Index of Fiction Reviews

Nathaniel-PopkinFiction reviews editor Nathaniel Popkin is the author of three books, including the 2013 novel Lion and Leopard. He is co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and senior writer of “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment,” an Emmy award-winning documentary series. His essays and book reviews appear in the Wall Street Journal, Public Books, The Kenyon Review, The Millions, and Fanzine. Contact him at nathaniel.popkin@gmail.com.
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Michelle-Fost-Author-PhotoFiction reviews editor Michelle Fost is a writer living in Toronto. Her fiction has appeared in The Painted Bride Quarterly and Geist Magazine. Her book reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Boston Phoenix Literary Section. She works as a writing instructor at the Victoria College Writing Centre at the University of Toronto. The grandchild of German Jews who escaped Germany in 1934, she is working on a novel that explores what it means to be at once firmly rooted in and separated from a place and a past. Contact her at mfost@me.com.

10:04 by Ben Lerner Faber and Faber, 245 pages reviewed by Ana Schwartz "Museum Quality Framing" He calls her a “chthonic deity,” but despite the devilish pleasure she takes in smashing the Koons balloons in the middle of Ben Lerner’s new novel, 10:04, Alina, the narrator’s close friend, turns out to be a remarkably Christic figure. After she successfully urges this doubting skeptic to touch—really, it’s all right to touch—the famous and costly works of art that her start-up, the delightfully named “Institute for Totaled Art,” has been loaned by repossessing insurance agencies, Alina restores something ineffable and lovely to the world shared by Lerner and his readers. He leaves her loft. The rainclouds have passed and the air smells sweet. It’s not the evening yet, but it feels, still, like the “magic hour, when light appears immanent to the lit.” 10:04 is Lerner’s impressive follow-up to 2011’s Leaving the Atocha Station. It aspires to make more meaningful connections between art and life; philosophy and experience. Atocha sets a high bar. That novel’s protagonist, Adam Gordon, wandered through Madrid in 2004, lonely as an El Greco cloud, thinking about Lukacs while staring at Bosch; in the meantime, cultivating a ...
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33 REVOLUTIONS by Canek Sánchez Guevara, translated by Howard Curtis Europa Editions, 94 pages reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin Canek Sánchez Guevara’s 33 Revolutions is a prayer of a novel with a single liturgical refrain and a retort (of a kind) to the giddiness emitting from the American-Cuban travelsphere. Not since Reinaldo Arenas has a Cuban literary voice arrived on American shores with such beaten madness, and sense of personal desperation. Sánchez Guevara, who died last year at age 40, was the eldest grandson of revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara. His mother, Hilda Guevara Gaesa, was Che’s oldest child; Hilda’s mother (also Hilda) introduced Che to the Castro brothers in the mid-1950s. (It’s worth remembering that the American literary public became enamored of Arenas after his death, too.) The unnamed protagonist of 33 Revolutions is a twenty-something employee of some Cuban government bureau or the other, a Winston Smith who has begun to break. The translator Howard Curtis amply translates the protagonist’s inner-voice and darkening setting from Spanish to English. “Water seeps in through the windows,” the protagonist notices, “soaks the walls, forms pools on the floor. Mud. Grime and more grime. A grimy scratched record.” Sánchez Guevara was raised in Havana ...
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A CONVERSATION WITH AUTHOR NATHANIEL POPKIN by Roberta Fallon Nathaniel Popkin’s new novel LION AND LEOPARD is set in early nineteenth Century Philadelphia, and features historical figures such as Charles Willson Peale, Raphaelle Peale, and the German painter John Lewis Krimmel. A historical incident sets the plot in motion—a mysterious death at a mill pond— and the novel's descriptions are so earthy you can almost smell the cowpaths. Yet Popkin says Lion and Leopard is not historical fiction but rather a contemporary piece that deals with universal themes of originality, duplicity, family, friendship, power struggles and unexpected twists of fate. Indeed, the dialogue-rich writing uses slang that you might overhear on the streets today. And the issues are familiar. I sat down with Nathaniel earlier this month to ask him about the book. [Editor's note: You can preview a sample chapter of Lion and Leopard, "The Dig", in Cleaver Issue No. 1.] How did you get the idea for Lion and Leopard? It’s such a Philadelphia book, and such a Philadelphia art world story. I was reading Gary Nash’s First City, which deals with characters in early Philadelphia, including Krimmel and George Lippard. I became interested in both. Both die tragically at the ...
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A FAIRLY GOOD TIME by Mavis Gallant NYRB, 273 pages reviewed by Ashlee Paxton-Turner A Canadian in Paris who must always remind her French friends that she is not American. A young widow who remarries a Frenchman, whom she later divorces. A twenty-seven-year-old who is “about like [she] always [was], to tell . . . the truth. Reading instead of listening.” This is Shirley Perrigny, formerly Higgins (nee Norrington), and the protagonist of Mavis Gallant’s 1970 novel A Fairly Good Time. Gallant, just like Shirley, was a Canadian who made Paris her home. Perhaps known best for her acclaimed short stories, Gallant wrote two novels, A Fairly Good Time and Green Water, Green Sky. These two novels were re-published by the New York Review of Books in 2016, just two years since Gallant’s death at age 91. Set in Paris in the 1960s, A Fairly Good Time is Shirley’s story, but Gallant does such a remarkable job capturing the confusion and chaos of life that it could be anyone’s. Shirley, who struggles to recognize the reality around her, is very easy to relate to, at least for this reader. Shirley, indeed, loves to read. She tries to handle ...
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A GREATER MUSIC by Bae Suah translated by Deborah Smith Open Letter Press, 128 pages reviewed by Justin Goodman Bae Suah’s newest English-translated work, A Greater Music, describes the Austrian composer Franz Schubert as “a short, fat, shy myopic.” As brutal as this description is of a man who unhappily died before his 32nd year, it seems altogether different in tone when used to describe Bae’s novel itself. Filled with observatory indifference and an almost disembodied airiness, the novel comes across particularly as commentary, and as particularly rebellious. But what’s striking about A Greater Music is that it treats the work of Schubert above the man, treats the novel above the social, giving grandeur to otherwise short, fat, shy myopics. They are breathing things that were trapped in frames ill-suited for their sublimity—short in length, fat with substance, shy about their revelations, and myopic in their attentions, they are beings greater than their comportment can present. Something so heavy has rarely looked so light. Superficially, A Greater Music comes across like a South Korean variation on Bret Easton Ellis. The story of a bored, well-to-do individual striving to communicate in a world foreign to her—in A Greater Music, the world ...
