Category Archives: Resensi / Book Review

The 10 Best Books of 2008

Jason Fulford and Tamara Shopsin
Published: December 3, 2008
From The New York Times
The editors of the Book Review have selected these titles from the list of 100 Notable Books of 2008.


Thirteen Stories
By Steven Millhauser.
Alfred A. Knopf, $24.

In his first collection in five years, a master fabulist in the tradition of Poe and Nabo­kov invents spookily plausible parallel universes in which the deepest human emotions and yearnings are transformed into their monstrous opposites. Millhauser is especially attuned to the purgatory of adolescence. In the title story, teenagers attend sinister “laugh parties”; in another, a mysteriously afflicted girl hides in the darkness of her attic bedroom. Time and again these parables revive the possibility that “under this world there is another, waiting to be born.” (Excerpt)

By Toni Morrison.
Alfred A. Knopf, $23.95.

The fate of a slave child abandoned by her mother animates this allusive novel — part Faulknerian puzzle, part dream-song — about orphaned women who form an eccentric household in late-17th-century America. Morrison’s farmers and rum traders, masters and slaves, indentured whites and captive Native Americans live side by side, often in violent conflict, in a lawless, ripe American Eden that is both a haven and a prison — an emerging nation whose identity is rooted equally in Old World superstitions and New World appetites and fears. (First Chapter)

By Joseph O’Neill.
Pantheon Books, $23.95.

O’Neill’s seductive ode to New York — a city that even in bad times stubbornly clings to its belief “in its salvific worth” — is narrated by a Dutch financier whose privileged Manhattan existence is upended by the events of Sept. 11, 2001. When his wife departs for London with their small son, he stays behind, finding camaraderie in the unexpectedly buoyant world of immigrant cricket players, most of them West Indians and South Asians, including an entrepreneur with Gatsby-size aspirations. (First Chapter)

By Roberto Bolaño. Translated by Natasha Wimmer.
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, cloth and paper, $30.

Bolaño, the prodigious Chilean writer who died at age 50 in 2003, has posthumously risen, like a figure in one of his own splendid creations, to the summit of modern fiction. This latest work, first published in Spanish in 2004, is a mega- and meta-detective novel with strong hints of apocalyptic foreboding. It contains five separate narratives, each pursuing a different story with a cast of beguiling characters — European literary scholars, an African-American journalist and more — whose lives converge in a Mexican border town where hundreds of young women have been brutally murdered. (Excerpt)

By Jhumpa Lahiri.
Alfred A. Knopf, $25.

There is much cultural news in these precisely observed studies of modern-day Bengali-Americans — many of them Ivy-league strivers ensconced in prosperous suburbs who can’t quite overcome the tug of traditions nurtured in Calcutta. With quiet artistry and tender sympathy, Lahiri creates an impressive range of vivid characters — young and old, male and female, self-knowing and self-deluding — in engrossing stories that replenish the classic themes of domestic realism: loneliness, estrangement and family discord. (Excerpt)

The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals
By Jane Mayer.
Doubleday, $27.50.

Mayer’s meticulously reported descent into the depths of President Bush’s anti­terrorist policies peels away the layers of legal and bureaucratic maneuvering that gave us Guantánamo Bay, “extraordinary rendition,” “enhanced” interrogation methods, “black sites,” warrantless domestic surveillance and all the rest. But Mayer also describes the efforts ofunsung heroes, tucked deep inside the administration, who risked their careers in the struggle to balance the rule of law against the need to meet a threat unlike any other in the nation’s history.

By Dexter Filkins.
Alfred A. Knopf, $25.

The New York Times correspondent, whose tours of duty have taken him from Afghanistan in 1998 to Iraq during the American intervention, captures a decade of armed struggle in harrowingly detailed vignettes. Whether interviewing jihadists in Kabul, accompanying marines on risky patrols in Falluja or visiting grieving families in Baghdad, Filkins makes us see, with almost hallucinogenic immediacy, the true human meaning and consequences of the “war on terror.” (First Chapter)

By Julian Barnes.
Alfred A. Knopf, $24.95.

This absorbing memoir traces Barnes’s progress from atheism (at age 20) to agnosticism (at 60) and examines the problem of religion not by rehashing the familiar quarrel between science and mystery, but rather by weighing the timeless questions of mortality and aging. Barnes distills his own experiences — and those of his parents and brother — in polished and wise sentences that recall the writing of Montaigne, Flaubert and the other French masters he includes in his discussion. (First Chapter)

Death and the American Civil War
By Drew Gilpin Faust.
Alfred A. Knopf, $27.95.

In this powerful book, Faust, the president of Harvard, explores the legacy, or legacies, of the “harvest of death” sown and reaped by the Civil War. In the space of four years, 620,000 Americans died in uniform, roughly the same number as those lost in all the nation’s combined wars from the Revolution through Korea. This doesn’t include the thousands of civilians killed in epidemics, guerrilla raids and draft riots. The collective trauma created “a newly centralized nation-state,” Faust writes, but it also established “sacrifice and its memorialization as the ground on which North and South would ultimately reunite.” (First Chapter)

The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul
By Patrick French.
Alfred A. Knopf, $30.

The most surprising word in this biography is “authorized.” Naipaul, the greatest of all postcolonial authors, cooperated fully with French, opening up a huge cache of private letters and diaries and supplementing the revelations they disclosed with remarkably candid interviews. It was a brave, and wise, decision. French, a first-rate biographer, has a novelist’s command of story and character, and he patiently connects his subject’s brilliant oeuvre with the disturbing facts of an unruly life. (First Chapter)


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100 Notable Books of 2008

Holiday Books
100 Notable Books of 2008
Published: November 26, 2008
The Book Review has selected this list from books reviewed since Dec. 2, 2007, when we published our previous Notables list.

Fiction & Poetry

AMERICAN WIFE. By Curtis Sittenfeld. (Random House, $26.) The life of this novel’s heroine — a first lady who comes to realize, at the height of the Iraq war, that she has compromised her youthful ideals — is conspicuouslymodeled on that of Laura Bush.

ATMOSPHERIC DISTURBANCES. By Rivka Galchen. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24.) The psychiatrist-narrator of this brainy, whimsical first novel believes that his beautiful, much-younger Argentine wife has been replaced by an exact double.

BASS CATHEDRAL. By Nathaniel Mackey. (New Directions, paper, $16.95.) Mackey’s fictive world is an insular one of musicians composing, playing and talking jazz in the private language of their art.

BEAUTIFUL CHILDREN. By Charles Bock. (Random House, $25.) This bravura first novel, set against a corruptly compelling Las Vegas landscape, revolves around the disappearance of a surly 12-year-old boy.

BEIJING COMA. By Ma Jian. Translated by Flora Drew. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.50.) Ma’s novel, an important political statement, looks at China through the life of a dissident paralyzed at Tiananmen Square.

A BETTER ANGEL: Stories. By Chris Adrian. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $23.) For Adrian — who is both a pediatrician and a divinity student — illness and a heightened spiritual state are closely related conditions.

BLACK FLIES. By Shannon Burke. (Soft Skull, paper, $14.95.) A rookie paramedic in New York City is overwhelmed by the horrors of his job in this arresting, confrontational novel, informed by Burke’s five years of experience on city ambulances.

