review shortly; in the meantime, this is an ARC and it needs a new home. Anyone in the US who wants it can have it ... just be the first to comment. I...morereview shortly; in the meantime, this is an ARC and it needs a new home. Anyone in the US who wants it can have it ... just be the first to comment. I'll even pay postage. (less)
Wow. I went to get publisher info (ISBN, # of pages) from Amazon and and was floored by the negative reviews of t...moreARC, courtesy of Harper -- thank you!
Wow. I went to get publisher info (ISBN, # of pages) from Amazon and and was floored by the negative reviews of this book. In my opinion, they are largely uncalled for, but hey - chacun à son goût, as they say. I mean, there are a lot of books I didn't like that people absolutely loved, so whatever. Personally, I had a great time with this novel and have already recommended it to a number of people; I've also put it on the list for my book group to read in 2015. Obviously, I liked it. A lot.
Slava Gelman comes from a family of Russian immigrants who had settled in Brooklyn. He'd made a conscious decision to "become an American," to leave his grandfather Yevgeny's "neighborhood of Russians, Belarussians, Ukrainians, Moldovans, Georgians and Uzbeks" and set his sights on working for Century, a longstanding and prestigious magazine, "older than The New Yorker and, despite a recent decline, forever a paragon." Staying in the neighborhood would keep him among the ranks of those who ". . . don't go to America," except for the DMV and Brodvei," or who "shop at marts that sold birch-leafed switches" to "whip yourself in the steam bath and rare Turkish shampoos that reversed baldness . . ." but this is not what Slava wants. He had to leave, in order to
"strip from his writing the pollution that reposessed it every time he returned to the swamp broth of Soviet Brooklyn."
In short, to write for Century, he had to get away, to "Dialyze himself, like Grandmother's kidneys." So it's off to Manhattan and a sparsely-furnished, affordable studio apartment. As he's about to find out, getting away is not so easy.
As the novel opens, it's July, 2006, and just after 5 am, Slava is surprised by the ringing of the telephone. It's not because it's so early, but rather because no one ever calls him, not even his family, since he'd "forbidden" them to call. He doesn't answer it, but the second time it rings, it's his mother telling him that his "grandmother isn't." She'd died alone in the care facility. He hadn't seen Grandmother Sofia for about a month, and now she's gone, and as his mother puts it, it's the family's "first American death." After the funeral, Yevgeny asks him to write a narrative that would allow him to collect reparations as a victim of the Holocaust. He hands Slava an envelope, addressed to Sofia who was registered at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. When Slava notes that this was for his grandmother, not his grandfather, his grandfather tells him to make it up. As he states,
"Maybe I didn't suffer in the exact way I need to have suffered ... but they made sure to kill all the people who did. "
Eventually Slava gives in, and he starts thinking about all of the things that his grandparents never told him, and how he really knew nothing about his grandmother's life and what she'd gone through. What little he does know goes into the narrative, and the rest, he invents but makes fit the story. His work is so good that word spreads, and Yevgeny pimps him out to write other narratives for friends. Each one builds a little more on the made-up, missing details of Sofia's life, and Slava begins to find it easier to lie, to fabricate, to make stuff up. He gets so good at it that he even starts doing it at his job at Century -- and it spills over into other parts of his life as well. However, the narratives he writes also have a few unintended results for Slava that he probably never could have predicted.
A Replacement Life made me laugh out loud in a few spots, especially when it came to the older folk in this book and the insider look at the Russian immigrant culture from someone who is part of it. On the other hand, it's also very touching, not only in terms of family relationships but also because of the history that's recalled in this book. Another positive: the Holocaust is a very large part of this story, but the terrors of the Holocaust, for the most part, are kept in check so you can focus on the modern-day narrative. And I don't understand why people have complained about the writing style: it's obvious that Mr. Fishman enjoys playing with language and playing with other writers' words in his own way. I found it very easy to read in terms of writing and style. This book I can definitely recommend -- and not simply as a summer read. (less)
Let me just say at the beginning here that I loved this book, but I didn't realize how much I liked it until it was over. Add this one to your list of...more Let me just say at the beginning here that I loved this book, but I didn't realize how much I liked it until it was over. Add this one to your list of most-unreliable-narrator novels, or just to your list of books you should definitely read. It is a novel filled with surprises, the entire book a conversation between Andrew, a cognitive scientist whose life up to this point has been one of inadvertent disaster, and a psychotherapist/psychologist/shrink to whom he tells his "not pretty" story. Or maybe not, depending on how you choose to read it. So -- this post won't be a standard book discussion, but more my reaction to the novel, since it is really one of those books where the reader makes up his/her own mind about what's actually going on. Or not. Plus, it would sort of be unfair to spill its contents -- doing so might throw prospective readers into major spoiler alert territory. I'll say this: Andrew's Brain is something very different than anything I've seen before. Forget the usual linear narrative format, and forget any kind of basic quasi-understanding normally provided by the author that all will be explained. The book focuses on how we view brain and mind, memories, free will and fate, truth and deception, and overall how we see ourselves. At the same time, Andrew muses about the mind as a "kind of jail" for the brain, which according to him, can often pretend to be one's soul, posing the question of one's ability to actually know and understand one's self.
