In Vox Populi: A Novel of Everyday Life (Texas Review Press, 211 pages) an unnamed narrator endures various brief encounters with strangers while out on errands—waiting for, paying for, or ordering something. Clay Reynolds must have been keeping a journal for years because his little tales ring true in their preposterousness. Truth is stranger than fiction. It is hard to believe people can be so rude, so tactless, so pushy, so dumb, and yet people are. Usually the unrelated event described in each chapter involves some implausibly insensitive and very loud person disrupting the normal course of humdrum business with performances that are as outrageous as they are unfortunately common. We’ve all have been shocked and appalled to witness such scenes in our own daily lives, and once home we say to our spouses, You’ll never believe what this crazy lady did at the grocery store, etc. Continue reading
Flight (223 pages, Tramp Press) by Oona Frawley, is a novel set in Ireland, the United States, Vietnam, and Zimbabwe that explores how its characters have been affected by both old-style colonialism and the new colonialism–corporate globalism that began to rise in the 1990s. Themes center on migration and immigration, on feeling homesick and rootless at the same time. It’s about writing letters home, some of which are sent, some of which are kept. Continue reading
“This morning I crossed a river on a horse made of lightbulbs.”
That’s just another day (June 4, to be exact) in Bob Schofield’s The Inevitable June (theNewerYork Press, 120 pages), an agreeably strange book structured around an unnamed narrator’s calendar for the month of June. Using text, cartoons and distinctive graphics, it is unclassifiable in terms of genre but it manages to create a self-contained world of its own. Continue reading
Tokyo, 1994. Japan is now well into what observers will later call the “lost decade,” a downward spiral triggered by the Japanese central bank’s bursting the speculative bubble of the 1980s. The seemingly inviolable climb of the Japanese economy—and society—has reversed.
Triangle, the 2001 novel by the respected Japanese writer Hisaki Matsuura released in its first English edition by Dalkey Archive Press (233 pages) this month, is an attempt to transform the Japanese downward spiral into a metaphysical thriller. But novels—even literary ones—based on conceptual ideas rarely work. Continue reading
Liam Howley opens The Absurd Demise of Poulnabrone (Jagged C Press, 344 pages) with an introduction to Cornelius Solitude Conlon, an aging man who, I assumed, was the primary protagonist. In fact, my assumption continued throughout a good portion of the novel, even though the narrative shifted to various other characters as I read along. Nevertheless, as the story progressed, Cornelius became but one piece in the game board that is Poulnabrone.
It is, in fact, Poulnabrone that is the centerpiece of this story. Primary and secondary characters appear on the scene, make an impact, and leave. Some return later on, some never appear again, yet others remain present to weave the fabric of the tale as it is spun along, carrying with them the thread of continuity without overshadowing the main premise.
Claire Vaye Watkins writes as if she scratches her stories from the grit and mining detritus of the Nevada desert she grew up in, then transforms the elemental by gathering language as rich and as natural as the sand or minerals found there like an alchemist. The work is as layered as the often brutal human history of the region, a history she both draws upon and to which she will surely add her own narrative. And like the harsh landscapes and histories that everywhere informs these brilliant stories, when you peer long enough, closely enough, at what seems an empty, heartless place, you not only see its unforgiving beauty within the parched hills and among the tailings castaway after decades of exploitation, you also find glitter among the hardscape, the glint of silver and gold. Like the characters in her story collection Battleborn (Riverhead Books, 283 pages), the truths Watkins unearths require strong stomachs and strong wills to digest but reward the reader with sparkling prose, hard but achingly accurate portraits of unforgettable characters, and gemstones of hope among the chaos of despair and interior pain. Continue reading
This is a unique American novel, written in the language of the heartland before Jesus became a pawn in the political battle for the American soul. It is written in a subdued, subtle, understated lyrical style. It is as rich and diverse as America herself. It is at once a romance complete with trains, whorehouses, steel mills, and the death of the drive-in-movie theater and a coming of age novel in which the protagonist emerges from the chrysalis to transform into a singing butterfly.
Here, in Hush Now, Don’t Explain (Coffeetown Press, 287 pages), Dennis Must cuts a swath a mile wide and generations deep through the America of the lost dream. On a pilgrimage across a spoiling land and on a quest for lost parents, the dual protagonists—Honor and Billy—experience America as raw and pure and as complex as she has ever been.