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 The collection’s stand-out is not his extended, name-dropping reminiscence of Frank O’Hara in the previously unpublished “Harold and Frank”; rather, Brodkey’s narcissism and competitiveness are there at their worst.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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1999

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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