A master of the craft offers up sprightly and fervent essays.
Malcolm’s latest collection is a follow-up to Forty-One False Starts (2013), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism. These 18 pieces, most previously published in the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books over the past 10 years, explore a pleasingly wide range of subjects. The first section consists of profiles. In the admiring titular piece, the author examines fashion designer Eileen Fisher, whose clothes “look as if they were heedlessly flung on rather than anxiously selected.” Malcolm herself became part of Fisher’s “kind of cult of the interestingly plain.” A photo of the pianist Yuja Wang, an “existential prodigy,” graces the cover of the book and is the subject of “Performance Artist.” Malcolm seems as much impressed with the “characteristically outré,” extremely short and tight dresses Wang wears when performing, accompanied by a pair of “sadistic high heels,” as she is with Wang’s musical brilliance. Things quiet down in “Three Sisters,” about New York City’s Argosy Bookshop and the accomplished women who run it. Then there’s the “current sweetheart of liberal cable TV,” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow; the author calls Maddow’s show “TV entertainment at its finest.” The second section has cultural takes, most with a political edge. Malcolm is struck by the “atmosphere of a cold war propaganda film” in the cable TV docuseries Sarah Palin’s Alaska. The author’s incisive article sorting out the recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings’ hijinks is especially timely and scathing, while “Pandora’s Click” examines “email’s evil,” more “like a dangerous power tool” than “harmless kitchen appliance.” The last section covers literature and book reviews: Tolstoy, Constance Garnett’s translations (which Malcolm loves), the Bloomsbury Group, Ted Hughes, and a resuscitating assessment of Norman Podhoretz’s memoir Making It. Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novels are a “literary confection of…gossamer deliciousness.”
Intelligent, savvy, and stylish literary journalism.