Luis Negón’s debut story collection, Mundo Cruel, is a study in verve, sass, and voice, peppered with a dash ofOriginally Appeared in Lambda Literary
Luis Negón’s debut story collection, Mundo Cruel, is a study in verve, sass, and voice, peppered with a dash of spirituality. Short and sweet, this slim volume delivers its wisdom in one breakneck sprint through the cosmopolitan barrio of Santurce, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Negrón’s work has garnered comparisons to Manuel Puig, the late Argentine pop author best known for his novel Kiss of the Spider Woman. It’s an apt comparison. Like Puig, Negón’s prose crackles with the voice of the street, constructing deep meaning out of absurdity and satire. But Negrón is his own writer.
Presented as a play, two reactionary mothers read a queer neighbor boy (and his kin) for filth, disguising their bigotry as altruism in “So Many, or On How the Wagging Tongue Can Cast a Spell.” “The Vampire of Moca” examines the life-cycle of jealousy through the eyes of an aging queen vying for the affections of an ostensibly straight macho stud. An anointed adolescent “fag” spreads the Good News in unorthodox fashion through an eager congregation in “The Chosen One.” And, taking a somber turn, “The Garden” finds Nestito reflecting on the incarcerating nature of affection as his terminally ill lover, his lover’s sister, and he prepare to ring in the New Year.
Negrón leverages the subversive camp of queerness here, taking every opportunity to lambast bigotry and internalized homophobia in equal measure. These brilliant, tightly constructed stories are peopled with characters meant to represent a sexual polarity: either they’re out-and-proud queens, or they’re staunch heterosexuals, loath to cop to disruptive desires. Those that do trip across the no man’s land of fluid sexuality do so quickly, deliberately, and in ritualized fashion, all the better to facilitate a neat justification. Mundo Cruel is a shrewd celebration of subversion, to be sure, but for all its bravado the broader point here is a quiet reaffirmation that we all possess the innate capacity to subvert the status quo. Queerness is merely one mechanism (perhaps the most fun) by which it can be accomplished. ...more
Professor Joseph Skizzen has spent a lifetime distilling a single thought into its purest expression. This misOriginally appeared in Time Out New York
Professor Joseph Skizzen has spent a lifetime distilling a single thought into its purest expression. This mission is something Skizzen’s creator, the famously deliberative William H. Gass, no doubt sympathizes with deeply; Middle C is the 88-year-old writer’s first novel in nearly 20 years.
Fearing the stain of Nazism, fiddler Rudi Skizzen adopts a Jewish identity to secret his young family out of Austria and into Blitz-era London. Rudi doesn’t stick around for long, however, absconding to Canada the first chance he gets. With little more than a handful of counterfeit identifications, the remaining Skizzens immigrate to rural Ohio. Because son Joey lacks proper papers, assimilation proves difficult. Joey makes his way by exploiting an aptitude for piano, eventually forging the documents necessary to secure a position at a middling local college. While piano provides stability, Joey’s true calling is his “Inhumanity Museum,” a secret archive housed in his attic. There, he obsessively catalogs mankind’s atrocities—everything from arson to genocide—and rebukes the perpetrators.
Gass orchestrates his fiction with thematic elements as a composer might a symphony, reworking the events of Joey’s life to more thoroughly explore the idea that all individuals share in a universal guilt. Just as his father shirked responsibilities for Joey and his family, Joey seeks to eschew the blame for the ugliness he gleefully documents in his museum, coming to embrace his once-shameful, fraudulent identity as an ethical circumvention. Typical of Gass’s subversive fiction, Middle C forgoes easy moralizing in favor of a more ambivalent relativism. In the case of Joey Skizzen, it’s mendacity, not truth, that will set you free....more
Entertaining enough, but definitely not as good as the detective Erlunder series.
the premise revolves around a secret plan hatched in theEntertaining enough, but definitely not as good as the detective Erlunder series.
the premise revolves around a secret plan hatched in the final days of WWII to spirit away Hitler to a deserted island off the coast of Argentina. This ploy is so secret, and so sensitive that people have to die over the course of 50 years to protect it.
