Forty-one False Starts

Forty-one False Starts

Essays on Artists and Writers

Book - 2013
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A National Book Critics Circle Finalist for Criticism

A deeply Malcolmian volume on painters, photographers, writers, and critics.

Janet Malcolm's In the Freud Archives and The Journalist and the Murderer , as well as her books about Sylvia Plath and Gertrude Stein, are canonical in the realm of nonfiction--as is the title essay of this collection, with its forty-one "false starts," or serial attempts to capture the essence of the painter David Salle, which becomes a dazzling portrait of an artist. Malcolm is "among the most intellectually provocative of authors," writes David Lehman in The Boston Globe , "able to turn epiphanies of perception into explosions of insight."

Here, in Forty-one False Starts , Malcolm brings together essays published over the course of several decades (largely in The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books ) that reflect her preoccupation with artists and their work. Her subjects are painters, photographers, writers, and critics. She explores Bloomsbury's obsessive desire to create things visual and literary; the "passionate collaborations" behind Edward Weston's nudes; and the character of the German art photographer Thomas Struth, who is "haunted by the Nazi past," yet whose photographs have "a lightness of spirit." In "The Woman Who Hated Women," Malcolm delves beneath the "onyx surface" of Edith Wharton's fiction, while in "Advanced Placement" she relishes the black comedy of the Gossip Girl novels of Cecily von Zeigesar. In "Salinger's Cigarettes," Malcolm writes that "the pettiness, vulgarity, banality, and vanity that few of us are free of, and thus can tolerate in others, are like ragweed for Salinger's helplessly uncontaminated heroes and heroines." "Over and over," as Ian Frazier writes in his introduction, "she has demonstrated that nonfiction--a book of reporting, an article in a magazine, something we see every day--can rise to the highest level of literature."

One of Publishers Weekly 's Best Nonfiction Books of 2013

Publisher: New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780374157692
0374157693
Characteristics: xv, 298 p. ; 22 cm

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gendeg
Oct 26, 2014

Some say the best-written reviews and critiques reveal something about the critic as much as the subject being reviewed. With that criteria, you would think Forty-one False Starts by Janet Malcolm would be brilliant, the writing being so self-absorbed.

To be fair, the title essay was fascinating and engaging, a critique of the larger-than-life artist David Salle told in 41 short sections that give us different facets and points of view on Salle; its unique form is a commentary on the writing/creative process itself. But all the other essays in the collection didn't really keep my attention.

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