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Book Review: Hear the Wind Sing (1979), by Haruki Murakami

Hear the Wind Sing is the first novel by Haruki Murakami, a writer who, if you have been reading this blog faithfully (hey Luke), you will know has become one of my favorite writers over the past year or so. Having recently finished his 2011 behemoth 1Q84 I figured I would go back and start at the beginning, try and acquaint myself with his entire body of work. 
Hear the Wind Sing sits a lean (one might say meager) 101 pages and, I suspect for that reason, is usually published together with Murakami's second novel Pinball, 1973, which was published the year after, in 1980. I plan to start reading Pinball, 1973 here soon, but certainly not because Hear the Wind Sing was so compelling or anything. Mainly, just because I already bought it and it also looks short. 
Hear the Wind Sing is like a lot of first novels by famous 20th century novelists: it kinda sucks. Sometimes I'm amazed that these things get published. But then I learned that, in this case, the novel was first published…
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New Yorker Fiction Review #244: "Grief" by Scholastique Mukasonga

Review of a short story from the June 22, 2020 issue of The New Yorker...
A heavy short story, in the middle of a heavy issue of The New Yorker, covering what has been a heavy series of weeks in America. The issue itself focuses mostly on racial injustice, acutely focusing on the killing of George Floyd last month and the civil upheaval it has caused just as our quarantine-weary country is taking it's first steps out of hiding and into something akin to a pre-COVID normal. A lot to be reported, digested, and pondered upon. Far too much to be covered in one issue of The New Yorker or certainly here, in an entry that's meant to review a short story.
The short story in question -- "Grief" -- is the first person account of a Rwandan Tutsi woman living in France in the wake of the 1994 Rwandan Civil War and the mass killing of the Tutsi people. We can only assume the year to be late 1994 or early 1995, as the woman attempts to grieve for family, most of whom she assumes wer…

New Yorker Fiction Reviews #242 & #243: Stories by Ernest Hemingway and Haruki Murakami

Review of two short stories from the June 8 & 15, 2020 Fiction Issue of The New Yorker...
The arrival of a New Yorker "Fiction Issue" always kind of fills me with mixed emotions. On one hand: awesome. It's an issue of The New Yorker filled almost completely with the very content for which I mostly read The New Yorker anyway: the fiction. On the other hand, it's always a bit of a challenge to pick out which stories to read and I also know I'm going to end up leaving a lot of good fiction on the table (not that that should bother me too much anyway, after having lost at least 18 months worth of issues here and there). This time, however; it was very clear which two stories I would read.
It's not often that two of my favorite authors appear in one issue of The New Yorker. And, in the case of Ernest Hemingway and Haruki Murakami, I have to imagine it doesn't happen often in any context, because I can't think of two authors whose work shares less in comm…

Book Review: The Sporting Club, by Thomas McGuane (1969)

I have a long history with Thomas McGuane. I first read The Sporting Club when I was about 19 or 20, along with some of McGuane's writing which was current at the time such as The Longest Silence (1999) and The Cadence of Grass (2002). At that time I was making my first forays into what can even barely be called the "adult world" -- but which I now realize is not the adult world at all -- and looking around for writers who liked the outdoors, as I do, specifically fishermen. I think I also read Ninety-Two in the Shade (1975) around that time. Since then, I have read his short stories in The New Yorker, mostly to great delight.
Suffice it to say, I am probably in the 99.9th percentile of the American reading public in my familiarity with Thomas McGuane. And I actually really, really like his writing; however, The Sporting Club kinda sucks. I can't even put a shiny gloss on it in case I one day meet Thomas McGuane and he has read and holds a grudge against me for postin…

New Yorker Fiction Review #241: "Two Nurses, Smoking" by David Means

Review of a short story from the June 1, 2020 issue of The New Yorker...
Now that I've given up any semblance of ever being "caught up" on all my New Yorker fiction reviews, and just review the latest short stories as they come to me through the mail slot...my reviews can at least be somewhat timely again. 
I knew I had heard of David Means before somewhere. As it turns out, I had heard of him in the pages of The New Yorker, and his story "Two Ruminations on a Homeless Brother," from May 1, 2017 (reviewed on this blog on Dec. 21, 2017; clearly, at that point I was trying to get caught up on back issues in a last, hopeless attempt to get caught up on all the issues I had missed. I think I remember this period). Anyway, I recall being amused by the form and experimental nature of "Two Ruminations on a Homeless Brother," if not exactly the short story itself. In "Two Nurses, Smoking," David Means also plays with form in an interesting way, but de…

Book Review: Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis (1922)

Yes, I am "reviewing" a book that's nearly 100 years old. I don't know why that seems funny right now, but don't expect me to say **SPOILER ALERT** or anything. You've had your entire life to get around to reading Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis...which I can't really recommend anyway.

You already know where this review is going: Babbitt sucked. Why?

For one thing...it's more of a character study than a book. For nearly 300 pages we read about the life of George Babbitt, a 46 year-old real estate salesman from the town of "Zenith" -- a fictitious mid-western city that could very easily be Indianapolis, except he mentions Indianapolis in the book. Babbitt is middle-of-the-road in every way. His politics, his married life, his professional life, his ambitions, even the ways he has fun or gets angry -- even the way he "rebels" against his staid bourgeois existence -- are all typical of what was the 1920s (and probably 2020s) middle-Americ…

New Yorker Fiction Review #240: "The Resident Poet" by Katherine Dunn

Review of a short story from the May 11, 2020 issue of The New Yorker...

I love going into a story with absolutely zero context, especially when I have never heard of the author. I find it's much, much better to read a story without bringing anything to the table in terms of expectations or preconceived notions about what I'm about to read.

Apparently, "The Resident Poet" was written by the late Katherine Dunn (author of Geek Love, died in 2016) back in the early 1970s. From the context clues in the story -- the lack of cell phones , certain lingo, the way the characters dress -- I could definitely have guessed the story was set in the pre-80s. However, Katherine Dunn's prose is as fresh as if it were written today. 
If there is a way to make an elicit affair between a professor and a college student seem "un-sexy," then Katherine Dunn found it in "The Resident Poet." Which is convenient, because that was precisely the story's intention.