I don't buy it. Especially by the time of the narrative moment. I just can't see it being such a huge conspiracy. I mean, sure, it would've been a big deal, but, come on, I just don't buy the huge deal. Governments do all sorts of shady things and cut all sorts of deals. The fracas would've passed. But I digress.
Other than that the writing was pretty good. Indridason is good at pacing an his characters are always entertaining. Plus, visiting Iceland via fiction is always a treat!...more
A great, lyric achievement - a well-deserved classic of mid-century American prose. Gass is approachable, graspable, If you will, in a way rare amongA great, lyric achievement - a well-deserved classic of mid-century American prose. Gass is approachable, graspable, If you will, in a way rare among his cohort of literary giants. I found the five stories here to be an endless spiral of inventiveness, pulled off in distinct voices.
I don't have it in front of me to directly quote at the moment (and, frankly, I'm not keen to transcribe the whole passage anyway), but there is a brilliant, four page, tour-de-force monologue in "Icicles," which boils the whole of existence down to a simple exchange of ownership. Pick up a copy of this out-of-print collection if you can!y...more
I picked up this collection because Richard Blanco was the poet at President Obama's second inauguration, and because we share a similar biography - bI picked up this collection because Richard Blanco was the poet at President Obama's second inauguration, and because we share a similar biography - both Blanco and I are the children of Cuban exiles who grew up in Florida; we're both gay; we both lost our fathers.
It shouldn't be a surprise, then, that I saw myself here as clearly as if I were gazing into a mirror. I found myself dog earring like mad - and I'm the type of reader that regards the book as a sacred object, loath am I to defile it - so that I'll be able to come back to these poems later. There's a line in one of the final poems, "Place of Mind," that sums up my feelings quite nicely: "Always ending, yet always beginning / the search for myself ends in echo."
You and I, Richard Blanco, we're like spirit brothers. I look forward to encountering more of your work....more
Totally great primer on investing for retirement. I could've done with less Canadian examples, but this was written with Canadians in mind so it's toTotally great primer on investing for retirement. I could've done with less Canadian examples, but this was written with Canadians in mind so it's to be expected. I found the first half to be mostly commonsense kinds of thing. He broke out the more intense stuff in the second half, and at times I found myself struggling with the particulars. Again, a book that spoke the language of 401k and IRA instead of their Canadian equivalents would've been more helpful. I'll probably look for that soon. Overall, really great intro and an easy, accessible read. A great starting place for those looking to get serious about saving....more
A quaint little travelogue and meditation on aging. Klein is searching for an authentic old age here, a kind of capstone to a well-lived life and a spA quaint little travelogue and meditation on aging. Klein is searching for an authentic old age here, a kind of capstone to a well-lived life and a space for reflection and appreciation before the dreaded old old age descends and robs the body and mind of their faculties. I found this slim book rather delightful. While not rigorous in the least, it was packed with tidbits of philosophy spanning - more or less - the whole of humanity. I think the main takeaway for me was that life's discrete stations should be respected and fully embodied; there's no point in trying to remain young as you age, and there's certainly no point in rushing some kind of grand reflection when you're still contending with the day-to-day of your productive years.
I'm only giving it three stars because it's not the kind of book that introduces new concepts. It's the kind of book you turn to for reminders, a kind of existential tune-up, if you will. Plus, it kind of falls on the shallow side of sentimentality. All in all, perfectly enjoyable....more
I'm continually amazed by Alison Bechdel's ability to limn sensitive portraits in a very erudite way. She's a master at drawing parallels between herI'm continually amazed by Alison Bechdel's ability to limn sensitive portraits in a very erudite way. She's a master at drawing parallels between her fraught childhood and great works of literature - Joyce's Ulysses in this case. But it's all done with a tender hand. Here is a brilliant mind zeroing in on where things went wrong.
