Book Reviews

January 15, 2019 

The Arts Fuse

American Audacity- Literature is the One Religion Worth Having

Demanding that people pay attention to quality writing is about as audacious a demand as you can make in our giddy culture.

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June 24, 2018

The Arts Fuse

Catch “Culture Fever”

Being able to comfortably shift gears between “high” and “low” culture is one of the easiest ways in which a contemporary critic can gain the reader’s trust.

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May 25, 2018

The Arts Fuse

“Secrets and Shadows” — Lessons of the Past

Roberta Silman’s engaging and deeply felt novel is a reminder of what it means to carry a historical burden on both a personal and national level.

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April 19, 2018

The Smart Set

REPUBLICAN LIKE WHO?

Popping Ken Stern’s political bubbles.

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April 3, 2018

The Baffler

Lost in Boston

On the fiftieth anniversary of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks: Is Boston in an era of musical decline?

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March 24, 2018

The Arts Fuse

Book Review: Susan Sontag’s Collected Stories — From the Back Burner

Susan Sontag wrote short stories as a hobby; she saved more of her enormous intellectual energy for her novels and essays.

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February 12, 2018

The Arts Fuse

Book Review: Ezra Pound in “The Bughouse”

For all his literary fecundity, Ezra Loomis Pound was also more than a little bonkers.

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January 27, 2018

The Arts Fuse

Book Review: “In a Lonely Place” — In the Mind of a Misogynist

Dorothy B. Hughes is one of the finest female practitioners of noir; ample proof can be found in the darkly glittering In a Lonely Place.

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January 21, 2018

The Arts Fuse

Book Review: Lou Reed — A Welter of Contradictions

DeCurtis wants to do justice to his subjects’ extensive catalogue, but as he ticks off the summaries for one record after another the book begins to feel less like exegesis and more like Lou Reed 101.

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December 10, 2017

The Arts Fuse

Book Review: “The Golden House” — More Surreal by the Minute

The Golden family comes by its wealth, and accrues its menacing enemies, via long and labyrinthine subplots that are hard to follow.

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October 25, 2017

The Arts Fuse

Book Review: Patti Smith’s “Devotion” — Not Devoted Enough

The short volume promises a glimpse into Patti Smith’s intuitive creative process — but disappoints.

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July 22, 2017

The Arts Fuse

Poetry Review: Bill Knott’s American Surrealism – A Magic Carpet Ride

Perhaps what makes Bill Knott’s poetry so addictive is his uncanny ability to turn language inside out, flouting and then altering a reader’s expectations of what a poem can be.

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May 28, 2017

The Arts Fuse

Book Review: “Age of Anger” — Politics United in Hate

In his profound new book Age of Anger, historian Pankaj Mishra finds the key to Trump-worship.

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April 30, 2017

The Arts Fuse

Lyrical Outrage — Songs of the Resistance

Many of the poems live up to the title’s shout-out to Walt Whitman by cutting through the current political miasma with fresh wit, insight, and lyrical outrage.

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March 18, 2017

The Arts Fuse

“With the Radio On” — The Modern Lovers, Aptly Canonized

The regional specificity of “Roadrunner” especially hits home for Bay Staters, but really it could be anywhere, maybe even Route 66.

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February 23, 2017

The Arts Fuse

“The Shipwrecked Mind” — Leaving the Carnage Behind

Mark Lilla argues convincingly that the creed of the reactionary mind can be just as radical (and disturbing) as any revolutionary ideology.

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February 8, 2017

The Arts Fuse

“The Feud” — Brilliant Literary Frenemies

Alex Beam generates interest via his portrait of frenemies Edmund Wilson and Vladimir Nabokov as brainy but flawed human beings.

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December 21, 2016

The Arts Fuse

The Oral History Lowdown on “The Daily Show”

The story of The Daily Show is interesting to fans, but it’s also relevant to understanding the evolution of political satire.

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November 6, 2016

The Arts Fuse

“The Hero’s Body” — Let’s Get Physical

William Giraldi was enticed by the fraternity of the gym as a way of filling out and firming up both his body and his sense of self.

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October 25, 2016

The Arts Fuse

Mark Greif’s “Against Everything” — But For Nothing?

Mark Greif’s analyses can be sharply counter-intuitive, but once we absorb the meaning of his criticism there’s less to go forward with than we expect.

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October 9, 2016

The Arts Fuse

Analyzing Musical Fisticuffs — “Your Favorite Band is Killing Me”

Steven Hyden doesn’t really pick a side in these fights; even though he’s got his favorites, he’s broad minded enough to know and enjoy every artist’s work.

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September 29, 2016

The Arts Fuse

Watching TV with Omnicultural Smarts — Clive James’ “Play All”

Clive James is cosmopolitan and learned, but he’s far from a snob. He’s equally at home translating Dante by day and delightedly re-watching episodes of The West Wing at night.

