Books & Fiction

Fiction and Memory Blend Uneasily in John le Carré’s ‘Pigeon Tunnel’

Lee Polevoi

Before examining the virtues and shortcomings of The Pigeon Tunnel, it’s worth pointing out to readers who don’t already know it that le Carré is among the great writers of our time. Of his many novels, at least two (The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) will endure long after most contemporary fiction has scattered like sand on a windy day. And even now, in his 80s, le Carré still produces fiction of superb craftsmanship.

Remembering Charles Brockden Brown, the Father of American Fright

Adam Gravano

While his reputation has diminished, as the first American gothic novelist who wrote about American characters in American settings, he can be considered the father of the tradition. There's much to suggest that America's first professional author might also be one of the more interesting writers of his period, and, as such, has been unjustly relegated to a second tier: he was read on both sides of the Atlantic, with nods and recommendations from the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne and John Keats; he was an early feminist; and his likely influence on the titanic name in 19th century American gothic tales, Edgar Allan Poe. 

Losing the Forest for the Trees in Annie Proulx’s ‘Barkskins’

Lee Polevoi

Well-known for her novel The Shipping News and her masterful short stories (including “Brokeback Mountain”), Proulx has, at age 80, taken a different tack, sailing into the headwinds of a 700-plus-page novel. Barkskins follows the exploits and adventures of multiple generations of the Sel and Duquet (later renamed “Duke”) families. It also charts the progressively more destructive actions taken by the logging and timber industries over the course of the following centuries.

Mark Haddon Displays Compelling Fiction in ‘The Pier Falls’

Lee Polevoi

It's difficult to recall encountering another work of short fiction as well-crafted and emotionally devastating as the title story in Mark Haddon's new collection, The Pier Falls. Read first for shock value (and it is shocking), the story demands an immediate second reading for its sheer mastery of detail and timing. “The Pier Falls”– spoiler alert in the title—recounts the spiraling escalation of events when a crowded pier in an English seaside resort town abruptly loses one key load-bearing rivet and then another, paving the way for catastrophe. 

‘Black Lotus’: One Woman’s Search for Racial Identity in a Racist World

Hope Wabuke

But for Abrams, born to a Chinese immigrant mother and a white American father, passing was a result not of choice but of ignorance. All her life she had been told that the reason her skin was darker than the rest of her family’s was that she was born in Hawaii. And then, when she was 14, the man she thought of as her father told Abrams that her actual biological father was black.

The Crisis in Infrastructure Detailed in Henry Petroski’s ‘The Road Taken’

Lee Polevoi

In his new book, The Road Taken, the distinguished historian and engineer Henry Petroski looks back on the evolution of our core physical and transportation infrastructure – the roads, bridges, interstate highways, everything constructed and maintained in past centuries for the chief purpose of moving human beings and commerce from one location to another. Petroski also declares a state of emergency concerning the dismal state of affairs (a “tipping point”) of our decaying transportation infrastructure.

Hell is a Cold Place in Ian McGuire’s ‘North Water’

Lee Polevoi

Inevitably, The North Water carries echoes of Melville and Lord Jim, but the sensibility behind Ian McGuire’s engrossing new novel is unmistakably Cormac McCarthy. With its exquisitely detailed acts of violence – each more graphic and disturbing than the next – the author depicts a hellish world that, like much of McCarthy’s work, is both unsparing and utterly convincing. 

 

Dissecting the Art of the Con in Maria Konnikova’s ‘Confidence Game’

Lee Polevoi

Readers may pause and reflect on whether they have fallen victim to a cunning fraud at some time in their lives. Others, acutely aware of past victimhood and the significant loss of hard-earned funds at the hands of a confidence man (or woman), won’t find any of this hard to believe. Konnikova’s goal in The Confidence Game isn’t to chronicle spectacular examples of the con, but instead, to offer “an exploration of the psychological principles that underlie each and every game … from the moment the endeavor is conceived to the aftermath of its execution.” 

Viet Thanh Nguyen Wins Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

John Freeman

Nguyen spent his first three years in the US in a refugee camp in Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsyvlania and then with a host family in Harrisburg, where he was separated from his mother and father and sister. “Not everyone would take a whole family,” he says, speaking by phone from Boston. “This period had a big impact on me, I didn’t realize how deep until much later.”

A Bomb Is Ticking in Jonathan Lee’s Riveting ‘High Dive’

Lee Polevoi

On October 12, 1984, a time bomb planted by the IRA exploded in the Grand Hotel in Brighton, England. The target of the bombing, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, on hand for the annual gathering of her Conservative Party Conference, walked away unharmed. Five other people died and many suffered serious injuries. On this tragic real-life event, British writer Jonathan Lee has grafted High Dive, his third novel and first to be published in the U.S.

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