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New Yorker Fiction Review #252: "Flashlight," by Susan Choi

Review of a short story from the Sept. 7, 2020 issue of The New Yorker... I'm not familiar with the work of American novelist Susan Choi, but I feel like I should be. Her name sounds familiar, her writing style seems familiar, and her face even seems familiar. It appears, however, as though I've never reviewed any of her fiction on this blog (this may be her first short story ever to appear in The New Yorker) and a quick glance at her list of published books reveals I've not read any of them. Oh well... What we have here is an emotionally gripping story that starts slow but -- much like the undertow which (***spoiler alert***) takes the life of the main character's father -- eventually sucks you in. The story is told in close third person, through the perspective of Louisa, a 10-year old girl whose father has been killed in an accident. Not only was the father killed in an accident, but Louisa was there when it happened and must cope with the aftermath. In that afterma…
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New Yorker Fiction Review #251: "The Sand Banks, 1861," by David Wright Falade

Review of a short story from the Aug. 31, 2020 issue of The New Yorker...David Wright -- who sometimes writes as David Wright Falade (there should be an accent aigu on the "e" of his last name but I can't figure out how to do that on this keyboard) -- is an American writer who has written a couple of non-fiction books, one of them about the first all-black rescue vessel in the Outer Banks of North Carolina in 1871. The book, called Fire on the Beach (2002), as well as a documentary and some TV journalism work related to the same subject, have earned apparently earned him enough literary street cred that he's now plugging his novel in The New Yorker, via short stories like this.According to the customary "This Week in Fiction" interview, with the author of that week's published New Yorker short story, Falade says the story is "adapted" from his forthcoming novel Nigh on a Border (2022) which takes place in the Outer Banks in the early days of t…

Album Review: Freeze, Melt (2020), by Cut Copy

Australian synth-pop outfit Cut Copy have developed quite a bit since they started making music about 20 years ago. Specifically, they've gone from making 80s-inspired, dance hall, "get you out of your seat" type music to something much more atmospheric and cerebral. But they've always, in my opinion, combined the old and the new, the intellectual and the guttural, and stayed on the cutting edge artistically, better than any other band I know. For me, Cut Copy continue to stand in a league of their own, resisting categorization as they continue to make good albums you want to listen to over and over. The group's latest album, Freeze, Melt, is an eight-song, 40 minute effort that follows on 2017's Haiku from Zero, my personal favorite Cut Copy album. Haiku from Zero was a sprawling, varied album that at times felt like a journey around the world and through time, as the band borrowed from the musical traditions of seemingly every continent but kept it, for the…

New Yorker Fiction Review #250: "Cicadia," by David Gilbert

Review of a short story from the Aug. 24, 2020 issue of The New Yorker...David Gilbert was born in 1967, so I don't think it's fair to call him a "young" writer but there is something about his prose that seems injected with the electricity and aimless existential angst of youth. Or maybe that's just because his short story last week -- "Cicadia" -- is about a group of suburban teenagers goofing off during the summertime. Citing the film Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) as one of the influences of this story, it reads more like Superbad (2007). The characters steal some weed from a sleeping older brother, they drive around the neighborhood looking for a house party at which to sell said weed. Naturally, one of them is obsessing over a girl who is supposed to be there. Not so naturally, one of them is struggling with whether or not to begin the process from separating himself from his friends who seem bound for mediocrity. It's an interesting enou…

New Yorker Fiction Review #249: "You Are My Dear Friend," by Madhuri Vijay

Review of a short story from the Aug. 17, 2020 issue of The New Yorker...I'm not always a big fan of everything published in The New Yorker fiction section. How could one be? They occasionally publish mediocre stuff by very famous authors, or novel excerpts meant to gin-up interest in an author's upcoming book, and I wish they published more work by truly "emerging" and/or younger authors. However, occasionally I do come across a short story that makes me take notice of a new young author for the first time, and that's one of the main reasons why I do this.Madhuri Vijay is definitely an author to watch. Her debut novel, The Far Field (2019), won India's highest literary prize, The JCB Prize for literature. She's also won a Pushcart Prize and been published in The New Yorker and Best American Non-Required Reading. I'm not one to swoon at these kinds of achievements. I feel like the work ought to speak for itself, awards or not. But after having read ev…

Book Review: A Wild Sheep Chase (1982), by Haruki Murakami

I am reading my way chronologically through the works of Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. A Wild Sheep Chase is his third novel...For those seeking an entry point into the often mysterious and at times completely inscrutable world of Haruki Murakami fiction, I can definitively say that A Wild Sheep Chase is not it. Taken by itself, out of context, just purely as a work of fiction, it does not "work" at all, in my opinion. Even placed within the context of Murakami's works, which I am endeavoring to completely wrap my arms around (by reading all of them, in order) I have to feel that this is a forgettable effort. From a purely mechanical perspective, the book is a failure. The "chase" part of the story doesn't start until half-way through the book and, even when the chase begins, it's just not very exciting. The main character ends up in an abandoned farm house just waiting around for the answer to the mystery to come to him while he smokes, drinks, eats…

Learning To Make Baguettes

I started making homemade pasta recently, which is another story altogether. But the fact is, because of making pasta, I have a ton of flour around my house now. So recently, a friend said: "Why don't you try making bread?"No suggestion had ever seemed so preposterous. Isn't there all kinds of scientific formulae involved in making bread? Yeast starter to be curried along for days on end? Temperatures and measurements to be made down to the decimal point? Where had I formed the impression that bread making was something to be left only to master chefs, professional bakers, or men in lab coats in industrial bakeries? My favorite kind of bread is the baguette. So I looked up a couple baguette recipes. To my surprise, the process seemed pretty straightforward. I had to learn a few new terms like "proofing" and "lame" (I think it's pronounced "lah-MAY") but overall, I was able to make what I consider at damn good batch of baguettes for m…