Frontier Psychiatrist

Posts Tagged ‘Fiction

Etgar Keret, Suddenly, A Knock on the Door

Etgar Keret, Suddenly, A Knock on the Door

The thin house–a house four feet wide and occupying a space between two buildings in Warsaw–isn’t a likely candidate to entertain the guests who show up unexpectedly and demand a story from the author on the spot in the title story of Etgar Keret’s latest collection, Suddenly, a Knock On the Door. While it would not be able to hold the action of the piece, it does explain the style of the Israeli author’s storytelling: as Steven Kurutz of The New York Times writes, the thin house, built with Keret in mind, is “small but complete.” There are a total of thirty-six stories contained within the 188 pages of the book, an average of five pages per story, though as we know averages work, many come in much shorter, with some barely stretching over one page. In these brief pieces, Keret packs in whole worlds.

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To My Ex-Best Friend:

Thank you for the invitation to your Baby Barbecue. The invite (not to mention the title) surprised me. Never would I have expected to be included. But there, tacked on to the lengthy recipient list’s tail end, was my old email address, one I stopped using three years ago, one you in fact suggested that I retire because suzyQT, a remnant of my college days, screamed immature. How fortunate that I met you so soon after I moved to New York. You hoovered out of me almost all my sloppy traits, leaving an empty shell to fill with trimly tailored attitude. But I reserved one part, high up and out of reach, and kept it alive without knowing what it was. That bit would come in handy years later when I finally recognized it: my own damn self.

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Stewart O'Nan, The Odds

Stewart O’Nan, The Odds

The odds of a marriage proposal being accepted are 1 in 1.001, i.e. nearly perfect. The odds of a married couple making love on any given night are 1 in 5. The odds of a married couple reaching their 25th anniversary are 1 in 6. Such stark, if not totally surprising, probabilities provide both the chapter headings and the thematic glue of Stewart O’Nan’s sharp and sad new novel, a love story wrapped in a heist wrapped in a rumination on risk, reward, and regret.

In less than 20 years, O’Nan has written 13 novels, including Snow Angels, which became a 2007 movie starring Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale. His four nonfiction books include a manual on writing co-edited with John Gardner, whose The Art of Fiction is a Bible on the MFA circuit. His papers are already archived at Cornell University’s library. In other words, he’s a workhorse and a writer’s writer, and in The Odds, he makes the art of fiction seem effortless.

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Rajesh Parameswaran, I Am An Executioner

Rajesh Parameswaran, I Am An Executioner

Hyphenated-American fiction writers often face an unfair conundrum. If they focus on race or ethnicity, they risk being pigeonholed or fetishized or deemed spokespeople for their racial or ethnic group. If they avoid these topics, they risk charges of cultural treason. In his dark, imaginative, and engrossing debut short story collection, Yale Law graduate Rajesh Parameswaran splits the difference: embracing his Indian heritage yet transcending that heritage with universal themes of love and loss.

To be sure, I Am An Executioner has plenty of Indian culture. There are arranged marriages, culture and caste clashes, saris and chappels, and mouthwatering meals of chutney, samosas, and okra.  The narrator of one story is a tiger; another is an elephant. Yet not all of the stories star Indian or Indian-American characters. And even when they do, Parameswaran seems eager to subvert cultural clichés.  In the title story, the narrator, never ethnically identified, speaks in what seems like a parody of Indian English: “Normally in the life, people always marvel how I am maintaining cheerful demeanors.” In another story, the hapless hero is an unemployed computer salesman who pretends to be a doctor –that stereotypical Brahmin profession – with disastrous results.  In “Demons,” an Indian-American woman tells a neighbor that her dead husband on her living room floor is doing yoga, saying: “That is, you know, one of the things we do in India.” And the gullible gringo swallows the story.

