• print • June/July/Aug 2007

    Chimp Change

    “Bad monkey” is a childish euphemism a policeman might use to protect the sensitivity of an adolescent girl, Jane Charlotte, whose younger brother, Phil, was abducted while Jane was supposed to be watching him. Little does the policeman know that Jane is a “bad seed” who has sacrificed her brother, not to the “Bad Monkeys,” which is, in fact, a secret group that fights evil, but to an opposing secret group called the “Troop.” And, one suspects, little does the author know that the title suggests from the beginning the juvenile quality of his book, its combination of fairy-tale morality, contrived

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2007

    Renaissance woman Miranda July is a quirky, prolific video, Web, and performance artist. In 2005, she snatched a fistful of awards for her first feature film, Me and You and Everyone We Know. (She won the Special Jury Prize at Sundance and the Camera d’Or at Cannes, to note just the biggies.) Now, with No One Belongs Here More than You, a collection of sixteen stories, July makes her literary maiden voyage.

    These sagas of modern folly are packed with angst, manic energy, dark wit, and odd fancies—a distinctive July cocktail. One story opens, “Before he died, my father taught me his finger

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  • 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 • 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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