This is a queer, cockeyed dog of a novel. In it, horses are crucified for their unwholesome sexual appetites, the elderly are auctioned off for the young to abuse and farm animals get days off. Prominently featured, too, is one of my favorite character types, the overbearing and reliably psychotic mother. For a taste of Vian's comedic skill, read pages 58-59, starting with "Vulgar, vulturous, vulpine villagers!.
(Boris Vian had a particularly interesting
life. He was a Jazz trumpeter, film actor, author, playwright, cabaret
singer, translator, record company executive and Transcendent Satrap of
the College de Pataphysique. The man also had a heart condition and, to
make up for the lost hours anticipated by an early death, hardly ever
slept. He calculated that at the age of 40, he would have lived as long
as someone 102 years old who had slept normally. He died in 1959, aged
39, watching a film version of his satirical erotic novel, J'irai cracher sur vos tombes (I Spit on Your Grave), of which he strongly disapproved.)
If I had written this book, I'd be so purged of all the vile filth festering in my brain, that I'd bake wondrous pastries for strangers out of pure saintly impulse. That's how satisfyingly sadistic Castel-Bloom's little masterpiece is. Gratuitously violent isn't a sufficient tag, as this story is also a finely crafted satire of statehood (Israel) and the art of mothering (fu*king up) a child. Orly, you're my new favorite matriarch and I'd light your cigar anytime.
Mishima grew up as his grandmother's captive. In the darkness of her sick room, with no other outlets, he became engrossed in his own private fantasies. When he chanced upon an image of Saint Sebastian's martyred body bleeding from his mortal wounds, he recognized within himself a desire to claim a similarly dramatic death. Yet, his yearning to die had little to do with an unwillingness to engage in life. Death, to Mishima, was the ultimate state of ecstacy and the only way to conjoin art and being.
Though he was the most translated German author of the 20s and 30s, Stefan Zweig has largely gone under the radar in the English-speaking world. Thanks to the ever-classy NYRB, though, some of his work is being rightfully resurrected. Set in post-WWI Austria, this story brings into relief the period's crushing poverty and sense of defeat through the experiences of Christine, a menial post office worker who feels life has passed her by. The UK's Spectator sums it up poignantly: it must be "one of fiction’s darkest indictments of how poverty destroys hope, enjoyment, beauty, brightness and laughter, and how money, no matter how falsely, provides ease and delight."
Nightmare Alley is a classic of noir fiction set in 1930’s America and it floored me from start to finish. It follows a ramshackle carnival featuring born chumps, human oddities and tricksters aspiring for the big time. Not a single character in this book is not emotionally or physically deformed in one way, and our protagonist Stan Carlisle, being a formidable trickster and megalomaniac, could easily be the most demented of them all. Only Gresham, who was extremely knowledgeable about the carny world and ended his life with sleeping pills at age 53, could properly and heartbreakingly trace this complex protagonist’s rise and fall into absurdity.
Sartre's line, "My hands are dirty…I plunged them in filth and blood", is the perfect primer for Rawi Hage's debut novel. It poignantly alludes to the experience of two young men who struggle to take charge of their lives in the midst of the Lebanese war and thereby partake, inadvertently or not, in Beirut's burgeoning corruption and violence. Hage's language is lively and distinctive, bearing a likeness to Arabic poetry.
From the author of the award-winning GraceLand comes a searing, dazzlingly written novel of a tarnished City of Angels
This intense and compact novel crackles with obsession, betrayal, and madness, and is an Oregon Book Award Finalist for fiction 2005. As the narrator becomes fixated on his best friend’s girlfriend his precarious hold on sanity rapidly deteriorates into delusion and violence.
"I have a story to tell. It is a story of murder told from inside the house where murder is born...". So begins Mikal Gilmore on this multi-generational tale of violence and crime, culminating in his brother Gary Gilmore's double homicide and subsequent execution by firing squad in 1977. Told with tremendous courage and a rare sensitivity absent in most true crime books, this account will not leave you untouched.