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  • Don Delillo's 'Point Omega'

    Tue, 02 Feb 2010 05:47

    Michiko Kakutani, over at the New York Times, has her take on Don Delillo's latest novel Point Omega... and she isn't that impressed. Kakutani reckons that "DeLillo extracts considerable suspense from his story, while building a Pinteresque sense of dread [but] there is something suffocating and airless about this entire production":

    Richard Elster, the central character of Point Omega, Don DeLillo's slender new novella, is a scholar who helped the Pentagon conceptualize an intellectual framework for the Iraq war. He is being courted by a filmmaker named Finley, who wants to make a documentary with him talking about the war. Picture Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice and some American Enterprise Institute thinkers put in a Cuisinart along with Robert S. McNamara as he appeared in Errol Morris's movie The Fog of War.

    Like many of Mr. DeLillo's earlier books, Omega is preoccupied with death and dread and paranoia, and like many of those books, it has an ingenious architecture that gains resonance in retrospect. But even its clever structural engineering can't make up for the author's uncharacteristically simplistic portrait of its hero: a pompous intellectual who shamelessly justifies sending thousands of young soldiers off to die in an unnecessary war with abstract, philosophical arguments, but who suddenly comes to know the meaning of death and loss firsthand when his beloved daughter abruptly disappears.

    Instead of the jazzy, vernacular, darkly humorous language he employed to such galvanic effect in White Noise and Underworld, Mr. DeLillo has chosen here to use the spare, etiolated, almost Beckettian prose he used in his 2001 novella, The Body Artist, and his 1987 play, The Day Room.

    And in place of the electric, highly detailed observations of American life that animate Libra and Mao II, he has substituted dreary and highly portentous musings about mortality and time. There is talk about how time feels different in the desert from the way it does in a city, talk about life versus art and art versus reality, talk about an "omega point" where "the mind transcends all direction inward" -- whatever that might mean (more...)

  • The Trauma Myth

    Thu, 28 Jan 2010 09:10

    The New York Times reviews Susan A. Clancy's controversial and hard-hitting The Trauma Myth: The Truth About the Sexual Abuse of Children -- and Its Aftermath:

    Given the vested interests lurking all over the current medical landscape, it is no wonder that the scientific method is so often mauled a little in transit. Cases of data ignored or manipulated to serve an agenda are like muggings in a bad neighborhood: you hear about them all the time, but in fact relatively few are ever openly examined.

    And so even readers with no personal or professional connection to the sexual abuse of children may be edified by The Trauma Myth, a short tale of one such particularly fraught episode.

    For a graduate research project at Harvard in the mid-1990s, the psychologist Susan A. Clancy arranged to interview adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, expecting to confirm the conventional wisdom that the more traumatic the abuse had been, the more troubled an adult the child had become.

    Dr. Clancy figured she knew what she would find: "Everything I knew dictated that the abuse should be a horrible experience, that the child should be traumatized at the time it was happening -- overwhelmed with fear, shock, horror."

    But many carefully documented interviews revealed nothing of the sort. Commonly, the abuse had been confusing for the child but not traumatic in the usual sense of the word. Only when the child grew old enough to understand exactly what had happened -- sometimes many years later -- did the fear, shock and horror begin. And only at that point did the experience become traumatic and begin its well-known destructive process.

    Dr. Clancy questioned her findings, reconfirmed them and was convinced. Her audience, when she made the data public, was outraged (more...)

  • Now it is the Financial Times' turn to look at Chinua Achebe's The Education of a British-Protected Child:

    With the publication of The Education of a British-Protected Child, Chinua Achebe has now written as many collections of essays as novels. Yet, the Nigerian's reputation as Africa's most notable writer still rests on his fiction. His first novel, Things Fall Apart, marked its 50th anniversary in 2008 and has become a worldwide classic. Achebe's fictional output stretches from Africa's besiegement by imperial Europe to its sometimes brave, but mostly dismal, effort to find its footing.

    To many fans, woebegone that Achebe has not written a novel since Anthills of the Savannah in 1987, it may sound heretical to claim his essays are as worthy as their fictional siblings. Yet Achebe's standing as a writer cannot be grasped until we identify the symbiosis between these two spheres of his work: his novels' themes shape his essays and are shaped in return.

    This new collection of 16 essays features the autobiographical, including the title essay and "Traveling White", a first-hand account of dramatic incidents during a visit in 1960 to racially-segregated Northern Rhodesia. The book also contains odes to his father and a retinue of political or intellectual figures (Nnamdi Azikiwe, independent Nigeria's first president, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, and Stanley Diamond, the American anthropologist and champion of Biafra); and meditations on literature, culture and Africa's vexed relationship with Europe (more...)

  • The Seattle Times gets a grip on Steampunk:

    The cover art of Seattle author Cherie Priest's novel Boneshaker grabbed me when it came over the transom -- the sepia-tinged visage of a woman wearing golden goggles, scanning a sky filled with antique flying machines. "A steampunk zombie-airship adventure of rollicking pace and sweeping proportions," said the cover blurb.

    Steampunk, I thought for the twentieth time. What's that? This month Priest won a Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association award for Boneshaker. So I called her up to find out.

    Priest, 34, is a well-spoken Capitol Hill resident whose idea of fun is a stroll in Seattle's Lakeview Cemetery, gathering 19th-century names for her characters. She has spent time and thought constructing the internal logic of the steampunk world of Boneshaker.

    "Steampunk is a style, of books, of clothes, of video games and movies, that draws its inspiration from old science fiction stories of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Mary Shelley," she said, "set in a place and time where steam is the dominant form of high technology. It's a retro futurism." (More...)

  • Good to see one of our finest novelisits, John Lanchester, tackling the banking crisis in his new book Whoops!. Howard Davies reviews in the Guardian (but isn't entirely impressed!):

    When I chaired the Booker prize jury a couple of years ago, I wrote an article noting that the world's financial system was collapsing about our ears, but that you would get no inkling of it from the writings of British novelists. They were all quite uninterested in the world of finance, or indeed the world of business and commerce more generally.

    One could not make the same point today. Novelists and playwrights are grappling with the mysteries of high finance, trying to illuminate the causes of the most significant economic event since the 1930s. Last year, we had a novel from Sebastian Faulks (A Week in December) and a play from David Hare, The Power of Yes, which cover very much the same territory as Whoops!.

    But John Lanchester, an interesting novelist whose characters often inhabit a recognisable world of work, has not tried a fictional treatment. Perhaps he has a crisis novel on the way, but here he has bent his mind to an explanation of the crisis which is entirely in the here and now. He wrote a prescient piece in early 2008, where he saw the potential for a major economic crash to follow the financial perturbations of late 2007. That earlier piece, and some others, have now been reworked and updated at book length (more...)

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