“Someone had to die for Hal Nickerson to live in the house that he and his wife Jodie bought for a song seven years ago.” So begins this dry-toned, cool, and detached novel Dismantle The Sun (Booktrope Editions, 324 pages) with a line and a sentiment that prove to be something of a mantra for its main protagonist and a lynchpin refrain for the narrative arc. In the world of nature — in the world of man — something has to die for something else to live. Some persons — the Nickersons — include this in their ample proof of the non-existence of a beneficent Creator, while others — the fundamentalists — attribute the state of the cosmos to original and ongoing sin. Both take it all very personally. Hal Nickerson’s atheism in conjunction with that of his wife informs all of his sensibility while providing a certain distance from the most basic issues of life and death, love and hatred. Continue reading
For newcomers to the world of Charles Bukowski, be forewarned: Pulp (Ecco, 202 pages) is probably not the best place to start.
I say this, not because it doesn’t rank right up there with his other books, or because greener readers will fail to grasp the allusions to earlier work it contains, but rather because as his ultimate novel (completed months before his death) Pulp can easily be seen as Bukowski’s final farewell. In it, the aged author takes his readers on one last foray into familiar territories of sex, madness, and death, while at the same time expanding on those themes in brilliant and often unexpected ways. Drawing on science fiction and hardboiled noir elements as well, the end result is a bizarre send-up of genre fiction that is just as hilarious and insightful as anything else he wrote. Continue reading
At the age of 81, William Trevor offered his 40th, or 44th book—something along those lines, depending on how you count the work, mainly fiction, novels, novellas and story collections, with some drama, nonfiction, a children’s book and editing interspersed. This latest novel, Love and Summer (Penguin, 2009, 211 pages), is not his best but it is good, in some respects excellent, even singular. Continue reading
John Reed’s most recent book, Tales of Woe (MTV Press, 204 pages), structured in novelistic intertwined short stories, is actually a work of non-fiction. Each tale is entirely true, which perhaps is ultimately what makes the book so difficult and simultaneously profound. We walk with Reed through the murky depths of the worse angels of our nature.
Part crime-log, part historical map, we follow countries in contemporary time into the psyche of many cruelties. Reed’s tight minimal prose reads poetic, ultimately serving the work both in realistic relay of information, but also in Continue reading
I believe Ernest Hemmingway said “All you have to do to be a writer is write one honest sentence.” Well by that definition, and although this slim book with its refrains of the title in different contexts reads almost like a performance piece between two covers–it is in fact reconstructed from texts used in performances used to publicize 1993’s Bastard Out of Carolina–Dorothy Allison is certainly a writer. And yet curiously, and at times almost bewitchingly, Allison plays with and cozies up to the notion of story in its ability not just to tell the truth but to conceal it–here, in the simplest possible language, and using her own experiences as a child abuse victim by her stepfather in the American South, she psychoanalyzes the nature of story and story-telling as a means of healing the ego and reinventing the self. The book is integrated with Continue reading
Because They Wanted to (Scribner, 256 pages). Mary Gaitskill is the real thing, as Hem said about F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Coke says about itself. She is one of those writers you feel writes in black blood, and only tells lies to clarify the truth. Like Bukowski, she is attracted to the ugly truth far more than representation of the beautiful or the good. Her detailed descriptions of female pixies and the inexorable pivots on which their love lives slip into what would be despair if they were not so inured to pain from its constant presence, her often seamless use of flashbacks in narrators or protagonists chaotically attracted Continue reading
As a reviewer, there are two things you’ll want to know about me before bothering to read further. I only like literary fiction, and I only like literary fiction that’s a bit “difficult,” in one way or another, style or theme, preferably both.
A good theme for me might include controversial social issues, human paradoxes, ethical puzzles– problems to which there are no easy solutions. The concerns of unmarried 32-year-old woman and the plight of a middle-aged man whose affair is petering out are not real “problems,” in my view, nor is the temporary loss of faith in God or humanity. Continue reading