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A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me
A HAND REACHED DOWN TO GUIDE ME by David Gates Alfred A. Knopf, 336 pages reviewed by Jeanne Bonner It’s December and you may be looking for a holiday read (with a bang). A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me is a short story collection that offers a rare pleasure: the possibility of reading it cover to cover, leaping from one story to the next. Some readers, including this one, may want to protest the gallery of rogue characters David Gates presents in this new collection perhaps enough to wonder who Gates hangs out with. I’m reminded of the scene from the film Ocean’s 11 when Julia Roberts’ character says to George Clooney, who plays Danny Ocean, “Your problem is you’ve met too many people like you.” Some of these characters’ habits and inclinations, reflections and bitter asides, are just this side of depraved (or perhaps for some people, the other side of depraved). Indeed, the people in Gates’ stories can wear a bit, with their biting sarcasm and world-weariness. Yet there is no denying the sure hand behind these stories, many of which appeared in The New Yorker and the Paris Review. Gates knows his characters so well that the descriptions and ...
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A HISTORY OF MONEY by Alan Pauls translated by Ellie Robins Melville House, 197 pages reviewed by Rory McCluckie There has never been a time when the subject of money wasn't fertile ground for a work of literature; whatever view you take on its role in our lives, it's central to them. From the economic policies of governments to the spare change tossed into a busker's guitar case, it's difficult to imagine what life without it might look like. Not a bad subject, then, for a work that is set to catapult its author onto the international stage. Alan Pauls is an Argentinian novelist, essayist, and critic who has been writing fiction for years while holding various academic and editorial posts in Argentina and the United States. Indeed, he seems to be so active and prolific in his various roles that it's perhaps surprising that Pauls' 2007 novel, The Past, has, until now, been his only work to have received an English language translation. With A History of Money, he should have assured that such negligence comes to an end. This is a skillfully realized work, as accomplished in its execution as it is acute in its criticism. The novel ...
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A MAN LIES DREAMING by Lavie Tidhar Melville House, 294 pages reviewed by Kylie Lee Baker When a novel opens the gates of Auschwitz, we expect to be moved by a tale we've heard a hundred times before; we expect to see Elie Wiesel searching for his father's emaciated body in the snow; we wait for Oskar Schindler to brush snow from his car and then realize that it is not snow but the ashes of burned bodies; above all, we anticipate a tale that unites us in our hatred of Nazi Germany and makes us weep for the injustices inflicted on the Jewish people. A Man Lies Dreaming is none of these things, and never brings us down the path we expect. This is Lavie Tidhar's third novel, published in Europe in 2014 and now released in America, winner of the 2015 Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize, A Guardian Best Science Fiction Book of the Year, a Scotland Herald Best Crime Novel of the Year and a British Fantasy Award nominee. A Man Lies Dreaming follows Wolf, a private detective who flees from a concentration camp in Germany and works in 1930s London among Nazis and fascists. He is hired ...
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A MEAL IN WINTER by Hubert Mingarelli translated by Sam Taylor The New Press, 138 pages reviewed by Jeanne Bonner A Meal in Winter by French author Hubert Mingarelli is a subtle book that quietly but methodically stalks the reader’s sympathies. It does so through a beautiful, spare prose style that begins with the first line: “They had rung the iron gong outside, and it was still echoing, at first for real in the courtyard, and then, for a longer time, inside our heads.” This is lovely writing (deftly rendered from the French by translator Sam Taylor, himself a novelist)—yet a bit ominous, like something that can’t be escaped. Later, setting the scene for the winter’s walk that takes up much of the first part of the narrative, he writes: “A pale sun hung in the sky, as distant and useless, it seemed to us, as a coin trapped under thick ice.” Trapped. What is trapped? Or who? But in this review, there’s no point in being subtle about the book’s plot: it’s about three rank-and-file German soldiers who go out into the woods one cold, snowy winter day during World War II for one purpose and one purpose only. And that’s to hunt for Jews who ...
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A SCHOOL FOR FOOLS by Sasha Sokolov, trans. Alexander Boguslawski New York Review Books, 208 pages reviewed by Kenna O’Rourke A School for Fools does not immediately strike a modern reader as new or groundbreaking; its central premise is that the narrator, a male youth attending a school for the insane, is unreliable, territory well-tread by canonized authors and Intro-to-Fiction students alike. Perhaps the original novel by Sasha Sokolov preceded (or at least coincided with the origin of) the pervasive cliché of the asylum story, having first been published in 1976, but a reader of this new translation by Alexander Boguslawski can hardly be blamed for her skepticism after glancing at the book’s back-cover blurb. As the asylum motif becomes apparent in the text (the speaker and his alter ego discuss appointments with Dr. Zause, interrupt each other, etc.), trepidation is unavoidable. In context, the image of a looming institution, while predictable, makes some sense in A School for Fools. Born in Canada in 1943, Alexander (Sasha) Sokolov grew up in the USSR after his father was deported from the West for espionage. Over the years, he made several attempts to escape the Soviet Union to no avail; it ...
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AGOSTINO by Alberto Moravia translated by Michael F. Moore NYRB Classics, 128 pages MR. BOARDWALK by Louis Greenstein New Door Books, 316 pages reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin MUSEUMS OF INNOCENCE In September 1980, military officers took over the Turkish government. Soldiers arrested 500,000 people, executed some of them, and installed martial law. Ultimately, the coup ended years of political and economic instability, but most remarkably it led to Turkey’s integration into the global economy, and eventually its status as an emergent power. Gone were days of economic and cultural isolation—a shared national innocence that novelist Orhan Pamuk has so daringly and insistently memorialized in the novel Museum of Innocence (2008)—and before that in My Name is Red (2003) and the memoir Istanbul (2005). In these books he has rebuilt and recreated a deeply provincial, yet colorful and highly idiosyncratic world that otherwise was trapped in his head. This same instinct seems to motivate the author Louis Greenstein, a playwright, whose first novel, Mr. Boardwalk, was published last month by New Door Books. Greenstein’s museum of innocence is Atlantic City in the decade before 1978, when the Chalfonte-Haddon Hall Hotel was converted into Resorts International, the city’s first casino. Greenstein ...
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ALEXANDRIAN SUMMER by Yitzhak Gormezano Goren translated by Yardenne Greenspan New Vessel Press, 171 pages reviewed by Justin Goodman "The Irony of Nostalgia" From our Modernist forebears came an emphasis on the power of memory (think Marcel Proust). Yet they forgot to mention its overbearing sibling, nostalgia. Overbearing not only because it tends to act as “a screen not intended to hide anything–a decoration meant only to please the eye,” but also because it obscures history. In effect, it fetishizes the past. It makes Alexandria the “strange, nostalgic European landscape” of Yitzhak Gormezano Goren’s Alexandrian Summer (translated for the first time into English by Yardenne Greenspan). One would expect an aestheticizing impulse of, as André Aciman informs in his introduction, a man who “aged ten…left his home on the Rue Delta in Alexandra” and then saw the military overthrow of King Farouk “dissolve all remnants of multi-national life in Egypt.” Alexandrian Summer is nigh a roman à clef, following the arc of the author’s life up to his fortuitous migration from this anti-Semitic cosmopolitan fantasy to Israel to join his brothers. Nonetheless, despite his intimacy with his history, Goren avoids any such pathos. All nostalgic bliss is converted to a ...
