Robertson-Lorant's debut is a solid, eminently readable life of Herman Melville (1819-91), one of America's more enigmatic literary geniuses. Rather than build Melville up—and then hunt him down—as a ``Great White Male,'' Robertson-Lorant explores the sensitive soul of the creator of Moby-Dick—a sensitivity symbolized, to her mind, by Melville's death from ``an enlargement of the heart.'' Melville grew up in New York City and, after his father's life ended in disaster, went to sea as a cabin boy. He would travel the world before settling again in the US in his mid-20s. Turning to writing, Melville published the only works of his to find immediate popular success: the novels Typee and Omoo. Robertson-Lorant shows how these quasi-autobiographical tales of adventure in the Pacific were understood by Melville's readers in the 1840s to make significant, even radical, statements about sexuality and society. Melville married a judge's daughter, and moved in elite circles. But aside from a close friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne, he never really capitalized on his prominence. His subsequent books, most of which, like his masterpiece Moby-Dick, were epic allegorical romances, found few contemporary admirers. By the 1860s Melville had to accept work as a low-level customs bureaucrat. Family troubles—discord with his wife, and the apparent suicide of his son—plagued him. Displaying an impressive grasp of literary history, Robertson-Lorant ably catalogues Melville's intentions and unconscious impulses, relating them to the ups and downs of his personal and public lives. Her pacing is brisk throughout, her readings of Melville's fiction sophisticated and just, although they occasionally suffer from a touch of syntactical indigestion, as complicated deconstructive and gender concepts threaten to burst the bounds of mainstream biography. But the effort to incorporate such insights pays off, helping legitimate Robertson-Lorant's claim that Melville, while a sexual progressive, cannot be categorized by today's labels. Nonetheless, a fine guide to Melville's peregrinations in literature and in life. (40 illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: June 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-517-59314-9

Page Count: 736

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1996

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



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.


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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