Carla Blumenkranz

  • interviews August 07, 2014

    Bookforum talks with Yelena Akhtiorskaya

    Most extraordinary about Yelena Akhtiorskaya's first novel, Panic in a Suitcase, is the language, which can dive in and out of the consciousness of multiple characters in the space of a sentence. Akhtiorskaya writes about Russian immigrants who fail to fully embrace their new country. Often, they dream about returning, or at least about taking a vacation.

    I met Yelena Akhtiorskaya in the Columbia MFA program, and soon after edited her first published stories, at n+1 magazine. These were portraits of Russian immigrants who failed to fully embrace their new country; they often dreamed about returning, or at least about taking a vacation. Akhtiorskaya's layered first novel, Panic in a Suitcase, out last month from Riverhead, is also about ambivalent newcomers to the United States. The Nasmerstov family tries to persuade its most outsized member, the poet Pasha, to finally relocate from Odessa, as its youngest member, Frida, considers flying the

  • Psycho's Path

    Patrick Oxtoby, the narrator of This Is How, M. J. Hyland’s third novel, does not appear to have a hopeful future. Although his life started out well—he fulfilled his mother’s ambition by being the first in the family to attend college—he reveals himself within the first few pages to be unfit for society.

    Patrick has a strong sense of how he should behave toward others, but he’s often simply struck dumb. “I should say something, but I can’t think what.” “I should say a lot more nice things and make her feel welcome, but she’s got to know I don’t want her here.” He has no natural feeling to

  • Telex from Cuba

    Rachel Kushner’s first novel is a work of great care and research, directed at re-creating a place that history has erased from the map. Telex from Cuba is set, for the most part, in Oriente province during the six years prior to Castro’s overthrow of Batista. These were the very last years that United Fruit owned “Cuba’s largest, poorest, blackest province,” as one of the novel’s scions describes his former home, and that Americans lived there in a state of fantastic excess. The expatriates and revolutionaries whom Kushner follows over the course of her story represent both this privileged

  • Perhaps the title of Jason Brown’s second story collection, Why the Devil Chose New England For His Work, begins with an interrogative because this is a book that believes in right and wrong answers. Most of the eleven tales describe exceptional instances in the lives of the residents of Vaughn, a fictional Maine town. It might be more accurate, however, to say that the town does the telling. Right-minded, rigid, yet deeply conflicted, Vaughn’s inhabitants collectively struggle to repress their less virtuous instincts. It’s no wonder that the devil chose this semimythical rural New England

  • At Large and At Small

    Anne Fadiman is a specialist in what she stubbornly calls the familiar essay, a genre that reached its prime in the early nineteenth century. Most readers and writers today are acquainted with its cousin, the personal essay. Fadiman’s word choice, then, acts as a small protest. Personal, she notes in the preface to At Large and At Small, has increasingly come to mean “confessional,” and Fadiman is not one for theatrics. Critical doesn’t quite do it either, because so often what she writes involves personal experience. In the end, Fadiman practices the familiar through a series of wide-ranging,