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ALMOST EVERYTHING VERY FAST by Christopher Kloeble translated by Aaron Kerner Graywolf Press, 306 pages reviewed by Elizabeth Mosier Like the best coming-of-age stories, Christopher Kloeble’s Almost Everything Very Fast addresses universal concerns by asking personal questions. Nineteen-year-old Albert, raised in an orphanage, wants to know why he was given up by his anonymous mother and the father he knows: Frederick Arkadiusz Driajes, a grown man with a childlike mind. Albert has gotten nowhere by following the “Hansel and Gretel crumbs” he’s found in Fred’s attic: a photo of Fred with a red-haired woman, a few auburn hairs plucked from a comb. When Fred’s terminal illness imposes an urgent deadline, Albert visits him in Königsdorf one last time—but his “infinite questions” lead to still more questions: What is love? In what ways do family ties bind us? Is nurturing natural? Do parents cause their children more harm than good? In Segendorf, Fred’s ancestral village, to love is to discard. For nearly 400 years, residents have been compelled to hurl their Most Beloved Possessions off the rocky bluff of the highest hill at the annual Sacrificial Festival. During one such celebration in 1912, incestuous (and murderous) twins Jasfe and Josfer Habom ...
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AMONG STRANGE VICTIMS by Daniel Saldaña París, translated by Christina MacSweeney Coffee House Press, 320 pages reviewed by Lillian Brown Daniel Saldaña París’s Among Strange Victims, translated by Christina MacSweeney, immediately pulls the reader into its universe. It does so with such thorough and seamless skill that the reader becomes a victim of this strange, off-kilter world. While it’s initially easy to get lost trying to find the meaning, or premise in general, of the series of peculiar events that passes throughout the novel, the ride is worth the suspension of belief. What starts with a proposal in the form of a note, at first presumably left by a snarky, administrative coworker, becomes the catalyst in the marriage of Rodrigo and Cecilia, and the kickstarter for the novel’s bizarre happenings, wherein a group of lonely and bored people seek answers for the inexplicable in the everyday. The eccentric cast features Rodrigo, the self-proclaimed “useless husband” and once mediocre museum worker turned collector of tea bags and savior of hens; Cecilia, his secretary wife with an attachment to her tiger-striped bedspread; Adela, Rodrigo’s mother, an academic, and the lover of Marcelo, a philosopher who takes a sabbatical (he is a ...
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AND WIND WILL WASH AWAY by Jordan A. Rothacker Deeds Publishing, 376 Pages reviewed by William Morris Detective Jonathan Wind is not a wisecracking, hardboiled investigator in the tradition of Philip Marlowe, or a hyper-observant sleuth like Sherlock Holmes. Rather, Wind uses his almost encyclopedic knowledge to investigate crimes for the Atlanta Police Department. When he’s not on a case, the protagonist of Jordan A. Rothacker’s And Wind Will Wash Away splits his time between Monica, his devout Catholic girlfriend, and his secret mistress, Flora, a goddess-worshipping sex worker. All of this changes when, one early morning, Detective Wind gets a call from his partner, notifying him of a new case. The victim turns out to be his lover, Flora Ross, and her body has been burned to ash in an otherwise undamaged apartment. The police are satisfied to call the woman’s death accidental, the result of some electrical mishap, but Jonathan Wind isn’t so sure. He takes it upon himself to investigate the case in secret, going against department policy, and withholding the fact of his relationship to the victim all the while. In his quest for truth, Detective Wind encounters “an albino midget dressed in all white […] ...
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ANOTHER MAN'S CITY by Choe In-Ho Translated by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton Dalkey Archive (Library of Korean Literature), 190 pages reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster As I'm writing this, the rain is beginning. The spattering sounds of drops hitting the fat, broad maple leaves on the tree outside my window catch my ear like static. The rain turns on the rich, dirt smell of the ground and dampens the sound of passing traffic. My neighbor, who plays the piano for the Portland Opera, is practicing some Brahms and singing out the notes as he plays them. This is my place. Do I think I belong here because my senses interpret it as “mine,” and I'm attached to the reality I identify as “mine,” or do I belong in any old place, whether I recognize my surroundings or not? This impossible question is the crux of Choe In-Ho's novel Another Man's City. I walked into it expecting something bizarre, futuristic, and possibly a bit whimsical. But this is not The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. Instead, I ended up in one of Philip K. Dick's amphetamine dreams. “Every train station displays a timetable,” he writes, For the public, it's a kind ...
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ASHES IN MY MOUTH, SAND IN MY SHOES by Per Petterson translated by Don Bartlett
 Graywolf Press, 118 pages reviewed by Rory McCluckie Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes is Per Petterson's first book but one of his last to be translated into English. This isn't surprising; Petterson's 2005 worldwide breakthrough, Out Stealing Horses, triggered a certain catching-up period for translators. Gradually, we readers have been able to consume the bulk of his output but it's only now that we can see for ourselves where it all started for the author. This means that readers are able to bring a context to this work that isn't usually part of the chronological reading of contemporary fiction. It makes for an interesting exercise. Published in 1987 when he was in his mid-thirties, Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes is a collection of stories that launched Petterson on a writing career that followed stints as a librarian, book store clerk, and translator. You could mine the man's biography for years, however, and still not find anything more horrifically arresting than the event that took place on April 7, 1990. Early that morning, while travelling aboard ...
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AUGUSTUS by John Williams NYRB Books, 305 pages reviewed by Ana Schwartz “Notable Romans” Those who studied Latin in high school or college might recognize the feeling with which Georg Lukacs introduces his Theory of the Novel. Although the book was published a century ago, it still holds valuable insight into the pleasures of reading. In the introductory sentences he describes those happy ages when the world and self were each visible with sharp distinction. Discrete they were, but also intimately familiar to each other. Lukacs’ framework is present in the first lists of Latin vocabulary; these collections of words alert contemporary readers to a world in which a word meant itself and at the same time more than itself. For example, ferro—iron—could denote the reliable metal; it could metonymically represent a sword made out of iron; and it could metaphorically represent any object of potentially harmful strength. These vocabulary lists imply a world in which such figures were useful, a world in which they could and would be deployed with practiced subtlety, perhaps in response to iron-willed violence. Augustus is the recently reissued fourth novel by John Williams, whose earlier novels, Butcher’s Crossing and Stoner, have been very well ...
