Have Words–Will Write 'Em

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

Rachel Cusk’s “Second Place”

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M dwells on her strained relationship with L throughout the story.

There is no particular reason, on the surface, why L’s work should summon a woman like me, or perhaps any woman—but least of all, surely, a young mother on the brink of rebellion whose impossible yearnings, moreover, are crystallised in reverse by the aura of absolute freedom his paintings emanate, a freedom elementally and unrepentingly male down to the last brushstroke.

M even says that “‘second place’ pretty much summed up how I felt about myself and my life.”

You can read my review of Rachel Cusk’s Second Place in The Brooklyn Rail by clicking the image below.

You can buy Rachel Cusk’s Second Place at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

May 4th, 2021 at 9:24 pm

Caleb Azumah Nelson’s “Open Water”

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And although the protagonist (and presumably Nelson) is a fan of the writer Zadie Smith and her novel, NW set in north-west London, it is James Baldwin who is the character’s and the author’s greatest inspiration. He even calls Baldwin Jimmy when he quotes from Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son: “I want to be an honest man and a good writer.” It’s a sentence that Nelson and his character repeat twice. Real-life similarities between author and character are sometimes frowned upon as artistic weakness, but the connection here, whether feeling or fact, is valid and powerful.

You can read my review of Caleb Azumah Nelson’s Open Water in The Brooklyn Rail by clicking the image below.

You can buy Caleb Azumah Nelson’s Open Water at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

May 4th, 2021 at 9:15 pm

This Thing called Life in Elizabeth McCracken’s “The Souvenir Museum”

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In McCracken’s dramatic and often humorous stories you’ll find a goluptious coterie of eccentric and fascinating, if not entirely likable, characters whose stories unfold in a steady stream of exquisite writing. Evocative and often droll turns of phrase concoct mental images of shoes that are “damp as oysters,” voices brew like “hot cider,” flesh can be “so fair-skinned as to be combustible,” and the “hatred of castoffery came upon her like an allergy.” Inanimate objects come to life, too. A hotel named “The Narcissus” sits “on the edge of a lake and admired its own reflection” and skies are as “mild as a milk-glass rabbit.”

You can read my review of Elizabeth McCracken’s The Souvenir Museum in The Boston Globe by clicking the image below.

You can buy Elizabeth McCracken’s story collection, The Souvenir Museum at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

April 18th, 2021 at 5:13 pm

William Boy’s “Trio”

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Boyd has written nearly a score of novels, plus three plays and screenplays, and he’s produced five collections of stories telling us what people are actually like. In Trio, his 16th novel, Boyd reveals the inner workings of human beings—well, actors, producers, directors, and writers, anyway—in an intriguing story about showbiz folks that soon involves British Special Branch, the American FBI, and possibly the CIA. Told, of course, in three parts, Trio, is prefaced with two epigraphs, one of which is an excerpt from an Anton Chekhov short story: “Most people live their real, most interesting life under the cover of secrecy.”

You can read my review of William Boyd’s novel Trio in The Brooklyn Rail by clicking the image below.

 

You can buy William Boyd’s novel Trio at Barnes & Noble.

 

Written by Joe Peschel

March 12th, 2021 at 4:06 pm

Jonathan Lethem’s The Arrest

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Although the publisher says this novel is not a post-apocalyptic or dystopian story, Lethem not only makes Journeyman an expert on post-apocalyptic and dystopian stories, he gives the duo a “pet project, one of Todbaum’s supply of ‘killer pitches,’” a science fiction movie called Yet Another World. ….Todbaum wants Journeyman to pillage scenes for Yet Another World from Walter Tevis’s book Mockingbird, and other books like Earth Abides, Dr. Bloodmoney, Station Eleven, and A Canticle for Leibowitz, and pilfer dystopian scenes from writers like Riddley Walker, Kurt Vonnegut, Margaret Atwood, and Stephen King. Pilfering, modifying, and referencing dystopian scenes is pretty much what Lethem does in his book. Readers might get a literary rush out of Lethem’s dropping the names of long-time acknowledged heavyweight champs like Vonnegut, Atwood, and King. But it was probably even more fun for Lethem, through Todbaum, to take a shot at old Cormac McCarthy and his dystopian, post-apocalyptic novel The Road. McCarthy’s fans probably won’t like reading: “If McCarthy were honest, he’d admit he wrote a campfire story, Sandman. Instead he inserts all this Old Testament horseshit. The world’s reduced and cleansed, the ambiguity scrubbed out.” Lethem’s is no country for old men.

You can read my review of Jonathan Lethem’s The Arrest in The Brooklyn Rail by clicking the image below.

