A thought-provoking, informative, and valuable literary analysis.

THE BOOK OF OLD LADIES

CELEBRATING WOMEN OF A CERTAIN AGE IN FICTION

A literary critique examines portrayals of older women in fiction.

Throughout her life, Saxton has known many strong older women, like her mother, aunts, and grandmothers, who—despite the physical challenges of aging—possessed a lifetime of spirit and energy. As a professor of English at Mills College in Oakland, California, the author attempted to introduce her students to fiction that celebrated the vibrancy of real-life women, but she was often disappointed. Instead of stories about positive aging, in which women over 60 years old became their “truest selves,” Saxton noted that much fiction about older women was structured like “Deathbed Bookends”—in other words, the tales opened and closed with the memory of a youthful (often romantic) past, and the protagonist’s glory days were sadly over. In this well-organized presentation, the author lays out a thoughtful analysis of works of fiction from the 20th and 21st centuries, like Tillie Olsen’s powerful short story “Tell Me a Riddle” and Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg’s comedy-of-errors novel, The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules. Thirty stories are examined in five categories—"Romancing the Past,” “Sex After Sixty,” “Altered Realities,” “It’s Never Too Late,” and “Defying Expectations”—and each segment contains illuminating critiques of six tales grouped into pairs. Saxton’s conclusions are memorable; for example, in Chapter 1, she writes that Katherine Anne Porter’s short story “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall” and Susan Minot’s novel Evening both use Deathbed Bookends for their structures. The comprehensive work concludes with a compelling analysis of Margaret Drabble’s complex 2016 novel, The Dark Flood Rises. Though the chapters feel like individual essays that could be used in the classroom, Saxton’s beautifully fluid prose would be a pleasure to read while relaxing at the beach.

A thought-provoking, informative, and valuable literary analysis.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63152-797-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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THE RUSSIA HOUSE

Does glasnost mean the Cold War is over? Le Carre, the ultimate chronicler of Cold War espionage, ponders that issue (and others) in an up-to-date spy fable: his drollest work thus far, his simplest plot by a long shot, and sturdy entertainment throughout—even if not in the same league with the Karla trilogy and other le Carre classics. British Intelligence has gotten hold of a manuscript smuggled out of Russia. Part of it consists of wild sociopolitical ramblings. But the other part provides full details on the USSR's most secret defense weaponry—which is apparently in utter shambles! Can the UK and US trust this data and proceed with grand-scale disarmament? To find out, the Brits recruit the left-wing London publisher Bartholomew "Barley" Scott Blair, who has been chosen—by the manuscript's author, a reclusive Soviet scientist nicknamed "Goethe"—to handle the book's publication in the West. Barley's mission is to rendezvous with Goethe in Russia, ask lots of questions, and evaluate whether he's for real. . .or just part of a KGB disinformation scheme. Barley—a gifted amateur jazz-sax player, a quasi-roue in late middle age—has few doubts about Goethe's sincerity; he shares, with increasing fervor, the scientist's Utopian dreams of nth-degree glasnost. But the mission is soon mired in complications: CIA interrogations (with lie-detector) of Barley; venal opposition from US defense-contractors; and Barley's intense—and dangerous—love for Goethe's friend Katya, the go-between for his USSR visits. Narrated by a Smiley-like consultant at British Intelligence, the story, unwinds in typical le Carre style (leisurely interrogations, oblique angles), but without the usual denseness. The book's more serious threads—debates on disarmament, Barley's embrace of world peace over the "chauvinist drumbeat," the love story—tend toward the obvious and the faintly preachy. Still, Barley is a grand, Dickensian creation, the ugly Americans are a richly diverting crew, and this is witty, shapely tale-spinning from a modern master.

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Pub Date: June 9, 1989

ISBN: 0141196351

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1989

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A thorough, right-wing perspective on the philosophical vices of modern science.

WHY SCIENCE IS WRONG ABOUT LIFE AND EVOLUTION

“THE INVISIBLE GENE” AND OTHER ESSAYS ON SCIENTISM.

A theoretical critique of scientism, the hyperbolically confident view that scientific materialism is capable of explaining the universe in its totality.

Christopher announces an ambitious agenda: to challenge the “scientific vision of life,” the reductive attempt to capture all existing phenomena—human and otherwise—in the categories of scientific materialism. The author principally devotes his attention to the relentless attempt to explain human behavior from the perspective of DNA, the alleged “language of life.” However, Christopher contends, with impressive clarity and rigor, that such an attempt has long been exposed as a failure—explanatory recourse to DNA simply doesn’t account for the whole spectrum of behavioral differences or variations in innate intelligence. Despite the mounting difficulties with the explanatory power of DNA, however, the scientific community has doubled down on its commitment to it—a type of “faith-based” rather than evidentiary allegiance. The author interprets this commitment as an expression of irrational scientism, which combines a “total confidence in the materialistic model of human life” with a self-congratulatory “hype and arrogance.” Christopher devotes so much attention to the field of genetics precisely because he sees it as the crucible of this scientism: “I suggest that biologists/geneticists are effectively in the front lines of the defense of materialism. That foundational scientific belief that life is completely describable in terms of physics dictates that DNA fulfill the heredity role. Never mind some of the extraordinary behavioral challenges, DNA has to cover all of materialism’s bets.”

Christopher also assesses the ways scientific dogma clouds discussions of environmental sustainability, race, intelligence, and even meditation—in the latter case he furnishes a fascinating discussion of the limitations of the analysis of Sam Harris, a philosopher and neuroscientist who is a well-known critic of religion. Further, he does a credible job of not only exposing the vulnerabilities and limitations of DNA as a theoretical panacea, but also the ways the scientific community routinely dismisses them, betraying their avowed commitment to intellectual openness. “Contradicting the certitude of science there are bunch [sic] of behavioral phenomena which are very difficult to explain from a materialist perspective. The inability of science to acknowledge this situation contradicts the regularly proclaimed openness and curiosity of scientists. In fact science has its own rigid materialist purview and strongly defends it.” The author, whose perspective is unmistakably locatable on the right of the political aisle, claims he does not supply a “nuanced effort,” and this is sometimes true. In his discussion of black communities, he offers common racist tropes: “A relatively weak commitment towards education and a tendency towards violence are still substantial problems in parts of the African American community.” Overall, the author’s argument is clear and free of technical convolution, a remarkable feat given the forbidding nature of much of the subject matter. His chief goal is to demonstrate the “sacred” nature of the scientific community’s fidelity to DNA as a settled theory and, as a consequence, encourage it to “start looking elsewhere for explanations.” At the very least, he accomplishes this goal.

A thorough, right-wing perspective on the philosophical vices of modern science.

Pub Date: March 25, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-62967-170-3

Page Count: 178

Publisher: Wise Media Group

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2020

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