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BABOON by Naja Marie Aidt translated by Denise Newman Two Lines Press, 190 pages reviewed by KC Mead-Brewer Bestiality, child abuse, love, depression, heartbreak: these are among the many subjects brought to life in Naja Marie Aidt’s story collection, Baboon. Aidt, born in Greenland, a resident of Brooklyn, writes in the intersection, the most dangerous part of the street. Her stories stand boldly in the overlap of the ordinary and the absurd, between the wondrous and the vile. Brave and masterful, it’s no wonder Aidt has won both the Pen Literary Award and the Nordic Council Literature Prize. In the story “Candy,” Aidt puts everyday absurdity on fantastic display. A woman accidentally steals a at the supermarket, only to end up stolen herself. Things go from bad to worse when her husband, our narrator, fights to get her back from the store detectives; in the process, he’s injured, robbed, belittled, and jeered. Still, he fights for her, knocking over display cans of clam chowder and shouting at the manager, who only belittles him further: “Sir, I’ll have to ask you to leave at once. The customers are disturbed. We can’t take responsibility for that.” “Responsibility!” I shook my head ...
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BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH by Yoram Kaniuk translated by Barbara Harshav Restless Books, 219 pages reviewed by David Grandouiller Yoram Kaniuk, an Israeli novelist who died in 2013, was the kind of man who tells jokes as he's dying in the hospital, even when he has no voice, when there's a respirator thrust through an incision in his chest. His humor is at times bitter, biting like Sholem Aleichem's pogrom narratives, descending into sullen anti-prayers: “cancer, like Hitler...is a messenger of the Lord.” In this respect, Kaniuk's Between Life and Death, published this year in English, probably most closely resembles Christopher Hitchens' Mortality. A sense of the meaninglessness in so much of life, of banality in death, pervades both authors’ stories. Kaniuk rages and rejoices, but sometimes qualifies these outbursts by settling, like Hitchens, for a tone of ambivalent irony, communicated in prose thick with vibrant images and cumulative sentences. In Kaniuk's world, sons and fathers are dying, mothers and daughters, and “rain pipes” and “secret bays” and “natural pools” are dying, the parking lot of the concert hall (“may-it-rest-in-peace”) on Ibn Gabirol Street is dying, and the restaurant, First Cellar, on Ben Yehudah, died long ago: “A world where ...
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BLACK WINGS HAS MY ANGEL by Elliott Chaze introduction by Barry Gifford New York Review Books Classics, 209 pages reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster Some people believe that for each person there is only one soulmate. One chance. One perfect fit. The soulmate completes us and knits up our ragged edges. We heal into a wholeness that is sacred. It's fate, people say. It's the way of the world. Broken marriage? He wasn't your soulmate. Still lonely? Haven't yet met your soulmate. When the soulmate appears, it's like the universe holds a mirror up to us. Our love shows us our true selves. Everything is beautiful. But beauty can kill, too. Elliott Chaze's novel Black Wings Has My Angel explores a brilliant but fatal partnership between two criminals bent on committing the perfect heist. “Tim Sunblade”—not his real name—escapes prison with nothing but his wits and a foolproof plan for a high-end robbery. His first week back in civilian life, he hires Virginia, a “ten-dollar tramp” who is not only more than what he paid for, but more than he bargained for. “What I wanted was a big stupid commercial blob of a woman; not a slender poised thing with ...
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BLINDING: THE LEFT WING by Mircea Cărtărescu, in the English translation by Sean Cotter, Archipelago Books, 464 pages Reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin It starts in adolescence. The questions come to you while lying in bed (certainly now with a growing awareness of your sexuality), the walls of your room expanding into endless grainy darkness, as if the room itself could encompass the entire world: why am I here, why is there anything at all? The questions may haunt you at age 13 or 15 or 17, but by adulthood they tend to feel banal. Unanswerable, impossible, if taken seriously debilitating, they are in a word blinding, and so you tend to avert your gaze. But suppose you can’t, suppose the inviolable white light only draws you closer, to madness possibly, to paint or write or drink or pray (to what God, tell me?) almost certainly. And so perhaps you scribble, the pages of your notebooks filling with furious script, like eons of sediment piling into sad mute mountains no one else will ever excavate or carve or climb. Unless, perhaps, you are a writer of the caliber of Mircea Cărtărescu, the celebrated Romanian author of the 1996 book ...
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BLOWIN’ IT by Wintfred Huskey The Head & The Hand Press, 355 pages reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster Although the motif of the try-hard hipster wore thin over a decade ago, it’s still being trotted out in popular films, cartoons, articles, and so forth. The accusation of hipster-ness, which is distinct from being “hip,” at least where I live, is a serious one. Hipsters are characterized by a blissful ignorance that borders on denial. (Peter Pan was probably the original hipster.) A hipster appropriates the costumes of other characters and blends them, creating a deliberate pastiche of playful yet ironic cultural references. A hipster wears workingman’s boots and has hands softer than a lady’s kid gloves. The odds are good that he (or she) holds a white-collar job or the creative equivalent; the coffee shop is their daytime hub, and at night they hover around lumberjack-themed bars, drinking cheap American draft beers and talking loudly about other people’s art. They are cultural locusts, wandering in an aimless cloud, wondering what on earth they will now do with their shiny new college degrees and Tumblr blogs and secret proclivity for trashy pop music. This is the subject of Wintfred Huskey’s wicked ...
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BOILING LAKE (On Voyage) by Sharon White cover art by Sharyn O'Mara Jaded Ibis Press, 174 pages reviewed by Kenna O’Rourke The short flash pieces that comprise Sharon White’s Boiling Lake read like dispatches from a dreamscape—or perhaps a nightmarescape. Surreal, dark, and unmoored from time, these journal entries are well-crafted machines that merge fairytale, myth, and history into concise forms spanning no more than a page and a half. While some of these stories build narrative bridges—recurring characters include a girl nominated for sainthood and New World explorers reporting back to higher-ups—many exist as discrete moments, indulging in provocative imagery without the expectation of elaboration. There is skill in this work that allows one to dwell in the temporary, to savor the fleeting: The water is cold as hell and it takes awhile for the wet suit to work but once down there it’s great. Once I stayed almost my full time watching a starfish ingest a mussel. The starfish put his body against the joint of the shell and injected a muscle relaxant so that eventually the mussel couldn’t hold itself shut. I could watch fish forever. What will I do in Kansas? In brevity White builds the ...
