As 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
Because 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.
Cocoa Almond Darling (Kindle, 126 pages), by Jeffra Hays, is a rather intense, deliberately-paced story about a tailor Mr. Benton, his assistant Milly, and their daughter Nicky. The main action seems to be set in the 1960s, give or take a decade, and the story is told entirely from Milly’s perspective. The novel’s limited first-person narration is masterfully rendered by Hays, who allows the reader to experience a degree of empathy not possible except through the lens of skillful realist fiction. The language of the novel is plain. The narrator is not a gifted poet, nor especially clever or funny. She is not given to much analysis, but she does pay attention to detail, and she is sometimes capable of rather admirable self-awareness and honesty. Continue reading
In Escaping Barcelona (Smashwords, 230 pages), Henry Martin demonstrates a subtle mastery of first-person fiction. His protagonist Rudy is an aimless but amiable narrator whose decision to backpack to Barcelona is just a slacker lark until he’s assaulted and robbed upon his arrival. Traumatized and penniless, Rudy suddenly has to fend for himself. Continue reading
Ezra Pound’s observation that “literature is news that STAYS news” certainly applies to Road to Nowhere (Henry Regnery Company, 382 pages). This excellent novel, first published by a Polish exile in 1955, is consistently engaging and, for its aching, visceral power, still feels fresh. Given the unfortunate fact that Józef Mackiewicz is generally unknown in the U.S. and most of his work is untranslated or out of print, he might as well be seen as a new writer, as far as Americans are concerned. Considered in this light, he is quite simply the most intriguing new writer I have encountered in years. Continue reading
Jackie Corley’s The Suburban Swindle (So New Publishing, 100 pages ) paints a specific place in a specific time with a specific aesthetic in a timeless style which transcends narrative mode and delivers a straight-served good story. Short works bound together through an ultimately honest, sometimes naïve narrator showcase Corley’s ability to communicate what it is to be a young, smart, bored person in the suburban life, which in its own way at times, reads as surprisingly feminist. Continue reading
South of the Border, West of the Sun (Vintage, 224 pages). This book (my first exposure) to Murakami starts off slow and mundane to the point of boredom, but before long you realize you are in the hands of a master. Like a marathon versus a sprint, the mundane realism allows Murakami to unveil with perfect pitch and timing the story of an only child and his long-lost childhood girlfriend (also an only child) who now, still beautiful in her late thirties, lives under mysterious circumstances and comes to see him in his upscale bar. Murakami reportedly translated into Japanese Raymond Carver, who never wrote a novel. It shows. Less is more here, and each revelation at the level of plot conceals something deeper about life. I loved the subtlety of the ending that brings to a naturalistic crescendo the novel-long tropes of walking, rainfall, and the curious Continue reading