ORNAMENT AND SILENCE

ESSAYS ON WOMEN'S LIVES

Fashion commentator and New Yorker contributor Fraser (Scenes from the Fashionable World, 1987) explores literary and other lives in a collection of 13 reportorial, critical, and personal essays. Fraser's approach to feminism does not punish or exclude men; they, too, receive her penetrating attention. She tends to write about paradoxical relations between the sexes, while emphasizing women and their view of themselves. For example, her essay about Louise Colet, ``Love, Longing, and Letters,'' is also about Colet's sometime lover Flaubert, exploring how this Parisian ``daughter of Romanticism . . . came closest to getting past his guard.'' Her piece on the Dutch painter Vermeer considers him in terms of the women he painted and lived with. Even when focusing directly on one woman, as she does so elegantly with the fashion designer known as Valentina, Fraser takes care to render the larger milieu, male and female, sympathetically—without withholding characteristically spritely judgment. She is a stylist of such natural, melodious grace that one is immediately entranced. The title essay, addressing Virginia Woolf's misery as a victim of childhood incest, is particularly bittersweet and particularly satisfying, drawing from Fraser a well-modulated passion that heightens her usual verve. The Colet piece succeeds less well, perhaps because Colet is far less reachable from the factual record (her letters to Flaubert have not survived). But the book is studded throughout with the sort of joyous, alert description that is uncommonly encountered in journalism or in criticism. As an almost faultless master of tone, Fraser is able to pass from scene to scene with a selfless vitality. You don't forget her presence, because you admire her tact, her spirit, and her modesty, but she never obscures the story she wants to tell. ``Doves spread sun-pierced wing fans and looped with purring drumroll sounds overhead.'' Fraser's skill is to make such observation, while artful, feel entirely artless. Her fans will only wish that she would write more.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-394-58539-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1996

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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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