Monthly Archives: July 2013

Restless in the Wilds of Eastern Idaho: David Kranes’s ‘The Legend’s Daughter’

From rainbow trout jumping in the Salmon River to watering holes on the edge of McCall Lake, each of the ten stories in author and playwright David Kranes’s The Legend’s Daughter (Torrey House Press, 172 pages) transports the reader to the wilderness of Eastern Idaho. While Kranes renders a common setting in each story, the collection is not simply a detailed portrait of Idaho, but an examination of the lives of restless people seeking to escape from their lives and find peace. In “The Man Who Might Have Been My Father,” a fifth-grader and his mother strike out on a …Continue reading

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Significant as Medieval Texts, They’re Bawdy and Lively, Too: ‘The Fabliaux’

Nathaniel E. Dubin’s collection of Old French comic tales in translation, The Fabliaux, is as deceptive as one of the fabliaux themselves. Published by Liveright, an imprint of Norton, in a sumptuous and hefty hardback (almost 1,000 pages long, including Dubin’s bibliography and explanatory notes), the elegantly designed front cover has the title gold-stamped and centered on a prominent black cross; even the couple demurely posed in a bed above the cross (taken from a medieval manuscript) have gold embossing wreathing their heads, lending them both a saintly air. All this lends The Fabliaux, as a physical object, a sense …Continue reading

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A Hysterical if Perverse Playground: Nelly Reifler’s ‘Elect H. Mouse State Judge’

Nelly Reifler’s joyride of a first novel, Elect H. Mouse State Judge (Faber and Faber; 103 pages), joins the pantheon of morality tales centered on rodents—Aesop’s Fables, Maus, An American Tail: Fievel Goes West. Her slim volume sets itself apart from the pack with a riveting detective story that remixes Dashiell Hammett and Toy Story, along with a freakish sense of humor. This kooky playground disturbs all the more for its seeming innocence. As it turns out, our childhood toys are fallible, sinful, and even slutty. Far from cartoonish, the mice and dolls that people Reifler’s novel transcend their plastic …Continue reading

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A Space Apart from the Vileness Below Them: Pedro Almodóvar’s ‘I’m So Excited!’

In his latest film, renowned Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar returns, at first glance, to the light-hearted style of comedy that marked his early career and established him as the central figure in the post-Franco Movida Madrileña. I’m So Excited! (released in Spanish as Los Amantes Pasajeros, meaning, literally, either “The Passenger Lovers” or “The Fleeting Lovers”) takes place almost entirely aboard an airplane that is revealed early on in the film to be destined to circle above an airport in Spain until a runway opens up for a crash landing. This is the extent of the “plot,” as such, in …Continue reading

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The Dark Denizens of a Debauched Rome: Niccolo Ammaniti’s ‘Let the Games Begin’

Let the Games Begin (330 pages; Black Cat/Grove Press) by Italian author Niccolo Ammaniti (and translated by Kylee Doust), is an oversaturated, bordering-on-cartoonish romp founded on a larger-than-life premise. A two-bit Satanic cult based out of Rome, the Wilde Beasts of Abaddon, is desperate to enter the ranks of the truly Evil. Though the Wilde Beasts have multiple instances of viaduct graffiti and a botched orgy/human sacrifice under their belt, a rival cult has recently “disembowelled a fifty-eight-year-old nun…with a double-headed axe.” Thus, their leader, Mantos, a furniture salesman who styles himself the group’s “Charismatic Father,” decides they need to …Continue reading

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Looking ‘to Be Without Trying to Be’: ‘The Complete Stories of James Purdy’

After a big-top production of Othello performed in a dilapidated, almost apocalyptic Chicago, Bruno Korsawski poses a strange question to his uneasy companion: “I wonder which one of us is more scared of the other.” Bruno’s inquiry reflects a mood that runs through much of The Complete Stories of James Purdy (Liveright/Norton; 724 pages)— that of universal paranoia, distrust, and fear, coupled with an intense sense of personal interdependence. Purdy (1914-2009) was admired by a wide range of authors and readers for his transgressive and often hilarious fictions, and produced an immense body of work that includes plays, poetry, novels, …Continue reading

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Betting on a Better Tomorrow in ’90s New York: Ali Liebegott’s ‘Cha-Ching!’

Ali Liebegott’s Cha-Ching! (City Lights/Sister Spit; 248 pages) is a book worthy of its pleasingly onomatopoetic title. Though the plot is familiar—lost woman on the edge of thirty moves to New York City out of a desperate need to find herself, but becomes disillusioned by the city’s gritty reality yet manages to hoist herself up by her bootstraps—it is made fresh and compelling because of Liebegott’s optimistic and sincere protagonist, Theo, and her particular struggles as a “sirma’amsir” lesbian in ‘90s San Francisco. And it’s because of Liebegott’s carefully tempered rendering of Theo that the novel offers a subtle and …Continue reading

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Mythical and Spiritual, Direct and Concrete: The Storytelling Prowess of Sjón

Three novels from acclaimed Icelandic author Sjón are now available in the United States. Translated by Victoria Cribb, each book offers a vastly different story, beginning with simple and intense prose, which unfolds into a dense examination of a character’s thoughts. In The Blue Fox (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 128 pages), first published in 2004, Sjón offers two separate narratives. The first describes the initial hunt for a blue fox through the heavy snow of an Icelandic winter in 1883. Halting right before the hunter attempts to kill the fox, the story shifts to the days just preceding the hunt. …Continue reading

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