A darling of literary fiction can actually write a pretty intriguing book -keep the dictionary handy…
Room Temperature by Nicholson Baker (image courtesy Goodreads)
To move from the wildly popular Hunger Games to Room Temperature by Nicholson Baker is quite a leap for any reader – but, I’ve made it. So this entry from the 2014 reading list is an essay that will look at what characterizes literary fiction. And how it can be both rewarding and a little maddening to engage with a master practitioner of the form.
Of course, the chief characteristic of literary fiction is that it has that amorphous (and arguable) quality known as literary merit. As a rule, the sorts of things that give literary merit are complex characterizations, realistic situations and emotional expressions, and some attempt to get at that problematic goal called truth. (The truth in this case falling more likely into that category of activity that Aristotle terms phronesis, or ” gaining cultural truth,” rather than scientific/observational discovery which the great philosopher terms theoria.) But I suppose it would only be fair to Aristotle to note that he does say that art (which great literature is) is itself another activity, poiesis. Okay, enough of this – I’m beginning to sound like Nicholson Baker. Continue reading
The real “hunger games” are those played by people who already have much (maybe too much) trying to figure out how to get more…
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (image courtesy Goodreads)
Nothing that I can possibly say will make any difference in how the majority of readers feel about Suzanne Collins’ mega-successful novel The Hunger Games. That said, having read this representation of the cynicism that pervades the publishing/film/corporate tie-in mentality of our “arts culture,” as I enter into this discussion, I alert readers that I have, after due consideration, come to two conclusions about The Hunger Games: 1) this book is NOT a critique of our culture in any real sense; 2) this book is aimed at children – and cynically exploits them.
First, perhaps, we should consider the cultural milieu into which The Hunger Games was born. Continue reading
In which we learn that saving the world is not so very different from selling shoes when one stops and thinks about it…
Larissa Takes Flight by Teresa Milbrodt (image courtesy Goodreads)
The always interesting Teresa Milbrodt’s latest story collection, Larissa Takes Flight, is what the publisher calls a “pastiche novel.” I know something about these having published a couple of my own, so I feel relatively qualified to ramble on a little about this work in my own inimitable, if slightly eccentric style.
Larissa – and her adventures – cover two wide swaths of American culture: Milbrodt’s own special blend of the mundanity of current American life with the epic (or, perhaps, mock-epic) and fabled which one writer colleague has called “Midwestern Mythic” as well as the author’s take on life as part of that sociological group we most often see referred to as “Gen X.” Continue reading
In which life and coffee turn out to be better when richer and more exotic…
The Patron Saint of Unattractive People by Teresa Milbrodt (image courtesy teresamilbrodt.com)
Teresa Milbrodt writes in a genre that a fellow author calls “Midwestern Mythic.” Her recent novel, The Patron Saint of Unattractive People, certainly fits her genre well. We meet multiple cyclops (maybe cyclopes), go on an odyssey, find a miracle, and even visit a pub with the all too weightily Homeric name The Three-Headed Dog. As in her first book, Bearded Women, Teresa Milbrodt’s The Patron Saint of Unattractive Women explores the discovery of what it means to be “different” – and to accept being different as normal.
The unnamed protagonist, a woman of 37 who is a cyclops by birth and a coffee barista by – well, maybe by birth, too. An only child, she lives with her difficult parents – her father is an especially adamant sort who has largely lost his sight to glaucoma and yet is sure he sees things clearly (yeah, he’s a sort of an anti-Tiresias) and her mother is – I guess you wouldn’t be wrong to call her a hybrid of Penelope, Odysseus’s wife, and Clytemnestra, Agamemnon’s spouse. The protagonist, like any good cyclops, spends a lot of her time thinking she’d just like to be left alone. Continue reading
Knowing where you’re going takes all the fun out of getting there…
Mapping Utah by Denny Wilkins (image courtesy Deadlines amuse me)
Kara McAllister is lost and she knows it. That’s why she is drawn to a strange Rand- McNally map of the Inter-mountain West that she finds in a Powell’s Bookstore in Portland as she is running away from a failed relationship, a successful career – and herself. How she comes to find a new relationship, a new career, and, ultimately, herself, is the central narrative of Denny Wilkins’ first novel, Mapping Utah.
It’s Kara who is the protagonist of this work. That must be understood before the novel’s achievement reveals itself. There are plenty of antagonists: bad guys who would ruin delicate wilderness areas for their petty amusements, corrupt police and politicians who sell the public trust, bad lovers who see their relationships as conveniences.
But there’s only one Kara. And it’s her deconstruction and reconstruction that drives Wilkins’ novel and makes Mapping Utah more than ripping good yarn – which it is, by the way. Continue reading
Maybe feminism isn’t all that recent as a social movement – or, “we built this city on women’s roles…”
The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan (image courtesy Goodreads)
One of the tendencies of modern scholarship has been to “re-interpret” texts from other historical eras in light of modern (or postmodern – or post- postmodern) sensibilities. My most recent completed work from the 2014 reading list (I’m a little behind now due to some family matters) is by 14th/15th century author Christine de Pizan. The Book of the City of Ladies is typically medieval. Its author uses much material from “other sources” – which is medieval-speak for “borrowing” freely from both classical and contemporary sources – and the work is itself allegorical – the “city” of the title is actually de Pizan’s book.
The premise of the book is, however, anything but medieval. Christine de Pizan explains that she is “building the city” at the behest of three virtues (all represented in feminine form, of course): Reason, Rectitude, and Justice. These virtues – which are cardinal virtues of women, Pizan is subtly arguing – have appeared to Pizan in a dream in order to help her defend the intelligence, honor, and integrity of women. Continue reading
The dark side of the 1970′s – family disintegration, existential angst, and other snakes in Southern California’s Eden emerge in Sumioka’s debut novel….
The Threshold of Insult by Mark Sumioka (image courtesy Amazon)
Mark Sumioka’s The Threshold of Insult is the first full length novel from a writer whose gritty, realistic fiction has graced the pages of a number of literary journals, including Scholars and Rogues. The same skills of capturing characters’ distinctive nuances and situations’ subtle breaking points that characterize Sumioka’s short fiction serve him well in this first attempt at fiction’s major genre.
The novel recounts the story of an unhappy family, Carl and Jessica Rose and their son Randy. Carl hates his job and feels trapped by his marriage and son. His wife Jessica, called Jess through most of the novel, feels trapped as Carl does, her suffering exacerbated by her low self-esteem and sense of dissatisfaction in her role as traditional housewife. Their son Randy, troubled by the tensions in his parents’ relationship, has his young life complicated and ultimately damaged by the unhealthy attentions of a seemingly kind neighbor, Van Witherspoon. The complex dynamics of the relationships of these four characters form the crux of the novel’s main story line. Continue reading