Narcissus Ascending by Karen McKinnon (Picador USA)
Orphan, survivor, caffeine addict, Becky is on the verge of 30 and
hoping to become famous with her first solo show of dismemberment
collages in New York's East Village. Becky, Hugh, Dahlia, and Max
are friends who have formed a dysfunctional but necessary surrogate
family. For as long as they have known each other their common
language has been Callie-past tense-the crisis-prone, vivid,
manipulative chameleon whose friendship has damaged them all
Hugh, now a CPA in California, once was the most sophisticated
undergrad and object of Becky's frustrated desire and rivalry with
Callie. Max, all leather, brooding and disguise, the actor Callie
left Hugh for, also had an affair with Dahlia, the big-hearted
dancer struggling against being victimized.
Loving Monsters by James Hamilton-Paterson (Granta) This ambitious new work from one of England's most brilliant authors melds fact with fiction and blurs the traditional boundaries between truth and invention. The result is a wonderfully bizarre literary work that defies convention.
A chance encounter in a local store leads a writer to undertake to record the life of his neighbor, the enigmatic Raymond Jerningharn Jebb; `Jayjay' to his friends, self‑styled impostor and lover. From the terrace of his Tuscan villa Jayjay offers a biographer's dream: a no‑holds‑barred account of a life lived in pursuit of the thrill of endless possibility.
Jayjay's story proves a fascinating memoir as he recounts in tantalizing detail his journey from the foggy, gas‑lit streets of southeast London to the Suez of the 1930s, with its flop houses, shady backstreet cafes and burgeoning trade in pornographic images, to Alexandria in the heady months leading up to the outbreak of WWII. As the months go by and their relationship evolves, the writer comes to question Jayjay's seeming candor and his own role as interpreter and evaluator of another man's life. Finally, as the layers of his constructed identity are uncovered, Jayjay comes to reveal the true nature of his love.
'I'm embarrassed to say this, James,' he murmured, 'but you're probably going to write my life. I know how presumptuous it sounds - and vain, and so on - but I really do think that's what you will end up doing. I've had rather an exotic life, actually, and I don't believe you'll be bored.' A chance encounter in a local store leads a writer to undertake to record the life of his neighbour, the enigmatic Raymond Jemingham Jebb; 'Jayjay' to his friends, self-styled imposter and lover. From the terrace of his Tuscan villa Jayjay offers him a biographer's dream: a no-holds barred account of a life lived in pursuit of the thrill of endless possibility. Jayjay recounts in tantalizing detail his journey from the foggy, gas-lit streets of southeast London to life in colonial Egypt. Successive exploits lead him back from the Suez of the 1930s, with its flop houses, shady back street cafes and burgeoning trade in pornographic images, to Alexandria in the heady months leading to the outbreak of the Second World War. As the months go by and their relationship evolves, the writer comes to question Jayjay's seeming candour and his own role as interpreter and evaluator of another man's life. Finally, as the layers of his constructed identity are uncovered, Jayjay comes to reveal the true nature of his love.There was something weird about this book: on the one hand it is utterly compelling, on the other it is extremely difficult to explain to someone - or even to yourself - just why it is so good. Hamilton Paterson's style is outstanding. The idea of the book is interesting, as is the subject, louche and eccentric Jay Jay. But there is something more about the book that makes it so absorbing. Without having read anything more by the author, it may simply be his personality and his insights into life and living that are sprinkled through the book and at times catch you off balance. Comparisons would be cliched, but Hamilton Paterson appears to be one of those alienated upper middle class Englishmen (Britons?) who have devoted themselves to living life with a passionate intensity, some of which leaks into their writing. Hamilton Paterson could gain some sort of cultishness, but I doubt he will: he seems simply to serious for that, less 'mediagenic' and too careful to hide himself within his writing. If you want to be pleasantly surprised that the best writers are not well-known, read this.
Wild Ginger: A Novel by Anchee Min (Houghton Mifflin) The beautiful, iron-willed Wild Ginger is only in elementary school when we first meet her, but already she has been singled out by the Red Guards for her “foreign-colored eyes.” Her classmate Maple is also a target of persecution. It is through the quieter, more skeptical Maple, a less than ardent Maoist whose father is languishing in prison for a minor crime, that we see this story to its tragic end.
