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Reviews

My review of Lisa See’s China Dolls is out now in the summer issue of Ms. Magazine. The novel draws on the unknown (to me) history of San Francisco’s Forbidden City nightclub and the Asian-American entertainers who worked there. While I was writing I kept looking up more images and footage, great stuff like the […]

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My review of Chang-Rae Lee’s “On Such a Full Sea” is in the winter-spring 2014 issue of Ms. I’m still thinking about the book, and about why I so often end up with mixed feelings reading science fiction by “literary” writers. On one hand, Lee makes skillful use of science fiction to explore Asian culture […]

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Women writers need to “raise the bar,” write more forcefully, set aside relationships and other supposedly female business and tackle “bigger” subjects. So says the young male novelist Jamal Ouariachi in last week’s Vrij Nederland, repeating a popular current assessment of women writers’ problem. Now, to my mind, the idea that novels by women are […]

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There are publishers who like to rummage in the jewel box of literature, looking for old books to try on. Some turn out to be diamonds, others semiprecious stones that happen to suit the mood of the times. “Stoner” (1965) by John Williams, last year’s successful revival, is an example of the second. Writing fifty […]

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This year’s Village Voice pick. I’d already written about the Le Guin collected stories and Chabon’s “Telegraph Avenue,” so I chose Jeanette Winterson’s memoir “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?” I heard her read the other day and was moved by her account of writing her way out of depression. Depression was like […]

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“Telegraph Avenue” is unquestionably a Great American Novel, but at first glance you might not recognize it as such. Michael Chabon braids plot twists, extraneous details, and references to such low-culture manifestations as comic books and kung fu movies into his stories with an almost adolescent abandon. In America a new Chabon book is a major event, but outside the English-speaking world, his verbal extravagance and fond embrace of popular culture…

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In nearly every story in “The Beautiful Indifference,” Sarah Hall achieves a fine balance of language and subject matter. Sometimes the sentences are introverted and brooding, the setting ominous. Sometimes the words are as stubborn and glowering as the characters they describe. Hall finds beauty in unlikely places: in a sudden outburst of rage, or […]

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When twenty-year-old beatnik Patti Smith first moved to New York with Rimbaud’s Illuminations in her pocket, she fell in love with a boy named Robert Mapplethorpe. Later she would become a rock star, he a provocative photographer who aestheticized the gay male body. But in the summer of 1967 he was an art student in […]

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