|"Of fiction that meshes the most with my personality, surrealism, absurdism, and satire hit the mark most often. Work that throws open the gates at the borders of genre has my heart, as does anything with a bit of humor. I tend to read short fiction, social criticism, and political commentary, and am impressed by family stories enmeshed in historical and cultural context, by subtext crafted through expressionist detail. I believe in literacy as an essential component of social justice."|
The protagonist of Tom McCarthy’s Remainder (308 pages; Vintage) is an amnesiac obsessed with pattern, repetition, and the association of importance to utterly meaningless images and events based on a tingly feeling he gets when he feels at peace with the world—when he feels “authentic.” Remainder works narratively towards this idea of the Real, with the protagonist reenacting first an unremembered déjà vu, then scenes from reality, and finally, a “reenactment” of a bank robbery that never happened—one that he externalizes in reality. Ultimately, this work is a fascinating post-modern exercise in tension, repetition, and performance, but readers hewn to character motivation and desire will find little here.
At the heart of Ottessa Moshfegh’s first work, McGlue (122 pages; Fence Books), is a man who dampens life and feeling with drink—a man who is accused of murdering his best friend. Set in the mid-19th century, atop the high seas and throughout New England, the eponymous protagonist awakens aboard a ship, banished to the hold where he languishes drunkenly. As McGlue’s trial for murder approaches, the narrative moves backward in time, through the haze of memory obfuscated by a massive crack to McGlue’s head, which he received falling off a train. Moshfegh, whose stories have been published in The Paris Review, Fence, and Noon, is highly attuned to the tradition of the novel— she rarely reveals the protagonist’s internalized thoughts (a convention of 18th century authors like Defoe and Sterne), allowing the novel to dance smartly around the edges of perception and morality, and sustain the mystery of the murder while inviting an existential reflection in the reader. McGlue surprises by integrating repressed homosexuality into a 19th century narrative, making for a stunning debut by one of the most popular writers in contemporary literature.
Titus Groan, the first in a three-part gothic epic, is beautifully dark and Weird with a capital “W.” The book opens with the birth of an heir to the Gormenghast family, and with it, the stirrings of ancient rituals and family strictures. The castle grounds in which the story takes place are as much a character as the cast, which includes Lady Fuchsia, who dances among dust motes in a long-abandoned and secret attic space, and Steerpike, a cunning young kitchen servant whose dissatisfaction and greed motivate him towards manipulation and violence. In the tradition of Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, this series is perfect for readers at the crossroads of fantasy and horror.
Highly regarded as the premier poet in the Portuguese language, Fernando Pessoa rose to fame decades after his death and is still being discovered by unilingual audiences. Employing what he called “heteronyms,” Fernando Pessoa created fictional “poets, essayists, critics, prose writers, translators, philosophers, and people, many with distinct biographies, ideologies, and writing styles”(Zenith). These heteronyms were not simply pseudonyms to Pessoa—they were channeled identities separate from himself. Pessoa writes, “The origin of my heteronyms is basically an aspect of hysteria that exists within me…the mental origin lies in a persistent and organic tendency of mine to depersonalization and simulation…” Their chronological origin begins with the creation of childhood imaginary friends who would speak to Pessoa through letters that he himself wrote. The Book of Disquiet (544 pages; Penguin Classics) follows the inaction of Bernardo Soares in the modernist tradition of the Flaneur. His wanderings and musings may be read in any order—the numbered sections of the Book of Disquiet are loose fragments that were discovered posthumously and assembled into a collection. Truly a beautiful and perplexing project to behold.
Norma, a radio show host in an unnamed totalitarian government in South America, has lost her husband. She believes she may be able to find him and help others reunite with their families by reading the names of those who have been displaced or disappeared on her show. Lost City Radio is a moving and especially topical anti-war novel about separation and connection. Daniel Alarcón started NPR’s Radio Ambulante, a long-form Spanish-language program that in 2014 received the Gabriel García Márquez Prize for Innovation in Journalism.
A master of the form that can manage to draw laughter out of me like a “tall foreign-looking man with a switchblade” from a cat-piano. A favorite of writers like Donald Antrim, T.C. Boyle, Etgar Keret, and Salman Rushdie, Barthelme is very much a writers’ writer. Absolutely absurd, but somehow always makes sense.