• print • June/July/Aug 2007

    To paraphrase the compliment Joan Didion paid Fat City, Leonard Gardner’s classic 1969 novel set in Stockton, California, Richard Lange has got it right about Los Angeles. Dead Boys, his debut story collection, depicts average Southland life with unfaltering exactitude— the doughnut shop–cum-hangout, the sun’s merciless routine, Spanglish, and the disconsolateness of the carless. Such meticulously drawn commonplace scenery is remarkable in itself. But what’s most impressive about Lange’s tales is how his LA bypasses the usual accounts of nihilism and dystopia to signify instead the hard-luck

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2007

    Sex Brainiac

    Alexander Theroux once declared revenge the “single most informing element of great world literature,” transcending even “love and war, with which themes . . . it has more than passing acquaintance.” Revenge, Theroux suggests, also drives authors to create. George Orwell, he points out, figured the “desire . . . to get your own back on grownups who snubbed you in childhood” to be among one’s first motivations for writing.

    Theroux’s novels are close cousins to Jacobean revenge plays: No plan unfolds without dire consequences. Yet they’re also meditations on how anger consumes us, and they’re

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2007

    Venal Colony

    The plain, even soporific titles of Matthew Sharpe’s books—Stories from the Tube (1998), Nothing Is Terrible (2000), The Sleeping Father (2003), and now Jamestown—belie one of the most energetic and laudably fluid prose styles going. On any given page, Sharpe can swing contagious exuberance (“How unpleasant and interesting it is to be alive!”) and aphoristic head-scratchers, shrewd pop-culture quotation and hairpin dialogue, the brilliant joke and the dumb joke and the dumb joke repeated enough times that it becomes brilliant. His breakthrough novel, The Sleeping Father, engineers a nuclear-family

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2007

    Jack Pendarvis’s second collection of stories, Your Body Is Changing, is populated by a preposterous assortment of oddballs and losers. Whether he’s describing an embittered failure with a superiority complex who rambles about the hamburger restaurant he wants to start, a self-proclaimed prophet traveling along an Alabama freeway with his nine goats, or an aging professor who grasps clumsily for hip lingo to impress the young folks, Pendarvis delights in exposing a range of chafingly self-involved blowhards and dithering freaks.

    At times, this kaleidoscope of weirdos is a bit too arbitrary

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2007

    Viken Berberian’s second novel, Das Kapital, wryly lives up to its name. Like many economic treatises since Marx’s, it concerns the gently aging love triangle of capitalism, power, and labor. The story’s main character is Wayne, the wunderkind manager of a three-billiondollar hedge fund, who has honed his ability to anticipate when stocks will decline, profiting handsomely by betting against individual companies and national markets. Though Berberian layers Wayne’s story with references to the Situationist International, his book is less a novel of ideas than a series of cartoonish interactions

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2007

    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

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2007

    Dresden, 1741: A count lies suffering from chronic insomnia. To soothe his misery, he orders a musician to play to him every night, a ritual that necessitates the composition of pieces for the young clavier player. The task is assigned, a set of thirty variations on a theme is written, and one of the masterpieces of Western music is born. The insomniac is Hermann Karl von Keyserling; the harpsichordist, Johann Gottlieb Goldberg; and the composer, Johann Sebastian Bach. So goes the creation myth of the Goldberg Variations, a tightly assembled rotation of elements including canons, genres, and

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2007

    Dutch Master

    There’s a cold moment when you open a book that an entire nation officially loves. It can’t be quite that good, you think. It might say all too much about the country that loves it—in this case, Holland. Besides, when a book is approved as safe in so many schoolrooms, how can it possibly still be alive? And why doesn’t the rest of the world know about it already?

    So the first thing to say about Willem Frederik Hermans’s Nooit meer slapen (Beyond Sleep) is that forty-one years of being lodged in the Dutch canon have done it no harm at all; it’s as bright and black as anything contemporary. It

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  • print • Apr/May 2007

    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

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  • print • Apr/May 2007

    Soup to Mutts

    Forget Internet dating: Any city dweller who's spent an afternoon walking a cute pup down the street will tell you that owning a dog is the surest way to make and sustain a connection. In Cathleen Schine's meringue-light new novel The New Yorkers, canines of all shapes, sizes, and degrees of lovability unite a disparate collection of Manhattanites living on the same charming, rent-controlled street, an easy dog walk from Central Park. It's an ordinary Upper West Side street that escaped gentrification, a street where people moved after graduating college and never left."There are no mansions

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  • print • Apr/May 2007

    Honorable Menschen

    Admirers of the great Howard Jacobson have made a parlor game of accounting for why he's not been recognized as one of the most absorbing and intelligent Anglophone novelists. It beggars the imagination to think that the man who wrote The Mighty Walzer (1999) has won no major accolade in award-mad Britain and has barely appeared in print in the States. So, some possibilities: He's been written off as a mere comic novelist, and a smut-peddling comedian at that; he's impolitely Jewish, his sentences lousy with Yiddish; and he laments the state of British culture in a weekly Independent column.

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  • print • Apr/May 2007

    Missed America

    Jim Crace opens his ninth novel, The Pesthouse, in a place not unlike what Greil Marcus once called "the old, weird America," a nation of folk traditions and superstitions, of bindle stiffs and highwaymen. This is the land of Boxcar Bertha, the country Mark Twain captured in the river odyssey of Huck and Jim. It's a mythic territory, dark and apocalyptic, one that seems forever lost to us beneath the slick culture we now occupy. For Crace, however, the old, weird America is not just where we've been but where we're going. It's our history and our destiny all in one.

    The Pesthouse takes place

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