Book Reviews

Elizabeth Strout

Random House

When Dottie saw couples like Mr. and Mrs. Small, she was sometimes comforted that her painful divorce years earlier had at least prevented her from becoming a Mrs. Small—in other words, a nervous, slightly whiny woman whose husband ignored her and so naturally made her more anxious. This you saw all the time. And when Dottie saw it, she was reminded that almost always—oddly, she thought it was odd—she seemed a stronger person without her husband, even though she missed him every day.

                        from Anything Is Possible

 

James Gleick

Pantheon

Why do we need time travel? All the answers come down to one. To elude death. Time is a killer. Everyone knows that. Time will bury us. “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.” Time makes dust of all things. Time’s winged chariot isn’t taking us anywhere good…The past, in which we did not exist, is bearable, but the future, in which we will not exist, troubles us more.

                                  from  Time Travel: A History

 

George Saunders

Random House

We embraced the boy at the door of his white stone home.

He gave us a shy smile, not untouched by trepidation at what was to come.

Go on, Mr. Bevins said gently. It is for the best.

Off you go, Mr. Vollman said. Nothing left for you here.

Goodbye then, said the lad.

Nothing scary about it, Mr. Bevins said. Perfectly natural.

Then it happened. An extraordinary occurrence.

Unprecedented, really.

The boy’s gaze moved past us.

He seemed to catch sight of something beyond.

His face lit up with joy.

Father, he said.

                                     from  Lincoln in the Bardo

 

Graeme Macrae Burnet

Skyhorse Publishing

“It is one of these things God sends to try us,” she said in a sing-song voice.

I looked at her sideways. It was an oft-expressed sentiment in our parts.

“I cannot imagine that God has no greater concerns than trying us,” I said.

Flora looked at me quite earnestly.

“Then why do such things happen?” she said.

“What things?” I said.

“Bad things.”

“The minister would say that it is to punish us for wickedness,” I said.

“And what would you say?” she asked.

I hesitated a moment and then said, “I would say that they happen for no reason.”

                                     from  His Bloody Project

 

Colson Whitehead

Doubleday

Fear drove these people, even more than cotton money. The shadow of the black hand that will return what has been given. It occurred to her one night that she was one of the vengeful monsters they were scared of: She had killed a white boy. She might kill one of them next. And because of that fear, they erected a new scaffolding of oppression on the cruel foundation laid hundreds of years before. That was Sea Island cotton the slaver had ordered for his rows, but scattered among the seeds were those of violence and death, and the crop grew fast. The whites were right to be afraid. One day the system would collapse in blood.

                       from  The Underground Railroad

 

Mary Karr

HarperCollins

 

 

You can count on a memoirist being passionate about the subject.                       …

I once heard Don DeLillo quip that a fiction writer starts with meaning and then manufactures events to represent it; a memoirist starts with events, then derives meaning from them.                          …

Everybody I know who wades deep enough into memory’s waters drowns a little.   …

For the more haunted among us, only looking back at the past can permit it finally to become past.

                                     from  The Art of Memoir

 

Gigi Little, editor

Forest Avenue Press

 

 

Over the last few days I’d amassed a pile of library books on (the mind-body problem), looking for an answer. Instead, I had begun to suspect that I didn’t even really understand the question…This was for Metaphysics, a class I’d taken because I was then, as I am now, prone to mysticism—though the only reason Reed allows freshmen to take this course, as far as I can tell, is to cure them of such afflictions quickly.

from  Susan DeFreitas’s story, “The Mind-Body Problem,” in City of Weird

 

Joby Warrick

Doubleday

 

 

 

Though some would cast his movement as an al-Qaeda offshoot, Zarqawi was no one’s acolyte. His brand of jihadism was utterly, brutally original. Osama bin Laden had sought to liberate Muslim nations gradually from corrupting Western influences so they could someday unify as a single Islamic theocracy, or caliphate. Zarqawi, by contrast, insisted that he would create his caliphate immediately—right now. He would seek to usher in God’s kingdom on Earth through acts of unthinkable savagery, believing, correctly, that theatrical displays of extreme violence would attract the most hardened jihadists to his cause and frighten everyone else into submission.

                                               from  Black Flags

 

 

Edna O'Brien

Little, Brown and Company

 

 

 

One thousand, three hundred and fifty-nine days of [the siege of Sarajevo.] The human spirit is indomitable. Such were the sentiments of outsiders who nevertheless could not imagine the carnage…Since then they had a celebration, a way of remembering, red chairs erected in our beloved city, your jewel as you called it. Yes, eleven thousand, five hundred and forty-one red chairs in commemoration of the fallen. It is said that tourists only begin to cry when they come upon the six hundred and forty-three little red chairs of dead children…

                                    from  The Little Red Chairs

 

 

Nancy Isenberg

Viking

 

 

The power elite in American history has thrived by placating the vulnerable and creating for them a false sense of identification—denying real class differences wherever possible…Poor whites are still taught to hate—but not to hate those who are keeping them in line. Lyndon Johnson knew this when he quipped, “If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

                                            from  White Trash