Early in John Brandon’s fourth novel, Ivory Shoals—a spirited remaking of the prodigal-son parable set in the American South during the final days of the Civil War—twelve-year-old Gussie Dwyer has come to collect the savings his recently deceased mother, Lavina, entrusted with her long-time employer, Rye. Rye delays this encounter, leaving the boy to wait awkwardly in the barroom, a foreign space reserved for hardened men and the working women looking to entertain them. Out of economic desperation, Lavina had turned to prostitution to support her family.
I am an actual person in a concrete historical situation. So are you, and that guy? Over there? Yep. Same. Look at us. Just some actual people in a concrete historical situation. Seems obvious, but, really, I mean, is it? When’s the last time you thought about being an actual person in a concrete historical situation? Actual stuff – life stuff – situated in some broader context. Your birth and death and the stuff in between. That’s all it is, and you’re doing it. Thanks for spending some of it reading this introduction with me. Let me tell you something.
A propulsive, literary page-turner about a family beset by early onset Alzheimer’s? If that sounds like an oxymoron then you have not encountered the heart, scalpel, and unassuming genius of Joshua Henkin whose new novel, Morningside Heights is not only a study in craft, but a testament to the resiliency of the human spirit.
Martha Cooley’s title for her latest novel is a predicate. A main verb and direct object, to be precise, its three words at once call to mind the subject and more, at least for the many millions with a fondness for the Beatles. The missing words “Money Can’t” function like a ghost limb for Buy Me Love⎯ and I mean for the entire narrative: haunted and hurting, yet also playful and illuminating. <
Literary translation is a forcefully delusional act. The assumption upon which it rests—that one language can be even approximately mapped onto another—belies the profound complexity and mysticism of all human communication. Works of translation are praised (or critiqued) on the extent to which they preserve the spirit of the original. What a silly metric: language itself is the spirit. A finished translation is never a puzzle solved, but an adaptation imagined—a work of creativity that births a new spirit all its own.
One of the reasons speculative fiction fans are always excited when a new Josh Malerman book is published is that he seems to reinvent himself with every new narrative. Malerman, best know from his bestselling novel Bird Box, explores genre limitations with every book, and A House at the Bottom of a Lake is no different. This could be called a coming-of-age narrative or a submerged haunted house novel, but those would only point so certain things Malerman brings to the table while leaving a lot out.
The Hungarian writer László Krasznahorkai is a trickster, a jester entertaining an unhappy court, his sentences elongated to the point of absurdity, and absurdity is very much the man’s point. In The Last Wolf & Herman, published in English by New Directions Press in 2017 (the translators are George Szirtes and John Batki), the first tale is a long story/short novella, The Last Wolf (published in Hungary in 2009). It unfurls over a single sentence covering seventy pages and conjures thoughts of one of Krasznahorkai’s heroes, the Austrian master Thomas Bernhard. The philosophizing in The Last Wolf recalls not just the tar-black humor of Bernhard but also a more ebullient and insuppressible Thomas Mann. Krasznahorkai is a joker but not a quipster or aphorist.
The projection of self as god works far better as a mantra of living if the reality around you is believable. If the narrative and the plot holds true, and if dreams and assumptions come to fruition, then the little world around you can be one of your own creation. Unless of course, the narrative you have created disintegrates before your very eyes, washed away by every adverse or unexpected event, the true events of life playing out incorrectly according to the preconceived story. Rachel Cusk, star auto-fictional writer of the twenty-first century, wonders at this self-as-god idea, and wars against her loss of attaining it, returns to her dissection of the limits of the self in her new novel Second Place. The story is told by the narrator, referred to as M, to a Jeffers, a therapist-like presence, or maybe a pet. M recants the story of L, a famous artist, coming to stay at her and her husband Tony’s second place, a small artist’s studio near the main residence on the secluded marshland they live on (a Marfa-Marsh if you will.)