Book news! Margot Livesey, who made an appearance on our 25 Books Project for her Eva Moves the Furniture, has a new novel out, called The House on Fortune Street. I was able to see her read from it and bought the book at her reading Tuesday at Porter Square Books in Somerville, MA. It was nice to have something weighty and yet fast-paced for my 20+ hour flight to Korea yesterday. Sort of four novellas that add up to a very full novel, and which elicit a lot of reflection on the characters and the way lives are intertwined. Highly recommended.more »
So, last week I read an advance copy of the upcoming Jhumpa Lahiri novel. This isn’t any kind of formal review, but here’s what I thought:
Three of the four best stories you could have found in The New Yorker, including the best one, “Hell-Heaven,” which, after reading twice and hearing read once, I’m starting to think may be my favorite story of hers, right up there with “A Temporary Matter.” The fourth is the title story.
The book, or at least the advance copy, is broken into two parts. The second part is three linked stories starting with one from TNY. Unfortunately, that one was by the far the strongest, and the rest of the section didn’t feel finished to me. Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe she was still working on revisions.
I’d put this book between The Namesake (which I think is more an extremely long short story than a novel, and a story that could have just been a regularly long short story) and Interpreter of Maladies (which I loved and which has one of the all time great titles). It’s good but not a classic.
Speaking of classics, and as an addendum to this post, check this out: http://www.themorningnews.org/archives/reviews/lone_star_statements.php
Congrats to Fringe on their (our)... more »
This idea of the collective unconscious is in keeping with Williams’ web imagery and interlocking narratives. The latter includes three motherless girls, a father who sees the ghost of his dead wife (urging him to join her in the next world), a suicidal pianist, an eight-year old who pours sand over her head, a dog murderer who suffers a Jake-Barnes-injury from a parcel bomb, a retired big-game hunter who listens to the music of air conditioners, a stroke survivor with a vivisected monkey in his head, a dog becoming increasingly paranoid, and so on.
The theme of exploration of life and death (as the title indicates) link these narratives, which take place in a fictional American desert town where the heat and landscape contribute to a certain sensitivity toward portentous images and events. As you would expect, characters die, move on, or are otherwise carried... more »more »
Greetings from Korea (insert postcard of neon crosses lighting up the Busan skyline here). I’ve been thinking, probably unsurprisingly, about communication. Maybe it’s that I’ve been reading Joy Williams’s The Quick and the Dead, with its fantastically strange dialogue (review pending), or maybe it’s just the whole idea of two weddings, one Korean and one American, or maybe it’s that I’m revising a story about cannibals that try to stop being cannibals after a little loving contact with a group of Europeans, I don’t know. But communicaton seems all the rage these days.
It’s a strange thing. We read so much fiction by authors who were ostracized in their youths and who write about ostracized characters, yet it seems especially true in stories that people need people to talk to. (Unless you like those stories with only one character–I generally don’t.) This doesn’t necessarily mean people really get to communicate, but it means they’re trying. I re-read Carver’s Cathedral recently, and what struck me about the collection is how much more grace seems offered to the characters than in his earlier stories, and how that grace comes through finding someone to communicate with. I don’t mean to say these stories are better–I actually... more »more »
So these days reading slush for Ploughshares and Redivider, as well as working for Fringe, I’m reading a lot of pour-water-over-my-head-to-wake-myself-back-up, clamp-jumper-cables-to-my-nipples-to-wake-me-back-up, boring-as-rust first pages. Lizzie talked about cover letters a gazillion posts ago; I thought I’d do a sequel. Here’s some thoughts on the first 300 words, because really, an editor can tell from page one whether the story is going to be good or not at least 90 percent of the time. So print this out, crumple it up, and eat it–that’s supposed to work for memory. Three simple rules:
1. do something new.
2. start the story arc.
3. write a brilliant sentence.
Why? Because (1) editors are sleepy and they’ve probably already read 20 stories by the time they get to yours, (2) the most tiring thing in the world–more tiring than Thanksgiving–is waiting for a story to begin, and (3) the editor carefully reading your opening sentences should be given a reason to continue doing so. I think if I don’t get two of these three things in the first page, the monster under my bed ends up finishing the story. He likes to eat paper too, but not for memory. He likes it because “it tastes like smart.”... more » more »
In the Prologue to Strange Pilgrims, Gabriel Garcia Marquez talks about a dream where he goes to his own funeral and sees all his friends there, but when he wants to leave with them, he’s told he’s the only one who can’t go to the after-party. (That’s right, in dreams there are always after-parties.) Well, Marquez relates this being-left-behind to expatriation and isolation. Sounds heady, I know, but as a minority and an adoptee, isolation is all up in my writing’s business, so I thought I’d talk about it. I thought I’d talk about setting as well, so be prepared for the following mess.
So here’s what I’m thinking. Sure, Marquez uses the unfamiliarity of the setting to isolate his characters. Why not? They’re pilgrims, after all. But when they really feel isolated is when they run into things that should be familiar to them but aren’t. Like when the Prez in the opening story runs into people from his home country who lie to him about their motives.
Marquez also uses the ole pathetic fallacy, where the Prez’s thoughts are mirrored by the weather and place. This is okay if you’re going for the magical realism thing. Yet what is it Charles Baxter... more »more »
So this is my first blog attempt and I’m assuming it’s going to suck, but stick with me. Good intro, right? Now I’ll talk about what kind of food got stuck in my teeth this morning (cinnamon apple sauce) and my favorite kind of toilet paper (whatever that commercial is with those red bears!)…. I thought that was how blogs worked? You see, I did a little research. Dwight Schrute’s blog is about a time capsule he sent to himself. No, really. I’m actually getting to something literary. Seems to me time’s a pretty mysterious mofo. Heard about this study about how people like to see, in their movie trailers, everything that’s going to happen in the movie? Not original. Flannery was doing that stuff ages ago. See “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” You know damn well they’re going to meet the misfit the moment the grandmother, and then the storeowner, mentions it. Or “A Circle in the Fire.” Fire’s in the title, even, and it’s the protagonist’s greatest fear. What she really pulled off is making us pant with anticipation (that’s right, like a dog) until we get there. Why don’t we see this in a lot of... more »more »
How could you not love the opening to Chang-rae Lee’s PEN/Hemingway award-winning *Native Speaker,* in which narrator Henry Park’s wife, having decided to take a break from their marriage, leaves him with a note calling him a “B+ student of life… yellow peril… traitor, [and] spy.” Those first two insults are the best (if we’re judging on cruelty and humor) but the latter two end up scuba-diving Henry into the cove of his Korean-American identity. It turns out he *is* a spy, at least by profession, and this theme of spying, of cultural mask-wearing, of between-ness, is at the heart of the novel and of Henry’s shortcomings in life and marriage.
As the novel progresses, we learn about Henry’s job in cultural espionage, going forward in time, while delving into his problematic marriage to beautiful, white, speach-therapist Lelia, going back. Henry’s latest mission involves getting close to political up-and-comer John Kwang and taking notes on his activities for some unknown, but definitely shady, client, using their shared Korean heritage as... more »more »