Have Words–Will Write 'Em

On Books, Writers, Most Things Written, Including My Light Verse.

I Review David Abrams’s First Novel “Fobbit”

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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.

Written by Joe Peschel

September 8th, 2012 at 11:18 am

I Review “The Scent of Scandal”

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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.

Written by Joe Peschel

August 26th, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Nicholson Baker’s “The Way the World Works”

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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.

Written by Joe Peschel

August 19th, 2012 at 12:00 pm

I Review “A Case For Solomon”

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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

Written by Joe Peschel

August 8th, 2012 at 8:24 am

I Review Paul Bailey’s “Chapman’s Odyssey”

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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.

Written by Joe Peschel

July 17th, 2012 at 7:12 pm

I Review Patrick Somerville’s “This Bright River”

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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.

Written by Joe Peschel

July 1st, 2012 at 11:07 am

I Review Wiley Cash’s First Novel, “A Land More Kind Than Home”

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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.

Written by Joe Peschel

May 5th, 2012 at 11:15 am

The Best American Short Stories 2012

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Here’s a partial list of authors whose stories will appear in The Best American Short Stories 2011, guest-edited by Tom Perrotta.

Let me know if you know of or are the author of an included story. I’ll be adding to the list as I discover more about stories that’ll be included.

Here’s the partial list:

Carol Anshaw, “The Last Speaker of the Language,” New Ohio Review

Taylor Antrim, “Pilgrim Life,” American Short Fiction

Roxane Gay, “North Country,” Hobart

Mike Meginnis, “Navigators,” Hobart

Lawrence Osborne, “Volcano” Tin House

Edith Pearlman, “Honeydew,” Orion Magazine

Eric Puchner, “Beautiful Monsters,” Tin House

Jess Walter, Anything Helps,” McSweeney’s

Adam Wilson, “What’s Important Is Feeling,” The Paris Review

Written by Joe Peschel

May 2nd, 2012 at 6:17 pm

Posted in News

I Review “Arcadia,” by Lauren Groff”

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Groff is a talented writer with a novel, the widely praised “The Monsters of Templeton,” and a book of short stories, “Delicate Edible Birds,” to her credit. From start to finish, “Arcadia” is poetically delivered through Bit’s eyes.

Bit is Ridley Sorrel Stone, an endearing, diminutive character nicknamed from the phrase “Our Littlest Bit of a Hippie.” Groff begins in 1968 with a two-page prologue of Bit’s earliest memories from the womb. This mystical recounting of Bit’s prenatal recollections becomes a legend among the hippies.

Click the image below to read my review in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

You can buy Arcadia at Barnes and Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

March 25th, 2012 at 1:26 pm

Another 100,000 Galleys–On the State of Indie-Book Publishing

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In The Los Angeles Review of Books, I talk with writers, Robert Bausch, Polly Frost, Nina Vida, Molly MacRae; newspaper book editors Laurie Hertzel, Ron Charles, Greg Cowles, and freelance book critics, reviewers, and more about the state of indie-publishing.

I look forward to reading your comments here on my blog or on the LARB site.

Editors, reviewers, and even many authors believe that if you self-publish, you’re branded a sinner of sorts. You wear a scarlet S-P, signifying that you can’t get published because your work is inferior. If you promote your own work on the Internet, you must sheepishly precede the phrase “self-promotion” with “shameless.” It’s difficult to quantify the extent of the stigma, but we all know that publishing your own work has been frowned upon by writers for decades. Recently, genre authors Amanda Hocking (who writes young adult vampire novels) and John Locke (pulp thrillers) have had so much success independently publishing and selling hundreds of thousands of their own books that you’d think the self-publishing wall would’ve been kicked down and lying in a crumbled mess by now. But the stigma attached to publishing, promoting, and selling your own written word persists. Most writers, like Susan Shapiro, who’s written for the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and has conventionally published eight books, including comic novels and nonfiction though St. Martin’s Press and Delacorte, remain convinced that it’s better to get a mainstream publisher. Shapiro, who’s helped hundreds of her students get published, recently told me she would consider self-publishing, but only “if everybody else turned me down.”

Click the image below to read more in the March 17, 2012 edition ofThe Los Angeles Review of Books.


