John Domini contributes regularly to the Rail. His latest book is a memoir, The Archeology of a Good Ragú.
With Kings and Camp CounselorsBy John Domini
A bristling yet alluring doohickey, ostensibly about a week away from the workaday world, Gabe Durhams Fun Camp also signals the end for one of American publishings finest escapes from the ordinary.
Sibum in NighttownBy John Domini
The Traymore Rooms, a novel at once hugely ambitious and never above an off-color crack, aspires to be the late triumph of a long career.
The Containable ApocalypseBy John Domini
Over the past decade, in our finer quarterlies, few names have turned up more often than Jacob M. Appel. You also found him among the finalists for awards in the short storyand among the prize-winners. I myself once floundered in Appels wake, merely a finalist while he was the finalist.
Continental DivineBy John Domini
About halfway along, just as were getting the hang of Luke Goebels wild and voluble debutnot so much a novel as a narrative kaleidoscope, putting a few essential shapes and colors through one tumble after anotherwe arrive at a whole new configuration. We come to the peyote trip.
Time Ages In a Hurry: StoriesBy John Domini
Over in Italy, Time Ages In a Hurry was one of a spate of Antonio Tabucchi titles preceding his death in early 2012. He wasnt that old, 68, but hed long been battling cancer, and in his last year friends and family moved him from Siena, where he taught, to Lisbon, the home of his heart.
The Gut Wants What It WantsBy John Domini
Amelia Grays Gutshot bristles in the best way. Just about every prick and sting compels you to seek more, to take up the next storygingerlyand the next. Indeed, the authors second set of short fiction represents an advance for her in its size alone.
Story Towards StoryBy John Domini
For a form defined by length, the novel depends remarkably on what it leaves out. Even a novelist who prefers to let the weeds go, a Proust or a Wallace, has to prune away a few.
Given Enough RopeBy John Domini
Lincoln Michel has brought off a worthy debut in Upright Beasts, a rowdy klatch of stories with a number of winners. The fictions leave their most beautiful bruises about halfway through, as the author swings without a hitch from the relative realism of the section titled “North American Mammals” to the stories collected under “Familiar Creatures,” each of them a wild narrative hair.
New York StoriesBy John Domini
Here we have two new selections of stories from two New Yorkers, both on smaller presses, both by men we might still call young. More significantly, both refract their light through the same aesthetic prismoften throwing off lovely colors, I must add.
America the DysfunctionalBy John Domini
Few writers can match the bifurcated careerbifurcated yet brimfulof Frank Lentricchia. Starting at the end of the 1960s, as a professor at Duke, Lentricchia established himself as a literary critic of muscle and subtlety.
Escape from American NoiseBy John Domini
It can look as if the poet Campbell McGrath is moving away from his strengths, in his new “Hubble Space Telescope: the Galaxies (1990).” Indeed, the piece appears in a book, XX: Poems for the Twentieth Century, about which you might say the same.
Natural-Born StorytellersBy John Domini
If the expression “natural-born storyteller” hasn’t yet gone to the glue factory, then these two novels take the nag out for a fresh canter. Grace is a début for Natashia Deón, whose credentials include a PEN Fellowship, and while Allison Amend has three earlier books, and some prize recognition, she’s still young enough to have whipped up something new for Enchanted Islands.
Touring Trump Country in a Clown CarBy John Domini
For a story beset with some of the ugliest traumas of fractured contemporary America, Mary Troy’s busy new novel careens along with remarkable lightheartedness.
Daša Drndić’s BelladonnaBy John Domini
Paging through Daša Drndić’s Belladonna, you can’t miss the lists of the dead. Twice during the later going, the text interrupts itself for page after page of names, in smaller-font double-columns. Names of the murdered, to be sure: victims of the Holocaust.
Zachary Lazar's VengeanceBy John Domini
“I saw within myself,” admits our narrator, “a kind of ignorance that grew deeper the more I looked at it.” Sounds about right for his novel, too: the more deeply Vengeance draws us in—really, it’s hard to look away—the greater its ambiguity.
Joshua Mensch's Because, A Lyric MemoirBy John Domini
Among the many shocks and felicities in Joshua Mensch’s Because, one of the best is his way with a semi-colon.
Elle Nash's Animals Eat Each OtherBy John Domini
In her debut novel, Animals Eat Each Other, Elle Nash has no interest in testing boundaries; instead, she crashes right through.
Running the Devil's Gauntlet: Ahmed Bouanani's The HospitalBy John Domini
Hades, Gehenna, Hell: every culture has one, a realm of punishment without end. By any name, too, it’s been inspiration without end. For creative types, the Awful Place allows awesome freedom.
