Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.
There was a Bay, there was a Pig, there was a Missile.
"Songs for the Cold War"
from Station Zed by Tom Sleigh
Just now I can feel that little quivering of the pen which has always foreshadowed the happy delivery of a good book. --Emile Zola
Jimmy Teach left professional football at the age of twenty-four, and his life went into a fast fall. He squandered money on bad friends and foolish business deals and the drink and drugs that went with them. He lived hard and the months passed and it became a slow suicide. He woke up one morning in a car he didn't own in the driveway of a fashionable house in Atlanta with a policeman at his window. Teach had no idea who owned the house or why he had come to it. He had passed out with the engine running. A half-open window and an empty fuel tank had probably saved him from a blue-lipped death.It's a great expository start to what looks like a white-knuckled thriller. The publisher mentions Alfred Hitchcock and Carl Hiaasen in the same breath in the press materials which came with my copy of the book, so there's that hook which is already dragging me to shore. Here's more from the Jacket Copy:
A man gets himself into a little bit of trouble, then a little bit more, then a lot. And then his whole world becomes a nightmare. How does he get himself out of this mess of his own creation? The answer involves the end of an extramarital affair, reconciliation with a daughter he has neglected, and a deadly encounter with a man who comes out of the past bearing bad news and the keys to a new life. Set in Tampa, Florida, in the late 1980s, Suitcase City captures the glitter of the high life and the steamy essence of low places in the Cigar City.Blurbworthiness: “Sterling Watson is an American treasure. If this taut literary crime novel doesn’t center him on the map, we should change maps.” (Tom Franklin, author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter)
In six weeks during April and May 1915, as World War I escalated, Germany forever altered the way war would be fought. On April 22, at Ypres, German canisters spewed poison gas at French and Canadian soldiers in their trenches; on May 7, the German submarine U-20, without warning, torpedoed the passenger liner Lusitania, killing 1,198 civilians; and on May 31, a German Zeppelin began the first aerial bombardment of London and its inhabitants. Each of these actions violated rules of war carefully agreed at the Hague Conventions of 1898 and 1907. Though Germany’s attempts to quickly win the war failed, the psychological damage caused by these attacks far outweighed the casualties. The era of weapons of mass destruction had dawned. While each of these momentous events has been chronicled in histories of the war, celebrated historian Diana Preston links them for the first time, revealing the dramatic stories behind each through the eyes of those who were there, whether making the decisions or experiencing their effect. She places the attacks in the context of the centuries-old debate over what constitutes “just war,” and shows how, in their aftermath, the other combatants felt the necessity to develop extreme weapons of their own. In our current time of terror, when weapons of mass destruction—imagined or real—are once again vilified, the story of their birth is of great relevance.By looking at where we've come from, maybe we'll see where we're headed. In other words, will we ever learn from the past? Probably not. But it's worth a shot anyway.
Per Petterson’s hotly anticipated new novel, I Refuse, is the work of an internationally acclaimed novelist at the height of his powers. In Norway the book has been a huge bestseller, and rights have already been sold into sixteen countries. In his signature spare style, Petterson weaves a tale of two men whose accidental meeting one morning recalls their boyhood thirty-five years ago. Back then, Tommy was separated from his sisters after he stood up to their abusive father. Jim was by Tommy’s side through it all. But one winter night, a chance event on a frozen lake forever changed the balance of their friendship. Now Jim fishes alone on a bridge as Tommy drives by in a new Mercedes, and it’s clear their fortunes have reversed. Over the course of the day, the life of each man will be irrevocably altered.Refuse a Per Petterson novel? Hardly. I'm going to embrace this one with all the fervor of a fanboy.
In nine stories that move between nouveau riche Los Angeles and the working class East Coast, Kevin Morris explores the vicissitudes of modern life. Whether looking for creative ways to let off steam after a day in court or enduring chaperone duties on a school field trip to the nation's capital, the heroes of White Man's Problems struggle to navigate the challenges that accompany marriage, family, success, failure, growing up, and getting older. The themes of these perceptive, wry, and sometimes humorous tales pose philosophical questions about conformity and class, duplicity and decency, and the actions and meaning of an average man's life. He writes characters and dialogue equally at home in in an office in the Empire State Building, a driveway in Brentwood, or a working class taproom. Morris's confident debut strikes the perfect balance between comedy and catastrophe—and introduces a virtuosic new voice in American fiction.This Blurbworthiness from Eric Roth, Academy Award-winning screenwriter of Forrest Gump, is enough to convince me to put these Problems near the top of the To-Be-Read pile: “Kevin Morris’s voice is Updike and Cheever and Carver.”
