Ian started at Avid in June of 2019, just short of celebrating his 20th year in Athens. He spent most of the last 2 decades tending hipster bars and playing loud music (some folks would say you could swap those adjectives). In fact, he’s often spotted reading in dark, noisy bars. Most of his free time is spent nose-in-book, playing old video games or rewatching classic talkie films like Midnight Madness and Cabin Boy.
This book reads like a blueprint for the best of the dirtiest and darkest early Western films. It's all here: The questionable and faulty hero. The local cowards and drunks. Miners on the verge of strike. Multiple showdowns. The sacrifices of/for "Family" and/or "Friends". Way better than the movies...
Markson takes us into the mind of either A) someone suffering the trials of dementia, or B) the last person on Earth. Both scenarios worked for me. It's a highly entertaining view into cabin fever of the human brain.
Who/what were the Visceral Realists? Though bookended by the protagonist's tale of curiosity, the meat of this book sandwich is an amassment of varying opinions on its two founders that spans three decades and four continents. It reads like journalistic nonfiction which forms a bond between reader and aforementioned truth seeker. Good eats!
Wow... I'm still processing this one. It's sensory overload in three acts. ACT ONE: a bit of Primer for what's to come. ACT TWO: a brutal nightmare-journal documenting multiple creative deaths of our narrator. ACT THREE: a rollercoaster dia/monologue reminiscent of Godard's 'Weekend' or 'Contempt'. A discussion-worthy ending to boot!
In theory, there's nothing funny about war, feverously managing a trading post in the middle of the jungle, going mad working on an automobile assembly line OR scraping away a living as a broke doctor in the slums, but this snarky protagonist makes it all so in this adventure.
Here are four unique character studies, each one longer than the previous. I felt an emotional attachment for all four of the subjects which grew in intensity from story to story, so look forward to reading more Sebald in search of that fifth story or/and character.
The tale of a once-thriving ghost town told by its 'surviving' ghosts. Each apparition's narration slightly overlaps to cofabricate a shuffled timeline and scattered outcome. I tossed it into my 'Highly Re-readable' bucket.
A few glimpses and side-glimpses of a side-world in which born-into castes predetermine each character's role, but not their fate. Almost every piece of the chessboard's story is told. Loveded it.
A must-read-and-reread for kids AND adults. A permanent resident of TopTenTerritory. Don't be fooled by the simplistic cartoony look of the Bone cousins. Both the artwork and story grow darker and more complex as the adventure advances. And hilarious? Yes, it's hilarious. "Out From Boneville" is the first collection in the series.
'The Hero's Return' from Pink Floyd's 'The Final Cut' encapsulates every one of my favorite tropes of the Roger Waters/post-Barrett era in just 2 minutes 43 seconds. A great intro for folks that only know them as a concept album or songs-the-length-of-side-B band. 'Lot 49' is Pynchon's 'Hero's Return'. A g(re)ateway to an artist that some find a little intimidating. Granted, no one ever did a laser show based on Pynchon's works, but I'd be first in line with a posse, so someone get on that.
(This book cannot be returned.)
Imagine you and your coworkers under the same IHOP roof, boothed throughout most of the diner. In a manic moment, you start a pancake food fight, triggering an out-of-body experience. Circling over their heads, you reveal each and every workplace/interpersonal drama with an imaginary 'reader'. Now pick up this book and imagine you're that 'reader'. This was my intro to the beautiful insanity of Antrim.
The livid viscosity of a dark tale is always well accompanied by a slick sense of humor. One bite of this macabre macaron and I was hooked. BE NICE TO ANIMALS...
I'm that sucker for time loops and/or alternate realities that gets pretty miffed when they're handled poorly. I'm SO far from miffed. I'm touched and charmed, even.
I've attempted a review free of spoilers, but there's not much that I could offer to an educated guest that wouldn't bruise this apple.
Four stories wheelbarrowed down a potholed pathway of flawed love 'round the fecund pond in history's horribly funded public park. The cartoon-strength attitudes of the four (or five) wonderfully constructed main characters gave me the strength to accept each of their fates with que seras and a sigh.