The Red Guards have branded Wild Ginger’s deceased father a traitor and will drive her mother to a gruesome suicide, but she fervently embraces Maoism to save her spirit. She rises quickly through the ranks and is held up as a national model for Maoism. Wild Ginger now has everything, even a young man who vies for her heart. But Mao’s prohibition on romantic love places her in an untenable position, and into this erotically charged situation steps Maple.Wild Ginger is a moving novel that brilliantly delineates the psychological and sexual perversion of the Cultural Revolution. It is Anchee Min’s most powerful work to date.
The Children's War by J. N. Stroyar (Pocket Books) For alternative history and a fine escape for a vacation read The Children's War offers compelling reading as well as an imaginative leap into an alternative future where the Nazi rule Europe and the British Isles. It is told from the perspective of a multigenerational resistance to the Nazi slave and terror rule and how pockets of national resistance accommodate to nearly total domination. It is told from the point of view of Peter who arrested for having bad papers is tortured and enslaved. Bad papers. That's how Peter's nightmare began. Living in contemporary Europe under Nazi domination -- more than fifty years after the truce among the North American Union, the Third Reich, and the Soviet Union -- Peter has struggled to make sense of the reign of terror that governs his world. Now, arrested for bearing a false identity, he is pulled full-force into a battle against Nazi oppression. The crusade for freedom that belonged to generations past is now Peter's legacy -- and his future depends not on running away, but on fighting back.
Escaping a Nazi prison camp and enslavement he eventually joins the Underground Home Army. Peter dedicates himself to breaking down the system that betrayed him. But by facing the evil at the heart of the Nazi political machine, Peter falls deeper into a web of intrigue and adventure that risks everything he holds dear -- in this life and for the sake of future generations.
A disturbingly real vision of what could have been, The Children's War is a page-turning epic thriller with a mesmerizing premise and an unforgettable cast of characters. Stroyar's searingly authentic, impassioned vision of human triumph over the forces of corruption and cruelty stands as a powerful tribute to the millions who have sacrificed and died in the name of freedom.There are several premises in this wonderful adventure that deserve special mention. Stroyar's study of the deep disorientation of torture victims fuels the plot development though as she admits in her notes she actually down played worst of common modern torture practice. Her characterization of an American social system still technically at war with the Nazi’s also plays a bit to parody but the story remains tight and most f the action believable and exciting. This has my attention for a Vacation read. Don’t miss it. I think I night want a sequel!
THE WISHING BOX: A Novel by Dashka Slater ($22.95, hardcover, 311 pages, Chronicle Books, ISBN:0811826066)
Be careful what you wish for!
Julia, a smart, sexy, almost thirty-year-old single mom, is doing a pretty good job of raising her son but isn't too sure about what she's doing with the rest of her life. One day, on a whim, she and her sister create a wishing box and hold a ceremony for the return of their father, who abandoned the family when they were young. Astonishingly, he does come back and with momentous stories to tell. But Julia has already set out on her own unintended adventure.
Julia and her family of seers, cynics, and seekers are at the heart of this funny and constantly surprising first novel about appearances and disappearances, the desire to control the future and explain the past, and the legacies passed on from one generation to another.
Dashka Slater lived in Massachusetts and Oregon before settling in Oakland, California, where she is a reporter for the East Bay Express. Her poetry and nonfiction have appeared in a variety of magazines and journals. This is her first book.
Debut author Slater commands a comic chatty world of magic, mostly of social mannerist sort, a masque of narrative verve. Sure we’ve told you nothing about her story and characters most of whom seem to shimmer more as people than as plot devices. Slater takes constantly talking bunch of people and let’s then invoke the secret panoplies of souls. How the past is no explanation for either a self or an adequate vision of the future. This is a comic look at how people create themselves in conversations only to be converted by behavior into total surprises. THE WISHING BOX is comic adventure.
GONE FOR GOOD by Mark Childress ($25.00, hardcover, 368 pages, Knopf, ISBN: 0375400214)
In his fith novel, the much praised author of Crazy in Alabama gives us the wild, comic, and ultimately moving odyssey of a 1970s folk rock star, Ben "Superman" Willis.
