I offer this review as a good definition of what is commonly known as a “program novel” or a “propaganda novel”: a novel that is written to portray a message but that forgets the first requirement of a novel is to tell a good story and tell it well.
Although I did find the story compelling, the beginning of this book really dragged for me. I imagine the slow, drawn-out opening might not be such a problem for Norwegian readers who have followed Harry Hole through the 6 previous novels, but coming in well into the series like this made it hard for me to get involved with Harry and all his personal angst.
Yvonne Zipp, in Christian Science Monitor, reviews a new book issued to honor the fiftieth anniversary–July 11–of the publication of Harper Lee’s iconic novel To Kill a Mockingbird: “‘Scout, Atticus & Boo’ is a lovely celebration of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ And if, in the end, many of the interviews boil down to: This is a really, really good book… well, they’re right. “
I didn’t much like Sue Miller’s first novel, The Good Mother. “But what did she EXPECT would happen?” I kept asking myself. “What was she thinking?” As a result, I haven’t read any of Miller’s subsequent novels.
But Ron Charles’s review of Miller’s latest novel, The Lake Shore Limited, has changed my mind. This is partly because he puts Miller’s work into a larger perspective:
There are several contenders (Anita Shreve, Gail Godwin), but Sue Miller might be the best poster child for the poison condescension bestowed by the term ‘women’s literature.’ She didn’t publish her first novel, ‘The Good Mother’ (1986), until she was in her 40s, but since then she’s been prolific and popular (another mark against her), writing about families and marriages, infidelity and divorce — what we call ‘literary fiction’ when men write about those things. Last year, a grudging review of ‘The Senator’s Wife’ in That Other East Coast Newspaper claimed that Miller’s novels ‘feature soap-opera plots,’ a mischaracterization broad enough to apply to any story that doesn’t involve space travel or machine guns.
Miller’s exquisite new novel, ‘The Lake Shore Limited,’ is so sophisticated and thoughtful that it should either help redeem the term ‘women’s literature’ or free her from it once and for all.
But it’s also because Charles describes Lake Shore Limited as containing “the relentless psychological analysis found in Henry James’s novels.” Centered around 9/11, the novel uses the device of a story within a story (in this case, a play within a novel) to examine “with stark honesty” what Charles calls “emotional terrain some people won’t feel comfortable in.” Since literature IS psychology, this sounds like a book I must read.
Book Review – ‘Get Real,’ by Donald E. Westlake – Review – NYTimes.com:
The New York Times offers a review of Donald Westlake’s final novel:
After watching a bare-chested dentist trekking through the jungle by torchlight to shake a spear at a sunburned accountant in a loincloth, you might think television reality shows were beyond satire. But that would be underestimating the puckish wit of Donald E. Westlake, who died of a heart attack last New Year’s Eve but still leaves us laughing with his final novel, a rollicking crime caper that pulls the pants right off the reality TV industry.
In Nova Scotia’s The Chronicle Herald, Judith Meyrick reviews Magic Island: The Fictions of L. M. Montgomery by Elizabeth Waterston. Montgomery was the author of Anne of Green Gables and several subsequent best-selling novels.
Montgomery kept journals and scrapbooks passionately and meticulously, preserving for us a picture of her daily life and the times she lived in. She was hugely talented and wrote obsessively, through good times and bad, occasionally using her writing as “therapy,” however unwittingly. She suffered through depression, the loss of her second son and the sometimes extreme mental distress of her husband. Through it all, she kept writing.
According to Waterson, Montgomery used writing as therapy. She suffered periods of depression throughout her life but used her own misery to develop powerful characters: “She found it possible to neutralize her miserable thoughts about herself by giving some of her worst traits to characters in her books and making light of them.”
New York Times reviewer Janet Maslin writes about James Frey’s new novel:
He got a second act. He got another chance. Look what he did with it. He stepped up to the plate and hit one out of the park. No more lying, no more melodrama, still run-on sentences still funny punctuation but so what. He became a furiously good storyteller this time.
He wrote a big book. He wrote about a city. Los Angeles. He made up a lot of characters, high low rich poor lucky not, every kind, the book threw them together. It was random but smart.
Yes, this is that James Frey, the one who published a memoir called A Million Little Pieces and was later vilified in the press and in front of millions of viewers on the Oprah show for making much of it up.
This time he’s made it all up and rightly called it fiction.