Archive for April, 2009

My review of Roche’s Wetlands on PopMatters

My review of Charlotte Roche’s controversial novel Wetlands has been posted on PopMatters.

Wetlands by Charlotte Roche

Wetlands by Charlotte Roche


My review of two new books by J. Robert Lennon on PopMatters

New on PopMatters today: my dual review of Pieces for the Left Hand and Castle by J. Robert Lennon, out simultaneously from Graywolf.

Lennons Pieces for the Left Hand

Lennon's Pieces for the Left Hand

A side note: I also recently read an earlier novel of Lennon’s called The Funnies, which I’d thoroughly recommend. It’s a bittersweet family comedy about a young artist coming to terms with the fact that his true talent isn’t for avant-garde sculpture, but instead for following his father’s trade in the daily comic strip business. When his father dies, he inherits his strip—which bears an unmistakable resemblance to The Family Circus—on the condition that he demonstrate to the people of the syndicate that he’s capable of handling it. This proves to be a much more difficult task than the protagonist expects, and Lennon treats his struggles with empathy, humor, and a fascinating attention to detail about the art of drawing and writing for the funny pages. I think it’s Lennon’s best novel, and it’s well worth seeking out.

Lennons Castle

Lennon's Castle

New review in The Quarterly Conversation

booksthumbiconThe Quarterly Conversation has just posted my review of the Austrian writer Daniel Kehlmann’s novel Me and Kaminski.

Unjustly overlooked Novel About My Wife

Emily Perkins’s Novel About My Wife recently won this year’s Believer Book Award, but has otherwise gone almost entirely unnoticed in the United States. I’m extremely glad that the folks at The Believer have now brought the book to my attention: Perkins has written a flat-out terrific novel, and I hope that the receipt of the prize will win her many more new readers.

Novel About My Wife is narrated by Tom, a Londoner and the father of a young child, in the aftermath of his wife’s death. As he looks back on the final months of their life together, Tom struggles to come to an understanding about what happened to Ann, and attempts to put himself in her head during the course of the events leading up to her death. I won’t go into the details of the plot, as I have no desire to spoil the novel’s spooky and emotionally fraught suspense for anyone. Suffice it to say that it’s an unusually involving book, and that I felt compelled to rush through the whole of it in under twenty-four hours.

emNovel About My Wife/em by Emily Perkins

Novel About My Wife by Emily Perkins

Perkins’s novel is masterfully plotted, and she also does a fully convincing job of bringing Tom’s first-person voice to life on the page. More impressive still is the way she employs artful and often beautiful prose in order to capture all the subtleties of pitch and intensity in Tom’s emotional state as his life with Ann begins to unravel. The passage quoted below not only offers a lovely and well-observed peek into the everyday intimacy experienced by Tom and Ann, but also demonstrates the power of his love for her. In context—because we know that Ann will die, and Tom will never get to enjoy this kind of moment again—the scene is also shot through the desperation, fear, sadness, and grief. Perkins writes:

‘Oh, God, I’m so old to have a baby,’ Ann moaned from the bathroom in that half talking to herself, half talking to me voice that married people use….I loved that voice, I loved hearing Ann’s inner thoughts as they rose gently to the surface, a ribbon of intimate words floating out of her mouth on the bathroom steam and through the door to me, where I opportunistically sat, ostensibly waiting to clean my teeth but really living for that moment.

It’s a gorgeous passage, and only one of many in Perkins’s engrossing and moving novel.

Salon Interview with Charlotte Roche

booksthumbicon Over at Salon, Nina Powers interviews the German writer Charlotte Roche, whose first novel Wetlands stirred up a lot of controversy in Europe because of its extreme sexual and scatological frankness. My review of the book (which comes out in the United States on April 8 ) will run on PopMatters soon, so I won’t comment on it in any detail here. But, I think Powers does an excellent job with the interview, and gets to the heart of why the book has made so many people uncomfortable. These days it’s very difficult to shock anyone with explicit content alone; instead, Roche’s real provocation lies in insisting that readers who feel shocked or disgusted by her explicit discussion of her heroine’s bodily functions ought to carefully examine the nature of their responses.

Here’s Roche in the interview:

Very often, lately, people have come up to me and say “You look tired,” and I hate it. Women are supposed to always look fit and healthy and pretty. But everything that is sick and tired is all very human—and I think that being human is a big taboo.

Recent Publications

Review of J.M. Coetzee and Ethics: Philosophical Perspectives on Literature, edited by Anton Leist and Peter Singer. The Quarterly Conversation, September 2010.

Review of Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett. The Region, June 2010.

Review of The Man in the Wooden Hat and Old Filth by Jane Gardam. The Quarterly Conversation, Issue 19, Spring 2010.

Review of 1989: Bob Dylan Didn't Have This to Sing About by Joshua Clover. ForeWord, November/December 2009.

Review of The Humbling by Philip Roth. Identity Theory, November 25, 2009.

Review of Imperial by William T. Vollmann. PopMatters, September 18, 2009.

Review of Wonderful World by Javier Calvo. The Quarterly Conversation, Issue 17, September 7, 2009.

Review of Of Song and Water by Joseph Coulson. Identity Theory, August 3, 2009.

Review of Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music by Amiri Baraka. ForeWord, July/August 2009.

Review of Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda. Rain Taxi, Summer 2009 (#54). Viewable online via Powell's Books

April 2009
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