Best by far for its wonderful set-pieces and takes—catalogues, descriptions, nostalgia trips—on the living city itself.

A BETTER MAN

Harlowe (Crashing, 1980) offers the tale of a January and May marriage that will move some, though not more often than it will strain their credibility.

New Yorker Herb Lattimore is 38 and really set in his ways (he took over his father’s insurance company after his father died at his desk) when at a club in 1976 he meets 19-year-old showgirl Maggie (“There’s a little filly here will knock your eye out,” a friend tells him), is smitten, gets married, and remains so for 22 years—most of them unhappy. The trouble? It seems that no matter how hard Maggie works to fix up either herself or their splendid East Side apartment—furnishings, antiques, renovations—dull Herb just never really notices. As time goes on, Maggie can get through to her ritual-bound and plain-folks husband less and less (“Are you blind, Herb? Are you blind?”) and gradually—well, goes mad. Much of the tension is caused by Herb’s love-affair with his favorite table at Manny’s, the West 46th Street restaurant he’s been going to four times a week for 35 years, having dinner, reading the paper, meeting the gang there since the place opened in 1964. And does this habit change when he marries? Not only does it not, but Herb actually heads for Manny’s on the one night that occupies most of the novel’s pages, leaving Maggie home alone in a state of true despair. All of this chugs along in a narrative sometimes psychologically so stiff that one begs for transformation in the characters. While Herb’s love of the city around him almost brings him alive, curious verbal anachronisms labor further to make him real (“But I’m an old-fashioned guy and it doesn’t sit right with me”), though in vain.

Best by far for its wonderful set-pieces and takes—catalogues, descriptions, nostalgia trips—on the living city itself.

Pub Date: May 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-9657639-7-8

Page Count: 213

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2000

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Chwast and Twain are a match made in heaven.

A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR'S COURT

Design veteran Chwast delivers another streamlined, graphic adaptation of classic literature, this time Mark Twain’s caustic, inventive satire of feudal England.

Chwast (Tall City, Wide Country, 2013, etc.) has made hay anachronistically adapting classic texts, whether adding motorcycles to The Canterbury Tales (2011) or rocket ships to The Odyssey (2012), so Twain’s tale of a modern-day (well, 19th-century) engineer dominating medieval times via technology—besting Merlin with blasting powder—is a fastball down the center. (The source material already had knights riding bicycles!) In Chwast’s rendering, bespectacled hero Hank Morgan looks irresistible, plated in armor everywhere except from his bow tie to the top of his bowler hat, sword cocked behind head and pipe clenched in square jaw. Inexplicably sent to sixth-century England by a crowbar to the head, Morgan quickly ascends nothing less than the court of Camelot, initially by drawing on an uncanny knowledge of historical eclipses to present himself as a powerful magician. Knowing the exact date of a celestial event from more than a millennium ago is a stretch, but the charm of Chwast’s minimalistic adaption is that there are soon much better things to dwell on, such as the going views on the church, politics and society, expressed as a chart of literal back-stabbing and including a note that while the upper class may murder without consequence, it’s kill and be killed for commoners and slaves. Morgan uses his new station as “The Boss” to better the primitive populous via telegraph lines, newspapers and steamboats, but it’s the deplorably savage civility of the status quo that he can’t overcome, even with land mines, Gatling guns and an electric fence. The subject of class manipulation—and the power of passion over reason—is achingly relevant, and Chwast’s simple, expressive illustrations resonate with a childlike earnestness, while his brief, pointed annotations add a sly acerbity. His playful mixing of perspectives within single panels gives the work an aesthetic somewhere between medieval tapestry and Colorforms.

Chwast and Twain are a match made in heaven.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-60819-961-7

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2013

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

THE CANTERBURY TALES

A RETELLING

Continuing his apparent mission to refract the whole of English culture and history through his personal lens, Ackroyd (Thames: The Biography, 2008, etc.) offers an all-prose rendering of Chaucer’s mixed-media masterpiece.

While Burton Raffel’s modern English version of The Canterbury Tales (2008) was unabridged, Ackroyd omits both “The Tale of Melibee” and “The Parson’s Tale” on the undoubtedly correct assumption that these “standard narratives of pious exposition” hold little interest for contemporary readers. Dialing down the piety, the author dials up the raunch, freely tossing about the F-bomb and Anglo-Saxon words for various body parts that Chaucer prudently described in Latin. Since “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” and “The Miller’s Tale,” for example, are both decidedly earthy in Middle English, the interpolated obscenities seem unnecessary as well as jarringly anachronistic. And it’s anyone’s guess why Ackroyd feels obliged redundantly to include the original titles (“Here bigynneth the Squieres Tales,” etc.) directly underneath the new ones (“The Squires Tale,” etc.); these one-line blasts of antique spelling and diction remind us what we’re missing without adding anything in the way of comprehension. The author’s other peculiar choice is to occasionally interject first-person comments by the narrator where none exist in the original, such as, “He asked me about myself then—where I had come from, where I had been—but I quickly turned the conversation to another course.” There seems to be no reason for these arbitrary elaborations, which muffle the impact of those rare times in the original when Chaucer directly addresses the reader. Such quibbles would perhaps be unfair if Ackroyd were retelling some obscure gem of Old English, but they loom larger with Chaucer because there are many modern versions of The Canterbury Tales. Raffel’s rendering captured a lot more of the poetry, while doing as good a job as Ackroyd with the vigorous prose.

A not-very-illuminating updating of Chaucer’s Tales.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-670-02122-2

Page Count: 436

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more