Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The rest is fallout.

In the new Bookforum, I review another debut:
Brian Hart’s debut novel, Then Came the Evening, begins with a calamitous misunderstanding. Bandy Dorner, hungover and in trouble with two police officers, is told that his cabin burned down the night before. Bandy assumes his wife, Iona, was inside, and in a confused fury he shoots one of the cops, killing him. But Iona, we soon learn, did not die in the fire. She took off with her new man earlier that night—just after she burned down the cabin.

The rest is fallout.
Read the rest.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

“One should never tell anyone anything.”

Today in The National, I write about the massive and fantastic novel Your Face Tomorrow by Javier Marías (pictured left), the third volume of which has just been published in English.
Your Face Tomorrow, the enormously ambitious novel in three volumes by the Spanish writer Javier Marías, began seven years ago with a warning: “One should never tell anyone anything.” Not that Marías or his narrator, Jaime Deza, believes this advice – both go on to violate it for nearly 1,300 pages. But that opening remark haunts all that follows. Like so much fiction by Marías, Your Face Tomorrow returns again and again to the moral complications of storytelling: the hidden motives behind the stories we tell; the inevitable inaccuracies of language; the way that just listening to a story can implicate us in what it recounts. As the narrator of another Marias novel, Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me, says: “the only safe option would be never to say or do anything”.
Read the rest.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

From Chance the Gardener to Joe the Plumber

Today in Slate, I argue that Hal Ashby’s best movies—culminating in his masterpiece, Being There—are deeply political.
Unlike Network—made four years earlier and based on the fear that one man could amass enormous influence on the airwaves—Being There suggests that television's real threat is the way it scatters our attention among random stimuli. As Eve says in the clip above, we now have too much information, and it's all become "a muddle." Which is precisely why Chance—mistaken by Eve's husband for an economist named Chauncey Gardener—can rise to prominence by obliviously spouting platitudes like "as long as the roots are not severed, all will be well" and "growth has it seasons." Soon the president of the United States is echoing his remarks, and Chance himself is invited to share his wisdom on the talk show circuit—a trajectory that, at this point, feels sadly familiar.
Read the rest.

(Above, Chance the gardener watches television.)

Friday, September 04, 2009

Bruce Springsteen, 1975

Over at the Barnes & Noble Review, I consider Louis P. Masur's new book, Runaway Dream: Born to Run and Bruce Springsteen's American Vision:
In May of 1974, Jon Landau saw a little-known band open for Bonnie Raitt in Harvard Square, then went home and penned perhaps the most famous line in all of pop music criticism: "I saw rock and roll's future and its name is Bruce Springsteen." That's as gutsy as reviewing gets: personal, uncompromising -- and also pretty wide of the mark. The future of rock and roll was punk and heavy metal, followed by indie rock and its offshoots. Springsteen, who turns 60 in a few weeks, is an incredible talent, and 35 years ago he had a great career ahead of him. But his music, his lyrics, and his public persona have always had much less to do with the future than with the past.
Read the rest. By the way, the house in New Jersey where Springsteen was living when he wrote Born to Run is currently on sale for $299,000. This is the house that Bob Dylan might have been looking for as he wandered alone through the rain a few weeks ago.

(The postcard above was produced for ten shows Springsteen played at the Bottom Line in Greenwich Village to promote his forthcoming album to New York's rock cognoscenti.)

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

“...imminent, comet-delivered doom.”

I’ve written a short review of Everything Matters! by Ron Currie, Jr., for Bookforum:
Ron Currie Jr. writes fiction that a Hollywood executive might call high-concept. His first book, God Is Dead (2007), imagines life on earth after God has taken human form—in Darfur, no less—and died. His second, Everything Matters!, tells the story of a young man called Junior, born in Maine in 1974, who is informed at birth by a voice in his head that the world will end roughly six months after his thirty-sixth birthday. Everything Matters! is largely free of sci-fi trappings and dwells frequently on familiar human dilemmas, but its “What if?”–style premise keeps the story moving. The reader roots for Junior to get his act together and win back his girlfriend, while also wondering whether he’s going to save the planet from its imminent, comet-delivered doom.
Read the rest.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Theory of Light and Matter

I've written a short review for the new issue of Bookforum:

"Hole," the opening story in Andrew Porter's debut collection, The Theory of Light and Matter, draws a blueprint for the nine that follow: A young man looks back on his suburban childhood, recalling the strange hole in his neighbor's driveway and the day, a decade before, his friend climbed into it and died. The book's other narrators struggle with the metaphoric gaps that manifest themselves in otherwise ordinary lives. "As he entered me for the first time," a woman says about her soon-to-be fiancé, "it seemed that I had just opened up a hole in my life." "A father's decision to leave home had left a hole in our lives," says a boy, "though we did not talk about that hole."