[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]

Man in the Woods, by Scott Spencer, reviewed by Ron Carlson (New York Times)

As someone who reads a lot of murder mysteries, I was immediately curious about the capsule description of Man in Woods. There’s a killing, but, as Carlson writes, “the murder doesn’t operate as a motor for the action; instead, it glows like something toxic in the daily lives of the characters.” That set-up piques my curiosity, but also makes me skeptical: there’s at least half a chance it’ll be terrible and dull, an examination of the ways in which blah blah blah. In the end, Carlson’s sharply written review convinced me Man will be a good book for the right reader, but it also convinced me that I am not that reader.

Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, by David Sedaris, reviewed by Carolyn Kellogg (L.A. Times)

Diehard Sedaris fans probably don’t need a review to decide whether to buy his latest collection, but on-the-fencers like me might not be convinced by the premise: these stories are all literally about animals. There’s “a sycophantic Baboon hairdresser, an oblivious Parrot journalist” and so on. Kellogg’s review, however, claims it’s his best, richest work in years.

The Empty Family, by Colm Tóibín, reviewed by Hermione Lee (Guardian)

This collection of stories won’t be released in America until January, 2011, but if you non-UK readers loved Tóibín’s last book, the novel Brooklyn, this review should let you know if you want to spring for overseas shipping from a British bookstore. Lee makes The Empty Family sound somber and wrenching, and as much about the history and politics of his various settings as about his characters.

Bryant & May Off the Rails, by Christopher Fowler, reviewed by Diane White (Boston Globe)

This is a fairly standard book review, both stylistically and structurally: it’s mostly plot summary and description. However, it manages to make a fairly gimmicky premise—a pair of elderly detectives solve crimes for London’s “Peculiar Crimes Unit”—sound pretty appealing.

Nemesis, by Philip Roth, reviewed by Leah Hager Cohen (New York Times)

Sean linked to an unfavorable Michiko Kakutani review of Nemesis in the NYT last week, and mentioned that the Times might reverse course and print a second, favorable review, as is their wont. Sure enough, front and center in the Sunday Book Review comes Cohen’s syrupy stroke job.


That Bucky is such a one-dimensional character makes for a pallid, predictable story line


[Nemesis] stands out for its warmth. It is suffused with precise and painful tenderness.

Philip Roth: you’ve been Two-Stepped.