Superman has been riding a wave of success in the years since the Beatles broke up and rock and roll wore itself out. But stardom is not what he thought it would be: the only time he's truly happy is when he's up in his plane, flying alone to the next concert, his son Ben Junior stashed at home in L.A., and his wife Alexa a former Miss Southwest Louisiana following along in a bus down below.
One night, after a show in El Paso, he flies head-on into the adventure of his life. A fierce thunderstorm, an emergency landing in Mexico, and some mind-blowing dope send him thousands of miles off course to a perilous crash landing on a beautiful, mysterious tropical island a vision of Paradise, and, on the beach, a remarkable female apparition.
Back home, Alexa. and Ben Junior are stunned by the news of Superman's disappearance. The out-of-this-world memorial concert at the Hollywood Bowl is no more than a brief distraction from the cataclysmic changes that occur when a man vanishes from the face of the earth. What they don't know, and what Superman will learn only slowly, is that he's very much alive, trapped against his will in a place where famous people go to disappear.
Gone for Good is the story of Superman's life on this island, a collection of famous and notorious people from all over the world hiding a terrible secret. It's also the story of Ben Junior's search for his father, and a spiritual exploration of the mysteries of celebrity, success, money, love, sex ... and magic.
MARK CHILDRESS was born in Alabama, grew up in the Midwest and the South, and was graduated from the University of Alabama. His articles and reviews have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Times Literary Supplement, Southern Living, and the Birmingham News, among other publications. He is the author of three children's books and four previous novels: A World Made of Fire (Ballantine), V For Victor (Ballantine), Tender (Ballantine), and Crazy in Alabama (Ballantine). He lives in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica.
LAMBS OF GOD by Marele Day ($23.95, hardcover, 368 pages, Riverhead Books ISBN: 1573220795) In a dilapidated monastery on an unknown and remote island live three nuns Margarita, Carla, and Iphigenia forgotten by time and the church. Their lives are dictated by the rhythms of nature and their days are spent performing a ritual of prayer and storytelling. The nuns live among sheep their only companions into whose bodies they believe the souls of their departed sisters have entered, and weave their lives, history, and clothing from their wool. Then one day, their ordered lives are interrupted, when Sister Iphigenia sniffs "a smell with no name." The scent is that of a man, an ambitious young priest who wants to turn what he believes is an uninhabited and valuable piece of church property into a spa for the wealthy. What commences is a struggle of wills, but also of faith.
This volume is an original and highly unusual novel. It’s a gripping story that weaves together Christian belief, classical mythology, fairy tales, Celtic lore, and the mysteries of the natural world. "I wanted to write a book that was like a knitted garment. You have a narrative thread that makes up the shape of the garment, with patches of patterns within it as well," says Day. "I wanted to investigate nature and civilization, and how strong the hold is that nature has on us. What happens to a group of people in an isolated situation? Do you progress or regress, do you maintain civilized habits? How quickly does that veneer slip, what is retained?" The priest is disturbed by the nuns’ primitive, earthy ways, as they are disturbed by his presence, which makes each nun revisit memories long suppressed.
LAMBS OF GOD remains at all times a serious literary pursuit with moments of lighthearted humor, suspense, and surprises. A number one bestseller in its homeland of Australia, and optioned for film by Fox 2000 with Winona Ryder as producer and costar, LAMBS OF GOD is at once wildly entertaining and seriously exact in its study of faith and humanity. Marele Day has produced an enthralling and original work, a haunting story of colliding traditions, conflicting beliefs and magical transformations. This is one novel that might catch interest well beyond its season.
About Marele Day: Marele Day is well known in her native Australia as the author of several successful crime novels, featuring the tough-talking private eye Claudia Valentine, an inner-city gumshoe with attitude. She won detective fiction’s international Shamus Award in 1993. In addition, she has published numerous short stories and poems.
