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Showing posts from November, 2017

New Yorker Fiction Review #191: "Deaf and Blind" by Lara Vapnyar

Review of a short story from the April 24, 2017 issue of The New Yorker... Lara Vapnyar's story "Deaf and Blind" fits squarely into the genre of short story I like to call the "My Messed-Up Childhood" genre. When you read enough short stories, you can't help but start putting them into categories. Only Lara Vapnyar's stories, taking place in communist Russia in the 70s, are that much more unique and entrancing. There is no discernible plot to "Deaf and Blind," parts of it are even uncomfortable to the point of being downright "willies-inducing," and yet somehow it's hard to take your eyes away from it, all the same. The world is a pretty bizarre place viewed through the eyes of a 10 year old girl, and Lara Vapnyr's worlds are even more so. I felt the most genuine part of the story was when Vapnyar's narrator talks of her times spent waiting for her father to come for his weekend visits, and the things her father wo

New Yorker Fiction Review #190: "You Are Happy?" by Akhil Sharma

Review of a short story from the April 17, 2017 issue of The New Yorker... This offering by frequent New Yorker fiction contributor Akhil Sharma is a deeply disturbing one. Essentially, a young Indian boy growing up in America (in the 70s, I think?) watches his mother slip further and further into alcoholism until finally she is shipped back to India, to her parents, and murdered. Sharma's "material" throughout the years has been to look head-on at the harshness and seeming alien-ness (to North Americans, at least) of certain aspects of Indian culture. This story takes aim directly that misogyny and utter lack of sympathy with which his mother's alcoholism is treated. I mean...they have the poor lady killed , for Pete's sake. And all because a.) she had a disease, and b.) the disease was exacerbated by the fact that she was probably miserable living in the restrictive, misogynist environment she was living in. The other arresting element in the story is w

Book Review: The Italians, by John Hooper

John Hooper's The Italians (2105, Viking) is a frank and intriguing look at modern-day Italy, it's people and institutions. Hooper brings in an appropriate amount of history into the discussion, enough necessary for an understanding of the modern day society, but mostly keeps his focus on the present tense, which is nice. A couple chapters turned into a bit of a slog, notably the one about the legal system, and -- surprisingly -- the one about the mafia. How someone can make a subject like the mafia seem dry is kind of beyond me, but in a sense I appreciate Hooper's attempt to deliver only the facts and to put this particular topic, one that often gets blown way out of proportion when associated with Italy, in its proper place as just one small aspect of Italian society. Oddly, what one comes away with after reading this book is that the Italian people are at once clever, vain, superstitious, egotistical, sensitive, extremely family-oriented, backward, clannish, provi

New Yorker Fiction Review #189: "Northeast Regional" by Emma Cline

Review of a short story from the April 10, 2017 issue of The New Yorker... I loved this story and I loved this character. Emma Cline does a really good job of bringing depth and significance to what might have otherwise been a pretty boring "metro" story. A metro story, as you might recall (though probably not) from one of my past posts is a story about middle- or upper-middle class white people, set in an urban or suburban setting, and in which the characters deal with problems that aren't really problems, and in which nothing much happens. "Northeast Regional" fits in precisely into the the mold of a metro story (hell, the story is named after a train) but somehow did not come off as boring and uninspired as most metro stories do. I think that's because Emma Cline really took the time to develop the main character fully. Even if nothing happens (Richard travels by train to his son's prep school, thinks about his much-younger girlfriend, talks

New Yorker Fiction Review #188: "Signal" by John Lanchester

Review of a short story from the April 3, 2017 issue of The New Yorker... Amidst all the high-minded (read: boring), supposedly literary fiction that shows up in the pages of The New Yorker -- you know, the beautifully-written stuff in which nothing actually happens -- we the faithful readers of this august publication are occasionally treated to a story by someone like John Lanchester who really knows how to weave a tale and does so in a compact, compelling, cant-turn-away-from-it-for-a-moment kind of way. Someone once said (and I'm paraphrasing): If you're going to write about someone, write about a king. Meaning, essentially, that writing about outlandishly rich or powerful characters is the way to go because, let's face it, who among us is not captivated by the idea of extreme wealth and/or power? Maybe a few of us. But in the case of "Signal," John Lanchester (a former journalist who writes a lot about money) does well to set up this story in the unbeli

Restaurant Review: Acorn, in Shadyside

You may remember a long-time Shadyside fixture called Thai Place that sat on the East end of the Walnut St. business district, near the intersection of Ivy St. It was a good place to get some better-than-average Thai food, even if the service was a little less than friendly. Thai Place had been around so long, I distinctly remember going there for dinner when I was in college back in the late 90s. Anyway...it's gone. And a restaurant called Acorn has taken it's place. My girlfriend and I ate at Acorn last week on a whim and had an excellent meal. We had the salt beets as the appetizer (I get beet salad literally ever chance I get). She had a pork chop, I had the lamb. Washed down with a couple glasses each of a nice Cotes du Rhone and a dessert, the name of which I cannot remember. Rarely have I had American cuisine done so complexly and with so much "going on" on my plate. My lamb came with a little merguez sausage on the side, done over top some lentils, and