You can buy Jonathan Lethem’s The Arrest at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

December 15th, 2020 at 7:55 am

Lost in Space in ‘Black Hole Survival Guide,’ by Janna Levin

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Her “Survival Guide,” illustrated by painter and photographer Lia Halloran, is an exuberant, flashcard-size book of 13 chapters with, naturally, a black cover that draws you in, as it depicts an astronaut similarly attracted toward a mirror-like sphere, perhaps exploring it. Levin takes us on a virtual adventure to black holes, a safe trip that we can actually survive as long as we stay far enough away. Her writing is clear and so colloquial that it sometimes seems as though she’s right there chatting with you, telling a story in a conversation so compelling that you hardly notice the complexity of the actual physics. That’s her trick of talking about science to a lay audience. Levin writes, “I don’t know what it was like where you were…,” before telling the story of black holes as if you were pursuing one in its own territory like you’re the astronaut — you in your space suit on the book’s cover.

You can read my review of Janna Levin’s Black Hole Survival Guide in The Boston Globe by clicking the image below.

You can buy Janna Levin’s Black Hole Survival Guide at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

December 5th, 2020 at 2:34 pm

Danielle Evans’s The Office of Historical Corrections: A Novella and Stories

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Often her protagonists aren’t readily likable—they have good intentions and do or try to do mostly good things, but they are flawed. It’s the aim of Evans’s writing to create characters that are as flawed and sometimes as unsavory as the typical human being—if there is such a thing. Other characters don’t realize just how defective they are.


You can read my review of Danielle Evans’s The Office of Historical Corrections: A Novella and Stories in The Brooklyn Rail by clicking the image below.

You can buy Danielle Evans’s The Office of Historical Corrections: A Novella and Stories at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

November 11th, 2020 at 4:09 pm

Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind

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But racism is only a part of the tension. Amanda has gotten incomplete news alerts on her phone about a blackout, and soon, cell phone reception is down completely. WiFi doesn’t work. There’s still electricity to charge a phone, but to what purpose? Later, they hear a noise “so loud that it was almost a physical presence, so sudden because of course there was no precedent.

You can read my review of Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind
in The Brooklyn Rail by clicking the image below.

 

You can buy Rumaan Alam’s Leave the World Behind at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

November 11th, 2020 at 3:36 pm

The Past is a Ticking Bomb in Clegg’s “The End of the Day”

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As usual, Clegg’s prose is simple and graceful, his third-person character portraits precise, but his plotting, with its intricate, keen-minded twists give his writing the cumulative effect of poetic ambiguity and mystery. Clegg’s first novel was a novel of grief; this is a masterly story of an attempt at righting the misunderstandings of the past that is resonant and true to life’s inherent uncertainty.

You can read my review of Bill Clegg’s The End of the Day in The Boston Globe by clicking the image below.

You can buy Bill Clegg’s The End of the Day at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

September 25th, 2020 at 2:41 pm

Transcendent Kingdom, by Yaa Gyasi

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Still, Gifty admits that at “a certain point, science fails. Questions become guesses become philosophical ideas about how something should probably, maybe, be.” Gifty (and, I think, Gyasi) believes that science and belief in religion can coexist. That’s a philosophy shared by many real scientists like Carlo Rovelli and Mario Livio. Gifty even says, “Both [science and religion] became, for me, valuable ways of seeing.” For the fictional neuroscientist Gifty, though, both have failed to fully satisfy in their aim: to make clear, to make meaning.

You can read my review of Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom in The Brooklyn Rail by clicking the image below.

You can buy Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

September 9th, 2020 at 12:00 pm

Red Pill, by Hari Kunzru

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The allusions and the quotations, the sociopolitical philosophy and the implied and actual violence move the story along at a bipolar pace, alternately restrained and frenzied, but Kunzru adds elements of humor that lessen the horror of reading about a man’s tumble into breakdown and insanity, and his eventual recovery, at least, up to the November 8th election results.

You can read my review of Hari Kunzru’s Red Pill in The Brooklyn Rail by clicking the image below.

 

You can buy Hari Kunzru’s Red Pill at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

September 9th, 2020 at 11:52 am

In Roddy Doyle’s “Love,” Sharing Beers — and Memories While Visiting the Pubs of Dublin, Two Men Look Back on Life”

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It takes the two men a while and a few pints for them to open up to each other. “There is a reason why men don’t talk about their feelings. It’s not just that it’s difficult, or embarrassing. It’s almost impossible. The words aren’t really there.” Ah, but in wine there is truth and in beer there is ‘drunken sense’ and the two manage to do a lot of storytelling. Joe reveals that he’s left his wife, Trish, for another woman, Jessica, whom Joe and Davy were each infatuated with more than 30 years ago.

You can read my review of Roddy Doyle’s Love in the Boston Globe by clicking the image below.

You can buy Roddy’s Doyle’s Love at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

June 20th, 2020 at 3:13 pm

Posted in News

“Shakespeare in a Divided America” Considers the Tug-of-War Over the Bard

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In his introduction, Shapiro, who teaches at Columbia University, writes that it was the election of Donald Trump as president that led him to write the book. The author wrestles with the outcome of the 2016 presidential election and he even visits red states in the South, to talk with audiences about Shakespeare and “grapple with what, from inside my blue state bubble, I had failed to understand about where the country was heading.” He succeeds, however, in presenting an even-handed account of Shakespeare and American politics, though his observations, comments, and conclusions convey an unmistakably liberal viewpoint.

