All three of these books, from the past year, are similar only in that each wrestles with daily existence in ways that have startled me, made me rethink everything I had done up to that moment, and made me reevaluate how I want to move forward. Reading each of these books is an active, rather than a passive, experience. In each I have found moments—several moments—where something I’ve never seen conjured in language before somehow rises up, before my eyes. How each writer—a poet turned essayist (Biss), a poet channeling Ginsberg with long, rangy meditations (Zucker), and a novelist arriving at his first memoir (Elliott)—arrived at these moments is both mysterious and seemingly simple—each picked up a thread of thought (racism, motherhood, murder), an image (telephone poles, zapruder films, adderall), and followed them, or, rather, allowed themselves to be led, into an unknown place. Each of these books is thrilling, in their plainspokeness and in their brilliance.
My good friend Garth, writer, rocker, and erstwhile purveyor of Hot Face wrote in with his favorite read of the year.The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst — Callow young aesthete Nick Guest is a devotee of late-period Henry James, whose style, he says, “conceals things and reveals things.” In Alan Hollinghurst’s portrait of politics, money, and sex in Thatcher-era London, style reveals more than it conceals. Among the revelations this preposterously well-written novel offers, in the end: that there’s a little Nick Guest in all of us, that aestheticism is not just a superficial flight from the deeper world but a kind of fumbling toward it, and that Hollinghurst is a novelist of rare gifts. Here he almost single-handedly bridges the divide between the novel of society and the novel of the self, combining the former’s imaginative sprawl, objectivity, moral exactitude, and attentiveness with the latter’s searing emotional investment in its subject. The Line Of Beauty is by turns charming, voyeuristic, sentimental, merciless, witty, affecting, austere, and graphic. Throughout, it is a triumph on par with Brideshead Revisited, Remembrance of Things Past, or the works of the Master himself.