I'm pretty sure some part of this book will be with me for a long time. I'm particularly haunted by the section in which she recounts the first time she saw a cadaver, and the final few pages where she jumps into her father's waiting hands in the pool made me teary eyed. Bechdel's father could certainly be a monster, but as the book goes on you discover his humanity. It's tempting to see it as a grieving daughter romanticizing an emotionally aloof father, but Bechdel's honesty throughout dispels that notion. She's not pulling punches here, and she's not being vindictive either.
After reading both Fun Home and Are You My Mother? in quick succession I feel like I know this family, and I'm a little sad to see them go. Hopefully, there's another graphic memoir on the horizon!...more
Alain de Botton is a bit ridiculous when it comes to the fanciful little stories he tells throughout: "A terraced house on a tree-lined street. EarlieAlain de Botton is a bit ridiculous when it comes to the fanciful little stories he tells throughout: "A terraced house on a tree-lined street. Earlier today, the house rang with the sound of children's cries and adult voices, but since the last occupant took off (with her satchel) a few hours ago, it has been left to sample the morning by itself.... Occasionally, the letter-box opens with a rasp to admit a plaintive leaflet." That's from the first paragraph. But, all in all, he does a pretty amazing job of telling the emotional story of architecture. The take-away here - and, perhaps, it shouldn't surprise you - is that architecture is incapable of making us happy or sad, but merely functions in a directive capacity amplifying our mood and seeking to improve it.
At least, that's what it's supposed to do. The book is filled with examples of where this went wrong. Most notably, de Botton presents the example of Le Corbusier's plan to raze a significant portion of Paris to make way for skyscrapers in a field, grade separated from automobile traffic. Today we'd recognize it as the blueprint for so much of the public housing in our major cities (Paris included). In the end, de Botton claims, Le Corbusier lost sight of the human element necessary to make architecture work.
There are other charming example of architecture that works, and throughout the prose sings its praises in digestible chunks of erudition. If you can get over the affected tone of his prose then you'll be fine. I'd recommend this to lay people interested in architecture....more
I knew very little about Ulysses S Grant before reading this book. I knew he was the main general on the Union side during the Civil War and that he lI knew very little about Ulysses S Grant before reading this book. I knew he was the main general on the Union side during the Civil War and that he later became president, but I seemed to recall that he wasn't a particularly good president. In a way The Man Who Saved the Union is working against that popular misconception to burnish Grant's somewhat tarnished legacy.
H.W. Brands is known for his sweeping presidential biographies - he penned the Wilson biography in the Times Books ambitious American Presidents series - and with The Man Who Saved the Union he doesn't disappoint. We start, as all biographies must, in the beginning. Born Hiram Ulysses Grant, called Ulys by his family, Grant is a pretty common frontier kid. A wiz on horseback and always with an eye out for business. That enthusiasm for business, however, didn't extend to his father's tannery business. It was a lifelong antipathy and one that led to some animosity between father and son; animosity that only the presidency appears to have dispelled. Some interesting trivia about Grant: The "S" doesn't stand for anything; it was the result of a clerical error when he enrolled at West Point. The same clerical error also erased his given name while promoting Ulysses to his first name, hence U.S. Grant. The patriotic ring of it proved too tempting for the august military academy and the name stuck.
After West Point, Grant spent a fair amount of time in the army, participating in the Mexican-American war, and later on the Pacific coast during the gold rush. Eventually, he resigned his commission following allegations that he was drinking too much. By this point he'd married and fathered two kids. He returned to them and made a go of it in farming and various industries, but the child who had always sought a business angle proved to be a lousy businessman. Almost every attempt Grant made at business in his life floundered. He was born for war, though, and the Civil War offered him a chance to return to the only profession he'd ever been good at. The presidency followed, then an illustrious life as a beloved private citizen who counted Samuel Clemens among his friends and colleagues. Grant's final years found him swindled in business and dancing on the gilded edge of penury while fiendishly scribbling his memoirs in a final attempt to secure his family's financial security. As in war and politics, he ultimately succeeded in literature as well.
