Books This Week: Egan, Trapido, Kneale, Brenna

A Visit from the Goon Squad

by Jennifer Egan

Because I listened to it on CD and needed to read it, and to have it–and of course I’d missed the graphic business in it, power point presentations and so forth.  One interesting thing about this book, noted by one of my thesis students, is what she calls Egan’s “flash forward” technique, in which (as Grace Paley says, “Time Makes a Monkey of Us All”) the distant futures of characters only met in passing (like the guide on a safari) are sketched out, as if what will happen has in fact already happened, all part of a larger perspective not visible to anyone in the story.
Also, Jennifer Egan is brilliant.  One of my students did a brief essay on The Keep, which piqued my curiosity.  But I was put off by it, to begin with.  And yet, the testimonials on that book, all pointing at Egan’s earlier work, Look at Me, proved irresistible.  As did the novel.  It’s a masterpiece, anticipating our image-conscious, living-out-loud, reflexive world by 10 or 20 years.  Of course, I went back to The Keep, which, given a chance, proved intriguing, very interesting in its narrative approach and structure, and weirdly, wonderfully haunting in its story–which that structure both reinforces and calls into question.

Brother of the More Famous Jack

by Barbara Trapido

Because Rachel Cusk, whom I admire, said about it:  “[T]hat unmistakable voice has stayed clear in my ear over the two intervening decades [since she’d read it while ‘at university’], so that I can still repeat numerous passages or observations from the novel now, entirely from memory.”
She (Cusk, who’d read at my MFA program’s British residency, and impressed me) also said:  “There are few modern tales of first love and its disillusions that are as thoroughly realised, as brilliantly lewd, and as hilariously satisfying to men and women of all ages.”
It was probably the combination of “hilarious” and “lewd” that got me.

English Passengers

by Matthew Kneale

Because it’s, according to the New York Times Book Review, “A grim but hilarious novel involving the extinction of the Tasmanians, a search for the Garden of Eden and a Manx contrabandist who conceals his smuggling from the passengers on his ship.”
And I’ve been working on a story about the supposed last aborgine on Tasmania, called Queen Trucanini.  Also, a Manx contrabandist?
And it was a finalist for the Booker Prize.  But what isn’t?

The Altar of the Body

by Duff Brenna

Because, in my research for a piece on Jonathan Franzen, I came across a blog by Chauncey Mabe, formerly of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, in which (ok, this gets a bit convoluted) he, Mabe, replies to a comment by Brenna, saying:  “Duff, I’d put The Altar of the Body up against any book what’s [yes, he says “what’s”–being quaint, or a typo?] never won the National Book Award nor been on Oprah.” And a writer friend and colleague of mine, Tom Kennedy, has promoted Brenna to me in the past, particularly his The Book of Mamie–so why not?

Also, there’s a wonderful review from Susan Salter Reynolds, of (then) the Los Angeles Times, and I love (i.e., respect) her.  She was my editor when I wrote reviews for the L.A. Times, and she’s an inspired reader.

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