BALZAC'S LIVES

Balzac imagined a world of people with rich, intertwined stories. This retelling of these stories pales in comparison.

Loosely connected biographical sketches of Balzac’s central characters sandwiched between two chapters of insightful literary analysis.

French novelist Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) has had an inestimable influence on subsequent Western literature and culture. In his return to the inspiring fount of Balzac’s The Human Comedy, Brooks, emeritus professor of comparative literature at Yale, delves into the inner lives of its main characters to illuminate the obsessions and fantasies that drove Balzac’s writing. Unfortunately, after a provocative introduction to his approach in this “oblique biography,” the author’s retelling of the life stories of Balzac’s main characters reads more like a set of CliffsNotes for The Human Comedy. In contrast, the final chapter of this book, “Living in Fictional Lives,” reprises the originality of the introduction and features the discerning and perceptive scrutiny that the author displayed in his earlier analyses of Balzac, The Melodromatic Imagination (1995) and Realist Vision (2008). In closing Balzac’s Lives, Brooks reminds us that Balzac’s vast imagined social world derived from his being able to write down all that was in his head. But getting inside the head and illuminating the inner workings of one of the world’s preeminent novelists is not the same as summarizing his characters’ lives or even their dreams and daydreams. Rather, it may be enough to recognize, as Balzac himself knew, that “invented persons represent…life for us.” As Brooks notes, “their lives are exemplary ways of being. Fictional characters give us as-if experiments in knowing the world.” Just because Balzac projected himself into his characters and continually reinvented his own life through them, it does not necessarily follow that the characters are facets of Balzac’s mind. As Brooks knows well, we read fiction to know the world, not the author.

Balzac imagined a world of people with rich, intertwined stories. This retelling of these stories pales in comparison.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-68137-449-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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TANQUERAY

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

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A former New York City dancer reflects on her zesty heyday in the 1970s.

Discovered on a Manhattan street in 2020 and introduced on Stanton’s Humans of New York Instagram page, Johnson, then 76, shares her dynamic history as a “fiercely independent” Black burlesque dancer who used the stage name Tanqueray and became a celebrated fixture in midtown adult theaters. “I was the only black girl making white girl money,” she boasts, telling a vibrant story about sex and struggle in a bygone era. Frank and unapologetic, Johnson vividly captures aspects of her former life as a stage seductress shimmying to blues tracks during 18-minute sets or sewing lingerie for plus-sized dancers. Though her work was far from the Broadway shows she dreamed about, it eventually became all about the nightly hustle to simply survive. Her anecdotes are humorous, heartfelt, and supremely captivating, recounted with the passion of a true survivor and the acerbic wit of a weathered, street-wise New Yorker. She shares stories of growing up in an abusive household in Albany in the 1940s, a teenage pregnancy, and prison time for robbery as nonchalantly as she recalls selling rhinestone G-strings to prostitutes to make them sparkle in the headlights of passing cars. Complemented by an array of revealing personal photographs, the narrative alternates between heartfelt nostalgia about the seedier side of Manhattan’s go-go scene and funny quips about her unconventional stage performances. Encounters with a variety of hardworking dancers, drag queens, and pimps, plus an account of the complexities of a first love with a drug-addled hustler, fill out the memoir with personality and candor. With a narrative assist from Stanton, the result is a consistently titillating and often moving story of human struggle as well as an insider glimpse into the days when Times Square was considered the Big Apple’s gloriously unpolished underbelly. The book also includes Yee’s lush watercolor illustrations.

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-27827-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2022

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