Tag Archives: novel

Mystery Mapped Across Backs: Geoff Nicholson’s ‘The City Under the Skin’

Geoff Nicholson’s newest novel, The City Under the Skin (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux; 272 pages), takes place in an unnamed city where women are kidnapped, then released back into the streets, now bearing poorly tattooed maps across their backs. Told from various points of view, the winding story follows a handful of characters—Wrobleski, a professional killer who begins to collect these tattooed women; Billy Moore, a criminal trying to turn his life around but who agrees to one more job; Zak, who happens to work at a map shop and is unwillingly dragged into the mystery, and Marilyn, who’s obsessed …Continue reading

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Of Hope and Devastation: Michael Cunningham’s ‘The Snow Queen’

“A celestial light appeared to Barrett Meeks in the sky over Central Park, four days after Barrett had been mauled, once again, by love.” So begins The Snow Queen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 256 pages), the latest novel from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Cunningham. Like his previous novels, The Hours and By Nightfall, Cunningham combines delicate prose with poignant subject matter, exploring the themes of love and mortality through the relationships of his characters. Beginning in 2004 on the eve of the U.S. presidential election, The Snow Queen tells the story of a group of friends across a span of …Continue reading

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Books, Not Just the Characters, Are the Point: Rodrigo Rey Rosa’s ‘Severina’

In his introduction to Rodrigo Rey Rosa’s Severina (Yale University Press, 112 pages), poet and translator Chris Andrews writes that for readers expecting the “baroque exuberance” of fellow Guatemalan writer Miguel Angel Asturias, Rey Rosa’s fiction will come as a surprise. Not only does Rey Rosa eschew the colorful language of his predecessor for more restrained and economical prose, he allows dreams, fantasies, and hallucinations to regularly puncture his character’s worlds. In this respect, Andrews observes, the writer who Rey Rosa remains the most in debt to is Jorge Luis Borges. Reading Severina—only the fifth of Rey Rosa’s many works …Continue reading

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The Whole of the Iceberg: Rabih Alameddine’s ‘An Unnecessary Woman’

In his fifth book, An Unnecessary Woman (Grove Press, 304 pages), San Francisco author Rabih Alameddine examines the past and present life of a 72-year-old Lebanese divorcee and translator, Aaliyah, who has distanced herself from family and lost her only two friends. As she holes up in her spacious Beirut apartment and braces for bombs during the Lebanese Civil War or wanders the streets of her city decades later, Alameddine’s novel stays lodged within the confines of Aaliyah’s erudite mind, where she bounces effortlessly between Fernando Pessoa and Bruno Schultz. Literature is her only salve. For sticking with Aaliyah, the …Continue reading

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A Transgendered Youth’s Search for Self: Kim Fu’s ‘For Today I Am a Boy’

Over the past several years, the transgender perspective—once a marginal voice even within the LGBT community—has gradually emerged into the mainstream. In 2003, Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel Middlesex helped raise awareness of gender identity issues when it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Elsewhere, transgender actress Laverne Cox has found acclaim on a popular show, and actor Jared Leto recently won an Oscar for his depiction of a transgender woman.  Recognition is not tantamount to acceptance—for this, a long road still lies ahead—but Kim Fu has chosen an auspicious time for her first novel, For Today I Am a Boy (Houghton Mifflin …Continue reading

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The Wondrous Re-Imagining of a Japanese Folktale: Patrick Ness’s ‘The Crane Wife’

In the Japanese folktale Tsuru no Ongaeshi, upon which Patrick Ness’s wondrous new novel, The Crane Wife, is loosely based, a young rice farmer rescues a beautiful white crane that has crashed into his rice paddy. The crane’s fall is caused by an arrow still jutting from its wing; the farmer carefully extracts the arrow and bids the crane take care as it flies away. When he returns to his house, the farmer is shocked to find a young woman waiting for him there. She tells him she has come to be his wife and ignores his protestations of poverty. …Continue reading

