Hermione Lee is President of Wolfson College, Oxford. Her most recent book is Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life.
 (June 2016)

IN THE REVIEW

A Poet Unlike Any Other

Stevie Smith, March 1966

All the Poems

by Stevie Smith, edited and with an introduction by Will May
Forty-five years after her death, Stevie Smith can be celebrated as a major English poet of the twentieth century. She is a writer of astonishing skill, range, comedy, and depth of feeling; she is inimitable, strange, and utterly original. With her poetry collected as a whole, it becomes more apparent too that though she is a funny writer—funny-ha-ha and funny-peculiar—her work is melancholy and despairing, full of pain, terror, and grief.

Alice Munro’s Magic

Alice Munro, early 1980s

Family Furnishings: Selected Stories, 1995–2014

by Alice Munro
The slow-burning fuse that is an Alice Munro story frequently hides, then exposes, something violent, shameful, or sensational. Down-and-out characters struggling on the edges, psychopathic killers, vindictive children or vengeful old people, abused women, passionately self-abnegating lovers, irresponsible adulterers, horrible acts of cruelty, startlingly show up inside these domestic, realistic narratives.

He Gave ‘the Mundane Its Beautiful Due’

John Updike, Beverly Farms, Massachusetts, 1987

Updike

by Adam Begley

The Collected Stories: Collected Early Stories, Collected Later Stories

by John Updike, edited by Christopher Carduff
For over half a century, John Updike transformed everyday America into lavishly eloquent and observant language. This—even more than his virtuoso writing about sex, his close readings of adultery and husbandly guilt, his tracking of American social politics, his philosophizing on time and the universe—is his great signature tune.

Willa Cather: A Hidden Voice

Willa Cather at the Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde, Colorado, 1915

The Selected Letters of Willa Cather

edited by Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout
In the past quarter of a century, fierce Cather wars have raged in the American literary and scholarly world, not entirely unlike the battles that are fought over Jane Austen’s legacy. The celebration of Cather as an American pastoralist, a kind of midwestern Robert Frost, which greeted her books when they were published, still continues. Since her death in 1947, many readers still take her to their hearts as the standardbearer of a sentimental nostalgia for vanished American values. It is an appropriation at odds with the harshness, violence, and cold truthfulness that run like dark steel through the calm, lyric simplicity of her writing.

Finding a Very Secret Self

Colm Tóibín, New York City, April 2007

New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers and Their Families

by Colm Tóibín

The Testament of Mary

by Colm Tóibín
Every so often, in his captivating new collection of essays, New Ways to Kill Your Mother, Colm Tóibín allows himself moments of general (and perhaps also personal) meditation and commentary. Here are two of the strangest. The first is the opening of a vivid, compassionate essay on Hart Crane: There …

The Terrors of the Woman President

Joyce Carol Oates, Princeton, New Jersey, 1981

Mudwoman

by Joyce Carol Oates
There is a landscape of murk and junk, dark water and black mud, trash and detritus and debris, desolate woods, rickety bridges over ugly rivers, rust and barbed wire, that lurks under a lot of Joyce Carol Oates’s writing. It’s a landscape where human beings can barely survive and that they have to struggle out of, but it’s always there, waiting to suck you down and back. It’s a good location for a creepy Gothic writer like Oates, who loves dank basements, the slimy grasp of the unconscious, horrors in the night.

Storms Over the Novel

The Curtain: An Essay in Seven Parts

by Milan Kundera, translated from the French by Linda Asher

Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel

by Jane Smiley
What good is the novel, the long story told in prose? Hegel called the contingent, the everyday, the mutable, “the prose of the world,” as opposed to “the spiritual, the transcendent, the poetic.” “Prosaic” can mean plain, ordinary, commonplace, even dull. Prose fiction, historians of the novel tell us, has …