She had a kid asleep in the bedroom. I asked her if she wanted to ball and she said yes. She got her gun six times. I told her I was selling my car and all my belongings and buying a sailboat and sailing to Australia. I said she could go but she’d have to pay. How much she said. A dollar thirty-seven I said. She said not bad. Then she said how much for Eric. I said ten thousand dollars.Man, there's a lot to love in that handful of sentences whose blood tingles with the jazz of Hemingway and Carver. In a review of Herd's three collections (filed under "Neglected Books") in a 1983 issue of American Book Review, Lewis Warsh wrote: "(S)ome of Herd's best stories are simply speeches, people saying what on their minds....Herd keeps himself at a distance from his characters--there's nothing blatantly autobiographical about his work--but it's a professional distance, he's at least as close as the next room. His art is the ability to create authentic voices, while packing the greatest possible intensity into the smallest possible space." Here's some more great Blurbworthiness for Herd's work, from a 1976 review in the San Francisco Review of Books by Keith Abbot: "Diamonds is an apt name for Dale Herd's latest book of prose. The tale are often quite short, and are formed by great pressure." Please join me in re-discovering this gritty, unsparing and fresh (!!) voice from the past.
Thirteen hilarious, moving, and beautifully brutal stories by David Gordon, the award-winning author of Mystery Girl and The Serialist. In these funny, surprising, and touching stories, Gordon gets at the big stuff—art and religion, literature and madness, the supernatural, and the dark fringes of sexuality—in his own unique style, described by novelist Rivka Galchen as “Dashiell Hammett divided by Don DeLillo, to the power of Dostoyevsky—yet still pure David Gordon.” Gordon's creations include ex-gangsters and terrifying writing coaches, Internet girlfriends and bogus memoirists, Chinatown ghosts, and vampires of Queens. “The Amateur” features a cafe encounter with a terrible artist who carries a mind-blowing secret. In the long, beautifully brutal title story, a man numbed by life finds himself flirting with and mourning lost souls in the purgatory of sex chatrooms. The result is both unflinching and hilarious, heartbreaking and life-affirming.Blurbworthiness: “I wish I could read this book forever, and maybe get David Gordon to narrate the events of my own life. He is the funniest, most intelligent companion. This book got me reinterested in everything—men, women, heartbreak, cities, language, stories.” (Rebecca Lee, author of Bobcat and Other Stories)
"I hit him so hard, the clash of helmets and pads sounded like a gunshot across the field. I crushed him with the hit, held on to him, and crushed him again when I slammed him into the ground...I had arrived." Arlo Brodie loves being on the football field, getting hit hard and hitting back harder. That's where he belongs, leading his team to championships, becoming "Starlo" on his way to the top. Arlo's dad cheers him on, but his mother quotes head injury statistics and refuses to watch. Arlo's girlfriend tries to make him see the danger; when that doesn't work, she calls time-out on their relationship. Even Arlo's coaches begin to track his hit count, almost ready to pull him off the field. But Arlo's not worried about collisions. The cheering crowds and the adrenaline rush convince Arlo that everything is OK--in spite of the pain, pounding, dizziness, and confusion. In Hit Count, Chris Lynch explores the American love affair with contact sports and our attempts to come to terms with clear evidence of real danger.
They found him inside one of seventeen cauldrons in the courtyard, steeping in an indigo dye two shades darker than the summer sky. His arms and chin were propped over the copper edge, but the rest of Kemal Turkoglu, age ninety-three, had turned a pretty pale blue. Orhan was told the old men of the village stood in front of the soaking corpse, fingering their worry beads, while their sons waiting, holding dice from abandoned backgammon games.While I stopped reading after a page or two, I only did so reluctantly (all those other books demanding my attention); but I could see how, if I had a more relaxed expanse of time in front of me, I'd want to immerse myself in the vat of Ohanesian's prose. There are such lovely images in that opening paragraph--even while talking about this poor man's death. Here's the Jacket Copy to hook you, the time-on-her-hands reader, into the novel:
In her extraordinary debut, Aline Ohanesian has created two remarkable characters--a young man ignorant of his family's and his country's past, and an old woman haunted by the toll the past has taken on her life. When Orhan's brilliant and eccentric grandfather Kemal--a man who built a dynasty out of making "kilim" rugs--is found dead, submerged in a vat of dye, Orhan inherits the decades-old business. But Kemal's will raises more questions than it answers. He has left the family estate to a stranger thousands of miles away, an aging woman in an Armenian retirement home in Los Angeles. Her existence and secrecy about her past only deepen the mystery of why Orhan's grandfather willed his home in Turkey to an unknown woman rather than to his own son or grandson. Left with only Kemal's ancient sketchbook and intent on righting this injustice, Orhan boards a plane to Los Angeles. There he will not only unearth the story that eighty-seven-year-old Seda so closely guards but discover that Seda's past now threatens to unravel his future. Her story, if told, has the power to undo the legacy upon which his family has been built. Moving back and forth in time, between the last years of the Ottoman Empire and the 1990s, Orhan's Inheritance is a story of passionate love, unspeakable horrors, incredible resilience, and the hidden stories that can haunt a family for generations.
