Heller McAlpin http://krwg.org en Sorry, Europe. 'Quebert Affair' Plot Thrills, But Prose Lacks Substance http://krwg.org/post/sorry-europe-quebert-affair-plot-thrills-prose-lacks-substance Joel Dicker's breakneck thriller <em>The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair</em> lands stateside trumpeting international sales figures that are the stuff of a writer's wildest dreams: nearly a million copies in France alone. Naturally, our curiosity is roused. Could this be another surprise charmer like Muriel Barbery's quirky <em>The Elegance of the Hedgehog? Sat, 28 Jun 2014 21:20:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 69398 at http://krwg.org Sorry, Europe. 'Quebert Affair' Plot Thrills, But Prose Lacks Substance 'Delicious!' ... Isn't http://krwg.org/post/delicious-isnt The exclamation point in its title is a clear tipoff: <em>Delicious!, </em>Ruth Reichl's first novel, is about as subtle as a Ring Ding. It's an enthusiastic but cloyingly sentimental story about a 21-year-old who finds happiness by making peace with her past — namely, her crippling, self-deprecating hero-worship of her older sister. Tue, 27 May 2014 11:21:39 +0000 Heller McAlpin 66978 at http://krwg.org 'Delicious!' ... Isn't Stories Of Loss, Brightened By Luminous Language http://krwg.org/post/stories-loss-brightened-luminous-language Elizabeth McCracken is a former public librarian best known for her quirkily endearing 1996 novel, <em>The Giant's House</em>, about an unlikely romance kindled at the circulation desk between a petite librarian and a freakishly tall boy. Over time, her work — filled with misfits, giants, and oddballs — has become darker. Mon, 26 May 2014 10:59:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 66917 at http://krwg.org Stories Of Loss, Brightened By Luminous Language Before She Was 'Girl, Interrupted' She Was A Girl From Cambridge http://krwg.org/post/she-was-girl-interrupted-she-was-girl-cambridge Twenty years after the publication of <em>Girl, Interrupted</em>, Susanna Kaysen's excoriating memoir about the nearly two years she spent in a psychiatric institution at the end of her teens, she's written a sort of prequel. Cambridge, her unflinching, elegiac, quasi-autobiographical new novel, takes us back to the mid-to-late 1950s with a portrait of Susanna as a difficult, contrary 7-to-11-year-old miserably at odds with her family, her teachers and herself. Sat, 24 May 2014 11:03:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 66828 at http://krwg.org Before She Was 'Girl, Interrupted' She Was A Girl From Cambridge Full Of Warmth And Wisdom, 'Vacationers' Is A Frothy Beach Read http://krwg.org/post/full-warmth-and-wisdom-vacationers-frothy-beach-read Meet the Posts — no relation to Emily and her rules of etiquette. The stressed family of New Yorkers in Emma Straub's breezy summer read,<em> The Vacationers,</em> are the kind of people who pack their troubles on top, for easiest access, when they head off on a trip together.<p>Sixty-year-old Jim Post has been kicked out of his beloved job editing <em>Gallant</em> magazine after an indiscretion with a 23-year-old editorial assistant whose father sits on the publication's board. Thu, 22 May 2014 11:03:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 66654 at http://krwg.org Full Of Warmth And Wisdom, 'Vacationers' Is A Frothy Beach Read 'Empathy Exams' Is A Virtuosic Manifesto Of Human Pain http://krwg.org/post/empathy-exams-virtuosic-manifesto-human-pain A boyfriend once called Leslie Jamison "a wound dweller." This is one of many personal morsels she shares in her virtuosic book of essays, <em>The Empathy Exams,</em> in which she intrepidly probes sore spots to explore how our reactions to both our own pain and that of others define us as human beings. Thu, 03 Apr 2014 11:03:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 63289 at http://krwg.org 'Empathy Exams' Is A Virtuosic Manifesto Of Human Pain Comedian Ages With Humor — And Effort http://krwg.org/post/comedian-ages-humor-and-effort What is it about comedians itching to get between the covers — book covers, that is? Annabelle Gurwitch's <em>I See You Made An Effort, </em> a seriously funny collection of essays about teetering over the edge of 50, makes it clear that the draw isn't