Isidore and Lucille are two very different people. Isidore Strauss, known to his friends and family as Izzy, is a real estate developer with movie star looks. He’s part of that generation who broke free of middle-class Brooklyn to conjure up the hazy suburbs of Long Island, with streets so carefully paved and lawns so thoroughly maintained that they resemble a Hollywood back lot. On a lark, Izzy goes to a ridiculous party on the shores of Coney Island. Fred Trump (yes, Donald’s father) has funded a “destruction party” to rid the area of some it’s old-time charm to make way for large swaths of middle-income housing. It’s here, surrounded by local celebrities, that he spots Lucille Ball. She is not yet the Lucy that would be beamed into millions of American homes, but Izzy is taken aback by her sensuality and charm. Just as the party-goers raise their bricks to help demolish a “crystal palace that smacks of bygones”, Izzy chucks a brick at his own life, and maybe even his sanity, by falling in love. However, Izzy knows that committing adultery is: “…when you pull an illicit trigger, there’s a kickback; it changes the forensics of who you are.”

 

This dreamy novel, written as a fictionalized account of Darin Strauss peeling backing the layers of his family history, also asks the reader to reconsider their view of Lucille Ball. Many primarily see her as the easily-flustered housewife, constantly trying (and failing) to put out domestic fires. However, even though we spend some time with Lucille on set (one especially nice detail—to help with contrast issues on black and white film Lucy’s entire apartment, right down to the books and furniture, was gray) the woman we get to know is a very different beast. She’s a proud and acclaimed actress who is nevertheless convinced that she is past her prime. The movie business has taken a pass on her. She’s on the verge of staking her claim in the burgeoning field of television. Don’t buy this book expecting I Love Lucy fan fiction; Lucille makes it very clear that while Lucy does the dishes, Lucille does not. Lucille plots, broods about her troubled upbringing. fumes about her husband Dezi’s brazen affairs—in fact, it’s probably this fuming that sends her into the arms of Izzy (who she calls Hold-on because of a bit of banter the two of them had during their first encounter).

On its surface, Teddy Wayne’s latest might seem like an obvious rebuttal to today’s literary culture. Set a quarter-century ago, Apartment is a book about young, white men narrated, not surprisingly, by a young, white man. A brief, breezy read, chock full of winning twists of prose, Apartment is a semi-satirical take on class, masculinity, and the Academy; Columbia’s MFA program, to be precise, where dubiously constructive workshops teem with “types” recognizable to anyone who’s been within screaming distance of an MFA.

Soft Fruit in the Sun

by Oliver Zarandi

 

This is the sort of collection you can start reading at any spot and come away with the same impression: This author is a talented lunatic. Which I mean, of course, in a good way. Murder, sex, more sex, revulsion, depression, antipathy, and sociopathy—all of it can be funny and here it is. You might call this smart bizarro (which there’s not enough of). Readers might also see a little bit of Bukowski in these pages.

 

 

Buy it here:

https://hexusjournal.bigcartel.com/product/soft-fruit-in-the-sun-oliver-zarandi-preorder

 

 

Dear Abigail and Other Stories and Writing, Written are, arguably, two separate books. That’s what Amazon would say. Ostensibly the late wife in the former is Abigail and the man’s name is Philip while the late wife in the latter is Eleanor and the man’s name is Charles. In truth, these two collections are twin contributions to the canon of late-stage Dixon who has for years deeply and productively lingered on the single theme of writing loss.

 

The stories in both books catalogue Dixon’s grief and yearning in the wake of widowerhood and age. He knows what Donald Barthelme meant when he wrote “Revolves the stage machinery away from me, away from me.” Melancholy and anxiety tint the day-to-day doings of his overlapping stand-ins. He goes to the Y. He takes the dust cover off his typewriter. He puts it back on. He eats sandwiches and drinks coffee at diners. He talks to his daughter (or daughters). He wonders about getting a new girlfriend. He tries to write. He tries to sleep. He dreams about his wife. He writes it down. He remembers when he wrote it down the other day. He writes down remembering writing it down. These aren’t stories in the traditional sense (beginning, middle, end) but sites of feeling which you can visit like monuments. His sentences are organized into obelisks.

Back in the late Sixties, in fact in what came to be known, ironically in restrospect, as the Summer of Love, when I was living in Greenwich Village, I fell in with a guy who called himself a revolutionary. Nicknamed—everyone had a moniker one back then— “Boots,” Pepe was Mexican, and with his stringy scrawny beard resembled Ho Chi Minh. He was short and wiry, not much taller than I was, and magically nimble on his feet—he’d learned foot-fighting when living in California, and tried in vain to pass it on to me, something he’d make me practice on Avenue A at three in the morning. With him it looked like dancing; with me it looked like hell.

Madcap by Jessie Janeshek

 

Often skating on the edge of stream of consciousness, Janeshek’s Madcap is alternately sexual and sulfurous, manic and slyly denunciatory. Recurring images of Hollywood’s Golden Age beauties, modern consumer culture, and desecrated nature yield a complex, compact poetry destined to appeal to the wise, the lonely, and the brave.

 

 

 

 

Science and fiction both ask: how real can our fantasies become?

 

This question sits at the center of Shane Jones’ cool, intricate, and cutting novel, Vincent and Alice and Alice. Divorced Guy Vincent is stuck working his State Job in an only slightly more dystopian America, 2017. (We get a sense of his alienation from Jones’ DeLilloisms–Vincent works in “the Zone” and imagines “a conference call with all of America on it”—while the novel’s Arbitrarily Capitalized Words imply the pervasive influence that unearned and random authority exerts in our corporate and political worlds.) Vincent works a job he hates so he can retire in twenty years. His wife Alice has left him so she can live a meaningful life (she works with refugees). Who could blame her?