Written by Joe Peschel

March 17th, 2012 at 2:49 pm

I Review Megan Mayhew Bergman’s “Birds Of A Lesser Paradise”

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Megan Mayhew Bergman is a top-notch emerging writer. In this first book, “Birds of a Lesser Paradise,’’ a collection of a dozen stories, she portrays in fine realistic prose female characters balancing relationships with their fathers, mothers, and partners, as they fight their own foibles and insecurities. Her characters are strong, sensible, but vulnerable.

Bergman’s stories take place mostly in the South – on a prison farm, in the Carolina swamp, and on the road. (A North Carolina native, Bergman lives now in Vermont.) But no matter the locale or the humans involved, there’s always an animal of some sort – a dog, a bird, a cow, a wolf – that influences her characters’ lives.

Click the image below to read my review in the March 7, 2012, edition of the Boston Globe.

You can buy Birds of a Lesser Paradise at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

March 7th, 2012 at 2:04 pm

I Review “Mr g” By Alan Lightman

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To hear Him tell it, He, Mr g, awakes one day from a long sleep in the Void, and, finding himself bored, decides to create the universe, actually myriad universes. He concentrates His efforts on one He especially likes and develops it on His own, despite interference from cranky old Aunt Penelope, who worries that He might really mess things up.

Click the image below to read my review in the January 26, 2012, edition of the Boston Globe.

You can buy Mr g at Barnes and Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

January 27th, 2012 at 12:02 pm

I Review “Smut” by Alan Bennett

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In August, Nicholson Baker blurted out a new book, “House of Holes,’’ his adolescent-like narrative of the sexual escapades of several one-dimensional characters frolicking through an extended dirty joke that might’ve aptly been titled “Smut.’’

“Smut,’’ though, happens to be the new book by British writer Alan Bennett. If Baker’s sense of humor in “House’’ is unrestrained, and ahem, smutty, Bennett’s is subtle and often wry, full of clever word play, innuendo, and decidedly British. Oh, and there are naughty bits, too.

Click the image below to read my review in the December 28, 2011, edition of the Boston Globe.

You can buy Smut at Barnes and Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

December 28th, 2011 at 12:26 pm

I Review Paul Theroux’s “Murder In Mount Holly”

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Paul Theroux’s publishers market his new book as a comic-mystery-thriller. It’s comic, but it’s not new and the only mystery is why the publisher doesn’t hawk it as satire.

Click the image below to read my review in December 25, 2011, edition of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

You can buy Murder In Mount Holly at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

December 24th, 2011 at 9:02 pm

I Review “Before the End, After the Beginning” by Dagoberto Gilb

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“What is it I gotta do?’’ the Mexican asks the cop who suspects him of burglary but has no actual evidence. Several cops arrest him on the catch-all charge of disturbing the peace and resisting arrest, although it appears the cops are doing the most of the disturbing and all of the fighting. The unnamed Mexican narrator is not entirely blameless – he’s been fooling around with his married ex-girlfriend, and like many of the characters in these stories, has a checkered and shady past. “You were born,’’ the cop answers. “Until you die, the rest is on you.’’

Click the image below to read my review in the December 5, 2011, edition of the Boston Globe.

You can buy Before the End, After the Beginning at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

December 7th, 2011 at 6:16 pm

I Review Richard’s Burgin’s “Shadow Traffic”

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Often, Burgin’s characters miss the meaning of all they’ve undergone, and they’re left with memories of regret and anguish. They’re obsessive, eccentric, sometimes sociopathic. Yet, from the smartest college man to the murderous drunk, from the drug dealer to the harmless but conflicted housebreaker, they’re mired in thought, “grappling with some of the painful riddles of the world.” They worry about money, they try to find love without much success and, of course, they worry about death.

Click the image below to read my October 9, 2011, review in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

You can buy Richard Burgin’s Shadow Traffic at Barnes and Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

October 9th, 2011 at 9:49 am

I Review Floyd Skloot’s “Cream of Kohlrabi”

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The book includes stories about athletes and wannabe athletes, a three-story middle section peopled with a hodgepodge of characters, and a final group of stories about the elderly and the dying. Of these 16 stories, Skloot’s most successful combine pathos with humor, farce with terror. His most convincing characters suffer from some sort of physical illness: heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and other dementia that accompanies old age – Skloot himself is disabled by viral-borne brain damage.

Skloot’s best stories are about the elderly. They take place in retirement homes or under hospice care, where the characters face death sometimes with bravery and pragmatism, sometimes with delusion and optimism.

Click the image below to read my October 7, 2011, Boston Globe review.

