“Eastman Was Here follows Alan Eastman, a washed up author who turns to Saigon for the swan song that will save his career and his marriage. Set in the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War, the book highlights the type of authors who have cast a spell on us at some point—manly men boasting manly emotions, who dissolve their Pain in drugs, women and prose. These are writers descended from Hemingway’s poisonous line, but with a more urbane spin, like Roth, Updike, Irving, Mailer and their peers. You know, the stereotypical novelists who were the accolade-winning dicks in the American post-war literary scene.
We’ve all been suffering in their long, dark shadows ever since.”
“Pathogens are among the most ancient, numerous and powerful forms of life (and near-life) on the planet. These replication machines possess the power to shape not only our societies, but all life on earth. From the benign to the lethal, viruses, bacteria, prions and other disease-causing agents are the perfect literary subjects.”
“Any discussion of male loneliness must begin with two caveats. The first is that our loneliness cannot be the fault of women; this is no fedora-wearing, MRA message board polemic. The second is that the issues which may exacerbate loneliness are our own fault, stemming from concepts of masculinity that have given us a pretty good shake for millennia.
Modern American Masculinity is the one I know best, and it feels defined by stoicism, by beards and guns and backwards Flexfit baseball caps. Such atavistic ideas can be deeply alluring; I know, because I have felt them, too. So when a man who defines himself by his Modern American Masculinity is presented with something corrosive like loneliness, he can either sacrifice a part of that masculinity and express his emotional pain or internalize it and immolate with rage. One guess as to what choice many men make.”
“Feral’s fatal flaw is that it’s built around a simple but powerful idea: that men—who already rape, kill, beat, threaten, humiliate—simply give in as ferals to this horrifying undercurrent of aggression. The novel had a chance to allow men to see themselves for the threat they can so easily be. What Feraldelivers instead is social issue lip service atop a standard issue “end of the world as we know it” warning shot of a story—slight, fast, loud and glancing.”
“Even if some of the story beats sound familiar, their placement in Wuertz’s Seoul, where hair gleams “like the belly of a giant tuna” and drinks arrive “one after the other like the next turn on the disco ball” even as American GIs tear families apart and agitators are whisked away in black cars, renders them new.
The novel reveals an exciting place and time, in the catalytic sense, and all the more-so for us as visitors who are surrounded by its echoes—class, sex, race—even now.”
“Reputations is not quite a repudiation of the media’s power to suck the marrow from others. But by bringing Mallarino to a savage collision with the moment that afforded the cartoonist his prominence, Vásquez warns of the fragility inherent in such power. He’s calling into question whether the powers given to us—both by others and, perhaps more importantly, by ourselves—can ever come from a place of true honesty.”
“Which is not to say that anything in here is particularly graphic; in fact, McCann goes to great lengths to bury the brutality—both in the actual writing of the book and, in one memorable instance, notionally within the character. McCann focuses not on the point of impact, but on the fissures from which it spreads by avoiding the easiest, most lusty evocation of beautiful violence—say, Bret Easton Ellis’ delicious horror. If it prevents the violence from truly, deeply, ineffably impacting the reader, so too does it rob the savagery of rhetorical hegemony, the shock preventing an examination of its effects, the same animal excitement with which we cheer action heroes or football players or videogame characters.”
“Perhaps it is the endless parade of titles from either side of the turn of the 20th century or the frequent allusions to reading as an older pleasure that leads one to feel that the bookman of Dirda’s stripe is an endangered creature, doomed to wander amongst the stacks of forgotten novels until one day the bones between the boxes resemble the much adored paper between the covers.
This could not be further from the truth. A cursory glance at the endless supply of book-themed articles, quizzes, lists and ephemera offered by such a new media institution as BuzzFeed proves the idea wrong. These are typically not reviews, literary criticism or even essays; they often appear to have little to do with the written word at all.
But they are a new generation—a new medium—bathed in books, the browsings of a culture of literary polymaths and ambassadors like Dirda have begot.”