Fiction

  • Let the Great World Spin

    Colum McCann

    Image of Let the Great World Spin: A Novel

    I was drawn to this book based on its setting in 1970s New York City, specifically set around the day Philippe Petit made his World Trade Center tightrope walk; curiously the tightrope interludes in the book felt mostly unnecessary and distracting. The shorter sections that only have the tightrope connection to tie them with the rest of the book hence feel entirely disconnected.

    Despite that, there remain several entwined stories that build well together through the book, even when voiced through less than sympathetic characters. McCann captured a range of experiences convincingly. It was a bit of a tough book as the first section felt the most compelling and ended quite dramatically. It made it feel like the climax...more

  • A Visit from the Goon Squad

    Jennifer Egan

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    There is some semantic debate whether this is a collection of stories involving the same characters or a multilinear novel, but either way you decide to categorize it, the book involves one network of characters over a long period of time. The beginning skips back and forth in the past until a certain point where it charges into the future — i. e., into the 2020s. Egan makes enough casual references to major events during the different time periods to allow her to paint the future in the same cursory way, suggesting the ways the world has evolved without going into big details in order not to distract what has happened with the characters. The stories/chapters are also tied together through similar...more

  • The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

    Lydia Davis

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    I picked up All the King’s Horses as a break from this and found that a longer narrative really hit the spot. Afterward I decided to finish up the stories in the section I was reading here and come back to the rest of the collection later, only to discover somewhat disappointingly that there were just a handful until that next break. But I’m sticking to the plan.

    Davis most notably writes a lot of short fiction, sometimes just a paragraph or even a sentence in length. Often her characters aren’t given names; sometimes the story will be from the perspective of a couple and the whole thing is written as “we” and “us,” and it’s not annoying. She...more

  • All the King’s Horses

    Michèle Bernstein

    Image of All the King's Horses (Semiotext(e) / Native Agents)

    Most of the winter I’ve been buried in The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis, which is excellent yet deceptively dense for short fiction. I needed something a little vapid as a break, and this book claims to have been inspired by Françoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse. Bernstein allegedly wrote it to generate some money for the Situationist International, and it’s most likely a fictionalized account of her relationship with the group’s de facto leader, Guy Debord. “Geneviéve” traces the dual affairs she and her husband entertain from the summer until the fall: the young lady for him that they find together and the young man she finds on her own for herself. The arcs and dramas of these short-lived...more

  • Pretty Monsters

    Kelly Link

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    It’s almost exactly four years since I read most of Link’s Stranger Things Happen, and I experienced similar hit-and-miss responses to these stories. Sometimes the concept of the story is more entertaining than the execution, and the writing is often too simplistic and almost juvenile, though I discovered after finishing the last story that this a YA book. I guess that’s why all the stories are focused on younger people!

    There’s a story centered around a mysterious TV show that airs irregularly and is set in “The Free People’s World-Tree Library,” a library that’s an entire world of its own with forests and oceans; another involving a handbag that contains an entire village or a vicious dog,...more

  • Bats or Swallows

    Teri Vlassopoulos

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    I’ve known Teri for years via the zine world, and it’s exciting to see her first book published. These stories are largely melancholy, lined with the poignancy of deaths and disappointments. They feel open-ended, most likely because the characters without fail need to reach a point of internal conclusion rather than exacting any kind of influence on the world around them.

    See also: “Baby Teeth” on Joylandmore

  • Great House

    Nicole Krauss

    Image of Great House: A Novel

    I enjoyed reading the The History of Love so much a few years ago, and it remains one of those books I will think to recommend when someone is grasping for something solid to embark on. Krauss treads on some similar themes in Great House, weaving a narrative centered around a desk, perhaps once owned by Federico García Lorca, that manages to pass mostly between writers on a mysterious journey. There are several threads throughout the book — the one with the most tenuous connection to the rest being the one I found the least engaging. The others draw parallels and intersections in at times predictable, but no less pleasing, ways. The structure of multiple voices presented as a puzzle that...more

  • Sunset Park

    Paul Auster

    Image of Sunset Park: A Novel

    I was excited about this book since it is largely set in my neighborhood, plus I always enjoy reading Paul Auster. While the book is definitely entertaining, the writing feels a little rough around the edges, at times even clunky. His description of Sunset Park as a neighborhood during this time period — the 2008 economic collapse — is largely inaccurate, though the other NYC neighborhood descriptions are perfectly evocative. The story is more of a straight forward narrative than other books of his that I’ve read, though there are threads pulled through each of the separate story lines that are mysteriously not tied together in the end. But that sort of lingering suspense at the end of a story isn’t that interesting....more

  • Between the Acts

    Virginia Woolf

    Image of Between the Acts (Annotated)

    Jacob’s Room is maybe my favorite Woolf novel, with its dark look at WWI and the futility of life; this novel shows England just before its entry into WWII, in a village hours outside of London, where a fragmented family is hosting a pageant on the grounds of their modest estate. It’s not as dark, but instead eerily quiet — the calm before the storm, you might say, as everyone wonders if the weather (“Variable winds; fair average temperature; rain at times”) will hold for the play to be outside instead of in the barn.

    The play itself is ridiculous, attempting to tell the history of England in a few acts, some of them seemingly just tales of romance,...more

  • Anthropology of an American Girl

    Hilary Thayer Hamann

    Image of Anthropology of an American Girl: A Novel

    Very Short List made this sound so good (a well-crafted classic!), and the NYPL hold list was hundreds of people deep, so when a copy finally came through nearly four months later, I was expecting a pretty awesome coming-of-age story based in the late 70s and early 80s in New York (the city and east Long Island). The story isn’t so much non-linear as episodic with not all the episodes following the chronology, the jumps aren’t distracting but lack purpose. It’s also tediously detailed, including elements that seem to be for atmosphere but generally come across as unnecessary. A quarter of the way in to the 600-page tome, I was losing steam and did something I don’t usually...more

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