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

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

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

Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro My rating: 5 of 5 stars Never Let Me Go is a contemporary realist novel about a friendship and eventual love triangle among three former students of an exclusive boarding school; the novel traces the effects of their childhood and adolescence on their adult experiences as they re-enter … Continue reading Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go

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

Louise Erdrich, Love Medicine

Love Medicine: Deluxe Modern Classic by Louise Erdrich My rating: 4 of 5 stars Browsing in a library the other day, I came upon a reference—in I don't recall which book by I don't recall which author—to the idea of a real novelist, as opposed to a novelist whose primary interests are moral or ideological … Continue reading Louise Erdrich, Love Medicine

Georg Lukács, The Meaning of Contemporary Realism

The Meaning of Contemporary Realism by Georg Lukács My rating: 2 of 5 stars I have always been attracted to the idea that art was more than about taste. Tabooed by postmodernism, which understands art and its appreciation to be wholly contingent social constructs serving various and sundry vested interests, this intuition that art could … Continue reading Georg Lukács, The Meaning of Contemporary Realism

Henry James, Hawthorne

Hawthorne by Henry James My rating: 5 of 5 stars This short 1879 book is Henry James's critical biography of the man who would at the time have been considered his most distinguished precursor in American fiction, Nathaniel Hawthorne. James was early in his career and was moreover writing Hawthorne as the only entry on … Continue reading Henry James, Hawthorne

Henrik Ibsen, The Master Builder

The Master Builder by Henrik Ibsen My rating: 5 of 5 stars In my understanding of Ibsen's career, The Master Builder (1892) belongs to the end of his realist period, where the biological and economic naturalism of such plays as Ghosts and A Doll's House gives way to that infusion of naturalism with symbolism that … Continue reading Henrik Ibsen, The Master Builder