So Cold the River," Michael Kortya
The Los Angeles Times
Koryta's new novel, which will be published June 9, marks a new, more genre-blind phase in his career. "So Cold the River" (Little, Brown: 504 pp., $24.99) is almost twice as long as his previous books (though it doesn't feel that way in the slightest), is more firmly set in small-town Indiana not far from where the author grew up, and dives headlong into supernatural territory -- so much so that after finishing the book I cast a suspicious eye on the water bottle on the nearby night-table, an unspoken admonition not to drink it sounding off loudly in my mind.
"Naked Moon," Domenci Stansberry
The San Francisco Chronicle
Domenic Stansberry's North Beach is filled with ghosts, creeping through the alleys like a malevolent fog. His North Beach - which may or may not have ever existed - is populated by doomed beauties, corrupt cops, scheming landlords, heroes thwarted by their own frailties - all presided over by a chorus of old Italians holding forth at the fictional Caffe Serafina.
"The Frozen Rabbi," Steve Stern
The San Francisco Chronicle
Like one of his own time-stranded characters, Stern has managed during the past two decades to produce a half dozen semi-miraculous and critically lauded books and yet still remain a candidate for that dubious honorific. Whether his latest novel, "The Frozen Rabbi," will finally propel him into mass recognition is impossible to say, but it ought to, because it is, like his previous books, a funny, profound and virtuosic work.
"Life Would be Perfect If I Lived in That House," Meghan Daum
The Wall Street Journal
By now, everyone knows the financial reasons for the housing bubble, from lax lenders to greed. But there's another, emotional side: In our rootless and confusing culture, our domiciles have become more than mere shelters, investments, havens or even status symbols. Rather, they have become extensions of our narcissistic personalities, glorified by entire industries of shelter magazines, websites and cable networks. It's no wonder, writes Meghan Daum in her new book "Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived In That House," (Alfred A. Knopf), that by the middle of the decade, scads of Americans were "buying real estate and melting it down to liquid form and then injecting it into their veins."
"Private Life," Jane Smiley
The New Republic
By the end of the prologue to Jane Smiley's Private Life, a novel set in San Francisco during World War II, we already know that Andrew Early is somehow responsible for the creation of the Japanese internment camps. This is not a subtle book. Early is a man of science, and his inevitable transformation from Jekyll to Hyde is telegraphed from the novel's first pages. And yet we are deceived and defeated by Private Life's ostensibly simple narrative arc. Andrew's only crime is solipsism, which is an unfortunate characteristic of nearly all of the characters in Private Life, including the "heroine" Margaret Mayfield, who is really no heroine at all.
"The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim," Jonathon Coe
The Daily Telegraph
Maxwell Sim, a 48-year-old after-sales customer liaison officer for an Oxford Street department store, is 'unexceptional' in every way. He has been clinically depressed since his wife walked out of their Watford home six months ago taking their daughter with her. Max's mother died in her forties; his father has fled to Australia. The distance between them is emotional as well as physical. Can Max, who is haunted by the fact that 'we mill around every day, we rush here and there, we come within inches of touching each other but very little real contact goes on', find the intimacy he deserves?This might sound an unpromising proposition: why should we care about a man who can literally - and hilariously - bore a fellow air-traveller to death? Nevertheless, we do.