Is this thing on? I couldn’t get into the New York Times Book Review this weekend. I’m not sure if the issue is a dud or if I was in a bad mood, but I think the answer is “both”
There’s a new novel by Hilma Wolitzer, The Doctor’s Daughter, respectfully reviewed by Dawn Drzal. The World To Come by Dara Horn is apparently a fable about a young man who goes to a museum and sees a Chagall painting that once hung in his home, the beginning of an intriguing story as summarized by critic Susann Cokal. I will look for this book. I was also glad to learn about a Russian poet named Anna Akhmatova, whose biography has just been written by Elaine Feinstein and reviewed by Olga Grushin.
That’s all fine, except that those decidedly minor epiphanies are the highpoint of today’s publication. One of the more disappointing pieces is poetry critic David Orr’s consideration of Samuel Menashe, who has been designated a “Neglected Master” by a poetry consortium. Orr is just off today; his writing is oddly diffuse and ineffective. Some of his lines make connections that are completely weird:
“So there may soon be a blue ribbon for almost every kind of poetic achievement, and each such trophy will claim to stand for something that transcends day-to-day life, with all its humdrum compromises, A.T.M. withdrawals and funerals.”
Yeah, those humdrum compromises, A.T.M. withdrawals and funerals can really be a drag. But what about the tartar control toothpaste and the hurricanes? Did Orr turn in a first draft here, or what? Overall, though, the sentences aren’t the problem. The problem is that the article just doesn’t catch fire. The Book Review’s poetry critic at large should set his bar higher.
This week’s cover article is about American Theocracy, an alarming critique of Republican politics, oil industry greed and red state Christian fundamentalist agendas by a former conservative named Kevin Phillips. “Phillips has created a harrowing picture of national danger that no American reader will welcome, but that none should ignore.” Great, that’ll really help my mood — more evidence that things just suck and keep getting worse.
At least Rachel Donadio’s endpaper, which should have been titled Chick-Lit Without Borders, is well-conceived and fairly informative. It’s amusing to know that there are hugely popular Carrie Bradshaw equivalents in India, Hungary and Finland but not in Japan or the Middle East. Chick-lit is a controversial topic these days, and I have a feeling there’ll be a few posts about this article in that big old blogosphere come Monday morning.