Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust

Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe My rating: 5 of 5 stars Goethe's Faust, including Part One and Part Two, was written over the entire course of the author's adult life, begun when he was in his twenties and finished when he was in his eighties, at the threshold of death. Many dates can be … Continue reading Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust

Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill My rating: 3 of 5 stars This acclaimed 2014 novel of marriage, motherhood, and adultery is a perfect expression of the fictional and even critical style of our time. Five years ago, in homage to James Wood's famous censure of the late 20th century's "hysterical realism," I called this … Continue reading Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation

Stephen Crane, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets

Maggie: A Girl of the Streets by Stephen Crane My rating: 4 of 5 stars A man said to the universe: "Sir, I exist!" "However," replied the universe, "The fact has not created in me A sense of obligation." —Stephen Crane The short-lived and hard-living American writer Stephen Crane exemplifies the aesthetic ambiguity of the … Continue reading Stephen Crane, Maggie: A Girl of the Streets

Morten Høi Jensen, A Difficult Death: The Life and Work of Jens Peter Jacobsen

A Difficult Death: The Life and Work of Jens Peter Jacobsen by Morten Høi Jensen My rating: 4 of 5 stars I decided to pick up this appealing brief recent biography of Jacobsen after reading the 19th-century Danish author's masterpiece, Niels Lyhne (1880). While Jacobsen is not well-known today—I came to him through Nella Larsen, though … Continue reading Morten Høi Jensen, A Difficult Death: The Life and Work of Jens Peter Jacobsen

Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs

The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett My rating: 4 of 5 stars One recurring theme of my reviews is that classic literary works often defy or exceed their traditional historical categorizations. The -isms of literary history are a necessary organizing system: they help us to locate books in time and context … Continue reading Sarah Orne Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs

Jens Peter Jacobsen, Niels Lyhne

Niels Lyhne by Jens Peter Jacobsen My rating: 4 of 5 stars This 1880 Danish novel was once immensely influential: it and its author were cited or praised by Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann, James Joyce, and Rainer Maria Rilke. That is reason enough to read it for those interested in literary history, but it is … Continue reading Jens Peter Jacobsen, Niels Lyhne

William Faulkner, Go Down, Moses

Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner My rating: 4 of 5 stars Go Down, Moses (1942), though not always grouped with Faulkner's indisputable masterpieces, is nevertheless one of his most significant and influential books. On strictly formalist or literary-historical grounds, it is a beautiful example of the short story collection as novel, an idea that … Continue reading William Faulkner, Go Down, Moses

Jerzy Kosinski, The Painted Bird

The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosiński My rating: 3 of 5 stars This 1965 novel is a text so overwhelmed by its various contexts that it is almost impossible to read. It was still ubiquitous as a semi-illicit paperback when I was a child in the late 1980s and early 1990s, reputed to be an … Continue reading Jerzy Kosinski, The Painted Bird

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

Gerald Murnane, The Plains

The Plains by Gerald Murnane My rating: 3 of 5 stars Gerald Murnane is in vogue. Every few years, it seems, a new writer or handful of writers is coronated in the book reviews, little magazines, and literary coteries of the English-speaking world as a monarch of world literature. So far this century, we've had W. … Continue reading Gerald Murnane, The Plains