An odd book. What begins as the story of a young drifter, Miles Heller, estranged from his family in New York and working as a 'trash out' man, cleaniAn odd book. What begins as the story of a young drifter, Miles Heller, estranged from his family in New York and working as a 'trash out' man, cleaning up after housing repossessions during the financial collapse of 2008, in love with a brilliant underage Cuban-American girl with whom he lives and wants to marry as soon as she comes of age, becomes something different when circumstances cause him to flee Florida (the threat of arrest), and return to New York to live with his old friend Bing, who has invited Miles to join him at a squat/commune he has fashioned in downtrodden Sunset Park area of Brooklyn.
The book then reveals its true form, a series of interlocked character studies, as each character is developed in beautiful, brilliant, engaging, richly textured point of view chapters. There's Miles's publisher father, Morris,loving, literary, long-suffering, his actress mother--who abandoned father and son when Miles was a baby, but has continued to have a complicated relationship with her son. there's Bing himself, hopelessly optimistic, who runs the Hospital for Broken Things, which is a great metaphor for the house at Sunset Park in general. There are the other residents, Alice, the doctoral student (in literature, naturally), and Ellen, the realtor and artiest, the most emotionally fragile of the characters.
I loved it as I was reading it, right up until the last chapter, but kept wondering, seeing the small size of the book, how in the world he was going to pull it all this together. It all kind of collapsed for me at the end- and yet, the ride was exquisite and I'm glad I read it. It was my first Auster, and I know I'll start exploring the rest of his work. ...more
A strange and magical experience. The small stories in this book are language-drunk, old-world-surrealism, the emphasis on the weird life of objects,A strange and magical experience. The small stories in this book are language-drunk, old-world-surrealism, the emphasis on the weird life of objects, and a father who at various times turns into a bird, saves the world, forgets his wallet, pursues the maid, creates a world out of bolts of cloth, and--of course! becomes a cockroach…the Mittel-Europa city that morphs and morphs again… Only the maid never changes from story to story. A vanished world, a child's wavering sense of reality, a street of magic which cannot always be found and then appears when you're lost… it is quite the Chagall world, with a darker undertow of contagion and panic, leavened with whimsy. The stories don't seem 'finished' in any conventional sense, but explode like flash-paper before the settle to the ground in a heap of glitter. Coruscating and mysterious, they remind me at times of Fernando del Paso's word-drunk Palinuro of Mexico as much as Kafka. Another book from Les Plesko's incredible reading list, it was a favorite of his. www.pleskoism.wordpress.com....more
So enjoyed this book. Not a David Mitchell fan in particular--I must admit to starting Cloud Atlas and being so infuriated as one story gave way to anSo enjoyed this book. Not a David Mitchell fan in particular--I must admit to starting Cloud Atlas and being so infuriated as one story gave way to another I stopped reading, not giving it time to come around, I so hate being ripped out of one story and thrown into another. But after reading Black Swan Green I'll probably try again, so deeply was I engaged with this one. A coming of age story of young Jason Taylor, in the village of Black Swan Green in Worcestershire, in his particularly troubled 13th year--a stammerer, he is constantly in terror of being shoved into the bottom ranks of boys in his class. All he wants is to be in the middle, and not selected out for torture by the cool boys and the class bullies. How wonderfully the world of Black Swan Green unfolds, its mysteries and hopes and dangers, the parents whose marriage is coming apart in ways that Jason doesn't realize, but the reader understands. A sophisticated elderly Frenchwoman living in the vicarage with her butler, gypsies in the quarry, accidents and triumphs… I especially loved his depiction of how stratified kids' society is, how mercilessly savage-- how excruciating just a simple day at school is for most kids, how fraught. It's a jungle out there for all but the most favored, and Mitchell brings it all back, with the most gorgeous language imaginable. So lively, every verb is a thing of delight. A pure pleasure....more
The brilliant, final work of the Hungarian-American author Les Plesko, Centered around the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, this exquisite short novel coThe brilliant, final work of the Hungarian-American author Les Plesko, Centered around the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, this exquisite short novel concerns love and betrayal in times of political turmoil, similar territory to Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, as well as Herta Muller's Land of Green Plums.
