William Maxwell Found the Depth in Modest Places

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William Maxwell, the newest subject in Scott’s essay series The Americans, about writers who convey a sense of the country’s multifaceted identity, is this week’s guest on the Book Review podcast with A.O. Scott, The Times’ co-chief film critic. As Scott describes it, Maxwell returned to the “specific civilization, culture, and society that he knew growing up” in his novels and short stories.

As Scott puts it: “He was attempting in a sense to figure out himself by finding out where he had come from in so many of these novels. It had an endless supply. It’s amazing how many facets there are to his re-visitation of his ancestors, their history, and the area where they resided. How much depth, complexity, comedy, and pathos can be found in such a little, provincial town?

“Dirty Work,” the new book by Eyal Press about the lives of those who work in slaughterhouses and other ethically questionable places, will be discussed on the programme. One of the main themes of this novel is inequality, according to Press.

A key takeaway from The Book of Eli is that “the affluent and powerful” aren’t always the ones to blame. Most often, “ethically difficult duties that they perform in our name and on behalf of society” are given to those at the bottom of the social ladder, those who have less options and chances.

This week, Tina Jordan looks back at the Book Review’s 125-year history; Alexandra Alter reports on the publishing industry; and Dwight Garner and Jennifer Szalai discuss novels they’ve recently evaluated. The show’s host is Pamela Paul.

This week, the New York Times’ critics discussed the following books:

Let us know what you think about this episode and the Book Review podcast in general. Please leave a comment. [email protected] is the email address to use for submissions of books.