William Kennedy’s Ironweed

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Francis Phelan is a man who believes his own hands have betrayed and destroyed him. He lives in an Albany peopled by ghosts, notably his son, Gerald’s, dead 13 days after birth from the broken neck sustained in falling from his father’s hands to the floor. And yet Phelan, the eloquent, violent, dissembling bum hero of William Kennedy’s great novel Ironweed, is the master of these hands.


Alison Lurie’s Familiar Spirits

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Familiar Spirits is Alison Lurie’s 2001 memoir of two men with whom she was friends for nearly 40 years– celebrated poet James Merrill, and his partner David Jackson. According to Lurie, the young Jackson was as talented as the unpublished Merrill. As the years wear on, however, Merrill attains fame …Read More


Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping

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There’s an excellent discussion of Marilynne Robinson’s first novel, Housekeeping (1980), going on right now at Reading Room, the New York Times blog which hosts two-week-long online panel discussions led by editors of its Book Review. Participants include Allen Gurganus, who, together with Robinson, will join us in January as …Read More


Elizabeth Bishop Has Slimmed Down

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You love everything written by Elizabeth Bishop. You own all the Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux editions, the trusty coral-colored Poems, the sea-foam-green Prose, and the Bible-sized Letters. You’ve got the tizzy-causing uncollected, Edgar Allan Poe & The Juke-Box. But you want some new books, too, and your bookshelf is stuffed. …Read More


Wow, Wao

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Wao is a work about omission, and its power rests on the gaps in understanding central to the fukú which is the book’s subject.