Fiction

  • The False Friend

    Myla Goldberg

    Image of The False Friend

    I was surprised that I hadn’t heard much about this novel from the writer of one of my favorites, Bee Season, which maybe someone else would have considered a really bad sign. But I enjoyed her second novel, Wickett’s Remedy, and have a fond memory of attending a reading for that book where she talked in detail about the research she did at the NYPL to learn about the 1918 influenza pandemic. Her appreciation of the pneumatic tubes in the library was especially endearing.

    The False Friend starts out on a good, mysterious note. A woman suddenly has a revelation about a terrible event that happened twenty years ago, which involved the disappearance of her best...more

  • Other People We Married

    Emma Straub

    Image of Other People We Married

    Summer, with all its distractions, is generally an opportune time for reading short fiction that you can digest in small segments. This collection seems like a particularly good fit, as many of the stories have themes of travel. At some point I thought to myself that it was strange that two of them had a character with the same name; only after finishing and reading a few reviews did it come clear that this wasn’t a coincidence — I’d actually missed that the character recurred in three stories. Summer and its distractions?

    The stories follow a pretty traditional short story structure: just enough info to know who you’re dealing with; a simple conflict; and a quiet revelation, but not necessarily a resolution....more

  • How Should a Person Be?

    Sheila Heti

    Image of How Should a Person Be?: A Novel from Life

    I might have skipped this semi-autobiographical novel entirely if I’d only read James Wood’s rather negative opinion in his New Yorker review. Luckily a friend pointed me toward Johanna Fateman’s Bookforum review, and I reconsidered. It’s a strangely tricky book, as I suspect readers will either relate or entirely not-relate to the character Sheila’s ambition to be the best person she can be. But those who do relate may enjoy how she explores this conceit, while others may be disgusted by the ugliness of it and what that, indirectly, says about them.

    The story doesn’t have a traditional structure with its confessional nature and sections written in play form and emails written as lists and one notably...more

  • Man Walks into a Room

    Nicole Krauss

    Image of Man Walks Into a Room

    Not long after unpacking my books after moving, a friend asked for a book recommendation, and I pulled The History of Love off the shelf, which reminded me that I had put this one, Krauss’s first novel, on my list a while back. The History of Love has stayed a favorite of mine for several years and her next book Great House treads in pretty similar territory; so it was a surprise how different this book felt.

    Most of the story is from the perspective of a man who was found wandering in the desert, with no memory of who he is. This turns out to be caused by a tumor, but after surgery only part of his...more

  • 1Q84

    Haruki Murakami

    Image of 1Q84: 3 Volume Boxed Set (Vintage International)

    Waiting for the paperback version of 1Q84 meant being rewarded with a manageable three-volume set and also hearing the mixture of enjoyment and ambivalence that early readers already worked through. Since I’ve read so much of Murakami’s work, I knew I’d read it regardless of the overall less-than-stellar trend in responses. Most of the book was entertaining to read, but the length is a tough aspect. At times it feels long for the point of being long, like content is just padded on to draw the story out longer. Murakami loves the banalities of his characters’ lives, so this level of detail is not entirely out of place in his work. But there were also moments of inconsistency and...more

  • The Bathroom

    Jean-Philippe Toussaint

    Image of The Bathroom

    Sometimes when you’re stuck with a book you can’t get into and can’t let go of, the best thing that can happen is to stumble upon something else that will give you the route to move on to the next one. In this case, I’d been carrying around Zadie Smith’s On Beauty for several weeks, untouched beyond the first twenty pages, before a stoop-side giveaway presented this novella as an alternative. While the integrity of unfamiliar books abandoned to the dangers of the street is inherently suspect, tastes are subjective. And I did come to The Woman in the Dunes through a box of books left on a street.

    The Bathroom is written in such short sections that the...more

  • Netherland

    Joseph O’Neill

    Image of Netherland: A Novel

    Somewhere on the internet, Netherland was compared to Open City, and I swapped my copy of the Teju Cole book with my friend’s copy of this one so we could compare our comparisons. There are a lot of parallels from the post-9/11 New York City setting to the searching meanderings of the main characters, though the main difference is probably that Netherland has a more traditional progression that ends on a note of resolution. In general, a lot more happens and the isolation of the protagonist from those around him is less extreme for the most part, though much of those isolation is equally profound.

    In Netherland, the Dutch-born ex-pat joins a cricket team after his wife and son...more

  • Another Country

    James Baldwin

    Image of Another Country (Penguin Modern Classics)

    I’d been reading this book off and on for about six months, having gone through a few periods of being too distracted to read, before I decided it was time to hunker down and finish it.

    It’s a bit tough in the beginning since the best character tragically exits the scene in the first section, and there is a bit of a grieving period. It takes a while to see what the other characters have to offer — through their raw, often ugly emotions — and then by the time you get behind them, there are layers of betrayals to contend with at the end.

    There is so much in here, I’m sure I will read this again eventually. I think it’s more of...more

  • Open City

    Teju Cole

    Image of Open City: A Novel

    Comparisons to W. G.Sebald alone sold me on this debut novel from this Nigerian-American writer. His character Julius also grew up in Nigeria and now lives in New York City practicing psychiatry; in his spare time he wanders the city (and at times travels to other cities to wander) in contemplation, revisiting events from both near and distant pasts of his own and sometimes his patients’. It’s a story with a light plot, and I imagine all the meanderings are elevated with a decent understanding of the Manhattan landmarks. At least I felt more attuned to places I could picture from my own memory.

    Julius is kind of frustrating character because it seems sometimes that he is too passive...more

  • A Death in the Family

    James Agee

    Image of A Death in the Family (Penguin Classics)

    I was around the corner from my usual library branch when I finished The Stranger’s Child and felt that I should get another book in my hands promptly. Since reading Let Us Now Praise Famous Men last year, I’d never officially added this to my reading list, but it was on the right shelf at the right time.

    Agee died of a heart attack while writing this book, so Agee’s protégé David McDowell edited together pieces of manuscript into a novel and published the novel posthumously. About three years ago English scholar Michael A. Lofaro published a new version aiming to more accurately represent Agee’s intentions — largely by making the story chronological. This seems kind of funny since...more

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