The disturbing cover art of DNA Hymn features a woman whose bloody mouth discharges what appear to be balloons, intestines, or giant molecules. The image seems apt for a collection of poems that freely disgorges both intelligence and emotional wisdom. This book by the semi-pseudonymous Annah Anti-Palindrome waxes conceptual to be sure, but not to the point where each individual poem is negated by an overarching Big Idea. In the introduction, the author explains that “resisting palindromes” derives from her mother’s morphine overdose and her desire as a daughter, both linguistic and existential, to break out of a legacy of violence. The first poem, “extraction,” fittingly takes an epidural as its footnote and birth as its subject: “tooth tile milk moon marrow . clock jaw limb socket hollow ./ split hair curl coil crescent . wet nest yolk part swallow .”chop! chop! read more!
TYPEWRITERS, BOMBS, JELLYFISH: ESSAYS by Tom McCarthy New York Review Books, 288 Pages reviewed by William Morris I am writing this on Monday May 8, 2017, the night before Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish: Essays, a collection of the work of British writer Tom McCarthy, will be published. I checked my watch to be sure of the date, and found that it’s a day off. It claims today is the 7th. This small discrepancy is hardly worth noting, except as it pertains to McCarthy’s obsessive treatment of time in these essays. Time is an illusive business, a difficult thing to pin down, as it’s always moving out from under us. For McCarthy, time is a series of refrains and repetitions, arrests and elisions, and he turns to it again and again in this collection. McCarthy originally published or presented these essays as lectures, introductions to books, or accompaniments to art installations during … chop! chop! read more!
“Love. Call me Love, the Word Incarnate.”
This is the closest that readers get to a name for the protagonist and narrator of João Gilberto Noll’s strange little book, Atlantic Hotel, recently translated into English by Adam Morris. The novel is set in Brazil in the 1980s, and over the course of the book, the unnamed narrator embarks on a beguiling and pointless quest through the country. At different points he will seem to be—or perhaps will be—an actor, a priest, an alcoholic, an invalid. Along the way, Noll will shade his experiences with touches of Don Quixote and Odysseus, hints of The Stranger and a taste of the pantomime and absurdity of Fellini’s early 1960s films (Noll’s unnamed narrator a believable stand-in for the existentially angsty characters usually played by Marcello Mastroianni).chop! chop! read more!
Ultimately this is a beautiful little novel that leaves the reader reeling with the powerful emotions it manages to render in such a short space and with such sparse language. The simple storyline also gives leave for musings over possible symbolism. For example, what does the cow represent? Of course it could represent nothing in particular, simply a lost cow, one of the millions of small reasons we give ourselves to keep living purposefully each day.chop! chop! read more!
From the start, O’Sullivan pulls readers in with well-crafted characters and a beautifully painted setting. She drops the reader deep into the South with Hurricane Katrina looming offshore. The opening pages saturate us with the warmth, hospitality, and food that are so true to this geographical location. But we aren’t allowed to get too comfortable. Not with the bad weather reports and the life-changing storm churning at sea.chop! chop! read more!
With Like Death, Richard Howard—poet, critic, essayist, and professor at Columbia University—offers a rendering of Maupassant’s Fort comme la mort that, I can only presume, retains all of the lyrical richness of the original, published in 1889. It also offers startling insight into the extent of Maupassant’s influence, which can be found in some of the 20th century’s most seminal works.chop! chop! read more!
Certain great writers fade from the American memory like condensation from a windowpane. The Icelandic novelist Halldor Laxness—he was once all the rage here—is one. He was considered something of an upstart, a genius, a social novelist, a fellow traveler of Upton Sinclair and Bertolt Brecht, and he often journeyed between Europe and America. A Marxist-Stalinist who was very critical of America, he was once important enough to attract the personal ire of J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI, who worked hard to impoverish Laxness by attempting to confiscate profits from his U.S. book sales, which were considerable.chop! chop! read more!
