Books in Brief

Books reviewed in The Atlantic Monthly in 2005


James Agee: Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, A Death in the Family, Shorter Fiction, Edited by Michael Sragow (Library of America)
Reviewed by Benjamin Schwarz ("He Found It at the Movies," September 2005)

"Agee ... left behind some stunning if flawed monuments, among them A Death in the Family ... and the more frequently admired than read Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a novelistic documentary portrait of three families of Alabama tenant farmers in the 1930s."


The Annotated Lolita, edited by Alfred Appel Jr. (Vintage)
Reviewed by Christopher Hitchens ("Hurricane Lolita," December 2005)

"One of the many, many pleasures of Alfred Appel's masterly introduction and annotation [to Nabokov's Lolita] is the discovery that Nabokov did not realize that Maurice Girodias and the Olympia Press were specialists in—well, shall we just say "erotica"?—when he let them have the manuscript."


Dancing Girls and Other Stories, by Margaret Atwood (Anchor)
Reviewed by Sally Singer ("Retail Therapy," May 2005)

"Brilliantly evocative of the psychology of discount shoppers ... and offering perhaps the first literary reference to the off-price designer-goods emporium, Atwood's story is also, incidentally, quietly perceptive about the Gothic nature of first loves."


Catharine and Other Writings, by Jane Austen (Oxford)
Reviewed by Terry Castle ("Gender Bending, Part 2," October 2005)

"Austen seems to have been born with a fatuousness detector implanted in her mobcapped skull. Her collected juvenilia—plays and sketches like the droll History of England she wrote at sixteen—are subversive and hilarious."


The Wonder Spot, by Melissa Bank (Viking)
Reviewed by Elizabeth Judd ("New Fiction," July/August 2005)

"Melissa Bank's terrific new novel lacks the topical conflicts and poetic imagery that critics appreciate, and its strong suit—a companionable, offhand sense of humor leading to subtle revelations of character—is deceptively difficult to achieve."


Follies and New Stories, by Ann Beattie (Scribner)
Reviewed by Christina Schwarz ("A Close Read," April 2005)

"Ann Beattie's short sentences and simple syntax hold the reader at a distance ... By artfully making her art recede, Beattie lets the few details that anchor the passage convey her story. "


Willful Creatures: Stories, by Aimee Bender (Doubleday)
Reviewed by Christina Schwarz ("A Close Read," October 2005)

"Bender ... creates her own world somewhere between the familiar and the absurd."


The Hotel, by Elizabeth Bowen (Penguin)
Reviewed by Terry Castle ("Gender Bending, Part 2," October 2005)

"Bowen set her earliest novel in a vaguely Forsterish milieu: an English pensione on the Italian Riviera, filled with the requisite lady tourists, clergymen, and handsome young fellows in tennis whites.... No knock on Forster, but Bowen is heaps better than he is."


Fascination, by William Boyd (Knopf)
Reviewed by Christina Schwarz ("A Close Read," July/August 2005)

"Boyd effortlessly executes all the sophisticated tricks of conventional style even as he pushes beyond convention, taking liberties with language and proportion."


March, by Geraldine Brooks (Viking)
Reviewed by Christina Schwarz ("New Fiction: Finds and Flops," April 2005)

"Brooks's narrative is remarkably tight. Whereas much literary fiction wallows in digression, here every scrap of information propels the story forward."


A Pair of Silk Stockings and Other Stories, by Kate Chopin (Dover)
Reviewed by Sally Singer ("Retail Therapy," May 2005)

"Chopin's gentle little tale about the addictive nature of luxury goods seems particularly resonant today: who hasn't entered Barneys for a pair of tights, only to exit head-to-toe in Prada?"


The Closed Circle, by Jonathan Coe (Knopf)
Reviewed by Elizabeth Judd ("After School," June 2005)

"Messy and brimming ... The Closed Circle would be easy to skewer for its mind-boggling coincidences and armchair analysis (rarely does Coe show when he can tell, tell, tell), but it redeems itself with boundless energy and a cheerful capaciousness."


The Pure and the Impure, by Colette (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Reviewed by Terry Castle ("Gender Bending, Part 2," October 2005)

"An anatomy of the sophisticated sexual life as lived in great cities by those who are thoughtful and unafraid."


Specimen Days, by Michael Cunningham (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Reviewed by Joseph O'Neill ("New Fiction," June 2005)

"Michael Cunningham is one of the most humane and moving writers we have; but the toiling quality of Specimen Days suggests that ... he may lack the naturally impassioned formalism required to make a multi-genre novel come truly to life."


In the Fold, by Rachel Cusk (Little, Brown)
Reviewed by Christina Schwarz ("A Close Read," November 2005)

"Though Cusk uses figurative language liberally, she does so with a light touch and an intellectual precision that makes the figures work exactly as they ought."


Diary of a Provincial Lady, by E. M. Delafield (Academy Chicago Publishers)
Reviewed by Sally Singer ("Retail Therapy," May 2005)

"Delafield's novelistic dispatches from Devon are written with a Braudelian attention to the material culture of daily life—in this instance the everyday trappings of a modern-minded, village-bound land agent's wife."


The Truth of the Matter, by Robb Forman Dew (Little, Brown)
Reviewed by Christina Schwarz ("A Close Read," December 2005)

"Dew ... achiev[es] a style as solid and direct as the well-intentioned World War II-era midwesterners about whom she writes."


