“You think it will never happen to you,” Paul Auster writes at the very start of this incandescent memoir. “That it cannot happen to you, that you are the only person in the world to whom none of these things will ever happen, and then, one by one, they all begin to happen to you, […]
I once heard a master of suspense say that the craft was actually quite simple: Take a perfectly normal situation, a trope readers know well, then throw in a wild “what if?” What if your mild-mannered, homebody spouse — so familiar to you — is the midnight stalker in the black balaclava? What if the […]
Quick: Name a writer of Polish roots who immigrated to London, learned English on the fly, wrote about hard-to-parse, faraway places, and became one of the most distinguished English novelists of the 20th century. Joseph Conrad? Well, yes. But you might have said Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, a prodigious talent who has brought India alive on […]
In Hari Kunzru’s dazzling new novel, a desert is the setting, hero and villain. It isn’t the first time this landform has played such a starring role. Throughout history, deserts have had a powerful grip on the human imagination: Jesus walked one for 40 nights. Moses for 40 years. Muhammad spent his boyhood in the […]
Sada was, without a doubt, a writer’s writer. Like Faulkner or Joyce or David Foster Wallace, he produced rich, dense, diabolically difficult novels — some written in octosyllabic and hendecasyllabic meter, all punctuated with a set of bizarre rules. But the rewards, for anyone in love with the Spanish language, were legion. These were gargantuan […]
One of the trickier subjects in fiction is that of the hapless suitor, besotted with love, locked in a lifelong obsession with a woman he can neither leave nor have. Yet, for all the perils of that soupy scenario, great literature has come of it. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote memorably of just such a man in “The Great Gatsby”; William Styron, in “Sophie’s Choice”; Gabriel García Márquez, in “Love in the Time of Cholera”; and Mario Vargas Llosa, in “The Bad Girl.”
A little more than midway through Jane Smiley’s extraordinarily powerful new novel, “Private Life,” the childless wife of a prominent astronomer becomes fascinated with a family of coots, ducklike birds that live on the pond near her house on Mare Island, up San Francisco Bay.
Maybe it’s because you’re not allowed to wear government-issue camouflage; maybe it’s because — when all is said and done — you’re going to war for the money. But if you’re a private military contractor fighting on foreign soil, you might as well be a cowboy looking for payday, and you won’t convince anyone you’re […]