It sure looks intimidating, but 20 pages in I was swept away by an incredibly ardent undertow. These paragraph/sentences (sentegraphs?) read like I was pulling the string of a Mattel See-N-Say, bouncing from character to character with such flawless fluidity that I occasionally had to come up for air, have a nice float, then dive right back in. An insane conclusion, to boot!
This book is 'Gravity's Rainbow Framed/Censored Roger Rabbit' AND Punch and Judy in the Marx Bros' script-doctored 'Waiting for Godot' AND 'Barton Fink' directed by the Zucker Bros. AND The Last 20-odd minutes of '2001' as a Pigs in Space sketch ALL wrapped up in one anthill. It's highbrow AND lowbrow. It's UNIBROW, like Bert and Ernst. It's comedy punches up AND down, like Intendo's 'Punch Out' (pun nintended).
I was late in the game in discovering this gem. 20 years late. In that literal score, I've mined and cashed in many literary nuggets. I've amassed, squandered, and gambled away a mental fortune. I've climbed the highest of peak contents, sailed the smoothest C-listers, and toiled through some plain ol' stinkers. Sometimes a book just finds YOU. It pulls you out of your post-voyage funk and says "Hey buddy, I've been here all along. Let's hang." SPOILER ALERT: This book is now my father.
This is a Whitman's sampler of characters and their varying slow burn relationships with Neva, a magical Christ-like figure cursed/blessed with the power to dispense seemingly endless love. But this is delicious, vulgar, beautiful, sick Vollmann. One chump's polished turd is another's oxygenated jewelry. Some sulk in the moonlight as others bask in surplus sunlight bouncing off of a big space rock. However, all of us are users, abusers and addicts of love. I walked away from this book with a much higher awareness of the worth of everyone around me: the stars, the understudies, the chorus, the backstage crew, the audience, the ticket takers, the folks in the alley behind the theater.
A spilled inkwell set into action by a 14 year old boy wanting to see naked girls. Seems commonplace enough, but in lieu of cleaning up the mess, Mathieu lets the the ink slow-flow through the grooves and divots of the 1990s drawing board. A dysfunctionate and affectional domino effect that often turns left though the right blinker's been on for miles.
This squelched my classic-tale-of-revenge fix, though my head is spinning in the attempt to bullseye the moral. A: no one really gets what they deserve, however B: what does ANYONE really deserve? Is Michael Kohlhaas a 16th century John Wick (sorry) or the cranky codger that won't leave city hall be until they put up that derned stop sign they promised, like, last year? For fans of 'Captain Blood', 'Prince of Foxes' and the like.
I just spent a guilt-free rainy day with these high calorific, double-stuffed short stories. Located within: A traffic jam turned tribal via survival, some playful narrator juggling, an escapist daydream that O. Henrys into an R. Serling nightmare, and fiery relationships that literally burn to literal litter. Looking forward to more rain.
This book is flat-out fun. The comeuppance of an awful, awful protagonist immediately ignites my stinkin' thinkin' lobe. This book is flat-out fun. By page two, the ink of the portrait of this punching-bag-of-a-scumbag has dried. Everything that follows is just a comical, fowl-mouthed, feces-fling of a farce that takes this jerk down a coke-fueled paranoia parade, spraying the town with evidence of his guilt like a topless blender set to liquefy. This book is flat-out fun.
Though not an underlinin' highlightin' dog-earer, I'll scribble rough/illegible/coded garble on whatever bookmark or receipt that ends up in my current book's progressional path. Many scripted scraps and 20 pages into 'Speedboat' I accepted that the notable moments in the book just WERE the book. I put the pen away and recycled the receipts recyclable. The bookmark stays, as I will re-read and reference this one for many years to come.
Imagine this classic switched-at-birth situation (names and time periods ignored): The director of “Twister” picks up the script for “Inception.” On day one of filming, the A.D. pleads “But boss, this seams to be a film about dreams-inside-of-dreams-inside-of-dreams” and the prideful director, refusing to own up to the clearly near-sighted mistake replies “Nope! It’s a tornado movie! ROLE CAMERA!” [For realsies, the calls to my mother and moments shared with my cat whilst inside this beautiful, exhausting, exhaustive maelstrom were more the precious to me, though COMPLETELY unexplainable to them.]
