Crace communicates every state from degradation to ecstasy. If The Devil's Larder is inevitably disappointing after Being Dead, which came close to fictional perfection, it is a curious and fresh piece of work on its own rather stylized terms. Will it prove to be, for American readers, Crace's long-overdue breakthrough book, propelling him to the fame he deserves? Doubtful: it's a little too slight and mannered, and, like all of Crace's work, lacks surface razzle-dazzle. For those who don't require such superficial, attention-grabbing style, though, or who can look beyond it, Crace is among the most rewarding authors at work today.
by Sebastian Junger
W.W. Norton, 256 pages, $23.95
Sebastian Junger was eleven years old when a terrifying experience on a snow-swollen mountain left him feeling as if he'd been "some other place these people don't even know exists." The ordinary world seemed frivolous, oddly unaware, when he made his way back to it. With Fire, the new collection of journalism by the author of The Perfect Storm, Junger proves that he will travel nearly anyplace—to Kosovo and Sierra Leone, to Afghanistan and a dry-lightning fire—to bear witness to life's extremes. Junger is not a moralizing journalist. His stories in Fire, many of which have been previously published, tend to end as they begin—with a discovered detail or an irresistible fact, rather than an epiphany or a petition. The accretion of minutiae is his greatest talent: he lays down the mundane beside the lyrical—patiently, without bravado. Whereas the essays on fire display an obsessive's intensity, and the essays on war and terrorism are engrossing, instructive, and alarming, the essay called "The Whale Hunters" shows Junger at his best. It is an exhilarating piece in every sense—magnificently conceived, lovingly written, perfectly evocative of a place, a time, a passion. A portrait of the world's "last living harpooner," "The Whale Hunters" depicts a gory—even horrific—business with poetically precise prose, as when Junger writes, of the harpooner's whale boat, "The Why Ask ... was built on the beach with the horizon as a level and Ollivierre's memory as a plan."
The Donald Richie Reader
edited by Arturo Silva
Stone Bridge Press, 276 pages, $19.95
Donald Richie, an Ohioan who has spent most of his long life in Tokyo, has written on his adopted country better than anyone else writing in English, while reigning as an international authority on Japanese movies. His eye-opening masterpiece, The Inland Sea, forms the backbone of this subtly organized, ingeniously printed sampling of his writings, fiction and nonfiction, which has been somewhat overcurated by Arturo Silva. Richie first encountered Japan in 1946, as a very young man working in the American Occupation, and he has grown through five decades of change into something of a sage. In his portraits of friends, neighbors, cineastes, and landscapes, his ruminations and reportage on places, events, people, and films, Richie delivers a lively, witty appreciation of the details of Japanese food, body language, personality, sexuality, costume, behavior, houses, cities, villages, and gardens. He never loses track of history or ignores the squalors and indignities of the present, and he celebrates Japan's "genius for the harnessing of change." His vision of Japan is at once beautiful and sinister, ambiguous and vibrant.
The Webster Chronicle
by Daniel Akst
BlueHen/Putnam, 311 pages, $24.95