Indexing: Oblomov, Steve Stern, new Tin House, Heavy Hearts for “A High Wind in Jamaica,” and More


A roundup of things consumed by our contributors.

Tobias Carroll

This week, I had the pleasure of chatting with Steve Stern at WORD, and — not surprisingly — most of the week was spent reading over his work and preparing for the conversation. The collection The Book of Mischief proceeds from Memphis to the Catskills, with stops on the Lower East Side and eastern Europe. Wry humor, shabby angels, and the occasional dark twist make appearances, and Stern’s fondness for letting his characters leap or fall from great heights makes for a striking, nerve-wracking motif. His novel The Frozen Rabbi is a much weirder novel than the paperback edition’s cover of a rabbi lost in a winter landscape might suggest: it includes riffs on Roth, technology designed to harness mystical energies, bifurcated personalities, religious fanaticism, and a satirical take on commercialized religion.

Also this week: I delved into The Monstrumologist, Rick Yancey’s YA series about a monster-hunter in the late 19th century. Thrills aplenty, along with some vivid imagery, an interesting (and possibly metafictional) narrative structure, and a brief appearance by Rimbaud. This weekend, I’m looking forward to digging into the latest issues of Bookforum (Victor LaValle on Chinua Achebe? Hell yes!) and Tin House (new Charles D’Ambrosio essay? Hell yes!).

Jen Vafidis
With a heavy heart I finished A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes. I had been stretching it out because I loved it so much, but eventually I had to rampage through the last chapters. What I love so much about it, besides its gorgeous prose, is its refusal to glorify a child’s mind. Lots of scenes flesh out the inner worlds of children, but the narrator never elevates them needlessly. I hate that kind of story, the ones where children are presented as privileged because of their ignorance. Kids are dumb! Let’s not pretend they aren’t. I also love how funny the book is. For instance, this sentence that comes during a tearful family reunion: “As for their father, he had totally forgotten how much he disliked emotional scenes.” Ah, the English.

I’m now reading The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton. I look forward to a tale of claustrophobic sexual infatuation. And I bought every book I could find in McNally Jackson that was about Elizabeth Bishop. Currently obsessed and showing no signs of letting up.

Jason Diamond

I started reading Oblomov a few years ago, only to leave the book at the bar I had been drinking and reading at when I should have been working. This was the second time I tried reading the book, and karma being what it is for reading while having a few bourbons  I walked out into the afternoon a little drunker than one should really be at 4 on a workday (it was a Friday, if I recall. So not that bad), and realized when I arrived home that I had left my paperback on the table I’d been sitting at. I was nearly 200 pages into the almost 500-page novel that was first published in 1859, but for some reason I never got around to going back to the bar and asking if they’d found my copy.  Two years later and I’ve finally purchased a new copy. I decided to start the whole thing over again, and I’m feeling fine about that. Oblomov is really one of those books that I probably should have read years ago since I’m a fan of Gogol, A Confederacy of Dunces, Gary Shteyngart and Day of the Oprichnik by Vladimir Sorokin. Oblomov sits comfortably with that company, and I’m just hoping I can finish the book without leaving it somewhere.

We finally got one of those handy dandy Apple TV things, meaning I can finally stop watching Netflix on my laptop, and start plowing through the Instant queue I’ve amassed, starting with watching as many of the 30 for 30 episodes as I can handle. I started off with Kings Ransom and Jordan Rides the Bus.

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