I imagine Neil Simon picking up Asher (our narrator) from Raymond Chandler's yard sale in L.A., thinking that with a little dust up and polish, he could find a swell use for him. Back in New York, with too much on his plate, Simon lends Asher out to James Purdy on the weekends. Somewhere near the end of this arrangement, there was even a scare when Asher was left in a Yellow Cab driven by Donald Barthelme.
This book is perfect short, perfect sweet and perfect to the point. Hot dog.
I cried and laughed out loud so many times throughout this book (a couple moments that inspired both were the breakdown of how it feels to have $25 billion vs. $20 billion in your bank account and 'The Golden Child' volume/valium story). Similar to his previous novel's ('The Instructions') main character, Belt's style of breaking down a single moment of thought was so addictive. I kept wanting more but some paragraphs/pages made me feel like I just ran a brain marathon, so many breaks from reading were taken. That's not a diss! As a once physically sick and mentally questionable child from a family on a tight budget, I felt the mother/son flashbacks were perfect in so many ways. I'm fighting back the urge to jabber on about how much I loved these near-tears moments (and heavy tears after her letters to Belt near the middle of the novel). The father/son relationship was very hard to decipher at first, but the third third of the book was swimming in wonderful interactions. (I have more to say, but it all leads to Spoilertown. My full review is on my Goodreads page. You've been warned...)
An unguarded pile of cash just gathering dust in an old defenseless widow's house? Sitting there under a coat in an unoccupied room? Of course a couple of young ne're-do-wells hatch a plan to just walk right in and grab it, but loose lips instantly sink ships. Right out of the gate there are too many crooks in the kitchen, sometimes one entering just as another left moments ago, creating a convoluted mess of a crime scene and a delightful read. From the street thugs to the seasoned looters to the Las Vegas white-collar criminal, everyone is far too blinded by the thought of getting their hands on that cash to think/act reasonably. This leads to a revelation for one character, a nondrinker, who chooses an AA meeting to be his alibi as the crime goes down (way down). Listening to the stories of one member he realizes, tearfully, that crime is his booze, but from here on out he will live his life crime-free! After he gets his payout for this last one, of course... then he'll quit. The story is messes upon mishaps upon misfires which makes for great pulp.
Bolaño is a master of controlled rambling. Like the conductor of a train that was thrown together by a child whose father turned his back on the model kit, but no worries, the tracks were assembled by the manufacturer and well-maintained. The train rides like the story of a beggar waiting to receive a wealthy merchant’s coin, only to be sidetracked by the tales of each content of the latter’s pocket, which may include a sci-fi adventure that leads to the grocery store receipt’s origin and/or the tear jerker legend of the movie stub. To top it off, the choo-choo’s points of departure (beggar) and arrival (merchant) are as equally fascinating and off-brand as the journey. Cowboy Graves is both a short, sweet intro to Bolaño’s style and a must-get for the completionists.
Communication’s a key ingredient to our daily life. Even choosing to avoid it says multiple somethings about us. Be the relationship cave painter and archaeologist or mother and son, down to the nanosecond most of us (speaker and auditor) repeatedly fudge it up. In that last sentence, for example, the subject choices and use of the word ‘fudge’ paint both a true-ish and false-like picture of this reviewer. But this isn’t about me (or is it?). [Ahem] Through a panoply of pitch-perfect analogies, George Saunders puts the writer/reader at the reader/writer’s la-z-boy/typewriter. With hang-out-sesh tonality, he weighs the beauty in misunderstanding against how utterly frustrating it can be to simply get what you’re being told. Fans of Understanding Comics or How to Read Nancy might enjoy placing turn-of-the-century Russian masterpieces under the microscope. It’s been over a week since I finished A Swim... (“not about me,” eh, me?) and like a kid home from camp, not a day has gone by without a few thoughts of this deep moment or that fond element. All that’s missing from that analogy is me repeatedly checking the mailbox to see if George wrote me a postcard, but that would be a downer of an ending to this wonderful book’s review (not to be confused with a wonderful book review), so it’ll surely be edited out.
