Exit Only delves deep into the heart of Saudi Arabia, making Liam Bracken’s story something special. Unique in its delivery, the overall plot is quite...moreExit Only delves deep into the heart of Saudi Arabia, making Liam Bracken’s story something special. Unique in its delivery, the overall plot is quite gripping – seven different characters arriving and departing, with each chapter being told in a different character’s voice. These changing perspectives keep the style fresh and inviting, which keeps Bracken’s work relevant and interesting.
Bracken tackles heavy subjects like hatred, sex, and racism throughout the course of the story. And as the plot progresses, stronger elements of hope and redemption evolve within the characters, strengthening the novel’s connection to the human condition.
While each character’s life differs from the next, their theme is universal: this idea of home – what it means, what it takes... The novel itself provides an excellent mode of escapism without feeling particularly surreal. Each person has his or her own trials and misfortunes to deal with, bringing life to their plights. As a result, Exit Only is a sharp, important read full of passion, pride, and intrigue.(less)
The star of David Gurevich’s Vodka for Breakfast is Arkady Prikol, an elderly Russian Jew. In his attempt to run from the past (while also trying to s...moreThe star of David Gurevich’s Vodka for Breakfast is Arkady Prikol, an elderly Russian Jew. In his attempt to run from the past (while also trying to solve the mystery of a man claiming to be his dead best friend), Prikol becomes a very likeable protagonist.
In Gurevich’s funny, curious thriller, Prikol lives an ordinary life in New York. He does well with the life he’s created, happy enough to be in it until Timur – the old friend who’s been dead for some twenty years – makes contact. The old association shakes up his world, as he is forced to summon up his memory of their time together (such as their work creating and testing LSD in a lab) and their shared love for a woman named Lisa. And while they both fell for this same Russian woman, she did not turn out to be whom either of them had imagined her to be.
With an apartment furnished from thrift stores and sidewalks, and a tendency to dwell on the more stereotypical themes of his life (i.e. a Jewish mother in a nursing home in the Bronx), Prikol is the kind of character you want to be reading. In a way, he is today’s every-man, complete with the facts, the zest, and some regrets.
Prikol’s thoughts on the past – memories of friendship, love, and drug use – have the power to swallow up his present. His old life crashes into his new one, making our window into his average life that much more engaging. With all of that, the end appears to bring the story full-circle, providing good closure for Gurevich’s audience. Like its leading man, the novel itself is uncompromisingly bright and insightful. (less)
Michael Antman’s novel Cherry Whip is likeable, believable, and falls into a kind of introspective category most stories often only skim the surface o...moreMichael Antman’s novel Cherry Whip is likeable, believable, and falls into a kind of introspective category most stories often only skim the surface of. His main character, Hiroshi (a genius jazz musician), helps shape a funny, frequently thoughtful voyage about what it means to exist in the present based on an uneven past and an even less certain future.
In keeping with his versatile cast of characters, the dialogue flows well from clever banter to decisive, intense speech (i.e. “Man, what is it with you Japanese and suicide?”). Antman’s portrayal of an outsider in America seems spot-on, following 22-year-old Hiroshi into places both painful and positive at times. It is the classic struggle with identity that stems from youth and fear, where fear of the unknown is gradually replaced by acceptance.
Leaving behind a relationship in Japan, Hiroshi embarks on new and intriguing connections in New York, as he is recovering from an unfortunate condition in a New York hotel. While considering the future of his career, our protagonist begins to deal with the effect of his sister’s suicide on his own life. And as a result, his recovery comes in waves, both inside and out.
Cherry Whip makes for a very smart, cohesive read. It is unselfish in the way it deals with affairs of the heart, familiar and foreign alike. (less)
ENC Press has turned out another master of satire in Christopher Largen. “Junk,” his novel of epic proportions, follows the lives of different but int...moreENC Press has turned out another master of satire in Christopher Largen. “Junk,” his novel of epic proportions, follows the lives of different but interrelated people in the government’s war on junk food.
For starters, there’s Officer Justin Bailey – the man who imposes laws against the criminal act of consuming salt, sugar, red meat, etc. Moe Goodman is in a similar boat of sorts, what with his preaching centering on a faith-driven life (and less on the sickly ingestion of outlawed products). But on the opposing side, there’s Billy Sweet – along with his canine companion, the aptly named Sugar – who makes sweet treats for the Candy Man’s black market.