A good chunk of the book is dedicated to Grant's efforts during the war. It's a good read for those interested in the subject, but I was more interested in what happened after the war. Luckily, Brands delivered. Reconstruction and the presidency years were wonderfully articulated, and despite the fact that I knew of none of the political machinations of the era Brands did a great job of guiding me through. I never felt lost or overwhelmed. I was also fascinated to see how presidential campaigns have changed since the mid-19th century. Grant didn't give a single stump speech until he campaigned on behalf of James Garfield well after his own (Grant's) presidency has ended, nor did he ever announce his own candidacy. It was considered beneath the dignity of the office to pursue it much back then. Or, maybe, as" the man who saved the Union," Grant just didn't need to campaign much.
I read the Kindle edition, which didn't include any images. That was a real missed opportunity here, and it almost tempted me to buy the hardcover (another great argument for selling physical and digital editions as a bundle like the record industry does, but I digress). Other than that, I really liked reading this on a reader. It's a big book and lugging that around would've been a pain. Sure would look nice on my shelf, though.
Overall, I highly recommend this book for fans of political biographies and Civil War buffs. In Brands' hands, Grant's legacy is secured. I now know our 18th president was a great general, a powerful political force who's positive contribution to reconstruction shouldn't be overlooked, and a man who's honor was beyond reproach. Now if only I could find a good biography of one of our worst presidents: James Buchanan. I've been curious about him for years. Anybody have any suggestions?...more
Fun mystery. Indridason is a pretty competent writer. I enjoyed the emotional tenor of the prose. Everything was calm, direct and logical - just likeFun mystery. Indridason is a pretty competent writer. I enjoyed the emotional tenor of the prose. Everything was calm, direct and logical - just like Iceland! Elínborg is a great protagonist, and I liked the way her work and family life played off of each other, it was a nice departure from the loner detective trope. Next time I'm in the mood for a good mystery I'll definitely be turning to Indridason....more
I admit I only picked up Justin Scott's The Shipkiller because I was seduced by its nautical themes of revenge on the high seas and because it was priI admit I only picked up Justin Scott's The Shipkiller because I was seduced by its nautical themes of revenge on the high seas and because it was priced at $1 in a used bookstore in downtown Los Angeles that I was looking to lend a modicum of support. I'm glad I did!
I'm a bit of a ship nerd, a rare enough passion to indulge in life-at-large let alone in contemporary fiction (my other passion), so this book represents the ideal intersection of my two greatest passions. I'm happy to say it met all my expectations, providing literary daring-do on the high seas for a glorious 408 pages. The plot is pretty simple: man's sailboat is destroyed at sea by world's largest ship, man loses wife in accident, man finds no legal recourse, man vows death to the ship; he becomes the shipkiller.
There are plenty of twists and turns to keep the plot hopping, and oodles of nautical ephemera to please sailing geeks thrown into the bargin. At times, I found myself rooting for the wrong side, though. While Hardin (the shipkiller) was a likable enough guy, and his anger-turned-grief was justified, I had a hard time getting behind his project wholeheartedly. You vow to destroy the ship that destroyed your life, okay, but what next? Will that really help you heal, and what of the unstoppable march of industry, which demands that ever larger ships ply the seas? That was my one sticking point, and it followed me throughout. Scott never really addressed the question; instead, Hardin was presented as a dedicated man who will stop at nothing to achieve his goal. It's a fine archetype for a thriller, but fails on a more measured level. It didn't ruin the story for me, though - I wasn't expecting high art here - and, throughout, Scott does a great job of inciting you to keep turning those pages! It seems The Shipkiller may become a movie (there was another filmic flirtation back in the seventies, but it fell through). I hope it does. Just like contemporary literature can use more ship-based stories, so, too, can contemporary film....more