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BOMBYONDER by Reb Livingston Bitter Cherry Books, 346 pages reviewed by Brent Terry Welcome to the crater. Keep your head down, your eyes open, and try not to lose your lunch…or your mind. Your guide on this journey is one of literature’s most unreliable narrators: a murderous, narcissistic, yet oddly appealing young woman on a quest through the bombed-out wreckage of her own psyche, in search of a past she can hang her hat on, a future that tells the truth, the real nature of her bomb-maker father’s legacy, and a little birdy that might make everything turn out okay. Reb Livingston’s literary forbears are legion. In this compellingly daft, lyrical, and mind-expanding novel we find traces of Sophocles, Lewis Carrol, Vonnegut, the Nabokov of Pale Fire, Hunter S. Thompson, Gertrude Stein, and Shelley—both of them—all run through the cerebral cortex of Tim Burton, put in a pill and swallowed whole by Livingston, the effect of which is an acid-trip of a novel that requires every bit of guile and courage a reader can muster. Livingston is best known as a poet, (with two critically acclaimed books and a Best American Poetry appearance to her credit) and her ...
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BRIEF EULOGIES AT ROADSIDE SHRINES by Mark Lyons Wild River Books, 216 pages reviewed by Jon Busch ...they just stick him in the ground with no stone, no nothin’. That ain’t right I say to myself.” This short passage from “He Sure Do Want to Fly”, one of the many superb pieces in Mark Lyons’ most recent short story collection, Brief Eulogies at Roadside Shrines, summarizes the intent of the work precisely. With the assurance and ease of a well-worn traveler, Mr. Lyons escorts the reader on a voyage through the lonely corners of North America, erecting descanos—roadside memorials—along the way. Each story, in its own manner, is an offering to the Gods of forgotten souls, or as the eponymous hero of the story, “Arnold’s Roadside Café” eloquently states, “The Great God of Roadkill.” The collection pulses with a tragic calmness akin to the writings of Carver or Cheever. Beneath every scene and absurd occurrence lurks a temperate sadness. While the explored themes of isolation, loneliness and death are heavy, the electric tone of the prose persistently enthralls. Here is Lyons’ energy and command of voice revealed by Blue-J, the protagonist of “He Sure Do Want to Fly,” describing ...
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BRIGHT MAGIC: Stories by Alfred Döblin translated by Damion Searls NYRB Classics, 240 pages reviewed by KC Mead-Brewer Bright Magic—a powerful concoction of black humor, harsh beauty, and dark fabulism—marks Alfred Döblin’s first collection ever to be translated into English (here by Damion Searls, a master of his craft who’s also translated the works of Proust and Rilke). Döblin (1878–1957), now a classic of German literature, was a pioneer of expressionist writing as well as a respected neurologist and army doctor. His short stories show a tremendous bravery of form and a willingness to experiment with things that today would be called flash and micro fiction as early as the 1910s. He also demonstrates a deep desire to mirror the absurdity of all that surrounded him—the horror of world wars, the destructive power of ignorance—by wielding absurdity in his stories like a joke, a sword, a punishing assumption. In this collection, we see Döblin lift up fascinations with memory and things forgotten, with morality and violence, with descents into madness and those dizzying moments of painful, exquisite clarity. In “The Ballerina and the Body,” Döblin explores the body’s tenuous relationship to the mind. Studying to become a ballerina, the young ...
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BRIGHTFELLOW by Rikki Ducornet Coffee House Press, 176 pages reviewed by Elizabeth Mosier “The linoleum swells with stories. As he plays, darkness rises from the floor and slowly claims the room.” With these unsettling, intriguing first lines, we enter the mind and story of Stub, a six-year-old who observes the broken, embittered adults in his world. Growing up, he’s learning, requires giving up not only childish things but childish wonder, too. Abandoned by his mother, neglected by his father, briefly cared for by Jenny (a sweet but “crazy, sort of” young woman just sprung from the local “madhouse”), the boy becomes a refugee on the college campus where his father works as a plumber. By nineteen, he’s left home for good and is raising himself there, eating food purloined from faculty houses and wearing “preppy discards” he finds in the student dorms. He spends his days roaming the library stacks and reading the works of the reclusive anthropologist Verner Vanderloon, a Werner Wolf-ish character who writes that mankind is divided into people “who know how to play, are full of mirth and fellow feeling, and the ones who are killjoys and combustible.” Play is a powerful form of magic, Vanderloon says, ...
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CARNIVAL  by Rawi Hage Norton, 304 pages Reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin Fly, the narrator of Rawi Hage’s fabulist novel Carnival, released in the US on June 17, is a literature-obsessed taxi driver—and child of circus performers—who imagines himself a super-hero, avenging wrongs perpetrated on the vulnerable and the poor. Books—particularly the subversive kind—are his sword. One night, he picks up an arguing couple. The woman, Mary, is crying. Her husband berates her for her introverted, bookish ways. He wants some action. “I am tired of this, do you understand?” he says. Fly flies into a rage, forces the husband out of the car, leaves him by the side of the road, and brings “sweet Mary” back to his book-stuffed apartment. “And she laughed and walked among the garden of books,” he says, “and then we took off our fig leaves and made love in the corner, where verses from heaven touched our bare, cracked asses that hopped and bounced like invading horses in the holy lands.” He goes on, We flew out of the city and we landed on the page where Moses split the sea and the Jews marched between those suspended mountains of water, hovering, humming on both ...
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COBALT BLUE by Sachin Kundalkar translated by Jerry Pinto The New Press, 228 pages reviewed by Nokware Knight Tanay is a young, closeted queer man trying to work through an internal rut by living for the company of and validation from others. As Tanay befriends an out-of-towner renting a room in his family’s home, he finds himself in awe of the Guest’s ability to thrive in solitude, to fully embrace his mood of the moment, to being in a class of “men who lived their own idiosyncrasies” (the house guest is unnamed in the novel, but for the sake of clarity in this review I call him the Guest). It’s enough to gradually wrestle Tanay out of his day-to-day haze, to make him “aware of the mediocrity, the ordinariness” of his “secure and comfortable life.” Anuj, Tanay’s fiercely independent younger sister, is also taken by the Guest’s charms, but to different effect. For Anuj, the Guest doesn’t so much unearth a hidden urge to be, he reflects and accepts with ease the off-center personhood that comes natural to her, a personality she’s often had to defend to claim as her own. Cobalt Blue, which follows this unusual love triangle, does ...
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COME AS YOU ARE by Christine Weiser PS Books, 290 pages reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster Is there anything more disappointing than waking up in your mid-30s and wondering what the hell happened? Suddenly, you have a family, children, a mortgage, and a job that, despite your best efforts, is starting to define you. Your sensible car is in perfect order. You have a retirement account. Where’s the punk you used to be? What happened to all those bad decisions you made in your 20s? This is the crux of the conflict in Come As You Are, a new novel by Christine Weiser. Three friends, now saddled with the responsibilities of adult life, get a chance to relive their grunge rock days. Kit, Margot, and Keri scattered after their band Broad Street broke up. Kit’s a single mother, living with her dad and “succumbing to financial reality” of a part-time job. Margot is a foxy daytime TV personality, sleeping with interns and capitalizing on her sex appeal. Keri, the drummer, is as perky and responsible as ever, settled down with her girlfriend and making good money. However, a sense of dissatisfaction dogs Kit and Margot. Why didn’t it work out? ...
