Monday, January 31, 2011

100 Months

John Hicklenton
100 Months

Cutting Edge, 2010

John Hiсklenton completed this book the day before his death. He suffered from multiple sclerosis and ended his life in hospital. His last book is devoted to nothing else like death.

«100 Months» is more an art album, rather than comics. Death is a stop and not a move, so here the action is reduced to the minimum limit. The book is structured so that one page has one panel. Most often, on a page there is just Mara, the protagonist of the book, she's death, Armageddon, and all the rest of the space, the so-called backs, left white. This allows to focus more on the main character, besides the white space is emptiness, that surrounds the death, and that emptiness, perhaps, is death itself.

In the book there is very limited number of persons: Mara herself, the Priest, and the Pig. Mara, going to the last battle with the Pig, on his way met the inhabitants of this world, created by Hicklenton, but they are only outlines, shadows, copulating animals, which you do not care about – and Mara does not feel sorry for them. Mara is alone in this world; she does not know anybody, and who wants to know death, who can know death?

The world of «100 Months» is a pagan world. Mara has a purpose that she must meet, the murder of the god in the guise of a giant pig, to save the world, you need to sacrifice an animal.

This seemingly unhurried book is not created for meditation. There is a dound that you will be able to meditate when you see a mountain of skulls, trails and bridges made from the bones, and piles of corpses of creatures. But you can admire art of Hicklenton indefinitely. His death has not a woman's face but the face of death, often invisible behind the hair. Its red color is mesmerizing. In the scenes of battles Hicklenton sprays tiny droplets of blood on the page so that you inevitably checks is it not your own blood on book pages, so much it's real.

And Hicklenton in «100 Months» almost quotes of Brodsky: Death happens.

Years of the elephant

Willy Linthout
Years of the elephant

Fanfare\Ponent Mon, 2009

Linthout wrote this book as self therapy when at the age of 21 years old, his son committed suicide. It can be considered autobiographical: in the book alter-ego of the author, Charles Germonprez, too, loses his son, springing from the roof, tries to cope with the loss, tries to soften the pain of loss, has insomnia, visits a psychoanalyst, wants to commit suicide, but the author to reality full of pain, loss, despair adds a solid amount of surrealism, and so «Years of the elephant» is only half non-fiction, the second half of the graphic novel is a strange prose.

Book would have been impossible to write, if the author did not have a fair amount of self-irony. Germonprez here is a funny man in glasses, all the while wearing a sweater and with a tuft on his head. He must have been modest and awkward before the death of his only son, was a good family man, but the tragedy distressed him. He became nervous, he couldn't the focus on something else, it throws him into tears, then into anger, but whatever he wished, his thoughts are inextricably linked with his son.

When you notice while reading this book, that you laughed once, twice, and then smiled, at first you stop laughing: whether it is good to laugh, when a person has sorrow? But soon you can't do anything about that: it's very funny. And the author did it on purpose: laughing at yourself, it is possible to overcome the sadness and suffering.

Surreal story amplifies with good art. The fact that the entire book is drawn in pencil, but Linthout left pencil sketches without erasing. Critic Paul Gravett in the preface to the book writes that in such a way Linthout wanted to show that these drawings with their incompleteness has human hand and heart. I see in such sketch style another method: unpolished pencil lines stratify each subject in the book and every person. So in addition to surreal moments when, for example, Germonprez tries to lay on the place circled in chalk outline of the body of the son or Germonprez communicates with his son, using Morse code, such layering adds a surrealistic tint. The alter ego of the author not only losing his mind because of the tragedy, but he also splits.

«Years of the elephant» is a brave book, in which the author was not afraid to put on the language of comics his personal tragic experience. And just for this we should applaud Linthout for hours.

1-800-MICE #5

Matthew Thurber
1-800-MICE #5

Ambergris Books, 2010

What happened in the previous four parts of the 1-800-MICE comics or how all the books plots intersect, we can only guess. I have not read the previous parts, so I will consider this comic as a standalone product.

This thin book, drawn in minimalist style, is a strange one. The overall story is divided into four subplots, each of which complements the picture of the world, created by Thurber, but they do not intersect. In the first, the protagonist is a policeman, suddenly feeling that inside him lives the second "I", a mouse, in the second cat in the guise of a man uses a variety of modern gadgets. In the third storyline, we see how the mouse escapes from the chase, and in the fourth before us presents a meeting with the mayor of a town.

Thurber in this book continues the story lines of previous books, but the gusto in this fifth book - the individual scenes. Here's the policeman, who are already depicted as human-mouse (though it's not obvious at first viewing), goes to the café and he feels like a mouse inside him wakes up and he runs out into the street. Here is humanoid cat in the hat watching little fairy ass through magnifying glass.

