Tag Archives: book review

Outsiders in Life and Love: ‘Never Anyone But You’ by Rupert Thomson

Published in a year defined by women’s activism, Rupert Thomson’s new novel, Never Anyone But You (368 pages; Other Press), succeeds in reimagining the lives of two of the most intriguing, elusive, and under-appreciated figures of the Parisian Surrealist movement, Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore. As lovers, anti-fascist activists, and even step-sisters, the two were an inseparable creative force during their more than forty years of partnership. Originally born Lucy Schwob (Cahun) and Suzanne Malherbe (Moore), the pair hailed from two affluent and, well educated families that encouraged their artistic pursuits; introduced as teenagers in 1909, they began an artistic …Continue reading

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Victims and Perpetrators: ‘History of Violence’ by Édouard Louis

“I am hidden on the other side of the door, I listen, and she says that several hours after what the copy of the report I keep twice-folded in my drawer calls the attempted homicide, and which I call the same thing for lack of a better word, since no other term is more appropriate for what happened, which means I always have the anxious nagging feeling that my story, whether told by me or whomever else, begins with a falsehood, I left my apartment and went downstairs.” From this initial winding sentence, the reader is plunged into, then relentlessly …Continue reading

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A Blossom on a Chain Link Fence: ‘Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God’ by Tony Hoagland

Tony Hoagland’s books probably have the most intriguing titles of any contemporary poet. The newest one, Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God (74 pages; Graywolf Press) follows hard on Recent Changes in the Vernacular, from Tres Chicas Books, out late last year. What Hoagland does better than any other poet is select the exact details to throw the cognitive dissonance inherent in contemporary American life into stark relief. Never sentimental, often fond, and always accurate, his lines cut through to the essence of experience. Yet they are leavened by tenderness and longing, a wry acceptance of the human condition. …Continue reading

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Original Sins: ‘Animals Eat Each Other’ by Elle Nash

Elle Nash’s first novel, Animals Eat Each Other (121 pages; Dzanc Books), opens with a pair of quotes from Wal-Mart’s Vice President and shock rocker Marilyn Manson, offering readers their first clue as to what kind of milieu Nash is about to immerse them in. It’s one where big box stores encroach uncomfortably on property lines, where meals are more often microwaved than cooked, and teenagers rifle through their parents’ medicine cabinets in search of opioids. The setting is Colorado Springs, a predominantly white town in a county where the majority of voters cast their lot with Donald Trump in …Continue reading

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Breaking the Cycle: ‘Fight No More: Stories’ by Lydia Millet

In “Libertines,” the opening story of Lydia Millet’s Fight No More: Stories (211 pages; W. W. Norton), the reader is introduced to a paranoid real estate agent, who becomes convinced that a prospective buyer is an African dictator. At one point, this supposed dictator (who is, in fact, a musician) randomly attempts to commit suicide by falling into the property’s pool. So yes—it’s an intriguing, albeit slightly discombobulating start for Millet’s first story collection since Love in Infant Monkeys, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize This sense of the bizarre and frequently surreal pervades the entire book: in …Continue reading

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Heart Pangs: ‘Night Beast and Other Stories’ by Ruth Joffre

“I think part of me has always believed love should be like this — painful and hidden, only making itself known when you least expect it and are unprepared for the damage it can do,” confesses Gemma in the titular story of Ruth Joffre’s Night Beast and Other Stories (190 pages; Grove Press). Many of the characters in this collection share Gemma’s belief, which is perhaps why they ultimately resign themselves to finding comfort in a lack of fulfillment, to being abandoned, to having their affections go unreciprocated — after all, love not only must be, but should be like …Continue reading

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Babylon Burning: ‘High Life’ by Matthew Stokoe

When Matthew Stokoe’s gritty noir High Life (380 pages; matthewstokoe.com) was published by noted indie Akashic Books in 2002, the book, which received very little coverage, managed to attract a fan base, thanks partly to Stokoe’s fearless depictions of upper-crust society at its worst. His novel eventually went out of print, but now that the rights to High Life are back with Stokoe, he has self-published his own edition of his hard-to-find book. In High Life, Stokoe takes readers on a nocturnal tour of the seediest parts of late ‘90s Los Angeles, while gleefully subverting noir’s most ingrained tropes: there’s …Continue reading

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An Inner Life Exposed: ‘Wait, Blink’ by Gunnhild Øyehaug

A jolt of elation always strikes when coming across a passage that perfectly captures one’s private thoughts, and with Gunnhild Øyehaug’s novel Wait, Blink: A Perfect Picture of Inner Life (translated by Kari Dickinson; 288 pages; FSG), I frequently found myself electrified. Page after page of passages artfully dissect our most subliminal mental processes. Utilizing the character of Sigrid and her sense of detachment in front of the computer screen, the author makes a fluid allusion to the novel’s subtitle: “She identifies with the cursor! Waiting, blinking, and without any real existence in the world, just on and off between …Continue reading

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A Balance Between Cultures: ‘How to Write an Autobiographical Novel’ by Alexander Chee

In his first nonfiction collection, award-winning novelist, poet, and journalist Alexander Chee offers a reflective look at his life in How to Write an Autobiographical Novel (288 pages; Mariner Books). From his time in Mexico learning high school-level Spanish to his undergrad days at Wesleyan, and later the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, as well as his AIDs activism in San Francisco, the book is a well-orchestrated chronicle of a life well-lived. Growing up as a Korean American, Chee often struggled with his identity and felt awkward in public, as when his long hair caused him to be mistaken as a girl, …Continue reading

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A Legacy Lost and Recovered: ‘Memento Park’ by Mark Sarvas

A decade after the publication of his first novel, Harry, Revised, Mark Sarvas returns with Memento Park (288 pages; FSG), the chronicle of one first-generation Hungarian American’s journey to retrieve a family painting believed to have been looted by the Nazis. The protagonist, Matt Santos, is an aspiring actor and current background extra living in L.A. at the tail-end of his thirties when he receives a strange call from the Australian Embassy concerning a painting from their database of unclaimed war paintings: the fictional “Budapest Street Scene” by tortured artist Erwin Kàlmàn. The piece belonged to Matt’s family in Hungary during the …Continue reading

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The Psychic Toll: ‘Moon Brow’ by Shahriar Mandanipour

A quick summary of Moon Brow (464 pages; Restless Books; translated by Sara Khalili), Shahriar Mandanipour’s newest novel to be translated into English, reads like the stuff of fable. Our main character, Amir Yamini, returns from the Iran-Iraq War saddled with amnesia and bereft of his left arm. Ostracized from his family and community as a head case, crippled by shrapnel, he is repeatedly haunted by the image and piecemeal memories of a beloved. With the help of his sister, Reyhaneh, he searches Tehran for signs of his past, and potentially for the love he no longer recalls, save only in his …Continue reading

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Takeoffs and Landings: ‘Blue Self-Portrait’ by Noémi Lefebvre

Air travel has long been depicted in fiction as a venue for potential transition and transformation (even if only metaphorical); we take off from one place and land in another, and there is no guarantee we will be the same person upon our arrival—no telling what chance encounter may occur on our flight or what dreamy epiphany those long hours might inspire. Blue Self–Portrait (143 pages; translated by Sophia Lewis; Transit Books), a 2009 first novel by French author Noémi Lefebvre, occupies this same liminal space; the entire book unfolds during a plane trip from Berlin to Paris, as our unnamed …Continue reading

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