Oh, Elena Ferrante, you get me every time! This short book is a great distillation of one of Ferrante's main themes from the Neapolitan novels.
This tOh, Elena Ferrante, you get me every time! This short book is a great distillation of one of Ferrante's main themes from the Neapolitan novels.
This time around, she's laser focused on how Olga, at 38, copes with being suddenly abandoned by her husband, Mario, and left with the full responsibility of raising their two children (and the dog) while Mario goes off and relives his youth with a twenty-year-old. Just as in her masterpiece, I was riveted by the casual violence, callous attitudes, and obliviousness of the male characters so richly on display here. It's been said many times before and it bears repeating, Ferrante's insight into the lives of women is fearless, unblinking, and invaluable. Olga spends much of the book insisting that she won't become one of those women who go to pieces when they are abandoned by their husbands, all the while going to pieces herself. I won't give any spoilers, but it's a marvelous feat Ferrante pulls off here. Her plotting is subtle and ingenious—she knows just when to turn the screws and when to pull back—and her dialogue, particularly when delivered by Olga's bratty children, cuts right to the heart of the matter with elegance and concision. It never feels forced. Likewise, the philosophical tangents feel effortless and natural.
This book ends on an uplifting note, which is not to suggest that Ferrante succumbs to Utopian desires. The Olga that comes out the other side of her abandonment is more independent, yes, but the weight of patriarchy still hangs around her like a mantle.
A strong book of essays on diverse topics mostly tangentially connected to art. I struggled through the first part but it picked up in the second sectA strong book of essays on diverse topics mostly tangentially connected to art. I struggled through the first part but it picked up in the second section, which was all about photography. Cole really hits his stride in the third section about travel and place. He has a great eye for the telling details that transform an otherwise unremarkable anecdote or interaction into a powerful insight into human nature.
Le Carre's first novel contains the signature brooding tone that will come to full blossom three books later in his best work, Smiley's People. Here wLe Carre's first novel contains the signature brooding tone that will come to full blossom three books later in his best work, Smiley's People. Here we get our introduction to George Smiley, a man shaped by a lifetime of espionage work that has robbed him of his youth with little recompense.
What I like the most about this character and these books is that they cast a cynical eye on the Cold War. Often fiction of and about the era describe the world as black and white. The Western world is good and the Soviet world is evil. But le Carre's books, and Smiley in particular, don't take that view. Instead, they see it as a series of moves and countermoves between opponents. The players believe in their ideologies to varying degrees, but what really matters is winning, even if there is rarely a clear victor in this skirmishes. I've heard the books' worldview described as amoral and I think that's right. After you've read a few of these, you know enough to expect deeply flawed individuals going through the motions clear-eyed and cognizant of the futility of their actions from a wider perspective.
This initial foray isn't perfect, but it's satisfying to witness the genesis of an iconic voice.
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A very engaging collection. Some of the stories felt more like sketches than fleshed out narratives, but I appreciated the sparseness of those shorterA very engaging collection. Some of the stories felt more like sketches than fleshed out narratives, but I appreciated the sparseness of those shorter pieces. The longer pieces felt melancholic. Many dealt with the aftermath of intense moments of hope, which feels very apt for our time.
I love Purnell's writing. It's evocative, unapologetic, and funny. In many ways his tone reminds me of Sherman Alexie, though they are writing very diI love Purnell's writing. It's evocative, unapologetic, and funny. In many ways his tone reminds me of Sherman Alexie, though they are writing very different stories.
This book has been getting so much praise that I came to it expecting to love it. By all rights, I should've. It hits a lot of the things I look for iThis book has been getting so much praise that I came to it expecting to love it. By all rights, I should've. It hits a lot of the things I look for in contemporary fiction: a short novel with a dark premise, a work in translation, and a compelling plot. Unfortunately, that final criteria petered out for me in the second and third parts. The narrators in those parts—the main character's brother-in-law and her sister—didn't grab my attention the way her abusive husband did in the first part. Overall, I liked the book, but I kept hoping for a stronger allegorical component. I got a vaguely feminist feel in parts, which I appreciated, but it somehow felt too obvious and too obscure at the same time. I think, maybe, I was also hoping it would get more Kafkaesque or violent. It was, ultimately, more Plath than Pasolini. I enjoyed it, but I didn't love it. This is definitely a book I want to discuss with others. I think I'm just missing something.
