Lydia Davis’s exceptionally readable new translation reawakens the story of Emma Bovary, a disillusioned and unhappily married woman who finds escape in adulterous relationships. Married to the oafish doctor Charles Bovary, whose naively optimistic intentions to make his beautiful wife happy only serve to annoy her, Emma labors under the constraints of nineteenth-century French bourgeois society. Flaubert’s is an unsparing study of a downward spiral driven by romantic obsession and the reckless pursuit of material and sexual gratification.
Years since reading Madame Bovaryfor the first time, I have had the story and its characters somewhere in the back of my mind; now, after having read this seamless translation, the novel’s effect is indelible. –Molly
The evening at NAAM came on a tour that had seen Ms. Wilkerson come west, then go north: Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle. With its central exhibit depicting the times and means of African Americans coming to the Northwest, NAAM was the perfect setting. The place was packed to overflowing. A large sliding door was opened, and seating was set up outside under the light of a rising moon.
Upon arrival, Ms. Wilkerson seemed a bit overcome at the response. The audience in Seattle was the largest she’d had on her book tour. She gave an eloquent, articulate, moving talk, threading some Seattle parts of the story (the family of rock legend Jimi Hendrix) with a story she’d told the previous night in Oakland. One of the three major characters in The Warmth of Other Suns, Dr. Robert Foster, was part of a diaspora that left Monroe, Louisiana for California. Most went to Oakland, but Robert Foster would choose Los Angeles following an epic drive west through a country divided by thoughts on race.
Other families that did choose Oakland included the family that brought young Huey Newton to Oakland. Newton would later co-found and lead the Black Panther Party. Another story she told—and wrote of in her book—was the fascinating story of Charles and Katie Russell, who brought 9-year-old Bill Russell out of Monroe to Oakland. There, given opportunities he would have been totally denied in the South, he attended college, became a dominant, game-changing basketball star in the amateur and pro ranks, and a major cultural and social figure as well. While telling the story, Ms. Wilkerson wondered aloud if Bill Russell might be there in the audience this night—she’d heard word of him possibly being in attendance. He was—as subtly as someone 6-10 could be in a room—among the the rapt crowd.
All said and done, basketball wouldn’t quite give Elliott Bay an assist on the connection (soccer or hockey would) in a box score. The important thing is to read The Warmth of Other Suns, one of the most beautiful, vital, eloquent books this reader has read in a long time. –Rick
As a young woman Kim Fay moved from Seattle to Vietnam to find adventure and a place to write her novel. What she found was a profoundly richer and deeper experience, much like the nearly indescribable dish banh beo, a medallion of steamed rice batter that is topped with shrimp and pork crackling. Returning to the States, she resettled in L.A. with easy access to Little Saigon, the largest Vietnamese community outside of Vietnam. But after more than a decade “back home,” the author found herself nearly insatiably hungry for the flavors and the foods of Vietnam. So she returned to the country and sought out chefs, cooking classes, starred restaurants, roadside food carts, friends, and family to fill her hunger. What she found upon returning were not only the rich, deep flavors she craved, but also the universal experience of sharing food with those we love. A truly splendid homage to the people, places, and of course food that is Vietnam. –Holly
The first two chapters of Scott Spencer’s book don’t seem to have much in common—we’re introduced to Will and then Paul—but by the fourth chapter, the two men meet, and with this cataclysmic event, their lives change forever. The author draws us in to a deliciously thrilling and provocative tale of guilt, faith, passion, and redemption. Is our main character a hero or a villain? Should we condemn or support him? Amid the page-turning suspense, Spencer’s exquisite writing is at the core of this excellent novel. Hmm… I envision many book clubs in this book’s future… –Hilary
Fresh to our shelves this fall: wonderfully weird work from Portland publisher Future Tense Press. Helmed by Kevin Sampsell, author of Creamy Bullets (Chiasmus) and A Common Pornography (Harper Collins), Future Tense has a little bit for everybody: poetry, travel memoir, an anthology of stories based around insomnia. Its specialty, however, is fiction; deceptively slim chap-book style fiction. Think Ferlinghetti’s Pocket Poets series but for prose. The results are sudden and strange, quick-to-devour collections, wild work from young writers breaking new ground (Prantha Lohr, Riley Michael Parker) to revered stylists holding axes in their hands (Gary Lutz). Tune out and dig in:
Lor’s quick stories are both darkly funny and emotionally unsettling, with a style that focuses heavily on amazing sentences and sexually ambiguous undertones.
These hilariously original crazings and sorceries of language and of feeling let us in, at last, on all the secrets we’ve been keeping from ourselves. Prathna Lor is a dazzler. –Gary Lutz, author of Stories In the Worst Way
Some people say the first Schomburg/Frey poems appeared during biblical times and that they were read with great joy on Noah’s ark. Other folks date the appearance of these poets’ duets at around 1978 or 2008. Regardless of their unknown origins, the haunting power, spare lines, and peculiar push and pull of these short poems add up to a satisfying and surprising reading experience.
From Claudia Smith, the award-winning author of ‘The Sky Is a Well,’ comes a new collection full of emotionally taut and sweetly melancholic stories that evoke the pain of lost love and broken families.
“Claudia Smith’s ‘Put Your Head In My Lap’ is a vivid book of short fiction that both inspires me and makes me feel inadequate. She takes the everyday–cooking dinner, a stained sink, physical attraction–and renders them in such precise detail, that even “a collection of soiled fingernails in a shot glass” becomes almost unbearably beautiful.” -Mary Miller, author of Big World
Bob Gaulke’s 2nd book (after The Nervous Tourist) is his personal adventure into the world of teaching English in Japan. Told in diary-like entries, this is an entertaining and illuminating look into the world of teaching.
This collection of paintings, text, and photography by the multi-talented Maria Kalman (author, artist, designer, NY Times contributor, children’s book illustrator) chronicles a year in her life. Along the way, Kalman traverses the quirky, the hilarious, the heart-breaking, and the life-affirming. Whether on the New York subway, wandering Paris, or contemplating her empty box collection, Kalman sees into the secret heart of things and the world some-how seems more tender and beautiful after. –Laurie
Ten years ago David Czuchlewski burst onto the the literary scene with this incredible debut novel. Unfortunately for readers it went out of print soon after and only a select few had the chance to enjoy this tremendously beguiling story of identity, madness, authorship, love and possibly murder. This is one of those stories that will stick with you long after you’ve closed the book and one that you’ll likely share with friends who love a good story. Thankfully readers now have another chance to enjoy the power of this remarkable novel. –Jamil