A Cult Built Out of Anguish and Desolation: Fiona Maazel’s ‘Woke Up Lonely’

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Woke Up Lonely (Graywolf Press, 336 pages), the new novel from author Fiona Maazel (Last Last Chance), is an imaginative thriller about a cult leader and the ex-wife in charge of spying on him. By balancing humorous adventures with an indictment of our modern world, in which solitude reigns despite all the new methods of communication, Maazel delivers a wild read teeming with emotion. Thurlow Dan is the founder of the Helix, a cult based on the principle that lonely people need someone with whom they can share their feelings. At the start of the novel, the Helix has grown […]

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Giving Voice to the Stifled, the Neglected, the Heartbroken: Susan Steinberg’s ‘Spectacle’

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Susan Steinberg’s Spectacle (152 pages; Graywolf Press) is a story collection of intertwining vignettes, a series of experimental narratives that speak to the vulnerability of being female and the roles women are expected to play in a male-dominant world. Steinberg does not cast a rosy hue over her portrayal of society. She writes her truth—her female narrators’ truth—and makes no attempt to censor it. The narrators’ voices blend together, as do the male characters: lovers, fathers, and brothers move in and out of one another until they become indistinguishable. The opening story, “Superstar,” tells of a woman who breaks into […]

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An Alternative Universe, One Where Her Son Still Lives: J. Robert Lennon’s ‘Familiar’

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Somewhere on an Ohio interstate, where bored drivers can be counted on to whiz past the paranormal events happening in a middle-aged woman’s Honda, a crack in Elisa Brown’s windshield transports her from one brief, thirteen-page-long reality—of facts and blunt tragedy—to another. She finds her fingers gripping a different steering wheel, her toes jammed inside pumps instead of her usual sneakers, a husband who actually calls to see when she’ll arrive home, and, in place of her once bony frame, a plumper one that hasn’t suffered the death of her youngest son, Silas. J. Robert Lennon’s new novel, Familiar (Graywolf […]

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Life as a Flounder, or Lizard: ‘No Animals We Could Name’ by Ted Sanders

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Ted Sanders writes the kind of sensitive, careful prose that makes it easy for the reader to forge connections with the most unconventional of characters—whether a flounder or a lizard—and to live for pages as someone (or something) you thought you could never identify with. A collection of fourteen individual narratives, each forming its separate universe, No Animals We Could Name (Graywolf Press; 272 pages) is a beautiful expression of feeling in the form of prose. Putting a surrealist spin on the most realist situations, Sanders’ hyper-observant prose and delicate descriptions are at once gentle and urging, prompting you to […]

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The Wear and Tear of a Boy’s Life: Roy Jacobsen’s ‘Child Wonder’

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Roy Jacobsen’s coming-of-age novel, Child Wonder (Graywolf Press; 239 pages), offers a well-crafted metaphor for the cultural transformations of Norway in the 1960s – a time “[b]efore oil,” as Jacobsen writes in the foreword, “before anyone had any money at all.” The book, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw, is also a romance of youth, filled with nostalgia and secrets, rage and violence. And, of course, transformations. Suddenly, for Finn, the story’s narrator and hero, things become “brighter,” eyes become “bluer.” Though he is an emotionally rich, thoughtful and observant character, Finn still acts out like […]

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