The Leopard, by Giuseppe di Lampedusa (Pantheon)
Reviewed by Allan Gurganus ("One Great Book Per Life," March 2005)

"This masterpiece remains a pitiless love poem to the ever dying, never dead aristocracy. Tart and suave with its author's sexy big-cat ego, it is the greatest work by and about someone titled."


The Book of Ebenezer Le Page , by G. B. Edwards (Knopf)
Reviewed by Allan Gurganus ("One Great Book Per Life," March 2005)

"Edwards planned devoting his last years to a trilogy of island novels. He finished only one, The Book of Ebenezer Le Page (1981), but it reads like Beethoven's Ninth."


How We Are Hungry, by Dave Eggers (McSweeney's)
Reviewed by Jon Zobenica ("A Close Read," April 2005)

"This story collection is a ... temperate, generally melancholic affair. But in it a certain voice keeps popping up oddly: that of the irrepressibly manic memoirist."


Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer (Houghton Mifflin)
Reviewed by B. R. Myers ("A Bag of Tired Tricks," May 2005)

"Never mind the poor taste; never mind the story about losing a father and finding a grandfather, which would elicit sneers from critics if the cover had The Key on it and Nicholas Sparks's name underneath. The remarkable thing is that a substantial part of the book is designed to be only glanced at."


Accidents, by Yael Hedaya (Metropolitan Books)
Reviewed by Joseph O'Neill ("New Fiction," December 2005)

"When you read a book like Yael Hedaya's Accidents—a fine-grained, tragicomic, and always gripping portrait of adult love in the making—you wonder why so few such books are produced, and why they are not more fanfared."


The Garden of Eden, By Ernest Hemingway (Scribner)
Reviewed by Terry Castle ("Gender Bending," September 2005)

"This unfinished novel, published posthumously, features a painfully mixed-up hero, a knockout scene of fetishistic haircutting, and sentences so beautiful one could cry."


A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby (Riverhead)
Reviewed by Jon Zobenica ("You Might as Well Live," July/August 2005)

"Nick Hornby's zippy novels High Fidelity and About a Boy, plumbed the depths of humankind's would-be shallows.... In his latest Hornby has almost perfectly reversed [his] formula, and to the extent that he succeeds, he fails."


Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro (Knopf)
Reviewed by Joseph O'Neill ("New Fiction," May 2005)

"Suffice it to say that Ishiguro serves up the saddest, most persuasive science fiction you'll read."


Ulysses, by James Joyce (Vintage)
Reviewed by Sally Singer ("Retail Therapy," May 2005)

"Joyce offers a sympathetic glimpse into the empowering nature of fashion wisely bought."


Absolute Friends, by John le Carré (Little, Brown)
Reviewed by B. R. Myers ("Tradecraft," April 2005)

"This is le Carré's first truly bad novel, one that seems almost calculated to give the lie to each building-blurb of his reputation."


The Hot Kid, by Elmore Leonard (William Morrow)
Reviewed by B. R. Myers ("The Prisoner of Cool," November 2005)

"Anyone who reads the first chapter—a wonderful short story in its own right—will probably care enough about the outcome to enjoy reading on to the last fifth of the book, which is almost as good."


A Hero of Our Time, by Mikhail Lermontov, translated by Hugh Aplin (Hesperus/Trafalgar)
Reviewed by Christopher Hitchens ("A Doomed Young Man," June 2005)

"These five nicely chiseled stories, giving Rashomon-like perspectives on the short life of a doomed young man, are in a most intriguing way 'of their time.'"


Saturday, by Ian McEwan (Doubleday/Nan Talese)
Reviewed by Christopher Hitchens ("Civilization and Its Malcontents," April 2005)

"With this novel the soft and the hard McEwan come into an exquisite balance, just as the thin and objective blade pares away at the spongy, vulnerable tissue of the cerebellum."


Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell (Warner Books)
Reviewed by Allan Gurganus ("One Great Book Per Life," March 2005)

"Patterned on Thackeray's Vanity Fair, the novel (and Peggy's Victorian hypochondria) sidelined her for years. When the book became 1936's best seller, winning the Pulitzer, she was doomed to spend the rest of her foreshortened life answering letters from every fan who idly pestered or praised her."


Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami (Knopf)
Reviewed by Jon Zobenica ("New Fiction," May 2005)

"Perhaps it needn't be said that this meta-fictional fun house isn't perfect, but underpinning it all is a surprisingly patient, deeply affecting meditation on perfection itself, specifically romantic perfection."


The Good Wife, by Stuart O'Nan (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Reviewed by Christina Schwarz ("A Close Read," May 2005)

"Stewart O'Nan gets his characters to tell their own stories ... The way he builds his sentences captures the leapfrogging, occasionally ungrammatical style of real people's real thoughts."


A Perfect Stranger and Other Stories, by Roxana Robinson (Random House)
Reviewed by Christina Schwarz ("A Close Read," September 2005)

"Robinson ... dramatizes a remarkable range of emotion in a very short space."


Antwerp, by Nicholas Royle (Serpent's Tail)
Reviewed by Joseph O'Neill ("New Fiction," September 2005)

"[A] darkly engaging thriller."


I'll Take It, by Paul Rudnick (Ballantine Books)
Reviewed by Sally Singer ("Retail Therapy," May 2005)

"Rudnick's novel is affectionate and shticky, and wickedly perceptive about consumer/status culture in eighties Manhattan, when everything was literally up for grabs."

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