Strange Objects & SockdolagersBy John Domini
A persistent cliché insists that Big Publishing doesnt like small fictions, yet such work keeps turning up on mainstream houses.
SALMAN RUSHDIE with John Domini
Towards the end of Salman Rushdies new Quichotte, we get the précis. We hear it from the author, but crucially, thats not our author. The busy Manhattanite of 72, former PEN President, Booker Prize winner and more, the fatwa survivor who recently delivered a droll cameo on HBO.
Shokoofeh Azar’s The Enlightenment of the Greengage TreeBy John Domini
Which version counts as the truth? That dangerous term? Plainly, Azar would answer both, arguing that the Old Gods still hold value, “still alive and reacting,” even as she recognizes how “mysticism didn’t offer any simple solutions to murder, plunder, poverty, or human injustice.”
Mark Nowaks Social PoeticsBy John Domini
Social Poetics, contains a history of the contemporary working class: booksellers, Amazon warehouse workers Powells staff, paper mill workers [ ] editors and copyeditors [ ] janitors and nightshift mothers who clean all these office spaces . The list goes on, soon enough reaching the book in our own hands. Every line seems soaked with the sweat of labor. If a creative writing text ever raised a call to the barricades, its this one.
Joyelle McSweeney’s Toxicon and Arachne and Rachel Eliza Griffiths’s Seeing the Body: PoemsBy John Domini
Together, Joyelle McSweeneys Toxicon and Arachne and Rachel Eliza Griffithss Seeing the Body: Poems go a long way towards providing this dark moment its definitive accompaniment. More astonishing still, the poets bring off triumphs distinctly different. Youd never mistake McSweeneys heartbroken stammer for Griffithss blue wail, yet either outcry will set your back-hairs prickling. Either could wind up a prizewinnerthough good luck choosing between themand in any case the texts will go on providing their unique, adult consolations for whatever sorrows lie in wait.
Shukri Mabkhout’s The ItalianBy John Domini
Despite The Italian's historical focus, the novel casts light on both future and past, dramatizing a sweeping change that doesnt appear to make much difference.
Marcus Pactor’s Begat Who Begat Who Begat & Marc Anthony Richardson’s MessiahsBy John Domini
These two new fictions reveal profound differences, and each in its way deserves applause. Marcus Pactors short stories prove kooky yet touching, while Marc Anthony Richardsons novel has a nightmare impact, a gathering heartbreak.
Mohsin Hamid’s The Last White ManBy John Domini
The Last White Man is Hamids fifth, and the sequence clearly reveals a tilt toward the bizarre. At the level of sentence and scene, to be sure, this author has always elbowed past the norms; working with frame stories, second person, and other trickery.
Michael J. Seidlinger & Dashiel CarreraBy John Domini
Michael J. Seidlingers Anybody Home? and Dashiel Carreras The Deer both deliver the goods, Im happy to say; they prickle the back-hairs deliciously. Whats more, the dreadful material is matched by unsettling craft.
Beata Umubyeyi Mairesses
By John Domini
All Your Children, Scattered
This novels sonorous title, we learn towards the end, comes from the Catholic Confirmation liturgy: a prayer out of Europe, hundreds of years old. Yet before we finish the books first page, we know that the children in question come from central Africa, and that what scattered them was a latter-day genocide. Not quite thirty years ago now, Rwandan Hutus slaughtered their Tutsi neighbors mercilessly, in perhaps the worlds ugliest recent outbreak of tribal hatred.
By John Domini
Where Are the Snows
How to become a no-stats all-star, the player on the team whose presence alone causes magical outcomes? Outcomes like magical poetry, Id say, somehow abra-cadabrad out of throwaway material. Everyday detritus, especially those chuckle-worthy quirks of thought so quickly forgotten, gone like a glimpse out the window of the L⎯ Chicago provides most details of place⎯ all play the muse for Kathleen Rooney.
By John Domini
The English Understand Wool
New Directions has issued Helen Dewitts brief new fiction as a stand-alone text, one of their StorybookND series, a handsome little package. Once its unwrapped, though, out springs a midsummers night dream, a turbulent and amoral comedy, disrupting the sleep with its dodges and masksaltogether a delight. The English Understand Wool offers another spin snowball of a narrative, gathering weight as it slaloms the hills of Dewitts imagination.
By John Domini
The Last Pomegranate Tree
Since the day I left the desert, declares our narrator Muzafar-i Subhdam, I have met one person after another who is running away. With that, he widens his melancholy embrace: Look at yourselves: who are you but a bunch of ghosts on a ferryboat, running away from something that has no name or color, that cannot be caught or tamed? The mans got a point, in a time when so much of the world is unhoused, but regarding his own case, Muzafars guilty of some exaggeration.
