Machado de Assis, The Alienist

The Alienist by Machado de Assis My rating: 4 of 5 stars We could learn a lot, both about life and literature, from this 1882 novella by the Brazilian writer Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis. Machado is only now becoming prominent in the Anglophone world with Liveright's publication last year of his collected short stories… Continue reading Machado de Assis, The Alienist

José Revueltas, The Hole

The Hole by José Revueltas My rating: 3 of 5 stars The Hole was written in Mexico City's Lecumberri Penitentiary in 1969 and published the same year; a classic of Latin American literature, one that Valeria Luiselli claims on the back cover has informed the works of Bolaño and Aira, the novella appears for the… Continue reading José Revueltas, The Hole

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

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

Jean Giono, Melville

Melville: A Novel by Jean Giono My rating: 4 of 5 stars Twentieth-century French novelist Jean Giono is currently being introduced (or re-introduced by NYRB Classics) to American readers, and what better introduction than Giono's bio-fantasia about Herman Melville, now translated by Paul Eprile? Melville was published in 1941 in France, and written in the… Continue reading Jean Giono, Melville

Philip Roth, The Ghost Writer

The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth My rating: 5 of 5 stars The Ghost Writer is the good Roth, the safe Roth, wholesome enough to give to children and kittens and ducklings, hence, perhaps, its appearance on my syllabus this semester. (The guy who taught the class before me went straight to Portnoy's Complaint, but… Continue reading Philip Roth, The Ghost Writer

Herman Melville, Benito Cereno

Melville's Short Novels: Authoritative Texts, Contexts, Criticism by Herman Melville My rating: 5 of 5 stars Benito Cereno is one of the post-Pierre short works of the 1850s by which Melville hoped to right the ship of his literary career. A novella of slavery, based on a true story, it is both an effective work of… Continue reading Herman Melville, Benito Cereno

Nella Larsen, Quicksand

Quicksand by Nella Larsen My rating: 5 of 5 stars This rigorously ironic 1928 novel of the Harlem Renaissance (its author's first) has itself, in its afterlife, succumbed to an irony: contemporary readers tend to encounter it in the context of political discourses on American race relations, yet its heroine, Helga Crane, early on in… Continue reading Nella Larsen, Quicksand

Vladimir Nabokov, The Enchanter

The Enchanter by Vladimir Nabokov My rating: 3 of 5 stars VN's first pass at the Lolita subject matter, The Enchanter was written in 1939—making it one of the author's last works composed in Russian—but not published until 1986, in this translation by Dmitri Nabokov, who details the novella's origin and complex textual history in… Continue reading Vladimir Nabokov, The Enchanter

Juan Rulfo, Pedro Páramo

Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo My rating: 5 of 5 stars It sometimes seems as if great novels—where "great" implies success at the historico-political task of summing an epoch or capturing a society in fiction—almost have to be long. You know the list: Bleak House, War and Peace, Middlemarch, The Magic Mountain, Underworld, etc. But… Continue reading Juan Rulfo, Pedro Páramo