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.

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Book Reviews
9:06 am
Tue September 17, 2013

In 'Sprinkler,' A Wacky Poet Returns With New Obsessions

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Nicholson Baker has become a sort of poet of the particular and the peculiar. His books are filled with people who focus minutely on what captivates them – in other words, obsessives. A positive way of looking at obsession is as passion taken to an extreme. The danger, of course, is that the object of one person's intense fascination — such as the broken shoelaces in his unforgettable first novel, The Mezzanine, or the disquisitions on Debussy, dance music, and drones in his latest, Traveling Sprinkler — may spell another's total snore.

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Book Reviews
12:28 pm
Wed September 11, 2013

Suburban Islands Of Regret, More Than 'Nine Inches' Apart

Originally published on Wed September 11, 2013 10:36 am

Nine inches is the minimum distance required between middle school students during slow dances in the title story of Tom Perrotta's first book of short stories in 19 years. Nine miles — or make that nine light-years — is the distance between many of the narrators in these 10 stories, and the family and friends they've alienated with their stupid mistakes.

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Book Reviews
10:59 am
Wed July 17, 2013

Last Words: An Author's Rhymed Farewell

David Rakoff was a radio essayist for public radio's This American Life.
Deirdre Dolan

Originally published on Tue July 16, 2013 6:03 am

What a loss. That's the thought that kept running through my head as I flagged one inspired rhyme after another in David Rakoff's risky (though hardly risqué) posthumous first novel. Why risky? For starters, Rakoff, who died of cancer last summer, at 47, chose to write this last book in verse — albeit an accessible, delightful iambic tetrameter that is more akin to Dr. Seuss than T.S. Eliot.

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Book Reviews
9:20 am
Fri July 5, 2013

City, Comedy And Calamity In Cathleen Schine's New Novel

Apartment building in Greenwich Village
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Thu July 4, 2013 6:03 am

Cathleen Schine can always be counted on for an enticing, smart read, and her latest novel, Fin & Lady, is no exception, but it's an odd duck, as quirky as its peculiarly named titular half-siblings. Neither as sparklingly funny as her most recent book, The Three Weissmanns of Westport, nor as brainy as her earlier Rameau's Niece, Fin & Lady is light, entertaining, and ultimately moving, but you can't help wondering what Schine hoped to achieve with it.

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Book Reviews
7:24 pm
Sat June 22, 2013

A Family's Secrets And Sorrows Surface In 'Heatwave'

Originally published on Wed June 19, 2013 6:03 am

British writer Maggie O'Farrell, born in Northern Ireland, is less well-known in the U.S. than she should be. Her mesmerizing, tautly plotted novels often revolve around long-standing, ugly family secrets and feature nonconformist women who rebel against their strict Irish Catholic upbringing. Her most recent books, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox (2006) and The Hand That First Held Mine (2010), offer the sort of spellbinding reads that can make you miss your flight announcement.

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Book Reviews
11:33 am
Fri June 7, 2013

Food For Thought In Shriver's 'Big Brother'

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Originally published on Tue June 4, 2013 6:03 am

Lionel Shriver tackles a whopper of an issue in her new novel, Big Brother: obesity and the emotional connection between weight, consumption, guilt and control. She comes at this huge subject through a sister torn between saving her morbidly obese older brother, who has "buried himself in himself," and an unsympathetic, belligerently fit husband — a situation that raises questions about divided loyalties and whether blood is thicker than water. In this book, diet protein shakes are thicker than both.

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Book Reviews
11:41 am
Thu May 9, 2013

Farm Team Saga 'Class A' Hits It Out Of The Park

Cover of Class A

Originally published on Thu May 9, 2013 6:03 am

Is there room for another book about America's favorite pastime? Lucas Mann's Class A earns a position in a lineup that already includes Bang the Drum Slowly, The Natural, The Boys of Summer, Moneyball and The Art of Fielding because, remarkably, it offers a fresh, unexpected angle on this well-trodden game.

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Book Reviews
9:49 am
Fri May 3, 2013

One Of Ireland's Greatest Writers Looks Back On Eight Decades

Edna O'Brien is pictured here with her husband, the writer Ernest Gebler, in London in 1959. O'Brien's first novel, The Country Girls, was published a year later.
Edna O'Brien/Little, Brown and Co.

Originally published on Wed May 1, 2013 3:20 pm

Back in the early 1950s, as a lonely, pregnant young wife already ruing her rash elopement, Edna O'Brien sobbed through the ending of Flaubert's Madame Bovary and wondered, "Why could life not be lived at that same pitch? Why was it only in books that I could find the utter outlet for my emotions?"

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Book Reviews
11:05 am
Fri April 19, 2013

Owls, Yes, But Also Kookaburras And Dentists In Sedaris' Latest

Originally published on Wed April 17, 2013 9:09 am

Plenty of personal essayists, including really good ones like Nora Ephron, Anna Quindlen and E.B. White, burn out or switch to fiction after a few books. Even Michel de Montaigne, the 16th century French writer often acknowledged as the father of the genre that combines intelligent reflection with anecdotes and autobiography, produced only one volume — albeit a massive one. Yet here's David Sedaris with his eighth collection, the absurdly titled Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls: Essays, Etc.

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Book Reviews
3:45 pm
Fri April 5, 2013

Minks, Perfume And Beastly Beauty In 'Shocked'

Peter North Getty Images

Originally published on Tue April 2, 2013 10:14 am

Beauty can be a beast. That's one message from Shocked, Patricia Volk's smart, fascinating book about her complex relationship with her beautiful, elegantly attired, hypercritical mother.

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