Part of Chicago’s elite Jewish society, Judd Steiner (the fictional version of Nathan Leopold) and Artie Straus (Richard Loeb) have it all: money, smarts and the world at their feet. Obsessed with Nietzsche’s idea of the superhuman, both boys decide to prove that they are above the laws of man by arbitrarily murdering a boy in their neighborhood — for the sheer sake of getting away with the crime. Compulsion is narrated by Sid Silver, a budding journalist at the University of Chicago and a fictional surrogate for Meyer Levin who was a classmate of Leopold and Loeb and reported on their trial himself; like Sid, Levin became enmeshed in the case while covering it. Early on, a pair of Judd’s horn-rimmed eyeglasses is found at the scene of the crime. Authorities slowly begin to unveil other pieces of evidence that suggest the young men’s guilt. When their respective alibis collapse, Artie and Judd each confess. Fearing an anti-Semitic backlash and anxious to be viewed first and foremost as Americans, the Jewish community in Chicago demands steadfastly that justice be served. Desperate, the Straus and Steiner families seek the counsel of the famed Jonathan Wilk, who is based on his real-life counterpart Clarence Darrow. Wilk hires a slew of psychoanalysts and begins to construct a first-of-its-kind defense: that Artie and Judd are not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. Here, too, the novel’s documentary qualities shine through as the narrative shifts into a deftly paced courtroom drama where the legal and psychiatric delineations of insanity— and even more controversially for its time, homosexuality— are introduced.
The night was still black when Curtis pulled his Suburban away from the curb and turned toward the mountain highway, leaving his apartment, his sleeping street behind him. He would have preferred to ride his bike but the tire was flat and anyway it was too cold, and rain was coming. He would find some side road up the mountain where he could park and stay warm until the sun rose, and then he'd hike for as long as his legs could carry him. Ascend to a place where the view was different and things that towered and loomed down here would narrow to pin shadows and then to nothing.Are you with me? Are we going to the Mountain together? Here's the Jacket Copy for those of you who remain on the fence:
With his windows rolled down, he tickled the curves slowly, and the high that had been fading in him came back up. Calm poured through his body and the wind was music. The cold, dewy air tasted like spring moss, like pine. The needle on the speedometer slipped across seventy kilometers and he slowed down to forty. But minutes later, when he glanced at the needle again, it was back up at seventy. The road began a long-curved descent and he pulsed the brakes.
He engaged the dashboard lighter and lifted his right thigh, and wedged his fingers into his back pocket, feeling for his small tin box. It wasn't there. He reached farther and excavated the gap in the back of the seat. The road was a tunnel. He glanced at the emergency-brake pocket but saw only a badly folded road map and a refillable plastic coffee mug that he had stopped using because he'd lost the lid.
Her face in the headlights flashed like a coin, the features etched in silver blue. She was an instant, the sulfuric flare of a match, and though he had time to hit the brakes his foot found the accelerator instead. And there was a dull slap. Something white seemed to pause in the air. The sound of a broad, square nose of metal pummeling muscle and bone was flat and without ring. He stopped the truck with its nose pointing into the middle of the road and, confused, felt for his tin in the other pocket, as this somehow still seemed important.
Tragedy erupts in an instant. Lives are shattered irrevocably. A young man drives off into the night, leaving a girl injured, perhaps fatally so. From that cliffhanger opening, Sarah Leipciger takes readers back and forward in time to tell the haunting story of one family's unraveling in rural logging country where the land is still the economic backbone. Like the novels of Annie Proulx, this extraordinarily lyrical debut is rooted in richly detailed nature writing and sharply focused on small town mores and the particularities of regional culture. Marrying the propulsive story of a father and son who, in the wake of catastrophe, must confront their private demons to reach for redemption with an evocative meditation on our environmental legacy, The Mountain Can Wait introduces Leipciger as a talent to watch.Blurbworthiness: "In this assured debut novel Leipciger beautifully captures the tender and mercurial relationship between father and son, Tom and Curtis Berry. These are characters you care about, flawed and haunted by regret, existing in the harsh yet undeniably radiant world of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Leipciger writes with great compassion and precision, her language is an exquisite mix of muscle and grace. The Mountain Can Wait resonated with wonderful imagery which will stay with me for a very long time." (Michele Forbes, author of Ghost Moth)
Like many young people, Heidi Julavits kept a diary. Decades later she found her old diaries in a storage bin, and hoped to discover the early evidence of the person (and writer) she’d since become. Instead, "The actual diaries revealed me to possess the mind of a paranoid tax auditor." The entries are daily chronicles of anxieties about grades, looks, boys, and popularity. After reading the confessions of her past self, writes Julavits, "I want to good-naturedly laugh at this person. I want to but I can't. What she wanted then is scarcely different from what I want today." Thus was born a desire to try again, to chronicle her daily life as a forty-something woman, wife, mother, and writer. The dazzling result is The Folded Clock, in which the diary form becomes a meditation on time and self, youth and aging, betrayal and loyalty, friendship and romance, faith and fate, marriage and family, desire and death, gossip and secrets, art and ambition. Concealed beneath the minute obsession with “dailiness” are sharply observed moments of cultural criticism and emotionally driven philosophical queries. In keeping with the spirit of a diary, the tone is confessional, sometimes shockingly so, as the focus shifts from the woman she wants to be to the woman she may have become. Julavits's spirited sense of humor about her foibles and misadventures, combined with her ceaseless intelligence and curiosity, explode the typically confessional diary form. The Folded Clock is as playful as it is brilliant, a tour de force by one of the most gifted prose stylists in American letters.In the Opening Lines of The Folded Clock, Julavits asks, "What is the worth of a day?" We're about to find out.
