new fiction

Ghosts and Spies Emerge From London Fog in Kate Atkinson’s ‘Transcription’

Lee Polevoi

Atkinson quickly establishes place, diction, and a credible spirit of wartime and postwar milieus—while rarely getting bogged down in unnecessary exposition. The tone in the early chapters is both keenly literary and vividly cinematic. Confusion arises, however, with a plethora of secondary characters, i.e., the German sympathizers and double agents, some of whom are being “run” by Godfrey Tobey, some by Perry (her boss). The reader might be forgiven for wondering why many of these clandestine members of the Fifth Column talk so openly about “working for Berlin” or “spying for the Gestapo” in the midst of wartime England. 

A Girl Vanishes, Seasons Pass, in Jon McGregor’s ‘Reservoir 13’

Lee Polevoi

A frenzied, exhaustive search gets underway. But despite the best efforts of residents and authorities, no trace of the girl is found. McGregor, employing a kind of narrative wide-angle lens, travels fitfully among the villagers—Jones, the school janitor; Jane, the vicar; the butcher Martin Fowler and his wife, Ruth; teens Sophie, James, Liam and Deepak—pausing long enough to remark on their circumstances and then moving on. 

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. 

Comedy, Tragedy Collide in Thomas McGuane’s ‘Crow Fair’

Lee Polevoi

Flash forward some 40-odd years, and McGuane’s writing has grown leaner and more mature, while maintaining a characteristically deft balance between over-the-top comedy and heartbreaking tragedy. In Crow Fair, a new collection of short stories set mostly in Montana’s Big Sky country, he depicts better than most what one character thinks of as “the blizzard of things that could never be explained and that pointlessly exhausted all human inquiry.”

T.C. Boyle Focuses on Cycles of Rage in ‘The Harder They Come’

Lee Polevoi

In the opening pages of Boyle’s new novel, The Harder They Come, a 70-year-old Vietnam vet named Sten Stensen and his wife are part of a tour group robbed at gunpoint while on vacation in Costa Rica. At some point during the ordeal, his long-ago military training kicks in and Stensen subdues one of the robbers, killing him in the process. On the bus ride back to the Red Cross Clinic, he experiences the adrenalin-charged aftermath of the incident.

Victim and Accuser Clash in David Bezmozgis’ ‘The Betrayers’

Lee Polevoi

The setup of David Bezmozgis’ second novel is refreshingly simple. Baruch Kotler, a prominent Israeli politician (and former political prisoner in the USSR) has fled Tel Aviv in disgrace with his much younger mistress, Leora. They come to Yalta, a resort town in the Crimea, where, after a mix-up over hotel reservations, they rent a room in an apartment owned by a Russian woman, Svetlana. As we quickly discover, Svetlana’s aged husband, Chaim Tankilevich, is the man who long ago denounced Kotler to the KGB, which led to Kotler’s 13 years of exile and imprisonment.    

Leading the Life of (Not So) Quiet Desperation in Robert Stone’s World

Lee Polevoi

Whether engendered by war and heroin, in Dog Soldiers, revolutionary zeal and madness in A Flag for Sunrise, madness again in Children of Light or religious fanaticism in Damascus Gate, these men and women find themselves headed for total meltdown. Waiting to see if the worst will happen—as it invariably does—is part of what has made Stone's work so compelling over the past five decades. But while the same kind of drug-ridden and mentally deranged anguish compels the various characters in his new novel, Death of the Black-Haired Girl, the scope of the novel is smaller than before. 

New Fiction: Florence the Forgotten

Maggie Hennefeld

This day and age, you only count as an undead being if you are fleshy enough to fall in love: anatomically correct vampires, Oedipal demons, baying werewolves who turn out to be your soulmate, and even coming-of-age witches. If there is no corporeal lust involved then you might as well have stayed dead for good. But my name is Florence and even though I am a specter without a body, I still think that my story deserves to be told all the same. 

Fiction: De Gaulle and I

Tara Taghizadeh

In the picture I have of my grandfather, he is standing next to General de Gaulle. You can’t see his face, though. What you see is the General in the midst of a crowd, and beside him is a man wearing a bowler hat with his back to the camera. The owner of that hat was my grandfather – according to him, anyway. “General de Gaulle is dead. France is a widow,” he’d say, shaking his head this way and that. Actually, President Pompidou said it on the radio, on a day as cold as hell when crows gathered on skinny branches covered in snow.

New Fiction: Arnie Blank

Sam Chapin

Hayato wasn’t sure what he said but could tell that Ralph was frustrated so he rejoined the group. As he walked, Hayato looked at the city through his camera, tripping over the cracks and curbs in his path.  He spotted an old building with giant metal decals and a metal roof and lingered with his camera. He zoomed in and slowly panned down the building, noticing how it gradually got fatter as he made his way down. He got to the twentieth floor and stopped. There was a baby in the window. He watched as it crawled out on the ledge. 

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