How We Speak to One Another, which came out this month, is a book of essays on essays, on the Essay—that sprawling mountain of a form, reaching its roots into every fallow field. The reader sinks in to find Ander Monson digging his way: “I’d thought of my own essaying as mine work, a kind of solo exploration down here in the dark. But then one time I was chipping at a hunk of rock, watching my tool spark, and suddenly it broke through a wall and ran into another tunnel.” The tunnel is John D’Agata’s. This kind of encounter, told in one of Monson’s quirky conceits, is representative of the rest of the anthology. These essays are excavations in what the Catholic monk and writer Thomas Merton called (in his last address, just two hours before his death) the “interdependence of all living [and dying] beings.”chop! chop! read more!
Twelve-year-old Mischa Love—or Ish—wants to be among the first colonists on Mars more than anything, and has applied to a program in Iceland offering this chance (and been rejected) nearly 50 times. She knows pretty much everything there is to know about Mars. When it comes to science, her convictions are strong. “Global warming is a real thing,” she tells us with unwavering certainty. “You can pretend it’s not, but that’s just dumb. It’s science.”chop! chop! read more!
A hundred years after Leonora Carrington’s birth, her painting and writing seems, to the modern viewer, as defamiliarized and spontaneous as it did when it first appeared under the Surrealist banner.chop! chop! read more!
Melancholy can be a difficult tone for authors to elicit. Paired with too much unwarranted levity, or depicted as flat sadness without the requisite quiet contemplation, it can easily shift to the maudlin. Tom Gauld’s graphic novel, Mooncop, manages to delicately balance the emptiness of outer space with the intimacy of solitude, a tone which stayed with me days after putting the book down. Gauld packs an impressive amount of feeling into a tiny package—Mooncop is less than a hundred pages long and takes a maximum of thirty minutes to finish. I never felt overwhelmed by any single emotion, however, as a thin layer of meditative calm acts as a barrier between the potentially crushing despair of loneliness.chop! chop! read more!
Alejandra Mortiz is a bruja. She lives her life in the presence of death. She comes from a long line of brujas, each with their own unique manifestation of power.
But Alex, as her family and friends know her, does not revere the magical legacy of her family; she fears it. After seeing her Aunt Rosaria rise from the dead as a child, Alex is burdened by the sense that magic is not a gift, as her sisters Rose and Lula believe, but a curse. Her fear grows more acute as her Death Day approaches. This is a bruja’s coming of age celebration when the manifestation of her power is blessed by her ancestors.chop! chop! read more!
Julia Alekseyeva’s Soviet Daughter: A Graphic Revolution could hardly have come at a better time. A Soviet-born woman who emigrated with her multigenerational Jewish family to the U.S. in 1992, the author entwines her great-grandmother Lola’s life story with her own, translating Lola’s own written memoir into part of a double narrative. As we all struggle to make sense of the Trump era, Alekseyeva has written and drawn a story of autocracy, revolution, and the refugee experience–and of how history affects the private lives not just of its eyewitnesses, but of many subsequent generations.chop! chop! read more!
Shot Blue is written in a style that somehow combines an easy-spoken blue collar minimalism with wordplay and lyricism. The oblique, hidden emotions of the characters are balanced in part by the ingenuity and playfulness of Ruddock’s language.chop! chop! read more!
On the peripheries of almost constant domestic emergency and conflict, Patricia Colleen Murphy’s poetry collection Hemming Flames lights up disaster and familial antipathy with humor and endurance. Many of the pieces in this collection share threads of the same story, featuring reoccurring family figures and familiar, though often growing, conflicts. There is an undeniable amount of devastation and trauma inside these family stories, but Murphy’s true skill lies not in showing what’s often the obvious and expected pain of it all, but in bringing a humor and an odd sense of the mundane to seemingly shocking moments.chop! chop! read more!
In Jennie Yabroff’s debut young adult novel, If You Were Here, Yabroff shows the normal struggles of growing up combined with the confusion of dealing with a parent suffering from mental illness. If You Were Here follows Tess Block, a girl who relishes summer vacations where she can hide away in her grandmother’s country cabin and not have to deal with high school or family. It means no contact with her best friend, Tabitha, because there’s no cell service, but Tess enjoys the freedom of escaping NYC for a few months, and the freedom from what’s going on at home with her mother.chop! chop! read more!
