Leaving the Atocha Station was an unexpected pleasure, a book that I picked up uncertainly and felt won over by. Even though I was conscious of limiting my expectations (or at least trying to) with this novel, Lerner’s second, I still felt disappointed that I wasn’t as engaged with this one as I’d hoped I would be.
There are similar themes and pretenses in both books, like questions of authenticity — though here they are framed more from the perspective of intended fraudulence rather than being discovered as accidentally inauthentic. It’s much clearer in this novel how similar the main character is to the author, but 10:04 treads into autobiographical metaﬁction territory, most clearly when the short story Lerner had published...more
I had a hard time starting another book after Dust, and I waited a few days before picking up Nobody is Ever Missing. Lacey’s rambling, run-on paragraphs are in every way diﬀerent from Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s meticulously honed prose, so it was an especially jarring transition. This is also not a complicated book; it’s about a woman who abruptly leaves her decent life in Manhattan with her husband to drift in New Zealand for months. While the character Elyria seems to have some self-awareness on the page, the story is narrated with some distance of time, so it’s much too late to inﬂuence her often panicked actions. I feel like the whole story can be summed up with this...more
Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
A dense and beautiful novel, Dust is largely focused on one splintered family and how their stories are interwoven with violent events in Kenya’s post-colonial history. Owuor writes with emotional intensity, and while her language feels lush and expansive overall, much of the narrative is peppered with lyrical fragments. The rhythm of these staccato interludes can take some time to grasp, but once it becomes familiar, the story progresses smoothly, even as the cadence varies. The characters largely defy stereotypes — all are fractured in unique ways — and there are few moments that arrive with a feel of expectancy or inevitability. Dust resists being a historical record, and is instead concentrated more on personal experiences of Kenya’s politics, so it’s not a comprehensive...more
This is the archetypal modern African novel, and funnily enough it wound up on my list partially from Aaron Bady’s list of African novels to read before you die — posted in response to a list he found to be predictable. Of course this book is on the latter list, but I’ll be following it up with one of Bady’s suggestions.
Things Fall Apart presents a bit of a challenge because the main character Okonkwo is largely unsympathetic. He is strong and hard-working but also hyper-masculine and ruthless. He laments that his oldest son Nwoye is weak-willed and wishes his favorite daughter was a boy instead so she could follow in his footsteps, as his son likely will not. The ﬁrst...more
Indie rock fans of a certain age might know John Darnielle better as the frontman of (or the solo act known as, depending on the era) The Mountain Goats. Wolf in White Van is his second work of ﬁction; he previously wrote a YA novel called Master of Reality about the Black Sabbath album for the 33⅓ series. Some readers of both say these two works tread on similar ground: troubled adolescents, heavy metal tapes. This one seems a little more developed and intricately woven.
Sean Phillips was 17 when a terrible accident left him disﬁgured, and his only form of work as an adult has been creating and maintaining games that are...more
Some ballads begin as your letter does: ‘You, whom I’ve loved so much…’ This past tense, with the present still resounding so close, is as sad as the ends of parties, when the lights are turned oﬀ and you remain alone, watching the couples go oﬀ into the dark streets. It’s over: nothing else is to be expected, and yet you stay there indeﬁnitely, knowing that nothing more will happen. You have notes like a guitar’s; at times, like a chorus that repeats: ‘I could not have given you happiness.’ It’s an old song from long ago, like a dried ﬂower…Does the past become an old thing so quickly?
Sauvageot wrote Commentary in a sanitarium not long before her death...more
In some ways a bleak novella, Welch’s writing is so elegant that I found this hard to put down, even when the sadness felt very deep. Since it’s a largely interior story from the perspective of a self-destructive guy, it rambles and dips into the past in ways that only heighten a sense of being lost. It takes a while to ﬁnd out what factors from the past are actually playing out in the wayward adventures of his present. The most profound revelation near the end is largely unexpected and speaks to the power of stories, and yet how easily they can be lost.
Louis Erdrich wrote the introduction to this edition, starting out by saying that it should have...more
I can’t say I was at all familiar with Stegner when I found this book on a giveaway pile with two books that I loved. This could be a rather melancholy book to some as it’s written by a retired literary agent supposedly cajoled into penning his memoirs at his wife’s behest, despite feeling this “implies an arrogance, or conﬁdence, or compulsion to justify oneself” that he doesn’t claim. But I think ultimately there is a sense of resigned hope, even if he does start out describing himself like this:
As for Joe Allston, he has been a wisecracking fellow traveler in the lives of other people, and a tourist in his own. There has not been one signiﬁcant event...more
The only other Marilynne Robinson book I’ve read is the only one that doesn’t involve this same group of characters in Gilead, Iowa. Though the third in that series, Lila deﬁnitely can stand alone. From what I’ve read, this is somewhat of a retelling of at least parts of the same stories found in the other two, just from a diﬀerent character’s perspective — instead of sewing contrasting points of view in one story, Robinson gives them entire books. While part of me is interested to read the others, I so enjoyed reading from Lila’s perspective that I’m a little hesitant to take on a diﬀerent angle. I suspect I’ve already read the book that I will like the most.
Sometimes I’m surprised when it’s hard to write about books I really like, not being able to pinpoint what it is that I appreciate about them. It seems it should be easy when you’ve enjoyed something. Inferno is subtitled “a poet’s novel,” but also is kind of a memoir; it deﬁes that straightforward categorization that makes it easy to synopsize. Other people have described it as “messy” or “slippery,” and, despite having qualities of a coming-of-age story, it zigzags through time and avoids the strictly linear framework — or even that postmodern, multilinear progression where the story steadily moves back and forth between eras, still in a forward-like movement — that you might expect. When I look back on what I’ve been reading over...more