amyjmerrick

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CivilWarLand in Bad Decline: Stories and a Novella

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This collection of short stories and novella are satires of the postmodern workplace. The outrageous settings—a Civil War theme park, a raccoon-extermination business, a virtual-reality franchise—are inhabited by sympathetic outcasts and the surly ghosts who haunt them. The hyperbolic descriptions and rapid pacing propel the narratives, but the close first-person perspective ensures that the stories’ primary concern is the characters’ emotional distress.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (Mandarin Edition)

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In this collection of short stories, Carver’s famously spare prose and flat sentences capture the inarticulate longings of people struggling with loneliness, hatred and regret. Dialogue changes direction abruptly, and Carver withholds important information about his characters—sometimes even their names. What is not said is often as important as what is said. Carver’s minimalist style points to the importance of paying close attention to the depths of character, and it reflects a tolerance for ambiguity and incompleteness in a story.
The Remains of the Day

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The mannered, circumspect, digressive voice of the butler who narrates this novel creates the precise tone needed for a book about a desire to conceal unpleasant subjects and an unwillingness to face reality. Ishiguro uses the device of a driving trip to give his narrator, Stevens, the time and distance he needs to reflect more objectively on his former employer. At first, Stevens is simply very funny, but eventually his reflections become colored with shame and regret. The reader slowly becomes aware of the depth of Stevens’s loneliness and isolation, in parallel with the gradual revelation of what really took place at the English manor where he served for many years.
Never Let Me Go

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This novel, set in a dystopian England, slowly reveals its secrets without ever deceiving the reader. Using a conversational, confessional voice for his narrator, Kathy H., Ishiguro builds a convincing argument for the depths of her character, countering the claims of a society that considers her less than fully human. The author conveys emotion through the accumulation of small scenes rather than through overwrought dialogue, hinting at tragedy rather than exploiting it.
David Wroblewski's The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

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** spoiler alert ** This novel, a retelling of Hamlet, transposes the familiar story to northern Wisconsin in the 1970s. Wroblewski adheres so closely to Shakespeare’s tale that his characters can seem mechanistic, driven not by any reasonable motivation but by the requirements of plot. But Wroblewski’s detailed observations of the Chequamegon Forest—the changing moods of its weather, its role as both threat and shelter—immerse readers in a vivid, memorable landscape. Told from numerous points of view, the book is strongest when Edgar’s perspective merges with that of the dogs he trains, becoming entirely attuned to the richness of the present moment.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

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This novel illustrates Trujillo’s reign of terror in the Dominican Republic through the story of one family, the de Léons, emigrants to New Jersey. Rather than telling the island’s political history all at once, in a single chapter, Díaz spreads it into footnotes, creating a visual representation of his theme: Trujillo’s presence constantly lurking behind the daily lives of the Dominicans. Oscar is, in the words of Laura Hendrie, a “Jaws of Life,” character, a larger-than-life figure; just as The Great Gatsby is narrated not by Gatsby himself, but by Nick Carraway, so Oscar Wao is narrated by Yunior, the ex-boyfriend of Oscar’s sister. Díaz uses a mix of high and low diction, a technique that, as James Wood says, establishes the feeling of a human voice speaking.
The Lazarus Project

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This novel juxtaposes two parallel stories: a painstaking reconstruction of the mysterious death of Lazarus Averbuch, a real-life Jewish immigrant who may have tried to assassinate the Chicago police chief; and the journey of the Vladimir Brik, present-day narrator, also an Eastern European immigrant to Chicago and strongly resembling Hemon, as he returns to Sarajevo to research Lazarus’ story. The portion of the book devoted to Lazarus and his sister is told in the present tense, and their imagined movements are tracked in minute detail, while the contemporary story is told in the past tense, and much of the narrator’s trip is elided. The novel develops an emotional resonance between the two sets of characters, as each half of the book grows to echo the other in mood and tone. Hemon plays with fact and fiction throughout, indicating that neither the novelist, nor the journalist, nor the historian has a monopoly on truth.
The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil: (Includes the 'In Persuasion Nation' collection)

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This novella is a fable of conquest and genocide, in the tradition of much classic writing for children, with its violent undercurrents and allusions to real events. The absurd, humorous descriptions of the non-human characters are meant to soften the social commentary of the dialogue, which mocks the deceptive arguments of politicians and pundits. The book’s playful tone provides sharp contrast to moments of terror, as the residents of Inner Horner are ridiculed and physically disassembled.
Big Cats: Stories

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In this fast-paced short-story collection, Reinhorn lets you see both the façade a character presents and the woundedness beneath it, by showing the contrast between what people do and say, and what they’re secretly thinking and fearing. The stories have a confessional tone, giving the feeling of an actor in a movie speaking directly to the camera. Because there is little distance between narrator and reader, characters who are bewildered and deeply flawed also manage to become sympathetic.
Pastoralia

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This book of short stories and a novella follows a string of characters whose circumstances increasingly thwart their desires for love, autonomy and acceptance. The voice of each story is infused with its own brand of slang or jargon, whether it’s the television trash talk in “Sea Oak” or the unloved child’s revenge fantasies in “The End of FIRPO in the World.” The stories are connected by a tone of mournfulness for lives that have fallen far short of the characters’ expectations.
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