Mastai places Tom in 2016. But it’s another timeline, a utopian world where the inventions promised to us in old movies, sci-fi magazines and on “The Jetsons” actually exist. Or as Tom says: “You know the future that people in the 1950s imagined we’d have? Flying cars, robot maids, food pills, teleportation, jet packs, moving sidewalks, ray guns, hover boards, space vacations, and moon bases. All that dazzling, transformative technology our grandparents were certain was right around the corner.”
You can read my review of Elan Mastai’s All Our Wrong Todays in the Sunday, February 5, edition of the Houston Chronicle, by clicking the image below.
You can buy Elan Mastai’s All Our Wrong Todays at Barnes and Noble.
Oddly enough, the seemingly opposite assumptions that are the cornerstones of general relativity and quantum mechanics contradict each other. But each theory enables physicists to make remarkably accurate predictions of how the universe and the tiniest things in it work.
You can read my review of Carlo Rovelli’s Reality Is Not What It Seems in the Sunday, January 29, edition of the News & Observer, by clicking the image below.
You can buy Carlo Rovelli’s Reality Is Not What It Seems at Barnes and Noble.
The dialogue floats along for several pages before you figure out just what is going on and who is talking. “Like worms, all over” partly describes Amanda’s pain as she lies dying in the emergency clinic. But the dialogue also gives an eerie supernatural feeling to this feverish allegory about pesticide poisoning.
You can read my review of Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream in the Sunday, January 8, edition of the Houston Chronicle, by clicking the image below.
You can buy Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream at Barnes and Noble.
Enchanted Islands, by Allison Amend (Nan Talese)
Hag-Seed, by Margaret Atwood (Hogarth)
Moonglow, by Michael Chabon (Harper)
The Little Red Chairs, by Edna O’Brien (Little, Brown and Company)
Garden Time, by W.S. Merwin (Copper Canyon)
Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises, by Lesley M.M. Blume (Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Peacock & Vine, by A. S. Byatt (Knopf)
Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, by Carlo Rovelli (Riverhead)
Collins, whose stories are set in the ’60s through the ’70s, fits into the Protest Era. Her stories expand on her foremothers’ subjects of racial inequality and rage. Some of the book’s expressions are dated, especially “chick” and “cat,” “Negro” and “colored,” but the topics remain as pertinent today as they were in her time. Like Hurston and Petry, Collins writes about how it feels to be colored in a white world and how it feels to be a black woman in a man’s world. She writes of pent-up male rage and male-female relationships like Hurston and Petry did. But by Collins’ time, some relationships have become interracial, just as the book’s title suggests. And unlike the stories of her predecessors, many of Collins’ stories read like a filmmaker wrote them as she transfers cinematic art and technique to paper.
You can read my review of Kathleen Collins’s Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? in the Sunday, December 18, edition of the News & Observer, by clicking the image below.
You can buy Kathleen Collins’s Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? at Barnes and Noble.
Michael Chabon is known for his fondness for metaphors. So, it’s unsurprising that Grandpa advises the fictional Mike:
“Explain everything. Make it mean something. Use a lot of those fancy metaphors of yours. … Start with the night I was born. There was a lunar eclipse that night. … Very significant. I’m sure it’s a perfect metaphor for something.”
“Kind of trite,” I [Mike] said.
Despite Chabon’s self-deprecating humor, the astronomical metaphor is anything but trite.
You can read my review of Michael Chabon’s Moonglow in the Sunday, December 4, edition of the News & Observer, by clicking the image below.
You can buy Michael Chabon’s Moonglow at Barnes and Noble.
When the fictional children’s book is adapted for the stage, a clause is inserted in the contract that prohibits any mention during the play of evolution. That is Prose’s wedge to insert talk about evolutionary biology and the evolution of a preadolescent boy. Prose tosses in some slapstick and a few funny, though predictable, comic scenes – but some of the alleged humor is questionable. You must be deep into schadenfreude to enjoy much of it.
You can read my review of Francine Prose Mister Monkey in the Sunday, November 20, edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, by clicking the image below.
Bruno’s an American expatriate who hasn’t been home for more than 30 years. When we first see him in Germany, he’s wearing a tuxedo and looks like James Bond, the Roger Moore version. He’s trying to recoup his Singapore losses and on his way to fillet a few thousand euros from a rich fish, the backgammon enthusiast Wolf-Dirk Köhler, who may indeed be rich enough to be considered a whale. Or, it may be that’s he’s not rich and not even Köhler. Along the way to Köhler’s estate, Bruno runs into a German woman named Madchen whom he tries to pick up as his good-luck charm.
You can buy Jonathan Lethem’s Gambler’s Anatomy at Barnes and Noble.
So far in this series, Hogarth has published four books written by critically acclaimed and popular writers. Hogarth began with Jeanette Winterson’s Gap of Time, her take on The Winter’s Tale; followed by Howard Jacobson’s Shylock Is My Name, a re-imagining of The Merchant of Venice; and Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl, a remake of The Taming of the Shrew. Jacobson’s Shakespeare rendition has been the best until now.
You can read my review of Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed in the Sunday, October 9, edition of the News & Observer, by clicking the image below.
You can buy Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed at Barnes and Noble.
Most of Baker’s students are “alert” and “funny,” “attentive, good-natured, and full of ideas,” as he often writes in his reports to their regular teachers. But there’s always some chaos in classrooms of captive students who, armed with iPads, face a dubious curriculum and inept instructors. There are no major classroom catastrophes, but one of Baker’s greatest challenges is class control, which is probably much easier when you stand nearly 6 feet 5 inches. Still, student voices do get loud, and Baker doesn’t like loud.
