Archives for category: Fiction

I’m glad Berlin has been (re)discovered, but I wonder about the decision to put quite so many stories in one collection. Why not just re-print the collections she published in her lifetime?

The stories are off-beat, honest, quirky. I most appreciated the ones where we see the same story from two points of view, not in any clever modernist way, but the story of the old couples watching the sisters on the beach and the story of those sisters – both in one story. A single story, however short, rarely contains just a single story.

Though I could have used a family tree, I also thought the collection picked up when it became apparent that so many of the stories were interconnected. The same characters at different ages, featuring here, having a bit part there. It was, at times, tempting to consider the stories Flannery O’Connor-esque, but I don’t think that does either writer justice.

Good stories. Honest. In interesting places with flawed and fantastic people. Real.

I’m not going to be able to say too much here because I read 2/3 of this a long while ago and then (honestly) misplaced it. I was hoping our son would forget about having asked me to read it, but he didn’t, so I tried to stall for longer by saying I had other things to read ahead of it, but he persisted and I had promised.

Look, I’m not in love with the fantasy genre and haven’t really read much that would allow me to offer an assessment of whether this is better or worse than other fantasy novels. The writing is uneven. Sometimes, it’s wonderfully specific; occasionally, there are some glaring generalities.

I like how Mull handles the genders and that this book has an honest ending, not just a cliffhanger to push me to the next book (#2 of 5, which our son insists I will finish).

What an amazingly intense, funny, and accurate book. For a time, I was reading this alongside a biography of Basquiat, and the overlap – in terms of descriptions of excess – was remarkable. Though the book checks in at just shy of 700 pages, there is not a page wasted as Wolfe creates characters whose lives revolve around one incident that happens one night in the Bronx. Despite his fondness for unsubtle names (Bacon, Lamb, etc.), Wolfe’s book could easily be one of the proverbial “ripped from the headlines” stories. No one and no moment is spared. This is a classic.

All I remember about the movie is the controversy around the selection of Tom Hanks. I’m curious about it, though I am not that interested in watching it. Wolfe’s world was more than enough. And that, I suppose, was part of the problem.

People sometimes say that the important thing to notice about some Bob Dylan song is what is left out. I have enough to do with what’s left in, and the same is true for Gass’ stories and novellas in this book. And really, what is the difference between a story and a novella?

I was struck in the review I read that one of the stories was told from the perspective of a chair. More specifically, it is a folding chair used for customers waiting to get their hair cut. At some point, there is a sudden (random?) act of violence, similar in nature to the one in “In Camera,” the best and first story. I suspect I am supposed to know why the violence has occurred, but I don’t. And while I could hazard a few somewhat informed guesses, I don’t really care.

There is much in here about seeing. That explains the stories told from the perspective of inanimate objects. The piano used in Casablanca narrates a forgettable story. But except when he layers in the photographs of “In Camera,” this collection comes across as “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

If you infer a religious motif from the number 7, you are right. There’s a plot twist here, too, but I don’t want to spoil it, other than to say Myla Goldberg did it better in Bee Season. And that wasn’t the only time I wondered about Pearsall’s, ahem, influences.

The characters are pretty much cardboard, and the plot is fairly predictable.

And I sincerely regret Pearsall’s use of the “magical Negro” character, so ably spoofed by Key & Peele here, even if it was based on an actual artwork and artist.

I enjoyed Pearsall’s, All of the Above, but this one – not so much.

Pearsall’s site

I am no chemist. My efforts in high school were absurd (and so was my teacher). But I understood enough to see the chemistry here not just as chemistry – because it was still that. Levi clearly has a high regard for his own vocation as a chemist. But it’s also (and this element was more accessible to me) chemistry as metaphor. The ability to control, transform, analyze, indeed to be rational, when all around you is anything but (i.e., WW2). Science, here, in contrast perhaps to any sense of a deity, is dependable, both in the form of its sometimes monotonous practice and in content. There are rules, laws here – not even a fascist can deny them. Therefore, there is freedom, at least in the mind.

It’s a tough book to classify, which is okay by me. Levi considered it a “micro-history.” I don’t have that category, and since I don’t think it would fit anything else, I did the best I could.

What’s amazing here is not that this is a great book. I pretty much love everything Doctorow did, with The March being the one exception (so far). What’s amazing is where this book falls in Doctorow’s  chronology of publications – third. I’m so grateful that someone had the vision to see this novel, based on the lives of the Rosenberg children, for the shape-shifting, vicious, incisive masterwork it is. Doctorow shifts tenses and points of view in the middle of paragraphs. He’s got something to say here about America, something that comes off more polished in my memory of his next novel, Ragtime, and there are no heroes here. Nor, really, are there victims. Or perhaps everyone is – most especially the sister, Susan. I have never read such a precise dissection of something so clearly (and deliberately?) a mess. This book is a lesson, too, on how writers can avoid the traps of showing off their research and getting bogged down by exposition. The plot doesn’t move, it careens. Violently. A pinball that has taken on a life of its own. And, as any story of government overreach and citizen rebellion will likely do these days, it resonates, reminds. And warns.