Our Tragic Universe and more...
The first thing you notice is the design. Anne Carson’s idiosyncratic, genre-breaking elegy for her brother, Nox arrives in a paperback-sized heavy cardboard box intended to resemble a cover. What lies inside is not a book in the paginated sense; rather, it is an accordion of unpaginated paper, the left side containing a Latin word and Carson’s definition, incantatory, dreamlike, lovely sentences reflecting both the word and her brother’s relationship to that word. The right side varies: there are scraps of photographs, letters, torn bits of newsprint, scrawled postcards, notes. The volume is a facsimile of the actual assemblage Carson created when she learned her brother died. Michael lived in Copenhagen and had run away from the family decades ago. In this age of e-readers, Nooks, and Kindles, you should own this book for the opportunity to possess a tactile object intended to be handled by reading. What you read here will leave you breathless. Diane Leach
It seems that ours is the age of personal myths. Perhaps people have always been interested in the narratives of other exceptional people, but of late it seems that anyone, exceptional or not, receives a book deal to “tell their own story”. Scarlett Thomas’ Our Tragic Universe is an underrated book sadly missing from most of 2010’s year-end lists. At the heart of the main character’s meanderings and subsequent adventures with people on the periphery of “proper” society, is a concern that besieges every individual consciousness at some point or another: What is my story, do I have one, and why and how should I tell it? Thomas is a smart, engaging writer interested in a wide variety of ideas, with the knack for creating idiosyncratic, compelling female protagonists. Amidst the proliferation of aggrandizing and bloated personal narratives that make up the bulk of modern autobiographies, we find individuals hell-bent on claiming monopoly on an entire culture or nation’s narrative. Our Tragic Universe invites us to ponder the implications of the “story-less” story via its own story-less story. In its very freedom from structure and authority, story-less stories prompt us to build and rebuild multiple narratives over and over again, narratives that make room for more than one, insular worldview—or the one, lone individual. Genius, beauty, and truth, much like societies, cultures, countries, Thomas seems to say, have relied on people finding their own stories without privileging one’s own story over the other’s. Subashini Navaratnam
Somewhat quirky characters seem to be one of Paul Doiron’s specialties. Another of Doiron’s strengths: setting the scene. His rich descriptions of the Maine wilderness, colored with little social commentaries, will most likely resonate with all readers. The setting and the characters both contribute to the greatest strength of this novel: the psychological tension and realism. It’s the psychological aspects that make the book suspenseful, not the violence or the murders. Doiron’s debut novel, is pure, unadulterated literary suspense. Beautifully crafted and perfectly paced, it makes you tuck your feet up under you while reading, and occasionally look nervously over your shoulder, just to make certain no one is there. Catherine Ramsdell
On his fifth birthday, Jack does what any other little person might do. He wakes up in his room, eats some birthday cake, has a party, and opens a present his mother made for him. Jack is a bright young boy who possesses a knack for language and a playful attitude, your quintessential kindergarten-aged child—with one extremely unsettling exception. He has lived all five years of his life in a single 11x11-foot room, accompanied only by his mother and, occasionally, a creepy male visitor named Old Nick. Room, the masterful seventh novel by Irish-born author Emma Donoghue, is soaked through with the same spidery claustrophobia of films like Seven and Cube, and calls to mind the recent cases of Josef Fritzl and Jaycee Dugard so effectively that it doesn’t feel fictional. The relationship between Jack and his mother in a circumscribed dungeon turns Room into a kind of collapsed wilderness thriller, where human bonds are the only protection against the devil lurking just out of sight. But while Old Nick may cast a particularly awful shadow, the most complex and terrifying character is the room itself. It is the vehicle by which the novel proposes the most formidable questions about home, motherhood, and child development as it lurches toward a conclusion both triumphant and troubling. Mike Newmark
Emily St. John Mandel
Mandel has created a novel that is partly suspense, partly a love story, with a good bit of political thinking in the mix. A Canadian native living in Brooklyn, Mandel writes with the perspective only a non-American can possess of both New York City, which she clearly loves, and the tremendous efforts people will exert to get there. She is a terrific writer, that rare real thing, mixing an acute eye with humor and pathos. The Singer’s Gun is a tremendous leap forward, a happy indicator that Mandel’s talent is a deep one. Diane Leach