Amidst a Scooby-Doo-esque mystery set primarily in the offices of an eccentric-family owned, practically unknown and partially incomplete encyclopaedic dictionary, two employees’ bizarre work days, separated by six score and several weeks, go horribly right.
Somewhere within a collection of stories, after reading, for examples, the one about the tiny faded castle, then the one about the bubble-releasing treasure chest, and the few peppered throughout about fish that drop hints of other fish from previous tales, we’ll realize that we’re reading a book about a single fishbowl. Substitute the fishbowl parts with husbands behaving badly, vague hauntings, views of Hollywood from the dirty south, and cats and cats and cats, and for the most part you have MOVIE STARS. But nearing the end, the camera pulls back to reveal the true subject matter of the book: The author sitting at home, lit by moonlight in a powerless house, staring at nothing and everything, slowly emptying the entire content of the fish food shaker (against all warnings) into the bowl. And once again, I forgot to mention up top that this book is, no joke, hilarious.
Jack Levitt is a dilapidated shanty with Getty Museum guts. When all who pass through his life just get a view of a defective-septic-tank-induced swampyard, Don Carpenter gives us a tour of the house’s inner workings. Originally released in 1964, Carpenter’s use of realist magicism monitors a unique balance between true-to-its-time and ahead-of-its-time. I’d like to say this book is perfect, but so isn’t anything.
I get way too excited about this book, turn into the Micro Machines Man suffering hiccups. I don’t know where to start, so I open seven sentences all at once. Lacking Namwali Serpell’s skills to gracefully braid them into a concise (yet carnival-ride-bumpy) narrative, I just sound like a maniac. One who imagines some seamonster muse washing up a barrel of characters, demanding that she “Use them! Use them until they are worn down to mere near-nothings! When someone walks out the door for good, BE NOT DONE WITH THEM!” Y’all, I really don’t know how to review this one... For one thing, labelling it Sci-fi or Fantasy is like calling a person with two cats a Cat Person. It just IS. And what that “IS” is is Kid-In-A-Candy-Shoppe-With-A-Credit-Card Fiction. It’s all over the right place at all over the right time. I loved it, and remember [hic] if it doesn’t say Micro Machines [hic] it’s not the [hic] real thing.
Mostly an experiment in style, mapping the journeys of a brain left on autopilot in the neighborhood of eerie and hilarious. A scenario, smack dab in the middle of the book, in which Child asks Mother to buy a Balloon, sums up the vibe. Mother does so, but makes it clear that if Child frees Balloon, there will be no purchase of Balloon Two, no matter the tear count or temperature of tantrum. “Why would I let go of what I so obviously desire” quickly spins into “now all I can think about is letting it go.” Each story a unique fresh dent on the hungover brain’s sedan.
Stories built on foundations of unbalanced karma, the self identifying itself and male douchebaggery where (oftentimes) the inner pessimistic optimist lets the outer optimistic pessimist’s joy really bum him out, only to then retaliate with focused blind passion. I was introduced to the term “get your poops in a group” in this collection, and that, in a nutshell, is the goal of it’s protagonists, though some poops do get lost here and there.
I read the first 40 pages after work, keys in hand at the front door. Clocked out, lights off, door unlocked, I stood there sampling the first page and then, well, the receding sun said “nope, lock up, take it home like a normal person.” As a fellow jotter (I jot a lot) of every light-bulb-moment, I instantly fell in love with this book. Amid all the references to Penelope’s indeterminable wait for Odysseus’ return, there lived my favorite flavor of the book: the love letter, in a series of notes, to the one-in-waiting’s notebook. [sigh...]. A painting of Wittgenstein’s Mistress in Renata Adler’s Speedboat biding its time on a velvet, deceptively raging river.
I’ve never enjoyed a story’s derailment as much as this, and it hops the rails again, again and again. Every section of ELADATL starts off as pie and instantly morphs into cake. With two authors at the helm, it has an Exquisite Corpse vibe, but clearly in the hands of professional aeronauts (just compare the oceanic difference between good and bad improv [either team’s name: The AeroNutz!]). What starts off as a collection of short stories, set in an alternative California, quickly becomes a movie and/or/about/within a dream and/or vice versa and so on. This sounds like a mess, I know, but like I said up top, every turn the book takes makes for a delightful treat. Baron Munchausen meets The Savage Detectives.
