SEA BATTLES ON DRY LAND

Brodkey’s self-involved, prolix prose style, which made his long-awaited Runaway Soul (1991) a sacred monster of recent fiction, fails badly to translate into readable essays on art, culture, politics, books, etc. After winning an early niche at the New Yorker with his fiction, Brodkey, like Updike and Barthelme, could always place an essay there—no matter how slight or puffed up the piece. Unlike the latter two writers, however, his New Yorker pieces, which bulk up this collection, read like carbons of the magazine, rather than contributions to it. Often Brodkey seems to be parodying both himself and the New Yorker, such as in a string of preciously insubstantial vignettes penned for “Talk of the Town”; a superannuated New Journalism’style piece on the Academy Awards; pompously irrelevant analyses of the 1992 presidential campaign (Bush as Coriolanus?!); and a review of a biography of Walter Winchell (Brodkey seems to sound a covert endorsement of then New Yorker editor Tina Brown). Even when he suggests an intriguing parallel, such as that between the scandal-wrecked personae of Woody Allen and Charlie Chaplin, he always nudges his insight into sub-Proustian “fine” writing. It’s a genuine relief to finish the post-William Shawn New Yorker sections here on celebrity and politics and Brodkey’s impersonal “personal” essays, and get to his attentive, if diffuse, pieces on literature in the book’s final quarter. The collection’s stand-out is not his extended, name-dropping reminiscence of Frank O’Hara in the previously unpublished “Harold and Frank”; rather, Brodkey’s narcissism and competitiveness are there at their worst. Instead, his review of an imposingly large John O’Hara short-story collection at once serves up an acid critique of genteel fiction, as epitomized (ironically) by the New Yorker, and a shrewd analysis of authors’ attempts to attain literary immortality—or fame, at least. A test of Robertson Davies’s plea that people’s bad journalism should not be held against them.

Pub Date: April 15, 1999

ISBN: 0-8050-6052-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1999

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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