strictly literary. Wed, 26 Feb 2014 01:29:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 60764 at http://krwg.org Comedian Ages With Humor — And Effort 'One More Thing' Has A Few Too Many Things, But It's Still Funny http://krwg.org/post/one-more-thing-has-few-too-many-things-its-still-funny How entertaining is B.J. Novak? With <em>One More Thing</em>, the standup comic, scriptwriter and actor (best known for his work on <em>The Office</em>), takes his talents to the page in 64 fresh, short, offbeat and often hilarious stories, many of which involve updating classics for satirical effect — whether with a rematch between the tortoise and the hare, or by replacing detective Encyclopedia Brown from children's literature with Wikipedia Brown, who is hopelessly distracted by tangential subjects. Tue, 11 Feb 2014 12:03:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 59687 at http://krwg.org 'One More Thing' Has A Few Too Many Things, But It's Still Funny Anna Quindlen Is (Still) The Voice Of Her Generation http://krwg.org/post/anna-quindlen-still-voice-her-generation Back in the 1980s, Anna Quindlen's <em>New York Times </em>column, "Life in the 30s," delineated — with humor and grace — what so many of her fellow newly liberated female Boomers were going through: the complications of using your maiden name after you have children. Check. The challenges of balancing a career with parenting. Check. Grocery shopping with small children in tow, "an event I hope to see included in the Olympics in the near future."<em> </em>Check again.<p><em>Still Life with Bread Crumbs</em>, Quindlen's seventh novel, offers the literary equivalent of comfort food. Wed, 29 Jan 2014 12:02:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 58779 at http://krwg.org Anna Quindlen Is (Still) The Voice Of Her Generation Music And Chemistry Are An Explosive Combination In 'Orfeo' http://krwg.org/post/music-and-chemistry-are-explosive-combination-orfeo Richard Powers, whose novels combine the wonders of science with the marvels of art, astonishes us in different ways with each new book. His 11th, <em>Orfeo</em>, is about a 70-year-old avant-garde composer who has sacrificed family and fortune to his relentless pursuit of immortal, transcendent music.<p>Retired from teaching, Peter Els finally takes his esoteric monomania too far when he attempts to combine his twin obsessions — music and chemistry — in homegrown genetic engineering experiments aimed at instilling music into bacterial cells by altering DNA. Wed, 22 Jan 2014 12:02:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 58285 at http://krwg.org Music And Chemistry Are An Explosive Combination In 'Orfeo' E.L. Doctorow's New Novel 'Puzzling And Ultimately Disappointing' http://krwg.org/post/you-might-need-be-scientist-understand-andrews-brain E.L. Doctorow's 19th book, <em>Andrew's Brain</em>, is a real head-scratcher. This short, perplexing but occasionally potent novel presents particular challenges to a critic, as it's difficult to discuss its enigmas without giving away its odd twists. What I can say is that what starts out as a tale of lost love ends up taking a baffling political turn into rather biting commentary on post-Sept. 11 America.<p>This is hardly Doctorow's first book with a political slant. A recurrent theme in his remarkable fiction has been the way public historical events resonate in private lives. Fri, 17 Jan 2014 12:02:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 58003 at http://krwg.org E.L. Doctorow's New Novel 'Puzzling And Ultimately Disappointing' 'Boy Detective' Walks Down Memory Lane, But Doesn't Get Anywhere http://krwg.org/post/boy-detective-walks-down-memory-lane-doesnt-get-anywhere There's a difference between ruminating and rambling, and Roger Rosenblatt crosses the line in <em>The Boy Detective,</em> his dilatory, meandering new memoir about his New York boyhood. I was a big fan of <em>Kayak Morning</em>, Rosenblatt's meditation on the tenaciousness of grief published in early 2012, four years after the sudden death of his 38-year-old daughter, a pediatrician and mother of three small children. Tue, 05 Nov 2013 12:03:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 53240 at http://krwg.org 'Boy Detective' Walks Down Memory Lane, But Doesn't Get Anywhere An Exhaustive Survey From Columbus To Nemesis In 'Roth Unbound' http://krwg.org/post/exhaustive-survey-columbus-nemesis-roth-unbound <em>Roth Unbound</em>, Claudia Roth Pierpont's aptly titled study of Philip Roth's evolution as a writer, unleashes a slew of memories — including my eye-opening first encounter with <em>Portnoy's Complaint </em>as a naive 14-year-old. It also stokes a strong desire to re-read his books, which I suspect will be the case for many.