Nothing Remains the Same: Rereading and Remembering

Wendy Lesser, Author
Wendy Lesser, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $24 (256p) ISBN 978-0-618-08293-3
Reviewed on: 05/06/2002
Release date: 05/01/2002
Prebound-Sewn - 978-1-4177-1727-9
Paperback - 256 pages - 978-0-618-34081-1
Open Ebook - 256 pages - 978-0-547-34689-2
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Lesser is the founding editor of the Threepenny Review and author of Pictures at an Execution: An Inquiry into the Subject of Murder and His Other Half: Men Looking at Women Through Art (among other titles). She defines herself here as a ""self-employed, self-designated arbiter of cultural taste,"" but few of these 15 short essays match the intensity of her best work. Lack of enthusiasm repeatedly becomes the point here: one essay begins: ""I was never very fond of either Pope or Wordsworth,"" while another notes ""it was only when I found that both Anna Karenina and Middlemarch had failed to work their magic on me, this time around, that my diminished reaction took on a potential interest."" James Joyce's Ulysses fails to compel. The tone throughout is unrelievedly personal (""Antony and Cleopatra was my favorite for a long time, and I still think it is one of Shakespeare's greatest plays""), which works well when the subject is close to home, as with Hitchcock's Vertigo, set in her home city: ""My own ghost, in relation to this movie my own Carlotta, if you will is San Francisco.... Like Scotty, I am mourning a beloved who never really existed."" Essays on John Milton, Henry Adams and George Orwell aim middle-to-low on the brow, sometimes with a dash of odd coyness: in a chapter on modern British novelist Ian McEwan, Lesser mentions a decade-old review she wrote of one of his books, stating, ""I will spare you the entire review"" and then goes on to quote a page and a half of it. Potential readers would do well to stick to the prolific Lesser's fresher and more enthusiastic The Amateur: An Independent Life of Letters. (May)
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