CategoryReviews

“Sea of Tranquility,” Emily St. John Mandel

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In 2020, six years after her huge bestseller “Station Eleven” Emily St. John Mandel published “The Glass Hotel,” a novel about a Ponzi scheme I found compelling and have read twice—one of those alternatively structured novels that follows a diverse cast I tend to gravitate toward. Less than two years later came “Sea of Tranquility.” I thought: Mandel is on a creative tear. She’s wholly juiced up...

There’s No Avoiding the Goon

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Back in July 2010, two compelling novels were published by Random House. One was “Stash” by David Klein and the other was “A Visit From the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan. Both novels were structured around interlocking stories told from the point of view of multiple characters, but while Egan’s book became a huge bestseller and winner of a Pulitzer Prize, Klein’s novel received only modest...

AMERICAN PASTORAL — Philip Roth

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“What sort of mental existence had been his? What, if anything, had ever threatened to destabilize the Swede’s trajectory?” So asks the narrator of the novel, Nathan Zuckerman, a stand-in for Roth who appears in the first quarter of American Pastoral and then retreats to the background as the Swede’s story unfolds, a brilliantly executed narrative strategy Roth deploys in a number of his...

Oscar Nominated Shorts: Live Action

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I had an opportunity to see the Oscar-nominated live-action short films. Every year (except for the last two because of Covid), these films are shown at my local Spectrum Theater. After the last time I saw the live-action shorts in 2019, I said I never wanted to go again. Each of those short films (there are usually five or six shown together) was so utterly depressing and tragic that I left the...

“The Worst Person in the World”

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I’m fortunate to live just a few minutes from the Spectrum 8 Theaters, where independent and foreign films are still shown. And now that I’m going to theaters again, I had a chance to see The Worst Person in the World, a subtitled film from Norway that takes place in Oslo. Simply seeing another culture with its nuances and new faces depicted is refreshing for me. I’d classify the film as a...

What About That Ending?

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I’m in a phase of rereading some of my favorite novels that I’ve been pulling from my bookshelves. Last week it was Revolutionary Road. This week it was In the Lake of the Woods. Only a daring and confident writer (or a misguided one) would write a novel that carries the reader along, building an overwhelming sense of suspense and uncertainty, and then leave what seems to be the major story...

The Road to Suburban Malaise

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One of the things that drew me to literary fiction as both a writer and a reader is the deep dives this form of art takes into human psychology, desires, identity, and motivation. Through novels and short stories I was able to cultivate my sense of empathy and at times “see myself” in other characters and through fictional worlds. One of those worlds is suburbia, where I have lived for more than...

THE POWER OF THE DOG

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I’m very much in the minority on this one: I didn’t love the film The Power of the Dog, by acclaimed filmmaker Jane Campion (The Piano). Me, who likes the understated, who appreciates the quiet story, found myself restless, even bored at times while watching the movie. The drawling narrative focuses on two brothers, wealthy ranchers in Montana in 1925. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the classic macho...

“Drive My Car”

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Do you believe behavior can be guided by intimate, private, and unseen forces, and that the face people present to the world doesn’t always align with what resides in the deepest regions of their hearts? If that kind of philosophical speculation appeals to you, please see Drive My Car. I did, on Tuesday night at the Spectrum Theater, when tickets are only seven dollars, and I sat masked with two...

CROSSROADS, Jonathan Franzen

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A few years ago, pre-pandemic, I went to a New York State Writer’s Institute event featuring Jonathan Franzen, a writer who once appeared on the cover of Time Magazine (2010) with the headline “Great American Novelist.” Such attention for a writer is extremely rare. The most memorable part of the event for me was when Franzen was asked by an audience member what struggles he faced as a writer. He...

“Don’t Look Up”

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Some people I know are calling Don’t Look Up brilliant and must-see filmmaking. Others are more critical, pointing out the movie is smug and heavy-handed. Such divergence of opinion generally gets me interested and I sat down recently to watch Don’t Look Up. The premise: scientists discover a comet hurtling toward the earth, with impact expected in six months, and the result to be human...

THE BURNING, Megha Majumdar

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A BURNING is a promising debut by author Megha Majumdar. Set in India, the novel weaves together the stories of three characters. Jivan is a young Muslim woman from the slums who is wrongly arrested and jailed for the terrorist act of burning a passenger train. Lovely is a transgender woman known to Jivan and pursuing her dreams of becoming an actress. And PT Sir is a school physical education...

Joan Didion–THE CENTER WILL NOT HOLD

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I’m reposting this from last year in honor of Joan Didion, an incredible writer who died yesterday at the age of 87. The reason she wrote is the reason I write. “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” The author of that line, Joan Didion, is a rare breed in America: a literary writer with rock star status. I finally had the pleasure of watching the 2017 Netflix documentary about...

THE NIGHT WATCHMAN, Louise Erdrich

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Louise Erdrich is one of the most admired American authors and arguably the Queen of Native American Literature. I was awed back in 1984 by her debut novel, LOVE MEDICINE. It was my introduction to a novel in stories, without a central plot. Over the years, I’ve read a few of her other novels, and as good as they were, none of them made the same impression on me. Nothing like the first kiss, as...

The Best Books of 2021

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This is the time of year when media outlets that review books come out with their best-of-the-year lists. I compared the top ten books of 2021 as determined by the editors at The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and Amazon. What’s clear to me is there is very little consensus on what the top ten books are, which is not surprising for a number of reasons. First, there...

David Klein

Published novelist, creative writer, journalist, avid reader, discriminating screen watcher.

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