My review of “Purity.”

purityMy review of Jonathan Franzen’s latest novel, Purity, is now online at the Lincoln Journal-Star. An excerpt:

There are many brilliant bits of this novel, and Franzen remains one of the country’s most gifted writers. His psychological acuity may be unmatched, at least among living American writers, and he deserves credit for squarely taking on the political — often territory even brave writers avoid. Because he is on his own level, his books demand a keener, and even more critical, eye. “Purity” thus feels more like a retreat into his older work, the great but less compelling books “The Twenty-Seventh City” and “Strong Motion.” In the giant shadow of his last two tomes, perhaps, “Purity” has a harder time shining much of a light.


“Space Tears Can Hurt” at Pulp Literature.

Very happy to announce that my story, “Space Tears Can Hurt,” a little venture—a bit different for me—into sci-fi, has been accepted for publication in Pulp Literature, a really great journal (“Good books for the price of a beer”) that came to my attention late last year and has published some sci-fi greats. It will appear in the Winter 2016 issue. Big thanks to the editors who have been working with me on some edits.

I’ve read basically two classic fantasy or sci-fi novels ever: The Lord of the Rings and Dhalgren. I’d like to think my approach lies somewhere between the two. I’ll be sure to post again when you can read the story.

Current Favorites.

As I’m always looking for recommendations myself, I thought I would post up a few things art-wise that I’ve been enjoying lately. I’ll probably make this a series.




“You’re able to find points of deep connection even with people you disdain.”

The New Yorker interviews J.M. Ledgard:

It’s one of the lessons I learned long ago, reporting in the post-Communist environment in Russia and Eastern Europe. I became a really strong anti-Communist at that point, just seeing what that world was and had done. But, after a while, you get into these stories and you realize people whom you see as totally different have all these other characteristics, and you’re able to find points of deep connection even with people you disdain.

I just finished Submergence, which was quite good, if not quite perfect. Definitely recommended if you like Coetzee and Sebald (which I do, a lot). Sometimes his writing can be a bit overly “cosmic” (such a good word used, there, in that piece) but other times it is breathtaking.

On James Salter.

Enigmatic—and brilliant—writer James Salter has died. Invariably, the obituaries and online remembrances call him a “writer’s writer” and point to his reverential, if small, following. That is probably true. It’s ironic, then, that Salter’s true gift was how he was able to encompass the entire human experience.

A couple years ago I first encountered Salter in reviewing his final novel, All That Is, a work that is almost unparalleled in its hypnotism—Salter was able to cast the kind of spell that few writers for me (among them, Coetzee, Morrison, Marías, and most of all, Sebald) could cast. The beginning of All That Is, taking place on the sea during World War II, was one of the best openings to any novel I’ve read. But beyond that, All That Is, just as his most famous work A Sport and a Pastime, manage the not insignificant literary trick of hypnotism. As I wrote in my review:

Although the word “hypnotic” seems often overused in book reviews, the writing in “All That Is” demands the description. From the astonishing opening on the sea, each sentence is charming, and paragraphs cast spells. For good reason has Richard Ford described Salter as the best American sentence-writer, and for good cause has Teju Cole recently noted he “cherish[ed]” every sentence Salter wrote. Salter captures the quotidian like few can.

He will be missed.

Admiral James Stavridis on Reading Fiction.

Over at The Millions, an interview with Admiral James Stavridis, dean of Tufts University’s graduate school of Law and Diplomacy and a lifelong reader of fiction:

I read constantly. I read probably 80 percent fiction, 20 percent nonfiction. And I have found through reading fiction, I understand the human condition better.

You said a moment ago that a novel is a sanctuary in the middle of this violent world. Let’s remember that occasionally, novels are also moments of violence in an otherwise very peaceful life. It can be the opposite. And so if you can think of a novel as a kind of simulator where you imagine what you would do in a stressful, dangerous situation, it becomes, I think, a very helpful learning tool about ourselves.

Some very insightful stuff here—both on the novels he talks about and on his general philosophy on why reading fiction is important.

Review of “The Narrow Road to the Deep North.”

narrowroadMy review of Richard Flanagan’s Man Book Prize-Winning novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, is in today’s paper and is also online here. A bit:

Dorrigo Evans is considered by everyone— except himself — to be a war hero. A physician, he becomes the de facto leader of his fellow Australian POWs who are forced by their Japanese captors to build a railway through the jungles of Burma and into Thailand. Wracked by survivor’s guilt, Evans is the protagonist of Richard Flanagan’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel “The Narrow Road to the Deep North,” recently released in paperback.

“Stare Decisis” in Midwestern Gothic

mwgothicissue17Very excited to share that Issue # 17 of the great lit mag Midwestern Gothic is now out, and it includes a short story of mine, “Stare Decisis.” Here’s a somewhat representative excerpt:

Nobody told Walters, upon putting on the judicial robes, how all of his friends would change their conversations around him, how they would treat him differently. Even the longtime confidants—the ones he’d had since college, who remembered him passing out at a party, or caught him falling flat on his face going after a girl, or gave him advice when he was dissolutely smoking cigarettes all day and planning his motorcycle trip across the Badlands—all distanced themselves once they knew he had sentenced someone to death. The couples that he and his wife had socialized with would not get drunk around him. The secret meaning to “sober as a judge” was that you were a buzzkill at all parties. Not that he cared about being drunk—the post-trial hangovers where he’d felt his head unravel in the night which was never quite put back together the next morning, were awful—but it was comforting to see his friends slur their words.

Electronic copies are only $2.99.