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.
Watchman is a coming-of-age story about 26-year-old Jean Louise who is racially tolerant and non-apologetic towards Maycomb’s prevalent bigotry. Upon discovering that her closest friends and family have adopted the very social standards that Atticus fought against in Mockingbird, Jean Louise must find her own moral code and identity. “Prejudice, a dirty word, and faith, a clean one, have something in common: they both begin where reason ends.”
Kathleen Spivack’s Unspeakable Things has everything a great novel, let alone debut novel, should have. There’s irreverent passion, unexpected ways of shocking, a healthy libido (in this case the two are connected), light touches of magical realism, and poeticism.
Life isn’t always a linear path though, and there is a strong though subtle meta-fictional aspect to this story that reminds us we are always working towards a broader meaning making than a single story might provide. It’s here that the themes re-emerge, along with questions about genetic inheritance, about how we make and remake ourselves, how meaning is created, and the role of language and love in all of its forms. The Last Thread is about all of those threads and more.
John Biscello is clearly an immensely gifted writer who has attempted something in Raking the Dust that will certainly win it admirers. I admire much of it myself, yet I find I cannot warm to it. The trade-off between life and literature often involves some strenuous negotiations, the outcomes of which are not always what we would wish. Raking the Dust describes an extreme case, and our appreciation of the novel will depend on our responses to Alex and his problems.
Characters are well developed, many are despicable and familiar, taking their cue from so-called experts that rant in the public view on television. This fast paced work is filled with good writing, presented in highly readable prose.
Britta Bohler has written a wonderful novel, an immersive and psychologically convincing account of Mann’s agony of decision. Smoothly translated by Jeannette K. Ringold, it is well researched and chock-full of sharp insights into one of the great writers of the twentieth century.