April 15, 2023
The writers this week create worlds and settings that are richly observed and easy to imagine, no matter how far they stray from our own realities. Two are also screenwriters; two will make you laugh; and two feature unlikely pairings. In addition, we offer a biography of one of our most revered writers, gone too soon.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
By Han Kang
Published by Hogarth
Translated by Deborah Smith and Emily Yae Won
Kang won the International Booker Prize for The Vegetarian and has always been praised for her use of language. Similarly, the protagonist in her novel has had a facility for words from a very young age. A former teacher and editor, she experiences a recurring syndrome that suddenly silences her. It might be linked to psychological trauma but whatever the cause, she is rendered mute while in class learning Ancient Greek. Meanwhile her teacher is slowly losing his sight. This is a sensual book about the senses, a beautiful story of the way in which we can find one another amid enormous challenges.
Hestia Strikes a Match
By Christine Grillo
Published by FSG
Grillo’s debut novel is set in an alternative 2023 Baltimore during a new civil war. The world is a mess. Since the secession of a dozen states, Hestia’s husband has abandoned her to join a pro-Union paramilitary group, so she leaves journalism to work at a retirement community. She cruises the dating apps because, “loneliness is its own form of brain damage.” It’s hard to read Grillo’s novel without stopping to underline sentences. But keep reading for a thoroughly entertaining trip into the chaos of a world gone mad, one woman’s midlife crisis, and her efforts to make sense of it all..
Juno Loves Legs
By Karl Geary
Published by Catapult
Geary (Montpelier Parade), an Irish actor/screenwriter, sets his story in the ’80s in the same place and time of his upbringing. Juno and Legs (a.k.a. Sean) attend a strict Catholic primary school, already a unit of two against the world. They reunite years later in Dublin after Legs has been in juvenile detention and Juno has struck out for the city with no place to live. Their relationship of mutual kindness and platonic love strengthens as they crawl out from under their impoverished childhoods. This is a story for those who loved Douglas Stuart’s books (Shuggie Bain and Young Mungo) about hardscrabble working-class Irish characters, violence humming beneath the surface.
The Short End of the Sonnenallee
By Thomas Brussig
Published by Picador
Translated by Jonathan Franzen and Jenny Watson
Jonathan Franzen introduces (and translates!) this satire set in East Berlin before the fall of The Wall. Micha lost his grip on a love letter from a girl he has a crush on, which the wind has deposited at the base of the Wall. But despite the dangers of life under the Iron Curtain, adolescent yearning eclipses all and he longs to retrieve it. Franzen is astute at championing under-read writers (like one of my favorites, Paula Fox). Brussig says that writing novels is like a “hike…into the unknown…” This comic novel will acquaint American readers with a voice we didn’t know we were missing..
By Robert Greenfield
Published by Crown
The ultimate cool cowboy, Sam Shepard changed the face of American theatre with his boisterous plays featuring hard-living characters, dysfunctional father-son relationships, and torrid love affairs—guitar twangs accompanying slammed doors. It was a sad day when he passed away in 2017 from ALS. Greenfield’s book reveals the making of an American icon, giving us a warts-and-all portrait. Tracing the fraught relationship with his father and writing; his early success; his tempestuous marriage to Jessica Lange; and the plays, like the brilliant True West, Greenfield’s biography illuminates the man who was revered by artists, musicians, and writers alike.