Dactyl Foundation Literary Fiction Award 2013

BUBERcocoaalmonddarlingBecause we were unable to give awards in 2011 and 2012, due to lack of qualifying entries, we decided to give two awards in 2013. The first award goes to The Double Life of Alfred Buber by David Schmahmann, which was reviewed by top DR reviewer Charles Holdefer.  The second award goes to Cocoa Almond Darling by Jeffra Hays, which was reviewed by Peter Bollington, also a top DR reviewer, and VN Alexander, DR editor. Both authors receive a $1000 prize. Congratulations to David and Jeffra for their fine work.

The Untouchable by John Banville

untouchableWhen 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

Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov

Pnin Vintage

He is not a very nice person but he is fun – Nabokov describing the character of Pnin in a letter to his editor at The New Yorker

Readers of my third novel, The More Things Change, who at the current moment in time comprise a not entirely significant two, my current wife and my only daughter (though not a daughter to my current wife despite the fact she treats her like a second daughter), will recall – Continue reading

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

Mefisto by John Banville

mefistoGabriel Swan is the Faustian hero of Mefisto (Godine Press, pages 233). He is a savant mathematician, with talents that will make him out-of-place among uneducated poor Irish. With a desire to understand the truth of the universe, he believes that numbers will help him sense some “larger” pattern tying everything together.  But as in Faust, what Swan does with his opportunities is disappointing. He hooks up with scam artists and junkies and, tragically, ends up being instrumental in his mentor’s efforts to prove there are no larger patterns. Continue reading

Look at the Harlequins! by Vladimir Nabokov

Beginning with a list of the author’s “other” books, which don’t exist outside the distorted mirror world of what Nabokov calls “LATH” (as he acronymically pegs Look At The Harlequins! [Vintage, 272 pages] within that book’s own text) is a wildly inventive metafiction in the bilingually verbose hyper-alliterative Nabokovian mold. We get splendid sentences here on the jeweled gift of selfhood giving reason to resist suicide from whatever facet, cranky meditations on the author’s pederastic proclivities and ego, and, most brilliantly, strange slips down the semiotic slope into madness. In two or three places in this book we find ourselves in a meticulously rendered literary reality and then, through a process of what one might call Continue reading

The Sea by John Banville

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