IMAGINING CHARACTERS

SIX CONVERSATIONS ABOUT WOMEN WRITERS: JANE AUSTEN, CHARLOTTE BRONTÂ, GEORGE ELIOT, WILLA CATHER, IRIS MURDOCH, AND TONI MORRISON

Two discriminating readers invite us to listen in on seven conversations about six important novels by women. Bestselling novelist Byatt and psychoanalyst Sodre cultivate the art of literary conversation. The underlying premise is that literature in general, and the novel in particular, is a unique and important form of knowledge that calls upon its readers to carry on its imaginary world in conversation and discussion. Both Sodre and Byatt are shrewd readers, as well as voluble conversationalists. However, in print the effects are mixed. Their conversations are shapeless, as conversation often is, and the reader only gradually begins to see the emphasis fall on certain themes and ideas that appeal to their imaginations: fear of marriage, the problem of womanly self-determination, the presence of myth and fairy tale, moral consciousness in fiction. These themes float by in the wash of words without ever taking a clear shape. And too often the language, as in real conversation, is woolly and inexact. But perhaps the most limiting circumstance of this book is the admirably sympathetic relationship between Byatt and Sodre. They are so like-minded that what we have is not a dialogue but instead a monologue in two-part harmony. They don't force each other to clarify, defend, and produce persuasive evidence for their views. These objections notwithstanding, there remains enough stimulating observation and thought to hold the attention of those interested in the authors' favorite books (Mansfield Park, Villette, Daniel Deronda, The Professor's House, An Unofficial Rose, and Beloved) or in the novel as a way of knowing the world. Or in Byatt's view—which is aligned with that of Iris Murdoch—``all art but the very greatest is consolation and fantasy, but really great art is a form of knowledge.'' Byatt and Sodre attempt to bring out the knowledge that resides in art alone.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 1997

ISBN: 0-679-77753-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1997

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SLEEPERS

An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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MOMOFUKU MILK BAR

With this detailed, versatile cookbook, readers can finally make Momofuku Milk Bar’s inventive, decadent desserts at home, or see what they’ve been missing.

In this successor to the Momofuku cookbook, Momofuku Milk Bar’s pastry chef hands over the keys to the restaurant group’s snack-food–based treats, which have had people lining up outside the door of the Manhattan bakery since it opened. The James Beard Award–nominated Tosi spares no detail, providing origin stories for her popular cookies, pies and ice-cream flavors. The recipes are meticulously outlined, with added tips on how to experiment with their format. After “understanding how we laid out this cookbook…you will be one of us,” writes the author. Still, it’s a bit more sophisticated than the typical Betty Crocker fare. In addition to a healthy stock of pretzels, cornflakes and, of course, milk powder, some recipes require readers to have feuilletine and citric acid handy, to perfect the art of quenelling. Acolytes should invest in a scale, thanks to Tosi’s preference of grams (“freedom measurements,” as the friendlier cups and spoons are called, are provided, but heavily frowned upon)—though it’s hard to be too pretentious when one of your main ingredients is Fruity Pebbles. A refreshing, youthful cookbook that will have readers happily indulging in a rising pastry-chef star’s widely appealing treats.    

 

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-72049-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Clarkson Potter

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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