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Showing posts from August, 2020

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…

New Yorker Fiction Review #248: "Heirlooms," by Bryan Washington

Review of a short story from the August 3 & 10, 2020 issue of The New Yorker...Another novel excerpt masquerading as a short story. I feel like before I read a short story in The New Yorker from now on I need to have a checklist of data-points: Is the story a reprint? Is it a novel excerpt? Does the author have a book coming out within the next six months? Etc. Etc. I used to just jump right into a story (as I think you ought to be able to do) but I feel like I need more context now if I'm going to write anything meaningful about stories which I approach just looking for the best contemporary fiction, but which are clearly often placed in The New Yorker for a variety of reasons other than that they're the best of the stories that have been submitted to the magazine. The idea that The New Yorker gets short stories in the mail and decides on which one is the best of the lot, and then publishes that one, is laughable. I wasn't super impressed with any one element of this …

New Yorker Fiction Review #247: "The Lottery," by Shirley Jackson

Review of a short story from the July 27, 2020 issue of The New Yorker...
I'm not real impressed with The New Yorker's decision to publish "The Lottery," what I consider to be a halfway decent but overrated and by now irrelevant piece of short fiction -- originally published in the magazine in 1948 -- inside an issue that dealt with much more intellectually challenging, thought-provoking, and socially relevant topics. 
The July 27th issue of The New Yorker was an archival issue -- and a really, really good issue at that, with timely stories on civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez, author Toni Morrison, AIDS activist Larry Kramer, and others -- so I guess they can be forgiven for publishing a short story most of us had forced down our throats at least twice before we even got out of high school. 
If you have never read or heard of "The Lottery," by Shirley Jackson, you either didn't go to high school in America or you skipped a lot …