Soraya Palmers The Human Origins of Beatrice Porter, and Other Essential GhostsBy John Domini
Zoras struggle for selfhood, adulthood, while never glossing things over, finds an unlikely means of escape, or at least temporary release. The stories her parents tellfables out of their own, very different upbringingscan, for instance, provide a daffy distraction at the grocery register when Dads card is declined, and more than help to open and exercise a young mind.
Mario Fortunatos SouthBy John Domini
In Italy South appeared in the teeth of the pandemic, in mid-2020, but widespread disease is one of the few varieties of trouble that never tangles its many lines of plot. The novel instead details the impact of other calamities of the twentieth century, as it develops upwards of fifty characters, all linked somehow to two families down in Italys elongated toe, Calabria.
Domenico Starnone’s The House on Via GemitoBy John Domini
In his homeland, Domenico Starnone⎯born and raised in Naples⎯may have enjoyed his greatest success with The House on Via Gemito. Hes formidably productive, also a journalist and screenwriter, but this 2001 novel took home the Strega, Italys highest honor. Now its at last out in English, and if you ask me, the book deserves more of the same.
LANCE OLSEN with John Domini
In Theories of Forgetting, Lance Olsens 12th novel and 25th book, he may have brought off the boldest departure of a career dedicated to such takeoffs. The formatting allows the text to be read in either direction, each featuring different fonts.
Zadie Smith Offers Some New MovesBy John Domini
I can’t deny the spell cast by Swing Time, Zadie Smith’s latest. I can’t hold back from declaring it first a career peak, one she’ll be hard-pressed to top, and beyond that a steep challenge for any novelist out there.
Marlon James with John Domini
Like all Marlon James’s fiction, this novel explores the past—but it goes further back, to medieval Africa, while wholeheartedly embracing fantasy. There are bat-winged monsters and trans-dimensional portals; the book is the first in a trilogy, what the author calls, “an African Games of Thrones.”
Tsitsi Dangarembga’s This Mournable BodyBy John Domini
Zimbabwe's social fabric has often been in shreds, the worst toll often taken on the women: an ongoing catastrophe that provides the best background for appreciating the novels of Tsitsi Dangarembga
Jokha Alharthi: Celestial BodiesBy John Domini
Celestial Bodies delivers a cornucopia, the drama tasty whether it concerns a long day of overwrought celebration, scented with incense and envy, or a midnight tryst in the desert, mixing torment and ecstasy. Juggling multiple perspectives, eschewing straightforward chronology, the narrative coheres nevertheless.
Scholastique Mukasonga’s IgifuBy John Domini
Over the last decade and a half, Scholastique Mukasonga has resurrected an entire lost culture. Though she was nearly 50 when her first book appeared, and writing in French, her third or fourth languagedepending how you count the indigenous tongues of Rwandaher output amounts to a small but essential library memorializing the Tutsi.
Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The CommittedBy John Domini
Such wounds fester everywhere in The Committed, Viet Thanh Nguyens more-than-worthy successor to his Pulitzer winner, The Sympathizer, the second text in a promised trilogy. In this middle passage, the author picks so assiduously at the scabs of racism and usury, you could also call it a novel of ideas.
Picking Over The CrumbsBy John Domini
Texas may be the southernmost point in the U.S., but it gets awfully cold. The chill pervades Larry McMurtrys best novels, like The Last Picture Show (1966), in which the biting winds may carry away a young mans soul. The same threat hangs over Brandon Hobsons new slip of a novel, Deep Ellum.
Salman Rushdie's The Golden HouseBy John Domini
The most notable risk is the cutting-edge contemporaneity. The denouement of Golden House unfolds pretty much at the moment we read it, in later 2017, and its tragic climax the previous fall has a lot to do with the tragedy of the last election.
Abdulrazak Gurnah’s AfterlivesBy John Domini
An author who gains a namesay, winning the Nobel, like Abdulrazak Gurnahcan also lose shelf-space. The books can vanish, in the libraries as well as the shops, and even before the supply chain grew sluggish, restocking could take a while.
Different Routes to Rarified AirBy John Domini
Both these texts expand the mind, taking the reading experience to places most never risk. One, Dreamlives of Debris, gets up into rarified air indeed, cleansing the system. As for The Gift, that’s perhaps less bracing, but always tangy and whip-smart. Before I explain further, however, I’ve got to look back half a century.
The Trouble with Men: Reflections on Sex, Love, Marriage, Porn & Power essays by David ShieldsBy John Domini
Before I consider a personal book, perhaps I should offer a personal story. My first substantive encounter with David Shields, following some long-distance business, was an interview for his 2017 selection of essays, Other People.
