Heller McAlpin

Heller McAlpin is a New York-based critic who reviews books regularly for NPR.org, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The San Francisco Chronicle and other publications.

Pages

7:03am

Wed March 27, 2013
Books

Learning 'Life' Lessons With McCorkle's Seniors

Originally published on Wed March 27, 2013 1:18 pm

promo image
iStockphoto.com

Amid a literary landscape increasingly rife with metafictional and postmodern high jinks, Jill McCorkle's sixth novel, Life After Life, is as resolutely down to earth and unpretentious as the hot-dog franchise owned by one of her characters. For her first novel in 17 years, McCorkle has dared to write a heartwarmer that takes place largely in a retirement home and stresses the importance of good old-fashioned kindness.

Read more

7:03am

Tue March 26, 2013
Book Reviews

Can This Hypercomplex 'Leopard' Change Its Spots?

What's a reader to believe, especially when confronted with an unreliable narrator? Which of the many versions spun by the self-confessed liar and aspiring writer in Kristopher Jansma's far-flung, deliberately far-fetched, hyper-inventive first novel, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, should we buy? Does the seductive actress he pines for marry a) an Indian geologist on the edge of the Grand Canyon; b) a Japanese royal; or c) a Luxembourg prince?

Read more

7:03am

Thu March 7, 2013
Book Reviews

A New Focus On An Old Image In 'Mary Coin'

Do you remember those school assignments where you were asked to make up a story based on a picture? With Mary Coin, Marisa Silver looks long and hard at an image that has been seared into our nation's consciousness — Dorothea Lange's iconic Depression-era photograph "Migrant Mother" — and compassionately imagines the lives behind it. The result is a fresh angle on the Great Depression and a lesson in learning how to really look and see.

Read more

7:03am

Thu February 14, 2013
Book Reviews

Secrets, Lies And The Allure Of The Illicit

iStockphoto.com

By the time Wendy Plump learned from a friend that her husband had a longtime mistress and an 8-month-old son living just a mile away, their union was already pockmarked with the scars of adultery — both his and hers. She divulges all this and more in Vow, her at times jaw-droppingly frank but ultimately instructive post-mortem on their 18-year marriage.

Read more

7:03am

Tue February 5, 2013
Book Reviews

Writing Well Is The Wronged Wife's Revenge In 'See Now Then'

Originally published on Tue February 5, 2013 8:42 am

Jamaica Kincaid, author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, lives in Vermont.
Kenneth Noland Farrar, Straus and Giroux

On one level, See Now Then, Jamaica Kincaid's first novel in a decade, is a lyrical, interior meditation on time and memory by a devoted but no longer cherished wife and mother going about the daily business of taking care of her home and family in a small New England town. But it is also one of the most damning retaliations by a jilted wife since Nora Ephron's Heartburn. See Now Then reads as if Gertrude Stein and Virginia Woolf had collaborated on a heartbroken housewife's lament that reveals an impossible familiarity with Heartburn and Evan S.

Read more

7:03am

Mon December 3, 2012
Best Books Of 2012

Finder's Keepers: 2012's Stories To Hang On To

Originally published on Thu December 6, 2012 12:05 pm

Nishant Choksi

Part of a book critic's challenge is to sift through piles of new publications, panning for literary gold. In a way that makes us what one of my favorite children's book heroines, Astrid Lindgren's Pippi Longstocking, called a "turnupstuffer" — "Somebody who finds the stuff that turns up if only you look." Or like Dickens' optimistic Mr. Micawber, who was always sure something good would turn up.

Read more

7:03am

Tue November 20, 2012
Book Reviews

Famous Father Had Highest 'Expectations'

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

You would think, wouldn't you, that the man who created such heartrendingly sympathetic children as Oliver Twist, Pip, Tiny Tim and poor Little Nell would be a stupendous father. Well, the Charles Dickens who emerges from Robert Gottlieb's Great Expectations, a compulsively readable if occasionally repetitive account of what happened to the great writer's brood of seven sons and three daughters, is not so wonderful.

Read more

7:03am

Tue November 13, 2012
Book Reviews

Delicious Deceit Abounds In McEwan's 'Sweet Tooth'

Originally published on Tue November 13, 2012 2:49 pm

Ian McEwan's other books include Solar, For You and On Chesil Beach.
Eamonn McCabe Courtesy of Nan A. Talese/Doubleday

Ian McEwan's 15th book of fiction, Sweet Tooth, is a Tootsie Roll Pop of a literary confection — hard-boiled candy enrobing a chewy surprise at its core. The novel is set 40 years ago, when communism was still perceived as a threat, and takes its title from a fictional clandestine mission by Britain's MI5 intelligence service to sponsor writers espousing the Cold Warrior cause.

Read more

7:03am

Tue November 6, 2012
Book Reviews

'Flight Behavior' Weds Issues To A Butterfly Narrative

Luis Acosta AFP/Getty Images

Barbara Kingsolver's commitment to literature promoting social justice runs so deep that in 1998 she established the Bellwether Prize (now the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction) to encourage it.

Read more

7:03am

Tue September 25, 2012
Book Reviews

'All Gone' Offers Disappointing Take On Hot Topic

Courtesy of Riverhead Books

The best memoirs transcend the strictly personal. New York Times columnist Alex Witchel's book All Gone, about one of the hottest topics among baby boomers — caring for our aging parents — comes across as boomerish in a bad way: self-absorbed and immature, as if she's the first to suffer this sort of stress and loss.

Read more

Pages