The book that comes most immediately to mind is Andrew Holleran’s Grief, a slim, restrained, beautifully rendered novel about a gay man whose mother has just died and who relocates to Washington, DC, after having cared for her for years. Holleran does so much so well, but perhaps most striking is how compellingly he writes about solitude; many a writer has tried to do that, only to succumb to inertia and solipsism. Another writer who writes wonderfully about solitude (and just about everything else) is William Trevor (if you want brilliant, heartbreaking solitude, take a look at Trevor’s short story “After Rain”), and his new book of stories, Cheating at Canasta, is terrific. So is Donald Antrim’s memoir The Afterlife, which, speaking of grief, is about his mother’s death, but also about many other things, including the purchase of a mattress. I loved Helen Schulman’s A Day at the Beach, the best of the 9/11 novels I read this year. This novel, too, is about grief (are we sensing a theme here?) – political and cultural grief, of course, but also about family grief: the novel is a domestic drama about a marriage in trouble, with 9/11 as the backdrop.
Sara Ivry is a senior editor at www.nextbook.org, where she hosts a weekly podcast on books, culture and ideas.I’d never read anything by the British writer Howard Jacobson until this year, when I picked up Kalooki Nights to prepare for an interview. Hilarious, shocking, provocative, it relishes in the breadth of Jewish postwar experience (Orthodoxy, assimilation, paranoia, Nazi fetishism, who’s trying to pass) through the eyes of one Maxie Glickman, an occasionally louche cartoonist from Manchester who marries only women with umlauts in their names (Chlöe, Zöe, et al.) and whose childhood friend has gassed his parents, but that hardly makes the man a villain! Pardon that far too simple description; what makes this novel a knock-out is its maturity and richness of story infused with both compassion and yuks about, for instance, misreading the silent “k” in knish or a teenager’s ruse to feed his date biryanis so she gets hot under the collar and needs someone to blow on her.At the urging of a friend I rented Infamous in July and then decided, finally, to read In Cold Blood when I went a week later to semi-rural Connecticut to visit my folks. At dinner I’d tell them about the book’s latest developments, about the Clutters’ horrible deaths in Kansas, about Perry Smith’s tragic childhood that almost seemed to excuse his crime. Then, one day that week, I picked up the newspaper and read about three brutal murders, a mother and her daughters, in a town not too far away by two men who’d met in a halfway house. What seemed in In Cold Blood like an account of random violence in an altogether different time and place was made current, and my mother suggested I stop reading Capote’s book, since we had been reminded with a jolt how close by brutality lurks. Despite how grim the news was, I couldn’t put the book down. Even though I knew how it ended, I wanted to read Capote’s telling of how it ended, and made sure every night that all doors and windows were locked tight.More from A Year in Reading 2007
Re-reading is a great way to check in on who I have become. I’ll pick up a book I remember adoring a quarter of a century ago to find myself either irritated by stylistic indulgence I once found so deep or enraptured by complex sentences I once struggled to parse. This year’s re-reading was more an affirmation that my predilections lie on a continuum. I spent a few weeks back in the world of Denis Johnson and found myself especially re-loving Angels and his smart, canny essays in the collection Seek. Carson McCullers’s hard, heartbreaking, cuttingly precise The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and Reflections in a Golden Eye were sneaky roundhouse punches once more. They flattened me. And then there was the double-take: I picked up the re-issue of Judith Rossner’s Looking for Mr. Goodbar that I remembered only as a titillating morality tale and a cultural catch phrase that embodied the retrograde idea that date rape is the woman’s fault. But reading it this time, I discovered a chillingly astute portrait of a sharp-edged, confused young woman wrestling with her libidinal yearnings in the wake of the sexual revolution. Goodbar is lurid to be sure, but it gets under the skin of its protagonist as well as any novel I admire and it unsettled me because of its nervy emotional accuracy, and precisely because of its queasy sexual politics. It makes readers question their knee-jerk impulse to distance themselves from the protagonist’s wreckage by blaming her. Somehow I missed all that when I was a sex obsessed fifteen year old trolling for the dirty parts.
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