Groff writes with an exuberance, intelligence, and wit that few of her contemporaries possess. Her prose is frank and graceful, but behind her genius lingers a certain darkness in her characters and her plot.
You can buy Groff’s Fates and Furies at Barnes and Noble.
I Refuse is a distressing and moving story involving attempted suicide and child abuse by a despot of a father. Its collateral subjects include despair and, to lesser extent, Christianity versus Socialism. References to Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House help explain the abuse in Tommy Berggren’s family that drove Tya to leave; similarly, allusions to John Steinbeck’s novel The Moon Is Down help explain the Christianity-Socialism theme. Despite the inherent bumpiness of reading multiple viewpoint narratives, this story moves along at a nice and captivating pace, but a few narrative chinks and clunks muck up the surface.
You can read my review of Per Petterson’s I Refuse in the August 20 edition of The Daily Beast by clicking the image below.
You can buy Petterson’s I Refuse at Barnes and Noble.
He got people singing and inspired younger performers, including Dylan, to do the same. “For Dylan, as for Pete Seeger,” Wald writes, “the attraction of folk music was that it was steeped in reality, in history, in profound experiences, ancient myths, and enduring dreams. It was not a particular sound or genre; it was a way of understanding the world and rooting the present in the past.”
You can read my review of Dylan Goes Electric!, by Elijah Wald in the July 24 edition of the Boston Globe by clicking the image below.
You can buy Dylan Goes Electric! at Barnes and Noble.
The title of this brilliant allegory comes from Claude Debussy’s prelude for piano “La Cathédrale Engloutie,” which he based on a mythological city in Brittany that was consumed by the sea. When Helen, an art historian, was a young girl, her father told her Debussy’s “?‘The Sunken Cathedral’ is the musical version of Impressionism.” Debussy was Cézanne’s musical counterpart, and as if it were borrowing techniques from the two, Walbert’s novel nudges the reader “to see in the way one must see to be alive” as they try to prepare for The Surge.
You can read my review of Kate Walbert’s Sunken Cathedral in the June 21 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by clicking the image below.
You can buy Kate Walbert’s Sunken Cathedral at Barnes and Noble.
You hear a lot about the power of Haruf’s “spare” prose, and rightly so. Of his own writing, Haruf, in a final interview with the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, said, “I have written as close to the bone as I could. By that I mean that I was trying to get down to the fundamental, irreducible structure of life, and of our lives with one another.”
You can read my review of Kent Haruf’s final novel Our Souls At Night in the June 14 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by clicking the image below.
You can buy Kent Haruf’s Our Souls At Night at Barnes and Noble.
He’s in the hospital because it turns out the Surgeon General was right about smoking four packs of cigarettes a day. Sophie Posner, a Jewish gangster and a survivor of the Nazis, resides on the same floor. The fat man’s equal and confidante, she’s a hilarious and pitiable character who’s so tough that when the doctor tells her she has cancer, she says, “You think this is the worst news I’ve ever heard?”
You can buy Rosenbaum’s How Sweet It Is!” at Barnes and Noble.
Hirshfield defines a good poem as “a through-passage, words that leave poet, reader, and themselves ineradicably changed.” They transform in innumerable ways, as Hirshfield ably demonstrates through the book’s many examples. Some transformations are wrought in sound, others in connotation. A bit more complicated, though, is her idea that the poem’s transformation on the page is retained, at least in part by the reader, so that the reader is transformed.
You can read my review of Jane Hirshfield’s Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World in the May 25 edition of The Daily Beast by clicking the image below.
You can buy Hirshfield’s Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World at Barnes and Noble.
Hallman finds these agreements, these literary echoes of himself, in Baker’s Paul Chowder, an anthologist like Hallman, and Baker’s thoughts on libraries and book dumping echoed Hallman’s. More importantly, though, Hallman and Baker each write with unabashed enthusiasm and wit about living with a deep relationship with books.
You can read my review of J. C. Hallman’s B & Me in the Sunday, March 28 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle by clicking the image below.
You can buy Hallman’s B & Me at Barnes and Noble.
If ever a novel could be said to possess a dramatic arc, this one does, but think Buddhist not Aristotelian, as the story conveys, in its structure, the idea of the wheel of life. That “life is a wheel” is not only stated explicitly several times throughout the novel, it is the title of the last chapter. The story begins with an epilogue in 2001, moves intermittently from present to future to past, and ends at about the same point as it began. And if life is a wheel, it also inescapably guarantees suffering.
You can read my review of Quan Barry’s She Weeps Each Time You’re Born in the February 20 edition of the Boston Globe by clicking the image below.
You can buy She Weeps Each Time You’re Born at Barnes & Noble.
I Review The “World of Raymond Chandler”
In this biography, Day portrays a gifted, but troubled, alcoholic writer who cared more about words than other pulp writers. Day exposes the softboiled man in Chandler’s love for his wife, Cissy, and his cat Taki. Chandler the writer, though, had a gift for writing tough-guy dialogue and for concocting the simile that’s sometimes “crazy as a pair of waltzing mice.”
You can read my review of The World of Raymond Chandler in the December 22 edition of the Boston Globe by clicking the image below.
