Category Archives: new books

New Book: Emma Donoghue's Room

When I first read the premise of Room (narrated by a little boy who has only ever lived in a single room) it immediately sounded like one of those dull, clever books that more charitable people might label “high wire acts.”

But, Aimee Bender’s review in the New York Times actually makes it sound quite worthwhile:

Although I hate to reveal plot points, some are necessary to discuss the book, and early on, the story reveals that Room is actually a prison, with a villain holding the key, and that Ma (as Jack calls his mother) is being kept against her will. Fierce claustrophobia sets in — what had seemed an odd mother-child monastery is now Rapunzel’s tower or Anne Frank’s annex or a story from the news about a stolen child living in a hidden compound. Jack, interestingly, does not feel trapped; that the two live in Room against his mother’s will is not something the son knows right away, and this contrast creates the major fissures and complexities in the book: Room is both a jail and a ­haven.

Rick Moody's Four Fingers of Death

Since I’m privy to a lot of news about new books, and since I try to mention a number of these new books on this blog, I’ve decided it’s worthwhile to keep a curated list of new releases that I find interesting. Hence, Interesting New Books — 2010.

The latest title added to that list is Rick Moody’s new novel, The Four Fingers of Death, publishing July 28. It is, as they say, a brick, coming in at 736 pages.

It is also extremely weird, involving a Mars colony and a murderous severed hand.

For what it’s worth, the Publishers Weekly review (available at the Amazon link) was a pretty vicious pan. Booklist (also at Amazon) is more positive.

And here’s another review, a lengthy one (with spoilers) that starts like this:

Four Fingers Of Death starts with a dedication to Kurt Vonnegut, who died while Moody was working on the novel. And the Vonnegut influence looms large, both in the story and in its telling. It’s the year 2025, and the NAFTA bloc has fallen into such a perilous decline that we barely have an economy or a functioning society any longer, and we’re at the mercy of the much more powerful Sino-Indian economic bloc. A failed writer, Montese Crandall, wins the rights to novelize a trashy science fiction movie called The Four Fingers Of Death, in a chess game. The bulk of Moody’s 700-plus page book consists of Crandall’s sprawling novelization of this 2025 film, which is a remake of the 1963 classic The Crawling Hand.

On Time and Memory

Dan Green on Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder:

Is this, then, a poet’s novel only in the narrowest, most reductively descriptive sense (he’s a poet who has written a novel) or is it a novel informed by the sensibility and the assumptions about form and language more specific to poetry, and thus one to be judged according to those assumptions rather than those readers and reviewers usually themselves bring to the consideration of fiction? If the latter, should we consider Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder some kind of hybrid of poetry and fiction, a separate category of fiction (or of poetry), or should we simply look for it to bring to our reading of fiction something different, some strategy or emphasis we don’t ordinarily allow for in our reading of plot- or character-driven novels? . . .

In wondering whether time is, in fact “a line,” the narrator is also announcing the novel’s preoccupation with the relationship of time and memory, whether the latter always conditions the former, or whether it is possible to get an accurate sense of the former while thinking of it as a “line.” The narrator moves in circles recording his own and the Bombardier’s experiences, and the trio themselves essentially move in circles while trying to pin down the location of the Bombardier’s crash. The novel seems to be suggesting that time–or what really happened–is inevitably lost in the attempt to recall it, or to narrate it, even, or perhaps especially, something as momentous as World War II and the experiences of the “greatest generation” that fought it. But the last-minute discovery of the “real” site, however much stumbling around is involved in the process, left me, for one, feeling disappointed that Nichols didn’t fully extend this meditation on our perception of time through to the novel’s conclusion. It left me thinking that despite the haze the passing years had enveloped around the events of the war, the narrative was affirming that the haze was ultimately penetrable through determination and a little patience.

New Book: The Novel That Comes With a Warning Label

Interesting review at the Barnes & Noble Review of Joshua Cohen’s Witz, aka this year’s huge, difficult doorstop-of-a-novel. (For once it’s not a book in translation, unlike last year’s The Kindly Ones and the year before that’s 2666.)

