My Bookforum piece on Jonathan Coe and his latest novel is now online. Here's the beginning:
Painting a word-picture of a woman at a restaurant, the titular narrator of British author Jonathan Coe's new novel, The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim, writes, "She had long black hair, slightly wild and unkempt. A thin face, with prominent cheekbones." Prominent cheekbones? Just as the cliché meter is warming up, Max adds a parenthetical: "(Sorry, I am just not very good at describing people.)" This self-deprecation is enough to win us over, and it lets Max off the hook to unleash a few more lines of workmanlike, tentative details . . . prompting another aside: "(I am not very good at describing clothes either—are you looking forward to the next three hundred pages?)"