Tag Archives: FSG

Juan Pablo Villalobos’s “Down the Rabbit Hole”

Juan Pablo Villalobos's "Down the Rabbit Hole"Permit me to throw a bit of late-’90s Oscar trivia at you.  Remember Roberto Benigni, that kooky Academy Award winner who danced atop seatbacks halfway to the stage? Remember his winning film, Life is Beautiful, which portrayed a father and son at a concentration camp, the former constructing an elaborate “game” out of the Final Solution to alleviate any fears his young child may have?

Well, if I may, Down the Rabbit Hole is everything that the movie Life Is Beautiful never had the courage or simply never wanted to be. The quirky novella by Juan Pablo Villalobos (translated from the Spanish by Rosalind Harvey) places a child unwittingly in similar circumstances as the Benigni film does – seven-year-old Tochtli lives in the blood-money trappings of a palace with his Mexican drug lord father – but rather than stripping down to a simple tale about the leaps we take to protect our children, this book is about the insane measures we take to, for lack of a better term, enjoy them – the compulsion we have to raise them in camaraderie and with authority at once.  As “good parents,” we want our children to lead the lives that make them happy, but maybe a less acknowledged part of us wants even more to raise them as an affirmation of ourselves and our choices. Add to that, of course, the very concrete dangers of what would ever happen to Tochtli if he left the confines of his palace, and all the genuine pre-adolescent boredom that goes with it. And finally, add what is perhaps the most palpable emotion of a seven-year-old’s life: wanting. In this particular case, Tochtli seeks a new animal for his menagerie, namely the Liberian pygmy hippopotamus, and nothing short of exactly that will do.

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Marco Roth’s “The Scientists: A Family Romance”

Marco Roth's "The Scientists: A Family Romance"For its first 50 pages, I often flipped back and forth from the synopsis of this book to the cover, then back to my current chapter. The need for a reminder was that pressing: yes, Marco Roth’s The Scientists: A Family Romance is indeed nonfiction, and it is a memoir, and this was author Roth’s childhood fairly recently, too. An early-90s shake-up of the Glass Family’s New York City, an only-child Tenenbaum recount, The Scientists presents an impressive retrospective on the death of Roth’s father, a victim of full-blown AIDS in the peak years of same, and every familial splintering that follows it – not least of all the quiet revelations that this father figure actually had plenty to hide, or plenty left for his surviving family to reassess.

It’s a strong debut from what is obviously a trained and critical mind (Much of the book takes place in Yale’s Comparative Literature department), but those analytical tendencies seem to border on the clinical – and permeate the book much more obviously – after the death of the father in the first third of the story. Thereafter, it seems like Roth’s trust in us as fellow critical thinkers waxes and wanes throughout, so when you aren’t being given a 15-page deconstruction of an obscure Russian novella, you’re being spoon-fed forced analogies between the Roths’ family life and the literary tradition. I suppose to FSG this meant The Scientists would appeal to a wider range of readers, an audience both cerebral and practical. But given that the swaths of literary theory are where Roth appears to be having the most fun, and connecting with his father at the deepest level, the remaining (and admittedly more readable) areas of the memoir seem injected solely for our benefit, and that gesture falls a little flat.

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Our October Review Previewganza

As of today, September 29, we have reviewed forty-eight titles in 2012—not bad, right? This week we will publish titles 49 and 50. And yet, there’s more! So much more, really, to come as autumn turns to winter. October will be something of a catching-up period, for us, as we review some September titles sitting in our review queue. But there will be some October titles covered as well. Here’s a not-at-all exhaustive list of what we’ve got to come.  Continue reading

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Lisa Zeidner’s “Love Bomb”

Lisa Zeidner’s Love Bomb feels like wasted potential. Zeidner herself is a talented writer, and the conflict she’s chosen for her fifth novel—a scorned woman puts on a gas mask, grabs some guns, and decides to hold guests hostage at a wedding in Haddonfield, New Jersey—offers an opportunity for biting social commentary. But the story itself meanders, gets lost in saccharine chapter-length asides about the foundations of love, and loses all momentum before we get anywhere at all.

The hostage taker, or “HT,” has chosen the wedding of Tess Nathanson and Gabriel Billips, two well-meaning folks who met in Chad during a Doctors Without Borders mission and seem cheerful and fine. After the guests “crowded into the great room to await the bride,” the HT enters. Zeidner paints an eerie picture.  Continue reading

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As we ready ourselves for a week of new content — the aforementioned Beinart and Lakhous, along with a special guest review — I must admit that I’ve been enjoying the fake-summer heatwave, so my reading time has taken a hit. I have — like so many other like-minded folks — been absolutely engrossed in the Trayvon Martin tragedy. There is little more to say than this whole situation is very bad, in every imaginable way.

