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Original Essays | September 18, 2014

Lin Enger: IMG Knowing vs. Knowing



On a hot July evening years ago, my Toyota Tercel overheated on a flat stretch of highway north of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A steam geyser shot up from... Continue »

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zenithblue has commented on (3) products.

Like Never Before by Ehud Havazelet
Like Never Before

zenithblue, September 1, 2011

Like Never Before is a novel-in-stories by Ehud Havazelet, each tale of the collection a singular story but all of them pivoting around the Birnbaum family (and specifically, David Birnbaum, a man we see across three decades). If there's an epicenter to the tales, it lies in the strained relations between David and his father, and the way David struggles beneath the weight of family history. David, over the course of his life, rejects the Orthodox Judaism of his father (a Holocaust survivor) and grandfather (a rabbi) out of little more than a willful desire to throw off the expectations of his family, and out of a child's desire to hurt his temperamental and sometimes abusive father. Of course denying your roots is never so easy.

Havazelet's prose is graceful in the extreme, inventive and beautiful. Even better, in spite of the bleak subject matter--pain and dysfunction and the Holocaust--the novel doesn't get dragged down by bathos or pathos either one. The stories are about life, and they are lively. They are about the failures of family, but there's also tiny vivid successes, human beings finding some part of love, finding ways to get by. They're also funny, with a great sense of the little absurdities that mark our path through pain.

One of my favorite aspects of the work are the incredibly deft endings to the stories. There's never the pat "epiphany" that passes for closure in a lot of contemporary short fiction; instead he leaves us with complicated and nuanced moments of connection or convergence. Some of the pieces are astonishingly good on their own merit; "The Street You Live On" and "Leah" were simply breathtaking tales. Put all together, they make a detail-rich and deeply touching picture of a the old world casting its seed into the new.

If you liked The Corrections or The Ice Storm, or are looking for a very satisfying and literate domestic novel, I highly recommend this one.
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The Echo Maker by Richard Powers
The Echo Maker

zenithblue, September 1, 2011

Plotwise, The Echo Maker is relatively simple; Mark Schluter, a twenty-something slacker from a small town in Nebraska, flips his truck in an accident on an icy stretch of road in the middle of nowhere. His older sister Karin, after years of trying to escape her roots, is brought back to care for him. But Mark, his brain damaged from the accident, displays symptoms of a rare syndrome known as Capgras; he believes that his sister has been replaced by a doppelganger or government spy.

The story is at heart a mystery. The Schluters try desperately to piece together what happened on the night of Mark's accident, aided only by an enigmatic note left by Mark's bedside at the hospital. The mystery of the accident, though, is enclosed in a wider mystery: the mystery of consciousness, understanding, self. To that end Karin Schluter calls in a medical expert, Dr. Gerald Weber, a neurologist and writer who ends up facing his own identity crisis after being faced with Mark's.

Powers' prose is dense and rich, and in some ways he writes like a modernist; there is the same interest in the fractured self, the same homage to the complexity of consciousness, the same intricate wordplay. If Woolf or Faulkner had a background in neurology, they might have explored territory similar to this. And then too there's the indelible touch of Hardy on the novel, the landscape-as-character, the way lives are determined as much by geography as by chemicals and hormones and genetics.

Neurology, anthropology, zoology, psychology--there's a lot of heavy intellectual lifting in this book. Powers sifts his simple story through the scientific advances and ecological disasters of the last few decades. What you get is a narrative as knotty and variegated as mind itself.

Some readers will be turned off by what will no doubt be called excesses, or by the labyrithine writing. It took me nearly three weeks to finish, but I was dazzled. If you are a reader who not only tolerates complexity but craves it, you are Powers' target audience. Challenge yourself to read this book.
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(1 of 1 readers found this comment helpful)



Core: A Romance by Kassten Alonso
Core: A Romance

zenithblue, June 26, 2006

Beautiful, heartbreaking story told in incredible prose--the writing works the way Virginia Woolf's does in that it actually creates the internal and external world of the protagonist rather than describing it from a distance. The experience is harrowing--we are taken directly into a profound isolation, the unhinged subjectivity of someone lost to the world, and yet still distressingly human. If you like modernist prose, classical themes, and a savage contemporary intelligence, this book is absolutely for you.
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(4 of 9 readers found this comment helpful)



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