Monday, May 30, 2011

The Manticore
by Robertson Davies, 254 Pages. Penguin Books

It's probably blasphemy to be Canadian and attack anything written by Robertson Davies, but I'm going to do it anyway. (I've done it before; back in university, I argued that Tempest-Tost was a great failure of literature). The Manitcore is not a lousy book but it is massively underwhelming, especially given that it won the Governor's General Award back in 1972. Rumor has it this was an apologetic award, as in the Governor General was apologizing for not giving Davies the award for the far superior Fifth Business in 1970.  One can only hope the rumor is true; either that or 1972 was a (really) bad year for Canadian fiction.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Patriotic Fire
by Winston Groom, Vintage Books, 292 Pages

Most of the scholarship on Andrew Jackson concentrates on his political life, so it's a great treat to dive into any book that focuses entirely on a pre-presidential Jackson, specifically his generalship during the War of 1812. For those who, like me, can't ever seem to get enough of Andrew Jackson, this is a great book that fits neatly on the shelf next to such titles as Robert V. Remini's exhaustive biography and Jon Meacham's American Lion (a single volume account of Jackson's White House years).

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Hidden Reality
by Brian Greene, Knopf. 370 pages.

A heady, intellectual adventure from start to finish, Brain Greene's The Hidden Reality boldly goes where only Star Trek and The Matrix have gone before: the topic of parallel universes. Tackling nine different theories of parallel realities, Mr. Greene carefully explains the science that supports them and in the process manages to prove that for all the goofy pseudo-science found in Star Trek (and I mean that affectionately), the underlying concept of an evil Spock is actually grounded in the deepest laws of the cosmos.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake
Aimee Bender, Doubleday, 292 Pages

A whimsical coming-of-age story, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake attempts to do in novel form what Aimee Bender has almost perfected in her short stories: marry our reality with another as a means of exploring the human tragicomedy. She is mostly successful, although I can't say Lemon Cake has the same sharpness of her shorter works. For all its cleverness and beauty, the novel is not nearly as focused in its narrative scope.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

For Whom the Bell Tolls
by Ernest Hemingway, Scribner, 471 pages

Is there anything that can be sad about this book or its author that has not already been said? One of the classic novels of the modern age, For Whom the Bell Tolls is definitely quintessential Hemingway, one of his last major works (not counting the work published posthumously, it would be followed only by Across the River and Into the Trees and The Old Man and the Sea.) By now, Papa Hemingway had clearly perfected his own inimitable style, that magnificent simplicity that so many have either envied or loathed.  And thematically, Papa Hemingway is in his usual territory of large ideas: the fine lines between courage and cowardice, between loyalty and betrayal.