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Pop reviews — week of Jan. 5

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Jeeves and the Wedding Bells: An Homage to P.G. Wodehouse

Sebastian Faulks

What ho!

A new novel starring the greatest comic characters of 20th-century English literature, bumbling Bertie Wooster and his unflappable, Spinoza-reading valet Jeeves?

How can this be, one asks oneself, scratching the bean with Bertie-like perplexity. Didn’t P.G. Wodehouse, who brought Jeeves and Bertie to life, hand in his lunch pail on Valentine’s Day in 1975?

Well, old tops, what we have in Jeeves and the Wedding Bells — something even the mentally negligible Bertie could puzzle out unaided by Jeeves’ massive, fish-fed cerebrum — is imitation Wodehouse.

Very good imitation Wodehouse, from British novelist Sebastian Faulks, who helped himself to heaps of critical praise back in 2008 for writing a James Bond novel titled Devil May Care.

Faulks knows he isn’t Wodehouse and doesn’t try to be. The voice sounds a lot like Wodehouse, but anyone who has read much Wodehouse will know it isn’t the master. That’s not a knock on Faulks: He’s a novelist, not a copyist. And he humbly — if that’s the word I want — labels his book “an homage” to Wodehouse.

Best of all, whether it’s Wodehouse or Faulks, Jeeves and the Wedding Bells is a funny book, worth reading.

— Michael D. Schaffer

Philadelphia Inquirer

Bottle Rockets/The Brooklyn Side

Bottle Rockets

Falling somewhere between Lynyrd Skynyrd and Merle Haggard is not a formula for popular success. But that too-rock-for-country, too-country-for-rock approach is part of the charm of the Bottle Rockets, who at their best tell sharp-witted stories of working-class life without a trace of condescension or irony.

The Missouri band was certainly at its best on its first two albums, from 1993 and 1994, back in print on this two-disc set.

The self-titled debut established singer-guitarist Brian Henneman, a former roadie for Uncle Tupelo, as a refreshingly unaffected songwriting voice that to this listener holds much more appeal than those of Tupelo’s celebrated Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy. Is there a more plaintively devastating song than Kerosene?

With The Brooklyn Side, the Bottle Rockets really delivered on the promise of its predecessor, as grabbers like Welfare Music and 1,000 Dollar Car highlighted a masterpiece.

Each disc comes with numerous bonus tracks, including demos, outtakes, and covers.

— Nick Cristiano

Philadelphia Inquirer

Roth Unbound

Claudia Roth Pierpont

If you’ve been tempted to dismiss Philip Roth as a misogynist, a self-hating Jew or simply an old white male dinosaur, Claudia Roth Pierpont’s Roth Unbound: A Writer and His Books makes a strong argument for giving the novelist another chance.

At a minimum, Pierpont’s lucid book, intelligent but not academic, makes the case that The Ghost Writer, Sabbath’s Theater and American Pastoral are compelling works of fiction worth reading today. She also finds much of merit in Roth’s other novels, even when she calmly notes their weaknesses.

Roth Unbound is Pierpont’s close reading of Roth’s body of work, enhanced by conversations with the novelist and access to his papers and notes, though he did not read her book before publication. It is not a biography per se, though it includes many biographical details and some revelations. It’s a sympathetic book — Pierpont is his friend — but not a hagiographic one.

Pierpont reminds us of Roth’s key role in bringing dissident writers from communist Eastern Europe to American readers: multiple trips to Prague, arranging financial support for European writers, and spearheading the Writers from the Other Europe series that published works by Milan Kundera, Danilo Kis, Tadeusz Borowski and Bruno Schulz in English.

The novelist can be described casually as one of the great American Jewish writers. Pierpont argues convincingly the American side of that equation was as important, if not more important, to Roth, an FDR baby and lifelong Democrat.

— Jim Higgins

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


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