• 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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  • print • Apr/May 2007

    Maxine Swann's writing career began with a bang in 1997, when her short story "Flower Children"—her first ever published—appeared in Ploughshares, won a series of prestigious awards (including an O. Henry and a Pushcart Prize), and went on to appear in The Best American Short Stories of 1998. Now her much-anticipated second novel, Flower Children, is out—the first chapter of which is the story as it appeared in Ploughshares a decade ago.

    "Flower Children," the short story, is written in the unlikely third-person plural, from the shared perspective of four young siblings—Maeve, Lu, Tuck, and

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  • print • Apr/May 2007

    Invisble Clan

    The Buenos Aires of Nathan Englander's harrowing and brilliant first novel, The Ministry of Special Cases, is a city of disappearances. Names are effaced from gravestones, unseemly family histories are denied, plastic surgery distorts familial resemblances. Students are imprisoned; some may become victims of the vuelos de la muerte, or "death flights"—the tortured dissidents sedated and thrown from planes into the estuary that runs past the city into the Atlantic Ocean. Pato, the sweet-natured but rebellious teenage son of Kaddish and Lillian Poznan, is taken from their home one evening by a

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  • print • Apr/May 2007

    "What was it my father used to say?" Sepha Stephanos asks. "A bird stuck between two branches gets bitten on two wings. I would like to add my own saying to the list now, Father: a man stuck between two worlds lives and dies alone. I have dangled and been suspended long enough." Sepha, the narrator and unlikely hero of Ethiopian émigré Dinaw Mengestu's first novel, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, has endured seventeen years of exile by the time he arrives at this revelation. After two decades lived between worlds, the hope and optimism that Sepha brought to America have been all but

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  • print • Apr/May 2007

    Suspect Strips

    Among the aftereffects of 9/11 has been the institutionalization of a new and radically different kind of fear, far more encompassing in its reach than the old fears (of drugs, gangs, black parolees, feminists) cynically evoked by politicians and the media. In its fluent persuasiveness—you have to accept at least the possibility of another attack—fear of terrorism puts otherwise quite rational people at odds with their long-held convictions and better judgment, and it justifies the distrust and hatred of foreigners and immigration, unfamiliar religious beliefs, due process, and, generally,

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  • print • Apr/May 2007

    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

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  • print • Apr/May 2007

    The boy protagonist in Phil LaMarche's roiling debut novel, American Youth, is tough and lonely in the manner of Russell Banks's lost-kid hero in Rule of the Bone. Ted LeClare's detachment from his peers is set against the backdrop of his family's—and the region's—economic dislocation, and LaMarche renders the culturally barren New England landscape with language that is both portentous and propulsive.

    Ted's first days of high school are up­ended by his role in the tragic death of a friend. Emotionally reclusive even before the accident, the boy begins a downward spiral that is interrupted

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