There’s something sexy about a well-done negative review. Take Stanley Edgar Hyman’s coy, deadly essay on Edmund Wilson The armed vision. Hyman’s opening paragraphs feign modesty, attempt flattery. His uncensored opinion is slowly being revealed – and when it’s revealed, it’s devastating. The careful dance is outlined in James Atlas’ 1981 article for this publication; Atlas revels in the thrill of Hyman’s technique and praises rigorous, literary takedowns, including the distant and furious. “Verbal abuse is an art like any other,” he argues, even giving its practitioners a name: “the negativists.” A great pan not only indicates what a book is missing. It can fill in those gaps with exciting, new conversations.
In her review by Sandra Newmans The men, Hillary Kelly follows this tradition and finds the novel’s casual ironies more insightful than its narrative premise. The story of a world where all cis men are suddenly disappearing, writes Kelly, is not only bleakly binary, but oddly enough, it still features those very same men. And this paradox raises a question: What would a genuine feminist utopia look like?
Brandon Taylor wonders why Nell is zinc avalon will not focus on its own protagonist. He keeps a close eye on the “hollowness” of the novel. Taylor also advocates a full-bodied reading experience, indulging in the book’s humor more seriously — “I laughed for about four minutes after reading that” — than its petty evasions. Vivian Gornick similarly deconstructs a book she feels is tenuous. In her review of Geoff Dyer’s Roger Federer’s last days, she argues that the author is defensive rather than disciplined. With equal pleasure, she imagines the gifts of a more elaborate thesis.
Mark Greif begins his essay on Jennifer Egan’s new book with a list of awards for her previous one. He takes his time to immerse himself in the satisfying sentimentality A visit from the Goon Squad before turning to the borders The candy house– a slow reveal reminiscent of Hyman. But Greif’s initial praise is more than a red herring. Rather, it reflects the serious joy he takes in the writer’s work. It helps measure the use of the criticism at hand. Sometimes a pan represents what we love.
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what we read
praise of insult
“The negativist – to introduce a new literary type – is more persuasive than the encomiast, who tends to resort to the mild, formulaic language of praise. The eloquent negative review has an urgency.”
Hulton/Getty; Fox/Getty: Michael Putland/Getty; The Atlantic
What if all men disappeared and the world was just boring?
“Rather than focus on the women, on the onslaught of opportunity for a world full of ambitious, complex, contradictory women… rather than defying the cruel banality of a binary gender apocalypse, Newman gives the men the narrative. She even gives them the title.”
Mafalda Rakoš / Related Archives
A portrait of the artist who never makes art
“It’s hard to read when an entire area of a character’s life is just a fiction of the plot. And it points to a void in the middle of the book.”
Italian painter and sculptor Giorgio de Chirico paints a still life, Rome, July 1967 (Mario De Biasi/Mondadori/Getty; The Atlantic)
The Inhibited Development by Geoff Dyer
“There is a significant difference between those writers who have been forced to build a working life around a single piece of lived experience — the one that conveys their story to them — and those who have been unable to do much more than flash on that experience, don’t really stick with it. Dyer is one of the latter, I think.”
📚 Out of sheer anger: wrestling with DH Lawrenceby Geoff Dyer
The Goon Squad is getting old
“The candy house knows the techniques of The Goon Squad, but does not recognize the limits of their strengths. It’s like Samson after a haircut.”
📚 A visit from the Goon Squadby Jennifer Egan
About us: This week’s newsletter is written by Nicole Acheampong. The book she reads next is honey and spiceby Bolu Babalola.
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