Seems that more than a few people have gone out of their way to impress on me the sheer difficulty of this book. Continue Reading

New Book: The Secret History of Science Fiction

The Secret History of Science Fiction includes an early story by DeLillo, and that’s just the beginning. Ed Park in the LA Times:

“Ratner’s Star” is mentioned by James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel in the introduction to their new anthology, “The Secret History of Science Fiction” (Tachyon: 382 pp., $14.95). Engaging with Jonathan Lethem’s 1998 Village Voice article “Close Encounters: The Squandered Promise of Science Fiction,” in which Lethem imagined a world in which Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow” won SF’s Hugo Award in 1973, the editors contend that the distinction between science fiction and mainstream (or mainstream literary) fiction has grown fuzzier over the last decade and, indeed, has always been sort of fuzzy. (I think that’s what they’re saying.)

I’m mildly interested in this sort of debate, and I was going to talk about “The Secret History of Science Fiction,” which is brimming with aces — from Margaret Atwood’s strange “Homelanding” to George Saunders’ chilling lab report “93990” to Carter Scholz’s antic, deeper-than-it-looks “The Nine Billion Names of God” — and maybe also to laud the altogether winning tone of Continue Reading

New Book: The Line by Olga Grushin

Garrett Kenyon at LitKicks offers extremely high praise for The Line, Olga Grushin’s second novel. Here’s what Kenyon has to say about Grushin’s first novel:

Among those who did catch it, comparisons to Eastern luminaries like Nikolai Gogol and Mikhail Bulgakov became de rigueur, exceeded only by references to Vladimir Nabokov, the still-reigning American writer from Russia. Inevitably, when gifted new writers with foreign roots make a splash, they’re automatically compared to the most renowned of their countrymen. In Grushin’s case, the comparisons were apt. Her mastery of English (her third language) recalled the playful acrobatics of Nabokov, her ability to mine drollery from dreariness recalled Gogol, and like Bulgakov, she vividly crafted a realistic world infused with magic that, while less overt, was nearly as dazzling. Grushin’s genius was most evident when she ushered us into the minds of outwardly dull characters, where layer upon layer of random thoughts and perceptions mingled with fragments of memories and dreams to weave a mystical tapestry from the most banal experiences.

And now the second:

It begins when Anna encounters a short line, just forming in front of a closed kiosk. No one knows what they’re waiting for and an animated conversation revolves around what exactly “it” could be. Guesses are modest at first, basic necessities or trivial luxuries that might add a fleeting moment of color to their grim existence. But eventually, as their conjecture becomes a reflection of their innermost desires, Anna becomes enthralled. She tells herself it’s “silly” to waste time in a line without knowing what’s to be gained. But eventually, feeling “entitled to a surprise,” she gives in.

Oddly, no reference is made to Vladimir Sorokin’s The Queue, which sounds extremely similar.

New Book: Gasoline by Quim Monzo

Quim Monzó remains one of the nicer literary surprises I’ve experienced in the past few years. I was introduced to him when Frank Wilson, who was then editor of the Philly Inquirer’s book review section, assigned his novel The Enormity of the Tragedy to me for review. I had no idea who Monzó was (nor of his publisher, Peter Owen Publisher, another nice discovery), but the novel quickly won me over.

It didn’t take long, as the plot is a lot of fun, violent, sexy, and quietly surreal (all in all, a little like a literary adjunct to Pedro Almodovar). The book is about a middle-aged Catalan man who is suddenly granted enormous sexual powers, but said powers come at their own ironic cost. First of all, the protagonist’s erection never subsides, leading to some social difficulties. Secondly, and far more importantly, a doctor tells him that his erection is a side-effect of a disease that will kill him in 7 weeks. So the protagonist, who isn’t a terribly admirable figure, uses this as license to indulge his appetites as much as possible, since there will effectively be no consequences. (As you might have guessed by now, Monzó, by all reports, is quite the character. You can get an idea in this interview.)