THE BLUE STAR. By Tony Earley. (Little, Brown, $23.99.) The caring, thoughtful hero of Earley’s engrossing first novel, “Jim the Boy,” is now 17 and confronting not only the eternal turmoil of love, but also venality and the frightening calls of duty and war.

THE BOAT. By Nam Le. (Knopf, $22.95.) In the opening story of Le’s first collection, a blocked writer succumbs to the easy temptations of “ethnic lit.”

BREATH. By Tim Winton. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $23.) Surfing offers this darkly exhilarating novel’s protagonist an escape from a drab Australian town.

DANGEROUS LAUGHTER: Thirteen Stories. By Steven Millhauser. (Knopf, $24.) In his latest collection, Millhauser advances his chosen themes — the slippery self, the power of hysterical young people — with even more confidence and power than before.

DEAR AMERICAN AIRLINES. By Jonathan Miles. (Houghton Mifflin, $22.) Miles’s fine first novel takes the form of a letter from a stranded traveler, his life a compilation of regrets, who uses the time to digress on an impressive array of cultural issues, large and small.

DIARY OF A BAD YEAR. By J. M. Coet­zee. (Viking, $24.95.) Coetzee follows the late career of one Señor C, who, like Coetzee himself, is a South African writer transplanted to Australia and the author of a novel titled “Waiting for the Barbarians.”

DICTATION: A Quartet. By Cynthia Ozick. (Houghton Mifflin, $24.) In the title story of this expertly turned collection, Henry James and Joseph Conrad embody Ozick’s polarity of art and ardor.

ELEGY: Poems. By Mary Jo Bang. (Graywolf, $20.) Grief is converted into art in this bleak, forthright collection, centered on the death of the poet’s son.

THE ENGLISH MAJOR. By Jim Harrison. (Grove, $24.) A 60-year-old cherry farmer and former English teacher — an inversion of the classic Harrison hero — sets out on a trip west after being dumped by his wife.

FANON. By John Edgar Wideman. (Houghton Mifflin, $24.) Wideman’s novel — raw and astringent, yet with a high literary polish — explores the life of the psychiatrist and revolutionary Frantz Fanon.

THE FINDER. By Colin Harrison. (Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) A New York thriller, played out against the nasty world of global capitalism.

FINE JUST THE WAY IT IS: Wyoming Stories 3 . By Annie Proulx. (Scribner, $25.) These rich, bleak stories offer an American West in which the natural elements are murderous and folks aren’t much better.

THE GOOD THIEF . By Hannah Tinti. (Dial, $25.) In Tinti’s first novel, set in mid-19th-century New England, a con man teaches an orphan the art of the lie.

HALF OF THE WORLD IN LIGHT: New and Selected Poems. By Juan Felipe Herrera. (University of Arizona, paper, $24.95.) Herrera, known for portrayals of Chicano life, is unpredictable and wildly inventive.

HIS ILLEGAL SELF. By Peter Carey. (Knopf, $25.) In this enthralling novel, a boy goes underground with a defiant hippie indulging her maternal urge.

HOME. By Marilynne Robinson. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25.) Revisiting the events of her novel “Gilead” from another perspective, Robinson has written an anguished pastoral, at once bitter and joyful.

INDIGNATION. By Philip Roth. (Houghton Mifflin, $26.) Marcus Messner is a sophomore at a small, conservative Ohio college at the time of the Korean War. The novel he narrates, like Roth’s last two, is ruthlessly economical and relentlessly deathbound.

THE LAZARUS PROJECT. By Aleksandar Hemon. (Riverhead, $24.95.) This novel’s despairing immigrant protagonist becomes intrigued with the real-life killing of a presumed anarchist in Chicago in 1908.

LEGEND OF A SUICIDE. By David Vann. (University of Massachusetts, $24.95.) In his first story collection, Vann leads the reader to vital places while exorcizing demons born from the suicide of his father.

LIFE CLASS. By Pat Barker. (Doubleday, $23.95.) Barker’s new novel, about a group of British artists overtaken by World War I, concentrates more on the turmoil of love than on the trauma of war.

LUSH LIFE. By Richard Price. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) Chandler — and Bellow, too — peeps out from Price’s novel, in which an aspiring writer cum restaurant manager, mugged in the gentrifying Lower East Side of Manhattan, himself becomes a suspect.
A MERCY. By Toni Morrison. (Knopf, $23.95.) Summoning voices from the 17th century, Morrison performs her deepest excavation yet into America’s history and exhumes the country’s twin original sins: the importation of African slaves and the near extermination of Native Americans.

MODERN LIFE: Poems . By Matthea Harvey. (Graywolf, paper, $14.) Harvey is willing to take risks, and her reward is that richest, rarest thing, genuine poetry.

A MOST WANTED MAN . By John le Carré. (Scribner, $28.) This powerful novel, centered on a half-Russian, half-Chechen, half-crazy fugitive in Germany, swims with operatives whose desperation to avertanother 9/11 provokes a slow-­burning fire in every line.

MY REVOLUTIONS. By Hari Kunzru. (Dutton, $25.95.) Kunzru’s third novel is an extraordinary autumnal depiction of a failed ’60s radical.

NETHERLAND. By Joseph O’Neill. (Pantheon, $23.95.) In the wittiest, angriest, most exacting and most desolate work of fiction yet about post-9/11 New York and London, the game of cricket provides solace to a man whose family disintegrates after the attacks.

OPAL SUNSET: Selected Poems, 1958-2008. By Clive James. (Norton, $25.95.) James, a staunch formalist, is firmly situated in the sociable, plain-spoken tradition that runs from Auden through Larkin.

THE OTHER. By David Guterson. (Knopf, $24.95.) In this novel from the author of “Snow Falling on Cedars,” a schoolteacher nourishes a friendship with a privileged recluse.

OUR STORY BEGINS: New and Selected Stories. By Tobias Wolff. (Knopf, $26.95.) Some of Wolff’s best work is concentrated here, revealing his gift for evoking the breadth of American experience.

THE ROAD HOME. By Rose Tremain. (Little, Brown, $24.99.) A widowed Russian emigrant, fearfully navigating the strange city of London, learns that his home village is about to be inundated.

THE SACRED BOOK OF THE WEREWOLF. By Victor Pelevin. Translated by Andrew Bromfield. (Viking, $25.95.) A supernatural call girl narrates Pelevin’s satirical allegory of post-Soviet, post-9/11 Russia.

THE SCHOOL ON HEART’S CONTENT ROAD. By Carolyn Chute. (Atlantic Monthly, $24.) In Chute’s first novel in nearly 10 years, disparate characters cluster around an off-the-grid communal settlement.

SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT: A New Verse Translation. By Simon Armitage. (Norton, $25.95.) One of the eerie, exuberant joys of Middle English poetry, in an alliterative rendering that captures the original’s drive, dialect and landscape.

SLEEPING IT OFF IN RAPID CITY: Poems, New and Selected. By August Kleinzahler. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) Kleinzahler seeks the true heart of places, whether repellent, beautiful or both at once.

TELEX FROM CUBA. By Rachel Kushner. (Scribner, $25.) In this multilayered first novel, inter­national drifters try to bury pasts that include murder, adultery and neurotic meltdown, even as the Castro brothers gather revolutionaries in the hills.