Reading this novel took me on an interesting ride. The narrative started feeling way too random and repetitive at times, and while my normal thing to do when I read a novel with an unreliable narrator is to try and figure out what's really going on, this time I started getting frustrated and felt like giving up. But then I thought, this is E.L. Doctorow, an author I've been reading for years, so there's got to be something here I'm missing. So midway through, I started completely over, relaxed, and changed my own way of thinking about the whole thing. Suddenly the randomness and the flashes of repetition made sense, as I came to realize that this book is offering an opportunity to look through a window at how this person's traumatized brain works, making for a much better reading experience and allowing me to become more comfortable with what was going on here.
Andrew's Brain is definitely a novel where a) the reader is left to judge for himself/herself just what might be going on during these conversations, and b) you have to think outside of the box, freeing yourself from whatever expectations you might have as soon as you open the book. With apologies for being so vague here, I don't want my take on it to ruin anyone else's appreciation. This novel is getting very mixed reviews, but I found it intriguing and I had a lot of fun trying to figure things out after I'd finished it, coming up with several different interpretations of what I'd just read, all of which made perfectly good sense to me. It's often funny and is populated by some very interesting characters here and there; at the same time, it can be downright heartbreaking.
You can find professional reviews that will tell you more, but I'd strongly suggest not reading them. My thanks to the people at Random House -- I've given my ARC to another reader and bought a real copy of this novel to revisit later. The challenge of going through it again is just irresistible. (less)
First -- thanks to LT early reviewers and to the publisher for my copy. Some time ago I read this author's Lost...more"...the play is different every time."
First -- thanks to LT early reviewers and to the publisher for my copy. Some time ago I read this author's Lost City Radio, and loved it. Absolutely. Now he's back with At Night We Walk in Circles, and I loved this one even more. The blurb describing what's on the inside doesn't even come close to describing what actually happens in this character-based novel, which I would say focuses largely on identity, how past events come to be re-imagined, and the effects of blurring the line between reality and artificiality.
Without going into plot so much, (if you want more on the plot, you can read it here) the main thread of this story focuses on a journalist narrator who is trying to "decipher the mystery" around a "brief encounter" between himself and the main character Nelson, by interviewing
"his confidantes, his lovers, his classmates, people who'd seen fit to trust me, as if by sharing their various recollections, we could together accomplish something on his behalf. Re-create him. Reanimate him. Bring him back into the world."
Using these interviews and words from Nelson's journals, he tries to piece together the chain of events that started with Nelson going on a tour for a play with two other actors. The thing is though, that each person he interviews knows Nelson from a different vantage point, from different situations in which Nelson has played different parts, so that eventually we find that there are a number of different Nelsons. How then is it possible to know the true Nelson? Is it possible at all? Even he is aware of himself as an actor -- at the last drink he had with his brother he came to the realization that everyone, including himself, is always acting. When all is said and done, and as you come to the end of the story, you start to wonder if even Nelson really knows who he is any longer. What I find striking about this book is that there is so much in here about actors, their roles, performances, scripts and improvisations -- and all of this illusion works to mask what lies underneath. And the same might be said about how people of Nelson's generation in this South American country are supposed to understand themselves and their cultural past in a country where nightmarish times that once existed have now been re-imagined, where the powers that be have tried to condition people to ignore the reality underneath.
Re the title: As Henry asks earlier, when he talks to the narrator about walking in circles while in prison, "how do you set a play in a world that denies your characters any agency?" I'm not exactly sure, but I think this statement may provide some clue.
