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First Time Novelists Transport Readers
How many novels by first-time authors are published each year? Do not seek to know the answers, Grasshopper, but to understand the questions. What does “published” mean these days, or even “author”? Is James Patterson an author? Is Ron Blagojevich? Ah, let’s not dwell. Here, we’ve collected a bookshelf of literary fiction by writers who can now, in all seriousness, call themselves authors. Museum of Human Museum of Human Beings Beings
Colin Sargent McBooks Press 978-1-59013-167-1
In Other Rooms, In Other Rooms, Other Wonders Other Wonders
Daniyal Mueenuddin W.W. Norton 978-0-393-06800-9
History buffs and elementary-aged children alike are enthralled with the Corps of Discovery’s 1803 transcontinental crossing undertaken by Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and crew. Scholars have increasingly recognized the young Shoshone woman Sacajawea as a pivotal leader in this expedition. Here, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, the infant on Sacajawea’s back, takes his own personal voyage of self-discovery as he is fostered by Clark in St. Louis, supported by Duke Paul of Württemberg in Europe, and haunted by his mother’s spirit in the American wilderness. Playwright and poet Colin Sargent resides in Portland, Maine, where he founded Portland magazine. His sophisticated use of language permeates this tale. For example, the color blue is used to create a path and stimulate memory: from the descriptions of the first sighting of the Pacific Ocean to the final viewing of an arrowhead around a baby’s neck, the color travels alongside Baptiste. “[Sacajawea’s] rib cage, so like a bird’s, bore the blue stigmata of your father’s most recent attentions,” Clark tells Baptiste. Sacajawea’s blue Lemhi beaded belt indicates her descent from a royal family, and Baptiste’s baby sister Lizette is wrapped in the same blue cloth that had originally warmed him. Sargent explores language in another way at the opening of each chapter by displaying a Plains Indian sign language word along with its description. For example, to indicate “alone,” a person should “…hold right hand palm up in front of neck. Move outward in sinuous motion.” As Baptiste roams figuratively and literally, his two father-figures torment him: the distant William Clark, whom he initially strives to emulate, and the alcoholic Toussaint Charbonneau, whom he cannot escape. The age-old struggle to find true identity by testing different worlds becomes unique in this debut novel that belongs with the best of historical fiction. Beth Hemke Shapiro
Work, children, gardens, homes, sins, moments of love and compassion—what do we leave behind when we die? No matter our social status or the lands we own or the money we have in the bank or the money we beg on the streets, we all return to the earth, equal in our final moments. Pakistani author Daniyal Mueenuddin knows this and his characters are sharper for it. In this book of linked short stories, Mueenuddin explores the members of an extended network of friends, family, and servants centered around a man named K.K. Harouni. From the poorest servant who trades sex for tiny favors to the men whose money weighs them down and tips every hand around them, none are immune to the tides of both personal fortune and political effect. The subject of class seeps onto nearly every page but somehow the book is not about class; it’s about people. With superb tenderness Mueenuddin writes about Husna, a young woman who seeks to escape her family’s poverty by securing a connection to her distant relative, K.K. Harouni. Their relationship begins as a simple, kind gesture and ends as a specific kind of love, perhaps the only kind of love Husna is capable of. With adroit precision Mueenuddin examines Lily, a rich young woman who yearns to shed her life of superficial, drug-induced happiness but discovers her habits have followed into her clean, calmly ordered marriage. And with exacting distance he delivers Rezak, the poorest of the poor servants, who leaves the world no children, no wives, no greater wealth beyond a decadent gravestone and the rickety, portable shack he lived in. “The door of the little cabin hung open, the wind and blown rain scoured it clean.” Mueenuddin’s web of connections is vast and complicated, but he teases out a myriad of tiny details to provide cohesion and honesty. A country so often portrayed in America as a threat becomes populated with lives we find familiar. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders offers a sly sense of hope hidden in the dark shadows of futility and despair. Andi Diehn
M ay /J une 2009
