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Showing posts from 2014

Par-Don't!....Alan Pardew to leave Newcastle United for Crystal Palace

Well there it is, folks...Pardew is OUT. But not in the way I'm sure a lot of Newcastle supporters would've hoped eight or ten weeks ago when the "Sack Pardew" campaign was in full-force and Newcastle were looking pretty ineffectual. In the interim, Newcastle went on a run of about six straight wins including league wins over Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham, just to name a few, and most recently Everton. Even if they took a slight dip there a couple weeks ago, it had seemed, quite unequivocally, like they were "back."

And then...in a matter of about 48 hours, emerges the news that Alan Pardew was at first in talks with Crystal Palace and then that he was, quite confirmedly, headed there to begin coaching as of the first of the year. I've heard his NUFC assistants have already taken over.


I can understand Pardew's wanting to go; he's got history with CP and he's originally from the south of England. And...there's the whole "Sack Par…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Empties" by Jess Row

Issue: Nov. 3, 2014

Story: "The Empties"

Author: Jess Row

Rating: $$$

Review: Pretty soon I'm gonna have to start calling this blog the Meta-Fictional Review. It's getting to the point where every other story inThe New Yorker relies heavily on meta-fiction. I'm wondering if this is an actual, verifiable literary trend, a coincidence, or something that's been going on for a while and that I'm just now noticing. Knowing how late-to-the-game I normally am on things like this, I'm gonna have to go with the latter; however, in January I'll have been reviewing New Yorker stories for two solid years, and in that time I've never seen a run of meta-fictional stories as consistent as I have the past few weeks/months.

From the looks of it, Jess Row is another one of those young writers (40 this year) who has spent his 20s and 30s building the foundation for a serious and distinguished Literary (with a capital L) career. He's bona fide, the real thing. MF…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Alan Bean Plus Four" by Tom Hanks

Issue: Oct. 27, 2014

Story: "Alan Bean Plus Four"

Author: Tom Hanks

Rating: Meh

Review: First off, let's get a few things out of the way: Yes, it's thatTom Hanks, and No, the story is not that good.

After my little Murakami love-fest last week, I'm all out of celebrity author worship. Which is good, because I absolutely love the actor Tom Hanks and, had this story hit me at another time, I could envision a situation in which (while not exactly gushing about it (cause, it's not that remarkable)) I might have gone a little softer on "Alan Bean Plus Four." And I'm glad of that because, frankly, actors who make $30 million per year don't deserve free passes.

Channeling his Apollo 13 days (I guess), "Alan Bean Plus Four" is a tonge-in-cheek comedy that tells the story of a DIY space flight conducted in a scrapped Apollo era space capsule. The narrator talks of how much technology has changed since 1969 and how relatively easy it is to get t…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Ordinary Sins" by Kirstin Valdez Quade

Issue: Oct. 20, 2014

Story: "Ordinary Sins"

Author:Kirstin Valdez Quade

Rating: $

Review: Kirstin Valdez Quade seems to be establishing a nice little career for herself in the world of American Letters. I use the diminutive "little" there because, for a writer, let's face it: she's a baby. She recently received a National Book Foundation "5 Under 35" Award (which I didn't even know was a thing until about three minutes ago) and has amassed a nice list of publications in places like Best American Short Stories and The New Yorker, as well as a book. In other words, she's got the chops and the resume of a great fiction writer at the start of what could be a long and distinguished career...or she could be on her way to becoming another blip on the radar screen with a lot of other blips. But right now, she's pulling up trees.

"Ordinary Sins" is a miniature exploration into Catholic and human values through the eyes of Crystal, a young…

New Yorker Review: "Scheherazade" by Haruki Murakami

Issue: October 13, 2014

Story: "Scheherazade"

Author: Haruki Murakami

Rating: $$$

Review: One does not simply "walk" into Mordor, and one does not simply "review" a Haruki Murakami story. It's difficult for me to explain precisely why that is. Let's start with the simple fact that Haruki Murakami is an enormously gifted and successful writer who has published dozens of books and is known and loved all over the world, especially by serious readers. He's easily one of the greatest living long-form prose fiction writers alive today. For that reason alone, I feel a little small as I step up the bat to review this story.