From my introduction to the book (yes, I loved it that much): "One cannot read quickly through a Les Plesko book--don't even try. It's not meant for speed-reading... Les wrote for those of us who can hear a confession, who know how to hear behind halting words to the depths of soul revealing itself. Reading Les Plesko is like listening to a broadcast late at night, an urgent communication textured by distance and static. It's a lover's reception of an intimate call in the middle of the night. You hold your breath for the cadence, wait for the meaning to unfold."
I never weary of his vision of writing, never stopped admiring his dedication to the art. He could throw out 100 pages and save only a single sentence. When you read No Stopping Train , you’ll recognize the greatness of this prose— the taut dialogue, the emotion in the landscape, the music in its sentences. There's an unmistakable poetry in a Les Plesko line which is simply irresistible--it's a book to be savored rather than swilled.
Told from multiple points of view, especially the three points of its primary love triangle (there are several), the tender Margit, the elusive Sandor, and the jaded survivor Erzsebet, whom Sandor rescued from a camp during WW2. Here's the opener, from Margit's point of view:
"You are the man who sang "God Bless the Magyar" after we lost the war. I watched you sway by a bullet-pocked door, heard you testing the national anthem's loose notes, a lost war's afterthoughts. I hadn't heard it since school, and then school was called off. All up and down Saint Matyas Street, wind chased your song among tattered banners and placards and flags. Elms cast their shadows on smashed cobblestones, windowsills lined with wash. A corpse swayed against a streetlight in accompaniment, its belt buckle clinking the pole, red-checked shirt cheery agains the dull sky. Its urgent clogged smell permeated the air, the sad clothes on clotheslines..."
About this gorgeous, lyrical novel, Library journal said "Plesko's long-awaited novel is a powerful meditation on his own country's history and the expansiveness of humanity... serious readers of literary fiction will rejoice.,"
If you’d like to know more about Les Plesko, his ideas, his philosophy and writing prompts (he taught writing for 20 years at UCLA, guiding more than 1000 writing students on their literary journeys), memories and pages with his edits, colleagues and students have set up a collaborative website in his honor, “Pleskoism: Don’t Have Ideas” at www.pleskoism.wordpress.com. His amazing reading list can be found there—and how better to know a man than through his books.
I had never heard of Clarice Lispector until I saw it on Les Plesko's reading list (see my Goodreads blog on this mindblowing list), which I am graduaI had never heard of Clarice Lispector until I saw it on Les Plesko's reading list (see my Goodreads blog on this mindblowing list), which I am gradually moving through. I decided to start with this one, an extremely short book, readable in a sitting, which was actually her last book. Self-doubting in the way only a very confident writer can be, a writer questioning the entire project--full of ideas and insights and the exploration of this thing we do, creating literature. Ostensibly about a pitiful, impoverished girl of the Brazilian North-East, the drought-stricken hinterlands, living as a typist in Rio de Janiero, a girl so unaware of herself she doesn't even get a name until halfway through--it's Macabea--and the most unlikely Maccabee one can even imagine. But it's a story narrated by a self-conscious, middle-aged literary man, Rodrigo S.M. (can there be a more theatrical name?) imagining the story of this pitiful typist, and his intrusions (many) into the story (slim) are almost Nabokovian, in the sense that his interjections are by far the most interesting thing about the book, as he struggles with himself to do right by his negligible subject. Tiny, layered, fascinating, true modernism. There is no interest in creating the seamless dream of the 19th century, a project I personally love.
But for all that, it's full of insights nevertheless about the human condition, keen perceptions, and breathtaking moments of lyricism.
"Life is like that, you press a button and the world lights up. Except the girl didn't know which button to press."
"Meanwhile the clouds are white and the sky is blue. Why is there so much God? At the expense of men."
"before being born was she an idea? Before being born was she dead? After being born was she about to die? What a thin slice of water melon."
"No one would teach her how to die one day; yet one day she would shurely die as if she had already learned by heart how to play the starring role. For at the hour of death you became a celebrated film star, it is a moment of glory for everyone, when the choral music scales the top noes." "I seem to belong to a remote planet, I am such a stranger unto myself."