2666. By Roberto Bolaño. Translated by Natasha Wimmer. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, cloth and paper, $30.) The five autonomous sections of this posthumously published novel interlock to form an astonishing whole, a supreme capstone to Bolaño’s vaulting ambition.

UNACCUSTOMED EARTH. By Jhumpa Lahiri. (Knopf, $25.) In eight sensitive stories, Lahiri evokes the anxiety, excitement and transformations felt by Bengali immigrants and their American children.

THE UNFORTUNATES. By B. S. Johnson. (New Directions, $24.95.) This novel, first published in 1969, dovetails theme (the accidents of memory) with eccentric form (unbound chapters to be read in any order).

WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS? By Kate Atkinson. (Little, Brown, $24.99.) Jackson Brodie, the hero of Atkinson’s previous literary thrillers, takes the case of a mother and baby who suddenly disappear.

THE WIDOWS OF EASTWICK. By John Updike. (Knopf, $24.95.) In this ingenious sequel to “The Witches of Eastwick,” the three title characters, old ladies now, renew their sisterhood, return to their old hometown and contrive to atone for past crimes.

YESTERDAY’S WEATHER. By Anne Enright. (Grove, $24.) Working-class Irish characters grapple with love, marriage, confusion and yearning in Enright’s varied, if somewhat disenchanted, stories.

AMERICAN LION: Andrew Jackson in the White House . By Jon Meacham. (Random House, $30.) Meacham, the editor of Newsweek, discerns a democratic dignity in the seventh president’s populism.

ANGLER: The Cheney Vice Presidency. By Barton Gellman. (Penguin Press, $27.95.) An engrossing portrait of Dick Cheney as a master political manipulator.

BACARDI AND THE LONG FIGHT FOR CUBA: The Biography of a Cause. By Tom Gjelten. (Viking, $27.95.) An NPR correspondent paints a vivid portrait of the anti-Castro clan behind the liquor empire.

THE BIG SORT: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart. By Bill Bishop with Robert G. Cushing. (Houghton Mifflin, $25.) A journalist and a statistician see political dangers in the country’s increasing tendency to separate into solipsistic blocs.

BLOOD MATTERS: From Inherited Illness to Designer Babies, How the World and I Found Ourselves in the Future of the Gene. By Masha Gessen. (Harcourt, $25.) Hard choices followed Gessen’s discovery that she carries a dangerous genetic mutation.

CAPITOL MEN: The Epic Story of Reconstruction Through the Lives of the First Black Congressmen. By Philip Dray. (Houghton Mifflin, $30.) A collective biography of the pioneers of black political involvement.

THE CHALLENGE: Hamdan v. Rumsfeld and the Fight Over Presidential Power. By Jonathan Mahler. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) An objective, thorough study of a landmark case for Guantánamo detainees.

CHAMPLAIN’S DREAM. By David Hackett Fischer. (Simon & Schuster, $40.) Fischer argues that France’s North Ameri­can colonial success was attributable largely to one remarkable man, Samuel de Champlain.

CHASING THE FLAME: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World. By Samantha Power. (Penguin Press, $32.95.) Vieira de Mello, who was killed in Iraq in 2003, embodied both the idealism and the limitations of the United Nations, which he served long and loyally.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE. An American Life: A Biography. By Elisabeth Bumiller. (Random House, $27.95.) A New York Times reporter casts a keen eye on Rice’s tenure as a policy maker, her close ties to George Bush, and her personal and professional past.

THE DARK SIDE: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals. By Jane Mayer. (Doubleday, $27.50.) A New Yorker writer recounts the emergence of the widespread use of torture as a central tool in the fight against terrorism.

DELTA BLUES: The Life and Times of the Mississippi Masters Who Revolutionized American Music. By Ted Gioia. (Norton, $27.95.) Gioia’s survey balances the story of the music with that of its reception.

DESCARTES’ BONES: A Skeletal History of the Conflict Between Faith and Reason. By Russell Shorto. (Doubleday, $26.) Shorto’s smart, elegant study turns the early separation of Descartes’s skull from the rest of his remains into an irresistible metaphor.

DREAMS AND SHADOWS: The Future of the Middle East. By Robin Wright. (Penguin Press, $26.95.) This fluent and intelligent book describes the struggles of people from Morocco to Iran to reform or replace long-entrenched national regimes.

THE DRUNKARD’S WALK: How Randomness Rules Our Lives. By Leonard Mlodinow. (Pantheon, $24.95.) This breezy crash course intersperses probabilistic mind-benders with profiles of theorists.

AN EXACT REPLICA OF A FIGMENT OF MY IMAGINATION: A Memoir. By Elizabeth McCracken. (Little, Brown, $19.99.) An unstinting account of the novelist’s emotions after the stillbirth of her first child.

FACTORY GIRLS: From Village to City in a Changing China. By Leslie T. Chang. (Spiegel & Grau, $26.) Chang’s engrossing account delves deeply into the lives of young migrant workers in southern China.

THE FOREVER WAR. By Dexter Filkins. (Knopf, $25.) Filkins, a New York Times reporter who was embedded with American troops during the attack on Falluja, has written an account of the Iraq war in the tradition of Michael Herr’s “Dispatches.”

FREEDOM’S BATTLE: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention. By Gary J. Bass. (Knopf, $35.) Bass’s book is both a history and an argument for military interventions as a tool of international justice today.

A GREAT IDEA AT THE TIME: The Rise, Fall, and Curious Afterlife of the Great Books. By Alex Beam. (Public­Affairs, $24.95.) The minds behind a curious project that continues to exert a hold in some quarters.

HALLELUJAH JUNCTION: Composing an American Life. By John Adams. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) Adams’s wry, smart memoir stands with books by Hector Berlioz and Louis Armstrong among the most readably incisive autobiographies of major musical figures.

THE HEMINGSES OF MONTICELLO: An American Family. By Annette Gordon-Reed. (Norton, $35.) Gordon-Reed continues her study of the relationship between Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson.

HOT, FLAT, AND CROWDED: Why We Need a Green Revolution — and How It Can Renew America. By Thomas L. Friedman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27.95.) The Times columnist turns his attention to possible business-friendly solutions to global warming.

THE HOUSE AT SUGAR BEACH: In Search of a Lost African Childhood. By Helene Cooper. (Simon & Schuster, $25.) Cooper, a New York Times reporter who fled a warring Liberia as a child, returned to confront the ghosts of her past — and to look for a lost sister.

HOW FICTION WORKS. By James Wood. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24.) Concentrating on the art of the novel, the New Yorker critic presents a compact, erudite vade mecum with acute observations on individual passages and authors.

MORAL CLARITY: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists. By Susan Neiman. (Harcourt, $27.) Neiman champions Enlightenment values with no hint of over­simplification, dogmatism or misplaced piety.

THE NIGHT OF THE GUN: A Reporter Investigates the Darkest Story of His Life. His Own. By David Carr. (Simon & Schuster, $26.) Carr, a New York Times culture reporter, sifts through his drug- and alcohol-­addicted past.

NIXONLAND: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. By Rick Perlstein. (Scribner, $37.50.) Perlstein’s compulsively readable study holds that Nixon’s divisive and enduring legacy is the “notion that there are two kinds of Americans.”
NOTHING TO BE FRIGHTENED OF. By Julian Barnes. (Knopf, $24.95.) With no faith in an afterlife, why should an agnostic fear death? On this simple question, Barnes hangs an elegant memoir and meditation, full of a novelist’s affection for the characters who wander in and out.

