Sunday Diversion: Michiko Kakutani Fill-in-the-Blank

Jeff O'Neal

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Jeff O'Neal is the executive editor of Book Riot and Panels. He also co-hosts The Book Riot Podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @thejeffoneal.

The most famous and mysterious of The New York Times book critics, Michiko Kakutani is as influential as she is enigmatic. In this age of public persona, Kakutani is question mark; aside from basic biographical information, all we really know of her comes from her reviewing. She likes the word “limn,” doesn’t mind reviewing in character, and has a habit of the qualified rave.

For this week’s Sunday Diversion, try to get behind the headshot and fill in the missing words from these passages from Kakutani’s reviews. Answers on Tuesday.


1. At the same time, however, “Higher Gossip” offers the reader plenty of [adjective] pleasures, reminding us of the author’s [adjective] ability to evoke the worlds other artists created with a simple wave of his wand, and his talent for making scholarly topics feel [adverb] immediate and real. Comic characters, Updike writes in an essay about humor, are “rubbery,” with the ability to bounce back, whereas tragic ones tend to be brittle and stony and fated to “irrevocably shatter” under pressure .

2. Whereas his earlier novels were laden with mythic overtones and metaphors, “The Marriage Plot” is methodically [verb] in the recognizable concerns of bright, self-conscious Ivy League kids coping with worries about grades and grad school and their fledgling careers. Whereas “Middlesex” evoked the 1960s and ’70s through its idiosyncratic narrator’s memories, this novel carefully uses cultural references to [verb] the 1980s, that era when hipsters wore Fiorucci cowboy boots and well-to-do parents outfitted their [adjective] offspring with Trinitron TVs and Saab convertibles.

3. This outlook, combined with Julius’s solemnity about himself, make him a decidedly [adjective] narrator. And Mr. Cole’s failure to dramatize his alienation — or make it emblematic of some larger historical experience, as Sebald did with his displaced characters — impedes the reader’s progress while underscoring the messy, almost [adjective] nature of the overall narrative. What stands out in this [adjective] novel — so in need of some stricter editing — is Mr. Cole’s ambition, his idiosyncratic voice and his eclectic, sometimes electric journalistic eye.

4. By [gerund] “The Tiger’s Wife” with such folkloric characters, alongside more familiar contemporary types — like Natalia’s best friend and fellow doctor, the high-spirited and fearless Zora — Ms. Obreht creates an [adjective] sense of place, a world, like the Balkans, haunted by its past and struggling to sort out its future, its imagination shaped by stories handed down generation to generation; its people torn between ancient beliefs and the [plural noun] of what should be a more rational present.

5. As he did in “Dragon Tattoo,” Mr. Larsson — a former journalist and magazine editor — mixes precise, reportorial descriptions with [adjective] [plural noun] lifted straight from the stock horror and thriller [noun]. He gives us an immediate sense of the sleek, [adjective] world inhabited by Blomkvist and his married business associate and sometime lover, Erika Berger and the daily rigors of publishing a monthly magazine.