<p>About that early memory: My father was an avid fan, who connected with Roth's exuberant, subversive take on sex and what it meant to be both a secular Jew and an American in the years following WorId War II. Wed, 23 Oct 2013 11:03:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 52368 at http://krwg.org An Exhaustive Survey From Columbus To Nemesis In 'Roth Unbound' 'The Rosie Project' Will Charm You With Science http://krwg.org/post/rosie-project-will-charm-you-science He's a socially inept scientist who's tone deaf to irony. She's an edgy young woman whose fallback mode is sarcasm. Put them together, and hilarity ensues in Australian IT consultant Graeme Simsion's first novel, <em>The Rosie Project</em>. It's an utterly winning screwball comedy about a brilliant, emotionally challenged geneticist who's determined to find a suitable wife with the help of a carefully designed questionnaire, and the patently unsuitable woman who keeps distracting him from his search. Thu, 03 Oct 2013 11:03:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 51063 at http://krwg.org 'The Rosie Project' Will Charm You With Science Julian Barnes 'Levels' With Us On Love, Loss And Ballooning http://krwg.org/post/julian-barnes-levels-us-love-loss-and-ballooning "Every love story is a potential grief story," Julian Barnes writes in <em>Levels of Life</em>, a quirky but ultimately powerful meditation on things that uplift us — literally, as in hot air balloons, and emotionally, as in love — and things that bring us crashing to earth: to wit, that great leveler, the death of a loved one.<p>In this slim, tripartite book, Barnes tenuously attempts to juxtapose several disparate subjects: 19th century French portrait photographer Nadar, who first succeeded in photographing the earth from above, allowing us "to look at ourselves from afar, to make the subje Thu, 26 Sep 2013 11:03:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 50545 at http://krwg.org Julian Barnes 'Levels' With Us On Love, Loss And Ballooning In 'Sprinkler,' A Wacky Poet Returns With New Obsessions http://krwg.org/post/sprinkler-wacky-poet-returns-new-obsessions Nicholson Baker has become a sort of poet of the particular and the peculiar. His books are filled with people who focus minutely on what captivates them – in other words, obsessives. A positive way of looking at obsession is as passion taken to an extreme. Tue, 17 Sep 2013 13:55:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 49862 at http://krwg.org In 'Sprinkler,' A Wacky Poet Returns With New Obsessions Suburban Islands Of Regret, More Than 'Nine Inches' Apart http://krwg.org/post/suburban-islands-regret-more-nine-inches-apart Nine inches is the minimum distance required between middle school students during slow dances in the title story of Tom Perrotta's first book of short stories in 19 years. Wed, 11 Sep 2013 13:23:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 49417 at http://krwg.org Suburban Islands Of Regret, More Than 'Nine Inches' Apart Last Words: An Author's Rhymed Farewell http://krwg.org/post/last-words-authors-rhymed-farewell What a loss. That's the thought that kept running through my head as I flagged one inspired rhyme after another in David Rakoff's risky (though hardly risqué) posthumous first novel. Why risky? For starters, Rakoff, who died of cancer last summer, at 47, chose to write this last book in verse — albeit an accessible, delightful iambic tetrameter that is more akin to Dr. Seuss than T.S. Eliot.