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Review-a-Day

Wednesday, June 14th


 

Terrorist: A Novel by John Updike

Vintage Updike, in the Present Tense

A review by Anna Godbersen

And what would you expect from a John Updike novel with the title Terrorist? Maybe a sentence like this one, somewhere in the first paragraph: "All day long, at Central High School, girls sway and sneer and expose their soft bodies and alluring hair." Well, of course. You almost feel sorry for the preening, studious, zealot-in-training Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy; he can try to despise his sexed-up classmates all he wants, but his authorial creator has set him up. This is the Updike you know, and the world is New Jersey in present-tense and unflinchingly observed. The details are fleshy, profane, lovingly prosaic. Ahmad, the product of an absent Egyptian father and flaky Irish-American mother, is devout and "speaks with a pained stateliness." He listens to his imam when he tells him to get a commercial driver's license (uh-oh, you think); he is in thrall to the beauty of Islam. The weak encouragements of his college advisor Jack Levy, a depressive atheist with a crush on Ahmad's mother, are...



Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball by Stefan Kanfer

"Loosie!" The rise and fall of a great collaboration

A review by Mona Simpson

There are few great female comedians, for the simple reason that women like to look pretty. Comedy requires the performer to abandon most notions of refinement and sometimes to take a pie in the face. Lucille Ball was without question one of the century's great clowns, and she still appears in nightly reruns of I Love Lucy, her mouth half stuffed with candy in one episode, her lips puckered and goofy (after she's taken a spin in the starch vat at the Speedy Laundry) in another.

Lucy had many mentors. In his later, alcoholic years, Buster Keaton championed her. At RKO, Ginger Rogers's...



Some Sing, Some Cry by Shange Ntozake and Ifa Bayeza

Sister Act

A review by Erin Aubry Kaplan

Ntozake Shange is best known for "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf," a play/poem that radically reshaped the black female narrative by stripping away the armor of popular images and examining the individual pain and uncertainty underneath. Her genius was wedding the economy of poetry to the expansive, sometimes explosive emotions and personal histories of characters who had never really been heard before -- the theatrical equivalent of a jazz suite. Shange's serious mission was leavened with plenty of humor and a sense of irony that rendered the nameless...



Aeneid (08 Edition) by Vergil

Closer Than Ever to Vergil

A review by Garry Wills

Just two years ago, Robert Fagles, shortly before his death, set the bar very high for translating Vergil's Aeneid. Yet already the scholar-poet Sarah Ruden has soared over the bar. She does this despite submission to a trying discipline. She decides to translate one-line-per-one-line, and she uses the iambic pentameter. This means not only that she gives herself less space overall (Vergil's own 756 lines for Book One of the poem, for instance, to Fagles's 908), but less space in any single line. She has ten or eleven syllables to a verse, where Vergil and Fagles have up to seventeen...



Waxwings by Jonathan Raban

Settlers and Spoilers

A review by Robert Macfarlane

Waxwings is the first book in a projected quartet of novels by the emigre British writer Jonathan Raban. Considerable claims are already being made for the tetralogy: it has been compared, even at this early stage, to John Updike's Rabbit sequence, and one of the marketing tag lines for Waxwings is that "an English writer" has produced "a Great American Novel." Raban is best known for his travel books, but he has tried to avoid being pigeonholed as a travel writer. In interviews, he describes himself as a generic brinksman, who is "interested in the edge, the boundary between what is roughly...



Snow by Orhan Pamuk

Mind the Gap

A review by Christopher Hitchens

Well before the fall of 2001 a search was in progress, on the part of Western readers and critics, for a novelist in the Muslim world who could act the part of dragoman, an interpretive guide to the East. In part this was and remains a quest for reassurance. The hope was (and is) that an apparently "answering" voice, attuned to irony and rationality and to the quotidian rather than the supernatural, would pick up the signals sent by self-critical Americans and Europeans and remit them in an intelligible form. Hence the popularity of the Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz, who seemed in his Cairo caf...



Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America by Tom Lutz

Why Does the Couch Potato Make Us So Angry?

A review by Larry Sears

"Everyman is, or hopes to be, an idler." With these words of Samuel Johnson, Tom Lutz begins his latest effort, Doing Nothing: A History of Loafers, Loungers, Slackers, and Bums in America.
This book is a fascinating -- although at times also frustrating -- analysis of both workers and slackers throughout the past 250 years of Anglo-American history. It begins as a small family story and then expands into a complex examination of the duality of work and leisure, including commentary from a variety of writers and intellectuals.

When Cody, Tom Lutz's son, graduates from...



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