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Category Archive for 'Experimental'

In Some Trick, a collection of thirteen thoughtful and challenging stories, author Helen DeWitt calls to mind a mood similar to that of her first published novel, The Last Samurai, published in 2000. Short-listed for the prestigious IMPAC Dublin Award, The Last Samurai tells the story of a single mother, Sybilla, as she brings up her genius son Ludo. DeWitt had written fifty novels before she felt comfortable enough with The Last Samurai to submit it for publication, and it was a ground-breaking literary success when it was published in 2000. Lightning Rods, her second novel, eleven years later, was a similar critical success, though less popular. Some Trick examines difficult issues about writing, publishing, an artist’s relationships with the public, the involvement of agents and representatives who sometimes distort an artist’s goals in the name of sales, the dependence of creative scholars on outsiders for professional survival, and the lonely life of a creative artist who will never be fully understood. The stories, darkly satiric and sometimes eerie or bizarre, are also heady, intense, concentrated, and often difficult, and the overall intellectualism of the collection is so weighty that readers unfamiliar with DeWitt would do well to read the more charming and character-driven The Last Samurai first. Some Trick, read leisurely, is a fascinating encore for those, who crave more.

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Author Helen DeWitt expresses her admiration, at one point, for “the type of person who thinks boredom a fate worse than death.” And she obviously writes for this type of reader as she performs amazing literary and scholarly acrobatics in this unique and energetic novel which never flags–and certainly never bores! Main character Sybilla is the hard-working, single mother of Ludo, a 6-year-old genius who gobbles up even the most complicated subjects, seemingly overnight, and DeWitt incorporates many esoteric subjects here–Japanese language, Greek verbs, Icelandic verse, Fourier’s analysis, Arabic, astrophysics, and tournament chess, bridge, and piquet, among other things—as she describes their intellectual daily life together. Despite Sybilla’s arcane subjects and complex ideas, DeWitt manages to write so entertainingly about them that they enhance, rather than obscure, the human story at the heart of the novel, when Ludo studies Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai and then set tests for seven men, one of whom might by his unknown father.

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Set in Berlin and Tokyo in the 1930s, Swiss author Christian Kracht’s latest novel offers an unusual fictional vision of the prewar years in Germany and Japan – one in which the primary focus of the author – and ultimately of his two main characters – is not that of reality as much as it is of cinema: Life and the future can be controlled in a film, even if they can not be controlled in real life. Emil Nageli, a young Swiss film director nearing his thirtieth birthday, has been in Berlin talking with the Reich Minister, who believes that a well-made horror film – “an allegory, if you like, of the coming dread” – would attract much attention, even in America. He also wants to involve the Japanese, however, since he believes that they “will sooner or later subdue the Asian continent.” Masahiko Amakasu, a Japanese film maker and admirer of Nageli, hopes to establish a relationship with the Germans. Amakasu, too, envisions film changing the world, hoping that a Japanese film will “counteract the seeming omnipotence of American cultural imperialism.” A thin plot connects some well developed characters as real characters mix with fictional characters and the action fades to a conclusion.

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Falling somewhere between a novel and a story collection, The Reservoir Tapes by Jon McGregor continues a narrative which began with his earlier novel, Reservoir 13. Though both books revolve around the disappearance of Becky Shaw, here the author takes the reader inside the characters, all of whom are featured in their own chapters. Here they reveal their inner thoughts and memories, their fears, vulnerabilities, quirks, and even suggestions of past violence. Individualized in this way, these chapters create a sense of hidden danger and violence, raising new questions about what really happened to Becky Shaw, and forcing the reader to consider whether someone in the community has hidden knowledge of what happened to her. People who have read and liked the prize-winning Reservoir 13 will have an advantage in reading this book because of their familiarity with the community and many of its characters, but others will find this book so effectively written from a character and suspense standpoint that they may like it even better than that first novel (especially if they keep a character list). Dramatic, insightful, and effective, The Reservoir Tapes makes one wonder if another entry in a Reservoir series might be on its way.

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In this surprising, unusual, and often wickedly ironic novel by Danish author Dorthe Nors, the main character’s struggle to learn to drive a car with a stick shift becomes a symbol of her life, or as much of a life as she has managed to create for herself. Forty-one-year-old Sonja gets most of her excitement second-hand from her work translating into Danish the novels of one of the most popular thriller writers throughout Scandinavia, novels of crime, criminals, rapists, murderers, and evil doers. Sonja, who grew up in Jutland, became the first person in her family to graduate from college and leave the farm, but in many ways she has never really left. Gone from Jutland for almost two decades and now out of touch with many people from that past, including her sister, she is a woman who is still single, still unable to drive, still working in a job in which she has almost no contact with other professionals, and still too reserved and withdrawn to make many friends. This contrast between real life in the outside world and Sonja’s life, most of which is her inner life of imagination (or her lack of it) persists throughout the novel, allowing author Dorthe Nors to entice the reader into drawing his/her own conclusions about all the characters. An unsuitable man who may be contemplating a flirtation with Sonja appears as the novel winds down, and a close reading of that relationship leads the reader to understand Sonja in a new way. The satisfying conclusion brings together all the loose ends and images which repeat throughout the novel, even including one unusual image of a brown sugar sandwich. In this short novel about people, relationships, and what we regard as home, author Dorthe Nors accomplishes wonders.

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