In The Heritage of Smoke (Dzanc, 240 pages), a collection of short stories set mainly in 20th century war-wrecked Croatia or Ex-Yugoslavia, Josip Novakovich makes American-born writers, whose plots inevitably turn on sexuality and identity, seem merely whiny and self-obsessed. This masterful storyteller follows ordinary lives in the relatively small, recently-renamed Eastern European country, of which Americans are only vaguely aware, whose diverse cultures and old animosities persist through regime change. Caught between the whims and wars of super power nations and petty dictators, the characters revealed here endure, curse, and try to have fun. Novakovich’s characters tend to be listless, jaded, and stubborn, but they also have a kind of a dignified persistence, like old trees growing in the cracks of mountaintop stone . Continue reading
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