Artwork:  from "Ritual" by Ian Francis, 2013

January Six

Fiction by Luke Wiget

“Wilson Willowdell shaved his face. He was naked at the mirror and his mustache kit lay open in front of him. Strapped inside were two black brushes and a pair of small, sharp scissors. He worked the scissors to his thin, dark mustache, taking off just a shade. When he was finished it was even and good. You could not have drawn it on any straighter than he cut it. It was Sunday, the only day that Wilson cooked for himself alone. On other days he attended the ancient skillet at the diner. He cooked slowly but not many complained. His French toast saved him from any real criticism. The toast was fluffy and light as new snow.”

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The Curfew by Jesse Ball

The Curfew by Jesse Ball

A review by Shelby Wardlaw

Behind the dystopian plot of Jesse Ball’s new book The Curfew lies an in-depth meditation on the purpose and state of the artist. At one point, the protagonist William remembers his violin teacher’s instruction regarding the proper way to play a sonata: “You must be brutal, terrible, but with great sympathy, sympathy for all things, and yet no mercy.” Accordingly, The Curfew does not lack for sadness and difficulty. Yet Ball harbors an artist’s appreciation for his raw material; he chooses words that will evoke and yet not devastate. He is, at times, brutal, but always deeply sympathetic towards his characters. The Curfew is a hushed novel, not overly ambitious, but unrelenting in its demonstration of the power and scope of art.

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The Book of Freaks by Jamie Iredell

The Book of Freaks by Jamie Iredell

A review by Chris Bundy

The Book of Freaks insists on a combination of division and harmony, like the contemporary novel-in-stories, which contains standalone stories unified by reoccurring characters or a common setting. While Jamie Iredell shuns those two strategies, the book still holds together, rather, fuses as one. Consider, as comparison, the preludes and fugues of Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier, a work noted for its structural regularities yet broad array of styles.

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The New Yorker Stories by Ann Beattie

The New Yorker Stories by Ann Beattie
A review by Joseph Salvatore

My college writing teacher was a friend and a great fan of Ann Beattie. This was during the late 80s. In his fiction class, we read lots of Beattie (as well as Carver and Ford and Mason and Phillips). But mostly we read Ann Beattie. We read Distortions and Secrets and Surprises the same semester we read Raymond Carver’s Will You Please Be Quiet, Please and What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Never stated, yet somehow understood by all of us, was the sense that Beattie’s style (and the style of all of those writers) was the true aesthetic idiom for rendering contemporary American life. We were unafraid to call that style minimalism-that term was then not a dirty word at all, but an efficient descriptor. It smacked of other synonyms that were gaining currency toward the end of that decade: stripped down, spare, clean, essential; there was even something of the nascent garage-band grunge to it-linguistic flannel shirts and jeans replacing the spandex and platform shoes of the glam-rock past.

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An Age of Terror and Forgetting

A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb by Amitava Kumar
Reviewed by Ranbir Sidhu

Among the many symptoms of living in an age of a perpetual war on terrorism is amnesia. There are times we forget when it began, and for those growing up in this age, I can only imagine that it has the shopworn quality of grim permanency that those of us who came of age in the Cold War once felt. That war had no beginning, not in our lifetimes at least, and it sure felt like it never would have an end, except the most ugly, in nuclear annihilation. The fears must be different today. Instead of global extinction, the destruction children probably fear is localized and personal. A terrorist bomb will blow up their world.

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The Pregnant Widow By Martin Amis

The Pregnant Widow
By Martin Amis
Reviewed by Robin Mookerjee

When Mr. Amis releases a new novel his many readers want to know if it is fun – as fun as works likeLondon Fields. Other commentators busily ascribe views to the author on the basis of fictional dialogue. No contemporary novelist is subject to as many personal attacks as Amis, whose reviewers seem to think it appropriate to size him up personally as if he were a newcomer to their Upper West Side (or Islington) circle. Generally, the verdict is that Amis thinks too well of himself. So, when were distinguished authors expected to be self-effacing? These complaints conceal resentment that an author, out of key with contemporary tastes, is conspicuously talented and shows it. If the “courageous” authors of novels with three-word titles ending in “wife” or “daughter” could write like Amis, they probably would.

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How to Water God’s Garden

The Year of the Flood and Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Review by Alexios Moore

In her latest two novels, Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, Atwood returns to speculative fiction, extrapolating upon current trends in everything from entertainment to ecology. In the now familiar “not-so-distant-future” Biotech Corporations have replaced governments, the border between wealthy and poor is vast and heavily guarded, and our relationship to Nature has been corrupted through bioengineering. The poor or pleebs live in work at SecretBurgers or sell their bodies, coated in fabricated scales, at Scales n Tails while the rich live on HelthWhyzer compounds guarded by the CorpSeCorps, developing drugs to extend their lives while mounting occasional forays into the pleeblands for a taste of radical chic.

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