<p><em>Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish </em>encompasses all the activities in its title — which is the wordiest part of this slim but powerful volume. Tue, 16 Jul 2013 11:03:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 45497 at http://krwg.org Last Words: An Author's Rhymed Farewell City, Comedy And Calamity In Cathleen Schine's New Novel http://krwg.org/post/city-comedy-and-calamity-cathleen-schines-new-novel Cathleen Schine can always be counted on for an enticing, smart read, and her latest novel, <em>Fin & Lady,</em> is no exception, but it's an odd duck, as quirky as its peculiarly named titular half-siblings. Thu, 04 Jul 2013 11:03:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 44667 at http://krwg.org City, Comedy And Calamity In Cathleen Schine's New Novel A Family's Secrets And Sorrows Surface In 'Heatwave' http://krwg.org/post/familys-secrets-and-sorrows-surface-heatwave British writer Maggie O'Farrell, born in Northern Ireland, is less well-known in the U.S. than she should be. Her mesmerizing, tautly plotted novels often revolve around long-standing, ugly family secrets and feature nonconformist women who rebel against their strict Irish Catholic upbringing. Her most recent books, <em>The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox </em> (2006) and <em>The Hand That First Held Mine</em> (2010), offer the sort of spellbinding reads that can make you miss your flight announcement.<p>I nearly missed my subway stop while immersed in <em>Instructions for a Heatwave</em>. Wed, 19 Jun 2013 11:03:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 43654 at http://krwg.org A Family's Secrets And Sorrows Surface In 'Heatwave' Food For Thought In Shriver's 'Big Brother' http://krwg.org/post/food-thought-shrivers-big-brother Lionel Shriver tackles a whopper of an issue in her new novel, <em>Big Brother</em>: obesity and the emotional connection between weight, consumption, guilt and control. She comes at this huge subject through a sister torn between saving her morbidly obese older brother, who has "buried himself in himself," and an unsympathetic, belligerently fit husband — a situation that raises questions about divided loyalties and whether blood is thicker than water. Tue, 04 Jun 2013 11:03:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 42546 at http://krwg.org Food For Thought In Shriver's 'Big Brother' Farm Team Saga 'Class A' Hits It Out Of The Park http://krwg.org/post/farm-team-saga-class-hits-it-out-park Is there room for another book about America's favorite pastime? Lucas Mann's <em>Class A</em> earns a position in a lineup that already includes <em>Bang the Drum Slowly, The Natural</em>,<em> The Boys of Summer</em>,<em> Moneyball </em>and <em>The Art of Fielding</em> because, remarkably, it offers a fresh, unexpected angle on this well-trodden game.<p>Chances are you'll be hearing lots of cheers proclaiming Mann's genre-bending book a <em>Grand slam! Thu, 09 May 2013 11:03:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 40771 at http://krwg.org Farm Team Saga 'Class A' Hits It Out Of The Park A 'Bargain Basement Molly Bloom' Looks Back On Eight Decades http://krwg.org/post/bargain-basement-molly-bloom-looks-back-eight-decades Back in the early 1950s, as a lonely, pregnant young wife already ruing her rash elopement, Edna O'Brien sobbed through the ending of Flaubert's <em>Madame Bovary</em> and wondered, "Why could life not be lived at that same pitch? Wed, 01 May 2013 11:03:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 40214 at http://krwg.org A 'Bargain Basement Molly Bloom' Looks Back On Eight Decades Owls, Yes, But Also Kookaburras And Dentists In Sedaris' Latest http://krwg.org/post/owls-yes-also-kookaburras-and-dentists-sedaris-latest Plenty of personal essayists, including really good ones like Nora Ephron, Anna Quindlen and E.B. White, burn out or switch to fiction after a few books. Even Michel de Montaigne, the 16th century French writer often acknowledged as the father of the genre that combines intelligent reflection with anecdotes and autobiography, produced only one volume — albeit a massive one. Wed, 17 Apr 2013 14:09:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 39261 at http://krwg.org Owls, Yes, But Also Kookaburras And Dentists In Sedaris' Latest Minks, Perfume And Beastly Beauty In 'Shocked' http://krwg.org/post/minks-perfume-and-beastly-beauty-shocked Beauty can be a beast. That's one message from <em>Shocked</em>, Patricia Volk's smart, fascinating book about her complex relationship with her beautiful, elegantly attired, hypercritical mother.