the grandfather and clock repairman remembers his father. it is the Euro Americans who are the illegal aliens. Tinkers puts a new spin on the father-son relationship and makes Harding an author to watch. Focusing on introspection rather than dialogue. author Scott Muskin puts us thoroughly on Hank’s side. Scott Muskin is a very smart writer. who abandoned him when he was twelve. Hank returns to Minneapolis both to help his brother recover and convince June to leave her husband. While his approach isn’t inviting. whether it be a threatening dog or a cheating husband. Hank was always on the chubby side. and entries from The Reasonable Horologist. The others—natives. tender descriptions with sensory details reveal the hidden nuances of these tinkering men who constantly wonder about the one thing they can’t fix— life—and their place in it. Carlton. each page is packed with literary. Carlton played stellar baseball. surprising observations on how we relate to each other and to the cruelty and beauty of our world. Slim but powerful. who was born in Djibouti. heroic. Harding also plays with time. has turned the globe upside down. who are AIDS-infected trash. death. epileptic. He’s too clever.com 27 . winner of the French Voices Award. a metaphysical poet. barbarians. agriculture. This M ay /J une 2009 www. and historic. Andi Diehn former drummer turned first-time author demonstrates a superb craftsmanship with language and form. recalls his own minister father and a wife ready to place him in a state-run mental hospital. Eventually Carol Ann has an affair and Hank gets permission to sleep with his brother’s wife June. interrupting the narrative with stream-of-consciousness musings. Muskin’s skillful narrative gradually unfolds into touching. and historical references. Howard. Howard. By the end of the novel. Africa is the true axis of the planet. It’s a good vehicle for teachers.” In the United States of Africa. Paul Harding has a master’s in fine arts from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. and he has sex with his brother’s wife. is a splendid learning opportunity for readers in the US and Europe. and married the right woman. Percival Everett writes that Abdourahman Waberi. say. and time. Hank earns compassion by being utterly. and married Carol Ann because she wanted the security. many of whom may know little of the true history of the so-called dark continent that was colonized and raped by white men. Waberi David and Nicole Ball. Western readers can be ignorant of vast areas of the world. a fictional clock-repair manual from 1783. When Carlton has an accident. on which some people believe only the northern hemisphere is of any importance. poverty-stricken. Stunning. Carlton is slipping further from the man he tried to be and Hank has to balance his guilt against the tug of responsibility and old habits. he flees to Montana to live among people who simply shoot the thing that stands in their way. presents a world where Africa is the world’s first power. Beauty is black. since he was separated from other peoples and races by an infinitely vast space.” begins this lyrical meditation on life. it is truly compelling. and unfamiliar with a long. a tiny country on the east coast of Africa. But darker gravity is at work. primitives. recognizably human. and disease is spread by “stems of alabaster with lingerie-pink cheekbones and flat butts. In a parallel narrative. and illiterate. he cries and vomits fairly often. It is the Euro Americans who are filthy.” Waberi writes. Yes. surrounded by family and friends and sometimes imagining the ceiling collapsing around him. “African man…saw himself as a superior being on this earth. cultural. Hank grew up in the shadow of his more capable brother. art. Barbara Ardinger ForeWord Tinkers Tinkers Paul Harding Bellevue Literary Press 978-1-934137-12-3 “George Washington Crosby began to hallucinate eight days before he died. Angela Leeper In the United States In the United States of Africa of Africa Abdourahman A. into a round world where north and south are equally beautiful. where Asmara is (it’s the capital city of Eritrea) or who Ousmane dan Fodio was (founder of the Sokoto Caliphate). Immobile in his New England bed.The Annunciations of The Annunciations of Hank Meyerson Hank Meyerson Scott Muskin Hooded Friar Press 978-0-9817609-2-6 Hank Meyerson is not a charming character. This winning. came out of graduate school as a freelance proofreader. was successful in the toy business. Alternatively. and not just because of the drastic changes that render him pitiful.” In this world. who will probably have to explain to their students the allusions and names on nearly every page.…[His] throne is at the top. readers can consult Wikipedia to learn. who wear cast-off clothing and accept other used handouts donated to charities by Africans. this slim novel. “without equal. witty novel will help turn a flat globe.forewordmagazine. translators University of Nebraska 978-0-8032-1391-3 In his foreword to this first English translation. Clichés are stood on their heads. and traveling salesman who makes his rounds in rural Maine by wagon and mule. present-tense passages. pagans (almost always white)—are reduced to the rank of pariahs. written in second person. metaphors barely kept from bleeding into each other. honorable history of literature. Afterward. too. With its ancient geography founded upon primeval continents called Pangaea and Gondwana. though. and civilization. and has taught creative writing at Harvard and the University of Iowa.