Sulaiman Addonia's Silence Is My Mother TongueBy John Domini
Just shy of puberty, Saba suffers all sorts of disorientation, even at first sight of her family hut: Arent refugee camps built with tents? Later, between the huts, she gets lost in alleyways a labyrinth. Complicating matters, by local standards Sabas a mongrel, Eritrean-Ethiopian half from an occupied country and the other half from the occupying.
Hoda Barakat’s Voices of the LostBy John Domini
Ultimately, Voices of the Lost belongs with the most exemplary fiction of our contemporary diasporas, striving to match the new tragedy with a new form.
Dorothy Parker with a Ph.D.By John Domini
Not only does Dubravka Ugresic’s novel appear in translation; you could say it’s about translation. The latest from a busy, brainy Croatian—her 14th book, half of them fiction—Fox consists primarily of worrying at various texts, though not all of them are literary.
Alyssa Quinn’s HabilisBy John Domini
Disorientation is the rule in Alyssa Quinns Habilis, right from the first sentence: The museum is a discotheque.
MONSTROUS AMERICABy John Domini
First encounter with Blake Butlers new novel may leave you dazzled, yet also disoriented, and if so youll find a point of reckoning in Roberto Bolanos 2666.
Flower or Whip?By John Domini
You might call D. Foy’s Patricide a long and sorrowful aria over abuse in the home and its lingering damage; or you might call it a portrait of the scuffling white male, here in the U.S., detailing their recent tumble from King of the Mountain; or then again, it may be a scuzzball spiritual journey, Siddhartha Goes to AA, in which multiple addictions shred a young man almost to bits before he staggers to a kind of Buddhist enlightenment.
Girl, Woman, OtherBy John Domini
That familiarity is what Id emphasize. Myself, I love whats outré and of-the-moment about Girl, Woman, Other. I was at once won over by its fast and loose way with the English sentence, quasi-colloquial, with minimal punctuation and capitalization, sometimes breaking down into short stacks of single lines. Yet it doesnt take an aesthete to find the prose accessible. Anyone can appreciate Evaristos sensitivity to the passions in her people.
Yevgenia Belorusetss War DiaryBy John Domini
War Diary mounts an unrelenting assault on civilized comforts.
Elena Ferrante's The Lying Life of AdultsBy John Domini
A violent intensity might erupt at any minute, an adolescent mood swing might hit like a tsunami, and yet the story maintains a canny and scrupulous realism. This author couldnt be more alert to psychologys delusions and societys con games. Shes both a cool cat and a bleeding heart, combining both in passage after passage that, just for starters, speak volumes about the skill and vitality Ann Goldstein brings to her translation.
Richard Powers’s BewildermentBy John Domini
In Bewilderment Richard Powers's mastery strikes a new vein, and while the takeaway by no means lacks in smarts or artistry, it makes a swift and easy read, glittering with timeless story elements; it raises goosebumps and breaks our hearts.
Defacing the Palimpsest:
By John Domini
Don DeLillo, New York Antagonist
For much of his career, on many of his books, one of the country’s most celebrated novelists confined his bio to a single line: “Don DeLillo lives in New York.” That was it, and more recently, as I dug into connections between the man’s work and his native city, I often suspected I wasn’t offering much better.
Marco Rafalà’s How Fires EndBy John Domini
Marco Rafalà rouses us to applause with How Fires End. The novel teeters suspensefully between the good-hearted and bloody-minded.
Marino Magliani's A Window to ZeewijkBy John Domini
A Window to Zeewijk casts a shadow over conventional notions of a novel. The slim text is Maglianis first in the US, and Emanuele Petteners brief introduction terms him an original, wild author. What follows certainly bears out the claim: a sly charmer of a fiction, its pleasures delicious but out of the ordinary.
Stories by Chloe N. Clark & Jen FawkesBy John Domini
So too, the texts set up an engaging biplay between longer work and shorter, alternating pieces of a dozen pages with those of three paragraphs. Yet neither writer skimps on suffering or dread. Neither suffers a blind spot, some ugliness theyd prefer to avoid, though Fawkes deals more in terror, Clark in sorrow.
Olga Ravns EmployeesBy John Domini
Olga Ravns The Employees unpacks like a miraculous gift, alive with changes. Peeling off the first wrap, things look eerie, then at the next mundane, and while the crackle might sound like laughter, it also shivers with terror or poignancy.
The Lonely Scrivener:
GAY TALESE with John Domini
Gay Talese tells me it feels strange not to begin a Monday morning in “the Bunker.” By this he means his Manhattan workspace.