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Book Reviews

Hurt People by Cote Smith



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Book Reviews

Among the ominous landscapes drawn by FSG authors such as Frank Bill and Amelia Gray, Smith’s hometown of Leavenworth, Kansas fits right in, with its prisons looming over the novel like watchful guards. Opportunity, here in the center of a prison industrial complex, is a chance at catching an escaped convict, while seemingly the only entertainments on offer are rented movies, darts, and boxed wine.
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THE LOSS OF ALL LOST THINGS by Amina Gautier



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Book Reviews

The fifteen stories in The Loss of All Lost Things (Elixir Press) force us to dismantle our understanding of loss, to question what can and cannot be misplaced, to examine failures in fidelity, absences in emotion, lapses in judgment and leaps in behavior all in pursuit of human connection.
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Revisits: Don DeLillo’s AMERICANA



Book Reviews

There is blood on the hands of the American soul. If we are born American citizens, we inherit this stain; but if we begin our lives elsewhere and then choose our American citizenship, we must absorb the stain as a necessary burden. We must prove or disprove through work, destruction, or enlightenment—through choice and action—that, to a point, we are well-suited to our national identity.
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SUBMISSION by Michel Houellebecq



Book Reviews

More than a scare-mongering screed warning of a coming Muslim invasion of Europe, Houellebecq's thorny, hard-to-decipher novel warns of the dangers of modernism, untethered as it is to a larger belief system.
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HALF AN INCH OF WATER by Percival Everett



Book Reviews

"The majority of the characters in these nine stories are dealing with traumas of some sort, whether it be one that occurred long ago or one that happens over the course of their individual story."
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UPRIGHT BEASTS by Lincoln Michel



Book Reviews

While Michel’s style is perhaps more closely aligned with the likes of Raymond Carver, his short-shorts call to mind the genius of Lydia Davis, the ability to drop the reader into an unfamiliar environment and wound her before she has time to construct a defense.
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SENTENCES AND RAIN by Elaine Equi



Book Reviews

As Equi writes in the titular poem: the words “drench us all at once,” with their “bend/and reach/toward meaning.” They drench with cleverness and poise, but never inundate; they reach toward but never clutch at meaning. Her poems, “resist the intelligence/Almost successfully,” as Wallace Steven once exhorted—they thrive on a knife’s edge of sense and imagination, intellect and form.
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DRYLAND by Sara Jaffe



Book Reviews

Fifteen-year-old Julie Winter is a typical teen, but Sara Jaffe‘s careful presentation of her coming of age in Dryland (Tin House Books) lavishes it with such loving attention to detail that it glows with a particularity that will be recognizable to former teens everywhere. Who…
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A WOMAN LOVED by Andreï Makine



Book Reviews

In A Woman Loved (Graywolf Press), Russian-born French author Andreï Makine uses one writer’s obsession with Catherine the Great to ask how history affects individuals, and if it is possible to escape its pressures. After a first short film receives favor from the Politburo, screenwriter…
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WHY GROW UP? Subversive Thoughts for an Infantile Age by Susan Neiman



Book Reviews

Susan Neiman’s lively treatise on the how modern society celebrates the trappings of youth and rejects the stigmas of adulthood, Why Grow Up?: Subversive Thoughts for an Infantile Age (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), doesn’t limit itself to finding the incentives to be found in embracing…
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BEAUTIFUL MUTANTS / SWALLOWING GEOGRAPHY by Deborah Levy



Book Reviews

Poet and playwright Deborah Levy staked out the territory of post-modern alienation with a vengeance in her first two novellas. 1989’s Beautiful Mutants and 1993’s Swallowing Geography (Bloomsbury) still thrum decades later with disdain for an increasingly confused free market world. Levy switches perspective and…
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THE SUNSHINE CRUST BAKING FACTORY by Stacy Wakefield



Book Reviews

Set twenty years in the past, Stacy Wakefield’s debut novel, The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory (Akashic Books), comes at an opportune time to look back at the heyday of the practice of squatting, both in the US and Europe, and consider what has become of…
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THE ODD WOMAN AND THE CITY by Vivian Gornick



Book Reviews

ODE TO A DYING CITY Vivian Gornick’s elegiac memoir, The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), is a kind of ode to a liberal, intellectual New York that no longer exists – and one she knows she never can or…
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I REFUSE by Per Petterson. Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett.



