July 31, 2016

The Review of Pond

Cover of the original Irish printing of Pond.

The New York Times review of the book Pond is written by Meghan O'Rourke, and it joins one of a handful of reviews that have lodged themselves permanently in my memory.

The book sounds unusual and wonderful (the review is here). O'Rourke quotes the author from an interview last year: “In solitude you don’t need to make an impression on the world, so the world has some opportunity to make an impression on you.” That's pretty great and  conveys Bennett's Wordsworthian message: that getting and spending we've laid waste our power and alienated ourselves from not just the natural world but the miracle of life itself.

But I want to talk about not just this novel but the art form of the review. A good review parses the strengths and weaknesses of an artwork but also conveys something of its particular genius. When Star Wars first came out in the 1977, I was in middle school and saw it ten times in the theater—the most I've seen any movie (of course, no cable or VCRs in those days). After decades of cultural saturation, it's impossible to convey how fresh and magical that movie was. I can barely catch a glimpse of the feeling myself.

The truth is, when I want to remember how Star Wars felt, what I cast back to is the Time magazine review of it that came out before its release. It was a multi-page spread with photos, longer than any review I'd ever seen, and the writer was ecstatic. Literally "ex stasis"—out of the norm. It's here if you can get past the login wall. The images and lines from the movie have become common cultural property, but when I think of the Time review, I have a purer memory of the magic it elicited. Weirdly, the article doesn't seem to have a byline; so thank you, unknown reviewer.

(On a related note, if you get to the issue in Time's archives, you can also enjoy the ads for cigarettes, station wagons, and men's sportswear. Oh, 70s, you were the worst.)

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