NUREYEV: The Life. By Julie Kavanagh. (Pantheon, $37.50.) The son of Soviet Tatars could never get enough of anything — space, applause, money, sex — but he attracted an audience of millions to the art form he mastered.

PICTURES AT A REVOLUTION: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood. By Mark Harris. (Penguin Press, $27.95.) The best-picture nominees of 1967 were a collage of America’s psyche, and more.

THE POST-AMERICAN WORLD. By Fareed Zakaria. (Norton, $25.95.) This relentlessly intelligent examination of power focuses less on American decline than on the rise of China, trailed by India.

PREDICTABLY IRRATIONAL: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions. By Dan Ariely. (Harper/HarperCollins, $25.95.) Moving comfortably from the lab to broad social questions to his own life, an M.I.T. economist pokes holes in conventional market theory.

THE RACE CARD: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse. By Richard Thompson Ford. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) Ford vivisects every sacred cow in “post-racist” America.

RETRIBUTION: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45. By Max Hastings. (Knopf, $35.) In this masterly account, Hastings describes Japanese madness eliciting American ruthlessness in the Pacific Theater.

A SECULAR AGE. By Charles Taylor. (Belknap/Harvard University, $39.95.) A philosophy professor thinks our era has been too quick to dismiss religious faith.

SHAKESPEARE’S WIFE. By Germaine Greer. (Harper/HarperCollins, $26.95.) With a polemicist’s vision and a scholar’s patience, Greer sets out to rescue Ann Hathaway from layers of biographical fantasy.

THE SUPERORGANISM: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies. By Bert Hölldobler and Edward O. Wilson. (Norton, $55.) The central conceit of this astonishing study is that an insect colony is a single animal raised to a higher level.

TELL ME HOW THIS ENDS: General David Petraeus and the Search for a Way Out of Iraq. By Linda Robinson. (Public­Affairs, $27.95.) A probing, conscientious account of strategy and tactics in post-surge Iraq.

THE TEN-CENT PLAGUE: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America. By David Hajdu. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26.) A worthy history of the midcentury crusade against the comics industry.

THEY KNEW THEY WERE RIGHT: The Rise of the Neocons. By Jacob Heil­brunn. (Doubleday, $26.) A journalist traces the neoconservative movement from its origins at the City College of New York in the 1940s.

THIS REPUBLIC OF SUFFERING: Death and the American Civil War. By Drew Gilpin Faust. (Knopf, $27.95.) The lasting impact of the war’s immense loss of life is the subject of this extraordinary account by Harvard’s president.

THE THREE OF US: A Family Story. By Julia Blackburn. (Pantheon, $26.) Searingly and unflinchingly, Blackburn describes an appalling upbringing at the hands of her catastrophically unfit parents.

THRUMPTON HALL: A Memoir of Life in My Father’s House. By Miranda Seymour. (Harper/HarperCollins, $24.95.) Seymour’s odd and oddly affecting book instantly catapults her father into the front rank of impossible and eccentric English parents.

TRAFFIC: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What It Says About Us). By Tom Vanderbilt. (Knopf, $24.95.) A surprising, enlightening look at the psychology of the human beings behind the steering wheels.

THE TRILLION DOLLAR MELTDOWN: Easy Money, High Rollers, and the Great Credit Crash. By Charles R. Morris. (PublicAffairs, $22.95.) How we got into the mess we’re in, explained briefly and brilliantly.

A VOYAGE LONG AND STRANGE: Rediscovering the New World. By Tony Horwitz. (Holt, $27.50.) An accessible popular history of early America, with plenty of self-tutoring and colorful reporting.

WAKING GIANT: America in the Age of Jackson. By David S. Reynolds. (Harper/HarperCollins, $29.95.) Reynolds excels at depicting the cultural, social and intellectual currents that buffeted the nation.

WHILE THEY SLEPT: An Inquiry Into the Murder of a Family. By Kathryn Harrison. (Random House, $25.) Harrison’s account brings moral clarity to the dark fate of the family of Jody Gilley, who was 16 when she survived a rampage by her brother in 1984.

WHITE HEAT: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. By Brenda Wineapple. (Knopf, $27.95.) The hitherto elusive Higginson was the poet’s chosen reader, admirer and advocate.

THE WILD PLACES. By Robert Macfarlane. (Penguin, paper, $15.) Macfarlane’s unorthodox British landscapes are furrowed with human histories and haunted by literary prophets.

THE WORLD IS WHAT IT IS: The Authorized Biography of V. S. Naipaul. By Patrick French. (Knopf, $30.) French has created a monument fully worthy of its subject, elucidating the enduring but painfully asymmetrical love triangle at the core of Naipaul’s life and work.
Source : NTYimes

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‘A Merci’ by Toni Morrison

Source : NYTimes

Damon Winter/The New York Times
Toni Morrison

Original Sins,

Published: November 28, 2008

The Greeks might have invented the pastoral, the genre in which the rustic life is idealized by writers who don’t have to live it, but it’s found its truest home in America. To Europeans of the so-called Age of Discovery, the whole North American continent seemed a sort of Edenic rod and gun club, and their descendants here still haven’t gotten over their obsession with the pure primal landscapes they despoil with their own presence. A straight line — if only spiritually — runs from Fenimore Cooper’s wild Adirondacks and Hawthorne’s sinister Massachusetts forests to Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River” to Cheever’s domesticated locus amoenus of Shady Hill to the theme park in George Saunders’s pointedly titled “Pastoralia” — where slaughtered goats are delivered to employees in Neolithic costume through a slot in the wall of their cave, much as Big Macs appear at a drive-through window. The line even leads to “Naked Lunch,” which pronounces America “old and dirty and evil before the settlers, before the Indians” — simply a calculated blasphemy. Apply enough ironic backspin, and almost any American novel this side of “Bright Lights, Big City” could be called “American Pastoral.” Or for that matter, “Paradise Lost.”

Toni Morrison has already used the title “Paradise” for the 1998 novel that I think is her weakest. But it would have been a good fit for her new book, “A Mercy,” which reveals her, once more, as a conscious inheritor of America’s pastoral tradition, even as she implicitly criticizes it. Her two greatest novels, “Song of Solomon” and “Beloved,” render the rural countryside so evocatively that you can smell the earth; even in the urban novel “Jazz,” the most memorable images are of the South its characters have left behind. But Morrison, of course, is African-American, and hers is a distinctly postcolonial pastoral: a career-long refutation of Robert Frost’s embarrassing line “The land was ours before we were the land’s.” The plantation called Sweet Home, in “Beloved,” is neither sweet to its slaves nor home to anyone, except the native Miamis, of whom nothing is left but their burial mounds. In “A Mercy,” a 17th-­century American farmer — who lives near a town wink-and-nudgingly called Milton — enriches himself by dabbling in the rum trade and builds an ostentatious, oversize new house, for which he orders up a fancy wrought-iron gate, ornamented with twin copper serpents: when the gate is closed, their heads meet to form a blossom. The farmer, Jacob Vaark, thinks he’s creating an earthly paradise, but Lina, his Native American slave, whose forced exposure to Presbyterianism has conveniently provided her with a Judeo-­Christian metaphor, feels as if she’s “entering the world of the damned.”

