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Category Archive for 'Experimental'

In an electrifying novel that uses simple images and straightforward, often abbreviated thoughts to create deep emotions and subtle themes, debut novelist Max Porter revitalizes the whole concept of the novel, creating a work that is so unorthodox and so difficult to describe in its structure that it sometimes verges on the bizarre. Despite the constantly changing structural elements, however, the voices of Dad and his Boys remain direct, unpretentious, and completely realistic as they tell of their reactions to the sudden death of their wife and mother from an accident which has left them overwhelmed by events and not sure how to react or acknowledge what they feel. In a consummate irony, Dad, an academic writer, has been working on a book, overdue at the publisher, called Crow on the Couch: A Wild Analysis, which examines the poems of Ted Hughes following the death of his wife, Sylvia Plath. It’s been five days since the death, and Dad and the boys are alone now. All the family and visitors have left, the boys are asleep, and “Grief felt fourth-dimensional, abstract, faintly familiar. Suddenly the doorbell rings, and when Dad opens it, “there was a crack and a whoosh and [he] was smacked back, winded, onto the doorstep…There was a rich smell of decay, a sweet furry stink of just-beyond-edible food, and moss, and leather, and yeast.” He is lifted above the tiled floor and finds feathers between his fingers, in his eyes, and in his mouth. Crow has arrived. With Crow incorporating wild and unexpected elements, including humor, into this book about grief, the novel explores death and its aftermath in new ways. Unique and intriguing.

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As Israeli author Yoel Hoffmann begins his wild metafictional, and often metaphysical, tale, he invites the reader along with him, as he experiments with his format, lets his mind wander in new directions as one idea leads to the next, remembers the past and the people in it, thinks about God (or not) and death, and creates a tale that is both serious and full of fun at the same time – not a description which can be applied to many other novels these days. As the author himself says, later in the book, “At first glance this book would seem to be a hybrid. That is, a book that sometimes laughs and sometimes cries. But in fact (as logicians say), it’s laughing and crying at once, and to the same degree.” The book challenges the very nature of genre, emphasizing that all books are stories, just as life is, and the best way to distinguish between them is to classify them by their feelings – happy or sad, “a book that can laugh or smile or cry. The book itself. The reader can behave however he likes.” Through flashbacks, Hoffmann recreates his own life, imagines new lives, and returns to the image of his father wearing his Schaffhausen watch, emphasizing that the men who created this watch are now either dead or very old and that their wives are also dead. Music, and dreams, and poetry, and parallel languages also gain attention from an author so alive and so full of ideas that anyone who chooses to read this marvelous book will be profoundly affected.

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Always focused on questions of identity and loss, and of one’s vulnerability or resilience in facing these issues, Patrick Modiano’s work always feels autobiographical, and though he insists that each book is fiction, he also recognizes that his own reality is formed by his own past as described in detail in many of his novels. As his characters deal with whatever issues they face on a daily basis in his novels, they cannot help interpreting life through their memories, wondering if they have misunderstood events, and if they could have changed outcomes, “if only…” In the Café of Lost Youth, much of the action takes place at the Café Conde in the 1950s, “somewhere not far from the Carrefoure de l’Odeon.” An unnamed young woman enters the café through a back entrance and sits at the back of the room. In time, she becomes acquainted with some of the regulars there and sometimes sits with them, but her visits are at irregular intervals, and she never really becomes part of the group. The others in the group, three of whom, along with the woman, Louki, become the speakers here, are between nineteen and twenty-five, except for a few older men in their fifties – “bohemians,” who lead wandering lives “without rules or worries about the next day.” As the first speaker, a student, points out, most of them “lived in the sheltered world of literature and the arts.” In many ways the action here provides a microcosm of intellectual life in postwar France. The lack of direction for many of the country’s “lost youth,” as illustrated by the uncommitted lives of the youngest patrons of the Café Conde, parallels the many changing philosophical ideas occupying intellectuals and academics in Paris.

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On his way to Dorinish, the tiny Irish island which he bought ten years before, John Lennon, now thirty-seven, is in the midst of a personal crisis. It is 1978, and the Beatles have not been together for eight years. Lennon has watched his first marriage crumble and his son Julian disappear from his life. Married in 1969 to Yoko Ono, he separated from her for eighteen months, shortly after their marriage. Later reunited, they had a baby, Sean, with whom he now spends most of his time at home in New York, but he is otherwise at loose ends. He has not written any music since 1975, and he feels as if he has lost his way, both musically and personally. Famous, at this point, for his counterculture points of view, he has actively courted attention to publicize his anti-government agenda, and has become involved with drugs, Marxism, the Black Panthers, and behavior which has put him under the surveillance of the FBI, though he has otherwise tried to avoid publicity in his personal life. He now feels that if he can get away and spend time alone for only three days on Dorinish, that he might come to some new conclusions about his life and how to live it.

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Remembering and forgetting are the essence of French author Patrick Modiano’s writing as he creates almost dreamlike images and sequences which fade in and out as the time frame changes, often unexpectedly. New images and memories force themselves into his consciousness, only to vanish back into the netherworld from which they have come. Almost as famous for the bizarre and often cruel life he experienced as a child as he is for his Nobel Prize for Literature, Modiano, through his novels, mines his own past for clues as to who he was and who and what he has become. Repeating images and events combine with references to absent parents and circus people, some of whom engage in unlawful activities, to reinforce the idea that the only love and care Modiano knew as a child came from strangers. In this newly translated novel from 2003, Modiano depicts a main character, remarkably like himself, as a twenty-year-old walking late at night, when a car emerges from the darkness and grazes his leg from knee to ankle, then crashes. A woman stumbles out of the driver’s seat, and she and the speaker are ushered into a nearby hotel lobby to await a police van and medical help. From the outset, the circumstances of this accident are unclear. The flashbacks and flashforwards begin seemingly at random, as he recalls his father’s cruelty on the rare occasions he saw him and also meets a philosopher who runs classes for his student disciples. He meets a girl, a music teacher, then suddenly finds himself, thirty years later, overhearing a familiar name on the loudspeaker at Orly Airport, at which point he races to find the person. Time before and after the accident become confused, as the same or similar images and memories appear and reappear, and names in one time period reappear in another.

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