Microviews Vol. 29: Grumplestiltskin Strikes Again

on Saturday, April 13, 2013
It's probably just the post-Infatuations slump, but nothing really seems to be grabbing me at the moment. In fact, had it not been for my new DEAR author, Goncalo Tavares, I'd have put this down as one of the least inspiring reading weeks in recent memory. Yep, Tavares aside, it was pretty ordinary. Ho hum. At least I cracked the half ton for the year. April 14 and I've knocked over (not to mention reviewed) fifty-three books!

My Name Was Judas by CK Stead
Between Jose Saramago, Colm Toibin, Jim Crace and CK Stead, we could almost construct a Third Testament. Here the most maligned bloke in history gets to put in his two cents (or should that be silver coins?) and while it is generally compelling and challenges some troubling theological assumptions, it ain't a patch on Toibin's Mary. For addicts of apocrypha only...
3 Out Of 5 Traitor's Kisses

Julia by Otto De Kat
I am throwing down the gauntlet and calling shenanigans on the endless deluge of Holocaust fiction that follows the same narrative trajectory: guy falls for girl, evil Nazi regime drives guy and girl apart, guy looks back as an old man wondering what happened, guy finds out by some strange coincidence that girl was actually spy/resistance fighter/heroine and had to sacrifice her true love for the greater good. Sure, Julia is a lovely example of this story, but seriously folks...
3 Out Of 5 Coded Letters

Donnybrook by Frank Bill
If you can get through the depraved brutality of the first three pages of this novel, you're doing well. Persevere and you're in for one hell of a bourbon-fuelled clusterfuck of violence. Set in the lead-up to a three-day bare knuckle tournament, Donnybrook follows a cast of the most insane, unlikeable, desperate gutter dwellers as they double, triple and quadruple cross one another for the love of drugs and money. It ain't subtle, but it's pretty darn fun.
3.5 Out Of 5 Speedballs

Joseph Walser's Machine by Goncalo M. Tavares
I'm not sure of the order in which Tavares's Kingdom series is supposed to be read, but this is my second of the four (of which only three are available in translation). Jerusalem was a great spin on noir, not to mention a cool iteration of Soul Asylum's best song, String Of Pearls, but it pales next to the brilliance of Joseph Walser's Machine. The more I read of him, the more Tavares reminds me of Georges Perec with his constant innovation and experimentation, albeit without the wacky impenetrability. JSM is a perplexing riff on the concept of routine, with Tavares throwing slight changes to the perfectly ordered world that Walser - an archetypal pathetic functionary - has constructed for himself. Tavares's point is clear - routine destroys the human soul. Having experienced this wonderful little novel, I'm inclined to agree.
4.5 Out Of 5 Closely Watched Clocks

The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg
Is it just me or are we drowning in heavily workshopped, MFA-spawned, middle-American, slice of Jewish family life novels? At the risk of being sniped from crystal palaces, I'm just going to go ahead and say that I've stopped caring about these semi-dysfunctional families and their first world problems. Attenberg brings an interesting structural spin to The Middlesteins - the chapters follow the weight gain of the morbidly obese matriarch Edie and the resulting familial disintegration - but this could be any of a number of recent works from the Critically Approved Literature factory. It is a lovely book, to be sure, but at some point even the best attended circle jerk must come to an end.
3.5 Out of 5 Gilbert Grapes


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