The other reason it feels strange to review a Murakami story is that, quite simply, he doesn't write as though he's submitting his stories and characters for anyone's approval. His stories just are. They exist. It would be like trying to review a tree or a mountain. He takes time and care with his stories and that time and …

Playboy Fiction Review: "Perfida" by James Ellroy

Issue: September 2014

Novel Exerpt: from Perfida (2014)

Author: James Ellroy

Rating: $$

Review: When you read a book or short story by James Ellroy, you pretty much know what to expect. It will be a crime/detective story. It will be set in Los Angeles. It will take place in the 1930s or 1940s. And above all, it will be pure noir. James Ellroy did not invent noir but he is the reigning Champion, the King, the Chairman of the Board of modern day noir fiction. And when it comes to L.A. noir -- a separate and distinct category -- forget about it: he's God. So it's no surprise that this story (novel) takes place in Los Angeles in 1941 and that it's good.

This part of the novel takes place not only in 1941, but on the night before a very infamous date in 1941...you guessed it: the attack on Pearl Harbor. Even more interesting is that one of the main characters in the book, Detective Ashida, is gay and a Japanese American. Imagine how weird things are going to get for him in about 24…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Story, With Bird" by Kevin Canty

Issue: Oct. 6, 2014

Story: "Story, With Bird"

Author:Kevin Canty

Rating: $$$$

Review: There is a special place in my heart for the fiction of Kevin Canty. His story "Mayfly," from the January 28, 2013 issue of the New Yorker, was the story that made me want to start writing weekly reviews of the NYer fiction. At the very least, that story was the tipping point where I said that occasionally reading the NYer fiction wasn't enough; I realized that the absolute best contemporary short fiction was being delivered to my door every week and, as an aspiring writer myself, I needed to not only be reading it every week but studying the stories, analyzing them. To what ultimate good would this endeavor ever come? How long would I last? When would I know when I'd done "enough" and no longer needed to read and write about the story each week? I don't know, and I still don't know. What I do know is, discovering authors like Kevin Canty is what makes this p…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Rosendale" by Paul La Farge

Issue: Sept. 29, 2014

Story: "Rosendale"

Author:Paul La Farge

Rating: $

Review: Jeeze..."meta-fiction" is all the rage these days, eh? Seems like you can't throw a copy of The Crying of Lot 49 in a Barnes and Noble anymore without hitting a meta-fictional something or other. It's all over the place: books, short stories, film. It's all about the story within the story, or else it's about a writer/filmmaker's inward and outward struggle to write/make the book/film. Have we run out of things to write about, so that we now have to turn -- increasingly -- to the subject of creating art itself as a subject? Or is it just that everyone and their Aunt Judy fancies themselves a writer/filmmaker these days. I'd say it's some unfortunate combination of the two.

To be fair, meta-fiction has been around for a while, probably as long as story-telling itself. The ancient Greek and Roman epics all start out with in invocation of the muse, drawing attention…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Jack, July" by Victor Lodato

Issue: Sept. 22, 2014

Story: "Jack, July"

Author:Victor Lodato

Rating: $$$$

Review: This is the best New Yorker story I've read since Greg Jackson's "Wagner in the Desert" from over the summer, and easily one of my top five of 2014...probably in my top two, along with said story.

The story covers one desperate day in the life of a meth-addict named Jack, who is suffering withdrawal symptoms on the Fourth of July on the oppressively hot streets of suburban Albuquerque. Told in a close third-person voice, the twisted, spinning, disjointed, unreliable nature of the narrative is like looking at Jack's world through a kaleidoscope.