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August 8, 2016

The Arts Fuse

“Smedley’s Secret Guide to Literature” — Teenage Lit-Land

This savvy, witty, and casually erudite novella proves that when it comes portraying adolescence in fiction the less sentimentality the better.

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June 28, 2016

The Arts Fuse

“American Rhapsody” — A Lucid Song of Ourselves 

One of the seemingly unintentional ironies of American Rhapsody is that most of the artists Pierpont takes up didn’t find life in America to be rhapsodic at all.

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May 7, 2016

The Arts Fuse

Writer Delmore Schwartz — New Directions Gives His Volatile Brilliance its Due

Once and For All asserts the value of Delmore Schwartz’s provocative and multifaceted literary legacy.

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April 8, 2016

The Arts Fuse

Christopher Hitchens — Final Stings From the Gadfly

The fact that some of these pieces could have been written yesterday says more for the eternal recurrence of the moronic inferno of political life than for Hitchens as a social prophet.

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March 26, 2016

The Arts Fuse

“Really the Blues” — Memorable Tales of Jazz Age Derring-do

For all his memoir’s faults, Mezz Mezzrow’s rambunctious enthusiasm for jazz and the world it shaped and defined keeps the pages turning.

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February 13, 2016

The Arts Fuse

“And Again” — Biological Engineering, Predictable Construction

What’s most interesting about And Again is precisely what gets the least narrative attention.

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January 28, 2016

The Arts Fuse

“Symphony for the City of the Dead” — On Art and Human Survival

M. T. Anderson writes with a compellingly dark tone and a keen eye for characterization worthy of adult readership.

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January 11, 2016

The Arts Fuse

The Lucidly Chilling “Massacre on the Merrimack” — The Woman Who Killed Indians

Jay Atkinson does a great service to the complexities of history by portraying the bloody tragedy of each side’s mutually deadly incomprehension.

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December 11, 2015

The Arts Fuse

“The Christos Mosaic” — An Exciting Historical/Theological Thriller

The Christos Mosaic turns out to be the rare adventure story that rewards the reader’s attention by being as diverting as it is rigorously encyclopedic.

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October 24, 2015

The Arts Fuse

“City on Fire” — Epic Literary Kindling

For a long novel, City on Fire is generously accessible, and one of its strengths is in its absorbing, immersive momentum.

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October 14, 2015

The Arts Fuse

Critic and Poet Clive James — Reading and Writing Until the Lights Go Out

Clive James eagerly gets the most out of whatever’s on the page and isn’t shy about making larger connections with history, politics, and the inexorable flow of time.

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October 1, 2015

The Arts Fuse

“The Invisible Bridge” — Stranger and Scarier Than Fiction

As our current group of GOP presidential contenders make their ritual obeisance to the sacred memory of the Ronald Reagan, it’s useful to be reminded that the record shows the revered All-American icon to be more simulacrum than savior.

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August 7, 2015

The Arts Fuse

Literary Critic James Wood and the Art of ‘Deep Noticing’

We will always need critics to show us how literature works by revering it rather than interrogating it as if it had committed a crime.

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July 5, 2015

The Arts Fuse

“Adrift” in a Memorably Neo-Beat World

The protagonist’s version of barroom existentialism works as an unofficial précis for the struggle to make it through another day of being human.

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May 14, 2015

The Arts Fuse

“We All Looked Up” — A Book and Album Where Adolescence Meets the Apocalypse

It’s not by accident that some of the greatest coming-of-age stories are concerned with deconstructing social stereotypes.

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May 5, 2015

The Arts Fuse

Peter Gizzi’s “In Defense of Nothing” — Poetry as the Fruit of Bewilderment

Peter Gizzi is a master at allowing his poetic language to summon its own range of meanings, rather than blatantly declaring them to the reader.

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March 6, 2015

The Arts Fuse

Ned Beauman’s Unconventional “Glow”

Glow is a witty, accessible, but at times overly ambitious journey through the world of exotic drugs, the chemistry of romance, and the insidious effects of globalization.

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February 20, 2015

The Arts Fuse

“Selected Letters of Norman Mailer” — Many More Pieces of His Mind

It’s refreshing and more than a little nostalgic to see the trials, triumphs, and tribulations of Mailer’s time through his own combative eyes, before writers were marginalized as influential public figures.

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January 30, 2015

The Arts Fuse

“The Water-Babies” — A Darwinian Fairy Tale by an Eccentric’s Eccentric

Why is The Water-Babies a classic English fairy tale? It doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet it doesn’t ignore important issues. It’s culturally irreverent without being juvenile or simplistic.

