Beta
X

Bookface Blog

RSS
Archive by tag: Chris PowerReturn
Jun 22, 2022

The American award winner brings his laser-like focus to the story of a teen and his terminally ill mother

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or motor neurone disease, is a condition of unknown cause that progressively destroys the human motor system. The sufferer loses the ability to open jars or turn the pages of a book, then to walk, to bathe or feed herself, to speak, and eventually to breathe. A diagnosis of ALS means another three to 10 years of life, although some of this period will be a type of life that, outwardly at least, resembles death.

The War for Gloria, the stunningly good second novel by Atticus Lish, spans four years in the life of Corey Goltz and the death of his mother, Gloria. She wanted to be a feminist thinker, a painter, a musician, but instead she dropped out of college, had Corey, and put her plans on hold. Corey’s father, Leonard Agoglia, is a self-proclaimed physics genius who performs some kind of law enforcement role at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; as with much of Leonard’s life, the precise details are murky. He wasn’t around for most of Corey’s childhood, but after Gloria’s diagnosis he begins showing up semi-regularly at their small house in Quincy, a coastal suburb of Boston.

Continue reading...
Read More
May 05, 2022

A true-crime author investigates an occult double murder in this metafictional puzzle from the Mountain Goats frontman

Devil House begins with a proposal from true crime author Gage Chandler’s editor: a property is for sale in the California town of Milpitas. Abandoned after a spell as a pornographic book and video shop, it subsequently became the site of a little known, possibly occult double murder. The deadly weapon was a sword, and this was 1987: the peak of the satanic panic, when devil worship was supposedly rife and lurking in the grooves of every heavy metal record. Why doesn’t Gage move in, investigate the murders and write his next book?

This sets the stage for the third novel by American musician and author John Darnielle. Like its predecessor, Universal Harvester, Devil House presents as horror but spirals off, with mixed results, in several unexpected directions: it’s a critique of true crime and the impulses that inspire it, a fragmented character study and a metafictional puzzle. This last strand is the most intriguing, landing the novel in an interesting space somewhere between Atonement and the Serial podcast.

Continue reading...
Read More
Mar 11, 2022

A Mexican gated community offers no protection in this chilling novel by the author of Hurricane Season

Midway through Roberto Bolaño’s novel 2666, a gang of policemen sit in a coffee shop trading misogynistic jokes. The scene’s grim power arises from its setting: Santa Teresa, a city suffering a decade-long torrent of femicides. Practically all these crimes will go unsolved.

Santa Teresa, and the murders 2666 relentlessly itemises, have their real-world counterparts in Ciudad Juárez, which stands on the border between Mexico and the US. It lies more than 1,000 miles north of Veracruz, the Mexican state where Fernanda Melchor was born, but her books are marinated in precisely the same misogyny and violence. In her extraordinary 2020 novel Hurricane Season, her first to appear in English, she relates the story of a rural murder from multiple viewpoints. Her long, fevered sentences – which carry off daredevil moves, such as shifting tense and viewpoint from one clause to the next – combine with the emotional and physical violence of the story to produce a cacophonous effect. But time spent with her writing leaves no doubt: the unholy noise she creates is the work of someone who knows exactly which notes to hit.

Continue reading...
Read More
Jul 27, 2021

Tipped by Barack Obama, this is an addictively mysterious novel about a woman adrift in her own life

“The appearance of simplicity is not the same thing as simplicity itself,” thinks the narrator of Intimacies after discovering her Dutch boyfriend, Adriaan, is married. Similarly, while Katie Kitamura’s writing is of the Orwell-approved “clear pane of glass” school, the cumulative effect of her deft, spare sentences is paradoxically confounding; what appears to be a straight path somehow becomes a labyrinth.

Adriaan admits to having a wife. “But I don’t know for how much longer,” he tells the unnamed narrator. “Is that OK?” In fact, very little in this addictively mysterious novel is OK, from the “complex and contradictory” nature of The Hague, where the narrator has moved from New York, to her work as an interpreter at Kitamura’s version of the international criminal court. Here, despite her skill and discipline, she finds “great chasms between words, between two or more languages, that could open up without warning”.

