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Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino, translated by Rebecca Copeland (Knopf) Kirino is huge in Japan. Her first novel to come out in English, Out: A Novel, was a stunner. This second English translation, Grotesque shows us a writer with all the tools.

Three women attend an exclusive Tokyo high school. Two of them are sisters. The smart but homely one is the narrator. As the book opens the other two girls, her gorgeous but empty-headed sister and their former classmate have been found murdered in similar circumstances. They were both prostitutes and both were strangled.

Our narrator seems to hate everybody except perhaps, her grandfather. She really hated her pretty sister. Flashbacks show us their schoolgirl days and the paths that they took. Twisted stuff.

In the present day, Tokyo circa 2000, a Chinese man is being tried for their murders and readers find a noir city where decadence and dark secrets lure women to their deaths. The Japanese economic collapse left a society in turmoil.
Natsuo Kirino made a spectacular fiction debut on these shores with the publication of Edgar Award-nominated Out (“Daring and disturbing . . . Prepared to push the limits of this world . . . Remarkable”—Los Angeles Times). Unanimously lauded for her unique, psychologically complex, darkly compelling vision and voice, she garnered a multitude of enthusiastic fans eager for more.
In her riveting new novel Grotesque, Kirino once again depicts a barely known Japan. This is the story of three Japanese women and the interconnectedness of beauty and cruelty, sex and violence, ugliness and ambition in their lives.
Tokyo prostitutes Yuriko and Kazue have been brutally murdered, their deaths leaving a wake of unanswered questions about who they were, who their murderer is, and how their lives came to this end. As their stories unfurl in an ingeniously layered narrative, coolly mediated by Yuriko’s older sister, we are taken back to their time in a prestigious girls’ high school—where a strict social hierarchy decided their fates—and follow them through the years as they struggle against rigid societal conventions.
Shedding light on the most hidden precincts of Japanese society today, Grotesque is both a psychological investigation into the female psyche and a classic work of noir fiction. It is a stunning novel, a book that confirms Natsuo Kirino’s electrifying gifts.

Publisher’s Weekly: Kirino takes you inside the heads of these troubled women. It's a sociological tour de force.
Readers with a taste for ambiguity and oddball characters will enjoy this twisted novel of suspense from Japanese author Kirino (Out). The Apartment Serial Murders case, which involved the brutal killings of two Tokyo prostitutes, has gripped the country, leading to the arrest of a Chinese immigrant, Zhang Zhe-zhong, for the crimes. Strangely, Zhang freely admits to murdering the first victim, Yuriko Hirata, but denies the near-identical slaying 10 months later of Kazue Sato. The events leading to the killings are related from a variety of perspectives—that of Yuriko's unnamed older sister, bitterly jealous of her sibling's good looks; of each victim; and of the accused. Unusual connections—for example, Kazue was a classmate of the older sister—cast doubt on the veracity of individual narrators. This mesmerizing tale of betrayal reveals some sobering truths about Japan's social hierarchy. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (Pantheon) (Paperback)  Debut novel written is an epigraphic style, similar to text-messaging without the cute spelling. The page is set up as a text visual space and coherence of message with text is supplied by the reader and not in the sub-narrative conventions. All told it message is the medium book that presupposes hypertextuality and even manual manuplition of the book page and continuity. If I left you agast and wondering what is so interestion about this novel and its follow up, then I’ve got your attention.
Mark Z. Danielewski stunned readers with his debut, House of Leaves  a bizarre down-the-rabbit-hole tale of madness, surreality and a house where space is unending.  

Just flipping through the pages of this novel could give you a headache, but it's one of the most intriguing books to come out in the last few years, maybe the decade.

The book is presented as a work written by a fictional blind man named Zapano who dies and leaves behind this tome, which is in turn edited and researched by a pretty weird cat who lives in his building, who in turn has the book published. What's this merry-go-round book about? It's a factual study of the phenomenon concerning the release of a home video by a noted photographer which shows that the house he and his family has moved into is strangely larger on the inside than it is on the outside. When doors and hallways start appearing in the house out of nowhere that lead to impossibly large and creepy places, the fun really begins and the true power of the book starts to reveal itself: it’s a damn creepy read. So creepy and surreal that it has you checking your own closets and doors, I'm not kidding.