The Barbarous Century by Leah Umansky

 

Refreshingly unafraid to explore significant mass-cultural touchpoints like TV’s Mad Men and Game of Thrones, The Barbarous Century is nonetheless an intensely literate collection; one built on a lexicon devoid of pretense or filler. Umansky’s poetry never forgets its debt to the world in which we live; likewise, it demonstrates the capability of a true artist to elevate our perceptions of that world.

Buy it here:

https://www.amazon.com/Barbarous-Century-Leah-Umansky/dp/191247705X

 

 

Like an asteroid from deep space, Roberto Bolaño’s just-published novel The Spirit of Science Fiction, in a sparkling translation by Natasha Wimmer for the Penguin Press, comes without any warning or, for that matter, any background information. But as with the author of The Savage Detectives, One Night in Chile, Distant Star, and 2666, any newly-published Bolaño title is inherently of interest. And this one is especially welcome.

As is so often the case, after an author’s death what comes to light is often what had been cast aside or even forgotten by the writer, of interest only to the scholars. Sometimes, as with Proust’s Jean Santeuil, it has an inherent value; reading that unfinished novel we can see how Proust first attempted a more traditional approach to his novel using much the same material that later went into his masterpiece. All of that would change once he had found his voice, his point of view, and his theme. So I had my doubts when I heard that The Spirit of Science Fiction was forthcoming. I assumed it would be a minor work, a youthful attempt, a series of sketches. It’s anything but that. It turns out that the Bolañoesque universe, style, themes and all, was already formed even as far back as this early work.

America today is more polarized than it’s been at any point in my lifetime. Socially, politically, racially, economically, religiously…in many ways, this division is born of willful ignorance, the result of small minds glorying in hackneyed thoughts and ideas discredited decades, sometimes centuries, before. There is perhaps no one more guilty of this sort of reductive thinking—and of infecting others with itthan Donald Trump, or as Gabino Iglesias refers to him in his dynamic new novel, Coyote Songs, President Pendejo.

Constructed as a sort of literary mosaic, Coyote Songs takes place on either side of the US-Mexico border, the frontera in Spanish. Madness, magic, murder, sadness, loss, and love all dwell within the pages of Coyote Songs, forces struggling to reconcile the ugliness and beauty of life. In the opening chapter, a young boy witnesses a murder while on a fishing trip with his father. Later, witches and saints, goddesses and monsters, heroic criminals and villainous victims all play their parts in a story that owes as much to magical realism as noir.

At first glance it seems a thankless assignment: to write a new Raymond Chandler novel featuring his iconic detective Philip Marlowe. I suppose it would be like taking on a sequel to Kafka’s “Metamorphosis,” and then you think: what the hell can I do with Gregor Samsa now? Hasn’t he been through enough? I don’t know what Lawrence Osborne’s first thoughts were when the Chandler estate approached him with this opportunity, but, knowing something of his previous novels, I think he’s a most interesting choice for the exercise, and the resulting work makes him seem inevitable.

Prior to this, sequels—or, rather, more properly speaking, new novels featuring the setting and the character of Philip Marlowe—have, with the blessings of the estate, been undertaken by Robert B. Parker and John Banville (writing as his alter-detective-writing-ego Benjamin Black). Now British-born, Bangkok-based Lawrence Osborne has been anointed to tackle this job, but if you know any of Osborne’s novels, the whole idea of it is highly intriguing.

At first glance, Susan Tepper’s novella Monte Carlo Days & Nights seemed on the light side: an American man and woman, she on the north side of her twenties, an attractive Airline “stew,” he a fortyish executive for a music company, on a weeks’ vacation together in Monte Carlo, a place that has always seemed to me as comically ersatz and overblown as Fredonia – though I like Susan’s work, particularly her masterful short fiction.

For me the sense of lightness, however, was quickly dispelled by her control of her means, whatever else she might be up to. In this work she marries the intensity of focus, the crisp delineation and the vivid, but pruned imagery of short fiction, with the unfolding of a novelistic narrative and a long look at character, dovetailing the two in short bits that are somewhat complete in themselves but also serve as chapters in the longer narrative, which for the most part, plays out over their week in Monte Carlo.

“Her heart was not hardened but her skin was thick,” writes Jean-Patrick Manchette of the titular protagonist in his last, unfinished novel, Ivory Pearl, translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith with a superb ear for Manchette’s incomparable voice that easily shifts between the grit of the hyperfactual—“…in his right hand he held a semiautomatic Sauer Model 38 chambered in .380 ACP and fitted with a silencer”—and the nimble ability to sketch with the sparest of words the heart of a character, laid out, in this case, in three easy steps: “She wanted to become a professional photographer. She dreamt of meeting Robert Capa. She had an alarming predilection for images of dead bodies.” Ivy is a survivor who at one point casually, almost happily, admits having conveniently lost her appendix when she “caught that Viet round in ‘52.” And like so many other of Manchette’s characters, she also knows her jazz. Everything helps when you’re on a mission.

 

The Gypsy Moth Summer by Julia Fierro

 

Powered by prose at once enchanting and colloquial, true, vividly-realized characters, and a literary voice that practically reverberates with authority, Fierro’s The Gypsy Moth Summer may not only be this year’s best second novel, but its best book period. Featuring a complex plot, a many-faceted story brimming with insights into people and families at all stages of the life cycle, zoology, myth, and allegory this is the rare beach read that doubles as a novel of ideas.

 

Lawrence Osborne’s characters tend to stumble into things: whether as a result of an accident, as in The Forgiven, or by winning big at the roulette table, as in Hunters in the Dark: as if they had stepped into the intersection of opportunity and desire, and what they heretofore envisaged only nebulously, something that couldn’t be put into words, now possessed a vocabulary and the will to act upon it.