South of the Border, West of the Sun: A Novel by Haruki Murakami

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

Someone to Watch Over Me: Stories by Richard Bausch

In Someone to Watch Over Me (Harper Perennial, 224 pages), with stories about older men with younger women, a woman recovering from a dysfunctional relationship who hooks up with a horrible golfer who persuades himself he is good, a man with low self-esteem who stumbles out of a bar drunk one morning to save a busload of children, a man who wins the lottery only to face the final anomie of life as loss, Richard Bausch takes somewhat downtrodden and mundane middle-to-lower class characters and reveals them in their secret glory. He has a way of fully seizing an everyday situation and revealing to us its depths, sometimes switching character point of view within the same story. The stories have the opposite effect of Continue reading

Bob the Gambler by Frederick Barthelme

The night after I finished this book I found myself before a slot machine in a small casino. I had a feeling and put a quarter in. I won and won again. I stuffed the quarters in my pockets but there were no buckets available. When I lost two quarters in a row I left. Unfortunately this was a dream and I awoke empty handed. Bob the Gambler (Mariner Books, 224) is a beautifully observed, enviably perfect novel by a master who doesn’t seem flashy because he stays within his means. It is also a surprisingly, even surreally loving story. The novel centers around the fissioned nuclear family of down-on-his luck Biloxi architect Ray Kaiser, a plump transplant moved by the Mississippi coastal decay before it was invaded by “gussied-up Motel 6 hotel Continue reading

The Proud Beggars by Albert Cossery. Translated by Thomas W. Cushing.

I often wonder about sentences – about their impact, their purity, their necessity of being. I wonder about wasted words, wasted pages, and wasted stories. I wonder every time I read.

Yet, whenever I reach for The Proud Beggars (Black Sparrow Press, 190 pages), I find myself in awe, mesmerized, a captive to Cossery’s mastery of language, his scenes, his characters, and his ideology. If there ever was the perfect literary book, for me, it is this one. Continue reading