Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Article excerpt

Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, by Vendela Vida (Ecco; $23.95). In this slim, dour novel, a twenty-eight-year-old editor of film subtitles discovers on her father's death that he is not her biological parent: her mother, who abandoned her as a teen-ager, had been married to another man. Feeling betrayed by her fiance, who has known about the deception for years, she abruptly leaves him to search for her real father in the northern reaches of Finland. Vida gives the icy landscape an eerie, forbidding beauty, and her writing has moments of great emotional acuity. Her heroine is inexplicable and often unlikable, but Vida skillfully draws a parallel between her harsh and thoughtless behavior and that of her mother. Unfortunately, this makes the ending, which intimates that one's problems may be easily shed, along with one's past, seem both hurried and unearned.

Julius Winsome, by Gerard Donovan (Overlook; $23.95). The title character of this unsettling novel lives alone in the deep woods of Maine, home to men "who cannot live anywhere else." Fifty-one and never married, Julius remains in the remote cabin where he grew up, with only the company of his dog, Hobbes, and thousands of books left him by his father. When Hobbes is shot at close range by a deer hunter, inchoate rage drives Julius out of his isolation to track down the killer. In past novels, Donovan has resorted to literary effects to make points about man's capacity for violence; here he settles for the clean punch of language, which he delivers with devastating force. In prose laced with hard-edged Shakespeareanisms--"amort," "blood-boltered," "cullion"--he pursues the nature of human cruelty, the reason that "some men must create pain in others to feel less of it themselves."

Copperheads, by Jennifer L. Weber (Oxford; $28). The threat posed by the Northerners known (first derogatively, then proudly) as the Copperheads, or Peace Democrats, has been underplayed by historians, but, as Weber writes in this nuanced history, by 1864 it was almost enough to bring Lincoln down. …

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