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Category Archive for '0-2021 Reviews'

In the opening sentence from the approximately three hundred words of the first episode of this 1968 classic, author Alfred Hayes, reveals his immense talents in creating characters and dramatic scenes in as few words as possible. A successful screenwriter, TV writer, novelist, and poet throughout the mid-twentieth century, Hayes establishes the current life circumstances of Asher, the as-yet-unnamed main character, going straight to the point regarding the state of the man’s marriage, his refusal to recognize that reality, his feelings of failure at work, and his fears of getting old, upon which he blames all his problems. Spying on his wife through the window of their house outside of Hollywood late at night, the man realizes, “I was finished.” The next day, when his wife is gone, he goes to the house, packs up everything he thinks he will need in New York, and leaves. There he reconnects with an aunt, who refers to him as Asher, and meets a young relative, Michael, who wants to be a writer, along with his girlfriend, Aurora, who is also attracted to Asher. He has had little experience dealing with devious people; screenwriting and filming being predictable protocols., but real life with two ambitious young people providing your “entertainment” is something else. Neither of them is who Asher thinks s/he is. Each quarrels with Asher at times and each plays games – both real and psychological. Ultimately, as Asher describes for the reader the exact nature of his breakup with his wife, the reader sees him still trying desperately to connect with Michael and Aurora. Ultimately, Asher belatedly reaches conclusions about himself – as does the reader of this dark and dramatic novel of a very late coming-of-age.

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The narrator of The Twilight Zone, Nona Fernández’s latest novel, admits to having been transfixed as a child by a man who was a soldier, torturer, murderer, and supporter of a military regime that repressed all dissent. She had seen his picture on the cover of the magazine Cauce on August 27, 1984, when she was thirteen, in a magazine that had been passed from hand to hand among her classmates. The testimonies of victims and their families were accompanied by diagrams and drawings that “looked like something out of a book from the Middle Ages,” and the speaker admits that she often dreamed about this soldier-murderer, haunted and perplexed by his story of making people disappear. An intelligence agent for the Chilean military during the presidency of Augusto Pinochet (1974 – 1990), the soldier finally reached his breaking point, unable to withstand the horrors any longer. Presenting himself to a reporter for Cauce, he told his story in “pages and pages of details about what he had done, including names, descriptions of torture methods, and accounts of his many missions.” To the thirteen-year-old narrator, “He didn’t seem like a monster or an evil giant, or some psychopath…The man who tortured people could have been anybody. Even our teacher.” Much of this novel feels clearly autobiographical, the details of the speaker’s life often emphasizing the ironies in what is happening in the wider world, be it the TV shows from Twilight Zone and Brain Games, or music like the theme song from Ghostbusters, and the Billy Joel song, “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” A sensitive, dramatic, and unforgettable novel of fascism in Chile.

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In this complex and compressed experimental novel, Brazilian author Beatriz Bracher conveys the secrets and innermost connections of the Kremz family as they live their lives over the course of four generations. Benjamim, addressed in the opening quotation, is the second member of his immediate family to have borne that name – the previous Benjamim, his uncle, having died under circumstances traumatic for the family. Benjamim has never learned all the details of his uncle’s death. All he knows is that it affected those he loved in major ways. Since many of these family members have now passed away, Benjamim has decided to ask family friends who were close to the events and to the people involved to tell him the story of the other Benjamim, to help him understand how his own life might have been different if the lives of those closest to him had been different. Helping him learn about the past and its effects on later events are Isabel, his grandmother, who is still active and important in much of this story; Haroldo, a lawyer, who was the best friend of his grandfather, Xavier; and Raul, a writer who was a classmate of Teodoro, Benjamim’s father. Each has a different slant on the events, the nature of the men who have dominated the action, and the questions in the younger Benjamim’s life.

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In a novel which defies genre, written in a style which feels like a cross between Wilkie Collins and Bram Stoker, Irish author Paraic O’Donnell creates a complex mystery set in London in the late nineteenth century. Fun to read, often humorous, just as often mysterious or violent, and filled with vibrant description of all kinds, The House on Vesper Sands stands out for its uniqueness among all recently released novels for the year. Providing gothic thrills at the same time that it also creates an intense picture of Victorian spiritualism, ghostly manifestations, and changing church practices, it is structured as a formal religious Requiem from 1893, at the same time that it features ironies and elements of humor which will provide some hearty laughs. And always, always, the author remembers that his primary goal with this novel is to entertain.

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When her husband Sam dies alone of a heart attack in the minutes that she has been waiting to join him at a favorite restaurant in Vermont, devoted wife Antonia makes it her primary focus to create an afterlife for him. She needs something that will enable her to relive memories and past events with him while she lives her everyday life. When Mario, a young, undocumented worker from Mexico who works on the nearest farm, comes to clean her gutters, he eventually asks for a favor – Will she please help him call his girlfriend who is now in the US but far away from him in Vermont? Developing her themes of love and loss in life and death as they affect Antonia, Julia Alvarez creates several subplots involving other characters, all reflecting powerful emotions without descending into sentimentality or maudlin self-analysis. Mario, his girlfriend Estela, and José, his fellow worker on the farm, are one plot, dealing with the problems of illegal immigrants desperate to create new lives in the US. The second plot line revolves around a get-together of Antonia and her three sisters in Massachusetts to celebrate her birthday. The failure of sister Izzy to appear for the celebration, as promised, becomes the all-consuming issue for the other sisters for many days, and the need for Antonia to be present as they and the police all search for Izzy force her to be out of state when some of the issues involving Mario and his undocumented girlfriend are becoming critical. Abandonment, betrayal, the sadness of loss, and anger lead to personal growth, further develop the original themes, and flesh out this dramatic and sensitive novel.

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