For newcomers to the world of Charles Bukowski, be forewarned: Pulp (Ecco, 202 pages) is probably not the best place to start.
I say this, not because it doesn’t rank right up there with his other books, or because greener readers will fail to grasp the allusions to earlier work it contains, but rather because as his ultimate novel (completed months before his death) Pulp can easily be seen as Bukowski’s final farewell. In it, the aged author takes his readers on one last foray into familiar territories of sex, madness, and death, while at the same time expanding on those themes in brilliant and often unexpected ways. Drawing on science fiction and hardboiled noir elements as well, the end result is a bizarre send-up of genre fiction that is just as hilarious and insightful as anything else he wrote. Continue reading
At the age of 81, William Trevor offered his 40th, or 44th book—something along those lines, depending on how you count the work, mainly fiction, novels, novellas and story collections, with some drama, nonfiction, a children’s book and editing interspersed. This latest novel, Love and Summer (Penguin, 2009, 211 pages), is not his best but it is good, in some respects excellent, even singular. Continue reading
John Reed’s most recent book, Tales of Woe (MTV Press, 204 pages), structured in novelistic intertwined short stories, is actually a work of non-fiction. Each tale is entirely true, which perhaps is ultimately what makes the book so difficult and simultaneously profound. We walk with Reed through the murky depths of the worse angels of our nature.
Part crime-log, part historical map, we follow countries in contemporary time into the psyche of many cruelties. Reed’s tight minimal prose reads poetic, ultimately serving the work both in realistic relay of information, but also in Continue reading
I believe Ernest Hemmingway said “All you have to do to be a writer is write one honest sentence.” Well by that definition, and although this slim book with its refrains of the title in different contexts reads almost like a performance piece between two covers–it is in fact reconstructed from texts used in performances used to publicize 1993′s Bastard Out of Carolina–Dorothy Allison is certainly a writer. And yet curiously, and at times almost bewitchingly, Allison plays with and cozies up to the notion of story in its ability not just to tell the truth but to conceal it–here, in the simplest possible language, and using her own experiences as a child abuse victim by her stepfather in the American South, she psychoanalyzes the nature of story and story-telling as a means of healing the ego and reinventing the self. The book is integrated with Continue reading
Because They Wanted to (Scribner, 256 pages). Mary Gaitskill is the real thing, as Hem said about F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Coke says about itself. She is one of those writers you feel writes in black blood, and only tells lies to clarify the truth. Like Bukowski, she is attracted to the ugly truth far more than representation of the beautiful or the good. Her detailed descriptions of female pixies and the inexorable pivots on which their love lives slip into what would be despair if they were not so inured to pain from its constant presence, her often seamless use of flashbacks in narrators or protagonists chaotically attracted Continue reading
Aimee Bender’s stories are the contemporary descendants of those of the Brothers Grimm, with their surrealism laid on top of human desire and need. In both her previous collection, The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, and this newest one, Willful Creatures (Doubleday, 224 pages), her fiction adopts the tone of fairytales through the straightforward storytelling of the bizarre. Instead of a sausage growing on the end of a nose, Bender gives us potato children and a captive miniature man. Instead of a wicked stepmother, she conjures a collective group of predatory teenage girls. The “willful creatures” of the Continue reading
[Review adapted from an author introduction read at Dactyl Foundation October 2002 ] Despite the fact that Novakovich may write about what he knows — immigrant life or life in Croatia — these stories not the so-called “slice of life fiction” that is considered the epitome of realism these days. They are concerned with an artfulness in a way that much of contemporary fiction is not. They may remind you myths. I want to make a comparison to one myth in particular, Oedipus Rex, not in terms of content but in terms of plot structure.
It has to do with the way he uses chance and coincidence. It’s something he does in many stories in his new collection, Salvation and Other Disasters, (Graywolf Press, 204 pages), Continue reading
This is probably the hardest review I have had to do yet. Prior to The Thin Wall (Twisted Knickers, 124 pages), I had read two previous books by Cheryl Anne Gardner, The Splendor of Antiquity, and Logos, and The Thin Wall is a radical departure from Gardner’s romantic roots into the realms of darker, subconscious psychology and individual philosophies she masterfully delves into in this work.
One word to describe this book for me? Drastic. Continue reading