Threepenny Review and author of Pictures at an Execution: An Inquiry into the Subject of Murder
 

NOTHING REMAINS THE SAME: Rereading and Remembering

Wendy Lesser, Author
Wendy Lesser, Author . Houghton Mifflin $24 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4177-1727-9
Hardcover - 256 pages - 978-0-618-08293-3
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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