In our afternoon reading: an interview with Talia Lavin, thoughts on David Toop’s new album, and more.
Today, we’re pleased to present an excerpt from Fred Misurella’s new novel A Pontiac in the Woods. The novel follows the life of Jamie Sasso, a teenager living in an abandoned Pontiac and navigating the troubled pathways of high school. Marco Rafalà called it “[a] raw and unapologetic portrayal of a life lived on the margins of society,” while duncan b. barlow noted that “Misurella carefully crafts a story of love and loss, desire and abuse, and personal growth.”
Picture the suburbs. Perhaps it’s wide streets that flatten out the light. Perhaps it’s the tight-knit, loving and irritated family in a huge, yet cozy house: the McCallisters in Home Alone or the Griswolds in Christmas Vacation. Perhaps it’s Carolyn Burnham’s pruning shears matching her gardening clogs in desperate unhappiness in American Beauty. Or perhaps it’s your childhood, your adulthood, your home.
Since mid-2019, it’s been a busy literary time for Maaza Mengiste. Her novel The Shadow King, recently released in paperback, is set in Ethiopia in 1935, when Italy invaded. Blending a bold historical scope with questions of identity and gender, the result is a thrilling read — and one which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. This year also saw the release of the new anthology Addis Ababa Noir, which Mengiste edited; it’s a taut collection of thrilling stories that encompasses modes from the realistic to the uncanny. I spoke with Mengiste about her recent work, translation, and what’s next for her.
Mellie is in Boston in 2010, one month clean, raising Juni, her damaged toddler daughter, solo, and doing her best to stay off the memory-scattering drug “cloud” when a familiar SUV she can’t place pulls into the driveway, flicks a familiar cigarette in a familiar way, then pulls away before her memory can catch up. There are so many things she can’t remember, including who in the wide world Juni’s father might be.
This is, by definition, going to be a short review. That’s not to say that Michael Griffin’s Armageddon House doesn’t have a lot going on, both narratively and structurally — it absolutely does. But part of the pleasure of reading this book is trying to figure out exactly what’s going on. It’s not quite a mystery box narrative, but there are certainly elements of that present here. Having finished it, I certainly have my theories about what’s actually taking place within its pages, but I’m not necessarily sure if I’m correct. And that’s fine, honestly.
As a yeshiva boy, Shalom Auslander showed such promise that his rabbis believed he would grow into a leader of the Jewish people. They proved poor talent scouts. Auslander left the Orthodox community—a protracted affair he discusses in his unruly, hilarious memoir, Foreskin’s Lament —and has since written four deliriously unholy books which explore the limitations imposed by religious orthodoxy and other inherited, obligatory identities. “I have very little connection to Judaism or Jewish people,” says the former apt pupil. “Though one thing I do admire is that historically we’ve been a pain in the ass. We ask hard questions. The Spanish should have kicked us out.”
When it comes to literary techniques, pastiche can be one of the most subtly volatile out there. Most of the time when it’s utilized, it’s effectively invisible — effectively cloaking an author’s work in the voice of another. When it’s done badly, it can be utterly unbearable; I’ve still never been able to make it through the segment of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier in which Alan Moore channels Jack Kerouac. There’s something about Cthulthu mythos stories that brings pastiche to the foreground — there’s a Lovecraftian Wodehouse pastiche in the aforementioned Black Dossier, for instance, and it’s far from the only one.