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Book Reviews

AMERICAN INNOVATIONS: Stories by Rivka Galchen



Book Reviews

“It was my life that was lying in the middle of my life like that, like a pole-axed wildebeest.” American Innovations (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Rivka Galchen’s first short story collection, could be described as an exercise in scrapbooking the psychological ‘state’ of the union.…
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TALKING TO OURSELVES by Andrés Neuman. Translated by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia.



Book Reviews

In Talking to Ourselves (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Andrés Neuman follows the illness and death of a young father, Mario, through the different voices of three characters as they perceive it. There is Mario himself, in audio recordings made for his ten-year-old son, Lito. Then…
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THE STATIC HERD by Beth Steidle



Book Reviews

If you’re looking for proof that language naturally carries the mineral ore of poetry within it, turn to Beth Steidle‘s The Static Herd (Calamari Press). Steidle’s new book is prefaced by the etymology of “deer,” a gradual “change in sound and appearance” that possesses such…
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BEDROCK FAITH by Eric Charles May



Book Reviews

Was there ever a better guarantee to the reader than an author’s connection with place? Eric Charles May’s Bedrock Faith (Akashic Books) presents in fictional South Side Chicago neighborhood Parkland a town that stands as a character in its own right and a loving tribute…
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THE WEIRDNESS by Jeremy P. Bushnell



Book Reviews

Rule number one of life is always this: don’t make a deal with the devil. It’s a simple governing rule, really; No matter how tempting, no matter how enticing, you just don’t do it. But the devil is good at tempting people. He offers them…
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CAN’T AND WON’T by Lydia Davis



Book Reviews

It takes a genius to title a book something as emphatically negative as Can’t and Won’t (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Short story maestro Lydia Davis won the coveted MacArthur Foundation award a decade ago, and this new collection of some 200 pieces will thrill loyal…
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SHORT CENTURY by David Burr Gerrard



Book Reviews

Is the personal political? David Burr Gerrard’s debut novel Short Century (Barnacle Books/Rare Bird) answers that question strongly in the affirmative, at least in the life of journalist Arthur Hunt. A privileged WASP whose sixties radicalism calcified into strident neocon-ism by the time of the…
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KARATE CHOP by Dorthe Nors. Translated by Martin Aitken



Book Reviews

Years ago, fresh cut from one of those breakups that forces you to alter your daily life on the most minute levels, I was attending the wedding of a family member marrying her first love after a few months’ courtship. The ceremony was predictably traditional,…
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THE JESUS LIZARD BOOK



Book Reviews

It is fitting in a number of ways that The Jesus Lizard Book (Akashic Books) now exists. Given their sense of humor, in a way it seems only natural that the Jesus Lizard, the most concomitantly precise and chaotic, aggressive and artistic rock band of…
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NICETIES: Aural Ardor, Pardon Me by Elizabeth Mikesch



Book Reviews

If we start from Randall Jarrell’s definition of a novel as “a prose narrative of some length that has something wrong with it,” Elizabeth Mikesch’s new book, Niceties: Aural Ardor, Pardon Me (Calamari Press) is a collection of short stories, insomuch as it is a…
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A HIGHLY UNLIKELY SCENARIO by Rachel Cantor



Book Reviews

Rachel Cantor’s blast of a debut novel, A Highly Unlikely Scenario (Melville House), is one of the more efficient Literary Pleasure Delivery Systems available so far in 2014, and also one of the more manic. It is highbrow science fiction at top speed, full of…
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THE RISE & FALL OF THE SCANDAMERICAN DOMESTIC: Stories by Christopher Merkner



Book Reviews

Christopher Merkner’s debut story collection, The Rise & Fall of the Scandamerican Domestic (Coffee House Press), knows one big thing about us: given the choice between hideous violence and honest conversation, we often prefer the former. Hopefully, our violence is figurative; the violence perpetrated by…
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BEFORE I BURN by Gaute Heivoll. Translated by Don Bartlett.



