ALIAS S.S. VAN DINE

THE MAN WHO CREATED DETECTIVE PHILO VANCE

Intriguing if ultimately somewhat disappointing: A full biography (the first, apparently) of nasty, elegant, tortured Willard Huntington Wright (1887-1939)—magazine editor, art critic, and, as ``S.S. Van Dine,'' the author of the phenomenally successful, now nearly forgotten Philo Vance mysteries. Loughery, art critic of The Hudson Review, begins, effectively, with Wright's final, unhappy days: the Philo Vance bubble already burst, his lavish lifestyle in disarray. Next, bewilderingly, the narrative flashes back not to Wright's beginnings but to his brief stint (1913-14) as editor of The Smart Set—where his daring taste soon got him into trouble. Only then does Loughery make a proper start: Virginia childhood with indulgent, hotel-owning parents and an equally precocious younger brother (artist Stanton); spotty studies at Harvard and impetuous, unfortunate marriage at 19; acerbic book-review work in California, with Mencken as model. After The Smart Set debacle came years of ill-rewarded labor as an eloquent champion of modern art, particularly the ``synchronism'' of brother Stanton Macdonald- Wright. A failure in N.Y.C, Wright became a 1920's scrounger in Hollywood, writing for movie-mags—while wrestling with drug addiction and domestic turmoil. (He was a misogynistic womanizer as well as a racist.) Finally, in 1924, this bitter aesthete decided to sell out with a vengeance and came up with Philo Vance, a ``fantasy projection'' of himself: art connoisseur, aristocrat, amateur detective—and the first American sleuth to rival the sophistication and popularity of the British mystery greats. However, by 1933, the Van Dine novels had become ``a dreary, desperate, mortifying labor for cash.'' Despite the clumsy start, an unlikable subject, and insufficient psychological depth: curious, literate life-history, with sporadic illumination of American culture (pop and otherwise) in the 1910-40 period. (Eight-page photo insert—not seen.)

Pub Date: May 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-684-19358-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1992

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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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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING

New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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