Fiction

  • 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 least...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 last...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 made a

    ...more
  • 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, recipient...more

  • Leaving the Atocha Station

    Ben Lerner

    If I was a poet, I had become one because poetry, more intensely than any other practice, could not evade its anachronism and marginality and so constituted a kind of acknowledgment of my own preposterousness, admitting my bad faith in good faith, so to speak. I could lie about my interest in the literary response to war because by making a mockery of the notion that literature could be commensurate with mass murder I was not defaming the victims of the latter, but the dilettantes of the former, rejecting the political claims repeatedly made by the so-called left for a poetry radical only in its unpopularity.

    It’s clear early on that either the insufferably narcissistic poet that centers this story will...more

  • A Tale for the Time Being

    Ruth Ozeki

    I hadn’t thought about Ruth Ozeki much in the many years since I read My Year of Meats. A Tale for the Time Being has some comparable elements, including multiple points of view and semi-parallel story lines as well as similarities to Ozeki’s life and identity. Though this one takes it a bit further with a main character named Ruth who lives with her husband Oliver on an island in British Columbia, apparently similar to the one Ozeki lives in when she’s not in New York City.

    Ruth is struggling to work on a memoir about her mother’s long illness and death when she discovers a lunchbox washed up on the shore containing several mysterious things, including a diary from...more

  • Housekeeping

    Marilynne Robinson

    I remember hearing about Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead years ago, probably when it was published in 2004, and it’s probably still on some misplaced reading list somewhere. But it wasn’t until friends were recently appreciating Housekeeping, her first, so effusively that I was reminded.

    The western mountain town Fingerbone is almost a character on its own with its glacial lake that has claimed both the grandfather (through a “spectacular train wreck”) and the mother (who succeeded in driving off a cliff into it on her second attempt) of two sisters. They remain in the family house being raised by a progression of family members, eventually settling into an uneasy life with their aunt Sylvie, a drifter at heart. The family...more

  • Pale Horse, Pale Rider

    Katherine Anne Porter

    I stole this book for my own reading list from the responses to a friend’s request for book suggestions not too long ago. While trying to determine what to read and skimming through my list, I browsed some synopses and reviews of Pale Horse, Pale Rider and found this comment: “Katherine Anne Porter is a woman who spent a great deal of time fretting over semicolons” — the deciding factor in adding this to my library queue.

    Porter considered these three stories short novels, but I feel they are more like long shorts — a subtle difference. It’s hard to tell if they are ordered by ascending caliber or if they are all equally good and they build on each other. I feel like “Pale...more

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