The audacity of the author is apparant in a mere flipping of the pages: there are footnotes to passages that go on for pages, some research, but some mere personal musings and stories by the editor. There are pages written sideways. There are pages with one word on them. Everywhere the word "house" appears it is printed in blue ink. There are letters in the back written by the institutionalized mother of the original editor.

I'm not going to lie to you: I don't even get it all. As it turns out, you need to bone up on your Norse mythology a little bit to get all of the author's meanings, but I didn't and still got a hell of a charge from it. I was able to superimpose what I thought was going on and it made it even more personal and creepy for me. This book is like "The Amityville Horror" written by Albert Einstein.

The term "cult classic" gets thrown around a lot, but Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves is one book that has definitely earned the title. This is the kind of work that inspires the admiration of many and the fierce devotion of a select few. The book itself defies easy description, but I'll give it a shot anyway. I've got time, even if I may not quite have the words. Anyway, House of Leaves, much like some other notorious brain-teasers (think Gravity's Rainbow and Infinite Jest) presents the reader with a multi-levelled narrative with more twists and turns than the dwelling that gives the book its title. It's superficially the story of an aimless tattoo-shop apprentice, Johhny Truant, who discovers disorganized writings scattered about the apartment of a dead blind octagenarian known only as Zampano, and finds himself irresistibly drawn to the herculean task of organizing everything into a coherent form. Zampano's writing itself, for its part, is the tale of a fictional documentary film called the Navidson Record, recorded with some help by a Pulitzer-winning photographer named Will Navidson. And the documentary (the description of which makes up the bulk of the book) tells the story of Navidson's and his family's move into a house in Virginia with some, er supernatural qualities. Not to mention, Truant regularly interrupts his transcription to inject some personal notes regarding his own experiences and thoughts while telling Zampano's story, which turn out to be rather extensive. Confused yet?

Well, it's not supposed to be light reading, but House of Leaves provides plenty of payoff for the dedicated.
Essentially, this book obliterates the traditional barriers of the novelistic form, presenting the reader with an unconventional, semi-linear narrative that's vast in scope and exacting in detail. In the end, though, the novel's literary experimentation, while interesting and distinctive, isn't the reason to read it, or at least not the best one. Rather, you should read this book because beneath all the bold innovations and encyclopedic knowledge of its author there's a real heart that elevates it above the merely pretentious. The obvious comparisons to David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest have already been made (in fact, I think I just made one), but there's an important difference to be noted as well. Where Infinite Jest generally sees Wallace holding himself at a distance from his subjects, observing them with the sort of clinical detachment characteristic of a lab experiment, Danielewski's novel boasts a striking level of emotional depth, giving a dramatic weight to its supernatural story.

While it really is a huge task to try to take it all on in a mere internet review, suffice to say that the totality of House of Leaves turns out to be nothing less than a fully realized epic that can engage your brain, pull at your heartstrings, and crush your soul at the same time. Danielewski clearly knows how to write a good scary story, but even more importantly, he manages to get you invested in his characters and their stories. Writing through Zampano writing through Johnny Truant, Danielewski turns the tale of Will Navidson, his family, and a house that's bigger on the inside than the outside into a catologue of love, loss, regret, and fear. The interpersonal dynamics that unfold end up becoming just as interesting as the descriptions of the vast interior of a house that seems to change shape as soon as anyone starts to figure it out. Danielewski's writing manages the difficult task of achieving its own sort of poignancy without seeming to try for it, often in strange places--just check out the descriptions of the picture that got Navidson the Pulitzer.

