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The Kindly Ones

Jonathan Littell

Review [16.Jul.2009]


The Kindly Ones
Jonathan Littell


Sometimes, there is in what is horrible and true a great and terrible beauty. There is nothing whatsoever beautiful about Jonathan Littel’s novel of Nazi German atrocities, The Kindly Ones, though there is much that is both great and terrible, in the best and worst sense of those words. At just shy of 1,000 pages, The Kindly Ones is not for the faint of heart or short of patience. Its densely-packed pages contain long passages about linguistics and etymology, political philosophy, and bureaucratic machinations, and there are countless acronyms referring to Nazi military and bureaucratic entities that finally tend to just glide past the eye. But with all its longeurs and heft, this tombstone of a book is one of the best novels of recent years and its acclaim in Europe, where it won two important French prizes, is more than justified. The Kindly Ones has all the art, seriousness, and structure of a great, great novel. Christopher Guerin


 

 



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The Magicians

Lev Grossman


The Magicians
Lev Grossman


One problem with too many fantasy novels set in the modern world is that their characters almost never reference the cultural touchstones which most people would use in order to come to grips with fantastical events. Lev Grossman’s funny, engaging novel about a kid from Brooklyn with a penchant for magic tricks who gets himself sent to a real school for teenage magicians (hidden by enchantments in upstate New York) doesn’t make that mistake. His brightly-rendered, highly verbose characters (well-versed in geek-lore all) continually make snarking, knowledgeable references to Narnia and Quidditch, and at one point even utilize the old Dungeon & Dragons handbooks for practical spell-making advice. Grossman’s attachment to reality in the service of fantasy goes further, though, in that he has crafted a potent coming-of-age tale bursting out with jealousies, dreams, and ambitions—and just happened to add malevolent enemies and fireballs. It’s Hogwarts for grownups. Chris Barsanti


 

 



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Nine Dragons (Harry Bosch Series #15)

Michael Connelly


Nine Dragons (Harry Bosch Series #15)
Michael Connelly


Michael Connelly’s hard-as-nails LAPD detective Harry Bosch owns the neon night of modern-day police procedurals like no other fictional sleuth since Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stalked the fog-enshrouded cobblestone streets of Victorian-era London. In the 15th Bosch adventure, the jazz-loving homicide detective whose personal motto is ‘Everybody counts or nobody counts’m suspects that the shooting death of an L.A. liquor store owner is linked to a dangerous triad with tentacles that reach across the sea to China. Warned to stop pursuing leads on the case, Harry naturally ignores the threats and continues the investigation until he is presented with a video revealing the kidnapping of his 13-year-old daughter Maddy in Hong Kong. Connelly ratchets up the tension in this international thriller that plays out between the exotic and shadowy world of Hong Kong and the Chinese underworld and the dark, menacing streets of the City of Angels. Connelly’s crime thriller plots are often nothing more or less than boilerplate melodramas with a unique twist in the third act, but credit must be given for creating one of the most enduring, endearing, and tenacious heroes in a genre often overcrowded with hard-boiled creations. The only genre writer who surpasses Connelly is Raymond Chandler… and that’s saying something. Rodger Jacobs


 

 



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Petersburg

Andrei Bely

Review [12.Jul.2009]


Petersburg
Andrei Bely


Bely’s writing can be incredibly playful (he’s fond of word play) and is capable of satirical swipes at St. Petersburg society, and large humorous set pieces, as when Nikolai travels around in a red-domino suit to frighten Sofia after she calls him a ‘red clown’. The writing can veer from abstractly cosmic to tangible minutia, as in this description of Lippanchenko: “Suddenly between the back and the nape of the neck a fatty fold in the neck squeezed itself into a faceless smile: as though a monster had settled in that armchair.” Yet ultimately this is a very pessimistic portrait of personal and societal evisceration. Petersburg is about one event as a perpetual moment in history, a constancy of new orders usurping old orders and children destroying and then becoming parents, the battle between liberty and repression, and how this can leave people feeling permanently uprooted and haunted by the past. This is not a story about whether or not the Russian revolution was a worthwhile endeavor, but it is eerily prescient in predicting how the initial euphoria, the bomb explosion of Communism, would scorch the earth as badly as any tsar did. Michael Buening


 

 



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Richard Yates: Everyman’s Library

Richard Yates


Richard Yates: Everyman’s Library
Richard Yates


Richard Yates’ fiction—published in irregular spurts between 1960 and 1986—has taken on a samizdat quality over the years, being passed around from one carefully-chosen gimlet-eyed appreciator to another in a daisy chain of “You’ll understand this.” Due to that hushed and mysterious quality, one exacerbated by dim notions of the misunderstood artist (Yates died bitter, broke, and out-of-print), an unfortunate aura has developed around the man just as his work is creeping back into print. Fortunately, as the long-overdue Everyman’s Library edition of two of his greatest novels and a short story collection shows, Yates is every bit as good as his advance publicity. The ashen introduction by Richard Price paints a caustic portrait of his onetime teacher as the ruined mountain of a writer, hacking through four packs a day and battling off mental breakdowns while bemoaning his cruel, cruel fate. It’s a rough piece of work, but a nice jaw-socker to prepare you for what’s to follow. There is a pounding life and movement in these gloomy pages – particularly the classic Revolutionary Road—that catches you up before smashing you down. (Don’t say you weren’t warned.) Chris Barsanti


 
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