Britt Peterson

  • Wings of Desire

    When a Paris Review interviewer asked Vladimir Nabokov what he liked to do best besides writing novels, the author replied, “Oh, hunting butterflies, of course, and studying them. The pleasures and rewards of literary inspiration are nothing beside the rapture of discovering a new organ under the microscope or an undescribed species on a mountainside in Iran or Peru.”

    Nabokov was far from alone in this passion. The particular rapture of butterfly collection and study, the sensuous delight of this most painterly branch of entomology, was commonly voiced by its nineteenth-century adherents, as

  • Map Quest

    Hali Felt’s quite wonderful new book disqualifies itself as a true biography for a reason that will jar any reader who feels protective of the traditional rules of nonfiction writing. Simply put, parts of it are fictional. There are several key moments in this absorbing account of the life and career of marine cartographer Marie Tharp when Felt, a first-time book author with a flowing and vivid prose style, invents scenes to fill out otherwise sizable gaps in Tharp’s life story: “I want to give [Marie’s] story a little palpable emotion, even if it isn’t hers, to try to keep her whole, a little

  • Muscle Bound

    In October 1999, two titans of professional wrestling clashed in the ring—and all the announcer Jerry Lawler could do was laugh. “She’s got so many wrinkles, an accordion once fell in love with her face!” Lawler shouted, and again, when one of the combatants pummeled the other in the stomach, “She’ll never have babies again!” To be fair, the two contestants, World Wrestling Entertainment champion the Fabulous Moolah and her longtime friend Mae Young, were both in their seventies. And the comedy was as staged as the match. But the awkwardly anachronistic edge of the jokes—treating Moolah and

  • Garden Party

    In the prologue of Brideshead Revisited, as Captain Charles Ryder looks over the requisitioned property of his great lost loves, he sees Brideshead’s pitted and scarred landscape as the tragic endpoint of hundreds of years of cultivation: “The woods were all of oak and beech, the oak grey and bare, the beech faintly dusted with green by the breaking buds; they made a simple, carefully designed pattern with the green glades and the wide green spaces. . . . All this had been planned and planted a century and a half ago so that, at about this date, it might be seen in its maturity.” For Ryder,

  • The Wilderness

    The Wilderness is Samantha Harvey’s first novel, but it feels like a mature work, as well crafted and as cryptic—“familiar and strange in one breath”—as an ancient boat found preserved in the peat of the northern-England moors where the book is mostly set. The boat, like many other objects in this elaborately allusive text, is a metaphor for the problems of memory that dog the main character, Jake, an architect and the grandson of Holocaust victims, throughout his life.

    Alternating chapters relate two crucial phases in Jake’s biography: the early ’60s, when, newly married to Helen, he decamps

  • Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya

    On April 26, 1998, Monseñor Juan José Gerardi Conedera was beaten to death in his garage with a chunk of concrete, a few days after he announced the publication of a fourteen-hundred-page, four-volume report on the atrocities committed by the military during Guatemala’s endless civil war. The report detailed in painfully unambiguous terms the torture, rape, and genocide perpetrated against Guatemala’s indigenous Mayans, thought by the military to be sheltering guerilla warriors.

    Senselessness, El Salvadoran writer Horacio Castellanos Moya’s first novel to be translated into English, barely