You can read my review of James Shapiro’s Shakespeare in a Divided America in the Christian Science Monitor by clicking the image below.

You can buy Shakespeare in a Divided America at Barnes and Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

June 20th, 2020 at 2:57 pm

Heathcliff Redux: A Novella and Stories, by Lily Tuck

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The narrator asks Cliff if he’s ever read Wuthering Heights. Cliff says no. She, of course, has read it, and is re-reading it. As Wuthering Heights incorporates elements of Gothic and Romance fiction told in two stories, Heathcliff Redux embraces an interior story of a sort, too. ‘Redux’ is told in short chapters, sometimes as brief as a single sentence with a footnote, but ‘Redux’s’ interior ‘story’ consists of excerpts from Wuthering Heights, some of Brontë’s poems, criticism of Brontë, and it integrates elements of modern fiction with culinary elements borrowed from cozy mysteries and chic lit. Not only is there a recipe for boeuf bourguignon, but there’s the reminder to use a Bordeaux or a Burgundy for the three cups of red wine. What’s more, there’s a pithy recipe for spaghetti: boil a lot of water and add spaghetti. Isn’t that why we read fiction?

You can read my review of Lily Tuck’s Heathcliff Redux: A Novella and Other Stories by clicking the image below.

 

Written by Joe Peschel

June 6th, 2020 at 4:17 pm

“The Life and Times of Galileo,” Galileo and the Science Deniers, by Mario Livio

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“Disputes about the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic offer another parallel. In an email interview with America, Livio was as frank as I believe Galileo would have been. He wrote:”

There is no question that the initial dismissive response of the administration to the scientists’ warnings concerning the coronavirus has had disastrous consequences…. One of the most important lessons from the Galileo affair has been: Believe in science! To bet against science when human life is at stake is insane.

You can read my review of Mario Livio’s Galileo and the Science Deniers by clicking the image below.

You can buy Galileo and the Science Deniers at Barnes and Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

May 5th, 2020 at 5:44 pm

Paul Yoon’s “Run Me to Earth”

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In Yoon’s work—Snow Hunters, Once the Shore (2009), and a few of the stories in The Mountain (2017)—war, with all of its attendant obscenity and evil, shapes Yoon’s characters, while the characters attempt to shape their patch of war. In a sense, Yoon presents war as something of a major character that influences nearly everything from life in all its forms: human, plant, animal, to nature itself. The obscenity—the killing, torture, and bombings—are mostly accomplished off-page or as half scenes, yet the revenge-killing of an interrogator is rather graphic.

 

 

You can read my review of Paul Yoon’s novel, Run Me to Earth, at The Brooklyn Rail by clicking the image below.

You can buy Run Me to Earth at Barnes and Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

February 6th, 2020 at 3:27 pm

E.B. White Spoke to His Time – and Ours

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Today’s divisive, clamorous politics and President Trump himself offer abundant reason to read these essays, some more than 75 years old, today. In his introduction to the book, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jon Meacham calls President Trump an “opportunistic real estate and reality TV showman.”

You can read my review of On Democracy in the Portland Press Herald by clicking the image below.

 

You can buy On Democracy at Barnes &Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

January 26th, 2020 at 3:38 pm

“MacTrump” Turns Donald Trump’s First Two Years as President into a Shakespearean Satire

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If thou art a fan of the current president, thou wilt not care for this story. The authors insist that “MacTrump” is full of alternate facts and fake characters and “if any of our characters sound smarter, stupider, similar, or dissimilar to any celebrity or public figure, alive or dead, there’s a reason: this book is a parody.”

You can read my review of MacTrump in The Oregonian by clicking the image below.

You can buy MacTrump at Barnes &Noble

Written by Joe Peschel

October 4th, 2019 at 11:59 am

T.C. Boyle’s “Outside Looking In”

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As you might imagine, Boyle’s story is a page-turner. It would take an absolute hack to write a dull a novel about sex and drugs. That’s not to slight Boyle who captures the period perfectly. He’s done his research on drug research, and he doesn’t fill his characters mouths with a lot of the slang of the day. Sure, there’s the occasional taste of the Beat “hepcat,” “squares,” and “downer,” for verisimilitude, but Boyle nearly apologizes for the vernacular by saying it’s “another descriptor he [Charlie] dug out of his Beat dictionary.”

You can read my Brooklyn Rail review of Boyle’s Outside Looking In by clicking the image below.

You can buy Boyle’s Outside Looking In at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

September 5th, 2019 at 12:33 pm

Colson Whitehead’s “The Nickel Boys”

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You can read my Brooklyn Rail review of Colson Whitehead’s Nickel Boys  by clicking the image below.

Violence, racism, and ways to confront them are the themes of the book, a hot-button topic, considering the current state of the country: a racist president whose words influence, directly or indirectly, violence and mass-murders by domestic terrorists, unnecessary killings by bigoted cops, and national news commentators who insist that white supremacy is a hoax.

You can buy Whitehead’s Nickle Boys at Barnes & Noble.

Written by Joe Peschel

September 5th, 2019 at 12:16 pm