In this American Eden, you get two original sins for the price of one — the near extermination of the native population and the importation of slaves from Africa — and it’s not hard to spot the real serpents: those creatures Lina calls “Europes,” men whose “whitened” skins make them appear on first sight to be “ill or dead,” and whose great gifts to the heathens seem to be smallpox and a harsh version of Christianity with “a dull, unimaginative god.” Jacob is as close as we get to a benevolent European. Although three bondswomen (one Native American, one African and one “a bit mongrelized”) help run his farm, he refuses to traffic in slaves; the mother of the African girl, in fact, has forced her daughter on him because the girl is in danger of falling into worse hands and he seems “human.” Yet Jacob’s money is no less tainted than if he’d wielded a whip himself: it simply comes from slaves he doesn’t have to see in person, working sugar plantations in the Caribbean. And the preposterous house he builds with this money comes to no good. It costs the lives of 50 trees (cut down, as Lina notes, “without asking their permission”), his own daughter dies in an accident during the construction, and he never lives to finish it.

True, some of the white settlers are escapees from hell: Jacob’s wife, Rebekka, whom he imported sight unseen from London, retains too-vivid memories of public hangings and drawings-and-quarterings. “The pile of frisky, still living entrails held before the felon’s eyes then thrown into a bucket and tossed into the Thames; fingers trembling for a lost torso; the hair of a woman guilty of mayhem bright with flame.” America, she figures, can hardly be worse. But even the relatively kindly Rebekka (kindly, that is, until she nearly dies of smallpox herself and gets religion) and the relatively human Jacob have that European brimstone clinging to them, and it’s stinking up the place. One native sachem diagnoses their unique pathology: “Cut loose from the earth’s soul, they insisted on purchase of its soil, and like all orphans they were insatiable. It was their destiny to chew up the world and spit out a horribleness that would destroy all primary peoples.” This sounds like P.C. cant, and even Lina doubts that all Europes are Eurotrash. But the sachem’s got a point. Does anybody own the earth we all inhabit as brothers and sisters? From that perspective, property really is theft, and if you don’t think Europeans did the thieving, I’ve got $24 worth of beads I’d like to sell you.

Or if Europeans aren’t the only serpents in the garden — after all, “A Mercy” also implicates Africans in the slave trade — this theory, advanced by an African woman captured by rival tribesmen and shipped to Barbados, gets to the heart of the problem: “I think men thrive on insults over cattle, women, water, crops. Everything heats up and finally the men of their families burn we houses and collect those they cannot kill or find for trade.” Men! You can’t live with ’em and (since women “did not fell 60-foot trees, build pens, repair saddles, slaughter or butcher beef, shoe a horse or hunt”) you can’t live without ’em. Not to mention that old-as-Eden matter of sexual attraction. Florens, the black girl whose mother entrusted her to Jacob, and whose feeling of abandonment rules the rest of her life, falls uncontrollably in lust with a free black man, the smith who builds Jacob’s gate. “The shine of water runs down your spine and I have shock at myself for wanting to lick there. I run away into the cowshed to stop this thing from happening inside me. Nothing stops it.” In their last scene together, the blacksmith rejects her for being a slave — not to Jacob, but to her own desire. “You alone own me,” she tells him. “Own yourself, woman,” he answers. “You are nothing but wilderness. No constraint. No mind.” If you’ve ever read a Toni Morrison novel, you can already predict that Florens does end up owning herself and that it’s a bitter blessing. Her only compensation for the loss of her mother and her lover is that she comes to write her own story, carving the letters with a nail into the walls of her dead master’s unfinished and abandoned house.

“A Mercy” has neither the terrible passion of “Beloved” — how many times can we ask a writer to go to such a place? — nor the spirited ingenuity of “Love,” the most satisfying of Morrison’s subsequent novels. But it’s her deepest excavation into America’s history, to a time when the South had just passed laws that “separated and protected all whites from all others forever,” and the North had begun persecuting people accused of witchcraft. (The book’s most anxious moment comes when a little white girl goes hysterical at the sight of Florens and hides behind her witch-hunting elders.) Post­colonialists and feminists, perhaps even Greens and Marxists, may latch onto “A Mercy,” but they should latch with care, lest Morrison prove too many-minded for them. This novel isn’t a polemic — does anybody really need to be persuaded that exploitation is evil? — but a tragedy in which “to be given dominion over another is a hard thing; to wrest dominion over another is a wrong thing; to give dominion of yourself to another is a wicked thing.”

Except for a slimy Portuguese slave trader, no character in the novel is wholly evil, and even he’s more weak and contemptible than mustache-twirlingly villainous. Nor are the characters we root for particularly saintly. While Lina laments the nonconsensual deaths of trees, she deftly drowns a newborn baby, not, as in “Beloved,” to save it from a life of slavery, but simply because she thinks the child’s mother (the “mongrelized” girl who goes by the Morrisonian name of Sorrow) has already brought enough bum luck to Jacob’s farmstead. Everyone in “A Mercy” is damaged; a few, once in a while, find strength to act out of love, or at least out of mercy — that is, when those who have the power to do harm decide not to exercise it. A negative virtue, but perhaps more lasting than love.

This oddly assorted household — slaves, indentured servants and a wife shipped to her husband in exchange for payment to her family — exhibits varying degrees of freedom and dominion, and it holds together, for a while, thanks to a range of conflicting motivations. “They once thought they were a kind of family because to­gether they had carved companionship out of isolation. But the family they imagined they had become was false. Whatever each one loved, sought or escaped, their futures were separate and anyone’s guess. One thing was certain, courage alone would not be enough.” The landscape of “A Mercy” is full of both beauties and terrors: snow “sugars” eyelashes, yet icicles hang like “knives”; a stag is a benign and auspicious apparition, yet at night “the glittering eyes of an elk could easily be a demon.” But whatever the glories and the rigors of nature may signify to the civilized, for these characters, living in the midst of it, nature doesn’t signify. It’s simply to be embraced or dreaded — like the people with whom they have to live. In Morrison’s latest version of pastoral, it’s only mercy or the lack of it that makes the American landscape heaven or hell, and the gates of Eden open both ways at once.

David Gates’s most recent book is “The Wonders of the Invisible World,” a collection of stories.

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Mereka Mengkhianati Saya

Resensi Buku

oleh : M. Budi Santosa – Okezone

SOEHARTO hanyalah anak desa yang lahir di Kemusuk, Yogyakarta pada 8 Juni 1921. Tapi siapa sangka, Soeharto yang semasa kecil sering dihina oleh teman-temannya dengan sebutan Denbaguse Tai Mambu menjadi orang yang begitu ditakuti di Negeri ini.

Sudah banyak buku yang mengupas tentang sepak terjang Sang Jenderal Besar itu. Pada umumnya buku tentang Soeharto mengupas tentang sejarah waktu kecil hingga saat menjelang ajalnya. Puluhan judul buku baru tentang Soeharto makin marak saat sang penguasa Orde Baru selama 32 tahun itu menghembuskan napas terakhirnya pada 27 Januari 2008.

Salah satu buku yang muncul setelah The Smiling General itu tiada adalah buku ini yang berjudul Mereka Mengkhianati Saya. Buku ini sebenarnya juga tidak terlalu istimewa. Seperti umumnya buku soal Soeharto, buku ini juga diawali dengan cerita masa kecil Soeharto, masa perjuangan, hingga masa Soeharto prihatin dan mencari berbagai ilmu kanuragan atau sisi klenik Soeharto, hingga sang jenderal meninggal dunia.

