Eowyn Ivey’s second novel, To the Bright Edge of the World, is an ambitious book. Set in the untamed Alaskan wilds at the end of the 19th century, the story follows the expedition of Colonel Allen Forrester, a decorated war hero, and his small group of men as they navigate a seemingly impassable river—while simultaneously exploring the challenges that face Forrester’s wife, Sophie, as she waits more than a year for her husband’s return. It’s a clever and fertile juxtaposition—an explorer’s struggles in the wide-open wilderness, and the struggles of his independent young wife back home, in the closed-off, socially restrictive world of 1880s Army barracks life.
In one sense, Dave Eggers’s Heroes of the Frontier is a very recognizable novel—the ingenue in the new wilderness, trying to make sense of, and being buffeted about by, this brave new world. But Heroes is also a uniquely modern take on the old frontier genre: It is a fable without a moral, a pilgrim without progress, a series of adventures and nothing to be made of them. There are some real pleasures here but, for me, this book is interesting as much for what it includes as for what it leaves out.
The Mare is an impressive novel, a real accomplishment, not least because Mary Gaitskill tells a very simple story here, almost a fable. But just to describe the overall arc of the story is to leave out the terrific intelligence the author shows at every step, in particular her feel for differences in personality and stages of life.
Oscar Wilde reportedly said of Thomas Hardy that his writing goes from the very bad to the very good with never anything in between. Whatever one thinks of this verdict when reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles, it was for me inescapable when assessing best-selling British novelist Sebastian Faulks’s latest book, Where My Heart Used to Beat.
It’s hard to know just what to think of Peggy Guggenheim. A genuinely impressive life, hers was also often a rather sad one, needlessly made so by her own unfortunate choices. By turns a compelling and exasperating figure, she receives an evenhanded treatment in her latest biography, Peggy Guggenheim: The Shock of the Modern, by novelist Francine Prose.
At its best, David Silverman’s new book, Fighting God: An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World, is a lively, sometimes genuinely funny rant against religious belief and its seemingly patent irrationality. More important, though, is the author’s political anger at religious institutions in the United States, institutions with apparently unjustified power and privilege—a status that sadly compromises our commitment to real equality.
To put it as briefly as I can, Clarice Lispector is something of a genius.