Then there's the parellel narration by Johnny Truant, mostly incorporated through footnootes, that's probably more frightening than anything in the main narrative of the novel. Befitting the subject matter of the novel, Truant is a lost soul living around the fringes of society when he discovers Zampano's body and the work he never finished, but there's nothing to prepare him or the reader for the insanity that quickly starts to set in. Truant's writing paints a picture of mounting dread and disorientation as his task of transcribing Zampano's writing becomes more and more of an obsession, with his writing becoming increasingly claustrophobic as his world begins caving in around him. Even his usual forms of self-medication-booze, drugs, sex-cease to give him comfort against the overwhelming weight that his task comes to assume. The despair captured in his words isn't always fun to read, but it had me glued to the page just the same.

I could probably write about fifteen more paragraphs on this book if I were so inclined, but it would still be difficult for my mediocre ramblings to do it justice. Cliched thought it may sound, House of Leaves really is one book that must be read to be believed. The novel has been around a long time now, but I know of few that achieve the combination of originality, depth, and intelligence that Danielewski pulls off here. You can stick this one on the short list of postmodern classics.

Now six years later, Danielewski has produced his follow-up -- the equally strange, scintillating road-trip novel "Only Revolutions." The format is mind-bending, the characters equally strange -- and Danielewski hasn't lost his touch for the compelling, poignant, the postmodern, and the post-weird.

Hailey and Sam are a pair of eternal teenagers, apparently untouched by time either physically or psychologically ("We're always sixteen!"). They careen through much of American history -- past and present -- in a changing fleet of cars, touching down in various important places and times.

But though they have no responsibilities, Hailey and Sam are not free of cares. As they run through the US, they seem to be enmeshed in the goings-on of wars, parties, exploration and social revolution (the Civil War). Will they escape the oppressive THEM pursuing them, or lose what is most important to them?

For a cult author, there's always a question about whether they can stay fresh and cutting-edge. Fortunately, Danielewski has outrun that particular concern. "Only Revolutions" is written in the same surreal freestyle as "House of Leaves," but the author never forgets to include the story as well.

And as the Escherian plot unwinds ("unfolds" just doesn't fit), it becomes obvious that this is actually two stories: a love story, and a sort of American allegory. They are rebels and free spirits, running up against bizarre characters -- like the multi-military Creep -- who seem symbolic of the nastier sides of our society. Hailey and Sam are the ones who represent the better side of the country.

Danielewski is still fascinated by places/people where time and space are warped. That includes the entire book -- every page. Each page has a scramble of quotes and text on its sides. There is vivid abstract poetry, blank pages (the future), geometric plotting, shrinking pages, mysterious side-notes submitted by Danielewski's fans...

... and oh yeah, you can flip the book upside down and read the two different "sides" of the story. One is Hailey, one is Sam. They are compared to legendary lovers like Tristan and Isolde, Romeo and Juliet, but that's not too far off. Their love evolves as they do, and by the end they are more endearing if less vibrant than at the start of their story.

"Only Revolutions" is both a work of postmodern art and an endearing novel, and while it's hard work to follow Hailey and Sam to the end of their journey, it's worth the trip. Absolutely brilliant. 

Only Revolutions: A Novel by Mark Z. Danielewski (Pantheon) (Paperback) Meet Sam. You'll meet him initially on November 22, 1863. It is the Civil War. Sam is 16 years old.

Meet Hailey. You'll meet her initially on November 22, 1963. President Kennedy has just been assassinated. Hailey is 16 years old.

It just may turn out, however, that you'll meet Hailey before you meet Sam.