The Trump administration, however, is a near perfect embodiment of the Money Cult. One need simply look at the two men on top: Trump, one of the embodiments of American capitalism, and Pence, a fervent evangelical. There is also open access in the administration for other ardent Christians, such as for the new Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, a surgeon who preaches self-activation. Lehmann argues that the United States began, essentially, during the seventeenth century colonial era of John Winthrop, as a kind of theocracy, a union between religion and politics; and now it has ended with a different union, one between religion and business. In the era of Trump, this union decisively includes politics once more.chop! chop! read more!
The unnamed narrator of The Year of the Comet is born the moment an earthquake strikes Moscow. “The earthquake was my first impression of being: the world was revealed to me as instability, shakiness, the wobbliness of foundations.” Therefore, he observes, “My feelings, my ability to feel, were fashioned by that underground blow. I had trouble understanding anything to do with stability, immutability, and firmness, even though I wanted those states I could not achieve; disharmony was closer and more understandable than harmony.”chop! chop! read more!
mother-mailbox is a private life, the private mode of womanhood, made public for all of us who have ever felt empty, questioned if there was more (or made new subs out of Subway sandwich wrappings to feel such a thing) and questioned how we should be feeling, but also those of us who have found beauty and humor in the “fade-proof plum lip-root mess” of it all, for those of us who seek a home within ourselves and those we make of ourselves; for those of us whose mothers or children have made spiraling, fairytale messes in our lives, flitting in and out as fragile as a flower until they suddenly take solid root.chop! chop! read more!
“A book becomes a living thing only when it interacts with a reader,” says writer Gil Coleman, the rogue central character of Claire Fuller’s Swimming Lessons. When he tells a bookshop assistant that “first editions don’t matter,” he seems to argue that access is more important than ownership, that a book’s content is more valuable than the object enclosing the text. But the impulse behind the sentiment is hardly democratic; his words cast light on his unequal marriage to Ingrid, a student he impregnates, derailing her education. Infamous for a single work (the lurid and presumably autobiographical A Man of Pleasure), Gil is oddly less interested in an author’s words than in “the handwritten marginalia and doodles that marked up the pages,” and “the forgotten ephemera used as bookmarks.” By the end of his life, his wife is gone and his library is full of “bits of paper with which he could piece together other people’s lives, other people who had read the same books he held and who had marked their place.” It’s also full of clues to solve a mystery at the center of this skillfully structured and satisfying novel: Where did Ingrid go, and why?chop! chop! read more!
Throughout its 300-plus pages, Rolling Blackouts provides valuable historical contexts and multiple viewpoints to help any reader better understand the region and its people. Glidden incorporates the voices of government officials, aid workers, refugees – even a former terror suspect, among many others, in order to showcase the complicated realities of life in those countries. We meet those whose lives were improved from the Iraq War as well as those whose lives were destroyed. We meet those who love the United States, and those who say, “I don’t want to bring children into a country that could be bombed by America.” As Glidden writes: “I think sometimes journalists get caught up in the hard news part, in investigating an unknown angle. But they forget that for most of our audiences, it’s all an unknown angle.” Incorporating a large chorus of voices, Glidden hopes to inform and challenge her readers.chop! chop! read more!
In Patrick Dacey’s first story collection, We’ve Already Gone This Far, available now in hardback and due out from Picador in paperback June 27, we find out what happens when we yield to life’s despiritualized strangeness in the twenty-first century’s overweening atmosphere of hogwild commercialism and ideological rigidity. (His first novel, The Outer Cape (Henry Holt & Co), will debut in hardback on the same date.) Dacey seems to be an interesting character himself in this regard, a bespoke and downtrodden seeker of his own soul adrift in corporatized America. The descriptions he’s given in interviews of a difficult youth and family life, the bouts of poverty he endured as an adult, are evidence of a nature informed largely by pain and wonder. His father was a gambler who went broke repeatedly and thereafter took his son on long door-to-door sales trips. Later, Dacey raised his own son while living hand-to-mouth on hourly wages, after studying under George Saunders and Mary Gaitskill at the Syracuse MFA program. The agony of the peripatetic writer undergoing economic uncertainties comes through strongly in his work; Dacey’s writing often reflects the rawness of material poverty, a certain yearning for inner enrichment or a scatterbrained longing that is as essential to his stories’ characters as their spinal cord.chop! chop! read more!
