The Broken Hearth: Reversing the Moral Collapse of the American Family by William J Bennett
A review by Caitlin Flanagan
The acknowledgments of William Bennett's new book include a nod to the weighty matters that occupy the author's workaday life: someone named Nora Burns is thanked for having "kept the office running while I was buried in fourteenth-century histories." This may well have been a demanding task, but it can hardly have been a long-lived one; the fourteenth century is mentioned in exactly one sentence of The Broken Hearth. On the other hand, poor Ms. Burns must have been run off her feet on those occasions when her employer was "buried" in accounts of the sex lives of contemporary celebrities and...
The Last of Her Kind by Sigrid Nunez
A Rebel in Search of Her Cause
A review by Yvonne Zipp
The college roommate questionnaire is one of the more loaded pieces of paper that land in incoming freshmen's mailboxes. Not as nausea-inducing as the financial-aid package, but sobering, nonetheless. Mine asked, among other things, whether I was looking for a new best friend, or hoped to "peacefully coexist" with my roomies. Well, who wouldn't want a best friend? Can't have too many, right?
Sadly, peaceful coexistence sounded pretty good by mid-October, when my roommates (who had grabbed the room's two closets) suggested that I try hanging my things from the ceiling to ease the crowded...
Hellfire Nation: The Politics of Sin in American History by James A Morone
A review by Jackson Lears
Occasionally adolescent high jinks affect the history of thought. Consider the episode recounted by Augustine in his Confessions. "There was a pear tree near our vineyard, loaded with a fruit that was attractive neither to look at nor to taste. Late one night a band of ruffians, myself included, went off to shake down the fruit and carry it away.... We took away an enormous quantity of pears, not to eat them ourselves, but simply to throw them to the pigs." Augustine agonized at length about the sheer perversity of his motives. "Could I enjoy doing wrong for no other reason than that ...
Guston in Time: Remembering Philip Guston by Ross Feld
The Poet and the Painter
A review by Anna Godbersen
Mid-career, and at the height of his reputation, the painter Philip Guston exhibited a series of new works that departed radically from the abstract expressionist style for which he was known. These new paintings cartoon-like, macabre, and littered with everyday objects caused an art-world scandal, alienating and confusing many of his supporters. But when the young poet Ross Feld went to see them, he found the new paintings remarkable. He wrote an essay celebrating them for an art magazine, and it sparked a personal and intellectual connection between the two men that lasted...
The Microscripts by Robert Walser
A Gentle and Angry Instrument: Robert Walser’s Short Fiction
A review by Jacob Silverman
Born in Biel, Switzerland, in 1878, the writer Robert Walser lived until the age of seventy-eight, and through his work, letters, and personal associations came into contact with some of the major literary figures of his age, but the story of his life remains fragmentary, peppered with lacunae. Living in near-poverty and dressed in natty but threadbare suits, he cultivated few personal attachments and owned almost nothing. He courted several women and corresponded with others but never married. Like the rest of his siblings, he produced no children. In the last three decades of his life...
Brothers by Yu Hua
Pleasure, Pain, and the Cultural Revolution
A review by Lucas Klein
In Ulysses James Joyce brought Leopold Bloom to the toilet; in Gravity's Rainbow Thomas Pychon pushed Tyrone Slothrop through it. In Brothers, the new novel by celebrated Chinese author Yu Hua, we find Baldy Li head down in the latrine, gazing up at the peeing posteriors of the women on the other side of the wall. But while such a description suggests that Brothers fulfills the promise of Euro-American modernist and postmodernist fiction, Yu Hua's real ancestry is the long tale of pre-modern China. And just as Baldy Li walks away from the spot where his father drowned engaging in the same...