Category Archives: Reviews

Recent Work.

Hi, everyone. I’ve been working on some longer projects these days (some fiction and a longer essay), so the only things that have recently seen the light of publishing are a few book reviews. Fortunately I’ve reviewed some interesting books, so I hope they make for some interesting reading:

  • On Here in Berlin by Cristina Garcia, and its eldritch collection of postwar German voices;
  • On The Idiocy of Perfection by Jesús Silva Herzog-Marquez, a collection of metaphorical and sharp political essays; and
  • On the story collection The Tower of the Antilles, by Achy Obejas, showcasing the depth and struggles of the Cuban-American identity.

Otherwise I’m reading a couple books I’ve been meaning to get to (but won’t be reviewing) right now: Ronald C. White’s biography of Grant, American Ulysses, and the Tournament of Books-winning The Sellout by Paul Beatty. (Everybody is talking about the Chernow bio of Grant now, and that may be great, but White’s bio really is fantastic.)

The Lip of the Grave: On “Imagine Me Gone” by Adam Haslett.

Imagine Me Gone, Adam Haslett’s second novel, achieves something difficult: it manages to dramatize depression and mental illness without being tiresome, fatuous, or boring.

The novel opens in the mind of John, an Englishman who suffers from the something he calls the “monster.” When John had been hospitalized for depression, Margaret, his American girlfriend at the time, decided to stay with him. They married, and had three children: Celia, Michael and Alec. While the kids’ interweaving life stories—dealing with their father’s eventual suicide—make up the bulk of Imagine Me Gone, the true focus is on Michael, who replays his father’s tragic illness in a different key.

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Two Recent Reviews.

This summer has brought a couple more book reviews o’ mine:

I have a couple short stories out for submission, and while they’ve received some really, really nice comments from a few editors—especially for the weird little tales they are, one set in a Mongol Kingdom and other in 1891 Vienna—so far neither has found a home yet.

New review of an old fave.

Slightly late to posting: my review of Javier Marías latest novel, Thus Bad Begins went live awhile back at Literal Magazine. I have written about Marías before, having reviewed his penultimate novel, The Infatuations, for The Millions.

Here’s how my review starts, picking up on a line I had mentioned in my review of The Infatuations:

Javier Marías doesn’t want to be “what they call a ‘real Spanish writer.’” These are authors who, Marîas says, prominently feature themes and motifs of classic Spain, including bullfighting and passionate women. While these tropes are certainly absent from his novels, which tend more to involve analytic and voluble narrators dissecting the vagaries of life, Marías is still obviously fascinated with the Spanish character, and with its gestalt, and perhaps that is in no clearer form than in his latest novel, Thus Bad Begins.

Review of “Fever Dream” at Literal Magazine.

My review of Samanta Schweblin’s skin-crawlingly creepy Fever Dream is now live at Literal Magazine. My review, in a snippet:

For Fever Dream is truly less a dream and more a nightmare, although the kind that—like the best of horror—you cannot help but wanting to see through.

In a happy coincidence, the book was named to the Man Booker International Prize shortlist.

The first in a series.

savetwilightMy review of Julio Cortázar’s Save Twilight: Poems (from City Lights Books) is up at Literal Magazine. It should be the first in a multiple reviews for Literal, where I have been given the opportunity to regularly write on Latin American and/or Spanish language literature.

If you know me, you know I’ve been a longtime fan of Latin American lit, from my days obsessing over One Hundred Years of Solitude in high school to discovering Dagoberto Gilb and Sandra Cisneros in college. As much as one can lump such disparate books together, there is something to these books that I respond to, that speaks to me in a louder voice than other novels and stories. More recently, many of the books I tackled for Necessary Fiction—including Álvaro Bisama and Eduardo Lalo—have been from the region, but I’ve also become deeply interested in the works of Spanish writer Javier Marías.

In fact, it’s to Marías that my next review turns: his brand-new Thus Bad Begins.

Review of “Bad Faith” by Theodore Wheeler.

badfaithMy review of Bad Faith by Ted Wheeler has gone live over at Necessary Fiction. A bit:

Most of the characters in Bad Faith aren’t nice, and Wheeler plumbs that not-niceness throughout. The Pythagoreans talked of good as definite and finite, and evil and indefinite and infinite. Niceness may make for a slogan, and a friendly face to provide directions, but it is often just a veneer.

Having followed Ted’s writing career from a distance for a while (as a fellow Nebraskan), it was fun to finally read some of his stories. It’s a great collection, and I’d heartily recommend it. Go buy it here.

Review of “Seeing Red” by Lina Meruane.

1bk_seeingred_49757628-190x300My review of the essential Seeing Red by Lina Meruane has been published over at the Colorado Review. An excerpt:

One evening in New York, Lina Meruane’s body “seize[s] up” and leaves her “paralyzed, [her] sweaty hands clutching at the air.” Just as she reaches to her purse to pick up an insulin shot, a “firecracker” goes off in her head: “That was the last thing I would see, that night, through the eye: a deep, black blood.” The stroke leaves her vision damaged, and the rest of Seeing Red, translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell, concerns how Lina, a writer and doctoral student, copes with losing and trying to reclaim her sight. Every day threads of blood continue to cloud her vision. “Being like this, in a fog,” she says, “is like being asleep and awake at the same time.” In the aftermath, Lina is unable to put pen to paper.

I particularly liked that the CR stuck the review in both their fiction and nonfiction sections. Clever—and the exact right move for this book, which straddles the two categories.

Recent Reading.

As I’ve been mostly working on fiction lately, I’ve not been as active in my book reviewing. But I’ve still been reading—of course—so I thought I might make it a regular part of this blog to round-up some of the better books I’ve come across.

The bulk of my reading lately has been as a committee member of One Book One Lincoln, the great reading program from the Lincoln City Libraries. Bound by secrecy (!), I can’t reveal the committee’s selections—other than to say we’ve picked three great books, at least one of which I’m sure you probably haven’t read.

luciaberlinThe best of the fiction that I’ve read lately is Lucia Berlin’s A Manual For Cleaning Women, a rich collection of brutal stories, marked by the isolation and estrangement of their narrators, often shades of Berlin herself. Highlights include “Mourning,” “Todo Luna, Todo Año” and the title story; and “Emergency Room Notebook,” a melange of macabre hospital tales, which also serves as a sort of companion piece to the title story. I’ve heard Berlin described by that distinct moniker “writer’s writer,” and perhaps it fits in the same way it does for James Salter—Berlin’s stories aren’t often conventional, and can shatter you with the beauty of their sentences. (The quality of being a “writer’s writer” seems to be the keen ability to make writers jealous.)

Despite loving the Berlin stories, I generally prefer novels. The recent novels I’ve read, coincidentally, have all been by younger authors: The Turner House (Angela Flournoy), The Story of My Teeth (Valeria Luiselli), The Unknowns (Gabriel Roth) and Delicious Foods (James Hannaham) have found their way to my nightstand. The similarities end there, though—all are strikingly different books. Luiselli’s is the most experimental and probably my favorite of the bunch, but I’m a sucker for Latin American novels. All are recommended.