More Book Reviews: May 2007

Fiction Reviews
Here are a few more book reviews and notices:

1. Male of the Species by Alex Mindt

This set of short stories about fathers is a big surprise. There are many ways to go overboard with a loaded concept like "fatherhood", but Mindt exercises tight control and delivers a powerful set of elliptical fables that I (as a dad of three) can relate to in various ways. The first story, Sabor a Mi is a knockout, featuring an angry old man hitchhiking to his daughter's lesbian wedding in a car with a hapless drifter who's just been kicked out of his home by his family, or so it seems, for the crime of being a coward. The rough humor and loose boundaries recall Raymond Carver. This is one of the better books of short stories I've seen in a few years.

2. Interfictions: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing edited by Delia Sherman and Theodora Goss

Interstitial writing, I have now learned, means writing between genres. This wide-ranging and intelligently packaged collection aims to confound expectations at every turn. I thoroughly enjoyed a fanciful story by Mumpsimus blogger Matt Cheney that walks a razor's edge between hobbit-esque fantasy (complete with creatures and maps and shovels) and gay romance, but turns out to be literary metafiction at heart (the lead character keeps complaining about too much surrealism and is allergic to non-sequiturs).

3. Transparency by Frances Hwang

Frances Hwang is an expert at the short story form, and the fictional miniatures in this new collection are precise and sharp. I do find her stories perhaps a little too perfectly crystalline, though, sort of like when you eat at somebody's house and the tableware is so perfect you can't enjoy the meal. That's not to say I don't enjoy these inter-generational slices of life, which hint at subtle conflicts and leave much to the reader's imagination. But they may be more to some people's tastes than they are to mine.

4. Re'enev by Mike Maranhas

I have to admit to being thrown off by genre-confusion when beginning this novel. The cover features a large butterfly flying into a lurid sunset, and I could only imagine I was holding either an apocalyptic Christian tract or a romance novel. But I'll hold my sarcasm, because the words inside are much better than the (terrible) cover illustration. Re'enev turns out to be a realistic mystery novel involving a quarrelling husband and wife who become lost on a strange island. The prose voice is strong, with a dramatic sense of urgency, but I could not get over my initial shock of genre confusion, and I didn't get very far into the book. I hope somebody out there will give it a try, though -- and I hope the publisher will rethink the artwork.

5. Eeeee Eee Eeee by Tao Lin

I met Tao Lin, the incredibly prolific and very appealing up-and-coming writer and poet, outside Town Hall at the PEN World Voices Festival two weeks ago. A skinny young Asian man was handing out cards for a book by, of all people, Tao Lin, and I looked at him and put two and two together like I'm sometimes capable of doing. "Tao?" I said, being careful to pronounce the consonant softly as in Tao Te Ching. Yes, it was him. I introduced myself as the guy who's reviewed him before, and Tao grinned shyly and ran away. Which is exactly what I'd expect from this very magnetic and very childlike writer. What can you say about a book called Eeeee Eee Eeee? I like it, that's all.

Tao also has another new book out from Melville House, Bed, but at this point I'm just starting to lose track.

6. North of Sunset by Henry Baum

I almost dove into this satirical suspense novel, apparently about a vanity license plate killer running loose in Los Angeles, which seems to be where Barfly meets O. J. Simpson. That might not be a bad combination, but I decided I didn't feel in the mood for a hard-boiled L.A. noir this month, and I gave the book a pass. You can read more about Henry Baum here and here though.

That's it for me tonight ... I'm sorry I punked out on so many other titles I wanted to review, but I did my best. Pick up the slack for me, you all -- happy reading and goodnight.
8 Responses to "More Book Reviews: May 2007"

by Avid Reader on

Review of Re'enev by Mike MaranhasI am disappointed to hear that you did not finish Re'enev by Mike Maranhas. I have read this novel twice. The first time I read it fast, the narrative grabbed me and would not let me put the book down until the last page. I was completely taken in by the realistic, multidimensional characters whose well developed personalities and psychological baggage drive the plot. Re'enev has a powerful, well developed plot that entertains using mystery, suspense, complex relationships, and intense action. However, there is more to this story. I found myself thinking about it for days afterwards and decided to reread it, carefully this time. On second reading, Re'enev is much deeper with a provocative theme -- a bildungsroman with a message delivered subtly and effectively. The cover art is an integral part of the theme. According to a recent interview, the cover design is a metaphor for the theme: the butterfly symbolizes the fragility of life; the sunset behind an island symbolizes the
"darkness that lurks within the beauty". An original, imaginative and compelling story written from the first person point of you. The writing is beautiful, almost lyrical. Much thought went into every aspect of this unique novel.

by brooklyn on

The cover may do a good job of reflecting the story's ultimate theme, but does it help attract readers? I guess it's my opinion that the only reason a book should have a big butterfly on its cover is that it's a book about butterflies.

by Billectric on

No matter how hard I try, I can't seem to put out a book without stressing over some detail that slipped by me. The source of my current anguish is the cover of Space Savers and Other Stories. Can I put it to a vote? Who thinks this cover is good, and who thinks I should add the leaves & statues?

by Stokey on

I like them both Bill, though I tend to favor the second.And to me, this is the highlight of Litkicks - reviews of writers who can actually benefit from the attention. Imagine myself someday having a book I wrote - reviewed at Litkicks or elsewhere. Not that it will ever happen. But imagine how exciting that would be - to think you were somebody.

by Billectric on

InterfictionsThat one sounds interesting.I saw that word "interstitial" somewhere and was wondering exactly what it meant. I'm going to read this book.

by Billectric on

Stokey, I don't know if you are pulling my leg or what, with this "thinking you are somebody" business. All I know is, I had to learn that even after I publish a book, it's not final. It's not sacred. I listen to all kinds of flack and then filter out which flack is valid and which is someone's opinion that I don't agree with. If some of the criticism is important enough, I've been known to go back and change my book at my own expense. The well does not run dry.

by drplacebo on

Ectric, I like the second one, by itself. It is way freaky.

by panta rhei on

bill: i prefer the oen without the leaves & statues.