Fiction

  • A Book of Common Prayer

    Joan Didion

    Image of A Book of Common Prayer

    In the realm of novels by Joan Didion, Play It as It Lays seems to be the crowd favorite, but after reading that one I didn’t feel incredibly compelled to read another of hers. I suppose I needed one to appear at the right time, and so it did when I was buying some books for vacation and found a remaindered import of this one. It’s a cleanly honed story, narrated by an American expatriate living in the fictional Central American country. While this character is interesting enough in her own right, her focus is bearing witness to another norteamericana who found her way to Boca Grande. Within the first few paragraphs she summarizes:

    Here is what happened: she

    ...more
  • Too Much Happiness

    Alice Munro

    Image of Too Much Happiness: Stories

    I’ve read so many of Alice Munro’s stories, some of which were pre-booklog and some that I didn’t bother to write up at the time. This collection feels like a particularly strong batch of stories, if a bit more vicious overall, compared to other collections — so much death and injury!

    The highlight is definitely the story that won the title, “Too Much Happiness,” which is about the Russian mathematician Sophia Kovalevsky. Munro explains in the acknowledgments that she discovered Sophia while researching something else and then commenced reading everything she could find about her — in particular she notes that Little Sparrow “enthralled [her] beyond all others.”

    The story recounts the last days of Sophia’s life, with a few earlier...more

  • The Sound of Things Falling

    Juan Gabriel Vásquez

    Image of The Sound of Things Falling: A Novel

    Jolted by memories triggered by an escaped hippopotamus from the abandoned zoo that was once owned by the drug lord Pablo Escobar, a man recollects on a series of events that altered his life to such a traumatic degree that he struggled to cope years later. Though the story is focused on this law professor named Antonio who unwittingly started a friendship with an older man while playing billiards in the afternoon after his lectures, it shows how the drug wars, especially in the early years of the 1980s, affected people in Colombia, even those not directly tied to the drug trade. Antonio’s hesitant friendship with Laverde eventually lead to him being beside him when gun toting motorcyclists shot him...more

  • The Luminaries

    Eleanor Catton

    Image of The Luminaries: A Novel (Man Booker Prize)

    Earlier this year, I stacked my library holds with popular books from 2013, but I was a bit hesitant to add The Luminaries. I have a pretty narrow threshold for historical fiction, yet clearly people loved it. With Eleanor Catton being the youngest winner of the Man Booker Prize, ultimately my curiosity won out. Though when I finally waited my way to the top of the hold list, the book’s second distinction as Booker winner suddenly loomed and heavily, as it’s also the longest book to win so far. It wasn’t too ago that I breezed through The Goldfinch, and within the shadow of that memory, the first twenty pages felt like a literary eternity. But I gave it...more

  • Can’t and Won’t

    Lydia Davis

    Image of Can't and Won't: Stories

    I think what I love about Lydia Davis is how she finds significance and narrative in the banalities of the every day. I know most people consider recounting dreams to be one of the most socially unacceptable things you can do, perhaps just below subway grooming, but rarely do I dislike a dream story. Whether or not you try to find the subconscious logic in it, the underlying humor of dream narratives are endlessly entertaining. Hence it follows that my favorite parts in this collection are the dream stories, some of which are hers and some those of family and friends.

    The Piano
    We are about to buy a new piano. Our old upright has a crack all the

    ...more
  • Dept. of Speculation

    Jenny Offill

    Image of Dept. of Speculation

    This slim novel could easily be read in a day, but I happened to read part of it on a Saturday and the rest on a Sunday morning, when I woke up far earlier than usual. It was the perfect thing for a quiet morning, the sky still lightening to day. While I’m sure some people would try to call this a lyric essay, as championed in Reality Hunger, Jenny Offill isn’t a fan of the term, which she talks about in her interview on The Bat Segundo Show. Unlike The Self Unstable, this has a stronger narrative while still reading a lot like poetry. Offill mentions in that interview how she probably reads more poetry than...more

  • Bark

    Lorrie Moore

    Image of Bark: Stories

    I’ve been under this misguided impression that I’ve read a few things by Lorrie Moore when actually I have read just one novel, a long time ago, during such a hectic period that even my notes conjure up very little to remember it now. While these stories circle around themes of disappointment and regret, there’s still a wry humor and playfulness with language. I like how David Gates put it in his New York Times review:

    Her characters banter and wisecrack their way through their largely mirthless lives in screwball-comedy style but for them it’s a compulsive tic whose aim is sometimes self-protection (utterance that warns others off and forms a protective shell) and sometimes just to fill

    ...more
  • The Goldfinch

    Donna Tartt

    Image of The Goldfinch: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction)

    The Goldfinch has become one of the most talked-about novels I can recall in recent years, especially now, coming off its Pulitzer win. It’s the most successful, post-9/11 fiction where an actual experience of terrorism is portrayed that I’ve read — though since the book suggests that its bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art replaces 9/11 as the major event in NYC (I can’t recall any mention of the WTC), this gives room for an exploration of the notion of such trauma without treading on the inviolable ground of real-life events.

    Most reviews I read made Dickensian comparisons, perhaps with a garnish of Salinger, which rings true. The Goldfinch is seriously epic, but the hundreds (and hundreds) of pages...more

  • The Lowland

    Jhumpa Lahiri

    Image of The Lowland

    When I saw this book was coming out last year, I assumed I’d missed a book from Lahiri since her short story collection Unaccustomed Earth that came out in 2008. But this is the first book of hers to be published since then; the meticulousness of it suggests that time was spent finely honing.

    The word that repeatedly comes to mind when I think of how to describe this story is quiet. So much of it is comprised of the silence and distance between characters, shaded by the loneliness they cling to out of pride and regret. The Lowland starts as a story about two brothers who are very close but are also a bit competitive. Or at...more

  • Americanah

    Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

    Image of Americanah (Ala Notable Books for Adults)

    After reading some rather lackluster fiction lately, starting Adichie’s third novel felt similarly rejuvenating to the spring-like days that have arrived as we near the end of a long winter. Centered around high school sweethearts, Ifemelu and Obinze, Americanah traces the start of their relationship and the turn it takes when Ifemelu leaves Nigeria amidst ongoing teacher strikes to study in the US. As the book begins, she is older, planning to return home to Nigeria and reconnecting with Obinze, as they’ve been out of touch for many years. Ifemelu is living at Princeton on a fellowship and goes to Newark to get her hair braided. This scene in the salon becomes the recurring central support of the narrative,...more

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