The Next-Big-Thingism: Téa Obreht’s Tiger’s Wife

Am I turning into a curmudgeon?  I’m 0/2 on the most celebrated debut novels of the new decade. I recently finished Téa Obreht’s debut novel The Tiger’s Wife, and I’m having trouble understanding the fuss.  (It’s possible I was a curmudgeon already: upon hearing me complain about skateboarders on the sidewalk at the age of twelve, [...]

The Saddest Symphony: Teju Cole’s Open City

I got excited about Teju Cole’s debut novel Open City as soon as I read Publishers Weekly’s ecstatic starred review: a young psychiatrist “wanders Manhattan, pondering everything from Goya and the novels of J.M. Coetzee to the bankruptcy of Tower Records”? Yes please. Coetzee is one of my favorite novelists, Goya’s portrait of Manuel Osorio Manrique [...]

Easy Romance

N+1 is previewing next week’s new issue of N1BR with my review of Gabriel Josipovici’s What Ever Happened to Modernism?
If novelist and critic Gabriel Josipovici has, for much of his career, written from the literary margin, it is because he has deliberately positioned himself as an anathema to the English establishment.  He has [...] real gambling systems

Günter Grass and the Magical Metaphor

I have a shortish piece up over at the Barnes & Noble Review on Günter Grass’s newest book, The Box, a slippery mix of fiction and memoir.  I wasn’t especially taken with it, but the assignment did have the fortunate side effect of getting me to finally read The Tin Drum, which I heartily recommend.
There’s a [...]

The James of the Jews: Cynthia Ozick’s Foreign Bodies

When I sat down to read Foreign Bodies, the new Cynthia Ozick novel that purports to be a “photographic negative” of Henry James’s The Ambassadors, I had two assumptions: 1) that I would like it less than The Ambassadors and 2) that the novel would lend itself to a fun game of who’s who.  The first [...]

Freedom’s Dark Double: David Grossman’s To the End of the Land

David Grossman’s To the End of the Land has the improbable distinction of being the second novel in as many months to make me cry.  (I should qualify this by saying that I rarely weep over anything so serious as novels; I usually reserve my tears for sitcoms.)  The other was Freedom. These twin totems [...]

Is Tom McCarthy’s C a Hoax?

I have come full circle on Tom McCarthy.  I read Remainder skeptically, expecting to hate it only to spend a weekend completely in its grip.  On the strength of this first impression, I had high hopes for his new novel, the cryptically titled C. Thus it is with a heavy heart that I must report: [...] popular gambling games

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Mill in Minnesota: Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom

The ruckus caused by the arrival of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom in the weeks before it even hit stores is already well documented.  There was the Great Future of Fiction debate, the Great Chauvinism debate, and the proclamations of uncompromised Greatness.  Part of me is already sick of hearing about it, but that hardly seems fair [...]

Marilynne Robinson and the Case for Fiction

You wouldn’t know it from the unmatched empathy of her fiction, but Marilynne Robinson has a sharp tongue.  In her non-fiction writing, she has consistently turned an acerbic eye upon the poverties of our contemporary life of the mind.  In her latest, Absence of Mind, Robinson issues her most direct attack yet.  Originally as part [...]

On Elif Batuman’s The Possessed

I’ve been an Elif Batuman enthusiast ever since her work started cropping up in the pages of Harper’s and n+1, so you can imagine my delight when her essays on hapless grad students and Uzbek poetry appeared recently in a collected volume—The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them. You’ll have [...]

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