You can read my review of Substitute, by Nicholson Baker, in the Sunday, September 4, edition of the News & Observer, by clicking the image below.
You can buy Baker’s Substitute at Barnes and Noble.
Byatt admits that when she began the essay she was more familiar with the Englishman Morris, whose art decorates her own home, than she was with Fortuny. She does, however, delight in Fortuny’s being the only living painter that Proust mentions in “À la recherche du temps perdu.” So, she uses Morris to help her understand the Spanish-born Fortuny and Fortuny to re-imagine Morris.
You can read my review of Peacock & Vine, by A. S. Byatt, in the Sunday, August 21, edition of the News & Observer, by clicking the image below.
You can buy Byatt’s ’s Peacock & Vine at Barnes and Noble.
Stories as Raw as the Wars that Inspire Them
Whether they’re home for good or about to be deployed overseas, these men and women have been scarred and traumatized by war, by the enemy and by other soldiers. The impact of the stories derives from Lindsey’s ability to assume a convincing voice, sometimes a female one.
You can read my review of We Come to Our Senses, by Odie Lindsey, in the Sunday, August 7, edition of the News & Observer, by clicking the image below.
You can buy Lindsey’s We Come to Our Senses at Barnes and Noble.
Leo and Fiona are 25; it’s her birthday. He tries to comfort her as she waits in a hospital bed for surgery. She’s worried about dying, despite Leo’s reassurance that “nobody dies during wisdom tooth removal surgery.” Fiona tells him she has a theory about the universe, the afterlife, and the nature of time, and it will “just blow the lid off of everything.”
You can read my review of The Life of the World to Come, by Dan Cluchey, in the Sunday, July 9, edition of the Charlotte Observer, by clicking the image below.
You can buy Cluchey’s Life of the World to Come at Barnes and Noble.
But “official secrecy act be damned” – Fanny, this plain, childless, Minnesotan daughter of immigrant parents, writes that third memoir, “so that something I’ve done will live on, and I can move on from this world.”
Friendships, after three-quarters of a century, can be strained and tested, and so is Fanny and Rosalie’s. But despite her revealing a national secret, Fanny remains silent about Rosalie’s biggest secrets: “Secrets shared by women are sacred. They transcend the duties of country or marriage.”
You can read my review of Enchanted Islands, by Allison Amend, in the Sunday, June 5, edition of the News & Observer, by clicking the image below.
You can buy Enchanted Islands at Barnes and Noble.
The point of the story is, of course, to highlight the mistreatment and neglect of traumatized veterans. That’s made clear early when Rake says, “They failed me big-time by not taking care of me when I returned from the war … and (they) pumped me full of Tripizoid, as per treatment, and then all they did was double it down, increase what they were trying to decrease.”
You can read my review of Hystopia, by David Means, in the Sunday, May 8, edition of the News & Observer, by clicking the image below.
You can buy Hystopia at Barnes and Noble.
Allison Amend answers questions from Hemingway, Woolf, Carver, Doctorow, Plimpton, and Peschel.
Click the image below to read the interview in the Los Angeles Review of Books
The novel’s title may be a bit misleading, evoking images of mundane objects that might belong to children. They do indeed belong to children, but these red chairs, 643 of them, commemorate the deaths of the children killed during the siege of Sarajevo in 1992. Thus, the love story, set in 2012, about a lonely Irish woman who has an affair with a mysterious man becomes a political novel, since the man is later revealed to be a possible war criminal. He’s a composite fictional character who resembles the former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic, who was recently found guilty of genocide and other crimes.
You can read my review of The Little Red Chairs, by Edna O’Brien, in the Sunday, April 3, edition of the News & Observer, by clicking the image below.
You can buy The Little Red Chairs at Barnes and Noble.
Rovelli gracefully eases us into thinking about our existence in a relatively strange world described by Einstein’s general theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, quantum gravity, the structure of the expanding cosmos, and tiny elementary particles, in ways that are as lucid, elegant and beautiful as the scientific theories themselves. He describes those theories one lesson at a time, giving a brief not-too-technical explanation, and using only a few simple drawings and photographs, often preferring to refer to Shakespeare, God or Homer to make a point. And he gives us but one equation.
You can read my review of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, in the Sunday, March 20, edition of the News & Observer, by clicking the image below.
You can buy Seven Brief Lessons on Physics at Barnes and Noble.
Jacobson fast-forwards Shakespeare’s play so that it’s been only a short time since the famous trial in Venice. He moves the locale and Shylock himself to present-day England. You might recall Shylock’s daughter Jessica has stolen Shylock’s ring to buy a monkey and that she’s eloped with that rascal Lorenzo and converted to Christianity.
You can read my review of Shylock Is My Name, by Howard Jacobson, in the Sunday, March 6, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by clicking the image below.
You can buy Shylock Is My Name from Barnes & Noble.
“The revolution is over. It’s spring, 1788, in the Southeast wilderness. A party of American loyalists has been murdered, and a Frenchman tracks down the killers: a Muskogee Indian, a slave and a white man. Smith includes plenty of adventure in this story, but she and her French tracker Luis Le Clerc Milfort are more interested in what brought this disparate trio together and what drove them to murder. Smith’s decision to have the characters tell their own backstories gives the book its sociological heft.”
You can read my review of Free Men, by Katy Simpson Smith, in the Sunday, February 28, edition of the Charlotte Observer by clicking the image below.
You can buy Free Men, by Katy Simpson Smith, from Barnes & Noble.