Book Reviews

Chances are you have heard someone, a creative type or otherwise, romantically reflect on their youth as a time of boundless energy when they were out to ‘set the world on fire,’ or something similar to that effect. Gaute Heivoll’s Before I Burn (Graywolf Press)…
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IN THE MEMORIAL ROOM by Janet Frame



Book Reviews

It isn’t terribly difficult to imagine why Janet Frame might have chosen to stipulate that In the Memorial Room (Counterpoint Press) be published only after her death. Based on Frame’s own experience as a Katherine Mansfield Fellow in Menton, France (where the story is set)…
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A SCHOOLBOY’S DIARY by Robert Walser. Translated by Damion Searls.



Book Reviews

To read Robert Walser is to fall under the enchantment of a particularly open and youthful enthusiasm. His essays of Fritz Kocher, which comprise the first part of this new collection of mostly never-before translated stories and vignettes, A Schoolboy’s Diary (NYRB), are an excellent…
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BLINDING, VOL. 1: The Left Wing by Mircea Cărtărescu / Translated by Sean Cotter



Book Reviews

Introduced to this “part dream-memoir, part semi-fictive journey through a hallucinatory Bucharest,” in the jacket copy, one cracks open the 464-page Blinding (Archipelago Books) anticipating some confusion. Which is exactly what follows, and (it seems) precisely the intended effect. The surprise comes, however, when the…
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AN IMPENETRABLE SCREEN OF PUREST SKY by Dan Beachy-Quick



Book Reviews

Daniel, the narrator of Dan Beachy-Quick’s novel, An Impenetrable Screen of Purest Sky (Coffee House Press), waltzes through time like a boy through a crumbling house. That’s perhaps, the first, most striking facet of this novel. Initially, it seems to present itself as a series…
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THE LAST ANIMAL by Abby Geni



Book Reviews

Abby Geni‘s debut short story collection, The Last Animal (Counterpoint Press), seeks, in her own words, to explore “one of the great illusions of the human experience… that we are somehow outside of nature—beyond the food chain—that we are not animals ourselves.” It’s an enduring…
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DAYS IN THE HISTORY OF SILENCE by Merethe Lindstrøm



Book Reviews

From the beginning there is a mood of claustrophobia and stifled, unaired rooms in Merethe Lindstrøm‘s prize-winning novel, Days in the History of Silence (Other Press). The story opens with an unnamed intruder on the doorstep of Eva and Simon’s home, a young man who…
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TUMBLEDOWN by Robert Boswell



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Book Reviews

Foolish behavior is a key ingredient of human nature. We tend to waste a great deal of our vitality pursuing goals of dubious value. Confronting this basic truth, writers have a few options. They can ignore it, and create characters who start out or become…
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THE SILENCE OF ANIMALS by John Gray



Book Reviews

Roughly ten years after his singular and eye-opening philosophical work Straw Dogs, John Gray has returned with The Silence of Animals (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) to once again take humankind down a peg. Both books bring to mind those studies that occasionally come out in…
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THE BLOOD OF HEAVEN by Kent Wascom



Book Reviews

Heroism is one of those things that you can see only if you don’t look at it too closely. Even though we know better, Americans still want to view the earliest decades of the American republic as heroic, so we try not to look too…
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THE MORE YOU IGNORE ME by Travis Nichols



Book Reviews

“Soon though, it became clear the blog was missing a key element, a sagacity that comes with age that could activate the yeast, as it were, and bring the loaf of true thought into the world.  The blog was missing my presence.” The more we…
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*****ORIGINAL MESSAGE***** by Matthew Frazier



Book Reviews

*****Original Message***** (Hunt & Light) exists precisely at the place where people write forlorn Facebook statuses instead of diary entries. The title, stylized with five asterisks on either end, suggests an email thread—a representation of new definitions words have taken on in the past two…
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THE WHISPERING MUSE, FROM THE MOUTH OF THE WHALE, and THE BLUE FOX by Sjón



Book Reviews

Works in translation occupy a strange, pleasing limbo for well-rounded readers. Typically they enter public notice after the first cycle of literary prizes abroad has rained down on the head of the author, but before foregone conclusions and assumptions precede the books themselves. Each novel…
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LET THE DARK FLOWER BLOSSOM by Norah Labiner



