Early drafts of my story-reviews often start out very personal. A moment or two related to grief and family, which I first bend around a review of the book, then work to find a balance.
I’ve been writing these sorts of reviews since 2014 and as time goes on I like to check back to see how I handled finding this balance. I recently looked at my review and marginalia for Bae Suah’s novel, “Recitation,” translated by Deborah Smith. Continue reading →
Halfway through the year, wanted to post about two books I enjoyed.
“Why Art?” by Eleanor Davis, from Fantagraphics, shifts from basic questions of what is art, who does art, how do people make and experience art, into an exploration of the title-question, modulating between factual statements and surreal tangent-anecdotes. When a plot emerges, we’re suddenly in a disaster adventure tale with a climax that would, in another writer’s hands, come off as an insipid platitude. Instead, told via spare text and casually intense black-and-white line-art; with terrific moments of tension and humor; statements about gender, equality, and humanity; Davis delivers complex, convincing answers to the book’s central questions.
In an entirely different book, I had a reading experience I don’t know if I’d recommend, but I have to discuss. One side of me is reluctant to say why it turned into a bad experience. Another side is eager to see if other people had the same experience. But having said even this much I’ve affected the reading experience for anyone who decides to pick it up. Anyway, the book is “Fatale,” by Jean-Patrick Manchette, from NYRB, translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith. Focused on a female assassin who targets the rich in a small port town, it’s one of the darkest, most unfliching crime novels I’ve ever read, and reminded me of Patricia Highsmith, who does not mess around when it comes to depicting violence in society, especially against women. But there’s a hidden explosive in the book that detonated, for me, with the very last line. It was so baffling I said, “No!” loudly and put the book down hard. Which is to say, I highly recommend it, if you like crime novels, and would love to hear if the last line bothered you, too.
More soon! Please drop me recommendations of things to read in the comments, if you feel moved. I’m always looking for new books to try.