Quaker Meeting in London, c.1723.
Why aren’t there more novels about Quaker worship? It’s inherently dramatic, people sitting in silence and waiting for God to speak through them. Dramatic—and really, really funny. For proof look no further than Nicholson Baker’s forthcoming novel, Traveling Sprinkler. The hero, Paul Chowder, spends a lot of time attending Quaker meetings (i.e., church). Most of the rest of the novel he spends trying to teach himself the guitar, write (incredibly dorky) songs, and win back the girlfriend who left him in Baker’s earlier novel The Anthologist. There are lots of reasons to love Traveling Sprinkler: Baker gets sweeter with each new book, and underneath the sweetness lie witty arguments about poetry and song and taste. Among other things, this is the best novel I’ve read about Spotify. It also vividly captures Quaker beliefs and practices at a moment when, as Paul Elie wrote last year in the New York Times, many novelists have trouble writing about religion. —Lorin Stein
“Beautiful and brilliant, possessed of an eye protected against sentiment coupled with a steel-trap mind and a tongue feared by all who had been at the receiving end of its talented sarcasm, a sarcasm that for some would always be wickedly amusing, for others just wicked.” So says essayist (and issue 204 contributor) Vivian Gornick of critic and writer Mary McCarthy on The New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog. In a piece drawn from her introduction to a new edition of McCarthy’s 1949 novel, The Oasis, Gornick highlights the book’s biting satire but, more importantly, McCarthy’s fearlessness in barely disguising her characters from their real-life counterparts (mostly her Partisan Review colleagues). As McCarthy stated in her Art of Fiction interview, “What I really do is take real plums and put them in an imaginary cake.” —Justin Alvarez Read More