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Category Archive for 'Experimental'

Cuban author Legna Rodríguez Iglesias, a poet, fiction writer, and playwright, challenges the reader of this experimental novel by developing her novel in fifteen overlapping stories, narrated by an unusual assortment of people. The book also comes with its own style, and a set of themes and characters which do not match what I’ve come to expect from international fiction in translation. A Cuban by birth, the author sets many of these stories in Cuba, but the narrator leaves Cuba for Miami in one story, and in another, “Sinai,” the main character is talking to God at “Mt. Sinai.” The “elephant in the room,” throughout, is a French bulldog, which, despite the title, plays a surprisingly small role for most of the book. Some of the poems which introduce the chapters refer to a French bulldog, but the narratives soon stop mentioning it. As readers approach the end of the book, they may even question why the French bulldog is part of the title at all. Then, suddenly, it all makes sense, as a bulldog sets the characters and their lives into perspective. Unique.

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Friendship has always played an important role in author Roddy Doyle’s work, and this novel, his thirteenth for adults, is his most intimate in its portrayal of two long-time friends who get together to talk, every now and then, and share their lives. Friends since childhood, Davy and Joe have moved in different directions, with Davy now living in England and coming to Ireland periodically to visit his father in Dublin, and Joe still living in Dublin, where he has worked since high school and raised a family. As the novel opens, the two, now approaching sixty, are meeting in a Dublin pub, and a long night of conversation between them forms the structure of this novel-in-dialogue as they share memories of the past, with most of the memories coming from Joe. Of primary importance to him, is an experience that took place exactly a year ago when Joe saw, for the first time in thirty-seven years, a woman he and Davy had both been in love with when they were twenty-one. With Joe doing most of the “talking,” this novel-in-dialogue tells the story of their marriages and the role this beautiful woman played in Joe’s early dreams and now, surprisingly, in his later life. The many shades of love and the obligations and pleasures associated with it are seen though the vibrant conversations here, as once again, Roddy Doyle brings aspects of Dublin and its people fully to life and shares them with an empathetic world.

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Author Anne Enright, the Irish author of this novel about fictional actress Katherine O’Dell, recreates the “life” that Katherine led publicly as opposed the “real” life she is said to have kept hidden. Enright, a superbly controlled author, faced a daunting task in creating the lives of her characters here without resorting to the sensationalism her main character/author Norah scorns. Throughout her career, Enright has specialized in showing the values and attitudes at play within complex but intimate family dynamics, varying her points of view and time frames to allow the reader to draw conclusions about one character because of events which reflect the lives of other characters in other generations and times. She is often so subtle that readers become lulled into sharing the lives of her characters before they have a chance to evaluate who and what the characters are doing and saying and what this means about life and their attitudes toward it. In Actress, Anne Enright is especially concerned with the fictions people create for their own reasons, including fame. Three generations, reflecting different times and points of view, make this novel a complex study of how people often recreate their own memories to make them more palatable, while drawing conclusions, often false, about the realities of other people

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Author Aravind Adiga, whose Indian family immigrated to Australia during his childhood, is well familiar with Australia’s social and economic conditions, and with its attitudes toward “brown”people, both legal and illegal. His sensitivity and empathy in his presentation of Danny as a kind, thoughtful, and honest main character make Danny’s problems as an illegal resident from Sri Lanka and his lack of options particularly vivid for the reader. When he arrives at work one morning, he finds a police van parked across the street and learns that there has been a murder across from where he is working – in a house which he himself has cleaned many times over the past two years. He knows the female owner, Radha, a married woman who is having an affair, and he is also a worker of the person who may have killed her. With the author’s stunning ability to present Danny’s hopes, his memories of beauty from the past, and his fully imagined dreams for the future, which he presents impressionistically, Danny comes fully to life – a real person with a real life and personality – and not simply a character who is illustrating social conditions, themes, and ethical problems. Danny must decide whether to help the police with much-needed information and risk deportation, or keep quiet and let events take their course. Outstanding!

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In this a minimalist adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, contemporary author Lily Tuck modernizes Bronte’s characters and relocates them to the horse country of Albemarle County, Virginia. Here Bronte’s anti-hero Heathcliff becomes, instead, “Cliff,” no longer the wild and passionate man so driven by emotions that he is often described as “demonic,” or an evil spirit. In the novella Heathcliff Redux, Tuck’s anti-hero is a far more realistically portrayed young man of limited education and even more limited self-awareness, a bit tamer than Heathcliff, but just as conniving. Like his Heathcliff predecessor, Cliff is still trying to “find himself” and begin the life and career he believes he is destined for, and also like his predecessor, he falls in love with the wife of someone with whom he has much contact, a woman who is also passionately drawn to him through their shared connections and their love of horses. Set in the early 1960s, Heathcliff Redux reflects the comfortable and self-involved lives of upper middle-class Americans who have little understanding of how privileged they really are – people who obey their impulses because they can. Four short stories, “Labyrinth Two,” “The Dead Swan,” “Carl Schurtz Park,” and “A Natural State” follow the novella.

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