You can buy Cream of Kohlrabi at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

October 7th, 2011 at 5:04 pm

I Review “Best American Short Stories 2011”

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The 2010 and the 2008 collections of “Best American Short Stories’’ chosen, respectively, by Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Russo and Salman Rushdie, delivered some of the truly best stories of this century. This year’s collection, picked by another Pulitzer Prize winner, Geraldine Brooks, fails to match the excellence of the two earlier volumes, though “BASS 2011’’ isn’t as weak as the 2009 Alice Sebold edition.

Click the image below for my October 6, 2011, review in the Boston Globe.

You can buy Best American Short Stories 2011 at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

October 5th, 2011 at 8:12 pm

I Review “Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin”

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There’s unbeloved Arlen Specter: “kindly as a rent collector”; Mitt Romney: “quick to shed his moderate regalia,” may be “lacking genitalia”; and John Boehner: “Others in the party are insaner.”

Trillin’s the Garrison Keillor of New York City,
Often urbane, charming, and witty.
He’ll make you giggle in a hurry
But the feller’s really just from Missouri.

You can read my September 11 Star Tribune review by clicking the image below.

You can buy Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

September 11th, 2011 at 11:00 am

More on Robert Bausch’s “In the Fall They Come Back”

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Robert Bausch is an award-winning writer who’s written and traditionally published seven books. His newest novel, In the Fall They Come Back, is as good as the best novels I’ve reviewed or just read in quite a while, and that includes a couple of major prize winners.

Photo by Tim Bausch

Based on a true story, In the Fall They Come Back is Ben Jameson’s narrative, a sort of fictive memoir, of his time teaching at Glenn Acres, a small private prep school in Virginia. It’s a quiet story about a teacher’s relationship with his students. There’s Leslie, beautiful and dangerous, a femme fatale everyone warns Ben about; Suzanne, who is mysteriously damaged and mute; and George, who’s physically beaten at home and bullied by the kids at school. Ben fights with and placates abusive parents, bucks the school system, and soon faces sexual misconduct charges.

Ben tells his story with the benefit that a few years of contemplation and wisdom provide. He’s in law school as he recounts those two years of not just teaching, but “about caring a little too much; or maybe about not caring enough” about his disparate and desperate teenage students. It’s his benevolence for his students that undoes Ben and ultimately destroys one of the three students he attempts to save. Bausch does a masterful job as storyteller seamlessly moving from the mid- to late-1980s, in this wise and profoundly heartrending novel.

It’s 1985 when Ben, who’s recently finished graduate school, takes a job teaching English at Glenn Acres. He has no intention of being a professional teacher; instead he’s taken the job with the idea of eventually going to law school, but he’s happy to get the job. Ben has his 120-130 students write business letters, book reports, and personal narratives. Mrs. Creighton, the head mistress, also requires that Ben’s students keep daily journals and fold over the pages that no one will read. The catch: Ben must read everything on the folded pages. To satisfy Mrs. Creighton, Ben agrees to tell the white lie to his students. For a while, he goes through the motions of being a decent teacher. But soon, he aspires to be better than the sort of mediocre teacher he encountered when he was in school and considers making teaching his life-long work. He adopts a mentor, Professor Bible, but eventually, Ben goes far outside the bounds of Bible’s advice. He finds himself becoming more involved in the lives of his students and near assaulted by an angry parent. His girlfriend Annie says he has a “Christ Complex”: trying to fix everything and solve the problems of his students.

Bausch depicts Ben not only as wonderful but flawed teacher, but as an amazing human being. Bausch’s novel is steeped in realism—you won’t find any post-modernist techniques here, only subtle artistry from a brilliant writer who so cares about his characters that he depicts them, especially the students, succinctly, vividly and often poetically. Leslie is not just beautiful: Bausch writes about “her fine hair almost the color of a daisy’s eye, swaying in the fall breezes.” Suzanne is not just plain-looking and shy, but has “stringy hair that hung in front of her like a bright red waterfall, and she never took her eyes off the floor in front of her.” Bausch is a marvelous artist and storyteller as proven in his first novel On the Way Home (1982), and again in A Hole in the Earth (2000) and Out of Season (2005). In the Fall They Come Back,  an indie-published book, is destined to be considered among his best work.

You can buy In the Fall They Come Back at Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

This is a longer version of my August 28 review in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

–Joe Peschel

Written by Joe Peschel

September 7th, 2011 at 9:44 am