Laird Hunt

  • culture April 19, 2011

    Suicide by Edouard Levé

    Art grimly mirrors life in this novel by an author who killed himself.

    Suicide by Edouard Levé tells two intertwined stories. In one, a young man has killed himself and a friend meditates on the dead man’s life. In the other, a young author has killed himself, but not before writing a novel in which a young man has killed himself and a friend meditates on the dead man’s life. Part of what makes the experience of reading Suicide so singular is that the young author in question is Edouard Levé himself: Ten days after handing in his manuscript, Levé hanged himself, at age forty-two. It is all but impossible when reading, then, not to be constantly aware that Levé

  • Ventrakl

    Christian Hawkey’s hard-to-classify Ventrakl puts prose, poetry, and photographs to fascinating work as he attempts to draw closer to the early-twentieth-century German writer Georg Trakl. Trakl was more than slightly enigmatic in his own day—Great War medic, pharmacist, drug addict, blisteringly gifted Expressionist poet, and suicide at twenty-seven—and Hawkey (whose previous work includes the 2007 poetry collection Citizen Of) manages with great resourcefulness to both mitigate and highlight the cultural and linguistic gap between himself and his long-dead predecessor.

    He does so in part by

  • culture September 03, 2009

    I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett

    In his 2001 novel, Erasure, Percival Everett conjured up the unforgettable Thelonius “Monk” Ellison, a middle-class writer of challenging fiction who enjoys a decidedly quiet (think polite applause) career until, fed up with a publishing industry and reading public interested only in “authentic” black voices and “authentic” black experience, he writes a pseudonymous send-up of street fiction that he thinks is absurd and that the rest of the world thinks is genius.

  • The Way Through Doors

    In 1928, dime novelist William Wallace Cook published Plotto, a practical guide to narrative construction. In it, he sets out a general schematic that his readers, or “plottoists,” would do well to keep in mind: An individual with certain attributes encounters some difficulty or complication, which is then addressed and/or resolved. Cook goes on to elaborate hundreds of possible complications, while cross-referencing individuals with certain attributes who might have encountered them and detailing ways the situation could turn out. Whether or not Jesse Ball is familiar with Cook’s endlessly

  • The unusually various characters in Nam Le’s excellent debut collection, The Boat, live between worlds. In “Cartagena,” for example, a teenage contract killer in Colombia moves from squalid shantytowns to his master’s opulent mansion; in “Hiroshima,”a young girl shifts unambiguously toward death in the days and hours before the atomic bomb is dropped; and in the title story, a Vietnamese refugee overtaken by a storm on the South China Sea feels as if she is “soaring through the air, the sky around [her] dark and inky and shifting.” As these brief descriptions indicate, the book’s seven stories

  • That Clare Clark is the author of a critically acclaimed first novel titled The Great Stink should make perfect sense to readers of her second offering. Set largely in the malodorous backstreets and poorly ventilated chambers of early-eighteenth-century London, The Nature of Monsters, like its predecessor (which explores the city's sewers a century later), is a distinctly pungent reading experience—one in which the "powerful stink of pig shit and rotting refuse" mingles with foul-smelling tisanes, decomposing elixirs, and canals choked with "dung and dead cats" to form an olfactory edifice so