Tales of Barranco Lagarto by Steven C. Levi

TalesLeviAccording to a note on the title page Tales of Barranco Lagarto (277 pages, Kindle) is a collection of stories which first appeared in The Coachella Post Gazette. The tales were handed down by one Horatio Shackleton, who died in 1925, and eventually assembled into a single collection by his grandson, Horatio Shackleton III. These characters are based on actual persons. Grandson Horatio is the mask which the “editor”—author Steven C. Levi—utilizes for his satirical tribute to a time gone by. The book concentrates on American culture in the southwest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is not so much an intellectual history as a whimsical foray into a forgotten past, with the narrator’s twinkling eye always at the ready. Continue reading

Milligan and Murphy by Jim Murdoch

milliganOpening a novel with a quote, particularly one from a writer as universally celebrated as Samuel Beckett, risks much. A reader is apt to spend a good deal of the novel comparing the works of the writer before him to those of the great master, fall into a reverie about how great was the work of the great master, and lose track of what the book in hand is going on about. Jim Murdoch, the author of Milligan and Murphy (Fandango Virtual, 180 pages), assumes that risk. Continue reading

Frog City Updike by Arthur Graham

Frog City Updike never would’ve been without Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America, the book that showed me just how loose I could get with form. — Arthur Graham, Big Al’s Books and Pals

One of the words I use too often in reviews is “interesting,” but I never really make it clear whether a particular word piques my interest or holds it. It’s the same with “nice,” which I also overuse; nice can have negative connotations; the last thing your wife wants to hear when she walks in wearing a new outfit is, “You look nice, Dear.” Even more confusing I would expect is when something gets referred to as “nice and interesting.” Frog City Updike–the place, not the book–sounds like a nice, interesting place. I’m not sure I’d want to live there but if I did I can see myself running across interesting things and saying, “Oh, that’s nice,” or vice versa. Continue reading

All About H. Hatterr by G.V. Desani

Warning!!

Warning!!

Better heed those first warnings, and all those !!!!! This – fellers! femmes! — this book – is mad. Like a hatter?

Ostensibly an “autobiographical,” All About H. Hatterr, by Govinas Vishnoodas Desani (New York Review Books, 318 pages) was first published in 1948. Desani explains,

…Though I was attending a world war, the first row, I worked….It seemed I’d be stuck for years; the post-Cease Fire ones too…well meaning people kept butting in, demanding that I stop breathing the bracing air of war-time England with my windows shut. I do anything for peace…the windows open, work would be impossible…

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The Double Life of Alfred Buber by David Schmahmann

(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

Randolph’s One Bedroom by Andrew Oberg

Randolph’s One Bedroom (CreateSpace, 156 pages), for me, wasn’t so much about Randolph as it was his state of mind, specifically how he dealt with the everyday oddities of his world. The truth is stranger than fiction, and where Randolph lives, pretty much everything is strange. What I think I loved most about this story collection was that none of the characters were all that out of the ordinary. We are surrounded by the bizarre every single day, and we, like Randolph, have become unaffected by the goings on around us. If we didn’t insulate ourselves in this way, we would all be mental by now. When I see some of the things my own neighbours do, I swear my husband and I are the only normal people on the block. That’s a stretch, all things considered, but then we think, hey, they probably think we are weird, and they wouldn’t be that far off base. That’s really the whole point of the book I think: it’s an abstract look at society’s various psychological tics. Randolph’s cursing pet parrot is really the only thing predictable in his entire world, well, that and he never gets any mail. Continue reading

Stories II by Scott McClanahan

Scott McClanahan is an author gifted with stating intuition implicitly. A part of our work as writers is to make sense, to distill, to state it both beautifully and with clarity, and yet in McClanahan’s most recent collection Stories II (Six Gallery Press, 155 pages), not for a moment, does the writing feel put on, on purpose, pushed. However, in these 155 pages, we find ourselves bathed in truth, relating universally, unequivocally taken to these very specific and personal stories, stories written in a very distinct Southern/Appalacia dialect, at that. Continue reading

The Best Australian Stories 2006 edited by Robert Drewe

The Best Australian Stories 2006, edited by Robert Drewe (Black Inc, 380 pages). As an art form, the short story seems to be growing stronger. Writers still bemoan the difficulty in getting a short story collection published, but collections like Black Inc annual ‘best of’ series are a testament to the continuing demand for short fiction. The reasons why are obvious – a short story is fully contained, able to be read in a single sitting, and are often engaging, without needing the development time of a full-scale novel. Part of the reason why the Black, Inc collections are so successful is the careful editorial input. This is the sixth year that this series has been in production, and the process for finding stories is a fascinating one, involving scouting through publications of respected literary mags, and, from this year on, accepting submissions from any writer so inclined. For writers, it’s a terrific opportunity to showcase work, get your name out, and pick up loyal readers. For readers, it’s a really nice way to expose yourself to a range of Continue reading

The Bait Shack by Harry Hughes

In The Bait Shack (BeWrite Books), Dale Cooles is a mathematician ready to tie up some messy ends. He’s quit his fancy university job, said goodbye to his last fling, and applied himself to his new life as unemployed, kept husband of Lacy Chamblet. Lacy is secretary to robber baron Henry Meredith, who makes his living cheating his tenants, avoiding tax, and hiring low-cost street kids too unemployable to blow the whistle on him. But this time, he’s teamed up with mobster Johnny Avalino, and his plans take a nasty turn. Are Dale and Lacy smarter than Meredith thinks they are? Is thwarted conservation officer Continue reading

The Mysterious Secret of the Valuable Treasure by Jack Pendarvis

In The Mysterious Secret of the Valuable Treasure (MacAdam/Cage Publishing, 183 pages), Jack Pendarvis has the kind of wit that ambushes you – and then bludgeons you until you can no longer suppress the laughter. This collection of nine stories and a novella mocks bad writing and moronic thought through a complete submersion in each, with protagonists believing in absurd premises (like the dead-beat husband who imagines himself as a famous historian and the unemployed drinking buddies who want to be writers without doing the work.) The subtitle – “Curious stories” – Continue reading