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Discussing Death from Beyond the Grave: Denis Johnson’s Final Stories

 

Few authors can place their readers in wildly uncomfortable situations with unreliable characters and still leave them with a sense of poignancy like Denis Johnson. In his long-awaited collection of stories The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, Johnson weaves together five fairly disjunctive tales, all of which mimic the style of Jesus’s Son, one of his most accredited works. However, in his most recent book, published posthumously in January 2018, Johnson’s writing is slightly darker than his previous works. There’s something more resonant about the lessons these stories teach the reader, considering that they come from the grave. Perhaps Johnson describes the experience of reading his work best in the opening of “Strangler Bob” when he says, “you hop into a car, race off in no particular direction, and blam, hit a power pole.”

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden is in many ways a follow-up to Jesus’s Son in that it shares some of the same characters, but more so in the way it evokes the same sort of humanizing tone to discuss recurring struggles in his stories.

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Multitudes of Identities in Multitudes of Stories: Emotional Empathy in Five-Carat Soul

In James McBride’s latest short story collection Five-Carat Soul, McBride tackles an era of history dominated by contentious social and racial dynamics through the a lens that humanizes the oppressed. Through each story, McBride reveals social truths about groups ranging from PhD students at Columbia University to war veterans to lower class African Americans in the wake of desegregation. Each story takes the reader through emotional, often heart-breaking encounters that demonstrate different pains of the human condition: love, trauma, injustice and acceptance, among others. Through his clear but poignant prose, McBride emulates the sort of rational and telling voices of historic authors whose literature exposed cultural norms, even if such norms were unflattering. His prose is didactic guised as charming, thus going beyond simply conveying the multiple personalities and experiences, but more broadly conveying an era of post-traumatic stress, whether it be racial, economic, political, or a hybrid of the three.

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Manhattan Beach Finds Comfort in Chaos

Manhattan Beach, Jennifer Egan’s eagerly awaited follow-up after winning the Pulitzer Prize in 2010, does not disappoint. Manhattan Beach covers themes of war, economic depression, and the cultural revolutions of the time, as it takes place in New York City in the early to mid-twentieth century,. Through the life of courageous protagonist Anna Kerrigan, Egan demonstrates the changing societal roles of women during World War II and the variety of pressures placed on women. Weaving through the lives of multiple characters, all of whom serve their own distinct roles in New York society, Egan gives a socio-economically diverse lens into the criminal culture of the era, and does so through her endlessly engaging prose. The novel begins along Manhattan Beach at gangster Dexter Styles’s grand mansion along the water.

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Upward Spiral: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

If I closed my eyes, I could picture vividly the last time I read a book by John Green. I was high school sophomore then, and had the luxury to spend entire afternoons reading non-academic books. The book I picked that day was The Fault in Our Stars, and it made me stay in the same armchair for hours. Fast-forward four years, and there are some things that haven’t changed all that much. The heroine of John Green’s new novel Turtles All the Way Down is much like Hazel Grace as she’s a quirky, nerdy sixteen-year-old girl who embarks on an adventure and encounters friendship and love along the way, all the while battling a chronic illness that stands between her and happiness.

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An Alien Knows More About Me Than I Ever Will

Be it often or seldom, we are reminded just how ridiculous our society and morals are. We get sad for no reason, we get grumpy, we’re ungrateful when we have everything given to us and treat each other like garbage. Jonny Sun’s illustrated novel, Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too, is all about the weird ways of “humabns,” the concepts they’ve created and the way that they deal with feelings, fears and each other.

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White Tears: Transcending Time

Hari Kunzru’s new novel White Tears takes the reader on a historical rollercoaster that weaves between the real and the surreal. A novel that comments on various dimensions of the race problem in America, White Tears transports both the novel’s protagonist, Seth, and its audience between contemporary New York City and Southern states under the oppression of Jim Crow. Kunzru skillfully navigates a complex novel with a plot that is not simply entertaining, but one that also carries an important message about the notions of culture and “post-racial America.”

The Wall Street Journal claims that “Kunzru can rival…any current novelist with the strength of his prose and imaginative blondness,” and indeed his latest novel proves this statement true. A Brooklyn native, Kunzru does an incredible job of painting the city in vivid shades of grit and romance. The first half of the novel, carried by the New York City setting, portrays a tangible realism that depicts the protagonists’ specious “struggling artist” identities.

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Actually, No One Is OK

Darcie Wilder’s novel literally show me a healthy person is a constant yet broken inner monologue in which commas, periods and uppercase letters are scarce, while strangely specific bad memories, death and ex-boyfriends are abundant. There are no chapters, no coherent paragraphs and definitely no chronology. As it turns out, Darcie Wilder knew the recipe for the perfect book all along: all you need is the internet, a large helping of bad experiences, humor and — if you’re as deranged and edgy as Darcie Wilder — you can also kill grammar because in your scattered mind, there are no such thing as rules and organization. Through confusion and memory, literally show me a healthy person taught me many things, among them the fact that either I am already just as deranged as edgy as Wilder, or I will get there very very soon. The novel is meant to tell stories that will make the reader think either “This is weirdly specific and it sounds like something terrible to go through, yet here I am laughing,” or “Yeah that actually happened to me too and I thought I was the only one.” Each anecdote triggers different memories in different people, creating a highly intimate, roller coaster-like,  soul-finding journey for everyone.

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Mohsin Hamid’s Novel Exit West Opens Doors to the Migrant Experience

Mohsin Hamid’s latest novel Exit West tells the compelling story of migrants Saeed and Nadia as they face the challenges of a nameless country in the midst of civil war. In fleeing their country, the couple passes through Greece, England and the United States and face literal and psychological obstacles on their way. Hamid successfully penned a novel regarding a pertinent topic with an anonymity that appeals to human experiences of abandonment and cultural detachment that explicate the migrant experience to his readers. Through simple but poignant prose, Hamid spins a tale of anxiety and hope that is equally engaging and humbling. Mohsin Hamid is an internationally bestselling author and essayist who is known for tackling topics that shake global social and political spheres.

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American Anxiety in Saunders’s Novel Lincoln in the Bardo

Though many authors have tackled the character of Abraham Lincoln, few are able to dive into the complex psyche of one of America’s most beloved presidents like George Saunders. In his novel Lincoln in the Bardo, Saunders brilliantly captures a deeply emotional story between father and son with a balance of poise and comedy. The novel had potential to fall flat due to its unconventional structure, but Saunders’s risk-taking pays off and works to tell a truly unique and engaging narrative that certainly makes the novel one of Saunders’s best executed works to date. George Saunders is a renowned short story writer commended for tackling dystopian satire and straying from literary convention. A recipient of both the inaugural Folio Prize and the Story Prize for his tongue-curling cleverness and comical narratives, Saunders modestly embarked on the next milestone in his career by writing his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, released February 14th, 2017.

Swing Time

Shall We Dance? Yes, but not Around Colonialism

As a longtime Zadie Smith fan, I began my journey into Swing Time, her latest novel, with a certain degree of expectation. I anticipated to be entertained, that there would be points where I laughed and, as a testament to the complexity of her writing, for there also to be moments in the book when I cried. I did not however, expect to feel intense irritation, almost to the point of hatred. The plot of Swing Time is effectively split into two. The first revolves around the childhood friendship of two girls tied together by their similar skin tones and mutual love of dance.