Reviewing the Review: September 17 2006

Fiction Poetry
David Bowman delivers an absolute rave in today's New York Times Book Review for Daniel Woodrell's Winter's Bone, a "hillbilly noir" that I'm also currently enjoying. This novel about a teenage girl in the Arkansas Ozarks trying to fend off homelessness caused by her crank-cooking father seems to be causing some kind of sensation, and I'm looking forward to writing more about it soon.

The raves keep coming: David Kamp is crazy about Mark Haddon's A Spot of Bother, the young author's much discussed follow-up to his Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. I liked the earlier book's realistic depiction of an autistic voice, but somehow Kamp's review doesn't send me running to pick up the new one, which seems less ambitious, even though Haddon is "especially heroic in capturing the tortured dynamics of nuclear-family life". I'm glad to hear it, but I thought that was Franzen's job.

Lizzie Skurnick is moderately pleased by Pagan Kennedy's Confessions of a Memory Eater, though she reveals her initial skepticism with this opener:

"Is it a coincidence that an author who seemed to have reached the apex of her popularity a decade ago has come back on the scene with a novel in which a memory pill allows a professor to return to his own golden days?"

Terrence Rafferty doesn't rave about Haruki Murakami's new book of short stories, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman -- and I'm not raving about Rafferty's article, which works too hard to establish some sort of overarching theory about "MurakamiLand, where sudden dislocations of time and space are pretty much the norm, and a certain, let's say, ontological indeterminacy hangs like a low cloud over everything lived or imagined or dreamed or remembered". I have nothing against overarching theories, but this one makes the author sound a little duller than he actually is. Rafferty's article also takes a weird turn when this sentence:

"In its original Japanese incarnation, you might say, the wonderful "Strange Tales From Tokyo" could be taken for a concept album; in the context of this larger collection, it's more like the great climactic medley on "Abbey Road."

is immediately followed by this one:

"The 19 stories that precede the final five, though, are arranged in a seemingly helter-skelter way; nonchronologically, and without any discernible intent to group them thematically or stylistically."

which leaves the reader in the awkward position of not knowing whether or not the author gets his own joke (probably not, though Rafferty also mentions Murakami's earlier novel Norwegian Wood in the following paragraph).

Joel Brouwer does a decent job of reviewing Scar Tissue by Charles Wright, who had the effect of making Brouwer "feel like poking him with a sharp stick". I've often had that feeling when reading poetry myself.

This week's Book Review also has it's share of vicious pans. Ada Calhoun doesn't like Jed Rubenfeld's The Interpretation of Murder at all, though the reader senses she would dislike the Freudian mystery a lot less if Henry Holt weren't trying to position it as the next Da Vinci Code. But Calhoun's pan is way outpanned by Joe Queenan's complete massacre of screenwriter Joe Eszterhas's The Devil's Guide To Hollywood. This is a very funny article, a pure blast of high-octane sarcasm that begins here:

"Since its inception, Hollywood has been viewed as a latter-day Byzantium where a galaxy of sensitive, sophisticated human beings have altruistically joined forces to bring spiritually elevating, culturally nourishing entertainment to the untutored masses. Now along comes a harsh, revisionist tract alleging that the film industry is teeming with venal, amoral men and women who do not care about art, who would stab their own mothers in the back if it would advance their careers, who will do anything for a buck and who have even been known to engage in meaningless sex - sometimes of the oral variety - to attain their objectives.

The author of this expos
This article is part of the series Reviewing the New York Times Book Review. The next post in the series is Reviewing the Review: September 23 2006. The previous post in the series is Reviewing the Review: September 10 2006.
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