The Marriage Plot By Jeffrey Eugenides (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 406 pp., $28) Women write about love and marriage; men write about everything else. Like all truisms, this one is best served with a heaping spoonful of caveats, but they don’t alter its essential flavor. Just “look at all the books,” as Jeffrey Eugenides’s new novel exhorts the reader in its very first line.
Emma Bovary is one of the most abused heroines of the modern novel. It’s not enough for her to lose her mind in love for an unworthy man; to squander her fortune and suffer the terror of mounting debt; and, finally, to die in a prolonged, painful suicide by arsenic. No, she must also be cruelly misunderstood by Kathryn Harrison in a weird piece in The New York Times Book Review that has generated a steady seething of online dissent. Harrison and the Book Review have been jointly taken to task for the piece’s failure adequately to assess the novel’s boutique new translation by Lydia Davis.
Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins (Random House, 172 pp., $21.95) The associated press report of Billy Collins's appointment as poet laureate in June was a document of startling philistinism. Under the headline "Popular Poet Named U.S. Laureate," it began: "Billy Collins, a popular poet who makes money at the job, is becoming the 11th U.S.
By now it is a rule of thumb (well, my thumb, anyway) that a chief problem in filming a first-class novel is its prose. Other matters are much easier to deal with: extracting the plot, condensing it (usually necessary), and possibly rearranging it. But the better the novel, the less important is this plot-processing. The big trouble is in transmuting the very organism of a work in one art into another organism.