PARADISE, PIECE BY PIECE by Molly Peacock ($23.95, hardcover,384 pages, Riverhead Books, ISBN: 1573220973, AUDIO TAPE) Today, with the advent of in vitro fertilization, increasing multiple births, gay adoption, and women over fifty bearing children, it seems as though nearly everyone wants to have a baby. But in the midst of this rampant quest for motherhood, we have lost sight of, or look critically upon those women who are childless by choice. Molly Peacock, a widely published, award-winning poet and former president of the Poetry Society of America, is one of those women. Her new memoir, PARADISE, PIECE BY PIECE is the story of her complicated and constantly evolving decision not to become a mother, and how it has defined and enriched both her life and her art. Peacock grew up in a working class community in upstate New York in the 1950’s, the daughter of a hardworking, irascible mother, whom she adored, and an unpredictable, alcoholic father, whom she feared. Both parents communicated to her, in both word and deed, that having a family meant the end of personal freedom. When Peacock was still in elementary school, her mother went to work full time, leaving her with almost complete responsibility for cooking, cleaning, running the household, and dealing with her father and flighty younger sister. By the age of eight, Peacock had already resolved not to have children.
Peacock’s decision was reinforced by a failed first marriage, an abortion resulting from a stormy love affair with a`Hungarian performance artist, a tubal ligation, and a second marriage to a man who had also chosen not to have children. Yet Peacock’s decision to remain "childfree" was more than simply the result of her environment, and despite its roots in her early childhood, her choice was far from easy. "This is a decision you do not make once, but many times," she writes. "Over and over you leave the idea of not having children behind, then face it again and again as you go on."
At the core of Peacock’s dilemma is the question of whether it is possible to be a "complete woman" without having children, a question she has posed to herself and others countless times over the years. With extraordinary candor and honesty,PARADISE, PIECE BY PIECE explores Peacock’s search for identity, as a woman and a poet, in a world that reveres the role of motherhood above all other female pursuits. "When I said No to having children, she explains, "I felt as though I went to some viscerally interior place, the place of recognition. I’d always thought that the positive, the embracing, the Yes that is so characteristic of women’s assumed responses, would let me affirm who I am. But it was a refusal that led me to understand my own nature. It was the saying no."
That "saying no" to children allowed Peacock the space and energy for another kind of birth a flowering of personal identity and of art that might otherwise have been subverted by a different life and different responsibilities. In this sense, Peacock’s clear-eyed, finely crafted account of her development as a poet can be read as a sort of contemporary, female "portrait of the artist."
Never strident, always compelling, and above all, searingly honest, Peacock has come up with her own definition of happiness. As she explains, "I wanted to have a journey, not a family. And I wanted to live through time and not be bitter … What I aspired to … was another kind of being that aimed at wholeness, not motherhood. " Just as Molly Peacock has found wholeness in her life, she has imbuedPARADISE, PIECE BY PIECE with it as well, creating an extraordinary memoir that will firmly establish her as a marvelous new voice in American letters.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: The president emerita of the Poetry Society of America and the author of four books of poetry, And Live Apart, Raw Heaven, Take Heart, and Original Love: Poems, Molly Peacock lives in New York City and London, Ontario with her husband, the James Joyce scholar Michael Groden.
ECSTASY CLUB: A Novel by Douglas Rushkoff ($17.50, hardcover, 315 pages, HarperEdge, ISBN: 0-06-017319-2)
Cyber-Cults, Conspiracy Theories, All-Night Raves, Computer Aided Vision Quests: This is today’s new cyber culture. In his first novel Douglas Rushkoff, a well known journalist of new wave, takes us to the next level in ECSTASY CLUB. It is a pop literary novel that accepts no compromise as it disassembles a culture we’ve all helped to create, yet few of us understand.
Banding together in the lost world of a decrepit Oakland warehouse, a posse of smart twentysomethings from the cultural fringe, exploit every tool at their disposal—computers, chemicals and chaos itself—to breakthrough the ultimate barrier: time. Part techie heaven; part twenty-four-hour rave, the Ecstasy Club is an electronic playground where naive young post-grads and esoteric spiritualists strive to be the first to create a new plugged-in Utopia.
