“During her long and distinguished career, Joyce Carol Oates never has shied away from the controversy that can come with using celebrities and tabloid news stories as the inspiration for her fiction,” Jon Michaud observes in the Washington Post. “Her novel Black Water (1992) drew on the Chappaquiddick incident; Blonde (2000) gave us Oates’s take on the life of Marilyn Monroe; and My Sister, My Love (2008) reimagined the murder of JonBenét Ramsey.
Peter Carey is receiving astoundingly mixed reviews for new novel, Amnesia. Where some reviewers see genius, others eye a tedious mix. It’s enough to make you suspect that critics are not infallible!
We love love in Top Ten Land, so let’s start with the rapture. “Peter Carey’s fiction is turbo-charged, hyperenergetic,” Andrew Motion observes in The Guardian. “His language has little time for quiet passages; his minor characters, even at their most incidental, are endowed with details of appearance and speech that belie their status; his narrative lines, when they run into difficulties of any kind, blast through them by introducing new inventions and new possibilities. This is what makes him Dickensian.
Stewart O’Nan’s fifteenth novel, West of Sunset, is the latest in a line of works in which great writers essay the life of other great writers – one of my favorites is Frederick Busch’s 1999 novel featuring Herman Melville, The Night Inspector.
F. Scott Fitzgerald is the subject of O’Nan’s novel. Not the giddy and glowing writer who churned out timeless prose during and about the jazz age. But the troubled, uncertain man of the late 1930s whose literary success was long over whose finances were in ruin. As Zelda is consigned to a mental asylum, he tries to make a new start as a screenwriter in Hollywood. By December 1940, he is dead of a heart attack.
Lydia Millet is receiving warm reviews for her funny and insightful new novel, Mermaids in Paradise.
The novel, David Ulin writes in the Los Angeles Times, “operates on a variety of levels, from parody to romance to (in its own way) oddball thriller, tracing a couple [Deb & Chip] on their honeymoon who get embroiled in high-stakes drama after they discover actual mermaids swimming off a tropical reef.”
Top Ten Land may celebrate classic books, but like Bob Dylan, we don’t look back. We look forward to new lists that bring great works to our attention. The novelist and critic Tom LeClair is happy to oblige, helping us to ring in 2015 with a list that adds six new titles to our little realm: Endgame, Wise Blood, Paradise, House of Leaves, End Zone and Alias Grace.
Ron Rash has received many glowing reviews, but it would be hard to top the mash note he received from Janet Maslin last week for Something Rich and Strange, “a major short-story anthology that can introduce new readers to this author’s haunting talents and reaffirm what his established following already knows.”
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (1945). Waugh was one of the twentieth century’s great satirists, yet this novel, widely considered his best, is not satiric. It is, instead, an examination of Roman Catholic faith as it is used, abused, embraced, and rejected by the Flytes, an aristocratic English family visited by alcoholism, adultery, and homoeroticism.
How German Is It by Walter Abish (1980). Abish wields not pen, but scalpel, vivisecting Germany’s cult of appearances and culture of denial. His protagonist is Ulrich, whose father was executed for plotting against Hitler.
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (1980). This is the story of Ruth and her younger sister, Lucille, who grow up haphazardly, first under the care of their competent grandmother, then of two comically bumbling great-aunts, and finally of Sylvie, their eccentric and remote aunt.