Renato! by Eugene Mirabelli

Renato! (McPherson & Co, 577 pages) is a vast, rambling, delightful tale about the life and loves of Renato Stillamare, a once noted painter who mourns the decades-long dwindling of his reputation. He is also struck to the core by the loss of his wife, his near life-long love, and his complicated muse. The story is three previous novels merged through adroit craft into one. The first section offers the fantastic family origins in Renato’s mythic grandfather, a man half human and half horse. The second section is set a century later, covering the life of Renato, an aging painter wishing to reclaim his prominence in the art world. The third section follows Renato as he tries to revive his reputation and endure the scorching misery of widowerhood. Continue reading

The Deep Translucent Pond, by James Shelley

In James Shelley’s The Deep Translucent Pond (Adelaide Books, 192 pages), the Black Magus, “Cleveland’s greatest poet since Hart Crane,” is getting on in years and mentors his last two aspiring poets in an esoteric fellowship program known as the Triangulum. The Black Magus explains,

“The Triangulum Galaxy is the most distant light we can see with the naked eye. It contains a nebula, NGC 604. Radiation from new stars blows holes in the nebula, providing a view into its black interior. A star-birthing factory…The Tenth Triangulum’s first order of business is to understand holes.”

With references to Da Vinci’s Last Supper and triangles as the most stable shape, the novel opens with elements that are reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code. Jerome Konigsberg, one of the poets who has won the fellowship on the basis, in part, of a poem titled “The Regaining,” presents the poem in an introductory session:

I am realistic enough to know
If I stumble upon The Grail
It won’t be a chalice, haloed in
radial spokes of blinding white
I only hope
like the sighting of a rare bird
I recognize it before it slips away
long enough
to help keep my head above water

Scanning the horizon for rescue:
the next shimmer of light.

Continue reading

The Hollow Middle by John Popielaski

In John Popielaski’s The Hollow Middle (Unsolicited Press, 381 pages), forty-something Albert, an English teacher in a private school, longs to retreat from the human world. Early on, hungover, he looks out on a river and “waits for the compass needle to flutter less.” The answer, he senses, leads back to nature.

Albert’s wife Mary senses their childless marriage has been on some kind of border and, partly for that reason, develops an interest in adopting two ten-year old autistic boys, twins. Albert is drawn into the plan by the generous stipends the couple will receive for the boys’ care, money which can help fund his back-to-the-land dream. Additionally–in keeping with the novel having an ear toward environmental tampering–he receives funds from a settlement with the U.S. Government for his father’s cancerous death after working decades on a radiation tainted site. Continue reading

Maison Cristina by Eugene K. Garber

Where is Eugene K. Garber now? Some years ago he distinguished himself as a writer of dazzling short stories, many of them with an experimental edge. His Metaphysical Tales won the Associated Writing Programs annual prize for short stories, and a later work, The Historian, took the William Goyen Prize for fiction. Those two books, a dozen years apart, established Garber as an intellectual fabulist, a dazzling juggler of narrative devices, a witty and self-conscious artist with a subversive vision.

Joyce Carol Oates wrote a brief foreword to Metaphysical Tales which sounded more like a warning to readers than an introduction. After remarking on the author’s “extraordinary skill and vision” she wrote, “Garber is also stubborn, eccentric, self-conscious, and so willfully dazzling -– to be a virtuoso, or to be nothing! — that readers must be enjoined not to attempt to read this volume straight through, or even to read more than one story at a time.” And she concluded with, “Like all gifted writers, Eugene K. Garber is not to be understood – or loved – too quickly.” Clearly, that brainy Garber guy was some kind of card sharp, but with words. Continue reading

The Berserkers by Vic Peterson

New Book Announcement

A beautiful woman is found stabbed and frozen in the ice of Lake Much, dressed only in the costume wings and tight corset of a Norse Valkyrie.

Grammaticus Kolbitter, police precinct records clerk by day and keyboardist in a Viking heavy-metal band, The Berserkers, by night, is pulled into the investigation.

What does a records clerk know about solving crime? Reluctantly, Grammaticus embarks on the adventure of a lifetime.

