Reif Larsen waits 200 pages before betraying his literary lineage by using the phrase “gravity’s rainbow.” For in his sprawling, pyrotechnic second novel, I Am Radar, one is never far from Pynchon’s masterpiece, that once-groundbreaking combination of adolescent hilarity and theoretical physics. The authors share a soaring erudition and ambition—evidenced by the length and ostentation of their books. But where Pynchon’s main theme might be a paranoiac fear of annihilation and conspiracy, Larsen’s seems to be an affirmation of the pathetic randomness of life. It’s telling that his previous book, The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet, was made into a film by the director of Amélie, and his new release resembles the joyful, madcap creations of Wes Anderson.
It’s a glad thing when a reader encounters a character so compelling that you want to punch him in the nose. Such abhorrence—it’s not really hatred—can be as pleasurable in its own way as love. Such is the aggravation caused by Jonas Karlsson’s weird, insufferably arrogant, not quite neuro-normal protagonist in the crisp, novella-length book The Room.
For those who argue that global capitalism is in the midst of a second Gilded Age, Canadian novelist Stephen Marche’s second novel (after Raymond and Hannah) offers an intriguing genre-crossing allegory for the rapacity and relentlessness of that economic philosophy.
David Treuer’s fourth novel, Prudence, is set in northern Minnesota, near the Leech Lake Reservation where he grew up. It opens in August 1942, as Frankie Washburn is returning to the Pines, the resort owned by his parents, for a brief visit before joining the war as a bombardier. The reunion is fraught with negative memories from the past, especially the distance between Frankie and his father, Jonathan. Frankie’s sexual orientation, although never mentioned, is planted like a wall between them. Frankie’s mother is oblivious, her main concern in life being the upkeep of the Pines itself.
In 20 novels published over a remarkable 50-year period, Anne Tyler has staked her claim as our premier chronicler of the ordinary, imperfect American family. Set in Baltimore, like most of her work, A Spool of Blue Thread concerns just such a family. Abby and Red Whitshank and their four children are, from the outside, just like anyone else. Red is a second-generation building contractor, Abby a social worker, and the clan has long occupied a rambling house that Red’s father once built for another man. Like all families, they have had their ups and downs, their squabbles, resentments and misunderstandings, but nothing has irreparably damaged the household fabric.
In Michael Crummey’s novel, Sweetland, a Newfoundlander named Queenie offers some literary criticism. Concerning books about her province, she says: “It was a torture to get through them. They were every one depressing. . . . Or nothing happened. Or there was no point to the story.” She adds that they are unrecognizable and probably written by outsiders.
“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” Joan Didion famously wrote. In Rachel Cusk’s inventive novel, Outline, a parade of characters tell the sketchily drawn narrator their stories, and as these conversations or episodes unfold they weigh in on all manner of life’s issues, large and small—love and marriage, parenthood, aspirations and failures, even the...
Scott Blackwood’s latest addition to the Texas literary canon, See How Small, is a brilliant, heartbreaking meditation on grief, parenthood and time.
Two-time Man Booker Prize winner (Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang) Peter Carey’s 13th novel is a darkly satiric tale of cyber activism, modern Australian history and the exhilaration and perils of advocacy journalism.
How to Be Both, by the British writer Ali Smith, tells two interconnected stories. The first is about Georgina, known as George, a 1960s teenager outside of London grieving the death of her mother and taking her first tentative steps toward love. The other is the story of the 15th-century Italian painter Francesco del Cossa, a historical figure responsible for the remarkable frescos in the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara, Italy—and about whom very little else is known.