Pulitzer-winner Diaz’s new collection of short stories is a triumph. As with his earlier collection, Drown, the stories are linked by a common theme. Whereas in Drown the stories were mostly coming-of-age tales of immigrant life, in This Is How You Lose Her they are stories of love, betrayal, and the other constants of adult romantic relationships. Yunior, the loud-mouthed authorial stand-in protagonist Diaz continues to return to, is the narrator for most of these stories, and the landscape will be familiar to anyone well-versed in Diaz’s earlier work. Stand-outs in the collection include the final story, The Cheater’s Guide to Love; and the only story to feature a female protagonist, Otravida, Otravez.
Jami Attenberg, the author of this delightful new novel, grew up Buffalo Grove, and the novel itself is set in the Chicago suburbs, featuring many familiar landmarks. For more than thirty years, Edie and Richard Middlestein have a shared a solid family life together. They have close friends, have attended many spectacular b’nai mitzvah parties, and love their children and grandchildren. Their lives are starting to fall apart, however, due to Edie’s increasing obsession and addiction to food. As Edie’s girth grows and her health declines, their world together splinters apart. This is a funny and charmingly poignant novel. I highly recommend it for book clubs and everyone else who loves great character-centered family stories.
This novel reads like a movie—in all of the best ways. Spanning decades and continents (primarily Italy in the ’60s and present-day Hollywood), Beautiful Ruins is a wonderful old-fashioned love story with a contemporary satirical edge. There are numerous characters in this book, all intertwined through relationships and time; to name a few: there is the American starlet who comes to a remote Italian village to die, the movie producer who made his comeback with a reality TV show, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, an army veteran turned fledgling alcoholic writer, and a dissatisfied movie assistant. An inventive novel about flawed yet fascinating people, Beautiful Ruins was a joy to read. It had depth without being depressing. It was literary yet also a page turner. And it had a happy ending!
On Wednesday, October 10, 2012, the finalists were announced. The following are the fiction and nonfiction finalists:
Junot Díaz,This Is How You Lose Her (Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group USA, Inc.)
Dave Eggers,A Hologram for the King (McSweeney's Books)
Louise Erdrich, The Round House (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers)
Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers)
Kevin Powers, The Yellow Birds (Little, Brown and Company)
Anne Applebaum, Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1945-1956 (Doubleday)
Katherine Boo, Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (Random House)
Robert A. Caro, The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 4 (Knopf)
Domingo Martinez, The Boy Kings of Texas (Lyons Press, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press)
Anthony Shadid, House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
For more 2012 finalists, visit the National Book Awards website:
The Livable Zone girdling the planet is maintained by a huge Pipe that pumps out the mysterious compound FOX…but now, the pipe is on fire. The unnamed narrator and his friends, a group of former military special forces soldiers turned contractors, are tapped to put out the fire. Along the way, the narrator muses about how the world got to this point, going back over his entire life growing up with his best friend Gonzo, joining the military, and being on the front-lines when the Go-Away bombs were deployed. The Go-Away bombs were supposed to make whatever they landed upon simply go away—that is, cease to exist in any meaningful way, as opposed to being destroyed as by a conventional bomb. But it turned out that messing with the fabric of existence was the biggest mistake humanity ever made and all that loose Stuff—former matter, now identityless—floating around out there started interacting with human consciousness in some terrifying ways…thus the need for the the Pipe and the magical FOX which neutralizes the Stuff. And thus we come full-circle, as the team of friends works to put out the fire. The only problem is, in the process, some raw Stuff spilled right down the fronts of Gonzo and the narrator and now the narrator’s wife and friends are acting like they don’t know who he is and our narrator starts to wonder just what FOX is, after all, and who really owns the Pipe.
Complex, fast-paced, and ever-so-twisty, The Gone-Away World is impossible to categorize except to say it’s a heck of a lot of fun. Part mystery, part espionage novel, part coming-of-age story, part apocalypse, and 100% engrossing. You won’t know quite what you’re reading, but you won’t be able to stop.
Diaz, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007), presents in his first collection a thematically-linked series of short stories dealing with the life of a character named Yunior. Yunior serves as an authorial stand-in in many ways, as the stories themselves are explicitly based upon Diaz’s own experiences growing up in poverty in the Dominican Republic and later, in New Jersey. Loud-mouthed, wild, but sensitive in his own way, Yunior is a compelling character surrounded on all sides by hardship and struggle. The stories have a raw and compelling tone and the language alternates between an unaffected simplicity and a soaring lyricism that complements the subject matter well.
Middle-aged Talmadge is a solitary type. He’s been alone on his sprawling orchard in the Pacific Northwest since he was a teenager and his younger sister vanished…run off or kidnapped, it was never clear. Every once in a while, a band of Nez Perce horse traders camps on his land and helps with the fruit picking, and he spends some time with the local midwife, Caroline Middey. But otherwise, Talmadge is alone. When two pregnant teenagers steal some of his fruit from a stand in town, he doesn’t give chase. When the same two girls show up on his land, living in his orchard, he begins cooking extra food and putting it out on the front porch for them. He is beginning to win them over; the girls, feral as cats, are beginning to trust him as they’ve never trusted a man before. But when the man from whom the girls were running shows up to find them, a shocking act of violence will change all of their lives forever.
Set in the early years of the 20th century, there is nevertheless a timeless quality to this novel. Talmadge’s orcharded valley is a haven for him and for the girls alike. Rich, lush descriptions of the natural world and Talmadge’s simple life draw the reader into his world, but Coplin does not sentimentalize. Talmadge’s world is also a hard one, and the girls’ lives have not been easy, nor do they get any easier. Captivating and eloquent.
Urrea here tells the mesmerizing story of the life of his ancestor, Saint Teresa Urrea. Born into poverty on the rancho of her father Tomas Urrea in the 1870s, Teresa was raised in among the workers until first the rancho’s wise woman Huila and then Tomas himself recognized that Teresa was an illegitimate Urrea and took her in. Huila trained the girl in herbcraft, healing, and the other lore that was her heritage, and Tomas attempted to domesticate her, giving her shoes and teaching her manners. But Teresa was destined to be a troublemaker. A shocking act of violence turned the wild girl into the Saint, returning from near-death with healing powers in her hands and revolution in her heart. This brought down upon the Urrea rancho first swarms of pilgrims and later, the wrath of the Mexican government.
Sweeping in scope and style, infused with magical realism and delicious descriptions of the many smells and tastes and colors of the rancho, The Hummingbird’s Daughter is beautiful and, at times, funny and wise. Highly recommended for fans of Latino or historical fiction.
Mark your calendars: the Chicago Humanites Festival begins in October and runs through November 11th. The Readers' Advisors are excited about several programs, such as the one featuring Richard Ford!
Take a look:
Daytripper is a dreamy and surreal graphic novel that follows the life of one man, Brás de Olivias Dominguez. Each chapter features an important period in Brás’ life in Brazil, and each story ends the same way: with his death. A story about all the possibilities realized and lost in one person’s life, Daytripper is a philosophical story about choices, destiny, and chance. The artwork is gorgeous.