Tag Archives: MEGAN ABBOTT

Four (not Miles Davis’s)

11 Jul

 

 

 

Heretics by Leonardo Padura

 

We’re now at the halfway point of the summer and, to quote Beatle (it pains me to think that there are people who don’t know who he is) George Harrison, “life goes on within you and without you…” Reading being part of the thing that goes on within you. As there is a yearly onrush of pre-season beach/summer reading list/listicles one might expect an imminent outbreak of reading across the land—which honestly has escaped my attention—though I would be curious to know what was actually being read. I think I had an entry in the summer reading derby but it is a few weeks later I (understandably?) missed a few fine novels. An oversight I correct here and now.However I am omitting the book that to me is the most important novel of the year—Heretics by the Cuban novelist, Leonard Padura, The combination of being set in Cuba and using the infamous SS St Louis incident (  in 1940, 900 hundred Jews fleeing the horrors of the Third Reich were denied entry to Cuba and sent back to Europe.) Heretics is a big book with many pages and travels the world and the centuries making a bit off the beaten track for our domestic reading public.

 

On the other hand,  the quartet of  novels I am lauding below are both well=wrought and accessible

 

 

 

 

You Belong to Me -Colin Harrison

 

Harrison is a writer who I came across almost thirty years ago when he was fiction editor at Harper’s.  Since then I have read with pleasure most of the eight novels he has written.  This new tome (coming eight years since his last) is set in contemporary Manhattan. It displays Harrison’s commanding understanding of the various life forms that accrete to the Universe’s center of ambition which results in some terse and mordant social commentary.This, as well as a propulsive plot and a fascinating protagonist, pasted me into my seat,  reading it straight through (you know, the “within you ‘ thing).

 

Megan Abbott’ opines,

 ‘Harrison loves his schemers, especially the high-stakes New York City variety, and his exuberance for plundering financiers, money-grubbing heirs and double-dealing musclemen for hire is the fuel that propels “You Belong to Me.” At the center is Paul, whose comfortable lifestyle comes from his boutique law practice but whose passion lies in obsessive rare map collecting…”

The story that follows is deliciously twisty and, intermittently, startlingly violent. With such a wide cast, its many characters risk feeling like types, or even stereotypes, but Harrison attempts to give most of them a moment in the sun: an explanatory back story, a convincing moral justification, even a Rosebud moment. “Everyone had a private journey,” Paul observes, “and no one was ever completely known by anyone. *

 

 

* Megan Abbott’s  explication of You Belong To Me

 

The Force Don Winslow

 

If you come  to this new novel by Don Winslow unaware of his  body of work, then make it a point of at least looking up the press on his magnum opus , The Power of the Dog and its second part The Cartel (Winslow has apparently set himself the task of a part 3) which unpack the web of complicity that is the thing called the War on Drugs. The Force is set in New York City and the title refers to the New York City Police Department. I doubt you have ever read a procedural like this one (Princes of the City comes close). In a brilliant introduction to the story the book’s epigram quotes, Raymond Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely,

 

“Cops are just people, ” she said irrelevantly.

They start out that way, I’ve heard.”

 

 

 

Prussia Blue Philip  Kerr

 

I came to Scottish-born writer Philip Kerr by reading one of his stand-alones A Philosophical Investigation about 30 years ago. It was only later that was drawn in and hooked by Kerr’s Third Reich era Berlin Homicide detective  Bernie Gunther of which there now exist eleven volumes. I have been pleased to chat *with Kerr on a  few occasions in which I found him to be as entertaining as was reading his stories.  Serendipitously I across Jane Kramer’s smart article on Prussian Blue the most recent in The Gunther Saga.  Among other of her  elucidations—

I never knew how hard it was to describe a thriller, especially one in which fact and fiction blend so seamlessly, until I sat down with “Prussian Blue.” Thrillers are thorny gifts for critics.  With a great thriller, the important thing is to tell the story while never giving anything away, certainly not who did it and, in the case of a Gunther thriller—densely populated and always dizzyingly complex—the logic by which our redoubtable protagonist finally gets his man.

The best thrillers share some of that depth and density. They are really social histories, disguised in nineteenth-century-novel form, though often with a bit of late-twentieth-century nouveau roman thrown in, perhaps to signal the sensitive self-searching of some of their toughest sleuths. They paint what could even be called ethnographic portraits of societies in which particular kinds of crimes consistently appear and of the people who tend to commit those crimes.