Available through Book Depository (US, free shipping) and Amazon UK. Visit author website: vicpeterson.com

Genre: Literary Fiction, Magical Realism, Thriller

Ice, by Anna Kavan

Published in 1967, Ice (Peter Owen, 158 pages) is a harrowing, oblique, beautiful novel increasingly viewed as a modern classic on par with1984 and Brave New World. Kavan creates a world overrun by vast ice sheets caused by nuclear winter. The anti-hero narrator, a man obsessed with a frail, stunning young woman, chronicles the doom he foresees for his world and the girl who is the object of his fascination. Kavan’s prose swerves breathtakingly from the delicate and the brutal.

Ice shifts between bleak realism and a haunted panorama of psychological terrors. The plot is episodic, evading conventional patterns. None of the characters has a name or is “likable” or “relatable,” as the current jargon has it; but do not read Kavan for those ends. Lyric mastery and a tone of brooding psychic disturbance are the bedrock of the novel, a startling penetration of beauty couched within doom. Continue reading

The Blood of Bones by N.T. McQueen

Announcement: New book from one of our reviewers

The boy’s name is Tesfahun. Nestled in the vastness of Ethiopia, he lives among an ancient tribe untouched by modern civilization. His people live an isolated life where revenge killings are required and ruled by superstitions where mingi or cursed babies are thrown into the river for the sake of the tribe.

As friends are forced to avenge the tribe and children disappear in the night, Tesfahun begins to question his people and his beliefs, growing further from his grief stricken mother and hardened father. After his initiation into manhood, Tesfahun discovers a terrible secret about his family and himself. Continue reading

Here Lies Memory: A Pittsburgh Novel, by Doug Rice

Long form art in any medium seems to be losing the battle of immediacy and a novel that demands its reader to devote oneself to be silent and exist has the odds stacked against it. With Rice’s novel Here Lies Memory (Black Scat Books, 316 pages), those who allow themselves to simply be will find a haunting beauty in the lives of the characters, in their pasts and within each carefully chosen word.

The first of an in-progress trilogy about his hometown of Pittsburgh, Here Lies Memory  marks a departure for the often avant garde Rice towards a linear, traditional narrative structure though the characters are anything but traditional. Doug Rice studied under John Gardner and it seems the meticulous understanding of character Gardner used has found its place in Doug Rice’s novel. It is within these characters that the sanctity of memory is displayed and this can only be achieved if the writer truly knows and empathizes the very soul of the characters. Here Lies Memory focuses on a mix of multi-racial, multigenerational characters who remain stagnant and, for some, paralyzed by trauma and memory. Continue reading

Lower Reaches of the River, by M. Conway Dorsey

In the last several years I have developed a steep impatience with contemporary fiction. Before I opened M. Conway Dorsey’s debut novel, Lower Reaches of the River (Adelaide Books, 172 pages), it had been quite some time since I had even finished a novel without putting it down in a fit of mistrust and frustration. After I read the last sentence, I thought hard about why Lower Reaches had not incited me; why it kept my attention. I decided, finally, that there were two cardinal reasons.

Before I get to these, let me first open a brief parenthesis to summarize the story. Dorsey’s novel opens deep in the marshlands of the Southern US, where a lost people live, a population of dislocated souls dwelling on a floating village of lashed-together boats and rafts, an almost organic construct, mazed with passageways. This ad hoc archipelago, Camptown, is a secret waystation for the forgotten and disconsolate, run jointly by three people: the local sheriff, barroom owner Early Watts, and oilman Nolan Flynn. Camptown is, on the surface, a charitable organization that helps the wayward start new lives. Continue reading

I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett

“Once after dinner, as we sat in front of the television watching an Adventures of Superman rerun, I asked, ‘Was my father handsome?’

She replied, ‘Some might say yes.’

‘Was he smart?’ I asked.

She stared at the television. ‘Why is it that after all the bullets have bounced off Superman’s chest, he then ducks when the villain throws the empty gun at him?’

I looked at the television and wondered, knowing also that my quest for some detail about my history had been again thwarted, albeit with a very good question. I never pressed terribly hard, thinking that someday the story would surface, but then she died.”

I’ve quoted this out-of-context gem to give you a taste and because it made me laugh the first time I read this brilliant book  about a boy who is named “Not Sidney Poitier” although he is the spitting image of a young Poitier. I laughed while I moaned. This is serious and hilarious stuff.

However a year after my first reading, when I read this book for a second time, I had a different experience. I hardly laughed at all for the first half (second half is funnier). Instead I was moved by the pain. Continue reading