Sandokan and more...
“I repeated to myself over and over I’m never coming back to my home town.” So ends Italian poet Nanni Balestrini’s bristling 2004 novella, now translated into English as part of small press Melville House’s sterling Contemporary Art of the Novella series. Balestrini’s story is a floodlike first-person narrative in which the despondent resident of a small southern Italian town tells how his community was engulfed and made utterly unlivable by an ultraviolent clan of Camorra (that region’s version of the Mafia). He talks in an uninterrupted, frequently unpunctuated flow of despondent, bloody, ripped-from-the-headlines reportage, spilling his guts, though he seems to know that no matter what he says or who he says it t, the regime of inescapable corruption will continue. His voice spikes with rage and deepens with sorrow as he relates in a pounding rush the slow, then sudden, death of a region where violence was always in the blood and was seemingly just waiting for some force to unleash it. Chris Barsanti
The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet
Most assuredly we can blame J.D. Salinger and the lingering cult of Catcher in the Rye devotees for one of the latest and most popular trends in contemporary literary fiction: novels narrated by precocious adolescent narrators whose intelligence borders on the autistic (The immensely popular Story of Edgar Sawtelle and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time immediately spring to mind). The latest Holden Caulfield wanna-be is 12-year-old Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet, a highly gifted technical artist and cartographer (T.S. even diagrams the patterns of cross-talk at the family dinner table) born into a distant and distracted family on a sprawling Montana ranch, with a taciturn cowboy for a father and an emotionally absent entomologist obsessed with the elusive Tiger beetle for a mother figure. When T.S. wins the Smithsonian Institution’s prestigious Baird Award (the committee is unaware of his tender age), the young mapmaker hops a freight train and begins his journey east to Washington, D.C., encountering Midwest wormholes, a strange Winnebago, hobos, Honey Nut Cheerios, a homicidal preacher, anarchist plots, and, as these tales often go, the tools necessary for coping with the tragic death of his brother Layton. Many of T.S.’s precocious maps and charts and observations are captured in the margins of the outsized book, literally, in elegant drawings that either distract from or enhance the text, depending upon the individual reader’s experience, but at least 29-year-old Larsen deserves credit for raising the bar in a somewhat dubious genre with this quaint presentation. Rodger Jacobs
Shades of Grey: The Road to High Saffron
Love, betrayal, life, death, a retro-futuristic society trussed up by their own Rules like tortured turkeys, Jasper Fforde’s novel seemingly has it all. Except the author has elected, in Shades of Grey, to divvy up the visible color spectrum and dole out drips of color to the members of the Collective as an indication of the hierarchy of castes. The colorfulness of the world Fforde describes is largely artificial. Mixing the outlandish remains of former civilizations with frighteningly plausible behavior on the part of members faced with the strict system of Rules in the Collective, Fforde has created a brave new world with a peculiar logic of its own. A cinematic storyteller, Fforde fills just a few days of Eddie’s experience in East Carmine with details that allow the reader to completely envision this odd society. I didn’t want to finish the book because the story was so well-told and crazy; I was thrilled when I turned the last page and there was the only mention I have seen anywhere so far of volumes two and three in the Shades of Grey series. We have more colorful and strange adventures to look forward to. Lara Killian
Under the Dome
Stephen King will probably never be considered literary, but sometimes that’s not necessarily a bad thing when you write books that are at least consistently entertaining. And with Under The Dome, King has probably written his most enjoyable book in at least a dozen years. Sure, it clocks in at more than 1,000 pages long and yes, the premise is a bit on the hokey side -– an impenetrable dome descends on a small town in Maine. But by making it impossible to escape from the borders of the town, King has written probably the ultimate tome about how things can go very, very wrong very, very quickly when its residents are offered no escape to the outside world. And that makes for a very thrilling read, especially when the body count starts to ratchet up. This is a heart-pounding, nail-biting, and unrelenting book, one that’s impossible to put down, and there’s even a subtext about 9/11-style paranoia and the impact of the War on Terror. While Under The Dome may seem like the literary equivalent of a Big Mac, this is a very well-made and delicious Big Mac that you can really sink your teeth into, one that lingers and leaves a great aftertaste for days. Zachary Houle
The Year of the Flood
In both The Year of the Flood and Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, rampant human greed has brought the Earth to a precipitous state. The weather is wrong; there is too much rain, or too little, it no longer snows, the heat is blistering. Humans have done so much damage to the planet that the massive species die-offs happening this moment, in real time, have escalated to the point of involuntary vegetarianism: real animal protein is as rare, expensive, and illicit as Beluga Caviar. When the waterless flood arrives, the carnage is horrifying precisely because it is so easy to envision, particularly after Hurricane Katrina, which Atwood reworks here as a Texas flood. The ending brings little closure (Atwood is at work on a third novel about this society), but is, for all its horror, faintly heartening: humanity’s capacity to love prevails amidst the carnage. Yet it’s still easy to close The Year of the Flood feeling hopeless. In a 22 September 2009 New York Times article, Atwood admits to scaring even herself with this one. But she suggests an alternative to hopelessness: choose one place to make changes. Take up one environmental cause. That is possible. And not so overwhelming. But if you aren’t terrified after reading this, then you weren’t paying attention. Diane Leach
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"The stories in this collection are circular, puzzling; they often end as cruelly as they do quietly, the characters and their journeys extinguished with poisonous calm.READ the article