Tuesday, August 28, 2007


one. Flight by Sherman Alexie. The first book written by him in ten years! It is so good! It's about an orphaned Indian teenager who travels back and forth through time "in a search for his true identity". His journey starts as he is about to commit a "massive act of violence." At that moment he finds himself shot back through time, in the body of an FBI agent. He continues his travels into several other lives, and when he is finally again in his own life he is a extremely changed. "This is Sherman Alexie at his most brilliant-making us laugh while he's breaking our hearts...In Flight he seeks nothing less than an understanding of why human beings hate. Flight is irrepressible, fearless, and groundbreaking Alexie."

two. St. Lucy's Home For Girl's Raised By Wolves by Karen Russell. Short stories. They were interesting. Weird. But good. Definitely original. St. Lucy's is probably the best one, which is probably why it's the title story. Other interesting titles are: Z.Z's Sleep-Away Camp for Disordered Dreamers, The Star-Gazer's Log of Summer-Time Crime, and Lady Yeti and the Palace of Artificial Snows. You should just read them and see if you like it, because I'm still not sure.

three. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon. It's based in New York City in 1939. Sammy Clay lives there. His cousin Joe Kavalier has just escaped from Nazi occupied Prague and is looking to make quick money to bring his family over.
"Sammy is looking for a collaborator to create the heroes, stories, and art for the lastest novelty to hit the American dreamscape: the comic book. Out of their fantasies, fears, and dreams, Joe and Sammy weave the legend of that unforgettable champion the Escapist. And inspired by the beautiful and elusive Rosa Saks, a woman who will be linked to both men by powerful ties of desire, love, and shame, they create the otherworldly mistress of the night, Luna Moth. As the shadow of Hitler falls across Europe and the world, the Golden Age of comic books has begun."
It has interesting history, a lot of it from the point of view of the characters, which makes it more real. Charles Frazier (author of Cold Mountain") says, "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is an important, generous, beautifully written book, rich in wit and detail, overbrimming with marvels of narrative invention."

Sunday, August 05, 2007

So Long, See You Tomorrow

In So Long, See You Tomorrow, William Maxwell has built a thoughtful, heartbreaking novel around one awkward teenage moment and the guilt of a missed opportunity. On his first day at high school, shortly after his family moved from a small Illinois farming town to Chicago, he saw—and appeared to snub—a boy who had been a passing childhood companion. The boy, Cletus Smith, moved away after his father murdered the farmer next door, Lloyd Wilson, and then killed himself. Decades later, the narrator shares his story as a sort of apology, a belated attempt to offer Cletus the sympathy he failed to express in that moment.

In the quiet, unsentimental voice of an elderly man with something on his mind, Maxwell uses news clippings, memory and imagination to reconstruct the tangled story of the Smith and Wilson families and the events leading up to the murder. He also weaves in the sad tale of his own family's past. His mother died giving birth to his younger brother during the 1918 flu epidemic, plunging his father into a deep well of grief. Eventually, his father remarried, but young William continued to cling tightly to his sense of the way things were before his mother died. This response to loss informs Cletus’s story and serves as one of many demonstrations of the narrator's empathy.

Another—and one of the most unusual things about this book—is Maxwell’s use of the perspective of the Smith’s dog, whose life was shattered along with the family’s. It struck me as a wonderfully daring exercise in writing character, endowing a dog with thoughts, feelings and dreams. In another writer’s hands, it could easily come off like a bad Disney movie. What allows for this unusual point of view, what makes it succeed, is that a) it sounds pretty authentic, which I know seems silly to say about doggy point of view, but read it and see if you don't agree; b) the dog’s situation is essentially the same as Cletus’s, her losses no less heartbreaking; and c) one senses an incredible generosity behind this technique, in the author’s earnest wish to understand the whole story and to extend his sympathy—as he says, to "shake [his] head sadly and say, 'I know…. I know.'" That generous spirit is what makes this novel as affecting as it is.

So Long, See You Tomorrow is a short work, but it's crafted with a precision and emotional force uncommon in books of any length. It’s the sort of coming-of-age story that should be taught in high-school English classes. (Forget about The Lord of the Flies! Toss your ratty copies of that goddamn Catcher in the Rye!) Maxwell writes with wisdom and poignancy on the vulnerability and anxiety of adolescence. Though the action occurs in the early 1900s (So Long is marvelously evocative of the time and place), it manages not to feel dated. And though its pace is… I’ll call it “careful,” the book is never boring, and every word is relevant. It’s a wonderful novel—wise and generous and very nearly perfect.