Briefly Rated Book Reviews | The New Yorker
Late city, by Robert Olen Butler (Atlantic Monthly). This retrospective novel warns of the political consequences of failures of personal insight. On election night 2016, God visits the deathbed of Sam Cunningham, who, at the age of one hundred and fifteen, is the last living veteran of the First World War. D Chicago newspaper. Cunningham prides himself on his keen sense of journalist, but comes to realize that “I reported but did not see” – remaining tragically oblivious to the intimate truths about himself and those close to him.
Assembly, by Natasha Brown (Petit, Brown). The narrator of this crisp debut novel is a young black British woman, the child of Jamaican immigrants, who has a lucrative job in finance, a new apartment decorated with art, and a chic boyfriend. But, as she examines her life, success leaves her empty. The novel takes place in a piecemeal fashion, emphasizing her alienation, as she ruminates on racism and sexual harassment. In addition to being a judicious exploration of the psychological toll of generational trauma and colonial legacies, the book is also, thanks to its biting humor, a broad critique of the absurdity of contemporary life.
God, Human, Animal, Machine, by Meghan O’Gieblyn (Doubleday). Having abandoned Christian fundamentalism, the author of this survey on human-machine interactions embarks on a quest for meaning. Her pursuit leads her to the transhumanist movement, whose followers believe a natural continuation of evolution requires our minds to be transferred to supercomputers, effectively making us immortal. The promise of resurrection and immortality aptly replaces Christian eschatology and leaves O’Gieblyn with further questions about how we define consciousness. After delving into other philosophies and giving a room to an adorable robot dog, she discovers that consciousness “was not a substance in the brain, but rather emerged from the complex relations between the subject and the world”.
The history of bones, by John Lurie (Random House). The prolific author, musician, actor and painter, guides – or, more often, catapults – readers through the artistic and musical scenes of eighties New York in this wild and entertaining memoir. In a style that suggests a prolonged monologue, Lurie shares the ups and downs with the same verve. His stories often take a dramatic turn: a warm friendship with Jean-Michel Basquiat turns into a bitter quarrel; a trip to the fish market for a photoshoot suddenly veers into eel strangulation, only for the seemingly dead creature to attempt a Rasputin-like escape. In a chapter entitled “Paris. Vomiting and Then More Vomiting ”, a musical triumph followed by a diagnosis of hepatitis.