The Critics October 2006

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A guide to additional releases
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SOCIETY AND CULTURE

The Shape of Things to Come
by Greil Marcus (FSG)
The famed rock critic turns his kitchen-sink approach to the role of secular prophecy in recent American history, expanding the circle beyond John Winthrop, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr. to include the oracular properties of Philip Roth, David Lynch, Allen Ginsberg, and (to quote a representatively offbeat chapter title) the actor Bill Pullman’s face. This last captures what’s most exhilarating about Marcus’s style: the ability to take an obscure, borderline-absurd object and animate it with genuine meaning.

The Price of Admission
by Daniel Golden (Crown)
An ivory-tower exposé from a Wall Street Journal education reporter detailing the extent to which elite-college admissions rules are bent for children of the rich and famous. How alarming Golden’s revelations really are depends on whether one considers the subject a vital index of social mobility or a tempest in a gilded teapot.

Social Intelligence
by Daniel Goleman (Bantam)
The author of the best-selling Emotional Intelligence (and a former New York Times science correspondent), Goleman rounds up the latest research in social neuroscience, arguing that human beings are hardwired for compassion and fellow feeling, and that the pressures of modern life take an unavoidable neurological toll on all of us. Goleman has a knack for making complex science accessible to the lay reader, and he steers well clear of self-help platitudes in coming to his unexpectedly moving conclusions about our innate connectedness.

The United States of Arugula
by David Kamp (Broadway)
Focusing on such eccentric and influential foodies as James Beard, Craig Claiborne, and Julia Child, Kamp, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, traces the rise of gourmet cooking in America. Culturally aware and cleverly written, this anatomy of the French-fried versus sun-dried tension at the heart of American gastronomy is refreshingly non-snooty.

A Well-Paid Slave
by Brad Snyder (Viking)
A biography of Curt Flood, the idiosyncratic, classical-piano-playing center fielder who took his quest for free-agency rights all the way to the Supreme Court, in the process becoming the reluctant Spartacus of North American professional sports.

FICTION

When Madeline Was Young
by Jane Hamilton (Doubleday)
Hamilton, who wrote the best-selling Book of Ruth and Map of the World, has established herself among the most graceful and thoughtful writers to work the fertile ground that is the midwestern family. In this case, the family she probes with her gentle yet insistent touch includes a first wife who, after suffering brain damage in a bicycle accident, becomes essentially a third child who will never grow up. A lesser writer might be tempted to milk the situation for sensationalism, but Hamilton understands that an accident is usually just an accident, and that real people are both adaptable and complex.

Paint It Black
by Janet Fitch (Little, Brown)
A second lushly written, dramatically plotted novel by the author of White Oleander. Once again, the relationship between a powerful older woman and a less-sure younger one drives the story, and Fitch’s Los Angeles is so real it breathes.

A Spot of Bother
by Mark Haddon (Doubleday)
The title of this moving English comedy refers to the madness into which a dignified paterfamilias descends, as unobtrusively as possible, while the rest of his family is distracted by their various pursuits of love. Haddon’s first novel, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, was acclaimed for its remarkable point of view: that of an autistic boy. Here, too, the story depends upon Haddon’s empathic assumption of his characters’ perspectives. And it’s awfully funny, besides.

MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE

Fear of the Dark
by Walter Mosley (Little, Brown)
Walter Mosley brings us the third book in his Fearless Jones series. Fans of Mosley’s Easy Rawlins stories will find in this new series all of the author’s usual strengths: a dark glimpse at the pervasive racism of 1950s America, relaxed prose with moments of tight brilliance, and dialogue that makes you feel like you’re living the story firsthand.

The Man Who Smiled
Henning Mankell (New Press)
The cantankerous and depressive (but still, somehow, tremendously appealing) Swedish Inspector Kurt Wallander is contacted by an old acquaintance who wants Wallander’s help in looking into the suspicious death of his father. When the acquaintance is himself murdered, Wallander comes out of a self-imposed retirement to solve both cases. First published in Sweden in 1994, this is the fourth in Mankell’s ten-book Wallander series (which is, much to the frustration of his fans, being released in the United States very slowly—and out of the original order to boot).

The Mission Song
John le Carré (Little, Brown)
From the master of the spy novel comes yet another story about an unlikely hero, this time a multilingual interpreter based in London. The subject of The Mission Song is Africa, where le Carré based his best-selling 2000 novel, The Constant Gardener (from which came the acclaimed 2005 film of the same name), and the author’s affection for that troubled continent is palpable.

Forgetfulness
by Ward Just (Houghton Mifflin)
Just’s fourteen previous novels have included finalists for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Here he trains his considerable skill on making the political personal with regard to terrorism. How does a painter and onetime- sometime CIA operative respond when his wife is murdered? Written in a style both taut and reflective, this is suspense of the highest order.

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