Category Archives: New fiction

*** No Visible Bruises by Rachel Louise Snyder

Let me start with gripes: No Visible Bruises: What We Don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us could have used a good editor to avoid repeats, organize the book better, and clean up some stylistic stuff. And the author, could have shown a wider spectrum of victims; she claims (and I believe her) that domestic violence cuts across gender and economic level, but we only see relatively poor women.

That said, she does a great job of showing why victims cannot leave, how law enforcement and social services strain at coordinating a proper response, and also how some batterers can change (with time, and great difficulty). If we made abating domestic violence a national (or international!) priority, we would undoubtedly see massive improvements.

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** The Capital by Robert Menasse

The Capital takes place in Brussels and stars many European bureaucrats, including a soon-to-be departing Brit, as they attempt to build their careers through sometimes outlandish ideas, such as using Auschwitz as a jubilee symbol, along with standard political maneuvers. There is also an unsolved murder by a hitman and various pigs running through the streets, all fun and inventive but this reader was looking for some kind of coming together of the various trends, which never came, alas.

 

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** Normal People by Sally Rooney

Normal People stars two teenagers turning into young adults from different economic backgrounds who fumble through true love, betrayal, and general awkwardness. I often wished that they would just stop floundering, speak the truth to each other, and get on with it. I suppose it’s age-appropriate to flounder, but a little trying on the reader.

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*** My Life as a Rat by Joyce Carol Oates

In the typical dark Oates way, My Life as a Rat stars a panicked tween who blurts out to a police officer that her brothers killed an Africa-American schoolmate, and is shunned by her family into a lonely, unloved life that leaves her vulnerable to all sorts of exploitative men. There is a very small glimmer of hope at the end, but it’s a grim tale, and to me was most evocative of the havoc that one psychopathic brother can wreak.

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** Doing Justice by Preet Bharara

In the introduction to Doing Justice: A Prosecutor’s Thoughts on Crime, Punishment, and the Rule of Law, the author notes that the initial inspiration for the book was a textbook for young prosecutors, and its origins show, with some chapters reading like a somber and rather hectoring list of do’s and dont’s–but fortunately others are full of stories that illustrate and inspire. I thought that he could have use a good copy editor, but he is a good guide to all kinds of controversial topics, from how best to obtain confessions to why prejudice taints the entire police and justice system.

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** Biased by Jennifer Eberhardt

The best parts of Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do, for me, are when the author describes experiments that show how deeply rooted prejudice can be, for instance that we don’t process “out-group” faces as deeply as more familiar faces, or that we do not notice nonverbal slights against minority characters in TV shows (and the actors in the shows may not notice either!). Other chapters present a more standard recitation of past and present racism horrors of various types. Sadly, there’s not a whole lot that can be done to change implicit bias, although training can, blessedly, avoid applying the biases blindly.

 

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** Cheer Up, Mr. Widdicombe by Evan James

Want a light but not completely silly book for summer? Cheer Up, Mr. Widdicombe fits the bill. It stars a carefully composed set of characters, from the pater familias settling uncomfortably into retirement, his wife who is on a house decorating frenzy, their heartbroken and bored son, and assorted house visitors. Minor drams ensue. 

I kep wondering why the wealthy couple employs a personal assistant (so fancy!) and a gardener (reasonable) but no housekeeper. It may be better to not think too much about such details.

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