When Banville is writing at his best, he tends to reminisce about people and places rather than tell a story. In The Untouchable (Knopf, 668 pages), Victor Maskell, an Irishman living in England, becomes a spy for the Soviets during World War II. The book begins when the elderly Sir Maskell’s secret past has been revealed in the press. A young biographer, Serena Vandeleur, comes to interview him, and he takes the opportunity to look back over his life. Banville’s most artful writing is to be found in the plotless parts of the narrative, where he is working on characterization by relating memories of his childhood and young adulthood. Continue reading
Jeffra Hays’ Cocoa Almond Darling (Smashwords 2011, 126 pages) is the story of Millicent Randolph, survivor of a bad marriage and starting over in tough circumstances. These include finding a place to live and a job. She finds work in a sewing shop and enjoys a brief, happy relationship with her employer, in which she becomes pregnant although he is married. Her difficulties are then resumed through a long, turbulent aftermath to this affair. The turmoil continues following the birth of her child and on up to this daughter’s marriage and birth of her own daughters, when Milly becomes a grandmother. 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
At the onset, our protagonist in Editorial (CreateSpace, 140 pages) is sent to live with an aunt/uncle after the untimely death of his parents, and he finds the routine and familiarity therapeutic in a sado-masochistic sort of way, until the day comes when his aunt and uncle basically throw him out on his own with nothing possession-wise to speak of other than his porn mag collection. Well, at least our narrator handles it well: with wit, sarcasm, and what was probably a heat stroke induced delusion.
The Death of Patsy McCoy (Inflatable Rider Press, 147 KB) is a story about a murder, but long before that, it was a story about suicide. The suicide of a small town, the suicide of a new kid seeking acceptance, and the suicide of five young men who would never be able to push aside memories left behind in their childhood, memories that are nothing more than the strewn wreckage of innocence gone lost. Continue reading
Americans have always had, in addition to wide-spread arrogance in imagining that their current literature is the best, the inferiority complex for not producing the Great Novel, nothing that could be compared with War and Peace and Brothers Karamazov or David Copperfield and Vanity Fair or Remembrance of the Things Past and Lost Illusions or The Magic Mountain and Tin Drum, or Don Quixote, or One Hundred Years of Solitude. Of course, it could be argued that Moby Dick, Invisible Man, Grapes of Wrath, The American Pastoral (Roth addresses terrorism before it became the central American problem) or Continental Drift by Russell Banks are great American novels, but somehow the critics and reviewers are still dreaming of The Great American Novel. And this novel has been anointed as such by many. Continue reading
Whereas we in the west speak of, and see, a “man” on the moon, the Chinese tell stories of and see a rabbit on the moon. Poet, playwright, and editor Joseph Coulson’s great first novel The Vanishing Moon (Archipelago Books, 330 pages) is hardly focused on the moon and yet it is, one might say, focused on the vanishing of beautiful things for which the elusive moon is a most, perhaps the most, romantic emblem: a unique book of pressed wildflowers; the innocence of children playing in the woods before they become conscious of a humiliating poverty; and the exceptional beauty of the unconsummated (preserving the sublime) over the requited (wallowing in the mire) 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 of 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.
Black Dogs: A Novel (Nan A. Talese, 149 pages) is a skillfully written novel on an interesting and profound topic. McEwan does a wonderful job describing June, an eccentric old woman, the narrator’s mother-in-law. He also handles what could be a very artificial story device in a reasonably natural way. The idea of the book is to explore the conflicts between mystical thinking and rationality, and the narrator is interviewing and writing a memoir on his mother-in-law and father-in-law who represent those views respectively. This passage exemplifies well McEwan’s sensitivity and talent as a writer; Continue reading
The Sea (Knopf, 208 pages) Spoiler alert. I don’t care for surprise endings, so I’m going to give this one away. If you’re at all like me, you may find it preferable to know more than what the jacket cover reveals about the story, that there was a death in the narrator’s childhood that he revisits in memory as an old man. It isn’t until the end of the book that we finally learn who dies, twin children with whom he had shared a memorable summer. They intentionally drown themselves. And although all suicides may seem shocking and unnecessary, these two especially so. The narrator also conceals Continue reading