The load bearing frame of this little coming-of-age powerhouse is composed of such comforting and well worn-in tropes (The Kids who don’t think twice before eloquently letting loose what I was just stinkin’ thinkin’ at that age; The “Cool” Young Teacher who’s really just as lost as the students; The Podunk County that has the hallmarks of a prison ship lost at sea), which is why, when the story takes a sudden series of macabre dives, it still left me wanting, especially expecting, everything to work out for all involved in the end. And, in it’s own way...
Weeks before an impending war on American soil, a harmless prank, well, not a prank, but kind of harmless nonetheless, goes wrong. And when trying to do the right thing, while not exactly in the right, things just get worse. Meanwhile, a humorous night at work leads to a neighborhood’s nightmare, an elaborate sex party must go down without a hitch, and people all over town are calling in bomb threats to get out of daily resposibilities. We ride along with Della, who, with the best vermouth of humor, is all at once trying to fix, create and flee from every anxiety in her playbook. A real tag team throwdown between empathy, sympathy, hostility and not giving a hoot ensues.
As is the case for many of his books: Like a Fisher Price Little Person in a multi axis trainer set to “Medium Low”, Dag Solstad’s protagonist is locked in place at the epicenter of the action to excessively observe the moderately spinning days away. And we, the readers (the staff of NASA: Toy Division [Silly Existential Affairs Unit]) are there to merely observe (and in my case, report) with a steady, if not occasionally confused, smirk on our faces.
Our “hero” takes us on many liquor-fueled Mobius Teacup Rides between East and West Germany, keeping the limbo bench warm on the sidelines of love and lust, looking for someone, something, or some country to blame for his writer’s block, impotence, and irresponsibility. Told in such a comedic, controlled scatter to keep the reader comfortably teetered on a seat’s edge, if sitting’s a thing said reader’s into.
I like my short story collections succise when they’ve sufficed, so exactly that: short. Most ‘collected works’ on my shelves have pristine spines beyond their midpoint, often leaving my guilt tank half full (or half empty when the weather’s nice). However, Henry Dumas, though sprinkling many of the same thematic toppings, offers the reader every flavor in the parlor. Most of the stories deserve pause, post read, to let what just happened wash over, only to immediately rev the curiosity into the next.
I love Evenson’s short stories and especially dug this collection. And maybe it was enhanced by the extended weekend alone in my great-grandmother's mountain house, a lamplit cellular dead zone equipped with an unpaid landline (911 the only outgoing option). Maybe the bottle of mid-shelf scotch I packed (to feel like a classy sassy vacationing adult) paired with the slow crush of leaves under mystery feet, preceded by crickets hushing, overlapped by bullfrogs bellowing, that soundtracked my moonlit porch reading hours gave it some extra oomph. Maybe it’s just a great batch of gothic horror fantasy on it’s own, but I do suggest a little mood lighting, at least.
Story begins (person introduced to us in a world-shifting funk). Story continues (person digs deeper, finds new life lows, when will they learn). Story concludes (this is where so many authors screw it up, probably because of how much hot sauce they either left out of or dumped all over Part Two). I LOVE YOU BUT’s Part Two is so spicy at the first bite and completely tasteless (no, not that way) the next, all whilst never achieving bad. Should you complain to the waiter? No... you like it... but… the waiter walks up and asks if you’d like Part Three for dessert, but, no… not yet. What is the next bite not going to taste like?
Well, I don’t want to give anything away, so I set up two unrelated scenarios.
Scenario one: Drinking yourself out of a world-shifting funk that morphs into a party-time night of debauchery and unseasonal skinnydipping in and around a security-free apartment complex’s pool. Lights out, then starwipe to morning; you’re naked, hungover and oh my god that poolwater’s a new kind of blackgreen. You know something wonderful occurred, but the top of the previous day’s bell curve is hiding somewhere in your murky blackout, just like the deep end of the (cess)pool now owns your wallet.