Often our narrator interjects with something like this: "What follows is a mere attempt to reproduce three pages which I had already written. My cook, seeing them lying abround, threw them in the waste-paper basket." or "I have grown weary of literature... I must interrupt this story for three days." then half a page later, "Now I awaken to find I musiss Macabea. Let's take up the threads again." So Nabokovian, though he skips the self-justification of a Nabokov character, he really is trying his best to write this story.
"The fliddlers music is an omen. I know that when I die, I shall hear him playing and that I shall crave for music, music, music."
It's the 'diary of a nobody', but the opposite of Dostoyevsky's deeply self-conscious, overly-self-involved characters whose nobody-ness is a torment. Tiny, layered, fascinating. Ready for the next Lispector. ...more
Dylan Landis' first novel knocks it out of the ball park. I read it in galleys and so admired it I wrote a cover blurb: "Every woman has known a RaineDylan Landis' first novel knocks it out of the ball park. I read it in galleys and so admired it I wrote a cover blurb: "Every woman has known a Rainey Royal. The coolest girl in school, the most daring, the most beautiful, yet the one who could turn on you—and then, bewilderingly, turn back. What makes a Rainey Royal, and her effect on everyone she encounters—that chaos of yearning, cruelty, woundedness, seeking, and human poetry—we needed a great writer to show us, and here she is. Dylan Landis has written a spare, elegant novel that’s pure nerves, pure adrenaline. Should carry a warning, do not read at bedtime.”
The novel is told through interlinked short stories from three points of view, Rainey, her best friend Tina, and Leah, the girl they alternately cosset and torment. The Royal household is ground zero here, a bohemian chaos in Greenwich village in the '70s, headed by her father, a jazz musician and center of a musical near-cult, filling the house with his proteges and hangers on, a dangerous environment for a beautiful girl trying out her power in the world. In certain ways, this seemed a companion novel to Rachel Kushner's The Flamethrowers--the time, the setting, though Kushner's heroine is a transparent newbie from out of town, and Landis' younger protagonist is part of that world, wounded and willful and itching to take it on.
One of the story-chapters was a 2014 O'Henry award winner.
I waited to post here until it was out, because to hear of a great book you can't buy until next year is really unfair!...more
Wise, dark marvelous short stories set in Russia, in various political climates and eras from the Stalinist through the collapse of the Soviet Union aWise, dark marvelous short stories set in Russia, in various political climates and eras from the Stalinist through the collapse of the Soviet Union and into the capitalist era.
The title story, PU-238 is an absolute gut punch of a tale and sets the tone for the collection. As an employee of a patched-together nuclear power plant faces death following a malfunction (echoes of Chernobyl) he decides to turn to the new 'marketplace' for a desperate compensation. After reading this first story, you know nothing is going to turn out “right” in these stories except by accident.
I personally loved the theorem of the first one—Ignorance plus Fatalism plus Desperation equals the most terrible, bleakest humor you ever saw--much like another favorite, The Suitcase by Sergei Dovlatov. What’s especially nice about this collection is the variety of time periods in Russian history they’re set in--the commonality within the differences, so the first story is set in the economically disastrous post-Soviet period like the Wild West, and the second, Anzhelika 13, is Stalin era Soviet.
What I liked particularly about that second story, and some of the others, was a certain kind of fatalism about life, and where it comes from, and but also secret repositories of memory —“No one spoke of Aunt Lyuda again. Anzhelika could hardly remember her. People were easily forgotten: like dreams their faces were lost in the rush of daylight…”
Kalfus doesn’t turn his head from the dark side of human nature. How envy turns neighbor against neighbor, especially in times of scarcity, not denying these basic passions but accepting them as the bass note against which other emotions take place. For example, here's the fury of Anzhelika’s father, smelling the neighbor’s better dinner in the collective apartment: “Her parents didn’t speak, they didn’t even look at each other as their nostril-hairs twitched around the vapors emitted by Aunt Olya’s cutlets. Their anger intensified and their silence deepened.”
