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Elif Batuman turns her gifts to fiction in 'The Idiot'

With her smart and deliciously comic 2010 debut, the essay collection “The Possessed,” Elif Batuman wrote one of the 21st century’s great love letters to reading. Ostensibly orbiting an academic cottage industry devoted to the mighty Russians — Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, et al. — her true quarry...

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  • In 'Universal Harvester,' John Darnielle walks into cornfields, family and horror

    In 'Universal Harvester,' John Darnielle walks into cornfields, family and horror

    It’s hard to feel nostalgic for video stores in an age when renting a movie — thanks to the Internet —  is easier than making a cup of coffee. But those who grew up in the ’80s or ’90s might still feel a twinge of sadness when they pass by a vacant storefront that used to house VHS tapes, despite...

  • America is disintegrating, reality is fracturing, all to a classic soundtrack in Steve Erickson's 'Shadowbahn'

    America is disintegrating, reality is fracturing, all to a classic soundtrack in Steve Erickson's 'Shadowbahn'

    Steve Erickson was post-millennial long before the millennium ever got here. Like those of a Southern California Ballard or Beckett, his novels are filled with a wide variety of end of time-like calamities, both personal and political:  suicide cults, alternate-history Hitlers, urban conflagrations,...

  • George Saunders' novel 'Lincoln in the Bardo' is remarkable

    George Saunders' novel 'Lincoln in the Bardo' is remarkable

    George Saunders’ first novel, “Lincoln in the Bardo,” is remarkable; let’s get that out of the way first. Unfolding over one night in a graveyard not far from the White House, it tells a story that is, by turns, simple and complicated, tracing both a father’s grief and its effect on the Republic...

  • For a doorstopper, Paul Auster's '4 3 2 1' is surprisingly light

    For a doorstopper, Paul Auster's '4 3 2 1' is surprisingly light

    A long novel is something thought to be a serious novel. Paul Auster’s 866-page “4 3 2 1,” landing with a thud on the threshold of the nation’s bookstores, is plainly playing with that idea. Auster has not, traditionally, been a writer of doorstoppers. He is usually more elegant than that. He is...

  • Why read a 5-year-old book about ExxonMobil now? Two words: Rex Tillerson

    Why read a 5-year-old book about ExxonMobil now? Two words: Rex Tillerson

    If you want a deeper understanding of what has been inaugurated in Washington, read Steve Coll’s “Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power.” Rarely has a book been so profoundly and presciently relevant to events that would take place five years after its publication.  It is not just a book...

  • Neil Gaiman wields Thor's hammer in 'Norse Mythology'

    Neil Gaiman wields Thor's hammer in 'Norse Mythology'

    No contemporary fiction writer gets more of his power from the mythological tradition than Neil Gaiman. Almost all of his work, from the “Sandman” comics he wrote in the '80s and '90s to prose novels such as “American Gods” and children's books such as “Coraline,” ingeniously fragments and integrates...

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