BY NICO VREELAND
[In this feature, we highlight a handful of the best book reviews appearing over the weekend in major newspapers. Follow it here.]
Driving on the Rim, by Thomas McGuane, reviewed by Maile Meloy (New York Times)
McGuane’s last book was a collection of short stories, none of which quite eclipsed its premise (here’s my review of it). Maile Meloy’s latest was likewise a story collection, which also showed more skill than substance (my review here); however, her earlier novel, Liars and Saints, was outstanding. I believe these two are novelists, ill-suited for the confines of the story, and so it’s good to see McGuane back at the long haul. Driving is about a funny doctor and his troubles with women, good subject matter for McGuane’s particular talents. Meloy likes it a lot.
The Weekend, by Bernhard Schlink, reviewed by Hugo Hamilton (The Guardian)
Bernhard Schlink is the author of The Reader, which was made into a Kate Winslet movie two years ago. In his latest, Schlink updates his themes for a post-9/11 world (that still centers around Germany, naturally). The Weekend concerns an ex-terrorist who tries to re-integrate into German society and his family after being imprisoned for more than two decades. Hamilton’s description of Schlink’s fiction (he calls it “a faithful reconstruction of the human predicament”) turns me off, but Hamilton also says that it’s a definite success, and that Schlink no less than examines and explains modern terrorism. If you liked The Reader, this review is a must-read (and potentially the book is, too).
The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, by Mark Hodder, reviewed by Michael Dirda (Washington Post)
Once every couple of years I get the urge to try a steampunk novel. I think it stems from my fondness for the Fallout video game series and the novel Snow Crash, one of my all-time favorites (Snow Crash is actually cyberpunk, but that’s closer than non- “punk” genres, right?). Whatever the cause, the urge usually ends badly. Now I’ve got it again, thanks to Dirda’s review of Hodder’s steampunk novel. He says it blends “ghost stories, leisurely historical novels and swashbuckling tales of adventurous derring-do.” Doesn’t that sound like fun?
Exley, by Brock Clarke, reviewed by Alec Solomita (Boston Globe)
I’ve got Exley on my desk—it has to go back to the library on Wednesday, and I haven’t found the time to read it. I gave it a (very brief) chance and got hooked by other books instead, and I’ve been wracked by guilt because I haven’t seen less than a glowing review. Solomita to the rescue. This is a genuinely mixed review—you don’t see those much in newspapers anymore. Worth the read, especially if you’ve heard of Exley, but, like me, haven’t gotten around to it. Or, you know, if you want to feel less guilty about skipping it.
The Fall, by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan, reviewed by Gina McIntyre (L.A. Times)
And here’s our comic relief. Evidently the latest book in Del Toro’s Strain trilogy has been released. McIntyre gives it a bewilderingly positive review, her comments hinging on the same press release tidbit that Del Toro and Hogan used to sell the first book: these are mean vampires! Scary instead of glittery! But, of course, vampires have always been mean; being the anti-Twilight does not mean you’re being original. As much as it pains me to say it, those silly, glittery Twilight vampires are in fact more original than this garbage. (Here’s my review of the first Strain novel, a classic babytown frolic.) Make no mistake: The Fall will suck. (Sorry.)
Bonus comic relief review: The Washington Post eviscerates James Franco’s story collection in about 300 words.