Akan tetapi, satu hal yang tetap menarik dari buku ini adalah, tulisannya mengenai sikap Soeharto yang selalu menyamakan dirinya dengan tokoh pewayangan Semar. Soeharto selalu tidak mau jika dikaitkan dengan tokoh pewayangan lain. Tak heran jika Soeharto pun diidentikkan dengan Semar yang menjadi super lewat Supersemar.

Lewat Supersemar karir Soeharto makin cemerlang hingga mampu menapaki jenjang Presiden. Supersemar hingga kini masih mengandung kontroversi, karena banyak versi cerita atas kemunculan surat itu. Akan tetapi, dengan surat itu Soeharto akhirnya menjadi orang yang sangat kuat dan ditakuti.

Sisi tragis Soeharto tergambar jelas dalam buku ini di bagian “Pengkhianatan, Kematian, dan Pengampunan.” Dalam bagian ini penulis mengajak pembaca untuk melihat kembali sepak terjang Soeharto di saat-saat akhir kepemimpinannya. Soeharto pantas saja beranggapan telah ada yang mengkhianatinya. Dendam Soeharto terhadap para pembantunya yang dianggap berkhianat rupanya juga terwariskan ke anak-anaknya.

Di saat Soeharto terbaring di rumah sakit, sejumlah pejabat dan mantan pejabat seakan berlomba menjenguknya. Namun, ada beberapa mantan pejabat yang tidak ditemui oleh keluarga inti Soeharto. Sebut saja mantan Presiden Habibie, mantan Ketua MPR Harmoko, dan sejumlah nama lain. Bahkan mantan menantunya Prabowo Subianto tidak disebut-sebut menjenguk mantan mertuanya.

Ada apa? Ya, tampaknya keluarga Soeharto masih menaruh dendam kepada mereka karena dianggap sebagai pengkhianat. Bahkan Ketua DPD yang juga mantan Menko Perekonomian zaman Soeharto, Ginandjar Kartasasmita secara khusus meminta maaf kepada keluarga Soeharto.

“Saya bilang pada Mbak Tutut, maafkan saya,” kata Ginandjar saat melayat Soeharto berbarengan dengan Presiden Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY). Kenapa? Pasalnya, Ginandjar bersama dengan menteri yang lain pernah menyampaikan pengunduran diri pada saat genting menjelang kejatuhan rezim Orde Baru. “Mungkin keluarganya merasa peristiwa itu sebagai dosa atau kesalahan,” terang Ginandjar.

Tentu masih banyak lagi cerita yang terpapar di buku ini. Mulai dari kebencian Mamiek Soeharto kepada suaminya Prabowo Subianto yang dianggap sebagai pecundang. Atau mungkin kebencian Soeharto pada “anaknya” Habibie, hingga tidak pernah lagi bertegur sapa sampai ajal menjemputnya.

Meski buku ini terkesan diterbitkan untuk mengejar momentum meninggalnya Soeharto, namun setidaknya buku ini akan menambah pengetahuan sisi lain dari sikap keluarga Soeharto kepada para mantan pejabat yang sebelumnya selalu berlindung dibalik ketiak sang jenderal besar itu.

Judul Buku : Mereka Mengkhianati Saya
Penulis: Femi Adi Soempeno
Penerbit: Galang Press
I, 2008
Tebal: 227 halaman (mbs)

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The Vendetta, Pembunuhan Para Mantan Agen CIA

Judul Buku:
The Vendetta

David Stone

Dastan Books


509 halaman

Cetakan I:

Mei 2008

Micah Dalton berduka. Sahabatnya, Porter Naumann yang merupakan mantan agen CIA, ditemukan meninggal dengan kondisi yang sangat mengenaskan di depan sebuah gereja kecil di kota Cortona, Italia.

Investigasi awal kepolisian Cortona menyimpulkan bahwa Naumann bunuh diri. Dalton menyangsikan hal tersebut karena dia kenal betul sifat Naumann yang gigih dan pantang menyerah. Sahabatnya itu bukanlah orang yang mudah putus asa, sehingga berujung dengan mengakhiri hidupnya sendiri.

Jack Stallworth, Kepala Seksi Tim Pembersih CIA sekaligus atasan Micah, mengizinkannya untuk menyelidiki kematian Naumann. Sebelum berangkat ke Cortona untuk memulai penyelidikan, Dalton mengunjungi Ristorante Carovita, kafe yang dikunjungi Naumann di Venezia sebelum dia meninggal.

Di sela-sela lamunannya mengenang sahabatnya sambil ditemani sebotol minuman, dia melihat seorang lelaki Amerika tua, berbadan tegap, entah seorang koboi atau Indian. Entah mengapa Dalton tertarik mengamati pria itu. Maka ketika kotak cerutu si pria ketinggalan di meja, Dalton mengambilnya agar mempunyai alasan untuk menemui pria itu.

Malam itu di dalam kamar hotel yang dipesan Porter di Venezia, tiba-tiba Dalton mengalami halusinasi hebat. Dia merasa digigit oleh laba-laba hijau zamrud yang beracun. Dalam usahanya mengobati tangannya yang digigit, dia melihat hantu Porter bahkan bercakap-cakap dengannya. Keesokan paginya saat Dalton berniat pergi ke Cortona lagi, instingnya membuatnya melangkahkan kaki kembali ke kafe yang semalam. Dia menanyakan alamat si pria Amerika pada seorang pelayan kafe.

Setelah Dalton berhasil menemukan tempatnya yang ternyata sebuah rumah sewa, kamar yang dihuni oleh si Amerika telah kosong. Pemilik rumah itu mengatakan bahwa penyewa kamar itu bernama Sweetwater. Dia juga mengizinkan Dalton untuk menggeledah kamar tersebut. Lalu Dalton menemukan sebuah kantung berisi bubuk tak dikenal. Saat kantung itu dibuka, Dalton jatuh pingsan setelah sebelumnya seperti berhalusinasi lagi.

Duka Dalton bertambah saat CIA menemukan istri dan kedua anak Porter tewas di rumah mereka di London. CIA menduga Porter membunuh keluarganya lalu pergi ke Italia dan bunuh diri di sana. Tapi Dalton menemukan fakta menarik bahwa di dalam kamar hotel yang disewa Porter di Cortona, di Venezia, dan di dalam rumahnya di London terdapat bunga yang sama, yaitu Morning Glory. Bunga itu adalah jenis nokturnal atau makhluk malam yang membuka kelopaknya hanya pada malam hari.

Analisisnya adalah, bahwa seseorang menyimpan suatu bubuk dalam bunga itu lalu diletakkan/dikirim ke kamar hotel dan ke rumah Porter. Lalu malam harinya kelopak buka membuka sehingga bubuk itu menyebar dalam ruangan dan menyebabkan halusinasi bagi penghirupnya.

Berbekal fakta tersebut, Dalton bersemangat untuk kembali ke Italia untuk mencari Sweetwater. Namun atasannya melarang karena Dalton terlibat masalah dengan orang Kroasia di Venezia, selain itu dia belum sepenuhnya pulih dari efek bubuk yang dia hirup di kamar Sweetwater. Maka Dalton mengubah cara penyelidikannya dengan melacak Sweetwater melalui database komputer CIA.