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Recognizing the Cadences: Alexander Maksik’s ‘A Marker to Measure Drift’

Alexander Maksik’s second novel, A Marker to Measure Drift  (Knopf; 222 pages), boldly repudiates the old chestnut that a writer must write what he or she knows. Jacqueline, Maksik’s protagonist, is a young woman from one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in Liberia— and now a refugee who has fled to the Greek islands in the aftermath of Liberia’s second civil war. As an undocumented immigrant, Jacqueline ekes out a painful existence on Santorini’s tourist-filled beaches. The novel’s opening thrusts us directly into Jacqueline’s narrowed existence—there is no backstory granted us (yet), only the immediacy of Jacqueline’s hunger …Continue reading

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Rough, Comic Ode to a Damaged Young Man: Scott McClanahan’s ‘Hill William’

Scott McClanahan’s new novel, Hill William (Tyrant Books, 162 pages), is a slim, dark but funny coming-of-age story set in West Virginia. The narrator and protagonist, Scott, is an ill-adapted adult trying to keep a lid on his issues for the sake of a pretty girlfriend. When things between them get rough, he can’t help cursing, rendered inarticulate, bashing in his own face in an attempt to relieve inner turmoil. When his girlfriend asks him to mow the lawn, he refuses. When she threatens to do it herself, he goes out to throw the lawnmower over a hill, but when …Continue reading

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A Black Family’s Fantastical Cuban History: Carlos Acosta’s ‘Pig’s Foot’

Günter Grass begins his magical realist masterpiece The Tin Drum by explaining that “no one ought to tell the story of his life who hasn’t the patience to say a word or two about at least half of his grandparents before plunging into his own existence.” In Pig’s Foot (Bloomsbury, 333 pages), Carlos Acosta’s first novel (translated by Frank Wynne), the narrator more than abides by this advice. Pig’s Foot is the story of the narrator, told from the very beginning, when his great-great-grandmother arrives as a slave in Cuba in the 1800s. Acosta’s novel, set in a remote and …Continue reading

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Giving Kerouac’s ‘Mexican Girl’ Her Rightful Voice: Q&A with Tim Z. Hernandez

Who was the woman known to history only as “Terry, The Mexican Girl” from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road? Given that she was the linchpin for what became one of the most renowned tales in American letters, and that virtually all of Kerouac’s characters were based on real people who subsequently became famous themselves by association with the book and, often, as artists in their own right, it seemed improbable that no one had taken the time to track her down. That is, until author, poet and performer Tim Z. Hernandez found himself standing on the front doorstep of the …Continue reading

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The Inescapable Presence of the Border, and the Desert: Don Waters’s ‘Sunland’

Sid Dullaney, the protagonist of Don Waters’s first novel, Sunland (University of Nevada Press; 200 pages), is thirty-three, newly single, and unemployed. He has moved from Massachusetts back to his hometown of Tucson to care for his widowed grandmother. Nana lives in Paseo del Sol, an old folks’ home Sid struggles to afford. To pay the exorbitant cost, he starts making runs across the border to buy her medication, and gradually, medications for almost all of Paseo del Sol’s residents. “I began introducing myself to Nana’s neighbors and friends, showing off my best smile. The business, born from necessity, grew.”

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The Pain Hidden Behind Tenants’s Walls: Amy Grace Loyd’s ‘The Affairs of Others’

“American life asks us to engage in an act of triumphant recovery at all times or get out of the way,” notes Celia Cassill, the protagonist and narrator of Amy Grace Loyd’s first novel, The Affairs of Others (Picador, 272 pages). Celia has been all too happy “to get out of the way.” Since becoming a young widow, she has been hiding herself, her past, and her fears in plain sight as the landlady of a Brooklyn brownstone. When an upstairs tenant is confronted with heartbreak, he pleads with Celia to allow him a sub-letter while he escapes to France. …Continue reading

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