About grievances…

Autumn is several weeks old, the academic term has three weeks left, and I’m overdue for a Trollope novel. This season’s novel: The Eustace Diamonds. Twenty-six pages in, I read the following about a superannuated Tory: These people are ready to grumble at every boon conferred on them, and yet to enjoy every boon. They… More About grievances…

The truth about Pablo Neruda’s death?

Amazing: The official cause of death was prostate cancer, but doubt about the government’s version of events set in amid the authoritarianism of the Pinochet years. General Pinochet took power after the coup and ruled Chile until 1990. Thousands of people were killed, disappeared or tortured during his rule. An official inquiry into Mr. Neruda’s… More The truth about Pablo Neruda’s death?

The unique awfulness of Jonathan Franzen

I’ve said for years that Jonathan Franzen gets details right and people wrong. This explains why he concentrates on suburbia; this kind of fiction requires John Cheever’s surreal flights to be readable in 2015 (and 2005, 1995…). Reviewing the unfortunately named Purity, Brian Phillips has had enough: Probably no one alive is a better novelist… More The unique awfulness of Jonathan Franzen

The bare cupboard: H.W. Brands’ Reagan

As Republican super PACS prepare to Brylcreem candidates who babble about liberty and marauding Mexican invaders, yet another biography about the greatest leader in world history emerges from a reputable publishing house. But H.W. Brands, who distinguished himself with fine FDR and U.S. Grant bricks in 2008 and 2012, respectively, emerges no less stunned and… More The bare cupboard: H.W. Brands’ Reagan

‘Careless self-interest and optimism’: Joan Didion

Joan Didion’s work after 1980 remains her best. The essays in Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album boast too perfect a marriage between form and content. Covering the El Mozote massacre, the prestidigitators working in the Reagan administration, the Michael Dukakis campaign, and the Bill Clinton impeachment applied her talent for selective quotation to… More ‘Careless self-interest and optimism’: Joan Didion

‘Saltwhite crumbling mush of corpse’

I don’t reread Ulysses often, but when I do I flip to the sixth chapter. Called “Hades” because it purportedly mirrors Odysseus’ descent into the underworld, it follows Leopold Bloom and his acquaintances to the funeral of a Dubliner. In the carriage with Bloom sit Simon Dedalus, the lachrymose blowhard and professional drunkard; and the… More ‘Saltwhite crumbling mush of corpse’

The price for rejecting partial victories

At the airport in April I read fifteen pages of Frank, the memoir by the acerbic congressman of Massachusetts Fourth District who declined to run for another term. Reading it, I’m struck by how well he writes: few instances of jargon, sentence after sentence of clear forceful prose. I’ll probably review it. In his review-essay,… More The price for rejecting partial victories

‘I didn’t have any adult experience when I started to write’

I haven’t read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret but Iggie’s House, Pickle Juice, Then Again, Maybe I won’t, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, and Superfudge formed an indissoluble part of my adolescence. The eighties paperback editions emphasized, sometimes garishly, their appeal to young women. I bought them in book fairs, about which… More ‘I didn’t have any adult experience when I started to write’