Julian Barnes is the author of ten novels and two books of short stories and is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including two Booker Prize nominations. His most recent collection of short stories is The Lemon Table. James McCloskey recently spoke to him for The Brooklyn Rail.
While there are many talented experimental novelists working today, writers who are able to transcend the traditional limitations of the novel in order to present rare states of experience and consciousness, a rarer state of experience and consciousness occurs when an experimental novel is actually fun to read. A Gesture Through Time, Elizabeth Blocks debut, is that rare and sparkling find.
When writer Samuel G. Freedman began sorting through the bundles of letters he had received as a college student from his dying mother for the first time in decades, he came across one long-forgotten letter. In it, Eleanor Freedman wrote to tell her son that she had just seen the Broadway revival of Eugene ONeills play A Moon for the Misbegotten.
Every era creates a utopia in its own image. In ours, the summers film offerings exhibit enough dystopian worlds to make the point. Batman, Land of the Dead, Star Wars: in popular culture our empire has become evil, dominant, corrupt, controlled by an exclusive corporate class that gouges the poor and squanders the natural and cultural resources.
I headed to the New York Public Library to research the life and work of Irene Nemirovsky expecting to find a plethora of information. The name is most likely foreign to you. In fact, until a friend offered her name and a brief sketch of her life in passing, I was totally unaware of her existence. I climbed the daunting steps knowing only that she was a prolific writer living in Paris during the 1920s and 30s, and had completed thirteen works before dying at Auschwitz, during the Holocaust.
Out, the first of Natsuo Kirino’s work to be translated into English, is billed as a thrillerit won Japan’s Grand Prix for crime fiction and was a finalist for the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Allen Poe Awardbut it’s also a bold satire of the lives of working-class Japanese women.
What if Dante had hailed from Minneapolis, not Florence? What if Li Po penned his verses by the Mississippi instead of the Yang-Tze? Their output would have, perhaps, looked something like that of James Wright, whose Selected Poems appeared this year. Edited by his widow, Anne Wright, and close friend Robert Bly, it offers a comprehensive but concise view of his poetry in contrast to the hefty Above the River: Collected Poems (1992).
Before we encounter a word of text, this superbly produced monograph begins with a full page image of an unimposing stretch of barren ocher-colored land, traversed by a blue slice of ditch water that moves upward to the right, away from the viewer. Some indistinct details over the horizon, foreground stones and fugitive patches of weed suggest the scale. Turning the page, the image continues from left to right (across the book’s gutter, as it will for four more pages), now given clearer focus and scale by oils rigs, nearby and distant, and three horses in the middle ground grazing.