Two new collections of thrilling and even horrific tales are waiting to send shivers down the spine. Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa is a twisted series of interlocking short stories which tighten as you delve deeper into its pages. A beauty sorting dirty lab coats, a curator of a torture museum whose collection consists solely of used items, a reporter covering a dolphin-themed resort--the unlikely connections between these and other seemingly isolated characters are dexterously exposed in escalating tension.
Each desperate life has an unrelenting passion, from the man skilled in the art of designing specialty bags who receives an unusual request from a lounge singer, to the woman patiently waiting for a pair of perfect strawberry cupcakes in an unattended bakery. Although each tale is an enthralling standalone, it also subtly reveals the indirect truths of its companion stories. Throughout the book, aggrieved lives gradually become both the architect and the victim of emotions like jealousy, grief, and infatuation. Eerie scenes such as a garden of carrots shaped like hands, a street covered with ripe tomatoes, and an abandoned post office filled with kiwis create a world that is both familiar and foreign at the same time. Stephen Snyder’s exquisite new translation of Ogawa’s 1998 Japanese work, Kamoku na shigai, Midara na tomurai, is fragile yet cuts like a knife.
Another mesmerizing collection comes from British novelist Sarah Hall with The Beautiful Indifference: Stories, which explores the grace and the agony of the modern woman. In “Butcher’s Perfume”, a young English girl befriends the schoolyard bully, Mary Slessors, and becomes enthralled with her mysterious family of horse trainers. In the “Agency”, a woman is referred by an acquaintance to an unusual business that provides a tempting yet undefinable service. These stories are engrossing and sensual, investigating the rich complexities of the female psyche in a way that only Hall can.
Delight in the guilty pleasure of peering into the lives of others? The Voyeurs by Gabrielle Bell offers an intimate series of autobiographical shorts that divulge the frustrations of Bell as an artist, and as a single observer in a hectic world. From being overshadowed by her filmmaker boyfriend in France, to her brief paranoia of becoming John Cheever, to building a tent around her apartment’s radiator for a cheap alternative to Bikram yoga, you never know where Bell’s eccentricities are going next.
Heads or Tails by Lilli Carré is a visually whimsical array of stories and concepts executed with colorful design and incredible lines. Carré creates eerie realms where a man falls in love with a tree, a woman’s doppelganger suddenly appears at her favorite bar, and a chance encounter leaves a man alone and being stared down by a plush animal. Moments of indecision and social awkwardness are poignantly interrupted by mysterious silences of nature, animals, and the grace in absurdity.
Glyn Dillon’s filmic masterpiece, The Nao of Brown, is equal parts psychological thriller and part surrealist meditation. Beautiful Nao Brown is a young, part-time employee at an eccentric toyshop who struggles with loneliness, love, and… compulsive violent thoughts about harming those around her. Her road to enlightenment begins when a burly yet contemplative washing machine repairman, who uncannily resembles her cherished Japanese character “Ichi,” shows up. This absorbing tale of self-discovery is humorous, artistically imaginative, and will stay with you long after you’ve put it down.
Always Looking: Essays on Art, by John Updike, is an invaluable collection of fourteen eloquent discussions that examine Western painting and sculpture. Although Updike was an acclaimed writer of literature, many readers might not know that he was also an art connoisseur. His skillful nonfiction reveals an astute perspective which masterfully dissects art in a way that will gratify the seasoned appreciator, as well as the casual observer who is just curious to learn more.
John Updike’s lifelong passion for visual art began in childhood when discovered comics, like Mickey Mouse in the Treasure Hunt. Into adulthood, he continued to seek out pieces that fascinated him and curiously described familiar pieces in a new way. While considering Gustav Klimt’s "The Dancer", Updike questioned if the painting is “a bold and necessary step in the direction of modernism, or an uneasy half-step, a cheaply bought glamour, a kind of higher kitsch?”
Much more than a conversation of art, Always Looking offers rich and vivid images of the very works Updike is discussing. From René Magritte’s unnervingly sensual "The Lovers" to Roy Lichtenstein’s loud pop of "In the Car", the short essay format makes this a perfect book of leisure. You might dip in for a bit and read on a topic or discover the pleasure of flipping through its pages to take in the richly dynamic selection. This stimulating reconsideration of classics will change the way you look at art.
I Am an Executioner: Love Stories by Rajesh Parameswaran is an unusual collection of nine stories that tackle love and ecstasy, each with elements of the grotesque. Each story becomes odder with each turn of the page. “The Infamous Bengal Ming” recounts one catastrophic day in the life a heart-breaking sincere tiger who finds himself irreversibly in love with his zookeeper, Kitch. Told from the tiger’s perspective, it becomes obvious that even the kindest of intentions can have deadly repercussions.In “The Strange Career of Dr. Raju Golarajan” we find Gopi, who has recently been fired by CompUSA. He takes this opportunity to fulfill his dream of being a doctor by checking out medical books from his local library and opening his own practice in a filthy old pet store. In a cringing series of events, Gopi and his wife, Manju, become lost in the murky realms of pride, illness, and deception.
