Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Speed Reader

By Blake de pastino, Jeffrey Lee, Stephen Ausherman and Angie Drobnic

OCTOBER 20, 1997: 

Surburban Discipline
by Peter Lang and Tam Miller, eds. (Princeton Architectural Press, paper, $14.95)

Suburbia is so intriguing to some people that it often seems too complex to be captured with words--kind of like what St. Augustine said about God. The best evidence of this is Suburban Discipline, an anthology of 13 essays about suburbia, which alternates between glorious insight and dismal failure. Co-editor Peter Lang offers one of the best outings, a graspable think-piece on "The Occulted Suburb," and Paul Mattingly does an excellent job of wondering why academics (like himself) look down on the surburbs so much. But these pieces are offset by some real intellectual tongue-twisters, like one soporific bit about the Appalachian Trail and another that argues how billboards have "up-ended the Kantian category of passionate contemplation." (Is the author speaking in tongues?) Suburbia is a sight to behold, it's true, but some of these writers seem a little too awe-struck by it all. (BdeP)

Kafka Was the Rage
by Anatole Broyard (Vintage, paper, $11)

Anatole Broyard's arch, over-literary memoir of Greenwhich Village in the late '40s is populated, as it should be, by alienated postwar poets and young Abstract Expressionists misbehaving in the San Remo Bar. Mostly, though, it's populated by one Sheri, whose activities in and out of bed are the sweaty focus of Broyard's reminiscences. His memories are not fond--in fact, they're pretty sour. The natural disdain he expresses for his 20-year-old self tends to spread to Sheri and everyone else he writes about, so that rather than sounding candid he just sounds mean. And his ornate prose style doesn't make matters easier. It's a relic of the '40s and a reminder of what Kerouac's lightweight, expansive sentences were designed to purge when he began to revise literary history not too many years after the period Broyard writes about. (JL)

by Bruce Fleming (Turtle Point Press, paper, $13.95)

Ever had an English professor who expounded for hours on the meaning of a passage that otherwise seemed irrelevant to the story? Twilley seems like a book written by that professor, only there's no story, really, just meaning in the form of hyperextended allusions, metaphors, references and subreferences, each set off with an interruptive bold-faced heading. At its most basic level, Twilley is a man's journey from a department store bathroom to a lake, and the sights along the way are exactly what most people would ignore, such as a five-page description of a subway vent.

What makes this book interesting is the force of language that magnifies the most insignificant details. It's like seeing pond water under a microscope for the first time. The descriptions are rich and poetic, but the complete lack of dialogue makes this reading as compelling as the rambling lectures of a professor approaching senility: enlightening at times, though mostly tedious. (SA)

The Death of the Banker
by Ron Chernow (Vintage, paper, $12)

This engaging history of the fall of the banker and the rise of the financier makes for a pleasant, witty read. Clocking in at a mere 130 pages, author Ron Chernow proves that brevity is the soul of wit as he jauntily chronicles financial gurus like the Rothschilds, Baring Brothers, J.P. Morgan and others. His thesis is that these men are of an extinct breed, and that their dynasties have fractured into thousands of small investors. As he moves his tale along, the reader is treated to interesting tidbits of financial history: for instance, during one of the first public stock offerings at Barings in London, some members of the huge crowd tied their applications to stones and literally threw them through the bank's open windows. Chernow's book shows the world of financing in a quirky and revealing light. (AD)

--reviews by Blake de Pastino, Jeffrey Lee, Stephen Ausherman and Angie Drobnic

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