A fine, accessible collection worthy of Dickstein’s former CUNY mentor, Irving Howe.

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A MIRROR IN THE ROADWAY

LITERATURE AND THE REAL WORLD

Twenty illuminating essays published over the decades on literature’s elusive, prophetic interpretations of a changing American society.

In his title piece, Dickstein (Distinguished Professor of English/CUNY Graduate Center; Double Agent: The Critic and Society, 1992, etc.) explains that the “mirror in the roadway” reflects Stendhal’s metaphor in Le Rouge et le noir that a novel is like a mirror carried along a highway, sometimes reflecting the sky, sometimes the mud in the road—and consequently you can’t blame the puddle for the mire but “the road inspector who lets the water stagnate and the puddle form.” The novel has a social function, and Dickstein explores it, beginning with the early mythmakers of urban centers New York (Poe, Whitman, Dos Passos, Melville, James, Ellison) and “Second City” Chicago (Dreiser, Richard Wright, James T. Farrell, Bellow). In considering the rise of American Realism, he argues that Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1906) truly “changed the course of history,” not only by exposing the unconscionable practices of the meat-packing industry, but also by revealing perhaps for the first time the “inner humanity of those trapped by birth or occupation near the bottom of the social hierarchy.” Dickstein has a facile ability to convey the great swath of literary criticism in a most readable fashion, sans clunky jargon, such as in “Edmund Wilson: Three Phrases,” where he explores the reasons this notably prickly critic continues to engage contemporary readers. Dickstein offers a cogent argument for reevaluating the work of Fitzgerald (“The Authority of Failure”) as a writer whose “reverses” made him more introspective, as well as more interesting to read. Other authors Dickstein reevaluates, moving from realism to modernism, include Mary McCarthy, Kafka and Raymond Carver. Céline (thanks to a 1966 translation) receives credit for the explosion of American vernacular, while “The Complex Fate of the Jewish American Writer” is a most thoughtful essay on American identity.

A fine, accessible collection worthy of Dickstein’s former CUNY mentor, Irving Howe.

Pub Date: June 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-691-11996-1

Page Count: 270

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2005

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SLEEPERS

An extraordinary true tale of torment, retribution, and loyalty that's irresistibly readable in spite of its intrusively melodramatic prose. Starting out with calculated, movie-ready anecdotes about his boyhood gang, Carcaterra's memoir takes a hairpin turn into horror and then changes tack once more to relate grippingly what must be one of the most outrageous confidence schemes ever perpetrated. Growing up in New York's Hell's Kitchen in the 1960s, former New York Daily News reporter Carcaterra (A Safe Place, 1993) had three close friends with whom he played stickball, bedeviled nuns, and ran errands for the neighborhood Mob boss. All this is recalled through a dripping mist of nostalgia; the streetcorner banter is as stilted and coy as a late Bowery Boys film. But a third of the way in, the story suddenly takes off: In 1967 the four friends seriously injured a man when they more or less unintentionally rolled a hot-dog cart down the steps of a subway entrance. The boys, aged 11 to 14, were packed off to an upstate New York reformatory so brutal it makes Sing Sing sound like Sunnybrook Farm. The guards continually raped and beat them, at one point tossing all of them into solitary confinement, where rats gnawed at their wounds and the menu consisted of oatmeal soaked in urine. Two of Carcaterra's friends were dehumanized by their year upstate, eventually becoming prominent gangsters. In 1980, they happened upon the former guard who had been their principal torturer and shot him dead. The book's stunning denouement concerns the successful plot devised by the author and his third friend, now a Manhattan assistant DA, to free the two killers and to exact revenge against the remaining ex-guards who had scarred their lives so irrevocably. Carcaterra has run a moral and emotional gauntlet, and the resulting book, despite its flaws, is disturbing and hard to forget. (Film rights to Propaganda; author tour)

Pub Date: July 10, 1995

ISBN: 0-345-39606-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1995

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MOMOFUKU MILK BAR

With this detailed, versatile cookbook, readers can finally make Momofuku Milk Bar’s inventive, decadent desserts at home, or see what they’ve been missing.

In this successor to the Momofuku cookbook, Momofuku Milk Bar’s pastry chef hands over the keys to the restaurant group’s snack-food–based treats, which have had people lining up outside the door of the Manhattan bakery since it opened. The James Beard Award–nominated Tosi spares no detail, providing origin stories for her popular cookies, pies and ice-cream flavors. The recipes are meticulously outlined, with added tips on how to experiment with their format. After “understanding how we laid out this cookbook…you will be one of us,” writes the author. Still, it’s a bit more sophisticated than the typical Betty Crocker fare. In addition to a healthy stock of pretzels, cornflakes and, of course, milk powder, some recipes require readers to have feuilletine and citric acid handy, to perfect the art of quenelling. Acolytes should invest in a scale, thanks to Tosi’s preference of grams (“freedom measurements,” as the friendlier cups and spoons are called, are provided, but heavily frowned upon)—though it’s hard to be too pretentious when one of your main ingredients is Fruity Pebbles. A refreshing, youthful cookbook that will have readers happily indulging in a rising pastry-chef star’s widely appealing treats.    

 

Pub Date: Oct. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-307-72049-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Clarkson Potter

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2011

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