Book review: ‘The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao’

This review originally ran in the Times Union in September 2007.

oscarwaoWow! Or should I say “Wao”?

Junot Diaz‘s long-awaited debut novel “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” (Riverhead Books; 335 pages; $24.95) is the best book I’ve read this year.

The story traces a fuku, or the “Curse and the Doom of the New World.” Oscar, an overweight first-generation New Jersey kid, is way into J.R.R. Tolkien,Japanese anime and science fiction (he’s writing aspace opera). But he and his family are cursed.

His grandfather, a respected doctor in the Dominican Republic in the 1950s, feared his beautiful teenage daughter would catch the eye of dictator-for-lifeRafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina. Trujillo ruled from 1930 to 1961 and was known to rape the daughters of prominent citizens.

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Book review: Harry Frankfurt’s ‘On B.S.’

The following book review originally appeared in the July 31, 2005, edition of the Albany Times Union. A recent op-ed in The Washington Post by Fareed Zakaria called “The unbearable stench of Trump’s B.S.” references the book in describing the extreme lack of concern for the truth in statements from the Republican presidential candidate. The book, though, isn’t about Trump in general; rather, it is a challenge to everyone to examine how we may add to the world’s B.S. through our own contributions or by allowing others to get away with it.

k7929‘Hot air’ philosophy brings world into focus
By Michael Janairo

For reasons that will be obvious, the title — and thus the subject — of the book in this review cannot be printed in its entirety in a family friendly newspaper such as the Times Union.

That word (think bovine excrement), the author writes, is sometimes replaced by humbug, balderdash, claptrap, hokum, drivel, buncombe, imposture or quackery . But the book rightly calls these words “less intense” and suggests they have more to do with “considerations of gentility” than the phenomenon to which they refer. They lack the sharpness and subversion inherent in the vulgarity.

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Book review: “Honeymooners: A Cautionary Tale” by Chuck Kinder

book-7121This review first appeared in the Albany Times Union (August 11, 2001)

Hilarious, loving characters in ‘Honeymooners’

Chuck Kinder’s first novel since “The Silver Ghost,” in 1978, “Honeymooners: A Cautionary Tale” ($24; Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 358 pages), is a hilarious, yet unflinching, eyes-against-the-windshield journey through years of booze, drugs, sex, friendships, lies and betrayals in the lives of a pair of promising young writers.

The freewheeling 1970s that Kinder recreates, mostly in the San Francisco Bay area, belong within the literary tradition of the moveable feast Hemingway created out of Paris in the ’20s. Kinder’s writers, Ralph Crawford and Jim Stark, live “like bold outlaw authors on the lam from that gloomy tedium called ordinary life.” Kinder both celebrates and sends up their bravura and recklessness.

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