David Haglund

  • Wonders of the Visible World

    A Thousand Pardons opens at a large home on a dead-end street in a fictional well-to-do bedroom community near New York City called Rensselaer Valley. The home belongs to Helen Armstead, an unsatisfied housewife; her husband, Ben, an unsatisfied corporate lawyer; and their daughter, Sara, who was adopted from China and is also unsatisfied. This familiar literary scenario, with its echoes of Cheever and Yates and Updike, reaches its expected destination with alarming speed: Ben goes after a comely summer associate; receives a serious beating from the associate’s boyfriend; crashes his Audi,

  • Mix Master

    A compelling mixed review is a devilishly difficult thing to write. Raves and pans have obvious, inherent drama, as they get to trumpet great successes or bemoan deplorable failures. But a mixed review must share the less exciting news that something is good, not great—or that, while the work in question mostly misses the target, it is not entirely without interest. Many mixed reviews thus read like so much wishy-washy indecision.

    But the most compelling reviews in Daniel Mendelsohn’s very good new collection of them, Waiting for the Barbarians, are decidedly mixed. Regular readers of the New

  • Bleak House

    In an interview published in the winter 2010 issue of the Paris Review, Jonathan Franzen said to Stephen Burn, “I’ve never felt less self-consciously preoccupied with language than I did when I was writing Freedom. Over and over again, as I was producing chapters, I said to myself, ‘This feels nothing like the writing I did for twenty years—this just feels transparent.’” Franzen added that this struck him as “a good sign”—an indication that he was “pressing language more completely into the service of providing transparent access to the stories I was telling and to the characters in those

  • culture November 24, 2009

    Your Face Tomorrow: Poison, Shadow, and Farewell by Javier Marías

    Your Face Tomorrow, the enormously ambitious novel in three volumes by the Spanish writer Javier Marías, began seven years ago with a warning: “One should never tell anyone anything.” Not that Marías or his narrator, Jaime Deza, believes this advice—both go on to violate it for nearly 1,300 pages. But that opening remark haunts all that follows. Like so much fiction by Marías, Your Face Tomorrow returns again and again to the moral complications of storytelling: the hidden motives behind the stories we tell; the inevitable inaccuracies of language; the way that just listening to a story can

  • Then Came the Evening

    Brian Hart’s debut novel, Then Came the Evening, begins with a calamitous misunderstanding. Bandy Dorner, hungover and in trouble with two police officers, is told that his cabin burned down the night before. Bandy assumes his wife, Iona, was inside, and in a confused fury he shoots one of the cops, killing him. But Iona, we soon learn, did not die in the fire. She took off with her new man earlier that night—just after she burned down the cabin.

    The rest is fallout. From the early ’70s we fast-forward to 1990. Bandy’s son, Tracy, conceived not long before the fire, comes to visit his father

  • culture July 01, 2009

    Everything Matters! by Ron Currie Jr

    Ron Currie Jr. writes fiction that a Hollywood executive might call high-concept. His first book, God Is Dead (2007), imagines life on earth after God has taken human form—in Darfur, no less—and died. His second novel, Everything Matters!, tells the story of a young man called Junior, born in Maine in 1974, who is informed at birth by a voice in his head that the world will end roughly six months after his thirty-sixth birthday. Everything Matters! is largely free of sci-fi trappings and dwells frequently on familiar human dilemmas, but its “What if?”–style premise keeps the story moving. The

  • The Theory of Light and Matter

    Hole, the opening story in Andrew Porters debut collection, The Theory of Light and Matter, draws a blueprint for the nine that follow: A young man looks back on his suburban childhood, recalling the strange hole in his neighbors driveway and the day, a decade before, his friend climbed into it and died. The books other narrators struggle with the metaphoric gaps that manifest themselves in otherwise ordinary lives. “As he entered me for the first time, a woman says about her soon-to-be fiancé, it seemed that I had just opened up a hole in my life. A fathers decision to leave home had left a