Before I donned the gentleman’s cloak, back when I was still a wayward scamp who held doors open for people with nary a bow or doffing of a top hat, I recommended the work of Nicole Krauss. “The History of Love” and “Great House” are recommended enthusiastically, but those recommendations have disappeared into the unending chasm of the internet, and while a government agency undoubtedly has copies on a floppy disk, I am unable to link you to those recommendations, and rather than use words to elaborate on those previous recommendations (when said words are clearly better spent doing whatever it is I’m doing now), I merely urge any reader with a taste for what folk call “literary fiction” to read those novels.
Is there something happening in the world causing me to gravitate to strange stories told by unreliable narrators which offer little to no resolution? There is no way to know, but I’m here to recommend another story that, while thrilling many readers, has left others scratching their chins and polishing their monocles while they try to unearth the key that they missed which would unlock the mystery and allow them to go about their merry ways confident that they’ve completed a sensical story and fully absorbed what it has to offer.
It’s neat when a novel reminds you of the practically limitless possibilities of fiction. It’s also neat when it reminds you of the practically limitless possibilities of reality. If you’d like to be reminded that one can not only write a fictional account of a race of super-intelligent monster dogs, but that, given the time, brilliance, resources (robot arms, 19th century Prussian fashion, etc.) and willingness to ignore a slew of ethical concerns, one might even create a race of super-intelligent monster dogs, read “Lives of the Monster Dogs” by Kirsten Bakis.
As a gentleman who is nearly as enthusiastic about dogs as I am about cravats and monocles, Bakis’ debut novel seems engineered to appeal to me. But while there are plenty of dogs dressed in the fashion of 19th century Prussian aristocrats, there is also a fair bit of animal murder, human murder and gruesome experimentation. One cannot build a race of dog soldiers without first trying and failing to attach wings to a squirrel or swapping the rear and front legs of an unfortunate cow. So, a century before the monster dogs make their home in Manhattan, Augustus Rank experiments wildly on all sorts of critters. Fortunately for the reader, rather than follow this path to its natural culmination of serial killing, Rank begins to achieve success and earns a patron. His patron funds him, and eventually, as an adult, Rank sets up an outpost in the Canadian wilderness where he can nurture a cult, mandate that the cult maintains 19th century Prussian customs, and continue to follow his dream of creating a race of dog super soldiers complete with robot arms and robot voice boxes. Though he dies before achieving his goal (but not before promising he would return from the dead when the time was right), his followers eventually complete his goal for him. Continue reading “The Gentleman Recommends: Kirsten Bakis”
Once you’ve exhausted all the content on dbrl.org/adults, and you’re looking for a nice single-sitting read, consider “The Only Harmless Great Thing” by Brooke Bolander. In the time it takes your butler to press your evening wear and prepare your evening snacks, you can consume the novella, perhaps with time to spare for contemplation over a succession of treats.
The novella combines two real tragedies (“The Radium Girls” and Topsy the Elephant) and adds the story of trying to prevent a third (future generations inadvertently entering radioactive land). Regan, like the real Radium Girls, is dying of cancer because her job is to paint watches with a paint that makes them glow and gives her cancer. Her bosses encourage her to use her mouth to moisten the paint brushes in order to save on time and cleaning materials. Unlike the real Radium Girls, she is trying to train Topsy the elephant to take over her job because her bosses appreciate the fact that it will take longer to give cancer to an elephant. When Topsy murders a cruel man, she is sold to a carnival so that she can be executed for the entertainment of an audience. Unlike the real Topsy, this one has a trick up her trunk.
Given the current limits of technology, the best way to escape this reality is to get lost in a great book. And while there’s no greater reading pleasure than getting lost in a novel massive enough to accompany you through the course of several sleepless nights and a charity gala or two, it’s also rather grand to gently pummel one’s imagination with 40 very short and strange stories one after another until you’re a little dizzy from the off-kilter sweetness humanity is capable of.
