Monthly Archives: September 2015

Blind Faith in the Power of Beauty: ‘The Prize’ by Jill Bialosky

For Edward Darby, the meaning of life can be found in the curve of a well-crafted watch, in an antique table’s warm weight, or in the balancing stroke of paint on a chaotic canvas. The protagonist of Jill Bialosky’s new novel, The Prize (Counterpoint; 325 pages), lives his life according to the principle of cultivating beautiful things. Edward believes structure, attention to detail, and erudite emotion will bring him happiness. He looks to art to reveal the importance of ordinary life, but also as a means to transcend it. Over the course of the novel, the lacquer of Edward’s curated …Continue reading

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Making (and Making Sense of) a New Life: ‘After the Parade’ by Lori Ostlund

If it’s true that a good man is hard to find, Lori Ostlund’s first novel, After the Parade (Scribner; 352 pages), demonstrates that leaving one might be just as difficult. As the book opens, Aaron Englund has finally worked up the nerve to break up with Walter, his older lover/Henry Higgins of 23 years, with whom he long ago fell out of love. Having packed his possessions, Aaron steers his U-Haul away from the security of their home in Albuquerque toward San Francisco. Not because he wants to join the city’s famous gay scene, but because Taffy, a colleague, lives …Continue reading

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A Long March, Both Taxing & Fascinating: ‘The Dying Grass’ by William T. Vollmann

William T. Vollmann’s Seven Dreams series traces the history of the colonization of North America, beginning in the ninth century and stretching into the twentieth, focusing on the bloody conflicts between the continent’s native inhabitants and its settlers. The fifth volume, The Dying Grass (Viking, 1,356 pages), chronicles the Nez Perce War of 1877, a series of skirmishes that took place over the course of several months, and more than 1,000 miles, between the eponymous Native American tribe and the United States military, and which resulted, predictably, in harsh sanctions and the relegation of the Nez Perces to a reservation. …Continue reading

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The Wistful Battle to Be Better: ‘Bream Gives Me Hiccups’ by Jesse Eisenberg

If Jesse Eisenberg’s first fiction collection were made up of simple extended bits, in which Eisenberg takes an initial premise and wittily wrings it for every drop of comedic juice possible, the book would still be an entertaining read. What makes Bream Gives Me Hiccups (Grove; 256 pages) more than that, however, is the dissection of social anxiety underlying each piece. Through a myriad of perspectives—from a precocious, broken-homed nine-year-old boy and an obnoxious college freshman with self-projection issues to Carmelo Anthony after an irritating run-in with a fan—Eisenberg relates a collective understanding of how difficult it is to both …Continue reading

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