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It was Clay who suggested that they invite another couple for that last weekend. His college roommate Craig and his wife Lisa had recently transplanted themselves from Golden, Minnesota for the more harried pace of New York.  Because the three weeks Olivia and Clay spent in Wellfleet differed little from their lives in the city—just the two of them and the alley cat they’d adopted the year before—it was without hesitation that Olivia agreed to the intruders. She said it would give her a reason to get the house in shape for the summer renters. She hadn’t known Craig and Lisa long but unlike Clay’s other friends they were unpretentious and uninterested in art openings and coffee appointments with moderately famous—but fading—artists like Clay or other young, promising artists with whom Olivia often shared gallery space.  Even though they lived in the same city it seemed as if their worlds were still so very far apart. Craig worked a nine to five in a suit somewhere in midtown and Lisa taught long division to third graders. They reminded Olivia of people she had known growing up and Clay seemed to like the idea of having a friend around who was still impressed by his decision to take photographs of decaying urban landscapes.

Olivia looked forward to a break in the monotony. She’d already gone through a stack of books, nearly finished two cases of wine and cooked the more complicated meals in her Moroccan cookbook. They had fucked spontaneously in the house’s numerous rooms and made the same tired jokes about being able to have a choice of which room to have sex in. In those slick, blissful moments they would hold each other close and contemplate a life together in the house year round just the two of them—maybe the cat.  The idea of such a quiet life depressed her, and so it was with ease that she would return to their comfortable and familiar two-bedroom apartment in the city. The weeks in Wellfleet were lazy and decadent but life there felt small and was just enough of a fantasy that she was always glad to return to New York. In the city, things could change, they could expand.

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David Goodwillie (Photo: Candie Sanderson)

David Goodwillie is the author of the memoir Seemed like a Good Idea at the Time and American Subversive, a novel that centers on a home-grown terrorist plot.  Before he wrote books, Goodwillie was briefly a minor league baseball player, then worked at Southeby’s, a private investigation firm, and a dot-com startup. I interviewed him over lunch at Sebastian Junger’s bar The Half King, where he was recovering from a gin-fueled literary party with “writers, editors, agents, and a lot of very bad dancing.” We discussed his past and present projects, writing and literature, politics and media, life and love, “generational malaise,” the magic of New York, and why it’s sometimes embarrassing to be an American.

I last saw you at your book party in 2010. What’s new?

David Goodwillie: I was on the book tour with American Subversive for a while, first the hardcover, then the paperback. Usually if you’re a novelist, a literary novelist, you don’t get to go on a paperback tour, but we [Aryn Kyle and I] were at a big literary dinner and saw that the head of our publishing house had had a few drinks and decided this might be a good time to approach her with a new marketing idea. So we pitched her on a joint tour of the West Coast, where I had not gone with the hardcover, and shockingly she said: “That’s a great idea.” So she sent Aryn and me out on this big tour, we started in Portland and went all the way down the coast. All kinds of stuff went wrong in a Grand Old Book Tour way. We lost our car. And we got to LA and Aryn met with her film agent and I met with some friends and everyone said ‘You guys just have to write a screenplay about it.’ So we have been for most of the year. It’s kind of a literary Sideways about two writers who disappear on a book tour and the publisher forgets about them when they’re on the road.

I’ve also been working on another novel, which is coming slowly, as they always do, and some magazine articles. I just finished an article for Popular Science about nuclear divers, these guys who work at nuclear power plant and dive down into irradiated water to fix stuff because all the power plants are so old. They’re basically single-handedly saving the nuclear industry patching and welding and moving fuel rods around. And in the process, of course, they’re all getting sick and there’s no real oversight of the industry. It’s an extremely dangerous job and a fascinating subculture to explore. So I spent a bunch of the summer at a nuclear plant in Michigan, researching and then doing interviews for this piece. Investigative journalism is a healthy thing for a novelist to do, it gets you back in the real world. It’s also a while between paychecks in the book world so it’s nice to keep your hand in it.

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Jim Knable’s Sons of Dionysus: a lusty novel of myth, mirth, and music.

Chapter 12

A communal groan erupts when they all see me with my buzz cut.

What have you done?! screams Cassius, though he has done much the same, having had his own trademarked hair shaved recently.

Is it him? says Demetrius, a second year with a thick beard, who is known for dressing in women’s clothing.

It’s him, says Arthur, He’s back with us.

About time, says Moses. Pull up a chair.

Sons of Dionysus, Chapter 12 (read by David S. Jung)

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