Big Bad Ones

Posted on by Tom Fleming

‘Every little girl wants to play with the wolf, wants to see if she can get the best of him.’ These are the knowing words of Francis Clemmons, recalled by his adoring daughter, Margy, as she remembers the panicky thrill of the wolf games she played with him, ‘until I got big enough and wouldn’t […]

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Sex Between The Races

Posted on by Tom Fleming

The short biography of Coleman Dowell on the sleeve of White on Black on White reveals that he committed suicide soon after the novel’s 1983 publication, ‘depressed at his lack of literary success.’ Upon reading the book, it’s soon apparent why he wasn’t more widely acclaimed. Not that he wasn’t good – Dowell wrote like […]

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And You Think You Have Problems?

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Mike Feder is a Jewish New Yorker, married, a father of two and plagued by a traumatic family background. These facts present the skeleton of a radio show he hosts, unpaid, in New York, almost as an adjunct to his therapy. Motormouth Mike has dropped out, flopped in college, battled and parleyed with demented and […]

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A Manual For Students

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Mary Morris, like many American authors, pursues an academic career in tandem with an authorial one, in her case at Princeton University and more recently as a ‘writer-in-residence’ at the University of California at Irvine. The idea of having a campus scribe or redbrick bard on tap at an academic establishment is still more prevalent […]

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Over-Examined Apple

Posted on by Tom Fleming

A couple of years ago it was the done thing to wail about the number of self-indulgent English novels about Hampstead angst. Look at America, it was said, with some justification. Why can’t we be as cosmopolitan as them? Well, the time has come for a new outcry: why oh why oh why is every […]

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Scots Ulysses

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Todd McEwen’s first novel revealed how horrible Boston is. His second, McX, tells us how depressing it is to be Scottish. McEwen, an American, has also travelled in the Soviet Union and Holland, so it may be that we can expect future bulletins on the forlorn condition of the Russian soul and the tedium of […]

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Older, Iller, Fatter, Rabbit none the Wiser

Posted on by David Gelber

The connection between sex and death is John Updike’s great subject. It’s quite complicated, this connection, in the Updike world. It’s not just that sex is deadly, for example, or death sexy. For Updike, sex involves both acknowledgement of ageing and the attempt to transcend it. He’s obsessed with the ways in which we try […]

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After Dallas what?

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Elliott Baker is an American. This is, I think, his sixth published novel. Norman Mailer finds Baker one of the funniest writers he knows. And We Were Young is dedicated to Norman Mailer. Elliott Baker is pictured on the back cover and he looks like Dennis Norden minus the spectacles and with a more expensive […]

Not So Magical Mystery Tour

Posted on by David Gelber

On page 130 of Paul Auster’s latest novel, we’re suddenly presented with a diagram representing a construction made out of thin air. Over a lake is a staircase, which the novel’s hero ascends, leading to a platform, which he walks along only to come down the stairs at the other side, presumably at the risk […]

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Caught in the Groove

Posted on by David Gelber

Toni Morrison’s new novel is like the music that gave it its title. It is rhythmic, emotional, controlled even in its wildest moments, skilful, subversive and irresistibly seductive. It is born out of, and evokes, both pain and pleasure. It laments and celebrates black experience; it takes themes and plays variations upon them; it plunges, […]

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Pale Ghost of a Very Good Novelist

Posted on by David Gelber

Norman Mailer’s new novel opens with a sequence so good you believe for a moment he may have written the book his friends and critics agreed was inside him. On the coast of Maine, lyrically described, there is a car smash, a house, two women, a ghost, sex, an air of menace and a series […]

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Loony Tunes

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This book should carry a Moon Warning. It opens in the summer of the astronauts’ moon landing. This is the first of a host of moon references. A telephone call to a police station is answered by a Sergeant Neil Armstrong. A character called Uncle Victor plays the clarinet in bands called the Moonlight Moods […]

An Ageing Writer’s Great Revenge and Final Triumph

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Of all those big American novelists who emerged after the Second World War, John Updike has been the most consistent, the most productive, and probably the most pleasurable. A writer’s writer, he has played across the genres: long serial novels, crisp novellas, realistic tales, social chronicles, strange fantasies, short stories, literary criticism, poetry, books on […]

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Epic Fairy Tale Told as a Shakespearian Tragedy

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

A few years ago, I was talking to Joyce Carol Oates, who teaches Creative Writing at Princeton University, about a poem she had written describing a deer in her garden. ‘Actually,’ she told me, ‘there were five deer; but art must simplify.’ I recalled this wry remark when reading Blonde, her twenty-fourth novel, which is […]

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Huck Finn as a Female – All in a Good Cause

Posted on by David Gelber

To understand the full impact of Pulitzer-Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley’s latest book, you need to look back to January 1996, when Smiley published ‘Say It Ain’t So, Huck’, an essay in Harper’s Magazine on classic American literature that infuriated many readers. Smiley sharply criticised Mark Twain, praised Harriet Beecher Stowe, and argued that ‘the canonisation […]

America’s Delusion

Posted on by David Gelber

In his superb American Pastoral, Philip Roth displayed signs of wanting to examine his kind of people in greater philosophic depth: Swede Lermontov, a Newark Jew who has moved to the mink-and-manure belt, finds that his attempts to become an American, freed from his immigrant antecedents and his religion, are tragically foiled. The agent of […]

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