I'm a big fan of Chaon's work. He writes creepy stories about people living on the margins of society. His latest is no exception.
Dustin's parents, aI'm a big fan of Chaon's work. He writes creepy stories about people living on the margins of society. His latest is no exception.
Dustin's parents, aunt and uncle were murdered in their home when he was a child. His adopted brother, Rusty, was convicted of the crime and sentenced to life in prison, but, now, new DNA evidence has exonerated him. Dustin doesn't know how to feel about this, especially as he juggles a demanding patient (he's a psychologist) with a fixation on Satanic ritual sacrifice, teen sons, and a sick wife. There's also the question of what, exactly, did happen to his family all those years ago. If Rusty didn't kill them, who did?
Ill Will is formally much more inventive than Chaon's previous work. No stranger to multiple perspectives, he really commits to the approach this time around, including disconcerting elisions and dueling stream of conscious narrations, often presented alongside each other on the same page. The result is a destabilizing read that gives new meaning to the concept of an unreliable narrator. The flip side is that sometimes the narrative choices pulled me out of the story. I'm glad I stuck it out, however, because it really comes together masterfully at the end.
If you're a fan of Chaon's previous work, picking this one up is a no-brainer. If you're coming to him for the first time because you're a fan of psychological thrillers, you won't be disappointed.
Jacob is wrestling his inner demons. Literally. In Alameddine’s newest novel, the aftermath of a halThis review originally appeared in Lambda Literary
Jacob is wrestling his inner demons. Literally. In Alameddine’s newest novel, the aftermath of a half-century of war, disease, religious strife, and sexual liberation has left a Middle Eastern San Francisco-based poet addled and on the verge of neurotic collapse.
The son of a Yemeni prostitute and an absentee father, young Jacob is raised by a colorful cast of “aunties” at a Cairo brothel and, later, by a stern but subversive Catholic nun in Beirut. It’s here, under Sœur Emmanuelle’s tutelage, that Jacob first learns about the Fourteen Holy Helpers, auxiliary saints that the church has moved away from. Church orthodoxy notwithstanding, Jacob is as smitten with his saints as he is by submission, something he got a taste of at the brothel. As his peripatetic life takes him around the globe, Jacob learns to rely on the counsel and intercession of his motley crew of martyrs to help him navigate the various injustices and microaggressions that a queer person from the Arab world living in the United States encounters. The saints may be a godsend, but Jacob’s greatest ally is a better know figure: Satan. Almaddine’s Prince of Darkness has a decided Miltonian inflection and acts on Jacob’s behalf in a way seemingly at odds with his popular perception. There’s little demonic ne’er do well-ing here and the only mortification of the flesh afoot occurs in BDSM dungeons. As the human cost of the AIDS epidemic and an endless war in his homeland pushes Jacob to forget what he’s experienced, it’s Satan that corrals the Fourteen in a quest to save Jacob from casting himself into oblivion at a psychiatric clinic. “[Y]ou’re still mildly sane,” Satan beseeches Jacob at one point, “bid adieu to this forsaken place.”
Alameddine’s novel, like his Twitter account, is a colleague of allusions to pop culture, art, and whimsy. While at times the effect can overwhelm, it’s all in service to a larger idea. Namely, that the condition of modern life, especially for the marginalized, is one of precarity and absurdist choices. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the fable Alameddine spins about a drone that falls in love with a young, Middle Eastern boy and goes rogue to save the boy and his village. Snippets like this thread through the narrative like brilliant gossamer, mimicking the delicate balance of the protagonist’s psyche. He may be courting forgetfulness, but Jacob’s mind (with a little prompting from Satan) sparks with the free association of a richly-lived life. Late in the novel Jacob confesses that he can hardly “bear living with [his] memories,” but Almaddine seems to suggest few alternatives exist for the persecuted. When the choice is between oblivion and suffering, the latter can be the only moral choice. As thousands of years of religious tradition and generations of queer sexual liberation have shown, there can be great pleasure in suffering.
