Archive for November, 2010

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Review: Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane

November 27, 2010

Dennis Lehane‘s new novel, Moonlight Mile, marks the first book in more than a decade in the author’s private eye series featuring Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro, and serves as a sequel of sorts to Lehane’s Gone, Baby, Gone (perhaps the best-known book from the series, if only because of the great film adaptation by Ben Affleck). What’s it like going back to familiar territory after having broken new ground with his big bestsellers over the last ten years? Here’s a quick excerpt from my review in the Washington Post:

In the decade between the last Kenzie-Gennaro book and this one, Lehane has made quantum leaps as a craftsman: His breakthrough novel, Mystic River, encompassed myriad perspectives and ultimately approached the level of Greek tragedy, and The Given Day, an epic history of early 20th-century Boston, revealed a writer brimming with even greater ambitions. In returning to his old private eye series now, Lehane has narrowed his scope a little: The social commentary is less nuanced, more direct, and plot twists are more prominent than deep moral predicaments. Still, Moonlight Mile should hardly be considered a step back. Instead, Lehane is a writer bringing new confidence and an easy prowess to a new chapter in an epic story — the Kenzie-Gennaro saga.

Check out the full review here. — Art Taylor

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Review/News: Rut by Scott Phillips; Concord Free Press

November 22, 2010

The one-word title of Scott Phillips‘ witty and wonder-filled new novel draws less on the phrase “in a rut” than on the second definition of that word (the second, at least according to the New Oxford American Dictionary):

Rut2

noun (the rut): an annual period of sexual activity in deer and some other mammals, during which the males fight each other for access to the females.

verb ( rutted , rutting ) [ intrans. ] [often as adj. ] ( rutting) engage in such activity : a rutting stag.

Characters throughout the novel and of all ages (and at least one other species) seem to be either contemplating, offering, declining or actually engaged in a little bit of hanky-panky: Stacy Elder, suddenly spouseless and regularly meeting up with a previous ex-husband, corrupt Mayor Buddy Gallego, for pharmaceutically-enhanced extracurricular activities; Stacy’s stepson Cole, almost seventeen but looking younger, and indulging fantasies about several women, including a comely visiting biologist; Juan Stevens, the legless 60-year-old proprietor of the local restaurant, who promises the ladies an “extraordinary” experience; and even a much older woman, the crassly charming Darla Farrell, sharing vague memories of “a threesome with Rod Stewart and that other dude, what’s his fuck. You know, with the feathery hair? Sixty years or so back, just about, and my friend Tinnie blew three of the Eagles that same winter.”

Bridget McCallum, that biologist, finds herself briefly considering Juan’s offer and then musing over possibilities with Leo, Stacy Elder’s actual son, but Bridget is also busy with her studies, which include documenting other frenzied couplings: the orgiastic matings of American bullfrogs — among the last of their kind that exists without mutations, it seems.

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Review: Doubles by Nic Brown

November 14, 2010

Agatha Donkar, who last reviewed Nani Powers’ Ginger and Ganesh here at Art & Literature, now turns her eye toward Nic Brown’s first novel, Doubles. Brown, a long-time resident of North Carolina’s Triangle region (he’s recently relocated to Colorado), debuted last year with the highly praised short story collection Floodmarkers, and his novel, released earlier this summer, has already won equally distinguished kudos. — Art Taylor

Doubles

By Nic Brown

Reviewed by Agatha Donkar

To say that Slow Smith — tennis player, husband, and the unlikely protagonist of Nic Brown’s  Doubles — is falling apart is to miss the correct verb tense. By the time we meet Slow, playing tennis against himself with a child’s small pink racket, he has already fallen apart; he himself says, “I had let myself slide into indulgence,” a nicer phrase for “gone crazy”, and it isn’t until the reappearance of Manny, Slow’s eccentric (and not a little crazy himself) old manager, that Slow starts to shake himself out of it. Slow’s wife Anne is in a coma (and he thinks it’s his fault); Slow’s doubles partner since high school, Kaz, is playing with other people (actually his fault); and Slow is simply coasting along, speaking to no one, in a life that’s ground down to a single daily activity: taking a Polaroid of Anne in her hospital bed, every day, without fail.

Taking the reader along for the ride as Slow tries to crawl out from this bottom that he’s hit, Doubles explores tennis, friendship, and love, and the truly strange lengths human beings go to in pursuit of those things — the idea that we’re all just muddling along, and there’s only so much indulgence you can take before you have to do something else. Slow’s attempts to re-start his life are haphazard, without much plan or much focus, and he moves through the days surrounding a tournament at Forest Hills (once the site of Slow and Kaz’s greatest triumphs) and Anne’s sudden waking up as aimlessly as he has moved through the last frozen months of his life.

At its heart, Doubles is a study in the duality of human natures; its characters are neither particularly good nor particularly nice, except when they are. Nothing really appears happens to anyone, but everything happens to Slow, seemingly in his namesake slow-motion, and he finds that none of it matters, except for when it does. And no one gets a happy ending, except when it’s happy enough. Brown has written a book about love, and all the complicated interactions that surround love. It’s an everyday feeling, everyone feels it, but the ways in which humans love, and the ways in which they hurt they people they love immeasurably and unintentionally, are all unique. Doubles is about the innumerable ways in which Slow has hurt the people he loves, and they’ve hurt him, and how anyone moves on from that.

