Book Review: Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt

by on Sep.20, 2015, under Reviews




At the San Francisco Chronicle, I review Patrick deWitt's fabulist new novel, Undermajordomo Minor. 

Slouching Towards Translation

by on Jun.30, 2012, under Reviews



At Los Angeles Review of Books, you can find my essay about international literature, the new generation of Latin American writers, and Andrés Neuman's incredible novel of love and translation, Traveler of the Century.


The Passion According to G.H.

by on Jun.28, 2012, under Reviews


At The Rumpus, I review The Passion According to G.H. by Clarice Lispector — one of several new translations from New Directions.

Clean Bill of Health: The Novel’s Myriad Roads to Recovery

by on Mar.16, 2012, under Reviews

I have a new essay at The Millions on the general health of the novel, featuring Amelia Gray, Zadie Smith, Ben Marcus, Jonathan Franzen, Cynthia Ozick, David Lynch, Oprah, Kickstarter, beer and bonfires!

Book Review: The Great Night by Chris Adrian

by on May.07, 2011, under Reviews

My review of Chris Adrian's latest novel The Great Night is online at The Rumpus.

Book Review: The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

by on Feb.22, 2010, under Reviews


My review of Heidi W. Durrow’s The Girl Who Fell from the Sky is online at The Rumpus.

Book Review: Cockroach by Rawi Hage

by on Oct.22, 2009, under Reviews


My review of Rawi Hage’s novel Cockroach is online at Sycamore Review.

Book Review: Miles from Nowhere by Nami Mun

by on Mar.29, 2009, under Reviews


My review of Nami Mun’s debut novel “Miles from Nowhere” is online at The Rumpus.

There’s been a steady stream of sad news for book reviewers over the past year, but thankfully, sites like The Rumpus are picking up where the print outlets have left off.  Online book coverage has benefits for authors, readers, and reviewers alike.  For one, online formats offers reviewers the chance to dive into a text at much greater length than newspapers or magazines typically allow.  Secondly, sites like The Rumpus deliver book coverage that operates independently from the normal publishing time-cycle, which means they can draw attention to books that may have been published weeks, months, or even years ago.  Lastly, online comments allow for reader interaction–always a plus.

Only time will tell if the the migration of book reviews from the printed page to the web will lead to enhanced book coverage, but so far, the future looks promising.

Book Review: A Given Day by Dennis Lehane

by on Nov.21, 2008, under Reviews

Dennis Lehane, celebrated author of crime novels such as Gone, Baby, Gone and Mystic River, and a writer for HBO’s acclaimed police drama The Wire, casts his gaze toward the World War I era with his epic historical novel, The Given Day.

It is 1918, the world is staggering to the end of the Great War, and across America working-class folk are trying to survive. In Boston, a softhearted Irish beat cop named Danny Coughlin, son of a police department legend, is sent undercover to infiltrate a radical Boston political movement. Halfway across the country in Tulsa, Luther Laurence, a young black man who is about to become a father, is forced to leave town for Boston after a deadly shootout.

These characters and others converge in a plot that spans geographies and social classes, all against a vivid historical backdrop that includes haunting descriptions of the Spanish influenza outbreak. Lehane’s gritty prose is perfectly suited to this period of hardship and suffering. “Danny and the other cops from the Oh-One stacked the bodies on the sidewalk like shipyard piping and waiting into the afternoon sun for the meat wagons to arrive.” When officers killed or crippled by influenza are denied benefits from the Boston Police Department, Coughlin must choose between loyalty to his father, and to his weary fellow officers forced to serve and protect on a peasant’s wage.

Here is a great historical novel — the past rendered with accuracy and immediacy, all while reflecting tensions that resonate in our present day. In this era, turmoil is so palpable that even a drunken Babe Ruth feels it, traveling by train to a World Series game. “Big things were coming. From him. From everywhere . . . as if the whole world had been held in a stable, him included. But soon, son it was going to bust out all over the place.”

This text originally appeared Sunday, September 21, 2008 in the print edition of

Book Review: America America by Ethan Canin

by on Jul.22, 2008, under Reviews

An elegant stylist who favors understatement over ornate prose, Ethan Canin examines how seemingly small choices can resonate throughout entire lives. His latest novel, set primarily in 1970s upstate New York, follows Cory Sifter, a teenager who rises from humble roots to become a political insider.

Working on the estate of wealthy industrialist Liam Metarey, Cory shows such promise that Metarey pays his way to a prestigious boarding school. Accepting this generosity advances Cory’s social standing, but distances him from family. When Metarey backs a beloved New York senator in a presidential run, Cory wades into a world of power and ambition, discovering that politics can be dark and dangerous.


“Well-wishers,” the Metarey matriarch warns Cory, “are people who wish you’d fall down the well.” Duplicitous characters populate the book — a political wife who is also a stunt pilot, a king-making political columnist known as “The Hunchback of Times Square” — all brought to life by Canin’s deft dialogue and idiosyncratic details.

Told by an older Cory reflecting decades later, the narrative explores how nostalgia makes our past “shimmer,” clouding the meaning of events. The present-day narrator still struggles to understand his rise in status.

Tackling sweeping themes of class and ambition, America America has enough crime, sex and scandal to be a political thriller, but the most rewarding scenes are intimate exchanges between loved ones, as when Cory’s mother embraces him before he departs for boarding school:

“She rested against me with her arms around my shoulders and her head against my chest, until the teakettle began to whistle, and then finally to shake. If it hadn’t, I don’t know how long she would have stayed there like that.”

In such moments, Canin shows us the sacrifices, large and small, that are the real price of ambition.

This review originally appeared in the Sunday, June 22nd print edition of