Only Revolutions: A Novel is the newest creation from the incredible mind of Mark Z. Danielewski, the man responsible for driving readers crazy with House of Leaves. 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From Publishers Weekly
The double motif, which has fascinated authors as diverse as Poe, Dostoyevski and Nabokov, is revived in this surprisingly listless novel by Portuguese master Saramago. Tertuliano Máximo Afonso is a history teacher in an unnamed metropolis (presumably Lisbon). Middle-aged, divorced and in a relationship with a woman, Maria da Paz, he is bored with life. On the suggestion of a colleague, one night Máximo watches a video that changes everything. The video itself is a forgettable comedy, but the actor who plays the minor role of hotel clerk (so minor he isn't listed in the credits) is Afonso's physical double. Soon Afonso is feverishly renting videos, trying to find the actor's name, while hiding his project from his suspicious colleague, his lover and his mother. Finally tracking the man down, he suggests a meeting. The actor, a rather sleazy fellow, resents Afonso's presence, as if his identical appearance were a sort of ontological theft. Soon the two are in a competition that involves sex and power. Narrating in his usual long, rambling sentences, Saramago suspends his characters and their actions in fussy authorial asides. Afonso has several hokey "dialogues" with "common sense"; his situation, which might be the germ for an excellent short story, is stretched out far beyond the length it deserves. This semi-allegory is certainly not one of Saramago's more noteworthy offerings. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. 

The In-Between World of Vikram Lall by M.G. Vassanji (Knopf) Double Giller Prize winner M.G. Vassanji's The In-Between World of Vikram Lall is a haunting novel of corruption and regret that brings to life the complexity and turbulence of Kenyan society in the last five decades. Rich in sensuous detail and historical insight, this is a powerful story of passionate betrayals and political violence, racial tension and the strictures of tradition, told in elegant, assured prose.

The novel begins in 1953, with eight-year-old Vikram Lall a witness to the celebrations around the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, just as the Mau Mau guerilla war for independence from Britain begins to gain strength. In a land torn apart by idealism, doubt, political upheaval and terrible acts of violence, Vic and his sister Deepa must find their place among a new generation. Neither colonists nor African, neither white nor black, the Indian brother and sister find themselves somewhere in between in their band of playmates: Bill and Annie, British children, and Njoroge, an African boy. These are the relationships that will shape the rest of their lives.

We follow Vikram through the changes in East African society, the immense promise of the fifties and sixties. But when that hope is betrayed by the corruption and violence of the following decades, Vic is drawn into the Kenyatta government's orbit of graft and power-broking. Njoroge, his childhood friend, can abandon neither the idealism of his youth nor his love for Vic's sister Deepa. But neither the idealism of the one nor the passive cynicism of the other can avert the tragedies that await them.

In interviews given when the novel was published, Vassanji commented that The In-Between World of Vikram Lall is the first of his books to deal with his memories of Kenya, where he spent the first 5 years of his life: "I remember these images of fear, of terror. And I thought I had to come back to that and see the whole Mau Mau episode from the Asian point of view. I had never written a book set in Kenya, where my father was from. And when I did, I just felt good about it, because I was going back to one part, one of many homes."

The In-Between World of Vikram Lall, a compelling record in the voice of a character described as "a cheat of monstrous and reptilian cunning," took three years to write. After research in Kenya and Britain, M.G. Vassanji devoted himself to the novel in a dark office at the University of Toronto. It was a hard process of creation and discovery, especially as Vassanji is an assiduous editor of his own work: "I come back to it over and over. For me, it's like working on a sculpture. You sort of chip away a bit at a time until you tell yourself it's as perfect as you can make it." Vassanji's fifth novel met with immense Canadian and international success. As well as making him the first author to win the Giller I Prize twice, the book was a #1 national bestseller.

The In-Between World of Vikram Lall is a profound and careful examination of one man's search for his place in the world; it also takes up themes that have run through Vassanji's work, such as the nature of community in a volatile society, the relations between colony and colonizer, and the inescapable presence of the past. It is also, finally, a deeply personal book:

"The major thing that stands out in the book is people who are in-between. The feeling of belonging and not belonging is very central to the book. And that also played out in my life. When we lived in Tanzania we belonged and did not belong because we had come from Kenya. That has been a major thread in my life."

