Two works of fiction from Irish writers really struck me this year. One was Kevin Barry’s Dark Lies the Island, a boisterous and beautiful collection of stories. Barry is a prose wizard whose stories pulse on the page with all the humor and viciousness of life itself. The other book was Keith Ridgway’s Hawthorn and Child, a hypnotic piece of writing that reinvents all those so-called literary reinventions of the crime novel. It makes the familiar strange and the strange even stranger and breaks us free of the usual procedural procedures, clears room for real thought and feeling. As The Millions recently noted, I was a major admirer of John the Posthumous by Jason Schwartz. Claire Messud beat me to the punch in these pages, but I also loved Victoria Redel’s new collection, Make Me Do Things. Portugal’s Jacinto Lucas Pires put in a great performance with The True Actor, a story of artistic confusion and generational despair in austerity-era Lisbon. I’m a few years late on these but Dennis Cooper’s The Marbled Swarm and Patrick DeWitt’s The Sisters Brothers both floored me, or maybe the Cooper actually walled me (read the book). Jenny Offill’s about-to-be-published Dept. of Speculation is spectacular. More from A Year in Reading 2013 Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.
This year I re-read the short story collection Cardinal Numbers by Hob Broun. Broun died in 1987 at the age of 37. This collection and his novel Inner Tube, edited by Gordon Lish, remain touchstones for me. These stories play with form and genre while also delivering us to deeply felt and often devastating places. Broun wrote with real wit and heart. Favorite pieces (and titles) in Cardinal Numbers include, “Ruby Dawn, Private Duty Nurse,” “Ice Water,” “High Speed Linear Main Street,” and “Fryed Cutlets.” Here’s the opener of “No Smoking”: “Joan was having a birthday the way other people have flu. She’d turned thirty-seven five days ago, but those forlorn and morbid symptoms still hung on. The ferries tripled on Friday and everyone already on the island took deep breaths. She passed the scone shop and the book nook and toggery. She passed Ramona’s sidewalk tables, where trust-fund carpenters sat with their imported ale. They wore jaunty little hats. They discussed timber prices and dilemmas of wiring. The dogs at their feet were stuporously pictorial.” Then there is Broun’s beautiful story “Rosella, in Stages,” which follows a woman’s life from her toddler days at the turn of the last century to her senility and death eight decades later, all in six brief sections over six pages. Broun had some noteworthy difficulty writing this book and much of Inner Tube: he was paralyzed from the neck down after a surgical procedure. He wrote by puffing into a plastic tube attached to a computer. Every word was hard-won. More from a Year in Reading 2010 Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions