Lucy Ellmann’s appraisal of Kathryn Davis’s new novel The Thin Place is the kind of dramatic writing I like to see in the New York Times Book Review. The drama does not originate with the book Ellmann is reviewing, but rather with Ellmann’s intensely mixed feelings about this book. She bitterly mocks Davis’s pretensions to purplish prose, quoting a cosmological passage and asking if Davis had just smoked her first joint, and referring to the “sucking sounds” emanating from florid descriptions of “pink bogs of rosemark, gaping mouths of sun-dew”. But Ellmann drops hints that she adores this book even as she swipes at it, and I find myself in deep suspense as I progress through her attenuated examination of the novel’s merits and demerits until Ellmann reveals, in the last paragraph, that it all adds up to a big thumbs-up for a peculiarly ambitious book.
Ellmann has a new novel of her own coming out next month, and I intend to look up Davis’s book and Ellmann’s.
I don’t have too much to complain about today. Megan Marshall walks us through Sigrid Nunez’s The Last of her Kind (about a woman’s journey through various radical and idealistic social movements), Rachel Donadio supplies an intriguing profile of intellectual contrarian Malcolm Gladwell, and Dave Itzkoff is downright funny in his short riff on Stephen King’s new Cell.
There’s a lot of substance in this issue. Laura Miller’s review of Ali Smith’s The Accidental makes me want to pick up this book, and while I don’t feel inspired to pick up Jane Stevenson’s Good Women after reading Meg Wolitzer’s review, I do feel hopeful that I will continue to read reviews by Meg Wolitzer in this publication.
Bloglebrity Sara Gran‘s Dope doesn’t make out too well in Marilyn Stasio’s summary of several crime books, and Lee Siegel’s endpaper is another lame attempt at humor too unexceptional to be described here. The Book Review should get out of the satire business; it’s just not a good look for them.
Elsewhere in today’s New York Times, there is some excellent obituarial reporting. Wendy Wasserstein gets more column space than James Frey (a refreshing change) and there are informative articles about Betty Friedan and “Grandpa” Al Lewis who was not only a member of the Munsters cast but also a familiar face in the artsy/liberal Greenwich Village social scene for decades. Bye, Grandpa.