The essay collection My Italians: True Stories of Crime and Courage, the provocateur Robert Saviano’s newest nonfiction work, is a startling condemnation of contemporary Italian life. For about a decade, Saviano’s one-man campaign against organized crime in Naples has made him famous across Italy. But he’s little known in the U.S., or he was at least until recently when a TV adaptation of his 2007 bestseller, Gomorrah, about the crime syndicate, la Camorra, began airing on the Sundance Channel (Italian director Matteo Garrone also made a 2008 film by the same name). Yet Saviano’s expertise on the malavita and how it’s infiltrated legitimate business knows no borders. Last year, he gave a talk at a conference in England about how business transactions in London’s much-vaunted City financial district are in fact influenced and manipulated by organized crime.chop! chop! read more!
IN LIEU OF FLOWERS by Rachel Slotnick Tortoise Books, 48 pages reviewed by Carlo Matos Rachel Slotnick’s debut collection, In Lieu of Flowers—an eclectic combination of lyric poems, flash prose, and mixed-media paintings by the author, who is also an accomplished painter and muralist—is part in memoriam and part Ovid’s Metamorphosis. The paintings are of particular interest because they play an essential role in how we understand the poems rather than being simply decorative or extraneous as can sometimes happen when paintings and poems are paired up together in such a context. Most are essentially portraits, though not purely mimetic ones. Her paintings have a surreal quality, the edges often blurred as one image becomes another: a beard becomes a fish, a shirt melts into the coral of the sea floor, and flowers, always flowers sprouting where they desire. “I tried to paint my grandfather,” says the speaker, “and the figure … chop! chop! read more!
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.chop! chop! read more!
First published in South Korea in 2014, Han Kang’s new novel Human Acts is now available for the first time in the United States. American readers first encountered Kang in 2016, with the translation of her 2007 novel The Vegetarian. This strange, dark, poetic novel, about a woman who decides to stop eating meat after having a horrific nightmare, was met with great acclaim. Translated by Deborah Smith, The Vegetarian went on to win the 2016 Man Booker International Prize. While Human Acts is a rich, powerful novel in its own right, and should be read independently of The Vegetarian, it is often interesting to situate a novel against the writer’s other work.chop! chop! read more!
OCTAVIA E. BUTLER’S KINDRED: A GRAPHIC NOVEL ADAPTATION by Damian Duffy and John Jennings Abrams Comicarts, 240 pages reviewed by Brian Burmeister Crowned the “grand dame of science fiction” by Essence, Octavia Butler was one of the most popular and critically acclaimed science fiction writers of the 20th century. Her career spanned over a dozen novels and, among her many awards and honors, Butler was the first science fiction writer to win a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation, before being cut short. In 2006, she tragically passed away at the age of fifty-eight. Thirty-eight years after its original publication, Butler’s best-selling novel, Kindred, and by extension Butler’s own voice and vision, has been given new life. Considered by many to be her most accessible work, the novel has been adapted into a graphic novel by cartoonist/writer Damian Duffy and editor/artist John Jennings. Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation, like the … chop! chop! read more!
Jordi Alonso’s collection The Lovers’ Phrasebook shelves itself precisely in the lexical gap between languages, working with absence to depict presence and utilizing singular words to display relationships. These poems are able to gesture at miscommunication and a lack of sufficient vocabulary while also creating space for new conversation. The Lovers’ Phrasebook excels in its bravery and conceptual construction, working to translate without obscuring or whiting-out the original word in favor of an English counterpart. It’s a book that hails the multiplicity of loves and languages, largely favoring an experiential approach to definition rather than a literal one. The Lovers’ Phrasebook is an invitation to re-imagine how we move between languages and what the space in between words and their translations means and can be used for. By placing love in the space between fluency and confusion, Alonso has turned what could have been a dictionary into a romance.chop! chop! read more!
