At the Times, a bit of the editorial judgment is rendered in advance of a book review based on which critic does the actual reviewing. If Michiko Kakutani takes on your novel, it's a clear signal that it's an Important Literary Effort, worthy of deep analysis and significant enough to merit a serious limning. And sometimes reviews are assigned to Janet Maslin. This was the case for Spy founder and New York mag columnist Kurt Andersen for Heyday, his new historical romp (Stevedores! Daguerreotypists! Fishmongers!). On the plus side, she grades on a much looser curve than Kakutani. So, how'd it do?
Mr. Andersen keeps "Heyday" mobile and informative while not wildly engaging. Spending more than 600 pages in permanent digression mode, the book has no center and no nongeographical destination. Eventually, when it comes time to end this story, Mr. Andersen stages some violent confrontations, but they are startlingly inconsequential.Okay, so not totally positive. Well, at least New York liked it:
This is a swift, rich, thrilling voyage, an adventure of the highest order, but it's also—for us—a literary excavation that puts Wikipedia to deep shame. If 1848 was indeed the kind of year that "even as it was occurring ... seemed like an account in a history book, bright and quick," then this is just the kind of historical novel one might hope to have been written about it.Well, this is easy to fix! (If indeed one even cares about reviews any more—do they still move books?) We recommend to Kurt that before he starts the next novel, he simply hop his column over to the Times.