A sometimes inspiriting, often infuriating glimpse into how a veteran novelist molds a younger generation of fiction writers.

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MASTER CLASS

SCENES FROM A FICTION WORKSHOP

In this account of what he says will be his last semester teaching, prolific novelist West (The Dry Danube, 2000, etc.) cajoles and exhorts 15 graduate writing students, with equal parts wisdom and pretension.

Although he claims to have barked at a former student, “I would rather lie naked in a plowed field, under an incontinent horse, than read this piece again,” West assumes in this semester the guise of an avuncular, if occasionally cranky, mentor. Outside the classroom walls, in the world of publishing, danger lurks, he warns: editors with MBAs but scant appreciation for literature, an inattentive mass readership, and other writers tempted to play it safe with style. Yet they must stay true to their gifts: “You were not brought into this spotty world to pass muster; you were created so as to stand out in your creative difference.” He constantly invokes exemplars, notably Joyce, Beckett, and Proust (even urging that students sleep with a page of this “Lavender Everest” under their pillows). Before and during critiques, he dispenses pithy advice on style, recommending experimentation in every sentence and truncated exchanges between characters, “so that the reader feels a certain amount of unexpended attentive energy that must be transferred to the next dialogue.” Fascinated by voice in writing, West unfortunately gives the impression of being most enthralled by his own. His classroom monologues, a Niagara of recondite vocabulary like “mystagogical” and “adumbration” and “noetic shrug,” seem more designed to awe than to communicate, and sometimes succeed in doing neither. In addition, self-congratulation seeps freely into his private reflections, such as “I am glorifying a gaggle of talents into a fairy circle of geniuses” or “I have bled a little potassium permanganate into the clear water of their souls.”

A sometimes inspiriting, often infuriating glimpse into how a veteran novelist molds a younger generation of fiction writers.

Pub Date: July 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-15-100574-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2001

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Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.

COLUMBINE

Comprehensive, myth-busting examination of the Colorado high-school massacre.

“We remember Columbine as a pair of outcast Goths from the Trench Coat Mafia snapping and tearing through their high school hunting down jocks to settle a long-running feud. Almost none of that happened,” writes Cullen, a Denver-based journalist who has spent the past ten years investigating the 1999 attack. In fact, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold conceived of their act not as a targeted school shooting but as an elaborate three-part act of terrorism. First, propane bombs planted in the cafeteria would erupt during lunchtime, indiscriminately slaughtering hundreds of students. The killers, positioned outside the school’s main entrance, would then mow down fleeing survivors. Finally, after the media and rescue workers had arrived, timed bombs in the killers’ cars would explode, wiping out hundreds more. It was only when the bombs in the cafeteria failed to detonate that the killers entered the high school with sawed-off shotguns blazing. Drawing on a wealth of journals, videotapes, police reports and personal interviews, Cullen sketches multifaceted portraits of the killers and the surviving community. He portrays Harris as a calculating, egocentric psychopath, someone who labeled his journal “The Book of God” and harbored fantasies of exterminating the entire human race. In contrast, Klebold was a suicidal depressive, prone to fits of rage and extreme self-loathing. Together they forged a combustible and unequal alliance, with Harris channeling Klebold’s frustration and anger into his sadistic plans. The unnerving narrative is too often undermined by the author’s distracting tendency to weave the killers’ expressions into his sentences—for example, “The boys were shooting off their pipe bombs by then, and, man, were those things badass.” Cullen is better at depicting the attack’s aftermath. Poignant sections devoted to the survivors probe the myriad ways that individuals cope with grief and struggle to interpret and make sense of tragedy.

Carefully researched and chilling, if somewhat overwritten.

Pub Date: April 6, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-446-54693-5

Page Count: 406

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2009

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THE ABOLITION OF MAN

The sub-title of this book is "Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools." But one finds in it little about education, and less about the teaching of English. Nor is this volume a defense of the Christian faith similar to other books from the pen of C. S. Lewis. The three lectures comprising the book are rather rambling talks about life and literature and philosophy. Those who have come to expect from Lewis penetrating satire and a subtle sense of humor, used to buttress a real Christian faith, will be disappointed.

Pub Date: April 8, 1947

ISBN: 1609421477

Page Count: -

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1947

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