Ruth Franklin’s most recent book, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, won the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography. (September 2020)

IN THE REVIEW

‘Life Peeled of Its Skin’

Celia Paul: Room and Tower, 2019

Strange Hotel

by Eimear McBride
“Yes I said yes I will Yes.” In high school, my earthy, fearless friend Lisa—who was two grades ahead of me and already initiated into the world of men and sexuality—had these words stenciled on her bedroom wall. As I learned from her, they constitute the most famous affirmation by …

L’Engle’s Cosmic Catechism

The Kairos Novels: The Wrinkle in Time and Polly O’Keefe Quartets

by Madeleine L’Engle, edited by Leonard S. Marcus

Penguins and Golden Calves: Icons and Idols in Antarctica and Other Unexpected Places

by Madeleine L’Engle, with a foreword by Charlotte Jones Voiklis
The author of A Wrinkle in Time appears to have been fighting a battle that was to her just as dire as the struggle between good and evil she so obsessively depicts: the struggle for her own soul.

Ladies of the Moon

Jokha Alharthi, London, May 2019

Celestial Bodies

by Jokha Alharthi, translated from the Arabic by Marilyn Booth
In an engrossing book published last spring called Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative, the Australian writer Jane Alison makes a trenchant observation about the “dramatic arc” long considered the foundation for plot. Swelling to a climax and then deflating, it resembles nothing so much as a phallus: …

Everyday Sadism

Kristen Roupenian, Ann Arbor, Michigan, January 2019

You Know You Want This: “Cat Person” and Other Stories

by Kristen Roupenian
It has happened only twice in nearly seventy years: a short story appears in The New Yorker and goes viral, setting off an avalanche of responses. Some readers, fooled by its up-to-date style, misinterpret it as a piece of reportage. Others attack the author as a sadist or a misanthrope.

The Decisive Moment

Joan Silber

Improvement

by Joan Silber
“Never again will a single story be told as though it were the only one,” John Berger wrote in his novel G. (1972). In the decades that have followed, that line has become a rallying cry for contemporary novelists, including Michael Ondaatje, Arundhati Roy, and, most famously, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

‘Just Make Sure You Don’t Forget’

Phillip Lopate’s mother, Frances Lopate, in a portrait made by a photographer who worked for Lincoln Studios, Newark, New Jersey, 1939

A Mother’s Tale

by Phillip Lopate
“Usually I try to get patients to confront their families, but in your case I would recommend putting several thousand miles between you and them,” a therapist told Phillip Lopate in 1980. Along with his older brother and their two younger sisters, Lopate had spent his childhood in Brooklyn as …

A Deep American Horror Exposed

A Book of American Martyrs

by Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates is sometimes spoken of as a novelist of sensationalism, her Gothic and morbid tendencies emphasized. In fact, her new book, A Book of American Martyrs, is a deeply political novel, all the more powerful for its many ambiguities.

Forced into a Double Life

Roger Cohen, New York City, 2009

The Girl from Human Street: Ghosts of Memory in a Jewish Family

by Roger Cohen
In The Girl from Human Street, Roger Cohen, a New York Times columnist whose previous books have investigated the stories of American POWs under the Nazis and the fate of four families in the former Yugoslavia, seeks to excavate the forces, both historical and personal, that shaped his own family.