Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Briefly Noted Book Reviews | The New Yorker

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Hey, Zoey, by Sarah Crossan (Little, Brown). What, in our digital age, constitutes an affair? Texting? Swiping? How about buying an eight-thousand-dollar A.I. sex doll and hiding it from your wife in the garage? In this entertaining novel, the middle-aged narrator, Dolores, discovers that her husband has done just that. As Dolores’s marriage falls apart, she forms a strange bond with the doll, Zoey, who proves a better listener than her aloof husband (an aptly professioned anesthesiologist). Told in short scenes that crosscut the present with childhood memories, the story is as much about technology as it is about friendship and romance. Even if Zoey’s “aliveness” is “a ruse,” like that of an E. T. A. Hoffmann character, she offers Dolores both life-affirming companionship and a way to access her repressed soul.

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Sidetracks, by Bei Dao, translated from the Chinese by Jeffrey Yang (New Directions). More than a decade in the making, this book-length poem traces its acclaimed author’s years in exile after his expulsion from mainland China in the wake of the Tiananmen Square protests. Dotted with dates and locations of personal and historical significance—as well as encounters with friends and peers, such as Allen Ginsberg and Mahmoud Darwish—the poem combines the documentary and the elusive, finding meaning in language both when it “talks with the tanks” and when it captures the “sunshine tablecloth” in a California kitchen. Elegantly rendered into English, the poem exemplifies Bei Dao’s surprising imagery and logic while also introducing an autobiographical immediacy to his work.

Miniature figure perched on a book reading.

Illustration by Rose Wong

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