Christopher R. Beha

  • Watch Your Manors

    A new novel by Peter Cameron doesn’t do much to announce itself as a literary event. His books are short—only one, The City of Your Final Destination, is longer than three hundred pages—and are not consciously “brainy.” Their chief literary virtues are wit, charm, and lightness of touch, qualities infrequently found in contemporary American fiction except in ersatz form, as twee quirkiness. Cameron is above all a novelist of manners, building his effects from the drama and comedy of human relationships, working always on a small scale, so it has been tempting to treat his books as “

  • Verballing Abuse

    As Gary Shteyngart’s third novel begins, Lenny Abramov is seated on a “UnitedContinentalDeltamerican” flight to New York after a year in Rome. Taking out a collection of Chekhov’s stories to pass the time, Lenny receives harsh stares from his fellow passengers. “Duder,” one tells him, “that thing smells like wet socks.” Perhaps America has changed during Lenny’s sojourn in the capital of the ancient world.

    On landing, he discovers that his old college friend Noah Weinberg will be airing his welcome-home celebration live on GlobalTeens—a Facebookish social-networking site. “Before the publishing


    German novelist Daniel Kehlmann has a penchant for the figure who wakes with relief from one dream only to discover he has passed into another. In Kehlmann’s excellent historical novel Measuring the World (2006), the mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss finds himself “lying on the plank bed and dreaming that he was lying on the plank bed dreaming that he was lying on the plank bed and dreaming. Uneasily he sat up and realized immediately that he wasn’t yet awake.”

    That book’s international success has prompted the translation of a 2003 novel, Me and Kaminski, whose narrator, Sebastian Zollner,

  • Personal Days

    A debut novel, set in a midsize metropolitan office, using a first-person-plural narrator to capture the collective consciousness of an amorphous workplace we: It’s difficult to avoid com­parisons between Ed Park’s Personal Days and Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came to the End. Both books attempt to strike a balance between humor and sympathy, between the indignities of midlevel white-collardom and the quiet nobility of showing up every day to do your job. Under the shared influence of Don DeLillo, both apply his sig­nature mixture of uneasy cross talk, misinfor­mation, and paranoia to a period of

  • Magical History Tour

    Creation myths fascinate us because they point to the time when things began to become as they are, and so suggest that we might go back and choose a different, better path. "The universe comes to be at the moment when God wills it to be," John Crowley writes in Endless Things, the concluding volume of his four-part series, Ægypt. "It never existed before that moment, and after that moment it always did." Now that the series is finally complete, this is rather how Ægypt—twenty years in the making—itself feels: as if it had been there all along, and Crowley had merely come along to point it out