Bookbeat: July 2009

Life Between Two DeathsLife Between Two Deaths: 1989–2001: U.S. Culture in the Long Nineties

by Phillip E. Wegner
(2009, Duke University Press)
Available through Amazon

Through virtuoso readings of significant works of American film, television, and fiction, Phillip E. Wegner demonstrates that the period between the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the bombing of the World Trade Center in September 2001 fostered a unique consciousness and represented a moment of immense historical possibilities now at risk of being forgotten in the midst of the “war on terror.” Wegner argues that 9/11 should be understood as a form of what Jacques Lacan called the “second death,” an event that repeats an earlier “fall,” in this instance the collapse of the Berlin Wall. By describing 9/11 as a repetition, Wegner does not deny its significance. Rather, he argues that it was only with the fall of the Towers that the symbolic universe of the Cold War was finally destroyed and a true “New World Order,” in which the United States assumed disturbing new powers, was put into place.

Wegner shows how phenomena including the debate on globalization, neoliberal notions of the end of history, the explosive growth of the Internet, the efflorescence of new architectural and urban planning projects, developments in literary and cultural production, new turns in theory and philosophy, and the rapid growth of the antiglobalization movement came to characterize the long nineties. He offers readings of some of the most interesting cultural texts of the era: Don DeLillo’s White Noise, Joe Haldeman’s Forever trilogy, Octavia Butler’s Parable novels, the Terminator films, Fight Club, Independence Day, Cape Fear, Ghost Dog, and the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In so doing, he illuminates fundamental issues concerning narrative, such as how beginnings and endings are recognized and how relationships between events are constructed.

Heroic MeasuresHeroic Measures

by Jill Ciment
(2009, Pantheon)
Available through Amazon

A gasoline tanker truck is “stuck” in the Midtown Tunnel. New Yorkers are panicked . . . . Is this the next big attack?

Alex, an artist, and Ruth, a former schoolteacher with an FBI file as thick as a dictionary, must get their beloved dachshund, whose back legs have suddenly become paralyzed, to the animal hospital sixty blocks north. But the streets of Manhattan are welded with traffic. Their dog, Dorothy, twelve-years-old and gray-faced, is the emotional center of Alex and Ruth's forty-five-year-long childless marriage. Using a cutting board as a stretcher, they ferry the dog uptown.

This is also the weekend that Alex and Ruth must sell their apartment. While house hunters traipse through it during their open house, husband and wife wait by the phone to hear from the animal hospital. During the course of forty-eight hours, as the missing truck driver terrorizes the city, the price of their apartment becomes a barometer for collective hope and despair, as the real estate market spikes and troughs with every breaking news story.

In shifting points of view—Alex’s, Ruth’s, and the little dog’s—man, woman, and one small tenacious beast try to make sense of the cacophony of rumors, opinions, and innuendos coming from news anchors, cable TV pundits, pollsters, bomb experts, hostages, witnesses, real estate agents, house hunters, bargain seekers, howling dogs, veterinarians, nurses, and cab drivers.

A moving, deftly told novel of ultrahigh-urban anxiety.

- Publisher

One D.O.A., One on the Way: A NovelOne D.O.A., One on the Way: A Novel

by Mary Robison
(2009, Pantheon)
Available through Amazon

From the house author and long-time favorite "writer's writer," the effortlessly smart, deliriously off-kilter story of an extended New Orleans family trying to reclaim a shadow of their former selves.

Mary Robison, author of Why Did I Ever-winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction, a New York Times Notable Book, and Book Sense 76 Pick- has written a new novel that is certain to gather as much attention and wild acclaim.

The story opens on Jay, a location scout for a movie production company. It's the easiest job in the world; at the end of the day, she says, they should just ask her how it went and say "Super. Sounds like you had a good time." She is complacently married to Alt, who has just been diagnosed with a grave illness and gone back to his palatial family home, back to the care of his parents.

Which is just fine with Jay-or so she tells herself at the start. But standing left of center of this still prosperous but mortally wounded family does not get easier as the weeks wear on. As she tries to negotiate her way around the anger of Saunders, Alt's despised twin brother; maintain her friendship with Petal, his beautiful wife; and protect what's left of the innocence of Collie, the niece caught in the middle, Jay finds more than the Louisiana heat getting to be oppressive.

With her trademark biting humor and breathtaking facility with language, Mary Robison thus sets the stage for a beguiling Southern Gothic sure to delight both her fanatical following and new readers alike..


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