Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Magazine article The New Yorker

Briefly Noted

Article excerpt

The Cold Six Thousand, by James Ellroy (Knopf; $25.95). Ellroy's prose is easy to absorb sentence by sentence, thanks to his simple subject-verb-object constructions, but monstrous as it acquires cumulative force over hundreds of pages. This bruiser of a novel picks up Ellroy's deeply pessimistic history lesson where his last, "American Tabloid," left off, with the murder of J.F.K., and builds toward the twin tragedies of the King and Robert Kennedy killings. Though characters reappear--most notably, the hit man Pete Bondurant and the Mob lawyer Ward Littell--there's no comfort in the familiar faces. In fact, there's no comfort at all. The novel is an exhausting, masochistic, often revelatory rereading of the allegedly idealistic sixties-- an assassination, finally, of the decade rather than of its leaders.

Sister Crazy, by Emma Richler (Pantheon; $22). In these interconnected stories, which have the spiky specificity of memoir and the layered nuance of fiction, four charming siblings journey into adulthood while their middle sister is left behind--in a netherworld brightened by the lure of sharp objects and the glow of the filled wineglass. But, unlike most tales of family dysfunction, Richler's is a romance, a dense mythology of Westerns and Arthurian loyalties and perplexing Catholic rituals; adult life pales, almost fatally, in comparison. Comic, poignant, and terrifying, these unusual stories expose the dangers of loving one's loving family too much to break free of it.

Daughters of Britannia, by Katie Hickman (Morrow; $25). The author, a travel writer who is the daughter of an English diplomat, draws on both family memories and archives to examine the experiences of British women who, from the seventeenth century on, were sent abroad with tacit orders that amounted to blackmail: behave if you want your husband to succeed in the foreign service. …

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