Ezra Pound’s observation that “literature is news that STAYS news” certainly applies to Road to Nowhere (Henry Regnery Company, 382 pages). This excellent novel, first published by a Polish exile in 1955, is consistently engaging and, for its aching, visceral power, still feels fresh. Given the unfortunate fact that Józef Mackiewicz is generally unknown in the U.S. and most of his work is untranslated or out of print, he might as well be seen as a new writer, as far as Americans are concerned. Considered in this light, he is quite simply the most intriguing new writer I have encountered in years. Continue reading
The premise here is interesting: an anthology of flash fiction with the bylines removed so that the reader can’t know the identity of the author. According to Nicole Monaghan, editor of this collection, the purpose is to question a reader’s assumptions about gender.
As an experiment, Stripped: A Collection of Anonymous Flash Fiction (PS Books, 102 pages) recalls I.A. Richards’ Practical Criticism and his withholding authors’ identities from his Cambridge students in the 1920s in order to come to grips with their literary values. It was a step forward in reading awareness. We live in a very different world now, to put it mildly—gender was not on Richards’ radar—but some of the same questions of reception persist. Continue reading
There will, unfortunately, always be a need for books about war, and this need takes many forms. In The Sojourn (Bellevue Literary Press, 191 pages), Andrew Krivak successfully defends the parish of the novel. Although the harsh imperatives of history require much sifting of facts, places and victims—synthesis and hindsight are essential, as part of our troubled species’ perverse CV—the novel, with its relentless subjectivity and its bloody-minded insistence on the plight of individuals, brings its own kind of necessary testimony. Continue reading
(Permanent, 197 pages) Who is Alfred Buber? In starkest terms, he is a respected Boston lawyer who falls in love with a Thai sex worker named Nok. Not surprisingly, they do not live happily ever after. This is not a book of neat resolutions.
But it is a story full of interesting ruminations, which are often amusing, sometimes provocative, and consistently engrossing. Narrated in the first person, the novel moves deftly between past and present and provides a nuanced portrait of loneliness. 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
One of the pleasures of literary fiction is its fluidity, how it engages both the physical world and mental states, moving back and forth in a manner that not only reproduces the experience of being alive, but adds to it. The book in hand is less a mirror than an additional, highly sensitive appendage of the self.
John Reimringer’s Vestments (Milkweed, 407 pages) highlights the process by staking out two sharply contrasting worlds: the earthy, often violent family of James Dressler, a young man growing up in blue-collar Saint Paul, and James’ calling as a Roman Catholic priest, Continue reading
It’s unfortunate that “adult entertainment” has become synonymous with porn, because there’s a shortage of the real thing. By that, I mean books and films for grown-ups. Not only about sex, but about the multitude of other concerns that mature people care about. These people know that there is more to life than celebrities, shopping and getting skinny. Or having to choose between zombies and vampires.