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Jed PerlIn rapid-fire succession, Alter looks at the work of a half-dozen novelists, including Flaubert, Dickens, Bely, Woolf, Joyce and Kafka. He brings an easygoing feeling for the quickening importance of the metropolitan pageant. Alter's book is a work of scholarly criticism that is informed by immediate experience; when he writes that Woolf, in Mrs. Dalloway, presents ''the city as a theater of vitality and transience,'' you sense behind the remark Alter's own love affair with the city, his conviction that the pressures of urban life can, paradoxically, help a person define his individuality.
— The New York Times