Your weekly book review round-up:
The Wild Things, Dave Eggers
The San Francisco Chronicle
The reader knows from the picture book how the story will end: Max will come home to find his dinner waiting. But by imagining what provokes Max's return and how the experience with the Wild Things transforms him, Eggers keeps up the dramatic tension to the very last page.
Chronic City, Jonathan Lethem
If "Chronic City" is a more ambitious attempt [than his previous novel] to reckon with the same idea, too often it feels insular. Every out-of-context cultural allusion is imagined to have an intrinsic significance -- yet that means the novel's secrets are for insiders alone. Certainly, a real-life Chase, an avowed dilettante, would tire of Perkus sooner than he does. But then, "Chronic City" may be less Lethem's attempt at a literary magnum opus than a ready-made cult item with its own subterranean wavelength.
The Collected Short Stories of Lydia Davis, Lydia Davis
For a translator, one imagines, words can be immutable, eyeless or feverish and laden. We are in a period in literary history when accuracy, clarity and faithfulness seem transgressive. But that -- shorter, faster, more changeable -- is only culture. Davis, with her family tree and her rich soil, answers to a higher god.
Half-Broke Horses, Jeanette Walls
The New York Times
Anyone who devoured Walls's incandescent 2005 memoir, "The Glass Castle," has wondered: How did such untamed characters come to exist in America, in the not-so-distant 1960s and '70s? Walls's new book, "Half Broke Horses," a novelistic re-creation of the life of her maternal grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, in the first half of the 20th century, told in her grandmother's voice, gives a partial answer to that perplexing question.
Stripping Bare the Body, Mark Danner
The New York Times
Most of the book is a relentless exposure of American hypocrisy, weakness and illusion across three administrations and at least five wars. Danner's dissections of the corruption of government language are devastating: he's a great exegete of official mendacity, with apparently endless material on hand.
What the Dog Saw, Malcolm Gladwell
This is what Gladwell does best: he takes an idea, recasts it as a human story, and works it through to its conclusion, taking a strip off conventional wisdoms as he goes. Even when the patterns he identifies are spurious or the conclusions flawed, the arguments he raises are clear, provocative and important. It's as if he is saying, read this, then go and think for yourself. His pieces, he says, are meant to be "adventures".
Spooner, Pete Dexter
The A.V. Club
Spooner is a magnificently written book. Dexter's fine eye for tiny details and the ways feelings can accumulate into a larger ball of depression or joy is ever-present; even his weaker episodes at least evoke laughs.
They Knew Then, James Schaffer
Simple yet innovative, They Knew Then draws upon some of the oldest pieces of written history to offer interesting quotations from fascinating and diverse sources, all of which have a story to tell about the human experience.