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.
April 4, 2014 |
Meyer Lansky is one of the gravitational centers of Zachary Lazar's new novel, "I Pity the Poor Immigrant" (Little, Brown and Company: 256 pp., $25). Not so much the dapper, "Boardwalk Empire"-era gangster as Lansky in 1972 in Israel, seeking to retire there under the country's Law of Return. It's hardly the most celebrated era in Lansky's life, but Lazar was going for something other than the obvious. "The initial idea of this book was to put Meyer Lansky in the same room as King David from the Bible," Lazar said via Skype from his home office in New Orleans.
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.
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 ?
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.
September 5, 2013 |
I don't read J.M. Coetzee for pleasure. To be fair, I'm not sure anyone does. The 2003 Nobel laureate writes from his head more than his heart, framing novels that are philosophical and austere, books that break down the world in highly rational ways. Over the course of his career, he's been compared to Beckett and Kafka, although despite the occasional nod in their direction - the title character of his 1983 novel "The Life and Times of Michael K. " functions to some extent as an homage to "The Trial's" Josef K. - he lacks their appreciation of humor, of life as essentially absurd.