Lenora Todaro


    Joe Ashby Porter has a knack for finding life’s small moments, gilding them with flights of fancy, then letting them drift away. Sometimes he writes viscerally, as in this description of a body’s decomposition: “[Grandpa] Guo dwindles to a specimen cicada husk boxed and buried near Wanda below the frost line.” And sometimes he writes opaquely, as when old lovers reconsider each other: “Resumption should be a bodily karaoke, ready (even still) to be carried away, if just as happy with the slow and steady, old sobriquets welling up, thigh across thigh, tasting.” All Aboard, Porter’s fourth volume


    Love comes in for a thrashing in Joan Silber’s sixth book, The Size of the World, a collection of loosely connected stories. Women struggle under the curse of commitment: pining for an unrequited love, taking up with bad boys, compromising reluctantly, being paid for companionship. Most of the men are restless, emotionally dwarfed souls, skittish about settling down and forced by economic circumstance or post-traumatic lethargy to whittle down their notions of independence. When Silber does create a good guy, he gets jilted or dies.

    These first-person narratives cover whole adult lives in

  • The two novellas gathered in Gary Amdahl’s second book, I Am Death, offer a portrait of American men as fearful and bloodthirsty, as lost boys in need of both a kick in the ass and a big hug. As a literary approach, it seems initially unpromising: middle-aged-male angst set amid Mob violence, and more middle-aged-male teeth-grinding set amid soul-crushing corporate culture. But the latter scenario finds Amdahl’s funny bone on full display, and his sharply observed office politics are wincingly accurate.

    The misanthropic, underachieving protagonists of both novellas affect a “What is it all

  • The unnamed narrator of Elfriede Jelinek’s latest novel, Greed, speaks in one voice from multiple minds: She veers from town gossip and amateur sleuth to the royal “we writers”; she then enters the private longings of various Miss Lonelyhearts and the interior monologues of the brutish country policeman who seduces them to gain their property. Like her Austrian forebear Thomas Bernhard, Jelinek has a penchant for loners’ rants and a disgust for her country’s politics. Her premise—that greed corrupts— is classic. Her execution, with its nihilistic digressions, contorted sentences, and “narrative

  • Death Becomes Him

    A mash-up of political farce and avant-garde bombast, the International Necronautical Society (INS), founded in London in 1999, put forth a parodic manifesto about death, announcing that it “is a type of space, which we intend to map, enter, colonise and, eventually, inhabit.” One of the instrumental “agents” behind this group is roguish general secretary Tom McCarthy, a thirty-seven-year-old English conceptual artist whose nimble and obsessive intellect has now refashioned many of the INS’s themes into a novel, Remainder.

    The manifesto promises to find death’s place in literature, art, and