I'm going to refrain from assigning any stars to a collection I was fortunate enough to be a part of; and although there were so many amazing storiesI'm going to refrain from assigning any stars to a collection I was fortunate enough to be a part of; and although there were so many amazing stories by writers I'd never encountered before (and some old favorites), it would probably be impolitic to list those without commenting on every single other story in the collection... So I won't do any of that. What I WOULD like to do is take an informal survey.
For those of you who've read Maggie Shipstead's amazing story "The Cowboy Tango": If someone came up and handed you that story out of context and told you it was by Annie Proulx, would you have believed it? (This isn't to suggest for a second that Shipstead is being derivative -- she's not, and if anything it would be like Proulx branching out in a different direction. I'm raising the question because of the setting, the bleakness, and the quality of the writing.) For me, the biggest giveaway actually would've been the title: Proulx has written so many cowboy stories, including a marvelous one called "Them Old Cowboy Songs," that she'd hardly go around calling more stories "cowboy." So if anyone's game... Would you have fallen for it? If not, why not? If so, why? ...more
The five-star rating is a joke. These are the rantings of a very strange nineteenth-century autodidact who donated the land for Bread Loaf to MiddlebuThe five-star rating is a joke. These are the rantings of a very strange nineteenth-century autodidact who donated the land for Bread Loaf to Middlebury College. Self-published, mind-bogglingly tedious, hilariously phallic, with a weird amount of algebra. I do own a copy of the first volume, and it's among my prized possessions. ...more
This was my favorite debut novel of 2011. It's probably not for everyone, but it's definitely for me -- the layering of personal and family and GermanThis was my favorite debut novel of 2011. It's probably not for everyone, but it's definitely for me -- the layering of personal and family and German history, the extremely unreliable narrator, the fabulous payoff of the revelations at the end... and sharp, original prose.
The closest thing I can liken the book to is Murakami, but I actually hate Murakami. I always feel like I've been listening to whole-tone jazz with no tonic, and his novels seem to end arbitrarily, no better than if they'd ended fity pages sooner. (Minority opinion there, I'm aware.) The difference here is that we're waiting the whole time for a payoff -- we know the main character, Margaret, has blocked out a traumatic period of time, and we know the novel will be over when she remembers the event -- and when that revelation comes, it's not what we expected, but it's inevitable and disturbing and worth the wait.
In that regard, it's a bit of a shoot-the-moon book (an apt analogy here, as there's a strange game of hearts being played with a ghost at one point); Higgins is willing to take risks that will, for the first two hundred pages, make her character appear foolish, until we realize we've been duped. Several red herrings in the plot really fooled me. I thought I was a step ahead of at least Margaret, if not the author as well -- and then I was the one played for a fool. Which is just about my favorite way to feel when I'm reading: like someone much smarter has just totally schooled me.
I wish this book were getting the same attention as some of the flashier, lighter debuts of the year -- but cream rises, and I can envision this author's second or third novel winning a major award, at which point everyone will come running back to read this one.
(I feel, in recommending this book, a bit like I felt a few years ago when I insisted everyone had to go see The Lives of Others. I knew some people wouldn't get into it, but damn it, they OUGHT to, and so I'm going to recommend it anyway.)...more