Literary Hub

5 Book Reviews You Need to Read This Week

A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise: A True Story About Schizophrenia by Sandra Allen

“Allen marries several distinct genres to produce an insight into what it means to be a person with a psychiatric diagnosis—as opposed to a novelist toying with the boundaries of thought … Meta-biographical writing is at such a peak of sophistication these days that I found Allen’s briskness over the details of their adaptation process notable. They refer to ‘writing it in a way that captured [Bob’s manuscript’s] spirit.’ But writing what way? What has Allen changed? Why are some phrases in capital letters, and others not? They do not clarify or present in detail the process of translating Bob’s original manuscript to the version presented here. There’s no problem with the finished product: It’s a gorgeous piece of writing. But it’s such an ambiguous project—a creative adaptation of an unconventional memoir—that it cries out for explication of some kind. Because both sections of the book are interpretations of this project by Allen—one written in accessible nonfiction style, the other avant-garde and strange—the reader ends up with two types of mediation. Hovering over the book like a ghost is the ‘original’ Bob-story. I lusted after the original, to compare Allen’s work to the thing she kept in a drawer … But those very flaws ask broader questions of the meta-biography genre: what it is, where it’s going, the conventions which govern its editing. In that respect, the ‘book about Bob’ that forms the core of A Kind of Mirraculas Paradise is a watershed in empathetic adaptation of ‘outsider’ autobiography.”

-Josephine Livingstone on Sandra Allen’s A Kind of Mirrraculas Paradise (The New Republic)

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David Mamet, Chicago

“Chicago is as linguistically rich as Glengarry Glen Ross — in fact, as any of his previous work in any medium … In its scope and ambition, Chicago feels like one of the great American male novelists of the late 20th century — Updike, Mailer, Bellow, Roth — trying his hand at writing a genre novel. But unlike those novelists’ somewhat less sure-footed lunges, Mamet lands this with aplomb. This is high genre, a 1920s gangster story, that manages to entertain and engross … Mamet’s ear for the dark poetry of the American male id fuels Chicago. His dialogue here is as sharp as any of his stage plays, and he is unique in that he finds or creates the lyricism that we all like to imagine exists in the patois of every class.”

-Karl Taro Greenfield on David Mamet’s Chicago (The Los Angeles Times)

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The Woman in the Window_A.J. Finn

“…the novel’s most compelling passages deal not with the Rear Window-inflected, credibility-straining mystery unfolding in a brownstone across the way but, rather, with Anna’s sense of herself as a wounded individual, a highly intelligent and educated person who has virtually destroyed her life through a succession of bad decisions … she ultimately seems more a function of the plot than a fully realized person, not quite as interesting as her problems. Her interior voice is not especially female; it is, rather, genderless … In the chorus of best-selling contemporary domestic thrillers, a triumphant #MeToo parable has emerged: that of the flawed, scorned, disbelieved, misjudged, and underestimated female witness whose testimony is rejected—but turns out to be correct. Vindication, cruelly belated, is nonetheless sweet.”

-Joyce Carol Oates on A. J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window (The New Yorker)

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Eat the Apple by Matt Young

“The trouble with writing the unvarnished truth in a memoir is that it requires you to be hard not only on others, but also on yourself. Matt Young’s inventive, unsparing, irreverent and consistently entertaining Eat the Apple is that, but it is also a useful corrective to the current idealization of the American soldier — or in this case a Marine … Service deserves respect, of course, but it does not in itself guarantee stirring and selfless acts of bravery. Young is his own case in point. He sees his experience — three tours in Iraq — as far from heroic. He is at least as disturbed by his duty as he is proud of it … Young writes less about war here than about the culture of being a Marine, one of the few and the proud. His memoir — its title, Eat the Apple, refers to a vulgar Marine proverb — is in its own way a loving portrait, but it is also unsparing, ugly and outrageous. I can’t see it making the commandant’s reading list.”

-Mark Bowden on Matt Young’s Eat the Apple (The New York Times Book Review)

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“This collection is no meager response to human grandeur, but rather a celebration of it. Here Robinson debunks the historical myths and political tropes we fall prey to (that capitalism fuels America, for example, or that everything is reducible to a cost-benefit analysis, or that Puritans were pale-faced shamers). Such clichéd thinking, she suggests, only deepens our divisions and denigrates who we are. In essays that challenge our current myopia, Robinson praises our past and our potential. She sheds light. She muses. She quotes great thinkers and poets. She marvels. There is always in these essays the sense of the divine behind every human encounter … Not all the essays are easy. Her ruminations are meandering and deep — ideas river off, etymologies are explored, histories examined. The reader will do well to keep her paddle in the current, for it is well worth the ride.”

-Christine Brunkhorst on Marilynne Robinson’s What Are We Doing Here? (The Minneapolis Star Tribune)

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