Here's a mouse sees torture and pukes. Here's a horse asks the mayor at a meeting.
The author has a sense of the episode. In the chase scene, when a fleeing by hydro-power car mouse run from some thugs, Thurber divides page not on the usual rectangle panels, but cuts the page at acute angles, reducing the size of the panel, thereby transmitting the dynamics of the scene, and inside the panel accommodates only fragments: a hand, gas pedal, the exhaust machine - achieved through that style a fragmentary sense of danger that threatens the mouse. And then on the next page the author is already doing a close-up, posting only one panel on a page. Such a sharp contrast stops you, as if pushing the airbag from the previous scene.

Another incredibly imaginative scene is meeting of people and the mayor when the musical note that escaped from a tree-woman absorbs a mayor. At the three-panel page, we see how gradually the note closes frightened mayor, and then it remains only a black ball.

The world of "1-800-MICE” is an uncontrolled fantasy where you never know who you really are, where you're defenseless, where with the presence of nominal power and authority, power plays no role. It is the world of a mouse, which has only one rule: Run.

Hopefully, this and previous 1-800-MICE books will soon be collected under one cover. It's worth it.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Ninth Letter Spring\Summer 2010

Ninth Letter
Spring\Summer 2010
Volume 7, Number 1

Usually the world of literature and world of glossy paper have nothing in common. In Russia, there are thick litmagazines "New World", "Neva", "Banner" (here you can insert two dozen titles) and they are sold in places where not everyone who wants to read them can buy them. And there are magazines Tatler, Harper's Bazaar, Men's Health, and thousands more other titles, they are sold in all the newsstands even in the most remote towns, but they have no relationship with literature. Literary magazines directly relate to the literature, as they print literature on their pages, but they look so conservative and unattractive to the reader and the seller so that if you put "New World" to showcase of the newsstand, a buyer would have thought that a seller just wanted to cement the cracks in the glass case by this blue rectangle.

And so the magazine of the University of Illinois “Ninth Letter” attempted to combine a literary content and design of a glossy monthly magazine. It looks like as a blend of literary magazine with Esquire. 300 pages on excellent white paper, with a block of yellow paper, with a glossy block, with photos, with illustrations between the stories, with art. This hybrid turned out quite attractive, the designers have tried their best.

There is actually also something for a reader. The weakest component in this issue of Ninth Letter to me was poetry. Part of it is elongated in the column of prose pieces, where actually there is no poetry, while another part is something like the worst representatives of poor-written vers libres. From poetry, I would single out two poems by Leslie Adrienne Miller and Carolyne Wright’s poem «Credo in Blue».
Of the five fiction pieces in this issue stand out fragment of «The End of the Fire Cult» by Angela Woodward and Douglas Glover's story «The Sun Lord and the Royal Child». Woodward weaves in her fragments non-fiction, poetry and magical realism. This is a fictional love story against the background of a fictional war, as if written by a poet. Glover's story, too, combines reality and fiction, but the author is much more recessed into reality. «The Sun Lord and the Royal Child» is the story of a fatal mistake by famous archaeologist Nedlinger, his wife, who suffered from the glory of her husband, and another archaeologist who secretly met with Nedlinger’s wife. The author, choosing the heroes of the story archaeologists, finds a good metaphor for a way to show that our past is also the land in which we hide their secrets, but secrets will still become apparent as the exhibits will be found during the excavations.

Essay by T.A. Noonan «The Trouble with Correspondence» is one of the gems in non-fiction section. The author with self-irony argues what witchcraft in the modern world is and whether belief in oneself can change oneself.

In non-fiction part there is also an intriguing project called «National Book Award in 1960, Revisited». Michael Griffith and three other writers of the jury aimed to revision the results of the Nation Book Award 50 years after their results. The jury chose the entire short-list of the award that year by adding five more novels, which represent a decent job, but were not included in the shortlist. After reading all the selected books, the jury should have been vote from 2010. Why such a project was ever realized? Griffith in his introduction explains that the decision of any jury award affects several factors that have no relation to a work of fiction. But what happens if these factors would not exist, the jury would not personally know any of the nominees, the jury will have no interest in pushing a particular book, whether the results would be objective? Choosing one particular novel, we are doing this because at the moment it is very strong work, or we believe in the future, wishing that this or that work will not be forgotten decades later, and without an award, it risks being buried under layers of time?

