My Loose Thread by Dennis Cooper
From the master of transgressive fiction, Cooper is at his best with this latest,
which captures the skewed thinking of sexually obsessed, confused, fucked-up teens, many
of whom are followers of the Columbine killers. If they havent been physically
abused, then theyve been exposed to a world (school killings; guns; parents who
dont care; freaky people who set up Internet scams) that adds to the
Niagara by Mary Woronov
Molly thinks she has lost the love of her life, so basically she gives up, turns her
back on life and her loving husband, and reaches for the bottle. But is he really
gone? There was no body. What follows is a very well written, funny/sad love
story with a twist or three. M.G.S.
The Russian Debutantes Wife by Gary Shteyngart
It has its flaws, but this wild and sprawling story of a Russian-American
immigrants son is worth the read for its memorable lampooning of both the Russian
mafia and the American ex-pat community in Prava (read Prague). J.A.
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Foer Safran
Another wild and sprawling novel, not without flaws, but what makes this one special
is the voice of the Ukrainian narrator Alex Perchov who speaks to us in English, with the
help of a thesaurus, and comes up with such hilarious word play as "I roosted on the
floor of the kitchen, only several meters distance from him, and I commenced to laugh . .
. I could not discontinue." And: "What about the girls in America? . . . They
are very informal with their vaginas, yes?" J.A.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (due out September 2002)
Ten years after Virgin Suicides comes this second novel which covers a young
girls coming of age in Detroit of the 1960s/70s. Shes not yet a girl, not yet
a boy - and not at all sure which shes going to be. The long family history,
beginning some one hundred years ago in Greece, explains the gender confusion while giving
us a delightful and memorable cast of characters. This marks Eugenides, who has lived up
to all the high expectations, as one of Americas foremost writers. J.A.
Lost Nation by Jeffrey Lent
The critics are ecstatic over Mark Sloukas Gods Fool, a new take on
the Chang and Eng story, but I found the long, lyrical passages waxing on about the human
condition to be just plain tedious. My pick for this category is Lost Nation. Set
in 1838 in the wild, unclaimed territory of what is now New Hampshire, Lent does a
marvellous job of creating atmosphere and portraying characters who were among its first
non-native inhabitants. The haunting beginning, reminiscent of Cormac McCarthys Blood
Meridian, soon settles into a Faulknerian tale of unspoken family secrets, near
madness and a redemption of sorts as we follow a near 50-year-old man - known only as
Blood - while he crawls through rough terrain with an ox cart and a 16-year-old girl in
tow whom he won in a card game. The rhythm, terse prose and speech patterns of the
characters reflect a time past and evoke both the beauty and the harshness of life at that
Hard Feelings by Jason Starr
Another good psychological thriller by Starr whose writing Bret Easton Ellis aptly
calls "new-school noir." The thirtysomething male narrator is near breaking
point between tough times at work, a shaky marriage and the general rat-race of living in
tight quarters in Manhattan. And then he does break. Typical of Starr, it has its share of
nicely dark humor. J.A.
And Justice There is None by Deborah Crombie (due out August 2002)
London police inspector Gemma James has just been promoted to her position when she is
handed the case of a brutal homicide: the pregnant young wife of a weathy antiques dealer
in the fashionable area of Notting Hill. Her old partner, Duncan Kincaid, gets involved
and their personal lives intertwine as well. If you enjoyed the TV series Prime Suspect
of some years ago with Helen Mirren, youll like this one, although it does take a
bit of a sappy dive into the vicissitudes of family life. Ill always prefer the
single, sexually-active, fortysomething Mirren character, whose role added a complexity to
the character that is sadly lacking in Gemma James. J.A.
Deep In A Dream: The Long Night of Chet Baker by James Gavin
This is more a book about Baker the heroin addict than the 1950s/60s jazz era. It was
Bakers good looks that attracted hordes of young girls who in turn voted him best
trumpet player of 1954, above much superior black players. In popularity then, 1954 was
his peak and this is reached by page 90 of a 370-page book. What follows is an
extraordinary tale of drug abuse, drug smuggling, womanizing, wife (and mother) battering,
messy divorces, thieving, lying, rehabilitation, prison, comeback after comeback and the
inevitable return to heroin and eventual death under mysterious circumstances. You may
like his music but after this grim but extraordinary tale you will despise the man. M.G.S.
Noble Obsession by Charles Slack (due out August 2002)
The huge potential of rubber remained the stuff of dreams until the substance could
be tamed. The unraveller of the secret would be very rich. Many failed but a certain
Charles Goodyear (no relation to the blimp people) kept experimenting away. This meant
poverty, debtors' prison, ill health, and then finally, by a happy accident, success. But
with success came the bitter court battles to protect his patent from the likes of Thomas
Hancock. Cut throat business wheeling and dealing in the 19th century told in
page-turner style and a lot more interesting than one would ever think. M.G.S.
from the Spanish
The Garden of Secrets by Juan Goytisolo, translated by Peter Bush
Spains foremost living writer captures the mood and madness of the Spanish Civil
War in this collection of haunting, interrelated tales. J.A.
The Lonely Hearts Club by Raul Nuñez, translated by Ed Emery
On a much lighter note . . . Barcelona hotel night porter Antonio looks like Sinatra
but that doesnt help him find a partner after his wife walks out. He opens a can of
worms when he subscribes to a lonely hearts club and becomes entangled with other
peoples problems and loneliness. Simple but effective. The novel first appeared in
1984 and has just been reissued by Serpent's Tail, U.K. M.G.S.
reviews by Jill Adams and Michael Garry Smout
see also this issue's book reviews