Many have recommended Teju Cole’s Atlantic piece, “The White Savor Industrial Complex,” a wonderfully measured, provocative-in-that-it’s-so-fucking-spot-on piece about not only the intrinsic wrongheadedness of Kony 2012 and the Invisible Children organization but also the attitude — or perhaps worldview — that enables such lily-white activism. It’s worth reading, not only because it’s a wonderful piece of writing, but because it links to the work of African scholars who take issue with the Kony 2012 movement. Continue reading

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Sarah Manguso’s “The Guardians: An Elegy”

The writer Sarah Manguso is a cut above. In her latest, The Guardians: An Elegy, Manguso’s full range of talent is on display. Her sentences are hauntingly resonant, her diction precise, her writing clear. She has masterful command of the material. Her experiences—the processing of grief over the suicide of a close friend named Harris, her past issues with mental illness—are laid full bare for the reader. And it’s all totally uncut, unfiltered, offered, ready for rejection or praise—a brave work, revealing all that vulnerability. But her work’s rhetorical strength is stymied by a surprising lack of engaging material in the text.

The Guardians is, for Manguso, a much-needed act of catharsis, or at least a necessary stage in a profoundly sad process of understanding. For the reader? It’s admirably messy but ultimately distant. Continue reading

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Jeffrey Eugenides’ “The Marriage Plot”

The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides’ long-awaited follow-up to his 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex, is clever. There’s one problem with a book being clever, however: the author probably wasn’t going for that. It’s a bit like having a crush tell you you’re merely nice, and not transcendently or life-alteringly wonderful, that you’re worthy of friendship but not heartfelt commitment. It’s a lesser quality.

The book begins on graduation morning at Brown, the three main characters beginning in starkly different places. Our heroine, Madeleine, wakes up with a pounding headache—a blurry night of drink after drink after drink to blame. Her parents, the incomparable Phyllida and Alton, had arrived and planned to take their daughter to breakfast. From there, we are introduced to her illness: she is heartbroken. Having regrettably scuttled her relationship with Leonard weeks earlier, Madeleine is in no mood for breakfast or her parents’ penetrating questions about Leonard—whom the couple still believes Madeleine will live with that fall on Cape Cod.  Continue reading

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Hi, all. How have your respective weeks and now weekends been? Long? Boring? Tiresome. The East Coast weather has been a drag, hasn’t it? I’m getting to that point in the fall season when I know winter is so close; that point when the fear of winter takes hold. You know, that irrational anxiety that makes you forget about all the good parts of winter? Peppermint, scones, fireplaces, wool socks, gifts, my birthday, etc. Right now, all I can think of is frozen/freezing rain, six hours of sunlight, a significantly higher utilities bill, and a drafty window I can’t seem to fix.

But, of course, these dark and mysterious times also call for nights spent inside, under a blanket, bathed in lamplight, drinking sidecars, reading good books. You know, white people stuff.

Those of us here at DBC pride ourselves on being busy people; thusly, we missed #fridayreads. But  you should read every day, really. Blogging every day is another matter.

Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot
Speaking of sidecars, white people, and good books, The Marriage Plot is about all three. I’m about halfway through with it, and I’ve realized something: Eugenides is no master of language. He’s obviously a very good writer, Pulitzer-worthy, etc. But there’s nothing transcendent going on in the content or execution of The Marriage Plot. He does, however, do two things very well: He develops characters and he tells stories. His craft and organization in The Marriage Plot are what make it something more than just a bestselling book overrun with obscure-outside-of-college lit references. Rather, it’s a book with a simple, compelling story arc (I’ll talk about that in the review this week) and conflict (this one is simple: love). Eugenides is great at steering through time, revealing just enough information and backstory to keep his reader invested. I can’t wait to finish.


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Franzen: the Silver Fox Tackles the Silver Screen

So, it’s official, or as official as something can get in Internet terms (for which, in my mind, the Huff Post qualifies): Jonathan Franzen has an HBO series in the works with filmmakers Scott Rudin and Noah Baumbach based on his 567-page 2001 novel, THE CORRECTIONS.

Pardon the coupling of this exciting news with an overwhelming amount of hyperlinks.

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