Thursday, June 30, 2011

Family Sins
by William Trevor. Key Porter Books, 251 pages.

Any writer who has been declared "the greatest writer in the English language" by an army of prestigious critics - the New Yorker, the London Free Press etc. - demands a closer examination then most. Like Shakespeare, William Trevor might forever be a victim of his own praise: lauded by so many, the expectations for his work can be so high that one risks a book-ful of disappointment. This fear is not realized in the case of Family Sins, a collection of stories published in 1999 which more or less exists as a good testament to what the literarti have long been so excited about.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Year of the Flood
by Margaret Atwood, McLelland and Stewart, 434 pages

The most interesting thing about The Year of the Flood is - sadly - not the book itself but rather the story behind it. The second book in what is presumably a sci-fi trilogy (?) by a Canadian icon known more for highbrow literary fiction, The Year of the Flood is a nice example of an author challenging herself and her readers by offering material that is not easily classified. This has no doubt provided consternation for the people who work at bookstore chains: do you shelf Year of the Flood in "literary fiction"? Or do you put it in science fiction? Who do you market this book to - the highbrow literary folk or readers who like nothing more than to curl up with Issac Asimov? All interesting questions that would make for a much more intriguing  book club discussion then any you might have about Year of the Flood, which is an admirable but utlimately messy book that (dare I say it) drowns in the waters of its own ambition.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Unfamiliar Fishes
by Sarah Vowell, Riverhead Books. 292 pages.

A remarkable and completely original book that I picked up for all the wrong reasons, Unfamiliar Fishes is one of the most unique takes on America's propensity for manifest destiny that I've encountered. After seeing Ms. Vowell on the Daily Show, I thought this book was about the Spanish-American War, the one that resulted in the annexation of the South Pacific and introduced America to the joys of world domination. In fact, the Span-Am War only enters the book just after the 200th page; before that, Ms. Vowell gives a sharply written course on Hawaiian-American relations, beginning with the arrival of New England missionaries and ending eighty years later when Hawaii's annexation is railroaded through Congress while everyone else is distracted by war.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Homer and Langley
by E.L. Doctorow. Random House, 208 pp.

It's always a joy to be reminded why one of your favorite writers is one of your favorite writers. I pretty much whipped through all of E.L. Doctorow's work in a two year period about a decade ago, returning to him only for The March in 2005. Mr. Doctorow is obsessed with history and is always mining it for his inspiration: but with Homer and Langley he gleefully abuses the facts of history to create a work that is at once both historical and mythic. In doing so he has written a heartbreaking and evocative work that has officially become one of my new favorite books.