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.
Jayne Anne Phillips’s poetic voice lends resonance to her stories of family life, which, as in her previous novel, Lark and Termite, often include horrible violence.
While Lark and Termite depicted the love between sister and brother juxtaposed against a massacre that took place in the Korean War, Phillips’s new novel, Quiet Dell, fictionalizes the actual murder of a family decades ago.
Click on the image below to read my review of Quiet Dell in the November 24, 2013, edition of the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
You can buy Quiet Dell at Barnes & Noble.
In Burgin’s stories, no matter how despairing or desperate the character, there’s always a sense of life’s tragic-comic absurdity. As for Gurganus, the author of Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, says he’s “tried to write the funniest books possible about the worst things that can happen to people.”
There, men lust for and consume the desert’s treasures: salt, oil, water. Stones whisper secrets, elephants cry and dance, children cremate puppets in a funeral pyre, and sentinel-like skeletons hear music and possess a longing that hasn’t perished with their bodies. That harsh and lonely landscape, brilliant and searing, draws toward it treasure hunters, oilmen, and two pairs of lovers from different generations “as the eye of the needle of heaven is said to draw human souls.” Each searches for riches: oil, salt, fresh water, or romance; gold, glittering silica, human relics, or love. But no matter the treasure, no one seems fully satisfied; instead they hunger and consume.
Click the image below to read my review in the August 26 edition of the Boston Globe.
You can buy All the Land to Hold Us at Barnes & Noble.
Characters, or their relatives, from Orner’s previous stories drop by; other stories portray the personal reminiscences of new characters. Orner is a devotee of the short story and writes the column “The Lonely Voice,” named after Frank O’Connor’s book, over at The Rumpus. In this book, Orner pays literary props and shout-outs to writers he admires and shares writerly bonds with like Isaac Babel, George Eliot, Virginia Woolf, and John Cheever; although Eudora Welty, whom Orner considers America’s greatest, most bad ass short story writer, can’t fight her way into these stories. The stories here are plenty bad ass.
Click the image below to read my review in The Daily Beast.
You can buy Last Car Over the Sagamore Bridge at Barnes & Noble
Yohan’s quiet life becomes a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder: depression and anxiety caused by his prison time and the death of his blind friend, Peng. Yoon portrays Yohan’s recollections as subtle, but nightmarish exposition. Details are minimal. Yohan and other POWs would “carry the bodies of men who had been captured and who had not survived.”
You can buy Snow Hunters at Barnes and Noble.
Her second novel binds together a metaphorical story of human genetic engineering and art forgery. Though the book might sound like science fiction or pulp mystery, Amend’s A Nearly Perfect Copy is a realistic and very human tale, filled with guilt, ethical dilemma and desperation.
Click the image below to read my review in the June 16, 2013, edition of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
You can buy A Nearly Perfect Copy at Barnes & Noble
Here are some books I’m looking forward to reading and possible reviewing. What upcoming books are you eager to read?
Singing School : Learning to Write (and Read) Poetry by Studying with the Masters
Hardcover: 160 pages
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (August 5, 2013)
The O. Henry Prize Stories 2013: The Best Stories of the Year
Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Anchor Books; Original edition (September 10, 2013)
Stealing Sugar from the Castle: Selected and New Poems, 1950-2013
Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (September 16, 2013)
Like her columns, Mommy’s yearlong daybook chronicles her hopes, dreams, and frustrations with some aspect of daily life usually causing her to flip out, curse, break things, or give people the finger.
Click the image below to read my review in the October 10, 2012, edition of the Boston Globe.
You can listen to Cynthia Nixon read from “The Cursing Mommy” on the clip below.
You can buy The Cursing Mommy’s Book of Days at Barnes & Noble
I review Davy Rothbart’s My Heart is an Idiot
Rothbart, a short story writer and creator of Found magazine, is funny enough to keep you laughing, and he occasionally shares an especially sad moment. I really felt for Davy as he searched for his soul mate. And I hoped some of his adventures might work out. But sometimes I wanted to hit Davy upside his head and knock some sense into him.
Click the image below to read my review in the September 26, 2012, edition of the Boston Globe.
You can buy Rothbart’s My Heart Is An Idiot from Barnes & Noble
Like Joseph Heller’s classic book, David Abrams’ first novel is a satire that lampoons the stupidity, terror and futility of war. Rather than World War II Italy, however, “Fobbit” takes place in modern Iraq, with satire as scathing and funny as “Catch-22.”
Click the image below to read my St. Louis Post-Dispatch review of Fobbit.
You can buy Fobbit at Barnes & Noble.
Pittman portrays Kovach, the Adventurer, Selby’s staff and others as backstabbers who out of greed, jealousy, fear or egotism take sides and turn against each other. Two of the principals even planned to do reality TV shows about orchids. There’s also courtroom drama and a mysterious death that may have been suicide, accident or murder. What more could you ask for?
Click the image below to read my review of The Scent of Scandal in the August 26 edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
You can buy The Scent of Scandal at Barnes & Noble.
The essays in “Life” are mini-meditations on Baker’s life. In the allegorical “String,” Baker recalls the joy and challenge of flying a kite as a child and always wanting more from the kite, for it to fly higher. Baker plugs his phone-sex novel “Vox,” (1992) in a tiny and droll reminiscence on his fascination for the telephone; in another piece he makes treasure hunting at the dump sound thrilling.
Click the image below to read my review of Baker’s The Way the World Works in the August 19 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
You can buy Nicholson Baker’s The Way the World Works at Barnes & Noble.
Authors Tal McThenia and Margaret Dunbar Cutright piece together their tale from sometimes-dubious newspaper stories, reporters’ and stenographers’ notes, family letters, and other surviving official documents. And they succeed in pulling together a fascinating narrative about an ostensible kidnapping and a 90-year case of mistaken identity, fully steeped in the flavor of the era. Theirs is a narrative about the fierceness of parental love, the flaws of the legal system, and ultimately about how we derive our own sense of who we are.
Click the image below to read my review of A Case for Solomon in the August 8, 2012, edition of the Boston Globe.
You can buy A Case For Solomon at Barnes & Noble
When he’s lucid, Harry, a so-so former actor turned accomplished novelist, recites T.S. Eliot and Shakespeare for the nurses and orderlies who tend him. But his periods of lucidity are ephemeral, and it’s clear that he is dying.
Click the image below to read my review of Paul Bailey’s Chapman’s Odyssey in the July 18, 2012 edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
You can buy Chapman’s Odyssey at Barnes and Noble.
Somerville’s The Cradle (2009) was a fine first novel telling two touching stories of familial love. But This Bright River is stylistically superior to and more ambitious in its portrayal of family love, pain and redemption.
Click the image below to read my review of Somerville’s This Bright River in the July 1, 2012, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
You can buy This Bright River at Barnes and Noble.
After one of those healings years ago, an elderly woman died, but her death could never be directly connected to the church, since her body was dumped in her own garden. But now, Jess’s brother Christopher has died, and Jess may have been a witness. Adelaide, who is deeply mistrustful of Chambliss, has tried to protect the children from him following the woman’s death. She considers Chambliss “the face of evil.” Eventually, she finds herself part of Barefield’s investigation. Soon, accident, betrayal, and violence emerge in a remarkable tale that falters primarily because two of the narrators — Jess and Sheriff Barefield — prove less than credible as characters.
Click the image below to read my review in the May 5, 2012, edition of the Boston Globe.