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CONFESSIONS by Rabee Jaber translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid Melville House, 120 pages reviewed by Justin Goodman Virility—that most male of virtues—is the heart of American war literature; Stephen Crane’s Henry Fleming learns patriotism in the face of bullets, Kurt Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim explores his sexual energy amidst the Dresden Bombing, and Tim O’Brien’s Jimmy Cross is both distracted and driven by his hometown romance. There isn’t much virility in Maroun, the twitchy and vaguely traumatized narrator of Rabee Jabar’s Confessions, however. That’s probably attributable to the hydra that was Lebanon’s Civil War, around which the novel circles. And circles. And circles. And while the spiral, as it too often does, must end somewhere, you can be sure it ends prematurely. Nonetheless, this baroque mania is Confessions most powerful trait, transforming a straightforward family drama into the search for First Causes that war induces in us. Blunty, almost bored, Maroun introduces us to the facts of his life: he was the sole member of his family to survive a man who “kidnapped people and killed them”; though not fatally, the man shot Maroun “in 1976, on the demarcation line that split Beirut in two.” Unknowingly Maroun becomes the killer’s son ...
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CONQUISTADOR OF THE USELESS by Joshua Isard Cinco Puntos Press, 249 pages reviewed by Jon Busch Joshua Isard’s Conquistador of the Useless is a novel of vertices, exploring the terrain of transitions, where cultural ethos and personal identity evolve in phase. It is this vague middle ground, the no-man’s-land between good ol’ days and dreary futures, where our protagonist Nathan Wavelsky traverses in apathetic strides. The use of this structure manifests in an insightful and poignant exploration of meaning and meaninglessness in contemporary life. What does it mean to live outside the narrative arc? The novel opens with Nathan and his wife Lisa moving out of the city of Philadelphia and into the suburbs. The move marks a return to the land of his childhood and the end of his rebellious twenties. But Nathan isn’t home in either world. He is neither young nor old, urban nor suburban. The era of his young adulthood has concluded and the shifting cultural tide presents him with the uncomfortable truth that all of his once grandiose, youthful angst has accomplished nothing—the experiences which once felt unique and infused with importance were, in fact, no more than the standard benchmarks of growth that all ...
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CONVERSATIONS by César Aira translated by Katherine Silver New Directions, 88 pages reviewed by Ana Schwartz The Little Estancias Domestic Tourism What’s the name for the genre of writing about a house? House tourism exists, but what about house-writing? It would be a good word to have on hand when reading Argentina: The Great Estancias, because whatever that genre is, this book is the exemplar. An estancia is a large estate originating in colonial settlement of Latin America and supported by agricultural industry, usually livestock. Despite regional variation across Latin America (and the use of different names, like hacienda), they generally consist of a large central house and several smaller edifices across acres upon thousands of acres of land. True to the title, the nation of Argentina is the primary subject of this book. Its history and culture are beautifully recorded in the photographs by Tomás de Elia and Cristina Cassinelli de Corral, alongside the descriptive text by César Aira. Yes, that César Aira. The same Aira whose Spanish language oeuvre—over 60 novels, plus essays and a few monographs—has been, since 2006, slowly appearing in English, thanks to the editors at New Directions Paperbacks. The latest, Conversations, in the ...
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COUP DE FOUDRE A Novella and Stories by Ken Kalfus Bloomsbury Press, 277 pages reviewed by Carolyn Daffron Ken Kalfus is an audacious stylist, whose stories and novels often invoke the likes of Borges, Calvino, Golgol, and Saramago. His choice of subject matter can be equally fearless: cosmology, 9-11, and the grand sweep of Russian history, to name only a few. Coup de Foudre, the novella which forms the centerpiece of his most recent collection of short fiction, is a coruscating example of this gutsiness and high literary ambition. Not that I enjoyed reading it, at least not the first time. Coup de Foudre tells the story of David Léon Landau, a character not-at-all-loosely based on French financier and former presidential hopeful Dominque Strauss-Kahn (known in France and now everywhere as “DSK”) who was accused of sexually assaulting a housekeeper in his New York hotel in 2011. Although criminal charges were dropped, the case led to a civil settlement, various other scandalous accusations and revelations, and the ruin of DSK’s career. The novella is a first person account of the hotel assault and the events immediately surrounding it, written in the form of a letter to Mariama, the housekeeper-victim—a letter which Landau ...
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Dept of Speculation
DEPT. OF SPECULATION by Jenny Offill Alfred A. Knopf, 177 pages Reviewed by Michelle Fost Here’s an idea for a book party. Hold it in the Guggenheim. Set up an exhibit of all the pages of the book. Frame each page and display them in sequence, ending at the bottom of the ramp. Enlarge the pages 10X the size of the Borzoi Book edition pages, because the first line of the book is “Antelopes have 10X vision, you said” but also so that it’s possible for many viewers to be reading a single page. Hope for crowds. Leave the walls behind the framed pages white, to call attention to the writer’s use of white space as well as the visual appeal of the blocks of text in this accomplished second novel. See if anyone at the bottom of the ramp wonders if the experience of the novel is like what could happen if, say, Rothko had created a series of paintings to be viewed sequentially and that expressed an artist’s emotionally fraught love story. Or maybe if Terrence Malick created an exhibit of still photographs that told a similar story. The passages that make up Jenny Offill’s 46 brief chapters ...
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DON'T THINK by Richard Burgin Johns Hopkins University Press, 184 pages reviewed by Lynn Levin When you read Richard Burgin’s fiction, be prepared to slip into the lives of the neurotic, the slightly or very twisted, the disconnected, and the agonizingly lonely. And expect to find yourself sympathizing with them. Don’t Think, Burgin’s newest collection of short stories (and his nineteenth book), is one of his very best. The author’s straightforward and suspense-driven storytelling voice is as compelling as ever, the stories somewhat spooky and darkly comic. They give you the willies and keep you coming back for more. But Burgin, in this latest collection, demonstrates a new empathy for his characters. This notable evolution gives the characters softer landings and a fuller resonance in the reader’s imagination. The protagonists of Don’t Think are mostly single middle-aged men, isolated souls detached from parents, siblings, children, ex-lovers, and the few friends they ever had. The rest of the dramatis personae comprise drug dealers, prostitutes, molesters, users, charlatans, rivals, and seducers, many of whom turn on the hapless stiffs who venture into their webs. The book opens with the relentlessly lyrical and meditative story “Don’t Think,” which is narrated in the second ...