Continue reading...
Read More
Jun 19, 2021

Blake Morrison on boomers, Chris Power on Gen X, Megan Nolan on millennials and Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé on Gen Z … which books shaped your generation?

It took till the end of the decade for the 60s to arrive in our provincial backwater, but the impact was all the stronger for being delayed. Unlike my parents, who’d survived the war and settled down to build a comfortable life, I yearned for risk, adventure, escape. I had a vision of it already from Mr Toad in The Wind in the Willows – “the open road, the dusty highways … Travel, change, interest, excitement. The whole world before you and a horizon that’s always changing” – but Mr Toad was a comical figure, whereas Sal Paradise, the narrator of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, was cool.

Continue reading...
Read More
Apr 07, 2021

A gripping collection that draws on the Argentinian military dictatorship to mix daylight horrors with supernatural shocks

In 1927 MR James, author of some of the most indelible ghost stories ever written, gave a lesson in how to do it: “Let us, then, be introduced to the players in a placid way; let us see them going about their ordinary business, undisturbed by forebodings, pleased with their surroundings, and into this calm environment let the ominous thing put out its head, unobtrusively at first, and then more insistently, until it holds the stage.”

Mariana Enríquez has written various stories that fit just this pattern, but five pages in to the International Booker prize-longlisted The Dangers of Smoking in Bed, as a woman attempts to strangle the undead corpse of a three-month-old baby – her great aunt, as it happens – it struck me that when you’re writing fiction that wants to disturb and unsettle its readers, breaking the rules can be just as productive as following them.

Continue reading...
Read More
Nov 05, 2020

Unaccountably little-known outside the US, his stories take the reader from a carefully observed midwest into a past that is very much alive

Like Steven Millhauser, Deborah Eisenberg and Edward P Jones, Stuart Dybek is one of a relatively small group of American writers with considerable domestic reputations who, for reasons I don’t understand, are largely unread in the UK. This is particularly baffling in Dybek’s case given that recent literary trends, especially the permeable boundary between fiction and autobiography and an essayistic approach to storytelling, are areas he has been exploring with great style and skill for decades.

Dybek has described one of art’s primary functions as being “to defy time … to preserve the past not by storing it in a museum but by making it come alive in the present”. His fiction is obsessed with recollection, and the descriptions that persistently recur in it – of the Polish and Latino neighbourhoods of Chicago, the Illinois lake country, tenement apartments and rattling L trains – do so with memory’s uncannily vivid focus, mapping a relatively confined but intensely described territory.

Continue reading...
Read More
Jul 18, 2020

Thought-provoking, intense and consumed in one sitting, do short stories make for a perfect reading experience? Chris Power finds out, and shares the all-time greats

Marcel Proust’s brother said the problem with In Search of Lost Time was that people “have to be very ill or have a broken leg” in order to read it. Or, he might add today, be confined to their homes in response to a global pandemic. In the early days of the coronavirus lockdown my Twitter feed was full of conversations about whether it was time to read Middlemarch or The Brothers Karamazov, Bleak House or The Anatomy of Melancholy. Whether because of furloughing or just not being able to go to the pub, the general assumption among readers was that there would be a lot of free time to catch up on the big ones that had until now, like Ahab’s white whale, got away.

But as time passed I saw these plans fall beneath an avalanche of sourdough starters, 1,000-piece puzzles and Zoom pub quizzes. Even for those who weren’t poleaxed by home schooling and the demands of childcare, something seemed to be making it hard to concentrate on novels – or at least the ones that hadn’t been filmed and considerately deployed to iPlayer, like Sally Rooney’s Normal People.

Continue reading...
Read More
Jun 18, 2020

From a row at a zoo to the tale of a Holocaust survivor – the promise of these short stories is deadened by detail


“Dramatise! Dramatise!” Henry James exhorted in his notebooks and the prefaces to his collected works. When shaping his novels and stories he struggled with the negotiation between what could be conveyed dramatically – the “explosive” material, as he called it – and what needed to be summarised. In the language of the creative writing workshop this complex negotiation has become simplified into the widespread precept: show, don’t tell.

Continue reading...
Read More

Search