Magazine article The New Yorker

[ Briefly Noted ]

Magazine article The New Yorker

[ Briefly Noted ]

Article excerpt

The White Rose, by Jean Hanff Korelitz (Miramax; $24.95). This novel transfers the plot of "Der Rosenkavalier" from Vienna to pre-millennial Manhattan. The Marschallin of the opera has become a professor at Columbia, married and nearing fifty, who is also the author of a best-selling book about an eighteenth-century courtesan. The Marschallin's lover, Octavian, is, in this version, a young florist. The precipitating event is her social-climbing cousin's announcement of his engagement to a graduate student in her department who is from an elite New York family. Things get more complicated when the florist, suitably armed with roses, falls for the same girl. The series of coincidental meetings and near-misses that ensues strains credulity more on the page than it does when sung. Still, Korelitz is alert both to New York's social geometry and to the melancholy that underlies the glittering surface of her model.

The Geographer's Library, by Jon Fasman (Penguin Press; $24.95). Fasman's debut novel features one Paul Tomm, a reporter who, while poking around a quiet New England village on the obituary beat, stumbles upon clues to the demise of a local professor. He receives anonymous warnings to back off--most notably, a bloody molar pinned to his front door--but refuses to abandon his scoop. Alternating with the murder-mystery story line are cryptic chapters detailing the powers of the fifteen talismans of alchemy said to have been stolen, in 1154, from the Muslim cartographer, librarian, and mystic al-Idrisi. The gradual convergence of the two narratives is satisfying, but when, at the climax, Tomm beans an intruder with a baseball, bathos threatens. The novel is inventive and spirited but, like its protagonist, prematurely ambitious.

John Adams, by James Grant (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; $30). …

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