But where does one find 40 great, very short, strange, sweet (if also sometimes menacing) stories? I, too, wondered this, until I found “Tales of Falling and Flying” by Ben Loory, the second such collection of exactly 40 great, short, strange, sweet stories he’s written. Loory has compared his writing to “an animated version of The Twilight Zone,” and I think it’s a fair comparison. Continue reading “The Gentleman Recommends: Ben Loory”
“Best Worst American” by Juan Martinez is another delightful and weird collection of short stories published by Small Beer Press. (If you haven’t read the previously recommended works by Kelly Link, I reiterate my recommendation to do so.) (Apologies to Mr. Martinez for immediately hijacking his recommendation to re-recommend another author.)
Proceeding, then, with the career boost this post inevitably provides and which Martinez indubitably deserves, “Best Worst American” will be appreciated by fans of McSweeney’s (where several of the pieces were originally published) and the sort of stand-up comedy performed by people with hip glasses. (Not the glasses you think are hip, the ones that actually are hip: I do not know which glasses these are; though, of course, the monocle will never go out of style.) Continue reading “The Gentleman Recommends: Juan Martinez”
As someone with a penchant for taking titles too literally, my desire to read a book called “The Answers” was both tremendous and misguided. It soon became clear that this book would not be answering my most pressing queries. Rather, the book is more interested in posing, not answering, big old questions: What is love? Why do people love? How does one survive underemployment and crippling debt? Is it wrong to manipulate emotions with high-tech electronics? Continue reading “The Gentleman Recommends: Catherine Lacey”
Like any gentleman of means, I’m fond of gallivanting around the world. Though I may not travel as much as I’d like, what with the estate, the cats and the pending transactions needing looking after, my attache case is always packed with books and monocles so that I may use the wonders of literature to mitigate the horrors of public transportation. On two of my most notable excursions, novels by Hari Kunzru helped eat several hours that would have otherwise been occupied by fretting over what sorts of messes the cats were making in the estate. Given space constraints, my obligation to save the details of my travels for my visitors’ parlor, and two lawsuits, I’ll sum it up by saying that I have a soft spot for Kunzru’s writing. He earned the soft spot, though. It wasn’t just because he succeeded in distracting from the snores of the man taking up most of my seat: Kunzru is a brilliant writer.
“The Impressionist,” which I read when I was little more than a pup easily startled by every ticket taker and fuel-efficient vehicle I saw, is his debut novel, and one that garnered a lot of praise on publication. It’s about a brown boy born with white skin. My memory is fuzzy on specifics, but it was great. Continue reading “The Gentleman Recommends: Hari Kunzru”
As a professional book recommender, I’m constantly recommending books. Unfortunately, not everyone enjoys the same sorts of books I do, so I must resort to asking what sorts of books a person likes before I can offer my precise recommendation. Over and over again, I hear, “I want a work of fiction about a fictional movie that’s inspired by the making of the film ‘Cannibal Holocaust.’ Also, it needs to have a subplot about a socialist revolution that intersects with the main plot in perfect but horrifying fashion,” they’ll inevitably say. Prior to reading “We Eat Our Own” by Kea Wilson, I could only offer tearful apologies and some of the candy I keep in my pockets: I knew of no such book. Now, however, I can enthusiastically recommend “We Eat Our Own” by Kea Wilson, and keep my candy.
Wilson’s novel follows several different characters. We start with “Richard,” whose name is in quotes because he’s only referred to by the part he’s playing until near the end of the novel. “Richard” is an unknown American actor who is brought into the production because having an American actor lowers distribution costs, and the previous American actor abandoned the project because there was no script. Also, crucially, he is the same shoe size as the departed actor. As it’s set in the ’70s, he has no reliable and civilized way of informing his girlfriend of his immediate departure, so he writes a note that she won’t see for weeks, and makes his way to South America. Continue reading “The Gentleman Recommends: Kea Wilson”