This storyline is juxtaposed with that of the protagonist’s teenage stepdaughter, Continue Reading

New Book: The Frozen Rabbi by Steve Stern

Next Tuesday sees the (printed) publication of Steve Stern’s new novel, The Frozen Rabbi, which, indeed, involves a rabbi frozen in a middle-aged husband-and-wife’s basement freezer.

Algonquin Books is publishing it as a hardcover, but Tablet Magazine already published it as a ten-week online serial.

Reviews are coming in for the printed version. Here’s Mark Athitakis:

“The Tale of a Kite” is a very Stern-ian Stern story, typical of the kind of fiction he’s been writing for the past three decades. It’s funny, tinged with magical realism, concerned with the particulars of Judaism, and fixated on the collision between millennia-old spiritual traditions and contemporary American life. (It also takes place in Memphis, where most of his fiction is set.) This is no recipe for commercial success. In 2005 the New York Times ran a feature about Stern and his career, which has been long on critical acclaim but short on sales. The novel he was promoting at the time, The Angel of Forgetfulness, seemed poised to change his fortunes, thanks to especially glowing reviews and the support of a major publishing house. No dice: Apparently the audience for smirking literary fiction about Jewish-American life is limited to Elkin, Singer, and the “funny” Roth of the 1970s.

Critics may mourn this, but Stern seems unfazed. His potent, slyly provocative new novel, The Frozen Rabbi, insists that commitment to a theme isn’t the same thing as being in a rut. In essence, the novel is a super-sized version of “The Tale of a Kite,” expanded to address themes of assimilation, love, and anti-Semitism. And like that story, it’s built on an absurd yet appealingly simple premise. Bernie Karp, a 15-year-old boy, discovers that the freezer in his parents’ basement contains the body of a rabbi who’s been encased in ice for more than a hundred years.

New Book: Nox by Anne Carson; Or Sebaldian Book-Box Object

Nox by Anne Carson, just published by New Directions, does sound quite a bit like a project Sebald would have applauded. Here’s a review:

Of course, we cannot, though in Nox Carson gives it perhaps the best try I’ve ever witnessed. What she arrives at is all the more impressive for how little she has to go on. Nox is a reproduction of the scrapbook Carson put together after her brother, whom she hadn’t seen for over twenty years, died in 2000, just as she was planning to visit him after a recent reconnection. A collage of words, stamps, old letters, photographs, and artwork in various mediums — all copied with amazing effect onto a continuous accordion-folded length of paper and encased in what transcends its boxy gray cardboard form to become nothing less than a sarcophagus — it’s Carson’s “epitaph” to her lost sibling. On its cover, he stands guard in a photo taken at about ten years of age, obscured even then by a pair of dark swim goggles that cover most of his face. He “ran away in 1978, rather than go to jail,” she writes. “He was traveling on a false passport and living under other people’s names. This isn’t hard to arrange. It is irremediable.” This fragment, one of the few pieces of hard information we get, appears on four pages in a row, accompanied by various snippets of the one letter he wrote home to Carson’s mother during his absence, as Carson tries to give her story a start.

Michael Dirda also reviews:

The assembled “text” of “Nox” itself is a mosaic of memories of Michael — both the “starry lad he was” and the “windswept spirit” he became — illustrated with family photographs, bits of artwork and various typographical scraps and orts. To this personalia, Carson juxtaposes her reflections on the nature of historical truth, according to Herodotus. “We want,” she says, “other people to have a centre, a history, an account that makes sense. We want to be able to say This is what he did and Here’s why. It forms a lock against oblivion. Does it?”

New Book: Symphony in White by Adriana Lisboa

This week sees the publication of an interesting book from Texas Tech Press, which is always good for an interesting novel or two in translation each season. It is Symphony in White by Brazilian writer Adriana Lisboa.

Not a whole lot of coverage of this book so far, though I did find this review in Boulder Daily Camera. Ad of course there’s Texas Tech’s info page. There’s also some info on the book on this bio page for Lisboa.

The Latin American Mixtape

5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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