Saat pelacakannya mulai menunjukkan titik terang, dia tidak bisa mendapatkan data lagi karena memasuki area akses terbatas. Dalton pun menduga bahwa kematian Naumann berhubungan erat dengan operasi CIA.

Alih-alih mengizinkan Dalton melanjutkan pencarian, Stallworth malah memberinya tugas lain. Yaitu menemui Willard Fremont, pensiunan CIA yang sekarang berada di penjara federal. Awalnya Dalton menerima tugas ini dengan setengah hati. Tapi ternyata dari Fremont diketahui bahwa rekan setimnya semasa di CIA (tim Eselon) telah terbunuh dengan mengenaskan, serupa dengan yang dialami Naumann. Maka terbukalah fakta bahwa ada orang yang mengincar nyawa para anggota tim Eselon.

Mengapa si pembunuh mengincar nyawa mereka? Mengapa Naumann juga dibunuh padahal dia bukan anggota Eselon? Benarkah Sweetwater pelakunya? Dan apa arti “Sweetwater” itu?

Pertanyaan-pertanyaan diatas pasti akan terbersit di pikiran anda saat membaca novel karya David Stone ini. Banyak hal tak terduga di dalamnya, dan tentu saja diwarnai ketegangan. Misalnya saat Micah Dalton bertahan hidup sendirian setelah dua rekannya tewas diterjang peluru dari jarak 183 meter. Selain itu novel ini juga dibumbui dengan sedikit pengetahuan tentang beberapa suku Indian di Amerika.

Saya berpendapat The Vendetta cukup menarik dalam mengemas misteri dan ketegangan dalam melacak pembunuh yang sebenarnya. Apalagi akar permasalahan yang menyulut rentetan pembunuhan ini ternyata merupakan sebuah konspirasi tingkat tinggi di dalam tubuh CIA.

Selain hal yang menarik itu, ada bumbu yang sedikit kurang pas menurut saya yaitu adanya penampakan hantu Porter Naumann. Karena pemunculan hantu biasanya identik dengan cerita khayalan alias tidak nyata. Sedangkan kisah investigasi pembunuhan adalah suatu kisah yang sangat nyata dan penuh dengan logika. Namun demikian, novel ini tetap mengasyikkan untuk anda baca hingga lembar terakhir.

Ersina Rakhma
Peminat buku, tinggal di Jakarta

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Night Kills by John Lutz

Night Kills
Author: John Lutz
Pub Date : September 30, 2008
Imprint : Pinnacle
Format : Paperback

On The Trail Of A Bloody Killer…Frank Quinn is sure he is hunting for a madman: someone who is shooting young women in the heart, defiling their bodies, leaving only the torsos to be found. Quinn, a former NYPD detective, is called into the case by an ambitious chief of police and mobilizes his team of brilliant law-enforcement misfits. But in the concrete canyons of New York, this shocking serial murder case is turning into something very different…

A Cop And A Victim Fight Back….Jill Clark came to the city with too many hopes and too little cash. Now a seemingly deranged woman is telling her an extraordinary story. New to an exclusive dating service, Jill is warned that other women have died on their dates-and that she could be next. Struggling against a death trap closing in around her, Jill has a powerful ally in Frank Quinn. But no one knows the true motives behind a rampage of cold-blooded murder-or how much more terrifying this is going to get…

“Lutz is one of the masters.”–Ridley Pearson “A major talent.”–John Lescroart

“I’ve been a fan for years.”–T. Jefferson Parker

A multiple Edgar and Shamus Award winner—including the Shamus Lifetime Achievement Award—John Lutz is the author of over forty books. His novel SWF Seeks Same was made into the hit movie Single White Female, and The Ex was a critically acclaimed HBO feature. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri.

(source :


Chapter OneMadeline was on the run.

She should have known better. She really should have.

An insect—a large bee or wasp—whizzed past close to her ear as she skidded around a corner, her right foot almost slipping out of her low-cut sneaker. An instant later came a flat Blam! She knew he was shooting at her.

No doubt now as to what he’d had in mind in the car.

He’s trying to kill me!

Why? What did I do?

She was gasping for breath now, beginning to stumble from exhaustion as she ran down the dark street. Even late as it was, even in this neighborhood, somebody must be awake who would help her. Anyone!

Terror propelled her. Terror and the steady, relentless pounding of his footsteps behind her.

What caused this?

What’s this about?

If he gets close enough to take another shot…

Her right side was aching now. The pain was an enemy trying to bend her body forward so she could no longer run, no longer live. Her legs weren’t merely tired. They were be coming so numb that she could hardly feel any contact with the sidewalk.

Madeline was ready to surrender to the inevitable, and then she saw a shifting of shadow and a brightening at the next dark intersection.

A car’s coming!

Behind her, closer, the gun fired again. It sounded like the flat of one huge palm slapping against another. There was a finality to the sharp report.

It signaled the end of something.

Chapter TwoRetired homicide detective Frank Quinn was having strong black coffee after his breakfast at the Lotus Diner on Amsterdam when a saggy-jowled man who looked like a well-tailored bloodhound sat down opposite him.

“I know I’m late,” the bloodhound growled.

“How so?” Quinn asked, sipping his coffee.

“If it were up to you, I’d have been here much sooner.”

Quinn didn’t answer. Overconfident people bored him.

The two men were almost exact opposites. The bloodhound, who was New York Police Commissioner Harley Renz, was not only saggy jowled but saggy bodied. He’d put on about forty pounds in the past few years, and the expensive chalk-stripe blue suit didn’t disguise it as workable muscle. All vertical stripes did for Renz was zigzag.

Quinn, on the other hand, was tall and rangy, with a firm jaw, a nose broken once too often, and disconcerting flat green eyes. His straight, gray-flecked dark hair was cut short, and recently, but, as always, looked as if a barber should shape it to suit a human head. If Renz was the bloodhound, there was something of the wolf in Quinn.

“You’re glad to see me,” Renz went on, “because you don’t like rotting in retirement at the age of fifty-five.”

Thel the waitress came over and Quinn said, “A coffee for my antagonist.”

“I haven’t had breakfast,” Renz said. “I’ll have a waffle, too. Diet syrup.”

“Stuff tastes like tree sap,” Thel said. She was a dumpy, middle-aged woman who’d never been pretty, so substituted being frank. It worked pretty well for her.

“The real stuff, then,” Renz said, grateful to be nudged off his diet.

Quinn listened for a moment to Upper West Side traffic flowing past on Amsterdam. Somebody just outside shouted an obscenity. Somebody leaned on a car horn and shouted back. New York.

“I’m rotting fast,” he said. “Why don’t you get to the point?”

“Sure. I need you and your team again.”

Quinn and the two detectives Renz had assigned to him on his last case had become media darlings by tracking down a serial killer aptly called the Butcher. Their success had also resulted in Renz’s swift climb up the promotional ladder to commissioner. He was, in fact, one of the most popular commissioners the city had ever known. In New York that meant he could do just about as he pleased, including yanking three detectives temporarily back into the NYPD as long as they were willing. He knew Quinn would be willing. And if Quinn was willing, so would be his two detectives. Like Renz, Quinn was a hard man to refuse.

