The Making of Zombie Wars by Aleksandar Hemon

zombiewarsA literary truism: good comic writing, any comic writing that professes to call itself literary fiction, must be undergirded with a firm foundation in seriousness. Nikolai Gogol was/is the greatest comic writer in Russian literature; his works are profound. Vladimir Nabokov wrote the following about Gogol’s long story, “The Overcoat,” widely considered the best story ever written in Russia: “The diver, the seeker for pearls, the man who prefers the monsters of the deep to the sunshades on the beach, will find in ‘The Overcoat’ shadows linking our state of existence to those other states and modes which we dimly apprehend in our rare moments of irrational perception.”

Too many contemporary American writers of literary fiction are under those umbrellas on the beach. If they are swimming at all they are swimming in the shallows. There are depths to be plumbed through the art of writing creative fiction. Why not plumb them? Is it too risky? Is it easier to wade into tepid waters and potter around there? Time to take a deep breath and dive down deep now, modern American author. Time to stop your “shit-swimming” (Hemon’s term, taken out of context) in the literary shallows.

The Making of Zombie Wars (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 307 pages) begins with Hollywood silliness—amateur screenwriters pitching ideas to one another in a Chicago workshop—the idiocy and mindlessness of Hollywood (and of the whole U.S. A.), lurks in the background all the way through to the end. Practically all of Hemon’s books with American characters in a U.S. setting present a picture of our country teeming with idiots. This novel is set in 2003, just as we were embarking on what will surely go down as one of the most idiotic foreign-policy decisions of the twenty-first century: the invasion of Iraq. Continue reading

The Wild Horses of Hiroshima by Paul Xylinides

Wild Horses cover

The wild horses in The Wild Horses Of Hiroshima (240 pages) are certainly intriguing, as with the title and cover art, and play a strong role at the story’s end by appearing in the streets of Hiroshima to wander about as a healing force, cared for by the citizens. They  derive from the imagination of a novelist who is also a character in the novel, who is also creating a narrative. The horses seem to emphasize purity and nobility, pounding through the city in herds, a shield against nuclear war and against the violent nature of the human species itself.

This novel inside the novel begins approximately half way into the story, following a background beginning with the atom bomb attack on Hiroshima and its hideous devastation. A young American man has been a penpal with a young Japanese girl, and after the war, he goes to Hiroshima to find her. They marry and move to New Hampshire, bearing a son, Yukio. Yukio becomes a strong, husky young man who survives the attack of a bear which kills his father. He and his mother, Miyeko, return to Japan where he becomes a sumo wrestler. Time passes and he retires to write novels. The novel within a novel begins, with occasional returns to the exterior story of Yukio and his mother, plus Yukio’s geisha, Satoko. Continue reading

Andrew’s Brain by E. L. Doctorow


Andrew’s Brain (Random House, 244 pages), by E. L. Doctorow, is the narrative of a brain whose content has been digitized, whose DNA code has been cracked, and which now resides in a vat or has been uploaded to a computer at some Bush-era detention or torture site, unaware that he is no longer embodied, believing himself to be telling his story to a therapist (who, Andrew suspects, may be CIA), sometimes imagining himself to be elsewhere, writing to or phoning his therapist, sometimes visiting his office, but never realizing that he, like any human perhaps, has no true self-awareness because a brain cannot objectively know itself. Continue reading

Blinding: The Left Wing by Mircea Cărtărescu

Blindingforweb1It starts in adolescence. The questions come to you while lying in bed (certainly now with a growing awareness of your sexuality), the walls of your room expanding into endless grainy darkness, as if the room itself could encompass the entire world: why am I here, why is there anything at all?

The questions may haunt you at age 13 or 15 or 17, but by adulthood they tend to feel banal. Unanswerable, impossible, if taken seriously debilitating, they are in a word blinding, and so you tend to avert your gaze. But suppose you can’t, suppose the inviolable white light only draws you closer, to madness possibly, to paint or write or drink or pray (to what God, tell me?) almost certainly. And so perhaps you scribble, the pages of your notebooks filling with furious script, like eons of sediment piling into sad mute mountains no one else will ever excavate or carve or climb. Continue reading

The Master of Petersburg by J.M. Coetzee

TheMasterOfPetersburgCoetzee’s novel of Dostoevsky (The Master of Petersburg, Penguin Books, 250 pages) is a mysterious portrait of the artist surrounding his The Possessed. Suppose a preliminary to Dostoevsky’s demons story could extend it via a narrative featuring the great author himself. Coetzee’s portrayal is that novel. Dostoevsky becomes a half-fiction in this role, somewhat real and somewhat false. Does that matter? It’s not easy to answer. As protagonist-novelist, Dostoevsky’s most important function for Coetzee might be as guide and exemplar, somewhat disheveled and brooding into our own age. Continue reading

Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes

indexJulian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot (Picador 2002, 190 pages) is the story of one man’s quest, his “project” to find the writer outside his writings, despite Flaubert’s insistence that the books should be enough, the writer should disappear and be left alone. Geoffrey Braithwaite, this amusing novel’s British protagonist, is a medical doctor about sixty. He pursues museums, letters, literary works, criticism, and Flaubert the person in a long quest as unofficial biographer and tireless seeker. Continue reading

A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes

God’s all-time bestseller, The Book, might be described (I wish to offend no one) as metafiction; it was written, divinely, by its main character, Who appears in various forms, at crucial cliff-hanger moments, as Himself. Unfortunately, so the story goes, God’s sixth-day creation, us — or more accurately our ancestors — made a muddle of His work, so God recruited Noah & Sons to cruise.

Mr. Julian Barnes launches A History of the World in 10½ Chapters (Knopf, 307 pages) with his own mock-knowing version of history, as reported by a wiseacre, truth-telling woodworm (baby termite?) stowaway, one of several who survived the trip. Why the need to sneak? Woodworms were not one of God’s chosen species, which leads Continue reading