For readers who like exploratory narration, this rich, unsettling collection plays with nontraditional points of view and alternative storytelling. From the single collective voice of a community to a group of insects under attack from humans on their planet Lucina, each new world feels both familiar yet foreign. Although it is impossible to guess where Parameswaran will lead you, be assured, where you will end up will be like no place you’ve ever been. Be forewarned.
Visiting Tom: A Man, a Highway, and the Road to Roughneck Grace is a quirky biography of eighty-two-year old Tom Hartwig, who is equal parts Rube Goldberg and Hunter S. Thompson. The only reason we are so fortunate to learn about the enduring spark and eccentricities of Tom is due to the many neighborly visits made by Michael Perry, author of Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs and Parenting. Perry recognizes Tom’s uniqueness which embodies a rare and rustic Americana spirit that is seldom seen today.
The Hartwig resistance, a white clapboard farmhouse, is situated in rural Wisconsin. It has been Tom’s home since his birth in 1929. He admired the tranquil landscape with Arlene, his wife of sixty years, until President Eisenhower enacted the Federal -Aid Highway Act which ran a four lane interstate right past his kitchen window. Although he is quick to shake his head at the ceaseless stream of cars that disfigured his farmland, Tom has his own ways to make known his charming yet anomalous independence. From stationing an operable cannon on his front lawn, to leading a team of oxen through local parades, it is obvious that little in this life, not even a highway, can get in this man’s way. For readers who want an off the beaten path biography, Visiting Tom is the perfect collection of astute yet humble musings, and authentic snapshots from the life of one extraordinary man.
You wouldn’t think that the expanding universe, the glam-enigma of David Bowie, and the grief for a father could all be explored in one collection of poetry, however, Tracy K. Smith has done just that in her latest collection Life on Mars. In her poem “Don’t You Wonder Sometimes?” Smith contemplates The future isn’t what is used to be. "Even Bowie thirsts/ For something good and cold. Jets blink across the sky/ Like migratory souls." Smith addresses pivotal world events with rage and amazement, from Abu Ghraib prison to the D.C. Holocaust Memorial Museum shootings. Each poem is an odd and strikingly unfeigned examination yet, when read as a whole, the collection serves as a journey of intergalactic magnitude.
Slow Lightning by Eduardo C. Corral, 2011 recipient of the Yale Series of Younger Poets award, is a seemingly effortless yet complex interweaving of Spanish and English that challenges both literal and linguistic borders. This undaunted Latino voice contorts the boundaries of sexuality, immigration, and cultural consciousness. Each unexpected word crackles. "My right hand/ a pistol. My left/ automatic. I’m knocking/ on every door./ I’m coming on strong,/ like a missionary./ I’m kicking back/ my legs, like a mule. I’m kicking up/ my legs, like/ a show girl." If you’re looking for unflinching poetry that writhes across the page, this ruggedly poignant collection shouldn’t be missed.
Crazy Brave is a lyrical coming-of-age memoir by leading Native American poet and musician, Joy Harjo. Born in 1950’s Tulsa, Oklahoma, Harjo recalls her early struggles with an abusive stepfather, her seminal years at the Institute of American Indian Arts high school in Santa Fe, and her personal journey of inspiration. Harjo, a Muscogee (Creek) Native American, interlaces brute realism with tribal myths to create a haunting variation of the American dream. From the jazz of Miles Davis to transcendental memories of her ancestors, this slim but eloquently raw autobiography has wide readership appeal for those interested in the process of creativity, social injustice, U.S. history, and women’s rights.
Krys Lee's fiction debut, Drifting House, is a unique collection of gritty short stories that examines the lives of Koreans and Korean Americans, from post WWII to present day. In “The Salaryman,” a man is fired from a bankrupted company and decides to join the other countless men who have turned to homeless life on the streets to avoid bringing shame upon their families. In preparation for a meeting with his estranged wife, he attempts to disguise his new life by shining his briefcase and spraying himself with a department store’s sample of Ralph Lauren Polo cologne.
The term “goose father” originated during the Vietnam War to describe the Korean soldiers fighting for the U.S. army who sent money back to their families. In a story of the same name, Gilho Pak, a successful accountant, leads a solitary and hardworking existence in Korea to support the education of his wife and children who are studying overseas in America. His ideas of life, happiness, and sexuality are all disrupted when he decides to take a tenant, the youthful and intuitive Wuseong who arrives with an injured pet goose tucked under his arm.
Notions of home, family and collective national identity are challenged as the reader follows the mother who fakes an American marriage in search of her kidnapped daughter, and journeys with the young siblings trekking to China to escape North Korea’s famine. Readers who enjoyed Chang-rae Lee’s Native Speaker or Haruki Murakami’s After the Quake will appreciate Lee’s ability to depict her many distressed characters with grace and anomalous humor. Although the characters in these nine evocative tales vary greatly in age, social rank, and motive, each will stay with you long after you’ve put down the book.