Admirers of Calvino, Perec, Duchamp, et al. will enjoy the literary lunacy.


“Morphism / Homomorphism / Endomorphism / Automorphism.” For readers with a yen for continental esoterica, this gathering of work by the Oulipo writers of the 1960s and beyond is just the thing.

Founded in 1960 as a descendant of the Dada-like “pataphysical” school of Alfred Jarry and company, the Oulipo (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle, or Workshop of Potential Literature) movement experimented with mathematical formulas, palindromes, wordplay, language games (such as George Perec’s Les revenentes, the only vowel in which is “e”), and other such proto-postmodern pursuits. Sometimes the effects were arid, sometimes entertaining. Sometimes, as editor Monk writes of the opening piece by Oulipo co-founder Raymond Queneau, the results even approached an “elliptical evocation of the whole of existence,” though that may be a rather grand claim for prose that includes the line, “I also pooed: in my linen.” If anything, forced by its constraints, Oulipo work is often absurd, with an anthropologist-from-Mars quality: “The nail varnish to the left of the machine is not exactly nail varnish,“ writes Michèle Audin, “but a product of the same kind, called a ‘corrector’ and intended to make good the ‘typing errors’ on the fine stencil sheets.” Or, as a poem by Daniel Levin Becker has it, “I barked like a bear, skipped like a spud. / I braised a baked Alaska. / I parked a kids’ bike beside a biker bar.” And so on. Readers attuned to the playful excesses of Situationism or to the goofier of Andrei Codrescu’s essays will enjoy Monk’s anthology, but newcomers will probably feel as if left slightly on the outside of a private joke. As always, some pieces are better than others; as movement member Jacques Duchateau notes, “some tricks are traps; some writers are bad.” He then goes on to wonder, “But, if all literature contains artifice, since artifice can be mechanized, at least in theory, does this mean that literature in turn can be mechanized as well?” It’s worth pondering….

Admirers of Calvino, Perec, Duchamp, et al. will enjoy the literary lunacy.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-944211-52-3

Page Count: 353

Publisher: McSweeney’s

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.


Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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