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DUPLEX by Kathryn Davis Graywolf Press, 195 pages reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster “It is not wise to break the rules until you know how to observe them,” said T.S. Eliot. Author Kathryn Davis has taken the aphorism to heart.In her latest novel, Duplex, a series of simple stories fit neatly into one another: she’s following the rules. Boy meets girl, boy sells his soul for fame. A woman takes a lover. A woman goes on a journey. And then she breaks them: using a pared-down voice and a lush palette of nightmarish images, she leads the reader through a futuristic suburb populated by robots, sorcerers, traveling photographers, and all kinds of ordinary-seeming people. It’s a pleasure to watch her break each rule, twisting the familiar fables and tropes into something shining and snarled, like a coil of steel wire left out as a trap for rabbits. The components of the plot are in fact mercifully simple, as anything more elaborate would sink the novel. As it is, the story centers around two star-crossed children, Mary and Eddie, and their neighbors, Miss Vicks the schoolteacher, and a sorcerer with white and wandering fingers. A family of robots lives next door ...
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EASIEST IF I HAD A GUN by Michael Gerhard Martin Alley Way Books, 135 pages reviewed by Rosie Huf It wasn’t Michael Gerhard Martin’s stories in the collection Easiest If I Had a Gun that wooed me as much as it was his crisp, visceral writing. His narrative constructs are alluring and beg to be unpacked, analyzed, and savored. Without apparent ego or bias, he transcribes the thoughts, memories, and dialogue of his characters as they struggle to navigate the mundane obstacles associated with living as lower middle-class, white Americans. This theme—the white man’s struggle—is not new. Yet, Martin manages to bring to the subject a fresh voice and a macabre sense of social conscience. At present, Martin, who received an MFA from the University of Pittsburg, is an adjunct professor of Rhetoric at Babson College in Massachusetts. He is evidently passionate about language, employing words and structuring sentences in order to produce subtle messages. His stories take place in various towns and neighborhoods in Pennsylvania that are filled with particular kinds of people: men and women and children suffocated by inherited traditions and conservative social rules. “The old saying is ‘write what you know,’ but I write ...
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ELSA by Tsipi Keller Spuyten Duyvil,  187 pages reviewed by Lynn Levin As I began reading this short novel by Tsipi Keller, I found myself enjoying what I thought was going to be a leisurely experience with chick lit. Nothing too demanding, nothing to worrisome. Elsa, at the start, is as much about the jealousies of girl friendships as it is about the protagonist’s desire for some overdue sex and true romance. About a third of the way into the book, however, the narrative becomes increasingly disturbing as Keller skillfully pitches the fascinating but dislikable protagonist, thirty-nine-year-old Elsa, into a gradually darkening labyrinth of seduction and danger. I so wanted to reach into the story and shake Elsa. “Get out of there while you can!” In the meantime Gary, Elsa’s wealthy middle-aged date, whispers in her ear in a velvet voice, “You’re a fool...So trusting.” Elsa is the third in Tsipi Keller’s trilogy of psychological novels. The first two were Jackpot and Retelling, which trace the fortunes of women. Elsa calls to mind some of Richard Burgin’s noir fiction. Both writers explore the world of nefarious, but initially engaging, operators who insinuate themselves into the lives of lonely strangers aiming to ...
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Ending Up
ENDING UP by Kingsley Amis NYRB Classics, 136 pages reviewed by Jon Busch Originally published in 1974, Kingsley Amis’ short novel Ending Up is about five old-timers approaching death in England. It is a startlingly funny work, considering the grim subject. I was initially apprehensive about this book, wary that my limited knowledge of English culture would hinder my ability to understand an English work of social satire, but happily this was not the case nor should it be a worry for any reader. Amis’ concerns in the book, while presented through British characters, are predominantly human in scope. The bulk of the novel, with the exception of a few doctors’ visits, takes place at Tuppeny-Happenny Cottage, where the novel’s five protagonists share residence. The cottage, with its off-the-beaten-path culture, is a petri dish of incubating irritation resulting from the character’s declining physical power and loss of mental faculties. While the plot is inherently tragic, Amis’ dry descriptions, annoying characters, and ridiculous ending argue for the book’s classification as comedy. Satirist Craig Brown, in the introduction, describes the book as irritation raised to the level of art. More succinct words have never been uttered. If there is an aim to ...
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EQUILATERAL by Ken Kalfus Bloomsbury USA, 224 pages Reviewed by Chris Ludovici At its core, Ken Kalfus’s Equilateral is about communication: communication between an empire and its subjects; between visionaries and those who finance that vision; between the people who plan a task and those who realize it. And— most essentially to plot while least essentially to the narrative— Equilateral is about communication between the planets Earth and Mars. In a little over two hundred pages, Kalfus manages to tell a rich, fascinating story about our need to connect with something outside of ourselves, and our inherent limitations that keep us from doing just that. The discovery of canals on the surface of Mars has led the nineteenth century scientific community to conclude that there is indeed intelligent life on our closest celestial neighbor, setting in motion a mad scramble to be the first culture to make contact with it. In Egypt, British astronomer Sanford Thayer is nearing completion of his Equilateral, a gigantic equilateral triangle, each side five feet deep and more than three hundred miles long, dug in the dessert that, once completed, will be filled with pitch and set on fire, creating a “space flare” so large it ...
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EVERLASTING LANE by Andrew Lovett Melville House, 353 pages reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster Why do we think that childhood is a golden, untouchable idyll? Childhood is horrible; even the happy, non-traumatic ones, stuffed with loving family, good food, summer vacations, and abundant laughter, weigh on us. As we pass through the gates of maturity, moving towards our adult selves, we forget the burden of being a child. Proust, with his Sisyphean sentences, knew. Roddy Doyle knew it, wrote it into his perfect novel Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. And Andrew Lovett knows it. His first novel, Everlasting Lane, captures the dreaminess of childhood, and the small details that make it nightmarish as well. I had a particularly fine childhood, in case you wondered. My parents were kind and affectionate. There were picnics. Ice cream. I liked school, and was allowed to read whatever I wanted. In the summers, my sister and I went to stay with our grandparents. On the weekends, we listened to bluegrass music in the park, hiked in the woods, and rode our bikes around the nearby lake. I do not say that childhood is horrible because mine was. I say it, because childhood is a time ...
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Fat City
FAT CITY by Leonard Gardner introduction by Denis Johnson New York Review Books, 191 pages reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster We steal. Writers do. A good writer is a magpie, searching other people's sentences for something that glimmers. A good writer reads with a jeweler's loupe. Close reading, and the willingness to borrow shamelessly from other people's works, is what differentiates the casual writer from the serious writer. Very serious writers find other writers' reading lists, and read them. And then those writers' lists, their influences. And so on back. Read up the chain. Understanding what a writer reads, and how they read it, can give deep insight into the craft of storytelling. But getting inside means finding the book that matters most; the one that changed everything. Fat City by Leonard Gardner is one of these. It's cited as a major influence by writers like Denis Johnson and Joan Didion. Ever heard of it? Me neither. Like its main characters—two perpetually out-of-luck boxers—Fat City is the best book you've never read. It resists hype in a way that's refreshing. In an age that lives for the reboot—J.K. Rowling's return to YA fiction, Harper Lee's lost manuscript, ...