He would come to be called the Gravedigger. There would be other names: the Master Executioner, the Jackfruit Freak, Sooryamangalam Sreeganeshan. In his earliest days, his name was a sound only his kin could make in the hollows of their throats and somewhere in his head, fathoms deep, he kept it close.The Jacket Copy lets us know this is going to be an unforgettable novel in so many ways:
Other memories he kept: running through his mother's legs, toddling in and out of her footprints. The bark of soft saplings, the salt licks, the duckweed, the tang of river water, opening and closing around his feet. He remembered his mother taking him onto her back before launching herself from the bank. In this way, their clan would cross, an isle of hills and lofted trunks.
From the critically acclaimed author of Atlas of Unknowns and Aerogrammes, a tour de force set in South India that plumbs the moral complexities of the ivory trade through the eyes of a poacher, a documentary filmmaker, and, in a feat of audacious imagination, an infamous elephant known as the Gravedigger. Orphaned by poachers as a calf and sold into a life of labor and exhibition, the Gravedigger breaks free of his chains and begins terrorizing the countryside, earning his name from the humans he kills and then tenderly buries. Manu, the studious younger son of a rice farmer, loses his cousin to the Gravedigger’s violence and is drawn, with his wayward brother Jayan, into the sordid, alluring world of poaching. Emma is a young American working on a documentary with her college best friend, who witnesses the porous boundary between conservation and corruption and finds herself in her own moral gray area: a risky affair with the veterinarian who is the film’s subject. As the novel hurtles toward its tragic climax, these three storylines fuse into a wrenching meditation on love and betrayal, duty and loyalty, and the vexed relationship between man and nature. With lyricism and suspense, Tania James animates the rural landscapes where Western idealism clashes with local reality; where a farmer’s livelihood can be destroyed by a rampaging elephant; where men are driven to poaching. In James’ arrestingly beautiful prose, The Tusk That Did the Damage blends the mythical and the political to tell a wholly original, utterly contemporary story about the majestic animal, both god and menace, that has mesmerized us for centuries.I'm excited about a lot of upcoming 2015 fiction, but The Tusk That Did the Damage is probably at the top of my list right now. Blurbworthiness: “The Tusk That Did the Damage is one of the most unusual and affecting books I’ve read in a long time. Narrated by a poacher, a filmmaker, and, most brilliantly, an elephant, this is a compulsively readable, devastating novel.” (Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Everything Is Illuminated)
When Rebecca Barry and her husband moved to upstate New York to start their family, they wanted to be surrounded by natural beauty but close to a small urban center, doing work they loved, and plenty of time to spend with their kids. But living their dreams turned out not to be so simple: the lovely old house they bought had lots of character but also needed lots of repairs, they struggled to stay afloat financially, their children refused to sleep or play quietly, and the novel Rebecca had dreamed of writing simply wouldn’t come to her. Recipes for a Beautiful Life blends heartwarming, funny, authentically told stories about the messiness of family life, a fearless examination of the anxieties of creative work, and sharp-eyed observations of the pressures that all women face. This is a story of a woman confronting her deepest fears: What if I’m a terrible mother? What if I’m not good at the work I love? What if my children never eat anything but peanut butter and cake? What if I go to sleep angry? It’s also a story of the beauty, light, and humor that’s around us, all the time—even when things look bleak, and using that to find your way back to your heart. Mostly, though, it is about the journey to building not just a beautiful life, but a creative one.I hope I haven't made Ms. Barry blush with all this talk about literary longing and pedestal-building. I mean, I wouldn't want to embarrass her into another seven-year silence.