New Fiction at the Libraries, March 2

March 2, 2012 – 4:59 PM

Mrs. Nixon: A Novelist Imagines a Life by Ann Beattie
PS3552.E177 M77 2011

Pat Nixon remains one of our most mysterious and intriguing public figures, the only modern First Lady who never wrote a memoir. Beattie, like many of her generation, dismissed Richard Nixon’s wife: “interchangeable with a Martian,” she said. Decades later, she wonders what it must have been like to be married to such a spectacularly ambitious and catastrophically self-destructive man. Drawing on a wealth of sources from Life magazine to accounts by Nixon’s daughter and his doctor to The Haldeman Diaries and Jonathan Schell’s The Time of Illusion, Beattie reconstructs dozens of scenes in an attempt to see the world from Mrs. Nixon’s point of view. Like Stephen King’s On Writing, this fascinating and intimate account offers readers a rare glimpse into the imagination of a writer. Beattie, whose fiction Vanity Fair calls “irony-laced reports from the front line of the baby boomers’ war with themselves,” packs insight and humor into her examination of the First Couple with whom boomers came of age. Mrs. Nixon is a startlingly compelling and revelatory work.

For the Sake of Silence by Michael Cawood Green
PR9369.3.G72 F67 2010

“I have learned at last to measure grace by silence. But only by doing the unspeakable.”

So begins the penance most fitting for a monk of the Trappist Order, an Order dedicated to a life of silence. These are the first of the many, many words Father Joseph must use to tell of his fumbling attempts at preserving the Trappist’s withdrawal from the world while the mission fields become too strong a temptation for the group of monks with which he has travelled to South Africa. He watches in growing dismay as they create Mariannhill, a monastery that rapidly becomes one of the largest in the world primarily through its establishment of a chain of mission stations stretching across the colonial landscape.

For the Sake of Silence takes the form of its narrator’s flawed and ultimately futile confession. Apparently the oldest and most trusted friend of the founder of Mariannhill, Abbot Franz Pfanner, Father Joseph is driven ever closer to secret acts of betrayal as the monastery and its missions drift away from what he sees as the purity of the Rule of St Benedict. Trapped within his epileptic seizures and obsessed by the water and electromagnetic therapies with which he attempts to replace conventional medicine at Mariannhill, his experience of late nineteenth and early twentieth century South Africa is filtered through the eleventh century monastic ideals to which he clings ever more desperately as they begin to collapse around him.

For the Sake of Silence will attract readers who enjoy a complex story created out of actual events, previously untold or actively suppressed, and more gripping than most fictional invention. Finding its place somewhere between the vibrant social history of Tim Couzens’s Murder at Morija and the playful literary power of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, the novel sails close at times to “creative non-fiction,” but ultimately demonstrates the power fiction has to hold the ways in which we perceive the past – and the present – up to question. For the Sake of Silence is resonant with a time when many of the new freedoms to speak exist in an uneasy relationship with new forms of silencing.

Life Is a Dream by Gyula Krúdy
Translated from the Hungarian by John Batki
PH3281.K89 E4413 2010

Life is a Dream is Gyula Krudy’s magical collection of ten short stories. Creating a world where editors shoot themselves after a hard day’s brunching, men attend duels incognito and lovers fall out over salad dressing, Life is a Dream is a comic, nostalgic, romantic and erotic glimpse into the Hungary of the early twentieth century. Focussing on the poor and dispossessed, these tales of love, food, death and sex are ironic and wise about the human condition and the futility of life, and display fully Krudy’s wit and mastery of the form.

A Room Where the Star-Spangled Banner Cannot Be Heard: A Novel in Three Parts by Levy Hideo
Translated by Christopher D. Scott
PS3562.E927177 S4513 2011

Set against the political and social upheavals of the 1960s, A Room Where the Star-Spangled Banner Cannot Be Heard tells the story of Ben Isaac, a blond-haired, blue-eyed American youth living with his father at the American consulate in Yokohama. Chafing against his father’s strict authority and the trappings of an America culture that has grown increasingly remote, Ben flees home to live with Andō, his Japanese friend. Refusing to speak English with Ben, Andō shows the young American the way to Shinjuku, the epicenter of Japan’s countercultural movement and the closest Ben has ever felt to home.

From the vantage point of a privileged and alienated “outsider” (gaijin), Levy’s narrative, which echoes events in his own life, beautifully captures a heady, eventful moment in Japanese history. It also richly renders the universal struggle to grasp the full contours of one’s identity. Wandering the streets of Shinjuku, Ben can barely decipher the signs around him or make sense of the sounds reaching his ears. Eventually, the symbols and sensations take root, and he becomes one with Japanese language and culture. Through his explorations, Ben

breaks free from English and the constraints of being a gaijin. Levy’s coming-of-age novel is an eloquent elegy to a lost time.

