In this story collection, her 10th book of fiction, Kennedy, an enormously accomplished Scottish writer, returns to difficult, broken characters and her bleakly humorous métier. Her last book, the Costas Award–winning novel Day, was probably her most accessible—and her least typical. Here Kennedy is familiarly off-kilter (“Story of My Life” revolves around the protagonist’s deadpan, excruciating recounting of her successive dental traumas); unwelcoming (“Sympathy,” a tour de force that could easily be a disaster, recounts entirely in dialogue an episode of anonymous sex in a hotel room); and desolate (most of these stories involve marriages unhappy or unraveling; violence animates several and lurks in most). A preternaturally refined stylist, Kennedy leaves the reader shaken but not depressed: these are stories of endurance, not despair. And humor, albeit of a particularly hard-won variety, suggests Kennedy (a sometime stand-up comic), is vital to fortitude, even if that humor is sidelong and, though humane, unrelentingly cheerless.
Deciphering the Cosmic Number: The Strange Friendship of Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung
Arthur I. Miller
Let’s get this over with fast. The cosmic number of the title is 137 (well, actually 1/137), and it is not deciphered in this book. As the American physicist Richard Feynman says in the last chapter:
All good theoretical physicists put this number up on their wall and worry about it … It’s one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics, a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man.
Even so, Wolfgang Pauli—one of the dazzling young European physicists who led a revolution in theoretical physics in the 1920s—and Carl Jung, the legendary psychoanalyst who espoused the concept of the “collective unconscious,” gave it a good try. Their 25-year correspondence reveals a quest to “link the apparently cold rational world of science with the supposedly irrational world of intuition and the psyche.” This book, as best it can, follows their explorations into alchemy, the I Ching, and the Kabbalah. The text is littered with equations and illustrations, including mandalas. Pauli, born in 1900, is the central character in the book, as he should be. A child prodigy, he was a major force in the world of physics by his 20s, spending his days at the university as Herr Professor and his nights in brothels and bars, womanizing and brawling. Little wonder he came to Jung to have his troubling dreams interpreted; eventually the two joined forces to seek the magic number that would explain everything in the universe. Other physicists shared Pauli’s fascination; he famously wrote that his colleague J. Robert Oppenheimer treated “physics as an avocation and psychoanalysis as a vocation.” But none of the others left behind 25 years’ worth of correspondence with Carl Jung.
Minding the Store: Great Writing About Business, From Tolstoy to Now
Edited by Robert Coles and Albert LaFarge
By gathering together this sampler of fiction and nonfiction by famous authors living and dead, Coles and LaFarge demonstrate that commerce—its pursuit, its demands and rewards, the social framework it creates—is one of the pivots around which much of life turns. Here are Flannery O’Connor’s Bible salesman and Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt, James Agee’s sharecroppers, Gwendolyn Parker’s “Buppie,” and John O’Hara’s vivid saga of small-business competition. The editors provide some loose organization and offer a bit of context for each selection, but for the most part they wisely let these stories speak for themselves.