Padgett Powell’s The Interrogative Mood is a supreme literary stunt: a short “novel” composed only of questions, each of which seems to implicate the reader in a narrative conspiracy as serious and absurd as his or her own life. Ultimately, Powell’s little book can be seen word-machine designed to induce unprecedented states of interior monologue, or narrative drug.
Hamilton Leithauser is lead singer of The Walkmen. The New York-based band released A Hundred Miles Off and Pussycats in 2006 and has a new album on the way in Spring 2008.Set in modern London, where all is dark and dirty, and those characters that haven’t abandoned all morals are simply too stupid to fend for themselves, Martin Amis’ London Fields is consistently funny and enjoyable. The Keith character, a low-life, dart-playing criminal, is a real highlight – he spends the majority of the book waxing dart philosophy or loud-mouthing around his home-away-from-home pub The Black Cross about women and booze. From the first page you learn there will be a murder, and the whole setting is so saturated with an apocalyptic vibe that you know that ain’t the worst that’s gonna happen. But Amis maintains humor and lightness through even the darkest moments, which prevents any doomsday preaching from ever getting too heavy. I loved this thing.I couldn’t put down John Fowles’ The Magus for the first thirty or forty twists and turns. The story follows Nicholas Urfe, a young Englishman who leaves his more complex life (girlfriend, family…) behind in England for what seems a mind-clearing existence as a teacher on a remote Greek island. But once on the island Nicholas meets a reclusive millionaire who in turn introduces him to a bunch of increasingly strange characters and increasingly strange situations. The evolving vibe is tremendous – from the tranquil beginning to the truly bizarre ending – and this is definitely the book’s strength. Eventually the number of twists proves a little too much and you start thinking that maybe martians or Bruce Willis might show up or something. My recommendation would be to read it until you start thinking things are getting a little too weird for you.After putting that one down, you might want to pick up The French Lieutenant’s Woman, which was by far Fowles’ most widely-acclaimed work. He says at the beginning he wrote it as a modern Dickensian novel, and I guess that’s a pretty good description. It’s a classic English period piece with tons of delightful forbidden love and betrayals, but written with a distinctly 20th-century voice. As in The Magus, Fowles saves some major surprises for the end, but as there were simply less of them here, I thought the overall effect was better, and I would most definitely recommend this one.More from A Year in Reading 2007
When I posted the CS Monitor “best of” list the other day, I mentioned how it seemed that this year there weren’t many young, exciting writers grabbing headlines from the established old guard. Dan Wickett, proprietor of The Emerging Writers Network left a comment recommending several young writers who deserve to be on some of these “best of” lists. He also sent me an email with even more titles. They seem like a good bunch of books to explore, so I thought I’d reprint them here:Dog on the Cross by Aaron Gwyn – excellent short story collection from Algonquin. He’s currently finishing up debut novel about a tattoo removal artist.Another Perfect Catastrophe – Brad Barkley – another excellent short story collection, his second to go with two novels.The Book of Ralph (excerpt) – John McNally – a very good novel. When Mitch Albom was choosing a book for The Today Show book club, he announced this was a close second (He chose Andrew Sean Greer’s novel).Under Cottonwoods (excerpt) by Stephen Grace – an excellent debut novel put out by Lyons Press.Poe & Fanny (FAQs) by John May – another Algonquin effort – May’s debut about the year that Poe wrote “The Raven.” Excellent.D.B. (excerpt) by Elwood Reid – his third novel, but he’s still under 40 years old.Prisoners of War (excerpt) by Steve Yarbrough. An author who should be considered one of the old guard – he writes rings around most of them. His other two novels and three short story collections were excellent but this was really top notch.Plain Heathen Mischief (excerpt) by Martin Clark. This southern judge pens his second exciting literary thriller of sorts.American Desert by Percival Everett. With only his 15th novel (to go with two short story collections and the other novel he co-wrote and published this year and a children’s storybook) Everett finally seems to be garnering both critical notice, and getting more than one copy of his latest book to be carried by the Detroit area Borders and Barnes and Nobles.Welcome to the Fallen Paradise by Dayne Sherman. Published towards the end of the year by MacAdam/Cage. His debut – reminiscent of the novels of Tom Franklin or William Gay.About Grace (excerpt) by Anthony Doerr. The debut novel by the author of The Shell Collector, which won about every literary award it was up for two years ago and is still spawning O’Henry Award winners.The Green Age Of Asher Witherow by M. Allen Cunningham. This 26 year old’s debut began its life as the number one choice of Booksense 76. Not bad. It was deserved.Animal Crackers (excerpt) by Hannah Tinti – This short story collection by the editor of One Story won well deserved rave reviews in many, many papers. She’s also sold her debut novel to be published some time in the next year or so.Non-Fiction:Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn. The advance news on this was so high that they ran out of galleys. It’s received nothing but rave reviews since. As well as Flynn writes poetry, this memoir might just top it.