It’s an interesting triangle, but the real intrigue comes from their inner conflicts. As the War on Junk wages on, the three main characters are forced to question their loyalty to their initial causes. That’s what makes this particular piece of satire exceptionally interesting. It’s “Brave New World” for our time: a story made fascinating because of how far-fetched it appears but isn’t, with the focus placed on humanity in the face of (quite literally) sugarcoated diversity. Nothing is off-limits, including a reading of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” as something of a religious parable in conjunction with serious issues, like diabetics’ right to insulin and the right to personal freedoms.
With raw, stirring dialogue and a series of really witty vignettes, Christopher Largen manages to make the story’s point clear while maintaining a sense of discovery for his readers. What I love best about "Junk" is the sheer fact that it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is – a syrupy novel full of personal triumphs of quality over quantity and a deep exploration of what it truly means to be an individual in a modern society. It’s not a copy of any kind. (less)
Monkey See is equally parts personal and professional. Walt Maguire’s primate-friendly novel is structured like a would-be instruction manual, making...moreMonkey See is equally parts personal and professional. Walt Maguire’s primate-friendly novel is structured like a would-be instruction manual, making for a delightfully quirky read.
The story centers on Ed, a talking monkey, and his overall change from lab custodian to a monkey of his own making. Having been created by Dr. Cogitomni (the book’s resident reprehensible scientist) and recruited by General Chekchek, Ed has to decide which world to pick. It’s a coming-of-age story that’s never been explored before, and certainly never like this.
Ed’s own inner predicament is influenced greatly by Gigi, the doctor’s latest experiment, his own beliefs, and his own morals – all of which explore the line between human and primate. Without getting too heavy in any one area, the novel is further aided by a how-to voice, which offers answers to readers’ questions about primates (complete with funny footnotes and helpful illustrations). Together, these small details make a very jam-packed novel.
Monkey See is a brilliant blend of satire and emotive literature. The story is witty, of course, but it’s also quite brave. It’s a fun way to deal with a surprisingly clever topic. Much like the line between primate and human, Walt Maguire has boldly blurred the line between comedy and introspection. (less)
Ray Cavanaugh’s first novel is both parts funny and sad. It’s a little bit lonely, this college student (our narrator) seeking comfort in Ted Kaczynsk...moreRay Cavanaugh’s first novel is both parts funny and sad. It’s a little bit lonely, this college student (our narrator) seeking comfort in Ted Kaczynski, the legendary Unabomber. The story itself is a brilliant work of satire, and its ominous nature only makes it funnier. Since the novel is written in letter, it’s important to note that Cavanaugh’s writing is smart, perceptive, and snarky when it really counts.
And so it begins, the author chronicling the daily tribulations of a college student (as well as the big picture stuff). He writes to Ted, making observations about the world around him without once asking for any semblance of advice or even a response. That’s the beauty of it. Readers can get the feeling that the narrator is alone, very alone, but that he’s going to be okay; he acknowledges his isolation in his own otherwise average world.
Things can get a bit dicey when you stop to think on the heavier sentiments – the trying to understand the inner workings of the Unabomber’s mind. While the tone, the author’s core writing style is light and witty, the narrative has an undercurrent of dark sophistication. And even when the novel turns to adult themes (though more dispassionate than sexual), Cavanaugh never succumbs to cheapening his story. The most important relationship in the novel remains that of the one between the narrator and Ted K.
The one-sided bond portrayed in this story is a powerful one. The narrator even likens the Unabomber, his somewhat imaginary friend, to a poet at one point. He muses, “What sort of poet were you? Doubtful you were one of the Romantics. Although your bombs burst with passion, your career dragged on far too long to warrant even a whisper of romance.”
It’s sweet, the way he gives a branded criminal the benefit of the doubt. He chooses to see parts of his past as a way in which to break free from societal norms. And anyone unwilling to make that point might be ignorant to the main points of this book. The story is beautiful, it’s honest, and it delves deeper than most might, considering the subject. It’s enigmatically capricious, but still comfortable, like the pages of an old friendship.
I’d recommend this story (and Ray Cavanaugh, in particular) to anyone looking to expand their mind, their view of history, and find irony in the humor behind all human interactions.(less)