And if the winner of the National Book Award 1960 was the debut novel by Philip Roth «Goodbye, Columbus», this jury chose the winner of the project Evan Connell’s novel «Mrs. Bridge ». To summarize, each of the writers who were part of the jury, wrote a brief essay on the novel in the short-list, which is most closely to him or her. And each of these essays is written with such love and respect for the chosen author that you wants to immediately read the book about which the essay is written (I especially liked the essay by Michael Griffith on the debut of Updike «The Poorhouse Fair»).

The magazine looks very nice, with interesting fiction and non-fiction sections, but I was disappointed by poetry.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


Philip Roth

Jonathan Cape, 2010

«Nemesis» is the thirty-first book of an American classic Philip Roth. Nemesis from the book title is the name of the goddess, and the actual wages dropped down to the hero of the book Bucky Cantor.

Twenty-three years old young physical education teacher in a school in Newark, Bucky in the summer of 1944 is the playground director, where children come to play. Bucky's parents died, and he was brought up by his grandparents. Cantor is young man full of energy, a great athlete, a good example for children, with whom he plays on the court. However, due to weak vision Bucky was not drafted into the army, in contrast to his two friends, flown away to fight in France. During that summer terrible polio epidemic happens, primarily affecting children. Every day, a number of kids who got polio grows more and more, and Bucky, strong physically, but spiritually hesitant young man, faces with the first dilemma, which he must decide for himself: Is it necessary during the epidemic to close playground, which may become a place where children can catch the virus, or vice versa, the playground should be open, because sport enhances children's bodies? Despite the death from the disease of the best pupil of Bucky Alan Michaels, Bucky leaves the playground open. The second test for Bucky Cantor becomes offer of his beloved Marcia, working at a summer camp not far from Newark. The young girl is worry about Bucky, fearing that he too can catch the disease and die. She offers him to quit work at playground and go to work at the camp, where she works: there are much safer in Indian Hill.

However Bucky can not so simply leave his grandmother and children, can not throw off all responsibility. Cantor blames himself for his lack of participation in World War II, it was his personal defeat and to leave his native city is exactly the same moral defeat to him. At the war ones fought with visible and tangible enemy, here, in Newark, at the terrible heat, in an almost deserted city the enemy is not visible, but it also kills, so give up and leave, no, Bucky can not allow himself one more fail. But the days pass, the number of polio cases keeps growing and growing, and Bucky calls Marcia: he is leaving Newark and will move to the camp in Indian Hill.

Roth chooses the narrator of the novel not Bucky Cantor, the main protagonist, but one of the boys, who in the summer, too, contracted polio but recovered, Arnie Mesnikoff. After several decades Mesnikoff and Cantor meet by chance on the street and from Bucky Mesnikoff finds out all the details of that story, what happened to his physical education teacher and forever changed his life. Roth thus moves the reader from his character, and in the mouth of Mesnikoff author actually puts those questions which he himself would have asked the aging Cantor. The distance between the hero and the reader does, of course, this novel rather model of the situation, than a situation itself. But Roth is the master, so from that as simple as two plus two story he drags on the surface these questions about God, free will, chance, weakness and strength that you wonder: how Roth the terrific writer is.

Bucky could not forgive himself of his act in that summer (and in the second part of this novel the reader learns to what this Bucky's escape to summer camp to Marcia led). Nemesis caught up with Bucky. Was that nemesis to Bucky God or Bucky himself was his own nemesis? Roth doesn't answer for us to this question. We ourselves will have the answer after reading this book.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Homecoming Party

Carmine Abate
The Homecoming Party
Translated from the Italian by Anthony Shugaar

Europa Editions, 2010

A book, which is a portrait of childhood, can be interesting for reading not only by its author, but readers too, if it not simply imposes one memory to another, simply strings little pieces of memories on a skewer of fiction: the meat may be good, but the dish will not work (cooks should forgive me for the invasion on their territory). A story can have no plot (but better have it), but some secrets should be present.

There is a mystery in this novel by an Italian Abate, as there is weak but enjoyable plot. A story rolls up and rolls out like a carpet, which then have been put into a corner, then roll on the floor, and the center of the story is in one place. For Marco, a boy from an Italian family, living with his mother, grandmother, sister La Piccola and dog Spertina, time is measured not by calendar years, but by those intervals when closer to Christmas his father returns home from France where he worked as a miner to feed his family. The father of Marco had not an easy life: he left home early, lost his wife, stayed with a baby (Marco's sister Elisa, who is studying at a university), remarried, and now every spring after spending the winter home with children and the wife is forced to detach himself from his family and goes back to almost a year of work. The father once explained Marco why he leaves every year: imagine that someone puts a gun to your head and says: «Leave, or I'll pull the trigger!», and you should leave , there are no other choice.