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December 5, 2014

The Arts Fuse

Emile Zola’s “The Conquest of Plassans” — “Tartuffe” Gone Realpolitik

Entertaining yet incisive, The Conquest of Plassans remains a devastatingly acute reminder that religion and politics make surprisingly compatible bedfellows.

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October 30, 2014

The Arts Fuse

“The Zone of Interest” — Not Quite Interesting Enough

Martin Amis’s fiction, bleak though it often is, paradoxically remains compelling and pleasurable to read because of how well he writes about dreadful things.

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July 24, 2014

The Arts Fuse

Know When to Fold ‘em — Colson Whitehead Explores “The Noble Hustle”

The Noble Hustle gives talented novelist Colson Whitehead an opportunity to spelunk in some of the gnarlier corners of the American dream, in this case the Tropicana in Atlantic City.

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July 14, 2014

The Arts Fuse

“Little Failure” — Gary Shteyngart’s Memoir is Amusing But Thin

Gary Shteyngart’s memoir proffers the rhetorical zest and caustic wit of his novels, but it lacks their satiric edge.

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June 16, 2014

The Arts Fuse

Commentary: Happy Bloomsday! – A High Holy Day for Readers

People complain about how no one takes literature seriously these days. Tell that to the millions of people who are participating in Bloomsday celebrations worldwide today, the day the novel takes place.

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May 15, 2014

The Arts Fuse

“A Place in the Country” — A Heady Tour of W.G. Sebald Country

It seems deeply appropriate that a superb book of essays by W.G. Sebald about his favorite writers should be his swan song.

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April 18, 2014

The Arts Fuse

Poetry Review: “Book of Hours” — From Mourning to Celebration

Kevin Young’s poetic line is generally on the concise side, generating a pithy, earthy, evocative quality that hovers somewhere between the haiku-like jazziness of Robert Creeley and the delta blues of Son House or Skip James.

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March 6, 2014

The Millions

Bird Lives: On Stanley Crouch’s Kansas City Lightning

I submit that the kind of place Parker holds within jazz tradition is a little like what you would get if you mixed Beethoven with Jimi Hendrix. He was a game changer.

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October 3, 2013

The Millions

The Life that Develops In-Between: On Elizabeth Graver’s The End of the Point

Unless you’re kicking it with the Compsons or Buendias, say, it usually takes a little bit of readerly patience to get through a multigenerational family story. One has to be on one’s game, in terms of care and attention. Nobody wants to spend several hundred pages with a bunch of allegorical figures sitting around the dinner table and passing each other the salt.

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November 18, 2011

The Millions

Mythology, Men, and Coonskin Caps: On Michael Wallis’s David Crockett

David Crockett was romanticized in the same way that classic film stars, athletes, and politicians are, and for a similar reason — the legend is inextricably entwined with the actual human being. Not only is there no urgency to demystify, there’s almost no reason to. Sometimes the legend and the person are inextricable for perfectly good reasons.

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August 22, 2011

The Millions

The Canon Guard: Harold Bloom’s The Anatomy of Influence

Harold Bloom is not so much the judicious patriarch or brazen egomaniac as he is a grandmother – endlessly harried, fiercely loving, and relentlessly worried about the future of his brood.

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August 30, 2010

The Millions

Panache to Burn: Christopher Hitchens’ Hitch-22

Though we have just now learned that Hitch is dying, delving into his memoir many things are apparent, not the least of which the fact that the man has done some living. If anyone has the right to consider his time not wasted, it’s him.

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April 7, 2008

Flak Magazine

Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg

“The quintessential liberal fascist isn’t an SS storm trooper; it is a female grade-school teacher with an education degree from Brown or Swarthmore.”

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February 3, 2008

Flak Magazine

52 Projects by Jeffery Yamaguchi

You could see this type of book as either a refreshingly earnest and sweet-natured gesture, or a pathetic pile of saccharine corn and cheese, depending on your preferences and how pretentious you are.

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September 5, 2007

Flak Magazine

The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq

George Packer’s gripping and prosaic account of the political overture, military clash, and social aftermath of the Iraq War begins and expands beautifully from the title image outward.

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January 30, 2006

Flak Magazine

Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace

This is Wallace’s unique magic: to be totally erudite and obscenely well educated, yet not let any of it become pompous or pretentious or arrogant in any way. Using cerebral lingo to deepen and clarify, not cloud, his message is part of the charm.

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November 11, 2005

Flak Magazine

Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie

Rushdie has always been a cultural prism: Indian-born, Oxford-educated, New York- residing. An avowed liberal secular internationalist, Rushdie is in a particularly strong position to write on what preoccupies us: terrorism, culture, religion, and love.

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October 4, 2005

Flak Magazine

Delmore Schwartz

One of the strongest and most sadly neglected creative writers of the New York Intellectuals.