as well as Morningstar’s grown children. parenting articles. John Mandel Unbridled Books 978-1-932961-68-3 “How deep in our genes is the longing for flight embedded?” Emily St. worrying about her reckless sister’s young daughter. when Time magazine’s Man of the Year was the American Woman. When her father finally tires of the road and settles in New Mexico with a newfound love. Andi Diehn holds a B. She is the author of Powers. who rebirths aborted fetuses into catfish. Angela Leeper is an educational consultant. Great Britain. In their own unique searches. Always turning down love for luck. Ph. Beth writes for BookBrowse.A. In addition to reviewing for ForeWord. Australia. Missouri. This is Lilia’s worst fear. such as author Louis Maistros. Lilia finds she can’t stop moving from city to city and reverts back to a nomadic lifestyle with only herself for company. Malaria. a rising coronet player at the dawn of the Jazz Age. At its heart this book is a mystery. The voodoo demon was released out of revenge by a mambo back in 1853. can depict this complex city where life and death mingle. abortionist and local witch doctor. Although new to fiction. She writes book reviews. After a relationship with a pensive stonemason. At seven. effective dialect. The Sound of Building Coffins is for any reader fascinated with New Orleans and its history—and who isn’t? Angela Leeper. www. What is supposed to be temporary becomes a years-long quest for tenure.A. she has edited close to 200 books. ready to take out the city. some cannot. Revealing her dramatist and poetic backgrounds through multi-faceted characters and insightful prose. Rose strives to avoid the perils of romance by immersing herself in her friends’ lives. Christopher. is the author of Pagan Every Day: Finding the Extraordinary in Our Ordinary Lives (RedWheel/Weiser). which have been staged in the United States. with Morningstar’s remaining daughter. A jazz record shop owner and contributor to the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the Baltimore City Paper. and J. Marisha Chamberlain is an accomplished playwright of original productions and adaptations. which left Morningstar dead. freelance writer and author of Poetry in Literature for Youth. each named for a disease. with a life force of its own. Father Noonday Morningstar’s call to comfort the sick infant son of a recently lynched Sicilian immigrant turns into an exorcism.F.DEBUT FICTION The Rose Variations The Rose Variations Marisha Chamberlain Soho Press 978-1-56947-538-6 Mandel chooses her words with careful love and arranges them to exquisite effect. this cinematic story follows the interconnected lives of the remaining participants. hirsute lesbian cellist. Canada.com and The Review of Contemporary Fiction. Doctor Jack. Ever-present is the river. It does take a hurricane and its ensuing flood to cleanse New Orleans of the lingering demon. To date. Maistros has created a page-turner of gritty magic realism. degrees from Northwestern University. Chamberlain delivers a resilient heroine who not only masters love but independence. (www. twentyfive-year-old Rose MacGregor leaves the East Coast for a short-term professorship in music at a Minnesota college. Beth Hemke Shapiro holds B.A. Turkey. Returning to teach. the private detective who continues the search for Lilia long after the contract has run out. her lines follow each other with near breathless precision and echo delicately long after the final page has been turned. never establishing one of her own. fifteen years after the botched exorcism. a unique transformation of the Catholic Mass. offering hope amongst ruin. voodoo lore. leaves her emotionally shattered. a few mysteries. Only a longtime resident of New Orleans. and beginning a symphony. Angela Leeper The Sound of Building The Sound of Building Coffins Coffins Louis Maistros Toby Press 978-1-59264-255-7 Last Night in Montreal Emily St.D. But she leaves people behind who can’t remove her from their lives even though she has removed herself: Eli. and Morningstar’s nine-year-old son. As Rose clings to other families. Buddy Bolden. She enjoyed working at the Art Institute of Chicago for a decade and is now involved in the arts in Columbia. She has also written numerous short stories and essays for literary magazines. and she collaborated as a librettist. a prison guard holding the Sicilian’s right hand in a tin box. on a wide range of topics. both fiction and nonfiction. Chamberlain weaves the social and sexual mores at the cusp of feminism into this absorbing story. Barbara Ardinger. Typhus.com). John Mandel asks in her debut novel. is enticed out of a Big Easy gin joint to participate. Lilia is abducted from her mother’s house by her father and spends the next nine years sleeping in a different hotel room almost every night. Rose seeks respite on an all-female farm run by an eccentric.barbaraardinger. hiding in the backseat of the car. Last Night in Montreal.D. the lonely thirty-something professor discovers that love may be all that’s left when luck runs out. from the University of Massachusetts and an M. some can handle these depths with grace. Germany.com 28 ForeWord M ay /J une 2009 . Like a tightrope walker’s steps above a cobblestoned alley. and swift pacing. a collection of poetry and winner of a Minnesota Voices Award. and continually dying her hair in an effort to evade those who believe she should be returned to her mother. Christopher’s daughter who blames Lilia for her own abandonment.forewordmagazine. along with Beauregard Church. Andi Diehn In 1975. we wait and we wonder while being charmed by Mandel’s intricate narrative dance which threads three different moving plot lines together into a perfectly tangled tapestry. Barbara lives in southern California. supplying the words to A World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass. Lilia’s followers find depths to their own selves they never knew existed. the student of dying languages. local interest stories and fiction from her home in rural New Hampshire. and South Africa. from Vermont College. Michaela. In 1906.
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