CALIFORNIA | LOCAL
December 10, 2010 |
Standing outside a bookstore on 8th Street a decade ago, novelist Susan Straight looked across the street and saw a vision of Los Angeles loneliness. Men clustered around a black door, surrounded by a wall of black tile. They filled the dark, narrow space inside, reeking of cheap liquor and hurt. "It was just the saddest place I'd ever seen," Straight told me as we stood outside the Golden Gopher bar this week. "There was this lingering melancholy all around this block. You could just smell the desperation of all these men. " These days the Golden Gopher is a hip hangout whose patrons include guys in suits.
October 2, 2011 |
It's early on a brisk morning in September, and Russell Banks is standing in front of the Marriott Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, smoking his first cigarette of the day. In a few hours, he'll be onstage at the Brooklyn Book Festival, across Adams Street in Borough Hall Plaza, but at the moment he's a little tired - the result of a late night with his friend, novelist Paul Auster, a longtime Brooklynite. Still, at 71, Banks looks fit, hair and beard white and close-cropped, eyes sharp behind a pair of frameless glasses that sit like windows on his face.
December 15, 2011 |
Life is just a long string of memories. Even our present is being pushed each second into the past. Peter Orner uses that fact to engaging effect in his new novel, "Love and Shame and Love. " The book tells the story of a young man named Alexander Popper and his family strictly through anamnesis' ethereal prism. Each chapter is a solitary memory, dusted off and glowing with latent emotional residue. It's a nontraditional storytelling device that results in a book of brief chapters, sometimes no more than a paragraph, each of which could easily stand on its own. The story jumps back and forth - like memory itself - between early family history and fairly recent recollections.
March 22, 2013 |
On a piano keyboard, which mimics the human vocal range, the middle C is the C closest to the center. That's Joseph Skizzen - the protagonist of William H. Gass' long-awaited follow-up to his 1995 masterpiece "The Tunnel" - a middle-of-the-road yet slightly off-center academic who wants nothing but "the chance of an unnoticed life. " But it just might be a stand-in for the author. If Gass' body of work were a keyboard, you'd have his debut novel, "Omensetter's Luck" on one end and of "The Tunnel" at the other.
October 19, 2012 |
Back to Blood A Novel Tom Wolfe Little, Brown: 704 pp., $30 About a quarter of the way through Tom Wolfe's new novel, "Back to Blood," pornography addiction specialist Dr. Norman Lewis waits with his nurse (and mistress) Magdelena Otero to be interviewed by a "60 Minutes" crew. Norman is delirious at the prospect of his star turn - so much so that he becomes a bit, er, overstimulated. "' Now - while they're at the door!' " he grunts at Magdalena, who responds, " 'No, Norman!
May 31, 2013 |
Friends are dress shopping in the novel "Americanah"; when they get to the register, the cashier asks which of two saleswomen helped them, but they're not sure. She lists numerous physical characteristics to identify the salesperson before giving up. "Why didn't she just ask 'Was it the black girl or the white girl?'" the main character, Ifemelu, exclaims after they leave. "Because this is America," her friend tells her. "You're supposed to pretend that you don't notice certain things.
June 6, 2013 |
When it comes to Stephen King, I'm partial to the smaller efforts: novellas, short novels, experiments, the quieter, more interior stuff. It's not that I don't like his big books - especially "The Shining," which remains the scariest thing I've ever read, and the 1996 novel "Desperation," an overarching consideration of sin and sacrifice and redemption, set in a Nevada mining town. Still, what makes King resonate for me is the detail work, the way he can get inside the most mundane situation and animate it, revealing in the process something of how we live.
November 21, 2013 |
Jerry Stahl believes it's impossible to shock an audience anymore, but in his new novel, "Happy Mutant Baby Pills" (Harper Perennial, $14.99 pp.), he comes close. His main character, Lloyd, falls in love with a murderous woman named Nora who wants to take down Monsanto and Dow Chemical. After an absurd, paranoid and somehow comic murder spree, they decide to create a mutant baby in protest of capitalism by ingesting as many prescriptions, GMOs and pesticide-laden products as possible - while shooting endless amounts of heroin.
March 15, 2011 |
Jodi Picoult's novels do not gather dust on the bedside table. They are gobbled up quickly and the readers want more. "Sing You Home" is Picoult's 18th novel; the last six have each sold more than 5 million copies around the world. Her new novel, which takes on issues of fertility, same-sex marriage, the legal ownership of embryos, love, gender, insurance, alcoholism, faith, adultery and sibling rivalry, is already flying off the shelves. Picoult is known for her ability to shed light on the issues affecting domestic life in America: divorce, overprotective parenting, childhood depression, families struggling with medical crises ?