I really liked Dream Girl
, Laura Lippman’s novel about an old novelist in decline. It’s a story told by a man—a cross between Phillip Roth and Jonathan Franzen—who isn’t willing to accept his flaws, even as his mistakes come back to haunt him. The first half of the book is a gorgeously constructed character study of a basically terrible (or terribly basic) man, and in the second half of the book a murder plot introduces itself and the book turns into a gleefully dirty little thriller.
The premise of Everything and Less
, Mark McGurl’s book-length essay about how Amazon has changed the content and structure of novels, is a brilliant one. Through novels including Fifty Shades of Grey
and the comic erotica of Chuck Tingle, he makes a compelling case. Unfortunately, the book is rather aggressively academic, and McGurl crawls up his own argument to the point that it starts to feel like an obscure conspiracy theory. It’s a great topic for a long magazine article, but it’s annoying when stretched out into a whole book.
This year, a new musical about the making of Jaws
called Bruce will debut at the Seattle Rep
. (The name of the play is taken from the name of the mechanical shark used in the making of the movie, which was itself named after Steven Spielberg’s lawyer.) I just read the book that the musical is based on, a quickie making-of narrative by Jaws
screenwriter Carl Gottlieb called Jaws Log
. It’s a fun document of the frustrations and triumphs of making the world’s first summer blockbuster on a limited budget, though it’s hardly a warts-and-all scorcher. If you like show business memoirs, this is a funny and well-told, though relatively scandal-free, example of the form.
A few weeks after Stephen Sondheim died, my long-awaited library hold on the audio version of James Lapine’s Putting It Together: How Stephen Sondheim and I Created Sunday in the Park with George
happened to come come through. Lapine was relatively unknown in the theater world when Sondheim partnered with him to make a musical about Georges Seurat’s famous painting. In the book, Lapine interviews Sondheim, original cast members including Mandy Patinkin, and others who had a hand in the production about their experiences during the musical’s rocky transition from workshop to Broadway. Like Jaws Log
, it’s very reverential of the artwork in question’s success, but it’s similarly well-told—and it’s even more curious about the alchemy that created the production’s success. Jaws Log
is the more fun book of the two, but Putting It Together
is probably more useful for people looking for insight into the creative process.
I’ve loved all of Jess Walter’s novels, so it’s not surprising that I loved his latest novel, The Cold Millions
. But I was completely blown away by this book, which is about the fight over labor unions in Spokane in the early 20th century. It’s far and away Walter’s best book, and it has to be one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s been out for a while now–just came out in paperback a couple months ago—but I’m glad I saved the book for a holiday season when I could really sit and take my time with it.
Charles Baxter’s The Sun Collective
is a novel about an anti-capitalist cult that tears apart a midwestern family. While it’s not the best thing Baxter’s ever written, I really enjoyed the book because it felt so very of-the-moment, dealing as it does with homelessness, class issues, liberal self-reflection, and the growing gap between the haves and have-nots in American cities.
And if you’re looking for a good old-fashioned mystery series, the Reckless series of graphic novels by writer Ed Brubaker and artist Sean Phillips will scratch your itch. The series follows a half-assed private detective named Ethan Reckless as he navigates the seedy underbelly of 1980s Los Angeles. I binge-read the first three books in the series—Reckless
, Friend of the Devil
, and Destroy All Monsters
, in that order—over the holiday break, and now I have to wait four or five months for the next book. This is the most exciting series in comics right now, for my money—both in terms of storytelling skill and the publication format. I think more comics are going to start to be published this way, in the form of bulkier hardcover releases once or twice a year rather than slender monthly stapled comics, and I’m glad Phillips and Brubaker are showing comics creators what they can do with the format.