The Respectable Mansion
October 12, 2011
The Stranger's Child By Alan Hollinghurst (Knopf, 435 pp., $27.95) As one looks back to the founding years of literary modernism in Europe, it is possible to discern a parting of ways that occurred on or about the eve of World War I. Along one twilit and at times tortuous path ventured Yeats and Henry James at the head of their few stragglers, while down the other broad thoroughfare strode the forces of the avant-garde, led by Pound, Joyce, and Eliot. Pound’s exhortation to “make it new” was a clarion call to stir the blood of young men already feeling the ground quaking under their boots.
Artists and Towers
August 24, 2011
In the 1970s I knew a young artist who painted cityscapes and talked about creating a series of New York City views in which the towers of the World Trade Center, then only a year or so old, would appear in every composition. My friend’s idea, which he discussed in a playful and speculative spirit, was to develop a modern urban counterpart to Hokusai’s One Hundred Views of Mt. Fuji. Sometimes the towers would be the focal point; sometimes they would be seen from a curious and unexpected vantage point; sometimes they would be no more than a speck in the distance.
The New-Wave classic 'Band of Outsiders' turns 50
The Freedom to Bumble
July 13, 2011
The Free World By David Bezmozgis (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 356 pp., $26) To call a short-story writer Chekhovian is among the worst of the book reviewer’s clichés, a lazy shorthand that no longer means anything other than that the person writes very good short stories. But what is often forgotten amid the contemporary adulation of Chekhov as the master of the form—in fact he was the master only of a certain kind of short tale—is that, after a couple of early attempts, he declined to write novels.
It is a truth now occasionally, if not yet universally, acknowledged: that a single man, whether or not he possesses a good fortune, could be in want of not a wife, but a husband. The passage last weekend of New York’s historic same-sex marriage bill, which made the state the largest to join the gathering movement, was thrilling to all supporters of equal rights.
May 19, 2011
Illuminations By Arthur Rimbaud Translated by John Ashbery (W.W. Norton, 167 pp., $24.95) I. Arthur Rimbaud wrote the texts known as Illuminations between around 1873 and 1875. In those years he lived in London, and in Paris, and at home with his mother and sisters in northern France, and in Stuttgart. In London, George Eliot was writing Daniel Deronda; in Paris, Henry James was writing Roderick Hudson. The majestic Nineteenth Century was everywhere.
March 03, 2011
Foreign Bodies By Cynthia Ozick (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 255 pp., $26) I. ‘There is no swarming like that of Israel when once Israel has got a start, and the scene here bristled, at every step, with the signs and sounds, immitigable, unmistakable, of a Jewry that had burst all bounds. ...
February 10, 2011
Saul Bellow: Letters Edited by Benjamin Taylor (Viking, 571 pp., $35) How easy it is, and plausible, to regard a collection of letters spanning youth and old age as an approximation of autobiography: the procession of denizens who inhabit a life, the bit players with their entrances and exits, the faithful chronology of incidents—all turn up reliably in either form, whether dated and posted or backward-looking. Yet autobiography, even when ostensibly steeped in candor, tends toward reconsideration—if not revisionary paperings-over, then late perspectives, afterwords, and second thoughts.
November 30, 2010
How, I asked my husband as much in disbelief as in indignation, do the guards at the Louvre allow this? I wasn't referring to the hordes of chattering tourists of all description who, when they visit the museum, apparently think it is a good idea to press and elbow and jostle against one another in order to get into position to snap a picture—blinding flashes from every direction—of the long-suffering, overexposed Mona Lisa.
Edith Wharton’s War
September 06, 2010
Edith Wharton is not a writer most of us probably associate with war. With the frosty, treacherous, yet bloodless drawing-room battles of Gilded Age New York, yes. With the stink and smoking gore of a trench on the Western Front, no. And yet there Wharton was in France, for the duration of World War I: working vigorously on behalf of numerous charities and relief organizations, sending dispatches from the front back to American readers, publicly and privately making the case for the United States to join the fight.