For readers interested in literary theory, Alison does a great job making it palatable; for casual readers, it may be too...




A novelist tries her hand at literary theory.

Venturing into the world of narrative theory, Alison (Creative Writing/Univ. of Virginia; Nine Island, 2016, etc.) takes a personal and idiosyncratic approach. As with many books on the subject, she begins with Aristotle and his famous beginning/middle/end arc of causality. But Alison grew “restless with the arc and plot,” and W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants “was the first book to show me a way beyond the causal arc to create powerful forward motion in narrative” with patterns. Since then, she has sought “narratives that hint at structures inside them other than an arc, structures that create an inner sensation of traveling toward something and leave a sense of shape behind.” These structures in texts “coincide with fundamental patterns in nature.” Alison calls them waves, wavelets, spirals, networks, cells, and fractals. After her lengthy theoretical introduction, she explores the ways that writers have used these structural patterns in more than 20 diverse short stories, novellas, and novels: her “museum of specimens.” Readers should perk up as Alison “dissect[s]” these texts, demonstrating how “we travel not just through places conjured in the story, but through the narrative itself.” Nicholson Baker’s The Mezzanine “meanders in the shape of an elevator.” Its “digressions “mean to get us to pause and look around.” Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Jealousy is like a “Doppler radar screen, the bar scanning around and around.” Alison devotes an entire chapter to David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, which is “deeply designed and patterned, with repeating shapes, webs of connection, visual images and phrases that repeat like dots of color on a canvas.” Others coming under Alison’s scrutiny include Philip Roth, Marguerite Duras, Raymond Carver, Stuart Dybek, Clarice Lispector, Anne Carson, Vikram Chandra, Joyce Carol Oates, and Tobias Wolff.

For readers interested in literary theory, Alison does a great job making it palatable; for casual readers, it may be too much.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-948226-13-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Catapult

Review Posted Online: Dec. 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.


A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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