Jack's memory and perceptions have been collapsed and tainted by meth, and Lodato does an incredible job of pulling that off through the narrative. Coming down off his most recent high, Jack returns to his girlfriend's house, looking to cop, only to find that she's no longer his girlfriend and has not been for a year. In f…

Playboy Fiction Review: "Extreme (Part III)" by Don Winslow

Issue: July/August 2014

Story: "Extreme (Part III)"

Author: Don Winslow

Rating: Triple Meh

Review: I've said this before, but I think it bears repeating: I wish there were some sort of mystical Bureau of Inane and Meaningless Statistics, so that I could see how many people there are in the world who actually took the time out of their lives to read not one but all three installments of this no-doubt very well-intentioned but mostly un-exciting piece of action fiction published over three consecutive issues of Playboy Magazine this summer. I would bet my left ass-cheek (a sizable wager, I assure you) that number can be counted on one hand. As for how many people have taken the time to blog about this story? I would say: two. Why two? Because there have to be at least a couple whack-o Don Winslow fanatics out there who drool over everything that comes off the guy's pen, and at least ONE of those whackos has to have a blog (hey, it takes one to know one (bloggers, not Don W…

My Premier League Week 10 Highlights

Tottenham over Aston Villa: It might not've been pretty and it might not have answered any real questions about Tottenham's ineffectuality, but Spurs' two-goals in six minutes comeback over Aston Villa to win the game and earn three much needed points...was about the most exciting thing I saw all weekend on the football pitch. If you really break it down, Spurs dominated possession, shots on goal, and just about every other stat they keep track of in soccer, yet still looked pretty much impotent against Aston Villa, who put in an early 15' goal off a clinical cross right into the box. Tottenham's two late-game goals came from a corner kick and a deflected free kick, after Aston Villa had gone a man down, having lost Benteke to a red card. The takeaways from this game: 1.) Tottenham's Harry Kane (scorer of the go-ahead free kick goal) looks to be a game-changer and Pochettino would be wise to start him next week, 2.) Tottenham still need to figure out what the h…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Dinosaurs on Other Planets" by Danielle McLaughlin

Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

Story: "The Dinosaurs on Other Planets"

Author:Danielle McLaughlin

Rating: $/Meh

Review: This story was definitely what I'd call a "creeper." Meaning, during the first page it was all I could do to keep my eyes from glazing over; I'd read nutritional labels more interesting. But then, I don't know...McLaughlin managed to push me through that mysterious "wall" that exists in all fiction, the wall that separates you from the author's world, the wall you have to break through in order to really be "inside" the piece. Sometimes you break through that wall early, sometimes you break through it late, sometimes not at all. Sometimes the wall is thick and difficult to get through, sometimes....you get it.

In this story, the "wall" came late and it was hard to get through, but it came. I won't say what I found on the opposite side of the wall was ground-breaking or incredibly noteworthy or what have you, bu…

ProSoccerTalk's EPL Team of the Week

Quick round-up of some of the standout performers of Week 9:

http://prosoccertalk.nbcsports.com/2014/10/28/video-premier-league-team-of-the-week-stars-of-matchday-9/

Sammy Ameobi would definitely get my vote for "Impact Player of the Week" if there were such a thing. His goal vs. Tottenham eight seconds into the 2nd half completely turned the game around for Newcastle and may have turned their whole season around, demonstrating what's possible when sheer hunger and determination are pitted against smugness and complacency.

Sweet Release: Newcastle defeat Spurs on the road...

Well bloody hell...there's life in the Magpies yet. After a lackluster first half which saw them standing around like zombies and allowing the Spurs to go up 1-0 in the 18th minute, Newcastle United turned into a different football team and came back to score two goals in the second half to earn not only their second win, but their first win against a "real" top tier club.

Frankly, the Magpies are lucky that Tottenham didn't go up 5-0 in the first half, given the lifeless way they were playing. It was as if they had no confidence, no spunk, no guts. But then, something happened...

When the players lined up to start the 2nd half, Newcastle striker Shola Ameobi lined up far out on
the left wing while his counterpart on Tottenham, Eric Dier, sort of dilly-dallied his way out onto the pitch. The whistle was blown, and Ameobi made a fast run down the left flank past the still sleeping Dier and, lo and behold, connected with a miraculous through-ball from Jack Colback to …

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Motherlode" by Thomas McGuane

Issue: Sept. 8th, 2014

Story: "Motherlode"

