Reviews round-up

The critics' verdicts on Erica Heller, Christine Dwyer Hickey and Adam Levin.

Yossarian Slept Here by Erica Heller

In the Independent, Emma Hagestadt writes that "Erica Heller, daughter of Catch-22 author Joseph Heller, seems to have weathered her girlhood better than most daughters of celebrated literary lions. [Her] book shows a robust acceptance of her father's overbearing personality and Don Draperesque approach to marriage and fatherhood."

Carolyn Kellogg opines in the Los Angeles Times that this is a "vital read ... [Erica] didn't idolise her father, but she portrays his complexities with sympathy." "Dominating the memoir is the story of Erica's parents' marriage ... Erica believes that her wise-cracking, charismatic father was still deeply tied to her mother," writes Hagestadt.

Kellogg notes that, "While writing Catch-22, Heller worked as a copywriter for Time, Look and McCall's magazines and for Remington Rand Corporation ... The New York of the period leaps off the page. Heller's cronies included Mel Brooks, Mario Puzo and Speed Vogel, and Erica captures their 'food orgies' in Chinatown."

Ian Sansom, in the Guardian, writes that, according to Erica, Heller "'took his meat, and his meals, unabashedly seriously'; everything else he treated as a joke. He had everything, but it wasn't enough ... Erica concludes simply that Heller was 'indecipherable.'"

The Cold Eye of Heaven by Christine Dwyer Hickey

Leyla Sanai writes in the Independent that the novel begins with "an old man who lives alone, Farley ... lying on his bathroom floor having suffered a stroke. His probable fate is made horribly real to us in achingly lyrical prose." The book spans "time to create a hauntingly poignant portrait of a Dublin existence, rendered, as is every life in close-up, extraordinary." Sara Keating, writing in the Irish Times, comments that "Dywer Hickey's skill is like that of a painter, slowly layering detail to provide a composite view... there are no clever tricks with hindsight or irony. There are no surprise revelations. There is just the measured pleasure of intimacy with Farley."

Keating describes the book as "a moving portrayal of elderly loneliness and regret. However, as Dwyer Hickey reveals through a clever reverse chronology, Farley has not always been a curmudgeon. He once had dreams and passions of his own." Sanai finds that "Dwyer Hickey's writing is acutely insightful and perfectly balances sorrow, joy and humour. Weepingly moving passages are juxtaposed with hilariously irreverent dialogue worthy of Roddy Doyle."

In the Guardian, Stevie Davies concludes that this is "the most profound novel I have read for years ... Farley's life story is told in reverse chronology, 2010 to 1940 - a technique capable of ingenious satiric force ... [the novel] slips back decade by decade, questing for origins and causes."

The Instructions by Adam Levin

Joshua Cohen, in the New York Times, writes that "this fat tablet is partly a theologico-political tract, and mostly a chronicle of four days in the life of a junior high schooler in suburban Illinois ... Gurion's your typical Midwestern prodigy... yet one of the most promising students ever to grace an Illinois Solomon Schechter School can't keep from fighting others." Tim Martin writes in the Telegraph that "we encounter [Gurion] in ... a high-security education experiment known as The Cage, which is attempting to tutor a gang of behaviourally disordered unteachables."

Martin comments that "Levin has put a lot of effort into Gurion's vernacular, which crawls with sticky idioms and madcap coinages" which will "either enthral you with its playfulness and experimentation or leave you grinding your teeth and howling."

"The reader of The Instructions is pinioned by Gurion's madly chatty first-person for the book's entire length ... an exercise in extreme observation that makes a bare four days of narrative time feel like years of chest-crushing reading", points out Martin. "Rarely has a first novel so cried out for a good editor." Cohen is also disappointed by the novel, which "ultimately devolves not into commentaries and interpretive apparatuses but into a vague ending ... This all makes for a very long joke: a setup that lacks a punch line."

According to Michael Sayeau in the New Statesman: "The faux artlessness of Levin's digressions, the posed credulity of seeming not to understand that he is asking his readers for something they wouldn't want to give, seem to serve as a screening veil for an author clearly smart enough to write a taut and economical work of fiction instead of this."

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Why a Keeping Up with the Kardashians cartoon would make genuinely brilliant TV

The Kardashians are their own greatest satirists.

You’ve seen Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Kourtney and Kim Take Kyoto, and Kylie and Kendall Klarify Kommunications Kontracts, but the latest Kardashian show might take a step away from reality. Yes, Kartoon Kardashians could be on the way. According to TMZ, an animated cartoon is the next Kardashian television property we can expect: the gossip website reports that Kris Jenner saw Harvey Weinstein’s L.A. production company earlier this month for a pitch meeting.

It’s easy to imagine the dramas the animated counterparts of the Kardashians might have: arguments over who gets the last clear plastic salad bowl? Moral dilemmas over whether or not to wear something other than Balenciaga to a high profile fashion event? Outrage over the perceived betrayals committed by their artisanal baker?

If this gives you déjà vu, it might be because of a video that went viral over a year ago made using The Sims: a blisteringly accurate parody of Keeping Up with the Kardashians that sees the three sisters have a melodramatic argument about soda.

It’s hysterical because it clings onto the characteristics of the show: scenes opening with utter banalities, sudden dramatic music coinciding with close-ups of each family member’s expressions, a bizarre number of shots of people who aren’t speaking, present tense confessionals, Kim’s ability to do an emotional 0-60, and Kourtney’s monotonous delivery.

But if the Kardashians, both as a reality TV show and celebrity figures, are ripe for ridicule, no one is more aware of it than the family themselves. They’ve shared teasing memes and posted their own self-referential jokes on their social channels, while Kim’s Kimoji app turned mocking viral pictures into self-depreciating in-jokes for her fans. And the show itself has a level of self-awareness often misinterpreted as earnestness - how else could this moment of pure cinema have made it to screen?

The Kardashians are their own greatest satirists, and they’ve perfected the art of making fun of themselves before anyone else can. So there’s a good chance that this new cartoon won’t be a million miles away from “Soda Drama”. It might even be brilliant.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.