Archive for September, 2010

The Last American Man, by Elizabeth Gilbert   no comments

Posted at 9:20 am in Book review

Before Eat, Pray, Love happened, Elizabeth Gilbert wrote mostly about men: cowboys in the short story collection Pilgrims, lobster fishermen in her novel Stern Men, and, most memorably, Eustace Conway in The Last American Man.

Twenty years ago, Conway went back to the land in the most extreme way possible, and he’s still there, foraging and hunting, rubbing sticks together to make fire, sewing his own clothes from the animal skins he tans.  He is convinced that once people bear witness to his life, they too will want to give up electricity and indoor plumbing, and the United States will revert to an agrarian society, its citizens cheerfully living in harmony with nature. To this end, he travels the country promoting his nature preserve (and once befriending a terrifying set of crack dealers who liked his buckskin coat). Gilbert paints him as alternately charismatic and deluded, inspired and infuriating.

Conway’s story is interspersed with a history of utopian ideas in the U.S., of the dreamers—zany, often misguided, but always engaging—who envisioned a new way to live and a brighter future on the American frontier. There’s also an intriguing meditation on masculinity, on American definitions of manhood from the pioneer era to the modern age. The Last American Man is fascinating and a lot of fun—and just possibly better than Eat, Pray, Love.

Written by Lorin on September 30th, 2010

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The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman   no comments

Posted at 11:29 pm in Book review

Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists is that rare thing in fiction, a novel set within an office. The office in question belongs to a fading international newspaper in Rome whose rather fractious employees are seemingly united only by their occasionally grudging dedication to the paper.  Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different member of the staff–from Editor to CFO–plus a section about a reader.

The stories are all tragicomic in their own ways, perhaps reflecting the gloom hanging over the newspaper industry these days. The reader, Ornella de Monterrecchi, is particularly memorable: feeling compelled to read each edition completely, she is now fifteen years behind, and has banned all modern technology and news-conveying devices from her house so as not to encounter any plot spoilers. Ornella’s son Dario, though he does not merit a chapter of his own, weaves in a pleasantly conniving fashion through the other characters’ lives.

The longer sections are interspersed with a history of the paper, which was founded by an American millionaire industrialist fifty years earlier, for somewhat mysterious reasons. These become clear at the end, in a genuinely elegant resolution. The Imperfectionists paints incisive portraits of both the state of the newspaper industry and some highly memorable characters. Brilliant and un-putdownable: a terrific first novel.

Written by Lorin on September 22nd, 2010

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