From Publishers Weekly
As an Indian child growing up in 1950s Kenya, Vikram Lall is at the center of two warring worlds—one of childhood innocence, the other "a colonial world of repressive, undignified subjecthood" in which the innocent often meet with the cruelest of fates. He passes his early days in Nakuru playing with his sister, Deepa, their neighborhood friend Njoroge, and English expatriates Annie and Bill Bruce. Though Vic is third-generation African, he understands that Njo is somehow more Kenyan than he or his family will ever be. Police regularly raid Nakuru looking for Mau Mau rebels, who are terrorists in the eyes of Europeans, but freedom fighters to native Kenyans; one day tragedy strikes the Lall family's English friends. Haunted by a grisly description of the crime scene, the Lalls eventually pick up and move to Nairobi. Fast-forward to 1965, when Kenya has achieved independence and Mau Mau sympathizer Jomo Kenyatta is now the president of the nation. Njo, who worshipped Jomo from an early age, is a rising star in the new government. He tracks down the Lalls in Nairobi and begins an innocent courtship of Deepa, much to her parents' chagrin. Meanwhile, Vic continues to allow his memory of young Annie to define his life and, as a result, makes some morally ambiguous judgments when he lands a position in the new government. Telling his story from Canada, where he fled after getting top billing on Kenya's "List of Shame" as one of the most financially corrupt men in his country, Vic is a voice for all those who wonder about the price of the struggle for freedom. Vassanji, who was the 2003 winner of Canada's Giller Prize, explores a conflict of epic proportions from the perspective of a man trapped in "the perilous in-between," writing with a deftness and evenhandedness that distinguish him as a diligent student of political and historical complexities and a riveting storyteller.
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The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst (Little Brown & Company) Unabridged Audio Cassette (Time Warner AudioBooks) a smart novel about coming to terms with an unexpected death that takes a few perverse turns along the way through the seasons of grief. Paul Iverson’s life changes in an instant. He returns home one day to find that his wife Lexy has died under strange circumstances. The only witness was their dog, Lorelei, whose anguished barking brought help to the scene—but too late.
In the days and weeks that follow, Paul begins to notice strange "clues" in their home: books rearranged on their shelves, a mysterious phone call, and other suggestions that nothing about Lexy’s last afternoon was quite what it seemed. Reeling from grief, Paul is determined to decipher this evidence and unlock the mystery of her death.
But he can’t do it alone; he needs Lorelei’s help. A linguist by training, Paul embarks on an impossible endeavor: a series of experiments designed to teach Lorelei to communicate what she knows. Perhaps behind her wise and earnest eyes lies the key to what really happened to the woman he loved.
As Paul’s investigation leads him in unexpected and even perilous directions, he revisits the pivotal moments of his life with Lexy, the brilliant, enigmatic woman whose sparkling passion for life and dark, troubled past he embraced equally.
Written with a quiet elegance and a profound knowledge of love’s hidden places, The Dogs of Babel is a novel of astonishing and lasting power—a story of marriage, survival, and devotion that lies too deep for words.

It may sound almost insane that a man would try to teach his dog to speak but one would have to look at it from Paul's point of view: he was grief-stricken. He had just lost his wife & wanted what anyone of us would have wanted had a loved one's death occurred & literally no one was there to retell the events. He wanted closure.
Yes, this book does contain acts of animal abuse but Paul does not condone the acts by the group mentioned in the book. In fact, he finds them reprehensible. Perhaps it's that part of him that's in all of us that has to slow down at the site of an accident that draws him to initially explore their ideals.
I think that it's a very good book that ties up all of the loose ends without having an overly happy/unrealistic ending.

The Audio cassette edition is read with clear pacing and some impersonation by veterian actor Erik Singer.

Drop City by T. Coraghessan Boyle (Viking) T.C. Boyle has proven himself to be a master storyteller who can do just about anything. But even his most ardent admirers may be caught off guard by his ninth novel, for Boyle has delivered something completely unexpected: a serious and richly rewarding character study that is his most accomplished and deeply satisfying work to date.

It is 1970, and a down-at-the-heels
California commune has decided to relocate to the last frontier-the unforgiving landscape of interior Alaska -in the ultimate expression of going back to the land. The novel opposes two groups of characters: Sess Harder, his wife Pamela, and other young Alaskans who are already homesteading in the wilderness and the brothers and sisters of Drop City , who, despite their devotion to peace, free love, and the simple life, find their commune riven by tensions. As these two communities collide, their alliances shift and unexpected friendships and dangerous enmities are born as everyone struggles with the bare essentials of life: love, nourishment, and a roof over one's head.