As I'm fond of saying, I'm not a lit major, so I could be totally off the mark here, but it makes sense to me. However, this book is one better experienced on your own. At Night We Walk in Circles is definitely not easygoing as far as the reading, and I know I definitely haven't skimmed the surface of the novel in this discussion. This book could be the easily be included in a literary or history course, one that spends most of the semester analyzing it. All the same, I love this writer's work and this one I can only describe as hypnotic and haunting, mixed with a touch of very dark humor at times. Highly recommended -- take it very slow, though. It's not a book you want to rush through.(less)
There's some terrible things talked about in this book, but god help me, I couldn't help but laugh.
Survivor is the story of Tender Branson, who, when...more There's some terrible things talked about in this book, but god help me, I couldn't help but laugh.
Survivor is the story of Tender Branson, who, when we first meet him, is on an airplane minus passengers and pilot, the former having been deplaned shortly after takeoff and the latter having parachuted after giving tips to Branson about how to keep the plane in the air after the pilot jumps, the amount of time before all four engines flame out, etc. Branson is the sole occupant of the plane, and is now telling his true life story to the airplane's black box which will survive the inevitable plane crash. He wants to get it clear right away that he is no murderer; getting from the beginning to the end when he finally reveals the reasons behind clearing his name is the journey the reader makes through the novel.
And what a story it is. Prior to sitting in the cockpit, Branson's adult life was one as a "full-time drudge," and part-time god." His day job was slaving away at housecleaning for wealthy employers, guided by a day planner, so that at any given hour of his workday, he and his employers know what he's doing. He's interrupted periodically by calls from his boss, who asks him questions about such topics as how to eat lobster correctly at an upcoming dinner, which forks to use, that sort of thing. Tender Branson is a whiz at home economics; he spent his life being schooled in running the perfect home. He is also, as we discover shortly after meeting him, a member of the federal Survivor Retention Program, which affords him a caseworker with whom he meets each week, a tiny apartment with a shared hallway bathroom, free government cheese and a bus pass. Branson grew up in the Nebraska church district colony of the Creedish; at age 17 he was baptized and sent out as a labor missionary. This was the common practice of the Creedish; all boys but the first-born sons (all named Adam) went out into the world to work and shared the name of Tender. The girls who were not chosen as wives for the first-born sons went out to work as well, sharing the name of Biddy. Back home, the Adams and their wives had children, children and more children, and the children spent their lives learning a particular trade. There were rules for living on the outside, though -- no dancing, no listening to broadcast media, and the biggest one of all was this one:
"If the members of the church district colony felt summoned by God, rejoice. When the apocalypse was imminent, celebrate, and all Creedish must deliver themselves unto God, amen."
While Tender Branson is cleaning grout and getting bloodstains out of leather, the word comes that the Creedish in Nebraska have been delivered; he is taken into the Survival Retention program so that he doesn't off himself. There are rashes of suicides among the survivors, and at some point, Tender becomes the only surviving member of the cult (well, as far as the authorities know), and thanks to a savvy agent whose job it is to make cult suicide look "fresh and exciting every time around," is turned into a new messiah for the people.
As Tender's lifestory is recorded for posterity, the author takes potshots at different facets of American culture that blend into Tender's experience. For example, while being refitted as a "new guru" for people who need to "make sense of their risk-free boredom of a lifestyle," he climbs the "stairmaster to heaven," and is wardrobed, told what to say, and pumped full of botox, steroids, drugs etc in order to make him media perfect. As his agent tells him,
"Nobody wants to worship you if you have the same problems, the same bad breath and messy hair and hangnails as a regular person."
Sitting in the cockpit, Branson reflects that "Reality means you live until you die...The real truth is nobody wants reality."
There are also riffs on diagnosing yourself via the DSM with the disorders of the day, things people pray for here combined into his "Book of Very Common Prayer," people being so busy with working and making money that they don't have time to enjoy their gardens, but one of the biggest ideas that comes out of this story is based on how to find salvation in the face of boredom that comes from sameness and having no control over your own life.
As I said earlier, it's not all funny, because there are some pretty tragic things described in here, but I defy anyone not to laugh while reading this book. Fantastic novel -- if you haven't read it, go and get yourself a copy soon. I love Chuck Palahniuk because he's such a great satirist, expressing questions about life in terms everyone can understand and recognize. Another one not to be missed. (less)
as always, you can read more about plot, etc. by clicking here; read on for the shorter version.
If ever there was a reason to take a break from readi...moreas always, you can read more about plot, etc. by clicking here; read on for the shorter version.