In the first story, when the rogue nuclear engineer tries to explain to the kid black marketeer, ‘Shiv,’ what plutonium is, we see it again: “Shiv wasn’t listening; he didn’t like being lectured and he especially didn’t like to be told to read things, even identity papers. The world was full of men who new more than Shiv did, and he hated each of them.” This could well speak for any country, the very real hatred of the uneducated for the educated—something that we forget at our peril.
Hatred in many firms simmers through this book, envy, fatalism and meaningless terrible turns of events.
My favorite story is the long one at the end, “Peredelkino”, named for the very famous dacha village of the Soviet era, where Pasternak lived, and Akhmatova was given a summer home at the end of her life. The story lovingly depicts the struggle of writers to live within the false structure of the Soviet ‘writers union’—to survive physically and as artists, the push and pull of that. I especially enjoyed the wife of the protagonist of that story, Lydia, who just wants to live in isolation out at the dacha and read. Good readers are rare in fiction, oddly enough. I loved her discussions with her writer husband. Here’s one about a novel he wrote about submarine sailors, for which he was criticized about its inaccuracies: Lydia says, “To criticize a novel for getting details of a setting wrong is like criticizing a dream for not being true to life.”
But this collection is a dream which gets all the details right, down to the blackened ice and the ‘fossilized print of a truck tire’ to the envy and cowardice and tiny braveries in human life, and in the particulars of Russia. ...more
Shortlisted for the Man Asia Prize, Munaweera's lyrical, intensely emotional novel of the Sri Lankan civil war is a beautifully handled epic told in oShortlisted for the Man Asia Prize, Munaweera's lyrical, intensely emotional novel of the Sri Lankan civil war is a beautifully handled epic told in only 238 pages. The story of several intertwined Sri Lankan families on both sides of the divide of religion--Buddhism and Hindusim--as civil war comes to them, separating neighbors who have lived side by side for generations, by fear and then by hideous violence. Who is this benefiting becomes the unanswerable question.
Told from the point of view of the children of these families--who beomce the parents and even grandparents in the course of the short novel--the story is told so tenderly and economically, yet the poetry of its prose never cheats us of the sensuality and drama of this beautiful, terrifying place. One family flees for its life, to America, but can never really separate. Others move into the heart of the violence.
My quote is on the back cover:
"“Munaweera writes with ferocity, fire and poetry of the incomprehensible madness of civil war and its effects upon those caught within it... A masterful, incendiary debut."
I'm going to stand by that. Poetical, political, personal, intimate and epic. ...more
Beautiful impressionistic novel of the Leningrad siege, told through a number of perspectives in both verse and prose: diaries, 3rd person narrative,Beautiful impressionistic novel of the Leningrad siege, told through a number of perspectives in both verse and prose: diaries, 3rd person narrative, letters... as deeply into Russia as I am now, I felt this was compelling and incredibly well done and absorbing, though slighter than than I'd hoped. The varieties of form suggested it would be a difficult read, but it was quite straightforward. Anyone who liked The Madonnas of Leningrad will love this-- a Russian artist's take on living inside that city during its horrendous siege. I just wished it was longer... I did find myself hearing Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7, 'Leningrad', in my head as I read it. The amount of focus on the religious seemed an interesting (and contemporary) choice.
The WWII backdrop and the Shostokovich theme that continuously insinuated itself in my head kept recalling a much heftier, prosier book (which I adored) -- William Vollman's National Book Award winner "Europe Central", especially the love story between Elena and Shostokovich, also the small but intensely satisfying novel "Liquidation" by the Hungarian Nobelist Imre Kertesz, not to mention the brilliant avant garde 'memoir' of the Russian Formalist Viktor Shklovsky, "A Sentimental Journey. "
Hear they're making a movie of it, that Vishnevetsky, a poet, has written and directed. ...more
Another book from Les Plesko's (No Stopping Train) incredible book list, Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke almost reaches the level of literary sublimityAnother book from Les Plesko's (No Stopping Train) incredible book list, Denis Johnson's Tree of Smoke almost reaches the level of literary sublimity and transcendence of Robert Stone's quintessential Vietnam book Dog Soldiers. Line for line precise, vivid, achingly beautiful, it's the interwoven stories of a double handful of characters beginning in the Phillipines just as Kennedy is assassinated, and moving through the Vietnam experience ending in the 1980's as the last characters are mopped up... The narrative centers, however, upon Skip Sands, the nephew of a CIA legend and somewhat of a Kurtzian figure in the Vietnam conflict. Skip teeters, in Johnson's words, between the Quiet American and the Ugly American, becoming just the fucking American--that is, looking for legend but fully becoming the mess that Vietnam was. Contrasting to Sands, who struggles with the essential issues of that war, who ponders, who sifts and thinks, are the Houston brothers, first Bill, and then the rougher, cruder copy, younger brother James. Who don't think, they act--and how the war is their undoing as well as it is Sands'.
