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Review-a-Day

Friday, March 10th


 

The Ethical Assassin: A Novel by David Liss

Sales Can Be Murder

A review by Ron Charles

David Liss has a nose for history. He can smell it hundreds of years away. His debut, A Conspiracy of Paper, and its sequel, A Spectacle of Corruption, reeked of gritty 18th-century London. The Coffee Trader captured the scent of unwashed whores along with the best part of waking up in 17th-century Amsterdam. Now, for the first time, Liss has written a contemporary novel, The Ethical Assassin, set in Florida, but his olfactory sense is as acute as ever. "A putrid miasma whirled and eddied through the streets of the trailer park," he tells us in the opening paragraph. "It smelled like a prison camp outhouse. Worse."

Liss's previous novels were entertaining thrillers that also happened to teach us about the development of market economies in Europe. Intricate details about city life, including the smells of crowded streets without plumbing, were just part of the redolent charm of his scholarship. The Ethical Assassin is far less cerebral, but the stench is front...



Gould's Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish by Richard Flanagan

Lowly fish battle Tasmanian devil

A review by Ron Charles

Fish stories have a credibility problem. Even from the most trustworthy angler, they're slippery tales. When the teller is a forger, a liar, and a thief who admits that nothing he says can be believed, you're on guard. But when he confesses that he's also a fish, you're hooked.

Richard Flanagan has written a book that's THIS BIG, surely the slipperiest, most outrageous novel of the year. Who else would dare start with a 40-page preface that describes the story we're about to read as wondrous, luminous, and captivating? This is like setting off in the morning, promising to return for...



Coltrane: The Story of a Sound by Ben Ratliff

The Death of Jazz

A review by Ben Hughes

Saxophone nerd, heroin junkie, psychedelic warrior, holy man, mild-mannered suburban dad -- John Coltrane didn't just reinvent what we think of as jazz, he constantly reinvented himself in the process.

And so in Coltrane: The Story of a Sound, by Ben Ratliff, we see Coltrane bursting with talent but crippled by drugs. We see Coltrane kicking the habit, then calmly unleashing a series of revolutions that threatened to both save jazz and entirely destroy it. It's a portrait of a bewildering genius and an elegy for an art form; after Coltrane's death in 1967, jazz slipped into a long...



Tumor Signed Edition by Joshua Fialkov

A Dreamlike Final Test

A review by Zander Cannon

Tumor is a good example of a new school of graphic novel that seeks to produce the kind of reader experience that was once confined to prose novels. Though to be sure the rendering and the visual storytelling of Tumor have all the hallmarks of comics' long history, the meandering, strategic flow of the story is a closer match to longer fiction than to the incessant crescendos of monthly comic magazines.

Joshua Hale Fialkov (story) and Noel Tuazon (art) depict washed-up private eye Frank Armstrong's last day, in which he is tasked with protecting a mobster's daughter while dying of brain...



Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

Apparat-chic: Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story

A review by Rayyan Al-Shawaf

"Oh, dear diary. My youth has passed, but the wisdom of age hardly beckons. Why is it so hard to be a grown-up man in this world?" Bemoaning his fate thus is 39-year-old lovable loser Lenny Abramov, the bookish and neurotic Russian-Jewish-American protagonist of Gary Shteyngart's feverish, boisterous, wildly funny yet also contrived and histrionic new novel: Super Sad True Love Story. And Lenny's philosophical lament, equal parts rueful and self-deprecating, does not begin to encapsulate his troubles. The not-too-distant future world in which he feels himself an anachronism is a place...



Men at Arms by Evelyn Waugh

A review by Penelope Lively

On October 6, 1940, Evelyn Waugh made an entry in his diary that will puzzle and dismay readers accustomed to the celebratory view of World War II presented in, say, Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation: "The most valuable thing is to stop the fighting and working part of the nation from thinking." The tone is of course ironic, and indeed, this passage is at odds with the bulk of Waugh's wartime diaries, which are stylistically immediate and purposeful, a narrative of what happened to Waugh -- when, where, and how. But at this point he paused for some acid comment: "War will go on until it is ...



Sandman: King of Dreams by Alisa Kwitney

Hail to the King, Baby

A review by Chris Bolton

With the simultaneous release of Alisa Kwitney's overview of Neil Gaiman's acclaimed Sandman series and Gaiman's first new Sandman graphic novel in several years, Endless Nights, now seems a good time to look back at the stories that have revolutionized the comics industry and comprise one of the greatest narratives in any medium.

Gaiman has since become a bestselling author of justly praised prose, from his Alice in Wonderland-like solo debut, Neverwhere, to his Hugo and Nebula Award-winning American Gods, to his recent Hugo Award-winning novel for children, Coraline. But long before all ...



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