This Novel Opens With a Suicide and a Suitcase of Cash. Then Things Get Really Interesting.

Of course, readers hoping for a quick-plotted crime drama might feel a little angry as each chapter backtracks to chronicle some new origin story, but they’ll be missing the real brilliance of this book: In its rejection of any fixed perspective, “The Comedown” is able to examine the reflexive and sometimes sloppy ways people construct an identity, how that identity changes over time and how that identity is often dramatically different from the way people are perceived from the outside. Take Leland, for example: Reggie thinks he’s as pitiful as…

Making the Language Strange, as Only Poetry Can Do

Hey Everythingtakes great effort. Image The text stutters, doubles back and corrects itself — and seems to include afterthoughts, alternate lines. In many of the poems, annotations appear along the right margin, in brackets and a paler typeface, commenting on and complicating the “real” poem. For example, one section of a poem called “To Hypnotize Space and Time” seems to end with the line “background to a tree” — the “real” last line? — but off to the right dangles this extra-poem part like a postscript: [antlered to another, wiredto…

9 New Books We Recommend This Week

SHE HAS HER MOTHER’S LAUGH: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity, by Carl Zimmer. (Dutton, $30.) Zimmer does a deep dive into the question of heredity, exploring everything from how genetic ancestry works to the thorny question of how race is defined, biologically. The book is Zimmer at his best: obliterating misconceptions about science in gentle prose. Our reviewer, Jennifer Raff, calls it an “extraordinary new book” that “uses history to offer a rigorous introduction to the basic principles of genetics” and “challenges our conventional wisdom about heredity, especially…

A Writer Takes On the French Intelligentsia Over Muslims

But is any of this true? I have to say that, in my estimation, none of it is true. I do not think that “revenge” adequately describes the terrorist motivation. Jihadi doctrine was the motivation. I do not think that Charlie Hebdo incites racism. Charlie Hebdo cultivates an obnoxious tone of schoolboy jeering. But it is a left-wing magazine, anti-Islamist and pro-immigrant, as you can see for yourself by reading a posthumous manifesto, “Open Letter,” by one of the murdered editors, Charb (with a lucid foreword by Adam Gopnik). Nor…

You can’t beat Biggles | Books | Entertainment

Moviestore Neil Dickson as Biggles in the film version CAN a fictional hero change the course of world history? Captain, Major and later Squadron Leader James Bigglesworth, DSO, DFC, MC, arguably did. The intrepid airman more commonly known as Biggles, who got out of more tight scrapes than Houdini while maintaining a stiff upper lip throughout, played a key role in Britain’s finest hour by inspiring a new generation of pilots to defend their country against the Luftwaffe in 1940. That was a source of great pride to Biggles’ creator,…

An Adolescence of Skateboards, Fistfights and Sexual Yearning, Turned Into Pure Poetry

WONDERLAND Poems By Matthew Dickman 74 pp. W. W. Norton & Company. $26.95. My first thought about the poems in Matthew Dickman’s new collection, “Wonderland,” was: Why doesn’t every poet write this way? That doesn’t mean that I want every poet to write irregular lines about his or her childhood, just that I wish others wrote with Dickman’s clarity and ability to engage. A friend who lives in another country said recently that “I am still baffled by America. … I cannot understand why there is such a love affair…

A Biography Charts an Odysseus Sidelined by Mental Illness

It is, oddly, in the sections of the book about mental illness — the book’s core, the passages that set Hall apart from a long line of star-crossed athletes, the Golden Fleece of Pilon’s own quest — that prove the least satisfying, and, occasionally, the most annoying. Image Early on, we learn that during his college years, Hall begins to be haunted by a persistent delusion: that his life is an ongoing “reality show,” with unseen cameras and microphones picking up his every move and utterance for the delectation of…

In Praise of Julia Alvarez

The truth is, the lives of the Garcías were not much like my own. I arrived in the United States when I was 3, so I could not relate to the traumas of being a new immigrant; I did not remember enough of the “old country” to truly yearn for it as they did. But I relished and latched on to everything I recognized: Spanish words or phrases specific to Dominican slang (“antojo”; “jamona”; “U’té que sabe”); the fact that everyone had a nickname (“Lolo”; “Mundín”); and that the parents…

What Would Shakespeare Have Made of Donald Trump?

TYRANT Shakespeare on PoliticsBy Stephen Greenblatt212 pp. W.W. Norton & Company. $21.95. Is Shakespeare our contemporary? Stephen Greenblatt would have us believe he is. Tormented by the rise to power of the current occupant of the White House, he has discerned in it a pattern chillingly reminiscent of that of the tyrants of the author whose work he has spent a lifetime studying. In groundbreaking books like “Hamlet in Purgatory” and “Will in the World,” he has, by exploring lesser-known areas of Elizabethan life and thought, thrown new light on…