 

*My first chat with Philip Kerr

 

 

 

 

Isadora Amelia Gray

 

Based on reading her stories in Gutshot, that Amelia Gray chose to examine the life of Isadora Duncan after Duncan suffered an unimaginable personal was something unexpected. But put surprise that down a lapse in my understanding of the growth of a young writer. If you are  expecting a window into the famous dancer’s art you will be disappointed as Gray’s focus is Duncan’s post-tragedy life

Gayle Brandeis gushes* (with justification)

 

…She [Gray] brings her characteristic wit and observation and sense of the absurd to this novel. As with her other books, it is divided into fragments — each chapter almost a work of flash fiction or prose poem unto itself — but it is the most deeply sustained of her books to date, the most epic and ambitious. It is a brutal novel in many ways, completely unrelenting in its depiction of pain, yet that makes it exhilarating, too. Gray is a fearless writer, a writer willing to look into the most profound darkness and find strange, compelling music there. I started out reading this book wishing I had written it; I finished it deeply grateful Gray had.

 

 

* Gayle Brandeis writes on Amelia Gray and her newest novel...

 

 

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The Year That was: The Best American Annuals

19 Nov
Fifty Best American Short Stories 1915 1965 edited by Martha Foley

Fifty Best American Short Stories 1915 1965 edited by Martha Foley

Since 1915 Houghton Mifflin (et al) has maintained the tradition of publishing a yearly anthology of short fiction (ably assembled, for many years, by Martha Foley) entitled not surprisingly Best American Short Stories. Leaving aside the unfortunate American overuse of superlatives, this annual collection is high quality rivaled only by the yearly O Henry Prize stories compendium. Each year a guest editor is presented with about a 100 stories, drawn from a very broad and diverse mix of publications and culled from a much larger group by the current series editor.

As is the practice of Best American annuals, novelist Jennifer Eagan guest edited 2014’s volume. Among the contributors are, CHARLES BAXTER, ANN BEATTIE, T.C. BOYLE, PETER CAMERON, JOSHUA FERRIS, NELL FREUDENBERGER, DAVID GATES, LAUREN GROFF, BENJAMIN NUGENT,JOYCE CAROL OATES, KAREN RUSSELL and Laura Van Den Berg. Worthy reading.

The Best American Short Stories 2014 edited by Jennifer Eagan

The Best American Short Stories 2014 edited by Jennifer Eagan

 

Sometime in the 1980’s Best American Essays  (and Best American Mystery Stories )was added to the soon to be burgeoning Best American brand under the direction of Robert Atwan. This year’s essays anthology is guest-edited by John Jeremiah Sullivan, he of the celebrated essay collection Pulphead.  Even if you are not familiar with this  all-star cast of writers such as DAVE EGGERS, EMILY FOX GORDON, MARY GORDON, VIVIAN GORNICK, LESLIE JAMISON, ARIEL LEVY, YIYUN LI, BARRY LOPEZ, CHRIS OFFUTT, ZADIE SMITH, ELIZABETH TALLENT,WELLS TOWER, PAUL WEST and JAMES WOOD, be assured that the topics chosen range far and wide with refreshingly original explications.

The Best American Essays 2014 edited by John Jeremiah Sullivan

The Best American Essays 2014 edited by John Jeremiah Sullivan

Baltimore’s talented crime story novelist Laura Lippman hosts this year’s Best American Mystery Stories 2014 and consciously avoids drawing from the usual suspects thus including surprising names for the genre— MEGAN ABBOTT, DANIEL ALARCÓN, RUSSELL BANKS ,JAMES LEE BURKE ,PATRICIA ENGEL, ERNEST FINNEY, ROXANE GAY, CHARLAINE HARRIS,JOSEPH HELLER, ANNIE PROULX and LAURA VAN DEN BERG.

Best American Mystery Stories edited by Laura Lippman

Best American Mystery Stories edited by Laura Lippman

Sometime around the turn of the century, someone over at Houghton Mifflin with a some marketing savvy added all manner of categories to the Best American brand which currently includes—Travel Writing, Science and Nature Writing, American Comics, American Infographics and Non-Required Reading.

Not to draw to fine a point but I am still troubled by the insistence on literary journalists and other wise thoughtful folks can not shed themselves of mania for superlatives. The Best American Stories don’t have to carry that name for me to be interested reading them.