1. Ron Slate, who runs the thoughtful blog Above the Seawall, invited me and 11 other writers to recommend a recent work of fiction. I wrote about Lionel Shriver‘s new novel, The New Republic, which you may have heard is not new—she tabled the book for more than a decade, and many critics have dinged it for growing musty in that time. Me too. But it would be unfortunate if the novel simply became “that novel about journalism and terrorism back then that doesn’t have anything to say about journalism and terrorism right now.” A snip:
This setup has aged poorly. The idea of an writer landing a gig at national paper’s foreign bureau on the basis of a mere handful of clips would be mildly ridiculous in the mid- to late 90s; today, with most foreign bureaus shuttered, it’s pure fantasy. Shriver’s vision of terrorism resembles less Islamic radicalism than Irish republicanism; the SOBs and its semilegitimate political wing, O Crème de Barbear (referred to with the intentionally revolting term the Creamies) evoke the IRA and Sinn Fein. And even the most cynical, seen-it-all reporter would have a hard time embracing Shriver’s argument that the media perpetuates terrorism as a kind of act of job preservation. The New Republic is an artifact from a time when we could look at both journalism and terrorism more callously — as if the former would always be there and the latter might affect us, but not too terribly much.
Yet personality crises never get old, and the novel’s strength is in Edgar’s character reinvention, his reckoning with second selves past and present. We’re reminded often that Kellogg was the stereotypical fat kid as child, until he obsessively pursued a fitness regimen upon which his sense of confidence hinges. It’s a shallow way to frame your sense of well being, and Edgar will slowly grow aware of that. But he also knows that perception is often reality: “[P]eople will exonerate sadists, braggarts, liars, and even slack-jawed morons before they’ll pardon eyesores. If you’re attractive, people need a reason to dislike you; if you’re ugly, people need a reason to like you. They don’t usually find one.”
2. If you’re in the D.C. area, on Saturday, April 21, I’ll be at the Annapolis Book Festival, where I’ll be interviewing novelist Howard Norman about his work. I highly recommend his 1994 novel, The Bird Artist, and I hope we’ll touch on his most recent novel, What Is Left the Daughter, as well as his forthcoming memoir, I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place. (I wrote a bit about Norman here last May.)
3. The following day, April 22, I’ll be at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, taking part in a panel about “The Future of the Book Review.” Yes, it has one. I’ll be joined by Washington Post reviewer Dennis Drabelle and biographer David O. Stewart, founder of the new-ish literary website, the Washington Independent Review of Books. Hope to see you there.