issue 31: july -august 2002 


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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 haven’t been physically abused, then they’ve been exposed to a world (school killings; guns; parents who don’t care; freaky people who set up Internet scams) that adds to the insanity.   J.A.

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 Debutante’s Wife by Gary Shteyngart
It has its flaws, but this wild and sprawling story of a Russian-American immigrant’s 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 girl’s coming of age in Detroit of the 1960s/70s. She’s not yet a girl, not yet a boy - and not at all sure which she’s 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 America’s foremost writers.   J.A.

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Lost Nation by Jeffrey Lent
The critics are ecstatic over Mark Slouka’s God’s 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 McCarthy’s 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 time. J.A.

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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, you’ll like this one, although it does take a bit of a sappy dive into the vicissitudes of family life. I’ll 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.
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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 Baker’s 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.

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The Garden of Secrets by Juan Goytisolo, translated by Peter Bush
Spain’s 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 doesn’t 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 people’s 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

© 2002 The Barcelona Review

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 tbr 31           july - august  2002

Short Fiction Laura Hird: Of Cats and Women
Rusty Haight
: Strange Things Afoot...
John Michael Cummings
Visiting My Dead Friend
      from the Spanish
Enrique Ferrari:
Half an Hour
pick from back issues
George Saunders
: Sea Oak
Juan Goytisolo:
Khaa and Ghayn
Quiz Barcelona
Cormac McCarthy Quiz - Answers
Book Reviews Raul Nuñez, Mary Woronov, Jason Starr, Sam Bain

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