The only thing that keeps this book from the heaven that is Dog Soldiers is the way the narrative is scattered among so many characters, including Sands, the two Houstons, a nurse with a missionary husband who is murdered by blowgun in the Phillipines and perhaps on the orders of hte CIA, Jimmy Storm, the legendary uncle's crazy right hand man, and a number of the vietnamese characters to boot... It is very difficult for a multiple protagonist book to squeeze down to a really resonant ending. But aside from this intrinsic and inescapable flaw, this is breath-held fiction for 700 pages. What verbal firepower, what mimicry, what tension. The first scene, in which hapless Bill Houston shoots a monkey, will burn in my brain for life.
Samantha Irby is a bucket of ice water in the face, the hottest chili in the supposedly mild batch, the best pastrami sandwich in the world--the shockSamantha Irby is a bucket of ice water in the face, the hottest chili in the supposedly mild batch, the best pastrami sandwich in the world--the shock of the bold in other words. Not for the squeamish--this Chicago humorist writes of life meaty and unmediated. If you like your humor STRONG, if you can take the rawness of being female without a bow on top, if you think language is there to be wielded as a weapon in the war against despair and conformity and timidity and 'make it all nice-ness,' you NEED this book. I laughed until I nearly eviscerated myself, ached for the desperation of a family on the ropes, for this colossus of energy having to live with a debilitating illness and the ongoing struggle of the artist in a society which takes no prisoners and makes no allowances for ability and genius. This is quiet desperation turned inside out, and so roaringly funny I'm already making a Christmas list--and let's just say those girlfriends who thought Bridesmaids was disgusting are not on it.
The essays about her own family and physical condition--she's been diagnosed with Crohn's disease--anchor the humor of the collection with the darkness of real and ongoing problems that can't be solved, are simply facts of a very real woman's life, which would be a prison without this energy and and fury and crazy humor, the outlet of writing itself. Cannot recommend enough.
Feels so good to sink into a Rikki Ducornet novel. What joy in language, what a marvelous, lush, strange imagination--such engaging, bizarre characterFeels so good to sink into a Rikki Ducornet novel. What joy in language, what a marvelous, lush, strange imagination--such engaging, bizarre characters! Ducornet is the fiction equivalent of a small, intensely rich dessert from some foreign land, full of strange flavors, continually surprising. Having read 'The Word Desire', 'Phosphor In Dreamland', and 'The Fan Maker's Inquisition' long ago, I understandably pounced on 'Entering Fire' when I found it tucked away in a small bookstore, along with a copy of 'The Butcher's Tales.'
This tale of father and son, told in alternating chapters, begins with the son Septimus de Bergerac, one of Ducornet's monsters, a boy who hates his absent father, adores his unspeakable M'man, a hideously priggish woman who has shaped her son into a viper. How he loathes his father's Chinese mistress and his son by her, True Man, who both lodge with the mother and the misshapen Septimus, who grows into a virulent anti-Semite and experiences his glory days in Occupied France.
Meanwhile, the father chapters are the most divine. Lamprias de Bergerac is a whimsical sensual adventurer who has abandoned his family to venture into strange worlds upriver in the Amazon and discover orchids and outrageous women, a dreamer and lover of life as much as his son is a plotter and a poisonous little fascist. Fascinating to watch their destinies grow and cross.
I ate this short (150pp) novel up in two sittings and and it never failed to charm and amaze me with its baroque intricacies. ...more