Whipstitches is, at its core, an examination of all the many aspects of a rural home, especially a rural childhood home. The pastoral is tinged with loss and decay because the world is, it is colored by the lives drawing strength from it just as is the earth, and so this small somewhere becomes a whole and complete universe. Randi Ward’s poems are neat and well-edited impressionistic snapshots that interact in a novel way to create depth despite their length. Ward is triumphant in her presentation of a rural childhood; you know this girl. You’ve seen her at a diner or a gas station. Come hear what she has to say.chop! chop! read more!
Only More So is a read for troubled times. War, climate change, cancer—it’s all here in forty-six poems of mid-life contemplation that simultaneously remind us that forgetting the past condemns us to repeat it and that celebrating the remembering is a necessary act of resistance and transcendence. Appropriately, the former sentiment originates not from Churchill, the statesman who appropriated it in wartime, but George Santayana, the poet who believed “only the dead have seen the end of war.”chop! chop! read more!
Throughout Blindsight, the reader is presented with the voice of a poet whose urges to feel and desires to know reflect those universal to humanity. Through his plainspoken language which is, at times, conversational and, at times, confessional we are reminded of our own desires, those things for which we do still burn. We are also reminded of our own blindness, literal and otherwise which obstruct our view, reflecting the world through a glass darkly. But even in the dim light, in the uncertainty, even when, after finally getting what you want, you’re not sure if you’re left “maybe more/ nervous than longing, / maybe indifferent, or regretting”, there is still beauty in this muddled world, even when we are left lying, “mourning among the ruins.”chop! chop! read more!
Douglas Crimp’s memoir Before Pictures invites readers into the lively artistic and queer worlds of 1960s to 1970s New York where Crimp was formed as an art historian. This is the same New York which brought him to curate Pictures, a small exhibit at Artist’s Space now considered pivotal to ideas about contemporary art. In the art history textbook Art Since 1900 (2004), Pictures is historicized as having given a platform to artwork meant to give “a new sense of the image as ‘picture’” and to “transcend any particular medium.” Here, Crimp embraces this transcendence in a different way. In his consideration, no single art form, from fashion to architecture, comes out as primary.chop! chop! read more!
Marc Anthony Richardson is an artist from Philadelphia and this compact book, his first, which won the Ronald Sukenick Prize for Innovation Fiction, makes for a fine addition to the recent history of experimental prose by writers with ties to Philadelphia—from the late Fran Ross (whose 1974 novel, Oreo, was recently re-issued) to contemporaries like Samuel R. Delany, Sabrina Vourvoulias, Hilary Plum, Caren Beilin, and the West Philadelphia sci-fi collective Metropolarity.chop! chop! read more!
The hero–or perhaps I should say anti-hero–of Dutch author Tommy Wieringa’s new novel, These Are the Names is a 53-year-old police chief named Pontus Beg. Beg lives in a fictional border town called Michailopol, a city ailing in post-Soviet corruption and aimless malaise. Beg has “set up his life as a barrier against pain and discomfort,” Wieringa writes. “Suppressing chaos: washing dishes, maintaining order. What did it matter that one day looked so much like the other that he could not recall a single one; he keeps to the middle equidistant from both bottom and top.”chop! chop! read more!
Poetry is often in danger of being understood as purely conceptual material in need of processing and interpretation in order to become meaningful or real. It can be easy, after wading through stanzas, to lose a grip on time and place and the sensation of occupying a body. However, despite the ethereality and distance from reality poetry often possesses, Caroline Ebeid has proven that it can also be used to ground and remind us of the physical rather than simply blur or distract from it. In her collection You Ask Me to Talk About The Interior, Ebeid employs a sort of “bodily language,” flexing smoothly between word and body until the two seem irredeemably tied. I would argue that Ebeid, and this collection in particular, works to close the distance between words and what they mean, bringing the signified and signifier together on the physical stage of the paper.chop! chop! read more!
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.chop! chop! read more!
