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Reviews

In my first draft of this review I said ‘Fates and Furies’ was both brilliant and boring. My editor said, “If it’s a bad book we shouldn’t run a long piece on it.” I said, “It’s not bad. I didn’t say it was bad. It’s original and terrifically inventive. It’s just got slow patches and […]

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Melanie is fifteen, innocent, and full of romantic dreams. She pretends to be a girl in a film, a magazine, a painting. She was too thin for a Titian or a Renoir but she contrived a pale, smug, Cranach Venus with a bit of net curtain wound round her head (…) She stuck moon-daisies in […]

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I was asked to write about my ‘year’s best’ books, which always makes me feel anxious and guilty (of not reading enough, of not having interesting taste). So instead I wrote about being alone for a few days, reading for ‘The Baby on the Fire Escape’ and discovering the unexpected.

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To read her new memoir M Train you would hardly know that Patti Smith is a rock star. She doesn’t let on that at sixty-eight she’s a hard-working performer, touring, lecturing, doing benefit concerts, going to parties with fashion designers, making appearances with the Dalai Lama. In her sequel to Just Kids, her magical 2010 […]

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Jonathan Franzen is a little like Times Square, the Eiffel Tower, or a Dutch windmill. If you’re a local, you can protest all you want that he’s not the only sight worth seeing, that you know other, less touristy spots, that there’s more to our great country than this one monument that’s on all the postcards. The foreign visitors won’t be satisfied until they’ve been there.

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The most talked-about, most prize-winning book of poetry in the United States right now is “Citizen: An American Lyric,” by the Jamaican-American writer and performer Claudia Rankine. Published in the midst of the Ferguson protests, Rankine’s prose poems are an attempt to make the reader feel the workings of racism—not only the prejudice and aggression […]

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Practically everyone I know loves Cloud Atlas except me. David Mitchell’s 2004 novel is ambitious and clever, I can see that, combining six storylines, each written in a very different style, all loosely connected by a shared vision of human weakness and impending (self-)destruction. (Actually, “novel” hardly seems an adequate term for this kind of […]

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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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