“Why do you need us?”

Renz smiled. Still looked like a bloodhound. “In this city, Quinn, you’re Mister Serial Killer.”

“I’m not sure I like the way you put that.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Last time we went to work for you, you got promoted all the way to commissioner.”

“And you got your good name back and became a big hero. There’s something in this for both of us, Quinn. This for that. Tit for tat. That’s how the world works.”

“Your world.”

“Well, that’s the one I live in.”

“What’s next for you, Harley, mayor?”

Renz shrugged. “Who knows?” He seemed serious. Quinn couldn’t see Harley as mayor. But then he hadn’t been able to see him as police commissioner, and there he sat. Police commissioner.

“What are the terms?” Quinn asked.

“Work for hire. It won’t interfere with your settlement or interrupt your retirement pay.”

Quinn wasn’t worried about the pay. Soon after the Night Prowler case, he’d gotten a large settlement from the city after having been falsely accused of raping a fourteen-yearold girl. Another cop had done it, and Quinn proved it. There was noplace Quinn could go to get his reputation back, so he settled for enough money to pay his attorneys and support himself comfortably with or without his pension.

“If I’m going to do it,” he said, “it’s got to interest me.”

“Oh, it will.”

Thel came over with Renz’s coffee and waffle, and maple syrup in a container that looked like one of those little liquor bottles the airlines give you.

“This,” Thel said, tapping the bottle’s cap with a chipped, red-enameled nail, “is good stuff. Straight from the tree.”

“I believe you, sweetheart,” Renz said.

When she’d walked away, he slathered his waffle with butter, then poured the little bottle’s entire contents over it.

“We’ve got us a serial killer,” he said to Quinn, “but the media’s not onto it yet. Except for Cindy Sellers, who’s sitting on it.”

“How many victims?”

“Two women.”

“Doesn’t sound like enough to make a serial killer.”

“They were both killed in identical, distinctive ways.”

“Then you have the bodies.”

It wasn’t a question. Renz picked up knife and fork and attacked his breakfast. “Parts of them,” he said. “Well, that’s not quite accurate,” he amended through a mouthful of waffle. “We’ve got just their torsos.”

He swallowed, then smacked his lips together in appreciation. “This stuff is yummy.”

Which seemed a strange thing for a bloodhound to say, especially one who was police commissioner, but there it was.

Thel sashayed over with some more coffee immediately when Renz had forked in his last bite of waffle, probably because he’d called her sweetheart.

She returned to behind the counter.

“Shot with the same gun,” Renz said, pushing away his empty plate. He dipped a finger into the residue of syrup and licked, then took a sip of coffee. Not in a rush. Relishing his tale. “Twenty-two-caliber hollow point, through the heart.”

“Small gun.”

“Big enough. The M.E. says the wounds were fatal, but the victims might have taken a while to die. Could be they were finished off with shots to the head. Not having the heads, we wouldn’t know.”


“Nah. Pro wouldn’t go to all the trouble of dismembering the bodies.”

Quinn figured that was true. Then he cautioned himself not to come to any conclusions so soon.

“The other thing,” Renz said, “is that both women were sexually violated by a long, sharply pointed instrument. Not a knife, more like a stake.”

“Tell me that happened after they died,” Quinn said.

“It did according to Nift.” Nift was Dr. Julius Nift, a skillful but verbally brutal medical examiner. “Nift seemed disappointed by this glimmer of mercy in the killer.”

“More like convenience,” Quinn said. “Easier to bring down a victim with a bullet before going to work with a sharp instrument.”

“That’s why you the man,” Renz said. “You can slip right into the minds of these sick creeps.”

“Into yours, too.”

“You figure he does that thing with the sharp stake or whatever ’cause he can’t get it up?”

“There you go.”

Renz licked some more syrup off a finger and smiled at Quinn. “So whaddya say?”

“We’re on,” Quinn said. “I’ll call Feds and Pearl.”

Feds was retired homicide detective Larry Fedderman.

Pearl was…well, Pearl.

And that could be a problem.

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The 19th Wife – Book Review

Plurality Tale

Published: August 29, 2008
Faith can make troubling claims on believers. In a prison diary — one of the many fictional documents in David Ebershoff’s third novel, “The 19th Wife” — the Mormon leader Brigham Young states one such problem plainly: “I know my faith to be the true faith of God . . . yet I cannot force belief upon others — or can I? Is this not my task, my mission? . . . I cannot know.”

Brigham Young married many women, some more by force than by choice. One of these women — officially his 19th wife (though the number was probably much higher) — rebelled. Her name was Ann Eliza, and she is a central character in Ebershoff’s book. A fictionalized version of her story runs alongside a murder mystery narrated by Jordan Scott, the son of a modern 19th wife who has been charged with killing her husband, one of the leaders of Mesadale, a modern-day fundamentalist community. Devout despite a wretched life, BeckyLyn Scott says she didn’t do it, and Jordan believes her.

In both narratives, polygamy is often brutally described. Yet the novel is too politic and sensitive to equate this practice with slavery (as some of the characters do), and it evinces a respect for the difficult mysteries of faith as well as the importance of the family, however that might be defined. In the end, though, Jordan Scott has an answer for Brigham Young’s question.

Now 20, Jordan was kicked out of Mesa­dale at the age of 14 for holding his step­sister’s hand. Mesadale, Jordan makes clear, is not a typical Mormon community. “We were something else — a cult, a cowboy theocracy, a little slice of Saudi America.” (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints officially renounced polygamy in 1890; while Mesadale is invented, some splinter groups continue to practice what the founder of the religion, Joseph Smith, called “celestial” marriage.)

Jordan is appealing, and though his quest to exonerate his mother sometimes reads like a caper, his wry, caustic voice provides a nice counterbalance to the staid, arch style of Ann Eliza. The daughter of early Mormon converts — her father built more than 1,000 wagons for the trek to the Great Salt Lake — she saw how plural marriage wrecked her mother’s life. After Young pressured Ann Eliza into becoming his wife, she took her case to the American public, becoming a one-woman anti-polygamy movement.

Ann Eliza is no saint, and Ebershoff credibly renders her complex character — driven, intelligent, vain, a little proud. Ann Eliza also has an eye for the damning detail, especially when it comes to the unusual humiliations suffered by plural wives. In one such instance, she records the dinner conversation in Young’s compound as his wives stand in line by his place at the head of the table, each granted a minute or two to tell him their concerns: “ ‘I need a new kettle.’ ‘I found my hand-glass in Sister Clara’s room.’ ‘Susannah isn’t reading properly.’ ‘There’ll be another next June.’ ”

Despite the high hurdles Ebershoff has erected, the novel flows surprisingly well. The author does little to link his two main stories; he employs voices that range from formal to fey; a few plot lines seem overburdened. He includes, not always successfully, newspaper articles, term papers, letters and other “primary” sources. (Is it possible to fake a Wikipedia article without seeming cute?) And some of his points seem obvious — yes, polygamy is inherently unfair.

In a less talented writer’s hands, “The 19th Wife” could have turned into a Rube Goldberg contraption. But in the end the multiplicity of perspectives serves to broaden Ebershoff’s depiction not only of polygamy, but also of the people whose lives it informs. And this gives his novel a rare sense of moral urgency.

Louisa Thomas is a contributing editor for Newsweek.

Source : The New York Times.

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