Literary Review

The Chronicles of The City

chronic_cityChronic City by Jonathan Lethem (Random House Audio, read by Mark Deakins)

That's right, audio book. Which seems appropriate. Because when listening to Mr. Deakins soar, sink, and hiccough his way through his recitation of the labyrinthine, pulpy narrative that Lethem teases out of the raw materials of millennial Manhattan, my mind's eye thought more than once, "Would that Orson Welles and his Mercury Theater of the Air had their shot at this one!" The clotted, spooky story, full of diabolical artistes, creepy mayoral aides-de-camp, monstrous giants, and cancerous space girls, all orbiting around a consumptive genius, was begging for the same crew that put together "The Shadow Knows," The War of the Worlds, and Citizen Kane.

The Frustratingly Unique Ian Dury

dury_coverIan Dury: The Definitive Biography by Will Birch (Sidgwick & Jackson) Ian Dury was a tremendously English composite whose success against the odds of unlikelihood and disability remains a lasting example of what a determined soul can manage to attain. Ten years after his death, at the age of fifty seven, he has been the subject of Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, a frantically chaotic bio-pic that gives a good thumbnail portrait of a life of immense complexity and contradiction, but misses out on many of the finer points which go a long way to explaining Dury's disparate nature.

With Love Despite Winter

a-cold-snapCold Snap by Francis King (Arcadia) Love stirs in circumstances unlikely to allow its survival. The more the odds stack up against a happy conclusion, the greater the effort the star-crossed undertake to prove the validity of their feelings. Cold Snap is a novel set in a particular winter, 1947, in the refined and snowy setting of Oxford, but one under which the long shadow of the Second World War stretches across that idyllic whiteness.

The Empty Promise of Sundays

kathleen_farrellTake It to Heart by Kathleen Farrell (Rupert Hart Davis) If Kathleen Farrell's first novel, Mistletoe Malice, was a dissection of the dreaded and dreadful family Christmas, her second, Take It To Heart (1953), was a none-too-flattering stab at the motivations and mechanics of love. Hers was not Valentines and flowers, nor the happy-ever-after appropriation of feelings. It is a world driven by need, insecurity, and the wish for control. Love is a condition, but is rarely conditional. A myriad of impulses, far removed from sententious versions of the real, in which she drafts a series of relationships, none of which could be described as fair, balanced, or emotionally genuine, but which drive their perpetrators to distraction and despair.

The Garbo of the Printed Word: J. D. Salinger 1919-2010

jd-salinger.jpgFor an author who published little, J. D. Salinger had immense influence on successive generations. His literary creation Holden Caulfield became the American Everyboy, a Huckleberry Finn for baby boomers and beyond. Salinger succeeded in encapsulating adolescent distance from the adult world. It was a literary feat he seemed incapable or reluctant to repeat. Secretive to the point of paranoia, he became a brooding, beguiling enigma, a one-book wonder, the Garbo of the printed word.

J.D. Salinger R.I.P. 1/1/1919 - 1/27/2010

young_salingerHe made it to 91. Now begins the drum beat -- recluse, Catcher in the Rye author, are there hidden manuscripts? Let the poor guy rest in peace. Forget Catcher, get out Nine Stories; if you can't read the entire thing cover to cover, immediately read "For Esme...," "Uncle Wiggley," "Teddy," (forget "A Perfect Day for Bananafish"!), and my personal favorite, "The Laughing Man." Then go through everything from Franny and Zoe, and give yourself a treat with the magisterial Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters. Then, we'll talk. J. D., wherever you are, thank you. - Ken Krimstein Ken.jpg

Mr. Krimstein is a writer, cartoonist, father, and grump who lives in New York City. So there.

The Lingering Echoes of a Singular Evening

kathleen_farrellThe Cost of Living by Kathleen Farrell (Macmillan) Having successfully laid bare the machinations of what love is to many in her previous novel, Take It To Heart, one could have expected Farrell to have continued with the same astute intensity. Instead, in 1956 she delivered the breezy The Cost of Living, a colorful, deceptively simple affair, its lightness of touch belying a certainty of purpose in presenting an apparently scatty arrangement of existence and the echoes of a singular evening. Seldom can appearances have been so delightfully deceptive, and although the flippant undertone never quite deserts these pages, the tone darkens gradually and imperceptibly, in the way an afternoon slips into night.

Hurling Abuse

og-cusack-bookCome What May by Donal Og Cusack (Penguin Ireland) The death of Stephen Gately rang out the bells of irony, but their chimes were absent from the mournful proceedings in Dublin. What occurred amounted to a state funeral, in a Catholic country. The deceased, an openly gay, married pop star, was given respect, the kind of respect he would still have been denied had he not been famous. Ireland pretends to be a modernist state, but the Catholic Church still casts a disquieting shadow over the lives of those of whom it disapproves.

A Character As Reliable As the Internet

undiscovered-gyrl-jktUndiscovered Gyrl

by Allison Burnett (Vintage)

The gimmick of e-mail novels was spawned about five minutes after the birth of e-mail itself. Blog novels? Every other new novelist these days is a blogger, or birthed their idea on a blog. Which is why Allison Burnett's new book, Undiscovered Gyrl, is actually so welcome. It doesn't use blogging as a gimmick, it uses it as a setting. Like London to Dickens, or the Mississippi River to Twain, that vague "place" we all inhabit known as cyberspace is where this book lives.

In Homage to the Sorrows: Jim Carroll 1949-2009

jim-carrollRock and roll poets are few and far between, and the modifier suggests something less than the genuine article, someone who would never be courted by the literary world, a maverick imposter in the hallowed house of words. Jim Carroll was that rare, exotic creature, a rock interloper whose talent could not be airily dismissed. A lauded contradiction who was equally at home in a rock band and a literary salon. He had also been a budding basketball player, the handsome embodiment of the American dream, but Carroll's early sporting promise took a turn towards darkness. He would never really emerge from these shadows, but that made him the Rimbaud of Manhattan and beyond.