Scenario two: A friend convinces you to get out of your world-shifting funk by attending their BBQ. You park your car on their seemingly flat driveway, but on return see that it has slowly rolled it’s way across the “normally busy at this hour” street and come to rest, unharmed, in the for-reals flat driveway of one of the even-number-addressed houses. Everything’s fine and good in the end, but you’re reduced to a life-choices-up-to-that-moment-questioning yard ornament, your friend’s friends’ high fives a deafening, all-engulfing swarm of hornets.
One of those was a personal experience. I won’t say which, but it doesn’t rhyme with “the platter.” Just the same, I’m not really sure how much of this book by Claire Vaye Watkins about Claire Vaye Watkins is factually about Claire Vaye Watkins. AND, in the vein of the kind-of-made-up messes I wrote above, I LOVE YOU BUT’s mellow when times are awful and rocky when pleasant. But way, way better.
For the reader of suspense who wants it all, LADY JOKER, VOL. ONE gives 100% (or 50%, with VOL. TWO’s English translation arriving in 2022). A heist tale, told from the POV of the heisters, heistees, law enforcement and media, with equally dispersed backstory (to root for all) and withheld info (to trust in none). It is a bit massive, but perfectly paced, doled out and subtly streamlined; an unexpected speedy read. Question: Where have you been all my life? Answer: In Japan since, like, the 90s… learn a second language, pal. Whoa, there, buddy.
Nine stories that take place in the same bookiverse and point the magnifying glasses to voyeurism. It all starts with a woman listening in on her neighbors’ party so closely that she winds up stuck inside the shared wall of their duplex. One character winds up in the fifth room (yours) of a four-bedroom apartment (his), therefore “missing” in the world of the bookiverse. Background folks make repeat appearances, altered in each to fit how they’re viewed by the “main” characters. All just parts of the visible anthill, yet this deceptive minikin could easily overwhelm an above-moderate yard [insert mischievous mwahaha.].
With brilliant dialogue and oblivious schlepping, a la Stoppard’s Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, Aickman’s two hilarious ladies in wading wander through the horrors of war, men of all disastrousies, and political upheaval completely unfazed. Fazeless and savvy enough to put the reader at ease as atrocities atrocite at a false-alarming rate.
With a heavy heart and a recently missing cat (wringing out the old year, hearing the ringing of the new through my poorly insulated walls), I started a book that followed me home from work. For years, Samantha Hunt novels, on glancing and flipping, have always looked to be in the “Alley (up my)” or “Wheelhouse (in my)” genres, but this is my first and, by golly, I can’t stop rambling, deleting, rambling, deleting this review. She lets grief, family, empathy, childhood, alcohol, a boy band, authority, loss, parenthood, faith (and much much more) drop, all at once, into the top of the Plinko board, amazingly not jamming the derned thing up. What settles at the bottom is a nice, orderly, call for all to relish the unknown, hold tight to loss, and madlib the half-assed answers to life’s half-asked questions. I, for one, am retooling “rut” and giving a new shine to “stuck in a.” However, as newly-formed fanboy insecurities blossom, the Samantha Hunt in my mind says “well, YOU sure missed the point on the head.” But surely the fact that I got what I wanted out of [the book, which I forgot to mention is a work of nonfiction] was surely the point of it exactly. Or at least that’s what I got out of it. Surely.
Starts off as a love letter to a mother then oh so quickly flips the script, an inverted sour/hot candy with the sweet leading the excruciating (lots of jaw dropping in this little jawbreaker).
If not the best fantasy I've ever read (I've admittedly read very little), then for sure a condiment of the fancy sort on my best reads sandwich. It's a knight tale with the Christian hooha swapped out for Norse badassedry. Cliffhangers a plenty, but it's up to the reader to put the 2s and twos together to diagnose the climbs and/or falls. Go ahead and drop the movies Big and The Fisher King in a juicer and, you know, juice. Can I rate this higher than 10? No? Okay...
Add some century jumpin’ to the globetrottin’ (and jokes that don’t crashland) to the film Until the End of the World and the mood is set for Siege. Anthropology Noir at it’s finest, as I adore a book that takes me for a good genre hop and nature walk towards a foggy destination. Daitch really puts Two and Two on the table, only to sleight-of-hand you the hypnotic history of said table. Some smoke, a few mirrors, then, spoiler alert, you’re sharing a table for two with Four. Where’d you come from, Four? Cocktails (whoosh), appetizers (poof) and I’ve turned this review into dinner and a movie at the Magic Castle. Synopsis: I loved Siege of Comedians and want more Siege of Comedians.
