Monthly Archives: January 2013

Middle-School Angst So Funny That It Hurts: ‘Troublemaker’ at the Berkeley Rep

Troublemaker or The Freakin Kick-A Adventures of Bradley Boatright, the hilarious play from Dan LeFranc that made its world premiere in January at the Berkeley Repertory Theater, depicts the misadventures of its 12-year-old protagonist through comic-book action and snappy dialogue. But the comic play, directed by Lila Neugebauer, also carries a sobering, underlying message about the world an entire generation of American children inhabits.

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The Everyday Bizzare: Zsuzsi Gartner’s ‘Better Living Through Plastic Explosives’

Zsuzsi Gartner’s new story collection, Better Living Through Plastic Explosives (Pintail, 224 pages), is a fun book in the best sense: a treasure of tears, laughs, sighs, and smiles. From her opening story, “Summer of the Flesh Eater,” to the title story that closes the collection, Gartner takes us on a creative and bizzare ride in and around British Columbia, awakening us to the marvels of the ordinary. Houses are swallowed up by the earth, recovering terrorists sweat over backyard gardens, a couple speaks the language of Swedish furniture, angels go to high school, and a group of adopted Chinese …Continue reading

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The Weight of Her Husband’s Long Friendship: Joan Frank’s ‘Make It Stay’

As love connects us to our closest friends, these friends can’t help but define us as we grow older. Over time, even the lovers and other friends of these people we hold close become intertwined in our lives. Joan Frank’s fifth book of fiction, her new novel, Make It Stay (The Permanent Press, 160 pages), examines the close friendship between two men, and how their love grows in the face of old age, spouses, children, and tragedy. Neil, a Scottish immigrant, finds his way to the quiet Northern California town of Mira Flores. He meets Mike, the boisterous owner of …Continue reading

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The West as ‘Lonely, Heartbreaking, Scary, Sacred’: Q&A with Rubén Martínez

In her 1985 book, Desert Passages: Encounters with the American Deserts, historian Patricia Nelson Limerick pondered the reactions to the desert from people such as Mark Twain, explorer and surveyor John C. Frémont, irrigation promoter William Ellsworth Smythe, and art historian John Van Dyke. In her introduction she writes, “While the actual landscape is of considerable importance in this story, the intellectual focus rests on the different appearance and meaning available to different viewers.” That passage could describe the running theme of Rubén Martínez’s riveting new book, Desert America: Boom and Bust in the New Old West (Metropolitan Books). “The …Continue reading

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History Repeats and Repeats and Repeats: Will Self’s ‘Umbrella’

Will Self’s new novel, Umbrella (Grove Press, 397 pages), is a whirlwind journey through the lives of four characters living in three different eras. A Modernist novel featuring frenetic stream of consciousness writing, Self defies convention and digs deep into the social issues plaguing the 20th century. Audrey Death matures in London at the turn of the century, when underground railroads and automobiles were changing the landscape of the city. Following World War I, which splits Audrey from her brothers Albert and Stanley, she suffers a mental breakdown. Later diagnosed with encephalities lethargica, Audrey is stashed away in Friern Mental …Continue reading

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Coming Out of ‘Sleep’ and Back with ‘Rage’: Q&A with Adam Mansbach

As a novelist, Adam Mansbach had been doing all right. His Angry Black White Boy (Broadway) was named a best book of 2005 by the San Francisco Chronicle, and The End of the Jews (Spiegel & Grau) won a 2008 California Book Award. And although Mansbach now considers it among the fond embarrassments of his youth, even his 2002 debut, Shackling Water (Anchor), was good enough for Library Journal to liken him to James Baldwin. So it seemed like the last thing Mansbach needed to do was swerve into new literary territory, particularly the limited realm of children’s books which …Continue reading

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Christopher Hitchens

Vanessa Veselka is the author of the novel Zazen, which won the 2012 PEN/Bingham prize for fiction. Her work has appeared in Tin House, the Atlantic, Bust, Bitch, and other publications. And according to her bio, Veselka, who lives in Portland, Ore., has been at various times a teenage runaway, an expatriate, a union organizer, and a student of paleontology.

Her story “Christopher Hitchens” appears in ZYZZYVA’s 2012 Winter issue. Both funny and chilling, it tells of a young mother desperately looking to lose all her beliefs with the help of Lyle, an expert in such things who has a face like Eric Clapton’s. (“You’d never recognize him without context,” says the narrator.)

“Christopher Hitchens” is the second of three connected stories. The first, “Just Before Elena,” ran in Tin House No. 53. The third story is slated to run in SWINK.

The following is an excerpt from “Christopher Hitchens.”

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‘A Great Scandal Is a Masterpiece’: Q&A with ‘Forged’ Author Jonathon Keats

Interviewing your spouse might sound a little strange, but I’ve done worse. I’ve translated him. Several years ago Jonathon Keats published a collection of fables, The Book of the Unknown (Random House), and I translated the book into Italian. As an experienced literary translator, I found it exciting to have “my” author sitting next to me during the translation process. I could ask him any question I wanted, and I could tell him when I didn’t like his answers. Now that he’s published a new, non-fiction book – Forged: Why Fakes Are the Great Art of Our Age, which just …Continue reading

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Serving and Defying the Tyranny of Motive

David Corbett, who lives in Vallejo, Calif., is a former private investigator and is the acclaimed author of four novels: The Devil’s Redhead, Done for a Dime (a New York Times Notable Books), Blood of Paradise (nominated for an Edgar), and Do They Know I’m Running? His most recent book is The Art of Character: Creating Memorable Characters for Fiction, Film, and TV (Penguin). At nearly 400 pages, The Art of Character, which publishes in late January, is a generous serving of Corbett’s knowledge on the craft of writing. Part reference book, part volume of essays, it’s insightful, entertaining, funny, …Continue reading

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