You can buy The World of Raymond Chandler at Barnes & Noble.
“The Strange Library” is kin to Salman Rushdie’s “Luka and the Fire of Life,” although it’s considerably shorter with far less mythology. Murakami’s plot might seem a gross-out, but the story is amusing enough for 10-to-13-year-olds and sufficiently resonant to appeal to adults with an affinity for fantasy.
You can read my review Haruki Murakami’s Strange Library in the December 17 edition of the Washington Post by clicking the image below.
You can buy Murakami’s Strange Library at Barnes & Noble.
In his new novel, the lovers are Southerners Michael Faulk, a 48-year-old former Episcopalian priest, and the 32-year-old Natasha Barrett, an assistant to Mississippi Sen. Tom Norland. At his fundraiser, Norland introduces the two as fellow Memphis residents. After a brief but robust romance, the couple decide to marry. But before the wedding, Natasha goes off to Jamaica with her friend Constance Waverly, and Faulk heads to New York to attend the wedding of a family friend. They take those trips before Sept. 11, 2001.
Then begins their tragicomedy.
You can read my review of Richard Busch’s Before, During, After in the November 16 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle by clicking the image below.
You can buy Bausch’s Before, During, After at Barnes and Noble.
Where have all the quote marks gone,
Long time passing?
Where have all the quote marks gone,
Long time ago.
Where have all the quote marks gone?
Post-modernists cut them everyone.
How will readers e’er discern?
How will they ever discern?
–Joe “Seeger” Peschel
Coelho’s latest novel, Adultery, the act itself the subject of countless stories of varying value, perpetuates quite a few more such clichés. But unlike Manuscript Found in Accra, this volume has a storyline. This time we’re in Geneva, Switzerland. Linda, who claims she’s “a highly regarded journalist,” narrates the story of a happy but boring marriage. Linda commits adultery, despite, by her own admission, being married to a loving and unbelievably understanding but unnamed husband.
You can read my review of Coelho’s Adultery by clicking on the image below.
With this big collection of ghost stories, Vollmann haunts the literary territory Henry James explored in The Turn of the Screw, Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol and, more recently, the prolific Joyce Carol Oates in “More Tales Than I Care to Count.” Don’t let my mention of James, Dickens or Oates fool you – Vollmann is Franz Kafka. He’s William Burroughs and Thomas Pynchon skinny-dipping in a post-postmodern Vollmannesque ectoplasm.
You can read my review of William T. Vollmann’s Last Stories and Other Stories in the edition of the San Francisco Chronicle by clicking on the image below.
You can buy Vollmann’s Last Stories and Other Stories at Barnes & Noble.
This Is Just To Say
I picked a
couple of cucumbers
that were in my garden
the other day
should have saved
till they were bigger
they were really green & good,
but I forgot to photograph them and
put them on Facebook.
Some of the 10 tales collected here involve burdensome family members; others a new lover or the possibility of one; one has a racial theme. Painfully humorous, ironic, and satiric, each story is realistic, bordering on surrealistic; they’re well-written and well crafted, with one exception. That story aside, Guterson’s stinginess with names for his most important characters gets confusing and annoying in an otherwise first-rate collection.
You can read my review of David Guterson’s Problems With People in the June 24 edition of the Boston Globe by clicking on the image below.
You can buy Guterson’s Problems With People at Barnes & Noble.
By the time “Rabbit” hit the bookstores Updike was “falling in love, away from marriage.” After Rabbit, Run, sexual elements became stronger in his fiction, and if the Brewer of “Rabbit” was really Reading, Ipswich was really Tarbox, despite Updike’s denials — especially his denials after Couples appeared in 1968. Updike wasn’t the first in his Ipswich crowd to commit adultery, and possibly not the first in his marriage, according to Begley. Mary liked to flirt at parties, and she took a lover in the early ’60s. “With one or two exceptions there was no actual wife-swapping,” no key parties or orgies, but Updike admits in his memoirs he was a “stag of sorts.”
You can read my review of Adam Begley’s Updike in the April 13 edition of the Chicago Tribune’s Printer’s Row by clicking the image below.
You can buy Begley’s Updike at Barnes & Noble.
Frangello’s characters read James Michener, John Updike, Anaïs Nin and Joyce Carol Oates, especially Oates, whose famous open-ended short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” is referred to in nearly every other chapter’s title: “Where Are We Going, Where Have We Been?” Like the reader of the Oates story who wonders what really happens to Connie after Arnold Friend picks her up, you wonder what really happened to Nix in Greece. The story of the Greek adventure unfolds in separate chapters throughout the book.
Click on the image below to read my review in the Sunday, April 6, edition of the San Francisco Chronicle.
Baxter has published his debut, “The Apartment,” in which an unnamed narrator reflects on his life as he walks the streets of an unnamed European city seeking an apartment. Not much happens here, which takes place over a single day, and I hope I don’t give away too much by revealing that he does buy a better winter coat than the one he had. But plenty takes place in short flashbacks.
Click on the image below to read my review of Greg Baxter’s first novel, The Apartment in the the December 21 edition of the Boston Globe.
You can buy The Apartment at Barnes & Noble.