I have it on good authority that James Wolcott body-slams Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude in the Wall Street Journal. Unfortunately someone decided to bone up on business news over the weekend and swiped the copy provided by my corporate paymasters; none of the newsstands to which I dragged a weekend guest in the pouring rain had copies of the issue I wanted.
Anyhow, I’m told the review begins with that Thomas Wolfe quotation, “Only the dead know Brooklyn.” It reportedly concludes with something to the effect of, “only the dead understand Lethem.” I’ve only read the excerpt that appeared in The New Yorker, but so far it looks like I’m one of the dead.
Wolcott is best known for his 1997 review of Kathryn Harrison’s The Kiss (in which Harrison detailed the sexual relationship she had with her father); his takedown of Franzen’s How to Be Alone is available online.
Blake Morrison acknowledges that Peter Carey’s latest novel is a good, quick read, but says by Carey’s “high standards [it’s] a slight book, and some of the writing looks strained.”
Jennifer Schuessler gushes over the Freudenberger debut. Here’s the first sentence: “Nell Freudenberger’s gorgeously written first book, a remarkably poised collection of stories about Americans abroad.”
Adam Mars-Jones argues that JM Coetzee is “hamstrung by the hybrid status of his inventions” in the essay-like Elizabeth Costello.
Sarah Churchwell, in the Times Literary Supplement, contends that Patricia Highsmith’s “best stories take place on a decidedly unhealthy psychological frontier in which desire bleeds into disgust, ardour becomes murder. This also seems to have been the borderland in which most of her actual relationships took place.”
John Brownlow writes about the difficulty of converting Sylvia Plath’s life and poetry into a screenplay:
My biggest anxiety was dialogue. I simply could not work out how I was supposed to ventriloquise conversations between two of the 20th century’s greatest literary talents. Then one day I read that Hughes said he had only ever heard Plath utter a metaphor once in casual conversation. I suddenly realised that when Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes were doing the washing up, they didn’t speak in verse. From that point on, wherever possible, I cut dialogue and if I couldn’t cut it I made it as banal as I could, while ensuring the situations were dramatic….
(Thanks to Pitchaya for the link.)
Truth be told, I’m not big on Plath. I mean, you know, I’m sorry she killed herself and everything. But her poetry doesn’t do it for me. Still, creating a film about her life is in my view undoubtedly a more worthwhile endeavor than speculating about how her life would have gone if she had lived.