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Criticism

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<em>Binstead's Safari</em>. By Rachel Ingalls. New Directions, 2019. 218p. HB, $15.95.</p>

Feminist Forms

“All your working life,” asks an exasperated wife, “you’ve studied these stories. Why?”

She means the stuff of folklore, her husband’s academic field, in which most narratives take a turn to the surreal. The man replies that such stories present “a true picture of the world,” better than “what we see around us.” Ordinary reality, he argues, “isn’t any place for heroes.” This vexes his wife further. “There are always going to be heroes,” she declares. “As long as there are challenges or dangers or injustices.” Really, isn’t that the whole point of storytelling: the heroes?

<em>Black Leopard, Red Wolf</em>. By Marlon James. Penguin, 2019. 640p. HB, $30.</p>

An Outside Man

When Marlon James announced his follow-up to his Booker-Prize winning novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, it was met with intense excitement. James is best known as a literary novelist with a reputation for not mincing his words in public. In promotion for his last book, James sparked debate with his comments about the domination of white women as gatekeepers in publishing and his critique on the distinction between white people who identify as nonracist as opposed to antiracist. In the business of literary fiction, writers who speak so directly and bluntly about how power in the industry works are rare and often marginalized. But the honor of the Booker Prize, one of the top prizes in the world, seemed to usher James into the world of publishing respectability.


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<em>Killing Commendatore</em>. By Haruki Murakami. Knopf, 2018. 704p. HB, $30.</p>

Under the Murakami Spell

Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami’s fourteenth novel and nineteenth book of fiction, begins with a “faceless man” who appears to the unnamed narrator as he wakes from a nap, asking for his portrait to be drawn. When he vanishes, the narrator thinks, “If this was a dream, then the world I’m living in itself must all be a dream.” Even more inscrutable is the next line: “Maybe someday I’ll be able to draw a portrait of nothingness.”   

The narrator is a portrait painter, his clients the “so-called pillars of society” who seek his talents and pay him handsomely. Despite that, he does the work “reluctantly” since it’s not the artistic path he originally pursued as a young man.

VQR Online

Making Sausages: Images of Governance

March 14, 2014

During recent snowbound days, I indulged in a bout of binging the second season of House of Cards, the celebrated political drama starring Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, and a brilliantly cast supporting ensemble. Actually, I did the same binge with the [...]

A Gun and a Girl: The Case for Hard Case Crime

October 4, 2013

Any scan of the bestseller lists shows a national book culture awash in pulp. But all those hungry zombies, vengeful angels, vampire lovers, scrappy postapocalyptic teens, and fairy princess-warriors with wicked blades and toned physiques bear litt [...]

An Open Letter to Jonathan Franzen

September 20, 2013

  Jonathan Franzen at the 2011 Time 100 gala / by David Shankbone   Hi, Jonathan, I read your essay in the Guardian, and, I have to say, I’m worried about your professional legacy. I agree with some of what you had to say, disagre [...]