Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Article excerpt

Seeing, by Jose Saramago, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa (Harcourt; $25). Saramago's sombre masterpiece "Blindness" had an almost mythic power, whereas his latest novel, a political satire set in the same nameless capital city, opens with more wit and less heart. When Election Day coincides with a terrible rainstorm, the government worries that no one will venture out to vote. This fear is unfounded, but the election results are even more alarming: seventy per cent of the city's voters have cast a blank ballot. Saramago has enormous fun imagining the official acrobatics precipitated by this apparent vote of no confidence, and, as the political hypocrisies and bureaucratic absurdities multiply, the narrative hums with correspondences to current events. Initially, readers may miss the previous novel's intensity of feeling, but this one's lightness proves deceptive: for Saramago's beleaguered citizens, even thoughts never uttered can be fatal, and everyone is guilty until otherwise notified.

Sono, by Sarah Arvio (Knopf; $23). The poems in Arvio's second collection are described as cantos, and they show almost as much allusive range as those of Pound himself. Written in pithy, often playful tercets, these verses (many set in Rome, where Arvio has a home) frequently begin with a simple string of words that serves as the basis for assonant riffing; "I was wandering in a quandary" becomes "and never without a qualm or a pang, / and thinking of taking a quantum leap / out of my quondam life and into yours." Arvio deploys insights from philosophy, psychology, and physics, but a constant preoccupation is that language constructs the things it attempts to describe, and in this her clearest forebear is Stevens, to whose "palm at the end of the mind" she alludes in the first and final poems.

Sweet and Low, by Rich Cohen (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; $25). …

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