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Category Archive for 'Experimental'

The death of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till by lynching in Money, Mississippi, in 1955, serves as the starting point for a broad look at racial crime, the people who participate in it, their families, and the society in which they live and perpetuate their own version of “justice.” Author Percival Everett treats Till’s murder and those which follow with the seriousness they deserve, but he also keeps a light, often absurd touch, preventing the reader from becoming so overwhelmed by issues that s/he becomes inured to the individual horrors. Characters have unexpected names (Pinch Wheyface and Pick L. Dill, for example), and ignorance and profanity play a big role here as the murderers of Emmett, all from the same family, themselves become the victims of vengeance by unknown people. Roles get reversed, black investigators take precedence over local white police, and as lynchings spread throughout the country, they ultimately become an issue involving an unnamed former President. Unique and unforgettable in its presentation, format, and messaging.

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In what is the most engrossing collection of stories I have read in years, author Haruki Murakami introduces and continues to focus on the very meaning of reality and how one approaches it, participates in it, and finds ways to survive and enjoy it – through love, hope, trust, friendship, and any number of other imaginative ways. Though this may seem an esoteric and complex philosophical set of ideas, Murakami’s personality shines through here – and the resulting stories are not only surprisingly lively and enjoyable, but most often fun and funny. The subjects – including jazz, baseball, a talking monkey, and an unattractive woman who happens to share the speaker’s deep love of Schumann’s “Carnaval,” are offbeat but so brilliantly relatable that this reader, at least, was able to put aside any qualms about the exotic content in order to see and enjoy what the author would do with these subjects. As a result, I have now read this book twice, and can imagine reading it again regularly as a vivid reminder to take nothing for granted and to stay open to the unexpected.

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WHEREABOUTS does not identify any particular country as its setting, though it is presumably set in Italy. Author Jhumpa Lahiri is far more interested in the emotional reactions of the main character, a forty-six-year-old professor of writing, as she responds to the events affecting her. She is an independent woman, never married, though she has had serious relationships, and she cares about all aspects of her life. Choosing to tell her story by recreating brief episodes that take place in ordinary locations familiar to us all, the narrator frees herself from the necessity of co-ordinating the events of a plot in order by date. Dividing the novel into forty-six short episodes, some only a paragraph long, the narrator talks about her life – On the Street, In the Bookstore, In the Pool, In the Sun, At the Cash Register, At the Coffee Bar, etc. Strikingly, she reveals three episodes from “In My Head.” These talk about solitude as her “trade,” about the unraveling of time and the fact that sometimes she just cannot get up and out of the house, and eventually about her childhood at school when she hated recess though her friends were euphoric. Eventually, she learns that she has won a fellowship which will require her to leave her apartment, her community, her family, and her friends and move to another country for the duration. Readers will enjoy looking back at their experience with this woman, evaluating how ready she might be to leave and take on a new life, whether she is capable of finding some kind of personal fulfillment, and if she is capable of forming genuine, caring new relationships. She and her life will be challenging, no matter what she decides.

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Winner of Japan’s prestigious Akutagawa Prize in 2012, “Touring the Land of the Dead,” a novella by Maki Kashimada, has now reached a large American audience for the first time. Regarded in Japan as an avant-garde writer, Kashimada rejects many of the cliches we think of when we regard books by Japanese women as quiet, elegant, formal, and “polite.” Here Kashimada, translated by Haydn Trowell, sees the world in realistic terms and does not hesitate to depict what she sees as the sad, meaningless lives some people accept as their “due,” showing their inner turmoil and even rebellion as they try to improve life for themselves and, often, their immediate families. “Touring the Land of the Dead,” the longer and more emotionally involving of the two novellas in this debut, takes a close look at a one family which, in successive generations, has become less and less successful, reflecting the damage and even bullying imposed on some members of the family by others who take advantage of them. A hardworking wife struggles to stay afloat and caring of her husband. “Ninety-Nine Kisses,” however, is “thinner,” less thoughtful, and less involving than “Touring the Land of the Dead.” Supposedly modeled on Junichiro Tanizaki’s The Makioka Sisters, the overall atmosphere, mood, and thematic focus of “Ninety-Nine Kisses” remain very different from the Tanizaki novel.

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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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