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I picked this up thinking that a collection of short stories would be perfect to have on my phone for those times when I forgot to bring a book with mI picked this up thinking that a collection of short stories would be perfect to have on my phone for those times when I forgot to bring a book with me somewhere and had some time to kill. Unfortunately, Sherman Alexie is too good of a writer. I found I couldn't put the collection down and ended up reading the whole thing in about two and a half days. I had the feeling that I'd read some of the stories before, so maybe I'd read this collection at some point in the past and forgotten. But regardless, I still enjoyed every minute of it.
It was also interesting to read this while Bob Dylan was winning the Noble prize. I like Dylan, but it struck me that someone like Alexie would've been a much better recipient. At a time when old American reflects of isolationism are once again rearing their ugly head, Alexie offers a vision of compassion, forgiveness, and unity that is sorely needed. Anyway, those are my two cents on the matter. Whether you agree with me or not, you should still read this book (and anything/everything else by Sherman Alexie). You won't regret it.
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ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod! I'm so happy this is finally out!! Ever since I read the first book in the series last year, I've been dying to know what hapohmygod ohmygod ohmygod! I'm so happy this is finally out!! Ever since I read the first book in the series last year, I've been dying to know what happens next. (By the way, yay! The Fifth Season won the Hugo!) I'm a true evangelist for Jemisin and this series. If you haven't read it, do so immediately. I couldn't put either of the books down.
The second installment loses nothing of the wonder of the first one, nor does it drag as second books in a trilogy sometimes do. Jemisin is working with enough material and enough characters to keep the book interesting the whole way through. I won't ruin any plot points, but I will say that we learn a lot more about stone eaters, guardians, and orogeny here. Plus, of course, our main characters do a lot of awesome stuff. I do recommend rereading the first book before jumping into this one if it's been a while. I didn't and found that I'd forgotten a lot of what happened in The Fifth Season. I had to keep flipping back and forth between the two to remind myself.
If there is a negative it's that Jemisin is almost abusively parsimonious with how she unveils all the secrets. There were so many times when I was like, come on! stop dragging it out, just tell me what this crazy cool thing/mystery/species is already! But, I suppose, that's what makes it a trilogy and not a Wikipedia entry. C'est la vie. I'll just have to wait for the conclusion. I'm already counting down the days....more
This book prompted so many feelings. It's the story of a woman who discovers that her husband has four mistresses and children from each of them. On tThis book prompted so many feelings. It's the story of a woman who discovers that her husband has four mistresses and children from each of them. On the one hand, my Western perspective took great umbrage with the cavalier way Tony treated each of the women in his life. Why would any of them put up with it? But, of course, Chiziane is writing from a culture that I know nothing about. She contextualizes the various responses to Tony's philandering ways, which I appreciated it, but it's never clear cut. Rami, the narrator and the "first wife," hates much of what Tony does but she also loves him. She oscillates wildly between criticizing her husband and her nation's sexism and respecting the old traditions that enable the continued subjugation of women. It's a fascinating struggle and one you feel deeply while reading. I found myself thinking, just move to America! then chiding myself for papering over all the complications of places and cultures that I don't understand.
What made the book really stand out for me, however, was how the wives put aside their jealousies and come together to devise a plan to improve their lives while exercising a check on Tony's privilege. I'm still working through my thoughts, but there's something really fascinating about how they pervert systems of misogyny.
The First Wife is also a great reminder that we need a lot more literature-in-translation in this country. We're missing out on so many fascinating perspectives.
Disclaimer: I know the author. We both have books out from Unnamed Press this year.
Neon Green was terrific! I ripped through it in three days. WapplerDisclaimer: I know the author. We both have books out from Unnamed Press this year.
