Briefly Rated Book Reviews | The New Yorker
The Fox, by Francine Prose (Harper). Harvard graduate Simon Putnam, the narrator of this novel, which takes place during McCarthy’s time, finds himself in a prestigious publishing house, where he is soon tasked with revising a salacious pot of mysterious author. The book is full of anti-Communist propaganda, aimed at capitalizing on Rosenberg’s recent executions, and Simon is prompted to try and find out the author’s identity. His quest reveals that universities, publishing and government are swamps of “deception, insults and revenge,” and he struggles to maintain a sense of humanity. Combining elements of mystery and romance, the Prose novel is a devious indictment of Cold War paranoia.
Dreaming of Barcelona, by Rupert Thomson (Other press). Three loosely overlapping stories in Catalonia explore the impact of new relationships on a trio of characters. A divorced English woman meets a young Moroccan and begins an entanglement that goes against their social and personal realities. A jazz pianist forges bonds with his girlfriend’s young son and a soccer superstar, as a disturbing truth becomes evident. A docile literary translator is seduced by the enigmatic stories of a neighbor, until the neighbor intrudes into his own world. Thomson’s first-person narratives achieve effortless verisimilitude, as fleeting associations shape self-conceptions and the search for connection.
Death of a traveler, by Didier Fassin, translated from French by Rachel Gomme (Polity). This review of a policing and racism crisis in France focuses on the case of a 37-year-old member of the Roma community who, in 2017, was killed in front of his family by an anti-terrorist unit . The officers claimed self-defense and suffered no consequences. “Every time the gendarmes or police kill gypsies or Arabs, you see the same manipulations of the truth,” protests the man’s sister. Fassin, sociologist and anthropologist, aims to complement the approaches of activists and the justice system in the face of police violence, and examines the evidence with an emphasis on its socio-economic context. To do otherwise, he argues, hinders both truth and human dignity.
All now, by Rosecrans Baldwin (MCD). In this mix of memoir and reporting, a novelist and screenwriter examines the eighty-eight independent and deeply unequal cities that make up Los Angeles’ “nation-state”. A recent arrival in the sprawling metropolis himself, Baldwin finds there clues to America’s dark history and perilous future. It profiles the residents of Skid Row and the overwhelmed resident firefighters of Malibu, victims, respectively, of two of the region’s most pressing problems: structural racism and climate change. Elsewhere, we meet an absurdly ruthless self-help advisor and endure Baldwin’s dead-end meetings with Hollywood producers. The place that emerges is one of extreme luck, extreme unhappiness and the absence of a middle class, and yet, perhaps, not just “a jumble of people no more than a song was. a chain of notes ”.