“Why are you telling me this?” A friend often poses this dry and disconcerting question to the stories, fictional and otherwise, that come her way. Of all the reasons someone may tell a story—and there are many more than Cicero’s famous three, “to teach, to please, to move”—surely the most …
It only makes sense that a novelist of such long tenure, one so preoccupied with the slippery nature of time, should actually write a novel on the subject of “prolepsis”—the anticipation of future events. Margaret Drabble uses the adjectival form of the word frequently in her new novel, beginning with the first sentence: “What she felt for those children, as she was to realize some years later, was a proleptic tenderness.” When one notices its insistent reuse, by a writer of such verbal precision, consulting the dictionary seems a good idea.
Andrea Barrett is a splendid writer of what, for lack of any better term, we call literary fiction; Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the extremely popular memoir Eat, Pray, Love, is an energetic scribbler. Barrett writes of science and scientists from profound understanding and passion, exploring how scientific reason and human feeling collide and illuminate one another. Gilbert’s novel is another matter.
I usually have no patience for “happy family” literature, not to mention the contemporary habit of adults reading mediocre books for “young adults,” whoever they might be. But when I read Astrid Lindgren’s Seacrow Island (1964), for the first time this spring, I liked it so much that I consumed it slowly, like a savored cake. A month later I read it again, perhaps even more deliberately. It is a beautiful book, for adult readers as well as the children to whom it could be read.
The knowledge that I was only one of a crowd of children devoted to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s stories of American pioneer life could not have altered the intensity of my personal attachment to the brave, and often surprisingly lonely, heroine, the girl Laura whose travels with her family take her from the Big Woods of Wisconsin to Indian Territory (Kansas); then to Minnesota and, finally, Dakota Territory, in the years from 1869 to 1883. By fifteen, I was already nostalgic for Laura’s world and for my eight-year-old self who had first discovered it.
As with many classics, if Beatrix Potter’s tales have become invisibly “charming,” it is time to return to them and see them anew. The Tale of Two Bad Mice captures perfectly not only Potter’s “subversive” side with respect to bourgeois society, but more primitively, her reworking of what we must surmise are the frustrations of her youth.
Is it possible to feel more ambivalent than I do about Orange Is the New Black? I love the actors and I especially love that it is about a culture of women. It is good to see a light shed on the disgraceful situation of prisons in this country. But the experience of being entertained by this soap opera—which is often extremely funny—turns us into tourists of suffering.