<p>Volk's delightful first memoir, <em>Stuffed</em>, which focused on her eccentric family of New York restaurateurs, was published just a year after the death, in 2000, of her 80-year-old father, Cecil Sussman Volk, longtime proprietor of Morgen's West Restaurant but also a sculptor, inventor and motorcycle enthusiast. Tue, 02 Apr 2013 11:03:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 38180 at http://krwg.org Minks, Perfume And Beastly Beauty In 'Shocked' Learning 'Life' Lessons With McCorkle's Seniors http://krwg.org/post/learning-life-lessons-mccorkles-seniors Amid a literary landscape increasingly rife with metafictional and postmodern high jinks, Jill McCorkle's sixth novel, <em>Life After Life, </em>is as resolutely down to earth and unpretentious as the hot-dog franchise owned by one of her characters. For her first novel in 17 years, McCorkle has dared to write a heartwarmer that takes place largely in a retirement home and stresses the importance of good old-fashioned kindness.<p>(Oddly, McCorkle and Kate Atkinson both have novels called <em>Life After Life</em> coming out this spring, which is bound to cause some confusion. Wed, 27 Mar 2013 11:03:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 37813 at http://krwg.org Learning 'Life' Lessons With McCorkle's Seniors Can This Hypercomplex 'Leopard' Change Its Spots? http://krwg.org/post/can-hypercomplex-leopard-change-its-spots What's a reader to believe, especially when confronted with an unreliable narrator? Which of the many versions spun by the self-confessed liar and aspiring writer in Kristopher Jansma's far-flung, deliberately far-fetched, hyper-inventive first novel, <em>The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards,</em> should we buy? Tue, 26 Mar 2013 11:03:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 37725 at http://krwg.org Can This Hypercomplex 'Leopard' Change Its Spots? A New Focus On An Old Image In 'Mary Coin' http://krwg.org/post/new-focus-old-image-mary-coin Do you remember those school assignments where you were asked to make up a story based on a picture? With <em>Mary Coin</em>, Marisa Silver looks long and hard at an image that has been seared into our nation's consciousness — Dorothea Lange's iconic Depression-era photograph "Migrant Mother" — and compassionately imagines the lives behind it. The result is a fresh angle on the Great Depression and a lesson in learning how to really look and see.<p>Silver anchors her novel with research into Lange and her migrant subject, Florence Owens Thompson. Thu, 07 Mar 2013 12:03:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 36519 at http://krwg.org A New Focus On An Old Image In 'Mary Coin' Secrets, Lies And The Allure Of The Illicit http://krwg.org/post/secrets-lies-and-allure-illicit By the time Wendy Plump learned from a friend that her husband had a longtime mistress and an 8-month-old son living just a mile away, their union was already pockmarked with the scars of adultery — both his and hers. She divulges all this and more in <em>Vow, </em>her at times jaw-droppingly frank but ultimately instructive post-mortem on their 18-year marriage.<p>You may well wonder why someone would go public with such intimate, painful details of her personal life. Thu, 14 Feb 2013 12:03:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 35112 at http://krwg.org Secrets, Lies And The Allure Of The Illicit Writing Well Is The Wronged Wife's Revenge In 'See Now Then' http://krwg.org/post/writing-well-wronged-wifes-revenge-see-now-then On one level, <em>See Now Then, </em>Jamaica Kincaid's first novel in a decade, is a lyrical, interior meditation on time and memory by a devoted but no longer cherished wife and mother going about the daily business of taking care of her home and family in a small New England town. But it is also one of the most damning retaliations by a jilted wife since Nora Ephron's <em>Heartburn</em>. <em>See Now Then </em>reads as if Gertrude Stein and Virginia Woolf had collaborated on a heartbroken housewife's lament that reveals an impossible familiarity with <em>Heartburn </em>and Evan S. Tue, 05 Feb 2013 12:03:00 +0000 Heller McAlpin 34491 at http://krwg.org Writing Well Is The Wronged Wife's Revenge In 'See Now Then'