Author: Thomas McGuane

Rating: Triple Meh

Review: You're not going to find someone under the age of 50 more willing to defend Tom McGuane than myself. I was introduced to his books in my late teens by my father, right around the time when I was getting into Hunter S. Thompson. McGuane's early stuff sounded, to me, like the kind of fiction HST would've written had he dedicated his life to fiction and not journalism, and so I loved it. Even if his later novels have gotten a little prosey and difficult to get through, his early works like The Sporting Club and Ninety-Two in the Shade are among my all-time favorite books; the books that have made and will make every move with me no matter where I go or if I ever read them again. I get positively giddy every time I see his name on the ToC of the New Yorker, because I know I'm in for a good yarn about lovably dysfunctional characters living in rural worlds that time has mostly…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "One Saturday Morning" by Tessa Hadley

Issue: August 25th, 2014

Story: "One Saturday Morning"

Author:Tessa Hadley

Rating: Meh

Review: Tessa Hadley is adept at creating ornate little middle-class, 1960s/70s English worlds and peopling them with confused, curious, slightly precocious children and tweenagers and incompletely fleshed-out adult characters. It's as if all of her NYer stories (and maybe her whole oeuvre, I don't really know) could be taking place in the same neighborhood at the same time. While she's expert at creating these worlds she often falls flat when it comes to making anything significant happen within those worlds. We get a lot of detail about what the main character is thinking and feeling but when it finally comes to the plot or the "twist" or just the end-cap to the story, I'm usually left feeling disappointed. This story falls into that category.

With that said, I will admit I liked this story better than all the others I've read from her in the NYer (and that'…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Picasso" by Cesar Aira

Issue: Aug. 11 & 18th, 2014

Story: "Picasso"

Author:Cesar Aira

Rating: $

Review: As you can see (and assuming you care) I'm doing yet another story out of order here. IDK. It's been a seriously busy autumn with trips to New York, D.C., San Francisco, and W.Va. (yes, West Virginia) all in the space of about five weeks. I've been away from home for weeks at a time, in and out of airports, jolted back and forth cabs, crammed into buses, living out of my suitcase, flopping on whatever hotel bed or spare room or couch happens to be my resting place for the night, eating too much meat, drinking too much booze, never quite getting to settle down even when I do make it home because I know I've got to hit the road again soon. And this weekend I've got ANOTHER trip, this time to Cadillac, Michigan for my good buddy and resident-expert-on-everything Andrew Soliday's bachelor party. All of which is to say: if I haven't been able to do my short fiction reviewi…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Refrees" by Joseph O'Neill

Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

Story: "The Referees"

Author:Joseph O'Neill

Rating: Double "Meh"

Review: This story has had plenty of time to simmer inside my head, as I read it about a week ago. And, as your resident expert short fiction reviewer, I can certify that absolutely nothing about this story stayed with me, other than the cutesy little shell-game O'Neill pulls-off with the title to the story (Hint: It's not about sports referees! Tee hee hee...barf). When your story relies on a gimmick like that you're taking a big, big gamble; mostly, you're hoping that your story is good enough to overcome or sort of earn the gimmick. This story did not.

Basically, an under-achiever in his mid-30s is coming off the breakup of a very serious relationship and has decided to move back to New York. In order for him to get the apartment he wants, he must get three character references (hence, the "referees"); however, his proves more difficult than he'd i…

Alan Pardew: In the wolf's mouth...

I'll tell you the full story sometime, but...somehow early in the English Premier League season I committed the woeful blunder of becoming attached to the Newcastle United Football Club, a miniature obsession that has already caused me nothing but pain and frustration and--like the underdog-loving, guilt-ridden, glutton-for-punishment that I am--the more pain and frustration the club cause me the more steely becomes my resolve to keep rooting for them.

In five games, they've lost two and drawn three. Not a single win to their credit as yet, and with a -6 goal differential, they're even positioned below Burnely FC, who've only managed a single goal in five games. At least I was treated to a three goal fist-clencher against Crystal Palace a few weeks ago and a 2-2 draw today with Hull City....so unlike Burnley supporters, I at least know my club can be coaxed to rise to the occasion with a few goals, but shit...
The Magpies finished 10th in the league last year and if al…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Last Meal at Whole Foods," by Said Sayrafiezadeh

Issue: July 28, 2014

Story: "Last Meal at Whole Foods"

Author: Said Sayrafiezadeh

Review: This is officially the first time this has happened, but I'm covering this story out of order. Apparently I skipped over this one amid the raft of NYer issues that have piled up on my nightstand since late July. I could make a dozen excuses here, but why bother...