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
PR9369.4.B485 Z66 2010

Zinzi has a talent for finding lost things. To save herself, she’s got to find the hardest thing of all: the truth. An astonishing second novel from the author of the highly-acclaimed Moxyland.

Shooting Angels by Christopher Hope
PR9369.3.H65 S46 2011

‘There is everything you don’t know,’said Joe Angel, with a vulpine grin, as his limousine pulled away leaving Charlie Croker in a cloud of dust by the side of the road. Somehow the most famous businessman in the country had found Charlie in the backwater where he had been hiding all these years and arrived unannounced to give him an envelope of money and a simple message: come back to the Capital to learn what really happened to Constanza – the woman he loved – on that terrible night decades before.

At first, Charlie is furious that Joe should just reappear with such an outrageous demand. He soon realizes a fire has been relit; one he thought had been extinguished by long years in the wilderness. But by the time Charlie returns to the city to meet Joe, the tycoon is dead. And so begins Charlie Croker’s epic journey into his own past. It is an odyssey which seems, at times, to lead straight to the broken heart of the country itself. After a lifetime spent trying to forget, Charlie realizes that there can, finally, be a reckoning with those he has loved, those he has betrayed and the guilt that has been suffocating him.

While the Women Are Sleeping by Javier Marías
Translated by Margaret Jull Costa
PQ6663.A7218 M5413 2010

Slippery figures in anomalous situations – ghosts, spies, bodyguards, criminals – haunt these stories by Javier Marías: the characters come bearing their strange and special secrets, and never leave our minds. In one story, a man obsessed with his much younger lover endlessly videotapes her every move, and then confides his surprising plans for her; in another a ghost can’t stop resigning from his job. Masterfully, Marías manages in a small space to perplex and delight.

Saints and Sinners: Stories by Edna O’Brien
PR6065.B7 S35 2011

A woman walks the streets of Manhattan and contemplates with exquisite longing the precarious affair she has embarked on, amidst the grandeur and cacophony of the cityscape; a young Irish girl and her mother are thrilled to be invited to visit the glamorous Coughlan’s but find – for all the promise of their green gorgette, silver shoes and fancy dinner parties – they leave disappointed; an Irishman in north London retraces his life as a young lad with his mates digging the streets and dreaming of the apocryphal gold, an outside both in Ireland and England, yet he carries the lodestar of his native land.

A collection characterised by all of Edna O’Brien’s trademark lyricism, powerful evocations of place and a glorious and an often heart-breaking grasp of people and their desires and contradictions.

The Duke’s Man: A novel by David R. Slavitt
PS3569.L3 D85 2011

Historical fiction has long ranked somewhere just above romance novels and mysteries in the great chain of literary respectability, yet as David Slavitt points out in his humorous yet loving send-up of the genre, riches might be found in the most unlikely sources. The Duke’s Man is, in a way, old and new—a condensation and commentary and a literary mash-up. The eponymous character is Louis de Clermont, Comte de Bussy d’Amboise, a gentleman of the court of King Henri III of France, and the hero of Dumas’ three-volume historical novel La Dame de Monsoreau (1846). Dumas’ novel serves here as inspiration, pre-text, and pretext for a commentary that veers off into numerous historical and biographical digressions, musings on narrative and the novel, and parody. Focusing on one aspect of Dumas’ novel—the doomed love story of Bussy d’Amboise and Diana de Monsoreau—Slavitt excerpts key passages, which are extended and undercut by the narrator’s comments. The result is a radically abridged book with its own life and verve. The first of the quoted scenes, in which the names of Bussy’s assailants are replaced with those of French cheeses, sets the irreverent tone for all that follows. The book pokes fun at Dumas’ exclamatory style and flamboyant archaisms (“morbleu!” “pardieu!”), the implausibility of the swordfights, the unnecessary contortions of the political plot, the conventional passivity of the heroine, and the coyness of his love scenes. Residing somewhere between Nabokov’s Pale Fire and Quirk Books’ mash-ups (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, etc.), The Duke’s Man’s blend of quotation, commentary, and fiction raises searching questions about realism and truth.

Where No Storms Come by John F. Deane
PR6054.E219 W44 2010

A moving story of destiny and desire. The novel follows the lives of two young people, charting their struggles with the spiritual paths they have chosen, and the life they want to share together.

Where No Storms Come is the first novel in eight years from award-winning author and poet, John F. Deane.

Calling Mr. King: A novel by Ronald De Feo
PR6054.E219 W44 2010

Long considered cool, distant, and absolutely reliable, an American-born hit man, working throughout Europe, grows increasingly distracted and begins to develop an unexpected passion for architecture and art while engaged in his deadly profession. Although he welcomes this energizing break from his routine, he comes to realize that it is an unwise trajectory for a man in his business, particularly when he is sent on the most difficult job of his career.

Set in London, Paris, New York, and Barcelona, Calling Mr. King is at once a colorful suspense tale, laced with dark humor, and a psychological self-portrait of a character who is attempting, against the odds, to become someone else.

 

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