Death is always bearing down in Dennis Must’s somber, disquieting novel, The World’s Smallest Bible (Red Hen Press, 232 pages). Death knocks on the window above the bed shared by brothers Ethan and Jeremiah Meuller in the small town of Hebron, in north central Pennsylvania; death is in the hand-me-downs they receive as gifts from the parents of soldiers who have just been killed in World War II; death brews inside their suicidal mother Rose, who has been scorned by their father; death dogs at their Aunt Eva, a stripper at the Elks Club; and death badgers their neighbor, Stanley Cuzack, as he tries to invent a perpetual motion machine. Half suffocating himself, Must’s narrator, Ethan, tries to push himself away.
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…
Shadowplay (Ellipsis Press, 137 pages) by Norman Lock, is the 2010 Dactyl Foundation Literary Fiction Award recipient. Lock’s novella is a dense fable, mixing magic realism with self-reflexivity. The entire story is given to us in miniature at the beginning, such that the novella itself is really a constant retelling–a folding and refolding–rather than an unfolding. A shadow puppet master named Guntur falls in love with Candra, who comes into his theater one day to buy puppets. When she dies of typhoid fever six days later, he falls into despair for many years, until finally he understands how to enter the world of the dead, Continue reading
An uncanny tale of the limits and power of story telling, Shadowplay (Ellipsis Press, 137 pages) also works with a mesmerizing and subtle structure where the story repeats and folds into itself over and over again. Among Lock’s best work, it continues the self-conscious fascination and manipulation of the theme of “other” that appeared in works like A History of the Imagination and Land of the Snow Men. Here however Lock’s uproarious and dark-humored wit has been replaced with a different mode: that of a parable or fable. The alienation, vanity, occasional triumph, and seemingly inevitable destruction of the story-teller are almost classically illustrated in this compact and powerful tale. Continue reading
As a reviewer, there are two things you’ll want to know about me before bothering to read further. I only like literary fiction, and I only like literary fiction that’s a bit “difficult,” in one way or another, style or theme, preferably both.
A good theme for me might include controversial social issues, human paradoxes, ethical puzzles– problems to which there are no easy solutions. The concerns of unmarried 32-year-old woman and the plight of a middle-aged man whose affair is petering out are not real “problems,” in my view, nor is the temporary loss of faith in God or humanity. 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
Set in Medieval Spain, Walk On, Bright Boy (The Permanent Press, 144 pages), a story of a boy’s first confrontation with political and religious corruption, strives less for historical accuracy than for universal applicability. Written with lovely economy and sensitivity, it is reminiscent of a fable or of a young adult coming-of-age tale. At the same time, however, it is also complex in its exploration of human foibles and conflicting philosophies.