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John & all Dieselfolk
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Short stories are tough. Novels, I feel, can be messy and imperfect but still beloved; a short story, due to its defining length restriction, must be tight and incisive, without an ounce of fat on the bone. But, you know, it's also nice if in that restricted space, a writer can create real characters and have something happen, even if it's just ("just"! ha!) a Joycean moment of epiphany. This isn't easy to pull off, which means that while there are a lot of short stories out there, there are very few good ones. George Saunders' are some of the goodies. His newest collection, Tenth of December, opens with a bang reminiscent of A Good Man Is Hard to Find's title story, though fortunately for my heart (and stomach), Saunders isn't quite the cynic O'Connor was. He has a remarkable ability to get inside his characters' heads, rendering them flawed but sympathetic, and vibrantly alive upon the page. The stories in Tenth of December are delightfully dark but never quite bleak: gloriously full of people, and the things that happen to them. -- Anna Kaufman
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This Is How You Lose Her. The title of Junot Díaz's fierce new collection is fair warning for all you lovers, twisted metal signage for that one freeway exit you half-wish you'd never been down. Yet here you are again, and at least in this case you won't be sorry, because the author of Drown (1996) and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) has bled out enough desperation in 213 pages that you can almost see "her" pass by in a glittering, perfumed whirl of Spanglish and heartbreak.
For eight of the stories we skitch dangerously through the streets of New Jersey and Boston from the tow-hitch of the incorrigible Yunior, one of Díaz's best-loved narrators, marveling at his spectacular ability to clothesline good sense in the pursuit of basement muses with attributes existing "in a fourth dimension beyond jeans." In one other, the gut-punch "Otravida, Otravez," we wake up and work and sleep alongside Yasmin, a Dominican immigrant squeezing a half-light living from bloody hospital laundry while struggling to forget about the wife of the man she loves.
Despite the constant threats of separation and loneliness dogging every layer of Yunior's darkly comic love life (and that's putting it mildly), this is not a collection of divisions -- rather, Díaz thrillingly places Yunior at the molten intersection of a dozen voices, and through him we can hear the anger and jealousy and passion of neighborhoods ebbing and flowing with gossip and infidelity, the shouts of cruelty and hero-worship between brothers, the whispers of tantalizing dialogue between sex and self-discovery. Yunior, (often) a young writer whose biography overlaps considerably with Díaz's own, just can't seem to find a way to split his integrity between the lines of his diary and the women he loves.
That said, "she," in all her beautiful forms, never seems to find her own voice in these stories. Save for Yasmin and "Otravida, Otravez," the surprising sensitivity behind Yunior's sweaty head-case machismo doesn't dare to investigate much outside of its own source. Even as Díaz offers us reasons and explanations for this distance, especially in the later parts of the collection, these are always Yunior's stories...and hey, Yunior's all about Yunior.
With little of the fanboy yearning that could make Oscar Wao so precious, This Is How You Lose Her is an electrifying look at Díaz the man, wrestling with love and family and loneliness like all the rest of us: in the best ways he knows how. -- Ian Walters
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Packed into one glorious paperback volume titled The Patrick Melrose Novels are four short autobiographical novels that are absolutely wowsome. Edward St. Aubyn, a Brit, obviously grew up in an eccentric, aristocratic, comic yet diabolical household. You would think he'd have done away with himself by now -- and indeed he did have a spell of death-defying drug use -- but instead he's fictionalized the droll and sometimes grotesque events of his life. He describes the many unconventional characters he's known in a witty, acerbic, and superlative prose style. He's masterful. St. Aubyn's dramatis personae could easily be the grandchildren of Evelyn Waugh's creations in Brideshead Revisited. To me, St. Aubyn is even funnier. The fifth and final novel in his quintet, At Last, has just been published in paperback. I'll be diving in momentarily. -- Diane Leslie
Molly Lou Melon is a tiny child with wildly bucked teeth. Tension mounts as her elementary school nemesis, Ronald Durkin, mocks her every move. Her grandmother/biggest fan counsels her to stand tall, be proud, sing loud..and she does! Replete with hilarious illustrations by David Catrow, this book is sure to entertain kids of all ages. -- Mia Wigmore