Neon Green was terrific! I ripped through it in three days. Wappler has a great sense of scene. If nothing else, I would've been happy to spend time just watching the Allen family bicker about mundane things. But, of course, there's so much more here. Specifically, there's a spaceship in their backyard and it's arrival sets off a chain of events that will touch everybody in this family in very powerful and dynamic ways. It's a sad book but also a funny one. Kinda like life itself. And at its heart it's interested in exploring the tenuous connections we have with others. At the end of the day, we're all really just trapped inside of ourselves and looking for a connection with something larger, aren't we?
I also loved how Wappler didn't belabor the point that the book takes place during the 1990's. It would've been so easy to turn this into a self-conscious nostalgia trip, but instead Wappler dropped enough details to contextualize the story without overpowering it. Though, I suppose, some nostalgia is unavoidable for those of us who grew up in the 90's. In particular, I found the oldest Allen child Gabe's fixation on authenticity a painful remainder of my own high school self's convictions. Ah, youth!
It's hard to believe that I've finished this trilogy. I've thought about it so much over the past couple of years that it kind of feels like it shouldIt's hard to believe that I've finished this trilogy. I've thought about it so much over the past couple of years that it kind of feels like it should go on forever. Alas, that is not the case. Nothing lasts forever, a sentiment that's best to keep in mind as you read Death's End.
In his conclusion, Liu takes the broadest view yet. When the book starts the Trisolarian conflict has reached an uneasy stalemate and humanity has realized that the cosmos are a much less hospitable place than perhaps they ever imagined. I won't give anything away, but let's just say that Liu fully commits to that idea in this final book. It's jammed-packed with so many twists, turns, and surprising revelations that I was having trouble keeping up by the end. A lot of people have said this is their favorite book in the trilogy, but I'm not so sure I feel the same. I think The Dark Forest remains my favorite. The first two novels, while trafficking in crazy speculative science, felt somehow plausible. The logic felt ironclad. Here, though, the revelations come so fast and become so speculative that I found myself asking "Wait, but what about..." a lot. It's not bad. It just feels a lot less "real" to me than the first two books did. At any rate, I liked the story and, as always, Liu has a commendable mastery of the spectacular.
A fitting finale for the trilogy.
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A great read with a complicated protagonist. Dennis-Benn knows how to give enough detail on the interiority of a character without bogging down the plA great read with a complicated protagonist. Dennis-Benn knows how to give enough detail on the interiority of a character without bogging down the plot, and she never pulls punches. I found myself hating and loving each of these characters at different times. That's my favorite kind of character.
I think I finally found my iconic LA read! Babitz's stories are funny and insightful and capture something about Los Angeles that I'll never be able tI think I finally found my iconic LA read! Babitz's stories are funny and insightful and capture something about Los Angeles that I'll never be able to convey as well as she does. These stories aren't perfect (and there are definitely moments when the Social Justice Warrior in me cried foul), but overall I was swept away by the simultaneously amped up and languid prose. Again, very LA. NYRB put out another book by her a while back. I'll definitely be checking that on out as well.
I read Mislaid while waiting for my number to be called at the DMV. It kept me from staring longingly at the impossibly slow-moving queue and delivereI read Mislaid while waiting for my number to be called at the DMV. It kept me from staring longingly at the impossibly slow-moving queue and delivered some laughs along the way. The story feels a bit cockeyed in its absurdist take on race, gender, and sexuality, but the humor kept it from ever truly casting its lot with any deep political engagement and thus saved it from being tone deaf. The downside, of course, is that the book lacks the kind of heft I was expecting.
With that said, there were some moments of insight and there was something charming in its decidedly Southern tone. Somewhere near the end of the book, Zink reflects on one of her characters' cognitive dissonance. I read that as a tongue-in-cheek assessment of the book as a whole. If you judge the novel by it's own logic then it's a perfectly enjoyable read. If you dig too deeply — well, you might find yourself in a troubling hole you can't easily dig yourself out of.