Doubles is full of the mundanity of daily life, with one exception. Anne, a photographer, had been detailing her pregnancy with a daily Polaroid self-portrait. After the accident happens, even with the baby lost, Slow picks up her camera and starts her project again, with a twist: Anne, in her hospital bed. For a book in which nothing much happens — because even Slow’s late-game tennis matches do not rate lovingly detailed recounting — the overaching image of daily Polaroid photography, the documentation of the day-to-day, is what moves Doubles through its paces. Nothing happens. Everyone ends up where they were before. But buried in the nothing of day-to-day holding patterns, art happens. Pain happens. And love, in its own strange ways, happens.

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News: SmokeLong Guest Editorship

November 8, 2010

The fine folks at SmokeLong Quarterly have asked me to serve as guest editor this week — handling all submissions between Monday, November 8 and Sunday, November 14. I’ll choose one story from all the fiction arriving throughout that period, and that selected story will be published online at SmokeLong Weekly in early January and then again as part of the magazine’s quarterly issue in March. While I’ll be reading all stories blind (without the authors’ names attached), I do want to encourage many of my fellow writers to submit. Please note that all submissions have to be 1000 words or less and must be previously unpublished, but there are no thematic requirements. And even if you’re not a writer yourself, do check out SmokeLong on a regular basis. They publish some truly stellar fiction, and I’m just happy to be given the chance to help usher some more of the good stuff their way. — Art Taylor

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Review: 2010 Press 53 Open Awards Anthology

November 7, 2010

This week, award-winning fiction writer Tara Laskowski takes a peek at a new anthology from Press 53, an independent publishing house based in Winston-Salem, NC.

2010 Press 53 Open Awards Anthology

Edited by Kevin Morgan Watson

Reviewed by Tara Laskowski

I never know what to expect from an anthology. While some anthologies work around a specific theme—heartache and loss, war stories, family—others are more of a “best-of,” highlighting prize winners or simply pulling the finest stories from a particular year, regardless of style or voice or theme.

In the 2010 Press 53 Open Awards Anthology, we get the best of both worlds. The anthology, edited by Press 53 founder Kevin Morgan Watson, collects the first and second prize winners, plus honorable mention winners, in six different categories of Press 53’s contest. While I read the anthology at random—going from flash fiction to short-short story to novella back to flash fiction, etc.—I quickly recognized that the pieces here actually did echo one another, flowing and mixing together in a very satisfying way.

Many of the anthology’s stories explore nostalgia and longing. Childhood memories dominate both Ray Morrison‘s second-prize short-short story “June Bug,” in which we are immersed in the long-ago recollection of a child’s relationship with an unusual neighbor, and Kurt Rheinheimer‘s “Cold,” where the narrator brings us back to a New Year’s Eve memory involving his brother. Amy Willoughby-Burle‘s first-place flash fiction story “Out Across the Nowhere,” one of my favorites in the anthology, is a compact and brilliant nugget about childhood wonder and wisdom and about growing up and becoming separate entities from our parents.

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Interview: Åke Edwardson, author of The Shadow Woman

November 1, 2010

K.E. Semmel has appeared before on this site offering reviews and hosting interviews — and then being interviewed himself for his notable translation work. Semmel has recently completed translating one of Karin Fossum’s crime novels (forthcoming in Britain and here in the U.S.), and this new focus on crime fiction and translation makes him the perfect person to interview another notable Scandinavian crime writer, Åke Edwardson, whose own latest book, The Shadow Woman, has recently been released in the U.S. I’m pleased to welcome both Semmel and Edwardson here now.

Swedish novelist Åke Edwardson has written twenty books, eleven of which involve his signature character, Chief Inspector Erik Winter. One of Scandinavia’s most successful crime writers, he has won numerous awards, including the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers’ Award three times. Before devoting himself full-time to his writing, he worked as a journalist and as a press officer at the United Nations. The Shadow Woman is his fifth novel to appear in English, following Sun and Shadow, Never End, Frozen Tracks (all translated by Laurie Thompson), and Death Angels (translated by Ken Schubert). His website (in Swedish) is http://www.akeedwardson.se/. An English-language fan site can be found at http://akeedwardson.com/

K.E. Semmel: The Shadow Woman is in many ways a novel about the human casualties of crime—first and foremost Helene Andersén, who was orphaned by crime, traumatized by it, and who seems to have never developed intimacy in her life. The same can be said about Inspector Winter and tough-guy cop Halders: both are consumed by crime, though in different ways. So the novel is as much about crime’s emotional impact as it is about the traditional fare of a good crime novel: the crime investigation. How do you balance the emotional aspect of your characters with the need to create a compelling plot?

Åke Edwardson

Åke Edwardson: That’s the trick really, to find that balance. Characters and plot are equal in any story in any genre. You can’t make do with just the one. A writer’s job is to tell a story, and there has to be someone to tell it about.

Now, I write different kinds of stories in different genres, and when it comes to these novels about Erik Winter, they are—and this is salient in the crime genre—linked together and that link is the characters. I’ve published ten novels about Erik Winter and the people around him, and at the very beginning I decided to start with this guy being a pretty insecure young man, good at his job but bad at about everything else—such as relationships, for instance. He was meant to develop over the course of fifteen years and he surely has, more than I anticipated!

You got to have the same demand on good crime writing as on any writing, and this includes the emotional depth of the characters. They could either be one-, two- or three-dimensional. It depends on how good the writer is.

Being a crime investigator is not any old job. It gets to you if you are not a total cynic. If the investigator is intelligent enough to be consumed by crime, he is my guy, and deserves a novel or ten.

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