February 25, 2023
This week we feature stories and novels that are playful and entertaining. Who doesn’t need an infusion of fun in the depths of February? Short stories by a classic writer and even shorter stories by one who is very much alive and kicking; an historical novel of clever frivolity by a young, but already prolific writer; a sharp debut from a Turkish-born writer; and a crime novel with an inside look at those legendary writers retreats—fun for us literary folks.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
By Gunnhild Øyehaug
Published by FSG
Øyehaug’s new collection of stories is dreamy, slippery. From “Birds,” in which a wife and mother loses a part of her brain in the toilet, to stories featuring doves, crows, and eels, she explores both the banal and the sublime in over two dozen pieces of fiction. As a young girl the author, whose first book was a 1998 poetry collection, was “eager to be original, not inspired by anyone.” She read few novels, instead favoring Surrealist poetry. That is readily evident in this wonderful, zany assembly of short, short fiction. I suspect she had as much fun writing these stories as you will have reading them.
By Jac Jemc
Published by MCD
Royals behaving badly are celebrated in Jemc’s terrific new historical satire (the lengthy subtitle begins “The Lives of King Ludwig II of Bavaria and Empress Sisi of Austria (Queen of Hungary)…” but including the entire thing would take up all the space necessary to tell you how much fun it is to read). Ludwig II lived a lavish life—building castles, going to the opera—always in search of beauty. He was declared mad, ousted from the throne in 1886 and died under suspicious circumstances the next day. His marriage to cousin Sisi, a partnership of shared aesthetics, and their common disdain for the demands of their royal duties (see Spare) makes for a delightful romp..
By Katherine Mansfield
Published by Vintage Classics
If you love the short story form, this is an essential book to have in your collection, issued as a celebration of the New Zealand-born writer’s work 100 years after her death. One can only imagine what she could have achieved had she lived past her 30s. One of the masters of domestic fiction, she was able to crystallize characters and their inner feelings with a brushstroke. She had a sarcastic wit, and though was on the outskirts of the Bloomsbury Group (she called them “Blooms Berries,”) stories like “The Daughter of the Late Colonel” and “Bliss” show off the reason Virginia Woolf was jealous of her talent.
By Nazli Koca
Published by Grove Press
If you like Elif Batuman and other chroniclers of coming-of-age angst, especially upon foreign soil, you should buy Koca’s blackly humorous first novel. Turkish millennial Leyla won my heart as I read about her perilous situation vis-à-vis her thesis, her German visa, and her love life with an inappropriate older Swede. Just about everything important hangs in the balance while she scrubs toilets in a youth hostel. Here she is on her newly adopted city: “…the moment I saw that Berlin was not a film set but a real, dark, and thrilling home to so many vagabonds, I knew I’d make it my home.” As one might suspect, it’s not as simple as it seemed..
The Writing Retreat
By Julia Bartz
Published by Atria/Emily Bestler Books
What’s juicier than a writer writing about other writers? A wannabe author is thrilled when she gets the opportunity to attend a horror writer’s retreat. This setting for potential debauchery and bad behavior soon turns into a real horror story when one of the writers goes missing. Bartz, a Brooklyn therapist, captures her characters’ dynamics perfectly, especially the competition-fueled relationship of our protagonist Alex and her best friend Wren (who could “pick me up and put me down in the midst of a luscious, Technicolor dreamworld…”) offering her access to the literary world she craves. Though the story is chilling it’s not without a good amount of black humor laced in.