Book Reviews

Billed as an “existential murder mystery,” Norah Labiner‘s fourth novel, Let the Dark Flower Blossom (Coffee House Press), will subsume you. It’s a protean universe—lush with scandal, violence, and perverse glamour—where everything and nothing is true. All of the tantalizing ingredients of a solid mystery…
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SPEEDBOAT by Renata Adler



Book Reviews

In fifteenth century Italy, the zibaldone appeared. A new type of book, the zibaldone collected bits and pieces of various texts according to its compiler’s taste, adhering to no other discernible order.  Quotations from literature, personal reflections, scientific observations, aphorisms, philosophical insights, philological investigations, and…
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DAVAI! The Russians and Their Vodka by Edwin Trommelen. Translated by David Stephenson.



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Book Reviews

Edwin Trommelen’s Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka (Russian Life Books) is as comprehensive a book as one could hope to find on the six-hundred year love/hate affair between Russia and vodka, the sacred and profane ‘little water,’ a name which almost seems to denote…
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THE STORY OF MY PURITY by Francesco Pacifico. Translated from the Italian by Stephen Twilley



Book Reviews

The Story of My Purity’s narrator, Piero Rosini, teeters on the edge of his fanatical Catholic faith. He doesn’t realize this, of course, but we do. As we observe Piero looking for a way out of his job as an editor at Non Possumus —…
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CLAY by Melissa Harrison



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Book Reviews

Going in to Melissa Harrison’s debut novel, Clay (Bloomsbury), it helps to understand the extent to which the focus of the book comes from the author’s own personal perspective. Harrison grew up in a very verdant area of Britain, and, upon later moving to a…
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WAYS OF GOING HOME by Alejandro Zambra.  Translated by Megan McDowell



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Book Reviews

The National Stadium in Santiago, Chile, was built in 1938, and in its first decades played host to many major events, including the World Cup in 1962. After September 11th, 1973, when a coup d’etat in Chile overthrew the elected leader Salvador Allende and installed…
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PERCIVAL EVERETT BY VIRGIL RUSSELL by Percival Everett



Book Reviews

Percival Everett by Virgil Russell (Graywolf Press) is distinguished English professor and prolific author Percival Everett’s twenty-fifth novel and is being hailed—as the dizzying title reflects—his most labyrinthine and “category-defying” to date. The book opens with an exhaustingly intellectual old man sitting in a nursing…
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THE INVISIBLES by Hugh Sheehy



Book Reviews

The short story has long been a hotbed for the wicked, off-kilter, anomalous, and unnoticeable.  Blame the brevity of the genre’s form, which allows for a degree of leniency with backstory, character development, and the logic of a fictional universe—a suspension of disbelief perfect for…
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THE SKY CONDUCTING by Michael J. Seidlinger



Book Reviews

The Sky Conducting, Michael J. Seidlinger’s debut novel, is a sometimes unsettling, often dry entry into the annals of post-apocalyptic dystopian literature. In it, America is dead of an unknown event, and the only Americans left are a family. The nuclear family, as it is…
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IT’S FINE BY ME by Per Petterson



Book Reviews

It’s Fine By Me (Graywolf Press) is a familiar story of a tough kid, a menacing father, and a lonely and often brutal coming of age.  The plot is a good fit for Per Petterson’s brusque style and Norwegian heritage; the country’s cold and unforgiving…
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FAMILIAR by J. Robert Lennon



Book Reviews

Looking at them collectively, the premises of J. Robert Lennon’s novels may at times seem like particular creative writing assignments that he has given to himself. On the Night Plain, his third, and arguably finest, was an American West noir in a post-WWII setting. Mailman…
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HOLD IT ‘TIL IT HURTS by T. Geronimo Johnson



Book Reviews

As if the psychological fallout of war wasn’t a poignant enough trope (namely Afghanistan), Hold It ‘Til It Hurts (Coffee House Press) takes on the intricate delicacies of identity, family, and the socio-economic structures - especially race - that determine both our place and understanding…
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BIG RAY by Michael Kimball



Book Reviews

Michael Kimball’s new novel, BIG RAY (Bloomsbury), about a man’s deceased 500 pound father, is a slim 180 pages of more than 500 short entries ranging in size from a couple of paragraphs to a single sentence. These cosmetic contrasts of size are but one…
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ANTIGONICK, translated by Anne Carson