Book Reviews

Per Petterson’s I Refuse (Graywolf Press) is, as the title suggests, a novel concerned with egoism and repression. It is also about suffering, and the two protagonists, Jim and Tommy, suffer similarly for their self-centeredness—they are middle-aged, alone, and miserable. Tommy has a vague career…
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THE DISCREET HERO by Mario Vargas Llosa



Book Reviews

Money, religion, sex, intrigue: Mario Vargas Llosa delivers all of these in his new novel, The Discreet Hero (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), as befits a Nobel prize-winning author who stated at the beginning of his career that he wants to create “total novels.” Set both…
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WELCOME TO BRAGGSVILLE by T. Geronimo Johnson



Book Reviews

Welcome to Braggsville (William Morrow) is the story of D’aron Little May Davenport, valedictorian of Braggsville (“The City that Love Built in the Heart of Georgia, Population 712”) high school and t UC “Berzerkely” undergrad. Davenport and his three idealistic best friends and Cal classmates…
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SEE YOU IN PARADISE: Stories by J. Robert Lennon



Book Reviews

The first story you encounter in See You in Paradise, J. Robert Lennon‘s electric book of short stories is “Portal.” As easy as it seems to dismiss the idea behind the story--a family of four discovers a literal portal in their backyard that takes them…
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THE LAW OF LOVING OTHERS by Kate Axelrod



Book Reviews

Uncertainty and indecision are not limited to any specific demographic, but they are both central to adolescence. Whereas later in life they can lead to wheel spinning, on the path to adulthood they’re just as likely to serve as driving factors. At that age, an…
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AFTER BIRTH by Elisa Albert



Book Reviews

WHEN POST-PREGNANCY IS A HORROR MOVIE When we meet Ari, the narrator of Elisa Albert’s new novel, After Birth (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), it is a year following her son’s birth, and she hasn’t quite shaken the damage it has wreaked on her identity. Ari, a…
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AN AMOROUS DISCOURSE IN THE SUBURBS OF HELL by Deborah Levy



Book Reviews

Is there a right way to be happy? The foremost strength of An Amorous Discourse in the Suburbs of Hell (And Other Stories) does not lay necessarily in the beauty of Man Booker Prize shortlisted author Deborah Levy’s writing, but rather in the pertinent idea…
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UGLY GIRLS: A Novel by Lindsay Hunter



Book Reviews

Baby Girl and Perry, the ‘fake ass thugs’ at the center of Lindsay Hunter’s debut novel Ugly Girls (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), spend their days waiting for the night, the moment when they can hotwire a car from the fancy neighboring community The Estates and…
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NOW WE WILL BE HAPPY by Amina Gautier



Book Reviews

Now We Will Be Happy (University of Nebraska Press, 2014) announces in its title the doom of its characters, for of course no such declaration can possibly be fulfilled. Amina Gautier builds on her previous book, At-Risk (University of Georgia Press, 2011), with this new…
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THE ANTIGONE POEMS. Poetry by Marie Slaight. Art by Terrence Tasker.



Book Reviews

Though doomed from birth and dead by the exodus, Antigone endures endlessly. As the central figure in Sophocles’ eponymous tragedy, she was conjured—righteous and rebellious—in 441 BCE and has been invoked, translated, reincarnated, and re-imagined countless times since. In modern history, she has spoken in…
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BRIGHT SHARDS OF SOMEPLACE ELSE: Stories by Monica McFawn



Book Reviews

The characters in Monica McFawn‘s Flannery O’Connor award-winning story collection Bright Shards of Someplace Else (The University of Georgia Press) are only loosely rooted in daily reality. Whether helpless to make the messy details of life conform to their idea of how it should be,…
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OUT OF THE DUST by Klaus Merz. Translated by Marc Vincenz.



Book Reviews

Out of the Dust (Spuyten Duyvil Press), a collection of poetry recently translated from German, offers the reader a series of stark and often surprisingly unsettling glances through the eyes of the Swiss poet, Klaus Merz. Though something is almost always inevitably lost in the…
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FACES IN THE CROWD / SIDEWALKS by Valeria Luiselli



Book Reviews

Valeria Luiselli’s Faces in the Crowd, a novel, and Sidewalks, a sequence of essays, have been published simultaneously by Coffee House Press, like components of a single project, and have a combined weight that dwarfs the already considerable gravity they have individually. Sidewalks is a…
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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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