If ever there was a reason to take a break from reading what's on the New York Times bestseller list or from current fiction, this book is it. Going onto the favorites list for 2013, this novel is simply amazing. Considering it was first published in 1954, it's surprisingly current and definitely way ahead of its time. In this book, a new religion is born, and a simple message offered by a charismatic young man becomes organized, publicized, bureaucratized and ultimately bastardized before it encompasses the entire non-Islamic world. It's highly satirical, funny in a dark humor sort of way, and makes you appreciate how perceptive this author must have been, considering all of the events coming out of messianic cults over the last few decades.
Eugene Luther (which is actually Gore Vidal's real name) has been living in Egypt for the last fifty years under an assumed name. He is working on an account of "that original crisis" that sent him there, which began when he was introduced to a former embalmer by the name of John Cave ("a pair of initials calculated to amaze the innocent"). Luther meets him through Iris Mortimer, a woman to whom he was introduced by another character, Clarissa. On a visit to California, he first hears Cave speak at a small gathering, and somewhat "against his will" Luther realizes that he was totally absorbed. As Iris notes, "There's something in oneself which stirs and comes alive at his touch, through his agency." Cave's message is relatively simple: "it is good to die." This was the sole vision of John Cave, at first anyway; everything changes when Cave is put in the hands of publicist Paul Himmell and his erstwhile partner, Jungian analyst Dr. Stokharin, and Cavite Inc. is born, leading to the founding of a new religion called Cavesword.
Messiah is simply put, an outstanding novel. It seems to parallel the rise of Christianity, including the dissenters, the overlaying of old traditions to make new ones, the schisms, and mythologies that grew out of historical reality. It examines the relationship between postwar American anxieties and the need for some kind of larger-than-life solution to offer people beyond the old, superstition-based religions. It also looks at television's ability as the ultimate medium of persuasion -- considering that this book was written in 1954, that's an incredibly farsighted vision on Vidal's part. But really, the best thing about this book is the realization that comes to Luther as he comes to understand his real role vis-a-vis John Cave; sadly it's at the end so I can't really spill it. It is however, a revelation that had me thinking about this novel long after I'd finished it -- in fact, the same is true of the entire book. There is so much more to discuss, but if I wrote all I really wanted to, it would be more like a paper rather than a review. Messiah is also first book I've ever read by Gore Vidal, and I absolutely love the way he wrote -- so much so that I've already picked up two more of his books. It's as good or better than much of the fiction coming out currently, so if you're into great writing, excellent plotting and a story that causes you to sit and mull over what you've just read, you really can't make a much better choice than this one. It shouldn't be pooh-poohed just because it's nearly 60 years old ... you'd think after reading it that the author somehow had access to news of the future. Superlative. That's my final word. (less)
I loved this book. I'm going to read the sequel, The Brunists' Day of Wrath, when it comes out in 2014 from Dzanc books -- I don't want to wait until...more I loved this book. I'm going to read the sequel, The Brunists' Day of Wrath, when it comes out in 2014 from Dzanc books -- I don't want to wait until March, so close on the heels of finishing the original novel, but well, I suppose I don't have much of a choice in the matter. As the book blurb on the back cover notes, The Origin of the Brunists won the William Faulkner Foundation Award for Best First Novel, but imho, it certainly doesn't read like a first novel.
At its heart, the book is an account of the rise of a religious cult and the resulting religious fervor coming on the heels of a terrible mine disaster, but really, that statement is way too simplistic. It begins with a prologue as the people in the cult, known as the Brunists, have gathered the day before the second coming on a hill they've named the Mount of Redemption. A terrible event occurs, one that goes on to find its way into the very legends, myths and art of the religion. This part is related by a new convert, who seems slightly confused. The rest of the novel reveals what happened leading up to that event and beyond, beginning with the disaster at the mine, an event which will ultimately leave an entire town and several lives in chaos.
I'm skipping most of the plot elements here, but you can read them in my blog discussion here.
With lots of humor interspersed throughout the book, this is one of the craziest novels I've ever read. Aside from the new religion, which imho isn't the real focus of this book but rather the centerpiece around which the characters react, the author really gets into small-town life and minds, the workings of power and politics, and how seemingly "normal" people can get caught up in their own various forms of madness and mania. I'd say it's a novel about the people of West Condon much more than anything else. The author is a genius when it comes to the characters -- and it's really incredibly tough to believe that this was Mr. Coover's first novel. It does take some time and attention to get through, not because it's difficult to read, but because the author so carefully and slowly develops the frenzy that occurs not just among the Brunists, but the craziness occurring throughout the entire town. It also shows that no matter what sort of community these people find themselves in, even in "A community of good will," everything eventually comes down to matters of self interest -- a very non-idealistic view that makes this book well worth reading. Definitely recommended. (less)