Secret is here for Marco and for a reader at once becomes Marco's sister Elisa. The boy accidentally sees his sister in the woods kissing with some man who once saved Marco’s dog. Elisa's secret meetings with the stranger will stimulate mind of the narrator because his father and mother still can not guess who their daughter secretly meets with.

«The Homecoming Party» is a portrait of Italian small-town life. Here you all day play football, walk the dog in the woods and eat your mother's food, watch out for your sister, and the worst that can happen - you will get a fever, and even then it will play into your hands.

This book is hardly something special, it is too conflict-free, but you can not to dislike it. You can pull the trigger, I'm staying.

Monday, January 17, 2011

It's been a while since last time I posted review here. It doesn't mean this blog is on hiatus or something like that. I just was busy with my part-time job, but my reading has never stopped. During holidays break I had read a lot of books and comics so today or maybe tomorrow I will start to post reviews.

So: what has I read?
Philip Roth - Nemesis (it made my top of best books last year)
Carmin Abate - The Homecoming Party (very good though nothing special)
Timothy Taylor - THE BLUE LIGHT PROJECT (maybe I'll right a short review closer to release date; strange novel, I rather didn't like it; second part was far more enjoyable than the first one)
John Hicklenton - 100 Months (rather art album than comic book; very good)
Matthew Thurber - 1-800-Mice #5 (self-published comics; quite weird)
Willy Linhout - Years of the elephant (autobiographic graphic novel; funny and sad)

Now I'm reading Ninth Letter magazine, Finch by Jeff Vandermeer and a couple of things for my job.
Stay tuned.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Executor

Jesse Kellerman
The Executor

Sphere, 2010

Joseph Geist is a student at Harvard, which for several years can not finish his dissertation. The beginning of the novel folds for him extremely unfavorable: his girlfriend Yasmin, Persian by descent, throws him out. His entire luggage is a small bag and a half of the skull of Nietzsche, which Joseph once bought from a dealer in Berlin, thinking that he sells half of the head of Einstein. Joseph has nowhere to live, except the apartment of his friend Drew. Drew also alludes to Joseph that he should not stay for long. But to pay for another apartment, Joseph needs money, and therefore needs a job. Despairing, Joseph browses job ads in the student newspaper, which runs across a strange one. From the announcement is not clear who exactly is required and what have to do, and Joseph decides to try. A woman who answers his phone call has a slight German accent and after some of the issues offers to Joseph to come to the interview.

Some reviewers called this book a thriller, but it's hardly a thriller in the conventional sense: there are not almost the usual thriller elements (chases, fights, conspiracies, investigation) here, and all the suspense is focused not on the throughout the novel, but only at the very end. However, the novel sneaks down to the bone better than any thriller. When the hero (he's anti-hero) sweeps out all traces and only thinks they catch him or not, you even begin to beat on empathy. And this effect is difficult to achieve.

It's brilliantly written novel. This book really could be written by PhD: the text has many delicious details, black humor, humor with philosophical bent; suffering of the spirit is devoted much more space than the suffering of the body. The first person narrative twice suddenly changes into the second-person narrative - in those very moments when Joseph sees himself as if from the outside, and all his actions are transformed into a continuous stream of consciousness. Joseph is truly a Griboyedov’s hero; we can apply the term "Woe from Wit" with 100 percent accuracy. He puts an experiment on himself becoming the victim of this experiment. He gets into the final that he had dreamed of, and thinks has he changed his choice, if the fate gave him a second chance, but the tone of the prose for some reason says the opposite: he was pleased with how everything turned out.

Stories of such cases had already been enough, but it allocates different language, an unusual choice of hero and brilliantly built plot.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Witness the Night

Kishwar Desai
Witness the Night

Beatiful Books, 2010

The novel begins with the obscure crime scene: two in the house, the whole family is dead, blood everywhere, then a house on fire. These two have to hide the traces and portray a scene of violence: he ties her to a bed, hit in the face and then rapes. It begins to rain.

It was buzzing in the whole India, where events of the book take place, murder. Thirteen people, all relatives, were poisoned, then it additionally stabbed, and the house was eventually set on fire. The only survivor was thirteen years age girl Durga. She was tied with one hand to the bed, with traces of beatings and rape. But according to police, she is also the only suspect. Durga, while she is in post-traumatic shock, is placed in a prison camera.