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FORTUNE'S FATE by Miriam Graham Unreal Imprints, 1075  pages reviewed by Flair Coody Roster Although I have never personally met Miriam Graham, I learned everything about her that I could possibly wish in what is her debut (and hopefully only) novel, Fortune’s Fate, forthcoming this August from Unreal Imprints. As a veteran reviewer, I no longer assess a book by its contents. (All of the best authors are dead, except for TuPac.) Instead, I take a long, hard look at the author's bio. The bio is the hardest thing to write—harder than a 100,000 word novel—and reveals more than most writers intend. Graham congratulates herself on her participation in several mid-tier workshops (tuition, not merit-based), name-drops a few nobodies, and dribbles out some gratitude for the emotional support provided by her eight Persian cats. None of this is important or interesting. The photo, however, says it all. Graham's deep-set, cowardly eyes told me at once that I was in for a massively disappointing read, and that I should probably contact my therapist because Graham looks a lot like my mother and I was feeling very triggered. Although my therapist has since reassured me several times that Graham did not deliberately ...
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THE PAPER MAN by Gallagher Lawson Unnamed Press, 267 pages REMEMBER THE SCORPION by Isaac Goldemberg translated from the Spanish by Jonathan Tittler Unnamed Press, 133 pages THE FINE ART OF FUCKING UP by Cate Dicharry Unnamed Press, 230 pages ESCAPE FROM BAGHDAD by Saad Z. Hossain Unnamed Press, 304 pages reviewed by Johnny Payne The wryly-named Unnamed Press out of Los Angeles is living the self-appointed paradox of making a name for itself. Any independent press walks the line between sufficient eclecticism to draw in a swath of curious readers, and a strong enough identity to stand out from the pack. Unnamed Press has achieved this goal with a set of spanking new novel releases: Escape from Baghdad, Remember the Scorpion, The Paper Man, and The Fine Art of Fucking Up (possible best title of the year). A decided taste rules the selections: There is snappy dialogue. “He’s a sullen little shit, but his work’s pretty good;” “All of Lima smells like a woman in heat.” “I dream only in American.” There is narrative pith. The first, brief paragraph of The Fine Art of Fucking Up reads, I am sitting behind my desk watching the downpour when I ...
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FOURTEEN STORIES, NONE OF THEM ARE YOURS by Luke B. Goebel FC2, 167 pages reviewed by Jacob White The pleasure of reading Luke Goebel’s little big first novel, Fourteen Stories, None of Them Are Yours, comes less, it seems, from the pages themselves than from the palpable life-lust ripping past them, sloughing them off. The release of this energy is of course exactly a function of the novel form, yet the feat feels entirely new here, or newly realized. This monologue is running for its life, splitting the novel’s formal seams with intrusions to qualify retrospective distance or the shifting narrative present, the parentheses and brackets gaping wider and wider to reveal the fevered flesh beneath. In the narrator’s racing panic, we feel the pages tattering loose from his arms before finally snapping behind him with the wind into the crazy nothing. “Books are over,” the book concludes, and rarely indeed has a book been so humbled by the thing it contains. Life moves through these pages, and our joy—our elation—is seeing the pages struggle, and fail, to keep up. I suppose each of Fourteen Stories’ chapters revolves around a particular story or anecdote, but in each the particulars ...
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GILGI, ONE OF US By Irmgard Keun (1931) in the first English translation by Geoff Wilkes Melville House, 210 pages  Reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin You push through the small, enclosed, almost claustrophobic rooms at the head of “Léger: Modern Art and the Metropolis,” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, like an exile from a provincial village, and there you are face to face with Léger’s masterwork The City. Now free of the repressive ties of the parochial, you’re not there yet. The City—the city—looms, an inscrutable machine. “At once spacious in its lateral spread and aggressively frontal, it offers the eye no reasonable focus and the body no comfortable place to stand,” says the show’s curator, Anna Vallye, in the deeply informed essay, “The Painter on the Boulevard,” in the exhibition catalog. “To approach is to hazard.” But Léger’s painting is no warning. Rather it’s a syncopation of the moment when Modernity wrote itself across physical and temporal space in the form of the bristling, color-flashing, mesmerizing, hard-edged, dangerously inhumane and astoundingly infinite city. Past The City, the show opens up into a vast gallery, where, almost a century on from 1919, when Léger finished the eight foot tall painting, ...
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GOLDEN DELICIOUS by Christopher Boucher Melville House Publishing, 323 pages reviewed by Claire Rudy Foster The best experimental fiction challenges the reader to think and feel in new kinds of ways but also invites her along for the journey. Christopher Boucher’s second novel, Golden Delicious, delivers partially on this promise. However, it reads like a literary experiment, more mathematical than artistic. Is it enjoyable? I can’t tell. Am I supposed to like it? I flipped the pages, thinking of David Foster Wallace’s essay “E Unibus Pluram.” Persistent irony is tiresome, he says. “Sitting through a 300-page novel full of nothing but trendy sardonic exhaustion, one ends up feeling not only empty but somehow … oppressed.” Although I didn’t feel carved out, I did feel oppressed by the sheer volume of surreal cleverness in Golden Delicious. As I dug in, I experienced the unsettling sensation of reading a book that is smarter than I am. Golden Delicious follows a fairly straight plot structure. (Thank God.) The novel’s a story of a family in Appleseed, Massachusetts, the kind of small town where apple-cheeked children frisk beside white picket fences, waving baseballs over the heads of leaping, barking terriers. It is, for lack ...
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GOOD ON PAPER by Rachel Cantor Melville House, 320 pages reviewed by Lillian Brown From Rachel Cantor, the lauded author of the 2014 novel A Highly Unlikely Scenario, comes a novel of New Life, a journey of personal resurrection, Good on Paper. Much of the novel is a meditation on fidelity, in relationships and in translations, and it brings to the page some of the most interesting personalities and family dynamics so far this year in literature. The characters and their relationships make this story of literary delight: Shira, the protagonist, a translator and single mother; Ahmad, her gay best friend and co-parent; Andi, her young and sharp daughter; Romei, the illustrious, Nobel prizing-winning poet, both on the phone and the page; Benny, the owner of the neighborhood bookstore People of the Book, publisher of the local literary magazine Gilgul, part-time love interest of Shira, and the very person to connect Shira and Romei. Good on Paper serves as a reminder of the power of connections, between both people and words. A PhD dropout and SuperTemps veteran, Shira spends much of her time contemplating the impending Y2K (the novel is set in the late nineties) and the nature of love ...
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