Frankly, I could've lived the rest of my life and never known or cared that I'd skipped over this particular dose of pabulum. But for my eternal vigilance and unwillingness to falter in my NYer reviewing quest, I probably wouldn't have even bothered to write a review.

This story covers a young man's final days with his mother, who is dying of cancer. That's an interesting enough premise (who knows anymore), but this author completely mis-handles it. First off, his mother is a cipher; I spent 3,000 words in this guy's head and I still don't know jack shit about her. Secondly, this is one of those st…

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Action" by Paul Theroux

Issue: August 4, 2014

Story: "Action"

Author: Paul Theroux

Review: I am fantastically un-enthused by this offering from Paul Theroux, which is a bit of a bummer cause I usually like his stories with their exotic locations and undertones of darkness and sexuality. Not only was this story not that engaging, but it seemed like half a story and the resolution was just a complete let-down.

The plot...a sheltered, working-class kid in mid-20th century Boston has an older and more mischievous friend who introduces him to his girlfriend, who may or may not be a prostitute. One day the sheltered kid goes back to visit the sort-of prostitute and gets roughed up by one of her male callers. He returns to his father, who seems to know that his son has been up to no good.

Hey...it seems like an okay premise for a story. But somehow Theroux manages to prevent any real emotion or suspense from seeping in here. The depiction of the boy's over-bearing father was lukewarm, and only got slight…

Diego Costa Bookends Everton

Simply incredible soccer today at Goodison Park with Everton at home vs. Chelsea; more of a boxing match, actually, which Chelsea ultimately prevailing 6-3. It was a lot closer than it looked though, and maybe should've been 3-3. Everton scored an own-goal and Chelsea's first two were a little "offsides-y" if you ask me and just about everyone else at the match (including, probably, Chelsea).

Chelsea came out swinging with two very early goals, the first one by Diego Costa to keep his three game scoring streak going. After that it was simply a cracker of game. Probably the most exciting football I've seen all year. I realize I must say that once a blog post but THIS TIME IT'S TRUE. Such a fast-paced, attacking game, I barely had a chance to recover from the previous goal in time before the next one was flying in. And? What should be the perfect way to cap-off the game but with Diego Costa clipping in a crisp low-angle goal from just two or three yards outside…

Newcastle United Can't Polish-Off Crystal Palace

Bollocks!! What a frustrating end to and otherwise exciting, gritty 90 minutes of soccer....

My pet, mid-table obsession, Newcastle United, have played pretty luke-warm ball to this point--a lot of earnest mid-field possession and some decent defense, but without a single goal (or really even a convincing chance) in two games. All of that changed today.

I tuned-in at about the 10' mark and the Magpies were already down, apparently having conceded a goal in the first 30 seconds of the game. Anyway, I could see the intensity in their eyes and in their relentless, almost frantic attacking play: they were not going down easily.

After a tense 30 or so minutes in which they seemed to control the game, Daryl Janmaat dumped in a little one-yarder that had been pinballing around in the box a bit. Not the prettiest goal, but Newcastle had tied the game heading into the half.

Crystal Palace looked determined coming out of half time and it was clear the tenor of the game had changed in their …

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Wagner in the Desert," by Greg Jackson

Sometimes the more I like a story the longer it takes me to write about it. Partly I'm waiting to collect my
thoughts and not rush my blog post; partly I'm waiting to see if the story provides me any "after-shock." By after-shock I mean whether or not the story comes up in my thoughts over the next week or whether any deeper meaning becomes apparent. Sometimes, I hesitate out of the simple reluctance of not wanting the experience to be over, and knowing that there's no way my 500 word blog post (no matter how long I spend on it) is going to do justice to how much I liked the story.

In this case, it's a bit of all three. To me, this story is distinctly "un-New Yorker"-ish, therefore it hit me like a searing bolt of lightning. What we have here is a truly contemporary voice that places itself within the context of the literary tradition it's trying to advance; a voice that belongs wholly and completely to 2014 while engaging with the great ficti…