On the verge of success, the Ecstasy Club finds paranoia infiltrating their ranks. As if to satisfy their growing fears, real life enemies seem to appear from everywhere: Aliens, the CIA, and worse. Admits this conspiracy, crooked cops are shaking the club down, the ever popular Plugged magazine is threatening to steal the New Consciousness fire, an enigmatic computer virus jumps out of the Club’s network only to infect silicon and human brains alike, and the government-sanctioned Cosmotology Cult’s leader, E.T. Harman is willing to take credit for it all.
Satire, love story, allegory, and cyberthriller, the highly reviewed ECSTASY CLUB is at once an entertaining and detailed portrait of those who live in the world of new technologies and alternative culture, and a visionary assessment of the perils and possibilities of a wired world. Its style does not quite live up to the best of cyberpunk and as multidimensional as the trappings the character seem a bit light and wooden. It never quite makes it as a mystery or a thriller but it is a definite jab at self-portrayal as self-betrayal.
Douglas Rushkoff wrote Cyberia: Life in the Trenches of Hyperspace, Playing Future, Media Virus, and edited The GenXReader. He is also the creator of the CyberTarot, and writes a weekly column for the New York Times Syndicate.
BECKY BERNSTEIN GOES BERLIN: A Novel by Holly-Jane Rahlens ($22.95, hardcover, 243 pages, Arcade ISBN: 1559703814) PAPERBACK
Holly-Jane Rahlens has an attitude to rival that of Nora Ephron and Tama Janowitz, and a wit that leaves no one unscathed (least of all herself). Her novel is a romp through the foibles of singledom on two continents, a study of the flaws of the male species in all its varieties, and a delicious tribute to one woman’s resolve not to let fickle fellows get in the way of having fun in the world’s two most exciting cities, Berlin and New York.
Becky Bernstein has just been dumped by her umpteenth boyfriend on the day before her summer vacation, and it suddenly dawns on her that her life is due for a change. Not just a few pounds less around her hips, but real change. So she decides this time it’s not just herself but her apartment that will go on a radical diet. As she sorts through the clutter of outmoded skirts, and half-forgotten love letters, old memories resurface—of her childhood in Brooklyn and Queens, of her move to Berlin in her tender twenties and of her love life, which never seems to run dry but always run in circles—vicious ones. For a lovable neurotic, Becky’s weight and date problems are normal enough. Less common is the way she hones her tongue to defend herself against all the unworthy men she’s ever hooked up with.
One of the best-known American performance artists in Europe, Holly-Jane Rahlens has resided in Berlin for many years. Her one-woman shows have earned her star status in Germany. Like an anthropologist describing the rituals of a remote and primitive tribe, this New York City native has enjoyed giving Germans a lesson on the behavioral traits and habitats of the Jewish-American woman, with special emphasis on the New York species.
X20: A Novel of (not) Smoking by Richard Beard ($22.95, hardcover, 311 pages, Arcade, ISBN: 1-55970-399-7) PAPERBACK
Gregory Simpson is quitting smoking. No patch, no nicotine gum. His plan is to keep his hands busy and his mind distracted by writing something down every time he craves a cigarette. Unfortunately, everything he thinks to write about has something to do with smoking.
In the first throes of withdrawal, Simpson writes in tense fits and starts, desperately bouncing between reminiscences of a life—beginning with his birth to a tobacconist father and a virulently anti-smoking mother to his current work for the local smoking advocacy group, the Suicide Club— that has been shaped by, in fact built from, his relationship with cigarettes.
He has spent his adult life hilariously embroiled in addiction both to nicotine and to the tobacco companies’ carefully crafted public image of cigarettes. All of his intimate personal relationships have risen and fallen on the basis of their ability to compete with or incorporate his fascination with smoking. Even his cat has developed a predilection for sniffing ashtrays.
As Simpson’s ability to concentrate improves, he begins to recognize the insidiousness of tobacco in his life. But today being today, his habit is no longer just personal, but political, and the tobacco companies have a vested interest in keeping him smoking.
Crafted with wit, intelligence, style, and full sympathy for the physical, psychological, and emotional joys and dangers of nicotine addiction, X20 is a timely exploration of addiction to and obsession with addiction and obsession, not necessarily respectively—and an extraordinary debut by a talented young writer.
Richard Beard was born in 1967. X20 is his first novel.
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