Book Reviews

Antigone has a long history of retellings, though none so modern or comedic as this new turn from the poet Anne Carson, which is loosely inspired by Sophokles’s classic version.
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SATANTANGO by Lazlo Krasnahorkai



Book Reviews

Perhaps most famous for its seven-hour film adaptation by Bela Tarr, this is the first translation of Lazlo Krasznahorkai‘s breakthrough novel, Satantango (New Directions), to appear in English since its original publication in 1985, twenty-seven years ago. Renowned poet-translator George Szirtes’ (The Slant Door) latest…
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THE LIFE OF AN UNKNOWN MAN by Andreï Makine



Book Reviews

Toggling in time between modern-day Russia, the Siege of Leningrad, and the ineffable romance of Paris, Andreï Makine’s rather short, but rarely sweet novel, The Life of an Unknown Man (Graywolf Press), deftly explores some age-old archetypes—the woes of war, the nature of identity, and…
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THE LEGEND OF PRADEEP MATHEW by Shehan Karunatilaka



Book Reviews

Whenever a big test match bubbles up to the international sports headlines, I start to get uncomfortable. As a sports fan, I want to like—or at least understand—cricket, but I’ve never been able to make sense out of its mysterious scoring, languid pace, and baroque,…
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CITY OF BOHANE by Kevin Barry



Book Reviews

In Kevin Barry’s new novel City of Bohane (Graywolf Press), it is easy to be swept under by the sheer inventiveness of his writing and the deeply imagined shape of the world he’s created. Bohane, a fictional town surrounded by the Big Nothing on the…
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AMSTERDAM STORIES by Nescio



Book Reviews

Certainly no one would be able to capture him in a story the way that Nescio, a businessman-cum-writer did in “The Freeloader.” The multitalented Dutchman went by the pen name Nescio but was really J.H.F. Grönloh, a successful director of the Holland-Bombay Trading Company, who created what many consider some of the greatest Dutch modern writing of the early 20th century.
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VLADIMIR’S MUSTACHE by Stephan Eirik Clark



Book Reviews

Set against the backdrop of Russian history from the time of Peter the Great to the post-Soviet collapse, Stephan Eirik Clark‘s debut collection of short stories Vladimir’s Mustache () invokes a remarkable series of history’s ghosts. Each builds shuddering momentum, like a…
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THE LIFE OF SUPER-EARTHS by Dimitar Sasselov / PHYSICS ON THE FRINGE by Margaret Werthheim



Book Reviews

Recently, there was a major news story about Russian scientists in Antarctica who, after drilling down through over two miles of ice, had reached Lake Vostok, the largest sub-glacial lake in the world.  They were looking for what life, if any, they might find there,…
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OMICRON CETI III by Thomas P. Balázs



Book Reviews

The namesake story of Thomas P. Balázs’s debut collection, Omicron Ceti III (Aqueous Books), opens with a list by Erik, the wry and institutionalized main character. As well-developed a personality as any Balázs creates, Erik demonstrates both what works and what doesn’t about Balázs’s collection…
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NO ENEMIES, NO HATRED by Liu Xiaobo



Book Reviews

Almost two years have passed since Liu Xiaobo, the poet, professor and political dissident, won the Nobel Peace Prize (becoming the first person from mainland China to receive the distinction). However, Beijing was not pleased by Liu’s award, as he is currently serving an eleven-year…
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GLORIOUS NEMESIS by Ladislav Klíma



Book Reviews

‘He was a social democrat and a fool, but may the Lord grant him eternal glory.’ There is a moment in Ladislav Klíma’s previous novel from Twisted Spoon Press, The Sufferings of Prince, where the poor prince, an aristocrat and favourite of the German Kaiser,…
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LEAVING THE ATOCHA STATION by Ben Lerner



Book Reviews

Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station (Coffee House Press) marks the poet’s first foray into prose fiction—with, it has to be said, very impressive results. This is an unusual American novel, sensitive to contemporary politics, absorbent of modern technology, weary of the easy consolations of…
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