Fiction

  • Can’t and Won’t

    Lydia Davis

    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

    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

    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

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  • The Goldfinch

    Donna Tartt

    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

    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

    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

  • Night Film

    Marisha Pessl

    Page-turning thrillers aren’t my usual pick, but this one was entertaining and at times hard to put down. The creepiness centers around a filmmaker who creates horrors so awfully scary, most of them were only released in underground venues (sometimes literally, like screenings in Paris’s catacombs). As the book opens, his daughter is found dead of an apparent suicide. A reporter who was attempting to write an exposé of the father months ago and wound up losing his career by saying too much in a live interview decides to ramp up his investigation again, suspecting that her death is not what it seems. He collects two younger sidekicks, somewhat improbably, and then they all run all over the place collecting...more

  • Vampires in the Lemon Grove

    Karen Russell

    I heard Karen Russell read from part of the story “Reeling for the Empire” at a Fiction Addiction reading last year, and I didn’t feel too inclined to read the whole story afterward. But I found my way to this collection regardless of that insufficiency of interest and will admit that I appreciated that story more hearing it in my own head. Russell is at her best for me when she’s creepy and sinister, and I get a bit less intrigued when her quirky humor is dominating. Though I have noticed lately that quirky doesn’t appeal to me as much as it used to.

    Russell’s language is occasionally captivating, though it doesn’t always make sense in context. The...more

  • I, etcetera

    Susan Sontag

    After reading Against Interpretation, these stories are as cerebral and absent of symbolic content as I expected. Sontag plays with form rather than creating complex plots laden with meanings, and there isn’t an extensive amount of descriptive detail. Nearly all the stories are written from some kind of first person perspective, though not in the traditional narrative sense in which it enables a feeling that the reader is somehow inside that character’s mind, privy to any passing thought. In “Old Complaints Revisited,” the narrator admits to purposefully obfuscating their identity:

    But I don’t want to go into too much detail. I’m afraid of your losing the sense of my problem as a general one.

    That’s why I have

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  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

    Maria Semple

    There are many unbelievable things in this epistolary novel inspired by Maria Semple’s move from LA to Seattle, but maybe the biggest is that average people would write such long, detailed emails — and, at times, faxes? Semple found Seattle’s crunchy, sustainable culture hard to stomach at first, which is how the book begins with a report card from a private school where the grades are all phrased around “excellence” so as not to erode any kids’ self-esteem. These digs at West Coast liberalism can be fairly entertaining, but it makes it a bit harder to develop much connection to the characters through the “satire of privilege.”

    The family at the center of the book includes the stunningly brilliant child Bee,...more

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