Summary and book reviews of Some Trick by Helen DeWitt

Some Trick

Thirteen Stories

by Helen DeWitt

Some Trick by Helen DeWitt X
Some Trick by Helen DeWitt
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  • Published:
    May 2018, 224 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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About this Book

Book Summary

At last a new book: a baker's dozen of stories all with Helen DeWitt's razor-sharp genius.

For sheer unpredictable brilliance, Gogol may come to mind, but no author alive today takes a reader as far as Helen DeWitt into the funniest, most yonder dimensions of possibility. Her jumping-off points might be statistics, romance, the art world's piranha tank, games of chance and games of skill, the travails of publishing, or success. "Look," a character begins to explain, laying out some gambit reasonably enough, even if facing a world of boomeranging counterfactuals, situations spinning out to their utmost logical extremes, and Rube Goldberg-like moving parts, where things prove "more complicated than they had first appeared" and "at 3 a.m. the circumstances seem to attenuate."

In various ways, each tale carries DeWitt's signature poker-face lament regarding the near-impossibility of the life of the mind when one is made to pay to have the time for it, in a world so sadly "taken up with all sorts of paraphernalia superfluous, not to say impedimental, to ratiocination."

Below is the full text of this short story

The French Style of Mlle Matsumoto

He was a pianist. He was born on the island of Shikoku, where his father had some kind of post in the administration of the prefecture of Tokushima. His mother was from Tokyo. When she married his father she had her piano brought down on the ferry to her new home. He was taught from the age of two by his mother, and from the age of eight by a woman who had studied in Paris with Koslowski until the mid-40s, when she had cut short a promising career to keep house for her widowed father.

Koslowski had said

Of all my pupils the one who showed the finest sensibility in the interpretation of Chopin was Mlle Matsumoto. To praise her technique is to say nothing. The simplicity and ease with which she executed even the most difficult passages, the absence of any kind of affectation or showmanship in pieces where it is too common to see talent on display, while the pianist plays the virtuoso, all this gave one ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

In this erudite collection of 13 stories, Helen DeWitt explores the theme of stymied creativity, particularly as a result of financial and bureaucratic intrusions into the process of making art. The characters are unrelentingly charming and this is due to DeWitt's powers of description as well as her unconventional linguistic choices. Her quirky narrative choices and use of jargon may alienate some readers, however. There are somewhat random barrages of math, a few long descriptions of computer programming, extraneous footnotes, and mentions of obscure literary movements and authors.   (Reviewed by Lisa Butts).

Full Review Members Only (651 words).

Media Reviews

The Huffington Post
An intellectual powerhouse, laugh-out-loud funny in unexpected ways.

The Paris Review
DeWitt pushes against the limitations of the novel as a form; reading her, one wants to push against the limitations of one's own brain.

Los Angeles Review of Books
Her books assert (and often attest) that a work of fiction can encompass many kinds of knowledge--probability theory, scatterplots of data, tables of non-Roman alphabets--without compromising its form.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. DeWitt reasserts herself as one of contemporary fiction's greatest minds in this dazzling collection of stories about misunderstood genius. DeWitt's disdain for those who seek to profit off of genius is sharp and refreshing, and her ability to deliver such astounding prose and thought-provoking stories constitutes a minor miracle. This is a gem of a collection.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. DeWitt's wide-ranging intellect makes these stories, but it's her sense of humor and profound humanity that make them work...This collection has many delights, but it's worth picking up just for that.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Roland Barthes and "The Death of the Author"

In DeWitt's story "Famous Last Words," two characters argue over the interpretation of an essay by Roland Barthes called "The Death of the Author," and whether its message is still relevant for writers.

Roland Barthes was a French philosopher and literary critic. He was born in 1915 in Cherbourg, France and attended the Sorbonne where he studied literature, linguistics, and Greek tragedy. He went on to become a respected professor, teaching at the French Institute in Bucharest, the University of Alexandria in Egypt, and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, among others. He was also a celebrated author, penning texts on topics ranging from love to art to semiotics (the study of signs and meaning).

Some of Barthes' most influential ...

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