At post-synopsis-glance, I looked mildly forward to a “Natural Born Bonnie and Clyde” formulated, coming-of-rage adventure. However, this isn’t the traipse through the tropes that I half-expected. Every checkpoint on the genre’s tally card has a unique stop-and-smell-the-roses moment that smooths the macabre like a rock-tumbled geode. Teenager is big in heart for those not faint of heart, with an ending that “see-you-next-FALL” sucker-tripped my emotions in full view of the rest of my guffawing thoughts.
A childhood wound is re-salted via USPS, so creative-writing-prof-on-the-no-tenure-fast-track Iris drops everything (but the package) to do some personal soul trampling. In Scapegoat, real life professor Beilin gives us both a passionate rant and an angry vaudeville act, all the while megaphoning from the text to her real life students that this is NOT how it’s done. And she really Does the splendid heck out of the Don’ts. Creator/creation and fact/fiction blur/burp into/out a sort of Journey to the End of the Dud Avocado… with (a real highlight) talking feet.
Right out of the gate, with no warning, you’re immediately launched (pushed?) down the steepest narrative slope, but just relax, let this unreliable narrator take the reins and experience the tumult. This was the most bookborn fun I’ve experienced in a good while, very “Antkind, Newburyport.”
Hoo boy, [spoilers] and [censored] and [oh my] galore!
I’m still on a globetrotty search for coming-of-age stories set in the 1990s (specifically 92-96) to hold up my bland high school soft-serve experience-machine. This one here is a perfectly paced and passionate ode to Lebanon, family drama and young friendship, served up like a mystery.
After a kerplunker and a stinker, I read this palate cleanser in one and a half sittings: a hilarious breeze across the leafy porch of my mind. Each tiny chapter a brief snob-on-snob horizontal blow (for those who like their comedy to punch neither down nor up), a building block to a tiny masterpiece reminiscent of a Donald Antrim novel. Like like like.
I’ve really missed Saunders’ short story collections, his groupings of sickly sweet tales that go down so deceptively quick and easy that you get gassy from all the emotions you just chugged. Snobbishly, I was quite well-that-was-cool’d by LINCOLN IN THE BARDO and ELLIOTT SPENCER (2019 New Yorker piece [is it snobbishly or snobbingly?], also here in LIBDAY) as I’m always glad to see my faves going to town with experimentation. Obsessively, SWIM IN A POND had me jumping up and down as it granted me E tickets to his brainpark! But worriedly, I was getting a little, uh, worried that he had indefinitely moved on from short story collections. It’s classic fanboy “why-isn’t-he-doing-the-thing-I-like-that-he-did-but-doing-it-now-and-all-the-time-the-way-I-like-it” gerbage that I try to keep at bay, but is always just around the corner of Verbal Drive and Diarrhea Lane. Well, with LIBDAY, Saunders threw a pie in that fanboy’s face, did a Daffy Duck woohoo-woohoo and disappeared in a Saunders-shaped poof of smoke. Piefaced and glowing, I witnessed, in one sitting (hovering by the end), all those beloved Saundersisms unleashed, with every flavor and range of emotion given to and taken from me-the-reader. Patience (fanboy kryptonite) proves worth-it in the end. This is a wonderful collection and, pleasantly sated, this obsessive worrywart snob looks forward to any and all that GS holds for the future.
Not much is known about the painter Chaim Soutine, as the curmudgeon refused to personally dish with even the rare few who got close enough to peer into his cracked eggshell. Steve Stern had to take some liberties here, but pulls from his vast knowledge of Jewish lore to connect the history-dots with his trademark fantastical style. It's uplifty, downtroddy, and sadly whimsy-bodied.
FAMILY ALBUM was like being the ninth ghost in a (dead and) seedy bar, hopping from stool to booth to pool table and asking the other eight haints to each tell me their best story, but specter-to-specter-like with little eye contact. In conclusion, a wonderful night on the right side of the tracks. Five yelp review.