All posts tagged: literary fiction

luckyalan

Lucky Alan and Other Stories by Jonathan Lethem

Prolific writer Jonathan Lethem explores the absurb and the arcane in his new short story collection, Lucky Alan. Jonathan Lethem’s career in writing has garnered him much praise for his ingenuity and his handling of both the novel and short form. More than anything, his new collection, Lucky Alan, is an example of his diversity as a storyteller, or rather of his refusal to adhere to rules and structure. With a Salingerian total of nine stories, the new book charts a rambling journey across surrealism and pop culture, through sharp observations and comic absurdity alike. Its diversity is both its strength and weakness insofar as it shows off much of Lethem’s literary scope, yet requires much commitment and elasticity from the reader. The first story, which takes its name from the collection’s title, finds the narrator entranced by a famous theater director named Sigismund Blondy, with whom he begins to develop a comfortable camaraderie over bad films and wine bars. Blondy is an elusive figure who radiates a certain New York brand of charm. When …

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The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie

In a recent conversation about Salman Rushdie’s work I said that the best word I can think of to describe him is “inexhaustible”. “Inexhaustible or exhaustible?” I was asked. “He’s an inexhaustible writer,” I said, “But his writing is exhaustible.” I’ve never read someone as positively relentless as Rushdie, and sometimes his work is borderline unreadable for me; when his narrative slips into that long-winded place, it takes a long-winded reader to be able to keep up. Even so, challenging and energy-tapping as Rushdie’s work may be, soaked as it is in his own tirelessness, the challenge and the exhausting nature (and, yes, maybe even the ego) are what keep me unable to commit to disliking his books. (On the contrary: I loved The Enchantress of Florence.) The opulence of Rushdie’s prose excites me, and there’s a thrill of standing waist-dip in one of his paragraph-long sentences that I find somewhat unique to him. There’s a hardly-veiled confidence in his writing – some will even call it conceit or narcissism – but it’s Rushdie’s blatantly …

thechildrenact

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

In his latest novel, The Children Act, Ian McEwan introduces his readers to Fiona Maye, a revered High Court judge with a stellar reputation. Fiona presides over the family division, exercising her keen intellect and learned wisdom for the betterment of London’s youth. Though her work focuses on children and families, she and her husband Jack have never had a family of their own; both approaching sixty, Jack and Fiona live relatively separate lives, often remembering to see each other only over meals and their inconsequential living arrangements. While Fiona, steeped in the intricacies of her work, believes herself content, Jack surprises her by revealing himself to be far less so; when he proposes an open marriage, he lights a fuse that causes Fiona’s neatly considered world to tilt off its axis. While she flounders between feelings of loss and betrayal, a new case interrupts the melee of her personal life. Young Adam Henry, not yet over the ridge of adulthood that will let him decide his own fate, is hospitalized with leukemia and brainwashed, …

nocountry

No Country by Kalyan Ray

Kalyan Ray’s No Country is a special book, full of surprises at every turn of the page and bursting with emotion. An intricate tapestry of the human condition, No Country first tells the story of Brendan McCarthaigh and Padraig Aherne, boyhood friends growing up together in 19th century Ireland. Brendan is a bookish introvert while Padraig positively explodes with energy, finding fervor in the blossoming rebellion of Irishmen against the domineering English. When Padraig follows his passion to Dublin, intent on being part of an uprising of Irish independence, a tragic accident will force him onto a ship bound for India, leaving behind his beloved mother and his dear friend Brendan, as well as the woman he loves and a child he didn’t know existed. As Padraig is swept off into the world of the East India Trading Company, Brendan is facing his own life-shattering struggles at home in Ireland: the Great Hunger has struck his homeland, and all around him is falling away. Desperate, and determined to make a good life for the child …

midwives

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian

Across the landscape of his career, author Chris Bohjalian has written novels about a murderer’s plight against a privileged family in World War II Italy, about a young social worker driven into Jazz Age Long Island by a homeless man’s photographs, of an American woman’s love for an Armenian man in early-twentieth century Syria, and more. In his contemporary classic, Midwives, he tells the unforgettable story of midwife Sibyl Danforth and a home birth gone tragically wrong. Narrated by Sibyl’s fourteen year-old daughter Connie, Midwives is a chilling and evocative account of what one woman will endure for the sake of protecting her name and standing by her choices. When Sibyl Danforth experienced challenges in the delivery of a client’s child, she would have called the hospital and sent for an emergency rescue squad. But in a small Vermont town in the throes of a winter storm, help is an impossible distance away and Sibyl finds herself the only hope of a helpless, unborn child. After the mother has expired, Sibyl takes matters into her …

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Life of Pi, Yann Martel’s Booker-winning literary achievement, tells the story of sixteen year-old Piscine “Pi” Patel, the son of a zookeeper who, at sixteen, leaves his native India with his family and a menagerie of their zoo animals on a Japanse cargo ship. The Patels are bound for a new life in Canada, but when the ship sinks Pi finds himself the sole human survivor on a lifeboat also carrying a dazed orangutan, a zebra with a broken leg, an ornery hyena, and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger. As the circle of life progresses even in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Pi and the tiger are soon all that remain. What follows is a literary patchwork of magical realism, seafaring survival, and the infinite reaches of faith. Like so many books dubbed masterworks of recent literature – or simply “modern classics” – Life of Pi is a book that draws reactions diverse in the extreme. As with any novel, some readers will regret their time spent and for others the experience will be …

The Hollow Ground by Natalie S. Harnett

Set against the devastating coal mine fires of 1960s Pennsylvania, Natalie S. Harnett’s The Hollow Ground tells the story of eleven year-old Brigid Howley and her family, a long generation of coal miners, as they wrestle with secrets of the past and fight against nature to salvage the lives they’ve always known. It’s an astonishingly vivid portrait of desperation and the lingering threads of hope when even the ground beneath one’s feet can’t be trusted. Through Brigid’s clever and openly honest narrative we follow the Howleys from their home as they rejoin her father’s parents – known simply and effectively as Gram and Gramp – in the town where her father was raised; a town in which gritty secrets and ominous shadows tie together with a curse placed upon the Howley family’s Molly Maguire ancestor a century before. With precision and power, Brigid gently weaves the story of her struggle to keep her family together as passions rise, grudges give way to liberated feuds, and devastating secrets are revealed. Harnett writes with eloquence and grit, …

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Creating a provocative sensation upon its publication in 1993 with a film adaptation that became a cult classic just six years later, The Virgin Suicides remains a persistent contemporary classic; a novel at once remarkably elusive, open to perpetual interpretation, and yet with an intensely personal resonance for many readers. It was the debut novel of author Jeffrey Eugenides (winning awards even before its publication), and in many ways it lays the groundwork for the mastery and peculiarity of a seminal artist. The story, of course, is that of the Lisbon sisters – Therese, Mary, Bonnie, Lux, and Cecilia, who range in ages from 17 to 13, respectively – and the year in which they ended their young lives. In a uniquely stylized first-person-plural narrative the unidentified boys across the street, telling the story twenty years later, explore every waking moment of their obsession with the otherworldly Lisbon sisters: beginning with young Cecilia’s first suicide attempt and subsequent completion, and carrying on fixatedly through until the sisters’ tragic dénouement. In between lies an electric, compelling …