Magazine article The New Yorker

[ Briefly Noted ]

Magazine article The New Yorker

[ Briefly Noted ]

Article excerpt

Pinkerton's Sister, by Peter Rushforth. (MacAdam/Cage; $26). Rushforth's second novel, which took him twenty-five years to write, is set in Edwardian New York and takes place on a single day, largely in the avid mind of its heroine, Alice Pinkerton, a bibliophilic spinster with a stammer and a penchant for dressing in white. Something of a cross between Harriet the Spy and Jane Eyre, she passes her days devising ways to expose "the humorless of Longfellow Park," as epitomized by her nemesis, the dowager Mrs. Albert Comstock. She is regarded, unsurprisingly, as the neighborhood eccentric and undergoes various period cures, like hypnotism. Rushforth weaves Alice's often fantastical musings together with bits of the classics, popular novels, doggerel, and even advertisements for dentures and corsets. Although the author's reliance on allusion occasionally shades into the merely curatorial, his novel constitutes an epic inquiry into literature's role as an engine of interior life.

The Swimmer, by Zsuzsa Bank, translated from the German by Margot Bettauer Dembo (Harcourt; $23). In a sequence of dreamlike episodes, Bank reveals the complicated inner lives of a young sister and brother in nineteen-fifties Hungary, who, after their mother abandons them to flee to the West, are led on a strange trek around the country by their devastated father. He becomes obsessed with swimming and takes them into the water no matter what the weather. As they travel, the girl builds up imaginary friendships with passing strangers, and her brother talks to stones and the sky. Bank's interest in how the imagination can fill absence and longing with charms and portents is grounded in exceptional powers of description.

Wedding of the Waters, by Peter L. Bernstein (Norton; $24.95). In the early eighteen-hundreds, the wild idea began to circulate of a man-made waterway that would connect Lake Erie to the Hudson River. …

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