Obviously Robin Gregory is a well-read writer. Not only does she mimic Homer’s “wine dark sea” with the novel’s opening of “dories…and spider crabs flood[ing] the beach like a ghostly pink tide,” but also refers back to great YA series like A Series of Unfortunate Events through her grim imaginativeness. Gritty magical realism is in vogue, if we account for the non-YA St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised By Wolves by Karen Russell and Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi beside which The Improbable Wonders holds its own.
The Arrival of Missives is an immensely readable book. It contains delightfully light characterizations in which people are encapsulated by a phrase, a tone of voice, a gesture. And, towards the end of the novel, intentionally or not (what does it matter?), there is an image straight out of Hamlet that provides beauty and horror in equal measure.
Every story told in the book is written as a past memory and Lucy intertwines her own reflections as she tells her story. The story is told through the narrator’s point of view in the same fashion one would write a memoir about his or her own life. What Elizabeth Strout has done so brilliantly is convinced readers that Lucy’s life is real and we are a part of it.
Solange’s journey is one that takes her into her own heart of darkness, where she finds her limitations, her humiliations and restrictions, and the cultural, political, gendered and racial stereotypes through which she has defined herself. Throughout the novel she begins to unravel these, unwinding herself slowly until she is temporarily removed altogether as subject.
It takes strength of character to pursue, and create, human wretchedness in all its shapes for 360 pages. Like many unreliable narrators before him, Norman K ranges from obnoxious to villainous in his pretension, and The Diary of Norman K shows how uniquely we puts on airs, down to a style of speech best described by his “friend” Russell as “an Elizabethan aristocrat who had just woken up from a two-hundred-year coma.
Beneath the fun, fast, and well-plotted story, is a deep poetic exploration of yearning, creativity, and the constrictions of poverty. The characters live between pulses of transcendence that take place as they struggle to create meaning from their hand-to-mouth lives.
Themes of identity and belonging disturb the calm surface of Wendy Brandmark’s collection of short stories, which are set in Denver, New York and Boston in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Many of the stories concern characters who have been displaced geographically and emotionally: young or old, successful or unsuccessful, their lives have slipped their moorings.
Readers who look for a novel well steeped in philosophy which takes the classic love scenario and turns it upside down will find much to relish in this evocative story of adventurers who seek to reinvent not just themselves and each other, but their worlds.
These two handsome and distinctive paperbacks form part of a series showcasing the work of Russian Master Mikhail Bulgakov. Some of the stories in Notes on a Cuff appear in English for the first time, so this is a real treat for Bulgakovians. In addition, both books include valuable textual apparatus: photographs (Mikhail was quite the dandy), notes and a concluding section on the life and work of Bulgakov.
The Fugue is thus a novel of paradoxes. Inspired by a notion of the harmonious and contrapuntal progression of musical voices through time, it is equally a story about being stuck in someone else’s nightmare. An epic saga of family lives and losses, it is also a chamber piece with surprisingly few characters. Located squarely in Cicero, its moral implications ripple outwards to cover the entire world. I could not help remembering that faire fugue, in French, means to run away.