Gore Vidal, Myra Breckinridge

Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal My rating: 3 of 5 stars When last we left Gore Vidal, we were worried about his politics. He was long considered a lion of the left for his sexual dissidence and his resistance to the religious right and to neoconservative imperialism; but worldwide events since his death in 2012 … Continue reading Gore Vidal, Myra Breckinridge

Renata Adler, Speedboat

Speedboat by Renata Adler My rating: 4 of 5 stars Almost every member of American literature's last unambiguously major generation, the giants passing from the scene, was born in the 1930s: Carver (b. 1938), DeLillo (b. 1936), Didion (b. 1934), McCarthy (b. 1933), Morrison (b. 1931), Oates (b. 1938), Pynchon (b. 1937), Roth (b. 1933), … Continue reading Renata Adler, Speedboat

Brenda Wineapple, Hawthorne: A Life

Hawthorne: A Life by Brenda Wineapple My rating: 4 of 5 stars What is the good of literary biography? I am not a great reader of the genre, possibly because every example I've ever read has had a passage like this in it, from Brenda Wineapple's popular and absorbing 2003 life of Nathaniel Hawthorne: Like … Continue reading Brenda Wineapple, Hawthorne: A Life

Lisa Halliday, Asymmetry

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday My rating: 3 of 5 stars The jacket copy of this fascinating 2018 debut novel—back cover and both flaps—informs us no less than four times that Lisa Halliday was a recipient of the Whiting Award. This award goes to 10 promising writers each year, and is granted by a jury that … Continue reading Lisa Halliday, Asymmetry

Ernest Hemingway, The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories

Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories by Ernest Hemingway My rating: 3 of 5 stars Hemingway used to be overrated and is now if anything underrated. Once venerated for promoting a code of restrained masculine heroism forged in war, he is now execrated by the ideologists of "toxic masculinity." Neither variant of gender politics, however, … Continue reading Ernest Hemingway, The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories

Ishmael Reed, Mumbo Jumbo

Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed My rating: 4 of 5 stars Thomas Pynchon's freewheeling narrator of Gravity's Rainbow (1973) tells us, "Well, and keep in mind where those Masonic Mysteries came from in the first place. (Check out Ishmael Reed. He knows more about it than you will ever find here.)" Similarly, the underground cult classic … Continue reading Ishmael Reed, Mumbo Jumbo

Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy My rating: 4 of 5 stars All the Pretty Horses is apparently to Cormac McCarthy's corpus what The Crying of Lot 49 is to Thomas Pynchon's or The Ghost Writer to Philip Roth's: it is the appealing vestibule to an oeuvre of appalling heights and depths, a prolegomenon to any … Continue reading Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses

Don DeLillo, White Noise

White Noise: Text and Criticism by Don DeLillo My rating: 5 of 5 stars I am interested in the question of whether or not this book holds up. It was long judged exemplary of a cultural epoch: the postmodern novel par excellence, or at least an excellent postmodern novel that undergraduates could reasonably be expected … Continue reading Don DeLillo, White Noise

Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March

The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow My rating: 4 of 5 stars Most famous or classic books are more complicated, more contradictory, and more strange than their capsule-summaries or encyclopedia entries would suggest, and Saul Bellow's third and career-making novel of 1953, The Adventures of Augie March, does not disappoint in this. For … Continue reading Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March

Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon My rating: 5 of 5 stars A summary of this classic 1965 short novel's unsummarizable plot: California housewife Oedipa Maas becomes executor ("or she supposed executrix") of the will of her late lover, real-estate magnate Pierce Inverarity. She travels from her domestic normality in Kinneret-among-Pines to a … Continue reading Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49