Drop City is not a satire or a nostalgic look at the sixties, though its evocation of the period is presented with a truth and clarity that no book on that era has achieved. This is a surprising book, a rich, allusive, and nonsentimental look at the ideals of a generation and their impact on today's radically transformed world. Above all, it is a novel infused with the lyricism and take-no-prisoners storytelling for which T.C. Boyle is justly famous.

The Truth About Celia by Kevin Brockmeier (Pantheon Books) From the award-winning author of Things That Fall from the Sky, a richly nuanced and deeply moving novel about the disappearance of a young girl, as told by her devastated father. This exploration of grief is written by Kevin Brockmeier, winner of the Chicago Tribune’s Nelson Algren Award, an Italo Calvino Short Fiction Award, a James Michener–Paul Engle Fellowship, and two O. Henry Awards (one of which was a first prize).
Celia is seven years old on the day she goes missing. Her father, Christopher Brooks, is giving a tour of their historic house; her mother, Janet, is at an orchestra rehearsal. Celia is outside playing. She rides her scooter, lies down in the wet grass, jumps off a stone wall. She throws a rubber ball against the roof. She disappears. The neighbors offer advice, the police search for months and missing child posters go up, yet Celia is never found.

As the years pass, Celia’s father, a science-fiction writer, finds himself retreating into his work as a way of coping with her disappearance; he is drawn into a grief-induced world of wishful fantasy in which Celia still exists. Plunging into his work to help him cope with her disappearance, he writes of its effects from the points of view of the people who are still haunted by her absence: Janet, the policeman who is in charge of the case, his wife, and himself—each voice contributing to the heart-wrenching picture of a town subtly, but lastingly, changed. His stories reveal the way people attempt to comprehend the unexplained and the fantasies they create when faced with the unanswerable. The stories don’t just trace what happened, but they venture into places only the grieving mind can go.
The Truth About Celia is a beautifully written novel of remarkable understanding—an extraordinary exploration of profound loss and inconsolable grief. It exposes the hard truth behind life’s worst realities, a place most of us would rather not be.

Good Faith by Jane Smiley (Knopf) Jane Smiley brings her extraordinary gifts—comic timing, empathy, emotional wisdom, an ability to deliver slyly on big themes and capture the American spirit—to the seductive, wishful, wistful world of real estate, in which the sport of choice is the mind game. Her funny and moving new novel is about what happens when the American Dream morphs into a seven-figure American Fantasy.
Joe Stratford is someone you like at once. He makes an honest living helping nice people buy and sell nice houses. His not-very-amicable divorce is finally settled, and he’s ready to begin again. It’s 1982. He is pretty happy, pretty satisfied. But a different era has dawned; Joe’s new friend, Marcus Burns from
New York , seems to be suggesting that the old rules are ready to be repealed, that now is the time you can get rich quick. Really rich. And Marcus not only knows that everyone is going to get rich, he knows how. Because Marcus just quit a job with the IRS.
But is Joe ready for the kind of success Marcus promises he can deliver? And what’s the real scoop on Salt Key Farm? Is this really the development opportunity of a lifetime?
And then there’s Felicity Ornquist, the lovely, feisty, winning (and married) daughter of Joe’s mentor and business partner. She has finally owned up to her feelings for Joe: she’s just been waiting for him to be available.
The question Joe asks himself, over and over, is, Does he have the gumption? Does he have the smarts and the imagination and the staying power to pay attention—to Marcus and to Felicity—and reap the rewards?

Good Faith captures the seductions and illusions that can seize
America during our periodic golden ages (every Main Street an El Dorado ). To follow Joe as he does deals and is dealt with in this newly liberated world of anything goes is a roller-coaster ride through the fun park of the 1980s. It is Jane Smiley in top form.