In these oh-so-unsettled times, I like to have something I can rely on. New England Review never lets me down. I know the quality of the writing will always be strong, serious, sophisticated, and that there will always be something unexpected, fresh without trying to impress. This issue lives up to the task – a good portion of the issue is devoted to an essay by the late critic and editor Ted Solotaroff (1928-2008), along with brief reflections of Solotaroff by more than a dozen and a half writers, editors, and literary colleagues. These remembrances are preceded by a long excerpt from Solotaroff’s, “The Literary Scene Changes,” an unfinished, unpublished memoir (his third). I enjoyed very much these personal recollections from Philip Roth, Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Robert Stone, Robert Cohen, Hilma Wolitzer, Gerald Stern, Bobbie Ann Mason, Georges Borchardt, Gerald Howard, James Lasdun, Jill Schoolman, Russell Banks, Anton Shammas, Hy Enzer, Irene Skolnick, Douglas Unger, Allegra Goodman, Ehud Havazelet, and Max Apple. The diversity of ages, genres, and types of relationships to Solotaroff makes this little collection of tributes all the more appealing.
This issue’s “Revaluations” section includes engaging essays by Joelle Biele on Elizabeth Bishop and Frank Kermode on E. M. Forster. There is certainly more written about Bishop than she ever could have imagined anyone might write about her small body of work. Biele’s essay, “Elizabeth Bishop at the Crossroads of Poetry and Prose,” is accessible and instructive and, happily, one does not need a Ph.D. in literary criticism to find it worthwhile or learn something new about Bishop’s oeuvre.
This issue includes a number of other extremely fine features, including an essay by Francis Noel Thomas, “Paris at Street Level”; an entertaining and bizarre gender-blending piece “Exercises in Italian Conversation,” written centuries ago long before the concept of gender blending existed as such, by Heinrich Ollendorf (with Felix Foresti); solidly crafted poems by Carl Phillips, Camasin Middour, Mike Puican, and a number of others; and equally solid and well composed short stories from Peter LaSalle, Louise Jarvis Flynn, Lori Ostlund, Gregory Blake Smith, and Aja Gabel. Gabel’s wonderful story, “Reasons for Eating,” is an especially good read, better by far than any episode of Top Chef, Chopped, or the Next Food Network star. Get the latest issue of NER and taste for yourself.