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Sunday Book Review Round Up

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Here’s a round-up of the Sunday book coverage. I’m afraid you’ll need to register for most of these sites, which is one of my big pet peeves in life, but it is usually free. So at least there’s that. Anyway, the critics seemed to be ready to dig into Bret Easton Ellis new novel as well as a bio of Eudora Welty and a couple of other interesting books as well.

The New York Times
In The New York Times, Bret Easton Ellis’ new novel Lunar Park was the lead review and although the criticisms are muted, it’s not a glowing review by any means. “The problem with this novel is not that it is a fast, lurching ride to nowhere. Of course it is; it’s a Bret Easton Ellis novel. The problem is that it does not have the honesty to admit that it wants to be more, the faith that readers will accept more or the courage to try to be more. It is the portrait of a narcissist who is, in the end, terminally bored with himself; that it may also be a self-portrait doesn’t make it any more true.” Be sure to tune in tomorrow for my more positive thoughts on the novel tomorrow. In the meantime, read The New York Times here.

Eudora Welty: A Biography by Welty scholar and friend Suzanne Mars is generally well received although the critic does point out that the “the book’s last 200 pages are rather a slog, partly because Welty was almost constantly traveling, lecturing and receiving awards and because Marrs seems to feel duty-bound to apprise us of each public appearance.” The last 200 pages are a slog? Geez, that’s a lot, huh? But then I looked at the specifics a little more closely and the entire book clocks in at 652 pages so maybe that’s not too bad. Read the review here.

The Washington Post

In The Washington Post, Marrs’ Eudora Welty biography is also given major treatment. Jonathan Yardley writes the lead review on the Welty examination and he seems to agree with The New York Times that the endless minutiae takes away from the overall power of the book. “Some of this is interesting, but mostly one lurches through this endless procession of trivia wishing that Marrs had exercised her blue pencil, or delete key, more often, and given proper perspective to the arc of Welty’s life,” he wrote. Read Yardley’s review here.

Also reviewed is Dying Light and Other Stories by Donald Hays. This is the first story collection for Hays and also his first published fiction in 16 years. Hays is a great writer and even though this review doesn’t seem to much care for his collection, I’ll still give it a try. The critic writes “As is sometimes the case with writers who fancy themselves tough and unsentimental, Hays doesn’t boil life down to its essence so much as he boils the essence away.” Read the review here. As mentioned earlier, Hays is a strong enough writer to make me question the critic so I’m definitely going to read the book and decide for myself. I suggest you do the same.

Faring better was Whitney Terrell’s The King of Kings County. Set in Kansas City in the late 1950’s, the novel follows the dreams of Alton Acheson, a character described as “part Harold Hill, part Willy Loman.” Terrell’s first novel was The Hunstman, also set in Kansas City and the critics predicts “with another novel this good, he’ll put Kansas City on the literary map with Anne Tyler’s Baltimore and William Kennedy’s Albany. An immense amount of historical and financial research underpins The King of Kings County, and yet all that detail is gracefully integrated into a story that is essentially about fathers and sons, the way each generation creates or miscreates a home for the next one.” Read the review here.

The Los Angeles Times

Lunar Park is reviewed here as well, to a less warm reception than in The New York Times. After pointing out some positives of Ellis’ work and the novel, the critic writes “how are we supposed to react? Trusting readers may accept this public therapy session as sincere, but it feels more like another chapter in the book of Ellis’ egomania. His publisher has gone to elaborate lengths to create a fact-or-fiction cloud of mystery around Ellis’ comeback ‚Äî Google “Jayne Dennis” and you get not one but two bogus fan sites that eventually lead back to the Lunar Park homepage. It’s hard not to imagine Ellis sniggering behind his hand somewhere, enjoying the joke.” And finally, the critic throws his knock-out punch with “Ellis is like a half-grown child, no longer cute, acting up to reclaim the attention he once took for granted. Perhaps if we ignore him he will go away. Or finish growing up.” Read the review here.

Aimee Bender’s new collection, Willful Creatures gets a good review. The critic writes “Lyrical and lovely, Bender’s prose is also matter-of-fact and direct. She can turn a phrase that takes your breath away. She is Ernest Hemingway, using one perfect word where most writers would use 12. Even better, she is Hemingway on an acid trip; her choices are twisted, both ethereal and surprisingly weighty.” The critic does point out some problems, “not every story is completely successful. The standard criticism of the experimental work of Donald Barthelme, Robert Coover and others, that style takes over story, is sometimes true here as well; there are moments where the bizarre takes precedence for its own sake.” This still looks like a very interesting collection. Read the full review here.