The Opportune Moment, 1855

The Opportune Moment, 1855
by Patrik Ouředník
Dalkey Archive Press, 2011
120 pages / $12.95 Buy from Dalkey Archive Press
Rating: 8.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dull is the immediate word for The Opportune Moment, 1855, but not a dullness on Patrik Ouředník’s part, nor on the book’s. Bruno, whose journal comprises the greater part of the book, doesn’t seem like much of an anarchist. His interior life is full of lust for one of the women on his ship to Brazil, vivid dreams about his dead mother, and his confusion over the anarchist’s notion of “freedom” (“And how can I tell whether I’m free?”) sounds very similar to the confusion of an acolyte or seminarian. This he has in common with his fellow anarchist from 1905, whose polemical jilt-letter to his ex-girlfriend, decades after she refused him, starts the book. That writer (incidentally the one who sent Bruno & Co. to Brazil) mentions a journal, “given me by the police officer charged with the investigation” into the demise or disbandment of anarchist settlers of Paraná. The cop couldn’t care less.

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Palo Alto

Palo Alto
by James Franco
Scribner, 2011
224 pages / $14.00 Buy from Powell’s
Rating: 5.4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last week, the Guardian posted their longlist for the year’s best first book award, an award carrying a prize worth £10,000. Afterwards they asked booksellers and bloggers to submit their nominations. In response, Elizabeth Baines posted an article citing her own list of books she felt were missing, one of which was James Franco’s debut story collection Palo Alto, recently published in paperback.

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If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things

If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things
by Jon McGregor
Mariner Books, 2003
275 pages / $13.95 Buy from Powell’s
Rating: 7.3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s been close to a decade since Jon McGregor wrote his debut novel If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, published when he was twenty-six. He was the youngest and only first-time novelist to be long-listed for the Booker Prize, and he won both the Betty Trask Award and the Somerset Maugham Award.

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I Am Not Sidney Poitier

I Am Not Sidney Poitier
by Percival Everett
Graywolf Press, 2009
270 pages / $16.00 Buy from Graywolf Press
Rating: 8.4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adjectives frequently used to describe Percival Everett include “intelligent” and “hilarious,” and are also apt descriptors for his seventeenth (!) novel, I Am Not Sidney Poitier. It is difficult to imagine a funnier book dealing with issues of race and identity, or a more sophisticated comic romp. The humor (and confusion) begins with the title, which refers to the novel’s main character, literally named Not Sidney Poitier. The “ill-starred fruit of a hysterical pregnancy” that lasts two years, Not Sidney is an orphan raised by Ted Turner who comes to resemble the actor Sidney Poitier. The unexpected death of Not Sidney’s mother leaves him with incredible wealth in the form of shares in the Turner Broadcasting Corp.

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Untitled

Untitled
by Paul French
Beggar Press, 2011
784 pages / $19.95 Buy from Beggar Press
Rating: 0.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul French’s Untitled (2011) is either his most brilliant or most obnoxious novel yet—probably, it seems, his most obnoxious. What’s brilliant about French’s novel is this: for Untitled French has invented, not just fictional characters (as you might get in a realist novel), not even just a fictional world (as you might get in a sci-fi novel), not even just a fictional universe (as you might get in a fantasy novel)—Untitled isn’t set in our universe, it isn’t even set in our dimension. For the novel French has invented fictional systems of mathematics, of physics; electromagnetism, nuclear forces, gravity, French has done away with them altogether. French’s characters aren’t made of cells, and within those cells atoms, and within those atoms protons and neutrons, and within those protons and neutrons quarks. French’s characters aren’t even length/width/height-type characters: whatever dimension Untitled is set in, it’s not the traditional dimension in which one would set a novel (the third). Continue reading “Untitled”

They Could No Longer Contain Themselves

They Could No Longer Contain Themselves:
A Collection of Five Flash Chapbooks
by Elizabeth J. Colen, John Jodzio,
Tim Jones-Yelvington, Sean Lovelace, and Mary Miller
Rose Metal Press, 2011
248 pages / $15.95 Buy from Rose Metal Press
Rating: 7.0

 

 

 

 

The problem with collections of flash fiction is their unevenness, or that the reader recognizes the unevenness more than in, say, a novel. Maybe this also applies to story collections, especially non-linked stories, though there are a few that come away feeling complete–to me, usually collections with fewer stories. I can’t think of a single flash collection that does not seem hill-and-valley. They Could No Longer Contain Themselves is no exception. I find it interesting to note, however, that the chapbooks that were linked helped me see past the valleys, as I was always aware of the range. Okay, enough of this terrible analogy. On to the individual chapbooks. Continue reading “They Could No Longer Contain Themselves”