The Topless Widow of Herkimer Street, winner of the 2016 Howling Bird Press fiction prize, is an honest, funny, and sometimes un-apologetically dark collection of short stories.. Its author, Jacob M. Appel (Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets (2015), The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up (2012)) can easily be described as a modern renaissance man: in addition to his writing, he is also a bioethicist, attorney, and a physician. These professional fields come into play in many of the stories included in this collection, often to highlight or expose ethical conflicts his characters must face.chop! chop! read more!
The author of the novel, Alessandro Baricco, a popular Italian writer, director and performer, suggests that a world based around logic and sense ultimately will stifle us. It is in fact, what the narrator of the main story, the “author” (easy to conflate with Baricco, though we shouldn’t), desires to escape from. He does so by running to fantasy: a place gleefully empty of logic or sense. However this is not to suggest that it is a place of chaos or anarchy—in fact quite the opposite. Fantasy rather offers refuge from the chaos of everyday life through its own simple and overriding logic: repetition.chop! chop! read more!
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.chop! chop! read more!
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 of a better word, a wholesome place, a village that knows its own story too well to outgrow its roots. Here, history is literal. Sentences sprout from the soil, locals bear unusual names, and mothers practice their flight techniques. But under it, this is a simple story. The narrator, after his family takes to the four winds, sets out to save his town from hard times as its apple industry falters.chop! chop! read more!
If writers are interested in portraying human experience in its varied forms, then part of that work is depicting climate change. Certainly there has been a strong tradition of writers turning to their surroundings for inspiration and literary fodder. And for many of these writers—Wendell Wendell Berry, Homero Aridjis, and Jean Giono for example—the earth becomes a character just as palpable and mercurial as any human, with capacity for danger alongside beauty. Yet our current moment calls for something even more complex: not just the earth, plants, and animals as powerful forces in fiction, but also a realization that we humans have brought this change upon our whole planet. And Ghosh, while not optimistic about the current state of literature, does think such fiction has yet been written in our age. Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior and Liz Jensen’s Rapture are particularly good examples. Yet, these kinds of works, at least in Ghosh’s calculations, are the exception and not the rule.chop! chop! read more!
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?chop! chop! read more!
In her debut young adult novel Rani Patel in Full Effect, Sonia Patel takes us back to the era of faded box cuts, high-top Adidas, and gold chains as thick as your wrist; to the era where hip-hop reigned supreme and rhymes flowed out of boom boxes like water down Moaula Falls.chop! chop! read more!
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.chop! chop! read more!
When Mike and his family move, just before his freshman year, Mike starts high school in a new state and begins to forge some tentative friendships. But Victor, also low on the totem pole in terms of the high school hierarchy, seems to have a personal beef with him. Mike tries to lay low and mind his own business but Victor’s attention is unsettling…chop! chop! read more!
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.chop! chop! read more!
To make a book about school shootings stand out among an influx of young adult books about the topic takes skill and in her new novel The Light Fantastic Combs delivers with detailed characters and a unique premise. Told from several different points of view, the novel covers the span of a few hours across multiple time zones as a new day starts and a nationwide school shooting epidemic begins.chop! chop! read more!
Had The Birds been written from the perspective of another character other than Mattis, a dim-witted near forty-year old, it probably would have had a different title—The Lumberjack, maybe, or some other word that references one of the major events in the novel. But that’s the point: the perspective, usually in third person but sometimes slipping into first person, is Mattis’ and thus the story is his. Although often the characters in a book share the same events, they do not share the same story; for that, as Norwegian author Tarjei Vesaas shows brilliantly in this moving novel, depends on the way we see things, on the importance we give to those events we share. For Mattis, the most important events in the novel concern the birds.chop! chop! read more!
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.)chop! chop! read more!
Madness is synonymous with insanity, but to be “mad” one doesn’t necessarily go crazy. One might be mad at society, a world of socially imposed rules that stifle the imagination or measure people according to economic usefulness. Rage against a world in which a multicultural, mostly impoverished majority are controlled by a corrupt, wealthy minority could be defined as a type of “madness.” In such a state, the individual’s warped mind drives him to fantastical plans for revenge, deep wells of anguish or panic, brothel-filled nights, petty crimes, thoughts of suicide, kidnapping, and imagined love affairs.chop! chop! read more!