“Exit Ghost” by Philip Roth
I picked this up in the library. I am always a sucker for a book about a writer. I know some writers snub their noses at writers as characters but not me. Anything that gives me a glimpse into the creative soul is worth a shot. Roth is a force in American literature. This story continues the Zuckerman saga as he returns to NYC post 9-11 after eleven years of being nothing but a writer. This raised an interesting question for me, this whole idea of giving up everything for the sake of your Art. Writing at the expense of the rest of a life. Writing as the life. If you aren’t living a life, can you truly write about it? If you are living in a vacuum of only your mind and words, what fills the well of your imagination? After living with nothing but his writing for eleven years, Zuckerman finds himself thrust out of his imagination and back into a life of love, grief, lust, violence and intrigue. And there are some fascinating passages on George Plimpton, which made me want to read more about him.
“The Pesthouse” by Jim Crace
I have this morbid fascination with end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it stories. That is exactly what Jim Crace has written. An America of the future is practically deserted and those left are heading east toward the ships that will take them to the “Promised Land” of Europe. Life is back to the very basics the earth can provide: fire, water, land and air. Metal is an incomprehensible relic that some deem the Devil’s work and claim was the downfall of civilization. When Margaret is banned from her small community to the Pesthouse to sweat out her fever, fearful that she carries the deadly flux, Franklin Lopez comes across her and together they set out to hopefully gain passage on a ship to Europe away from the deserted toxic wasteland their country has become. For days afterward I found myself hyper aware of all the luxurious necessities we take for granted: electricity, grocery stores, cars, TV and I couldn’t help but take note of our abundant use of metal. Reading stories like this I find myself thinking that it is not a question of if this will happen but when.
“What You Have Left” by Will Allison
Two of my favorite writers blurbed this book: Janet Fitch and Dan Chaon. This story has grief, addiction, abandonment, desire and Nascar driving. Allison does an amazing job of shifting through time and POV. We think we know a character then suddenly we are thrust backward and more is revealed, yet another layer. The story raises questions of what our parents hand down to us- intentionally or not- and is that particular Fate written in stone.
“The Soul Thief” by Charles Baxter
I bought this after having lunch and attending a reading by the author. I had the good luck of being seated right next to him for lunch and found him to be a warm, thoughtful lunch companion. The premise of identity theft intrigued me. But it is not the usual credit card type of theft. No, this is about a person who attempts to steal another’s essence, their actual “soul”. The first part takes place in Buffalo amidst a group a graduate students which is where Nathan comes across Jerome Coolberg. At times these students felt just too smart for their own good and they seemed to try so hard to be odd and quirky. Then we move ahead thirty years or so and Nathan has created a family life, Buffalo behind him when Jerome reaches out to him in his present life. It’s quite a psychological mind game and you never quite know who is winning.
“Rabbit Punches” by Jason Ockert
I picked up this collection a few years ago at the Ann Arbor Book Festival. I love the opening of every single story but several of them seemed to get away from me as I continued reading. The style and voice seemed front and center much of the time but the stories themselves are intriguing.
“Bang Crunch” by Neil Smith
The title of this collection got me. It refers to the title story which features a girl with Fred Hoyle syndrome. Her “age expands and contracts like the universe”. Quite haunting, really. These stories feel utterly unique. Only one or two lost me as they veered into the just plain weird.
“Her Last Death” by Susanna Sonneberg
I read this memoir early in the month. It tells the story of a woman who grew up with her larger than life mother who knew no boundaries. She wove a net of outrageous lies around her daughter, introduced her to drugs at an early age first by her own example then as a gift for her birthday. She talked to her daughter about things that the girls of Sex in the City would blush at. But I love how this doesn’t become a poor me story. Sonneberg grows up and struggles to keep track of her own boundaries, to establish some between her and her mother and to find them as she resolves to be a good mother to her own children.