The protagonist of the novel is social worker Simran Singh. Amarjit, the Chief Inspector in the Punjab, with whom Simran once studied together in college, asks her to take Durga’s case: try to talk to her, ask her what had happened in the house on the day of the murder. Simran is different from most Indian women: she is 42, she still has not married, she smokes and drinks, and practically does not hide it.
Such books are usually called clumsy combination "literary thriller". Novel really keeps the tension from first to last page. Despite the fact that the reader already knows the answer from the first chapter, Desai made an interesting choice in the structure of the novel, so that read the book is still interesting: motives of the murder are hidden from a reader; it is the most important there. As a thriller, the book has some inconsistencies in the plot. These flaws make a little sadness, but they were not significant.

Desai, on an example of one family, reveals the inside story of many aspects of India's life. Complete suppression of women, continuous corruption, slave trade, where the parents themselves sell their children. The whole conflict of the novel lies in the deep traditions of India. The birth of a girl in the family - she will be given in marriage, will give a dowry, the family will get nothing from her birth – is an unwanted event. All families want only the boys. The whole lifestyle of Indian families comes from such backgrounds. The author makes a bitter conclusion: for hundreds of years in India, essentially nothing has changed: all the same prejudices, the same poverty, the caste system, corruption is overwhelming.
Separate subplot worth a pleasure is the story of Simran. Her reflections on Indian daily life, childhood memories, and the search for causes of child abuse – all that is very thoughtful.

Desai has lyrical style. Reality violence confronts a baroque language, in which the novel is written. Periodic insertions of Indian words only heat the interest.
Final, which at first seems to be logical and correct, after a while begins to confuse and and is rejected. In fact, the main characters went on to deal with the criminals, leaving them free. They had a chance to go further and to throw criminals in jail, still taking Durga, but Simran prefer an easy option. In this mercy to criminals and deal with the conscience there is the root of troubles in India.

Monsters of Men

Patrick Ness
Monsters of Men

Walker Books, 2010

The final part of the trilogy by Patrick Ness is beginning with the war. Almost killed the president Prentiss, Todd Hewitt, already matured and discovered a huge opportunity in himself, forces to release Prentiss: the war with the Spackle is coming, and only Prentiss is capable to lead an army of people. The Spackle, a race of intelligent beings living on this planet before the people chose it for colonization, takes revenge for their genocide: the soldiers of the President slaughtered part of the Spackle population. The only survivor is The Return, as the Spackle name him. Ness, in the previous novels changing in narrative point of view between Todd and Viola, in this introduces a third narrator – the Return. So we learn how the Spackle think and what they want.

In the meantime, a reconnaissance ship arrives and the people on it, Simon and Bradley, are in favor of peace between humans and the Spackle. However, war is war, and they have to use rockets to rescue Todd upon the occurrence of the Spackle. The two camps of people, one led by the president, the other – by Mistress Coyle, understand that to join forces is the only way to win the war. Todd and Viola see the only solution in the situation of the numerical superiority of the Spackle: peace. But on the way to the peace war will make monsters of people and people of the monsters.

In the first third of the novel Ness, in the previous books perfectly plotting a story, yet manages to introduce an unexpected turn in each chapter, as if once lost his skills, making the action too slow, and the heroes are full of superficial passions, and read it all is insufferably boring. But in the second third the author seems to be illuminated that he has struck up with the preamble, and he starts on the remaining 400 pages to get out rabbit, snake, pigeon, of the hat, he gives the reader the entire set of plot gimmicks that the head is spinning. There will be unexpected return, the double final and fatal mistakes.

The previous two books were about honor, revenge, difficulties of choice, trust, this is about the transformation (we change others, but others change us, although we do not notice) and, last but not least, love and memory. Not perfectly, but, nevertheless, the author manages yet another daunting task - to show the smart alien race completely different from the people. The Spackle have the same motivations as humans, but Ness finds interesting way - gives human characteristics of the Spackle and to the Spackle human’s.

«Monsters of Men» of the entire trilogy is the most imperfect novel, but also the most daunting, most alive. Highly recommended.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

best books of the year: fiction

Peter Beagle — We Never Talk About My Brother

Best American Short Stories-2010

Jesse Kellerman — The Executor

China Mieville — Kraken

Lydia Millet — Oh Pure and Radiant Heart

James Morrow — Shambling Towards Hiroshima

Patrick Ness — The Knife of Never Letting Go\The Ask and the Answer\Monsters of Men

Philip Roth — Nemesis

Alan Warner — The Stars in the Bright Sky

Leslie What — Crazy Love

In alphabetical order. Not all these books were published in 2010. It's just my top books I read for the first time in 2010.