Hotel Ortolan by Tom Whalen

If you choose to read this book, to visit this Hotel, you will find it to be finely crafted by photographer Michel Varisco and writer Tom Whalen into a labyrinth of stairways and passageways of uncertainty, mystery, and intrigue, along which there are scattered bread crumbs, enticements, clues and innuendo that will take you down corridors that you hope will lead to your room. Henry Green described good prose as a “gathering web of insinuations.” Once you check in, whatever past you may have had will become a forgotten dream and then time itself will become inverted, then finally cease to have any meaning at all. Continue reading

Purity by Jonathan Franzen

I listened to the audiobook of Purity (FSG, 576 pages) as I was held captive on a thirty-five hour road trip. Although the first fifty pages or so had some wit and interesting characters, such as Andreas Wolf, a Julian Assange persona, Purity soon devolved into stylistically bland chicklit. Jenna Lamia narrates the part of the twenty-something title character, with, appropriately for the writing style, that special millennial lilt that seems to run out of energy at the end of every sentence. The remaining 526 pages were concerned with relationship negotiations between men and women, children and parents. People complain, worry about their self-image, elaborate the details of “he said, she said” and, instead of having interests in the world, all the characters try to control and manage how other people feel about them. The characters are pure self-interest without any self-reflection. Worse yet, the plot is straight about of a women’s drug store novel: Purity’s love relationships fail as she seeks a father figure, having grown up without one. Confronting hard economic times and suffering through dead-end jobs, she finally stumbles upon her father and discovers that she is an heiress.

Seriously. An heiress. Continue reading

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

marriageplotAs the title confesses right up front, The Marriage Plot (FSG, 416 pages) is all plot, all 19th-century-style plot, with full biographical sketches and family histories for everyone who walks onstage for more than a few paragraphs to alter the action.  Which of the two men will Madeleine, English major and lover of Jane Austen and George Eliot,  end up with? Will it be Leonard, the big, broody sex-crazed boyfriend, a biology/philosophy double major? Or will it be Mitchell, the worshiping-from-afar religious studies student, whom Madeleine’s parents prefer? Continue reading

Lion and Leopard by Nathaniel Popkin

LionLeopardIt may very well be that Nathaniel Popkin’s novel Lion and Leopard (The Head and The Hand Press, 345 pages) requires more than one reading in order fully to appreciate its argument. Certainly the discerning reader should have no trouble recognizing the quality of its painterly effects that so thoroughly complement the subject matter of this passionate work. Whoever seeks out literary writing for its own sake will not be disappointed. Nathaniel Popkin is a writer’s writer and possesses the prized capacity to render the essentially poetic not only in accessible but also in original phrases and images:

Continue reading

The Scapegoat by Sofia Nikolaidou

ScapegoatAs I begin to write this on January 20, 2015, the news from Buenos Aires isn’t good. Albert Nisman, the federal prosecutor assigned to finally uncover the truth about the 1994 bombing of the Argentina Israelite Mutual Association, a Jewish community center, was found dead in his apartment. Nisman was about to reveal a high-level government conspiracy to cover up Iran’s role in the bombing, which killed 85 people. Argentina has long struggled with corruption and politicization of its government institutions, making it almost impossible for the nation to confront its demons—from sheltering Nazis to the 1970s/1980s rounding up and killing of leftists, communists, intellectuals, and Jews who became known as the desaparecidos opposed to the ruling right-wing Junto. The powerful are usually protected. Continue reading

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

field There’s a long tradition of writing about sport that tries to be more than writing about sport. Journalism, it seems, is not enough. The events of a game and the constraints of its rules become raw materials for allegory. Much fuss has been made in recent years about the rise of nonfiction and its power over the popular imagination—but when it comes to sport, the lure of myth remains strong. Continue reading

Stripped: A Collection of Anonymous Flash Fiction edited by Nicole Monaghan

The premise here is interesting: an anthology of flash fiction with the bylines removed so that the reader can’t know the identity of the author. According to Nicole Monaghan, editor of this collection, the purpose is to question a reader’s assumptions about gender.

As an experiment, Stripped: A Collection of Anonymous Flash Fiction (PS Books, 102 pages) recalls I.A. Richards’ Practical Criticism and his withholding authors’ identities from his Cambridge students in the 1920s in order to come to grips with their literary values. It was a step forward in reading awareness. We live in a very different world now, to put it mildly—gender was not on Richards’ radar—but some of the same questions of reception persist. Continue reading