Category Archives: Farrar Straus and Giroux

Border Districts by Gerald Murnane

Border Districts by Gerald Murnane Title: Border Districts
Author: Gerald Murnane
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374115753
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Very cleverly, Border Districts calls itself a fiction. After reading the synopsis, and knowing that this book is about a man and the books he has read and the relationship he shares with them, I couldn’t help but smile and kind of relate to it. I hadn’t heard of Murnane before reading this book and now I am so in awe that I want to lay my hands on everything he has written.

“Border Districts” is a story of a man who moves to a remote town in the border country, where all he wants to do is spend the last years of his life. While he is doing that, he wants to look back at a lifetime of seeing and of reading. Of what he saw and what he read. The images, people and places he witnessed as he grew along the years and the fictional characters he came across, the words he soaked in and the books he cherished. And where memory enters any novel/novella, secrets are bound to make an appearance and that’s exactly what happens, which also play with your head.

Murnane’s writing is soothing and yet I could sense the urgency and the head-rush that came with it. Like I said, I had not heard of him until this read and now I can’t wait to read everything he has written. His prose jumps at you and takes you captive. It is that kind of power. The shifting of narrative between seeing and reading is seamless and maybe that’s why I was hooked the way I was.

“Border Districts” is mostly autobiographical in nature, based on Murnane’s move from Melbourne to a remote town. Australia for me has never come this alive in any book. Sometimes unexpected books and authors jump at you and before you know it, you are in love.

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Let’s No One Get Hurt by Jon Pineda

Let's No One Get Hurt by Jon PinedaTitle: Let’s No One Get Hurt
Author: Jon Pineda
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374185244
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4  Stars

Sometimes I really wish some books did not have to be this violent – physically, emotionally or mentally. But I also think sometimes we need to show that violence for what the world is and art does imitate life after all. “Let’s No One Get Hurt” is so redemptive and yet somehow seemed so dark as it progressed. The writing is raw, visceral and yet so tender in so many places that you can almost sense the attachment between the young girl and the three men she lives with. We after all make our own home, where we find it.

Fifteen-year-old Pearl lives in an abandoned boathouse with her father – a disgraced college professor and two other men, deep in the American South. All four live on the margins and make do with what they can. There is a sense of weird kind of family but each of them looks after the other and are slowly but surely making sense of the world as days go by.

Enter: Mason Boyd who is also known as “Main Boy” and whose father has purchased the property Pearl and her family are squatting, putting him in a position of power between the two kids, leading to dynamics changing that Pearl never thought of.

The writing is very poetic, to the point of it being poetic-prose and feels very satisfying most of the time. Yet the nagging thought of something bad will happen which keeps haunting the reader. Pearl and her makeshift family (those characters are something else, trust me I can only urge you to read the book to know them better) has been thought of so beautifully, even if the moments of tenderness and grace are not so much, you learn to sit patiently for them to come.

“Let’s No One Get Hurt” captures the essence of power, violence and redemption wonderfully and with parallel stories and layers to the larger narrative. It is a book that will break your heart mostly but will let you heal yourself. A lot of you might think that there is nothing new about it, but you have to read it to believe what Pineda has created – a stunning portrait of loss, love and turmoil in the South.

 

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

Sourdough Title: Sourdough
Author: Robin Sloan
Publisher: MCD, Farrar Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374903343
Genre: Literary Fiction, Fantasy
Pages: 260
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

If you’ve read Robin Sloan before, chances are you will love this one. If you haven’t read Robin Sloan before, chances are you will love this one again. “Sourdough” is a mix of almost everything – fantasy, science fiction, satire, literary fiction and a profoundness to it like no other book I’ve read in some time. Robin Sloan somehow manages to roll everything in one and does a pretty good job of it.

“Sourdough” follows the story of a young computer programmer (again), Lois Clary from Michigan into something so dark that it takes you by surprise and also shock in so many places. Lois does nothing but code – all night and sleeps all day. Her human contact is limited to the two brothers who run the neighborhood joint from which she orders food every evening. The brothers close shop and it is to Lois to keep their sourdough starter alive. She basically has to learn how to bake with it, which she clearly doesn’t know.

The book is weird. From here on it takes turns and twists that you wouldn’t believe (much in the vein of Mr. Penumbra’s), however, if you read deeper (which I am sure you will at some point), you will find elements of alienation, immigration issues and what it is to be American and not be starkly evident. This book is so weird (I know I am being repetitive but I have to) that at times I didn’t know what I was reading or why. You have to be patient with the prose to be involved so you cannot let go. And might I also add that you would crave sourdough while reading this book, so be prepared.

“Sourdough” cannot be classified into a genre but I have to because I have no choice, really. All I can say is that if you like your reading a little over the edge and funky, you must try this one for sure.

 

 

Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process by John McPhee

Draft No. 4 Title: Draft No. 4: On The Writing Process
Author: John McPhee
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374142742
Genre: Non-Fiction, Writing Skills, Essays
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I have read books on reading. I have read books on writing as well. But off-late no book on writing has made me laugh and “Draft No. 4” managed to do that. It made me chuckle and kept my spirits high and also in its own way told me that it is okay to not get that sentence correct, that it is alright to not stress over punctuation sometimes and also that there will be times that you will not be able to write. It broke a lot of writing fallacies that are out there and made me see writing in a whole new way.

Also, if you have to learn about a subject, then why not turn to one of the very best? John McPhee is a professor of journalism at Princeton, writes for The New Yorker and has published over thirty books. Let me also tell you that “Draft No. 4” could have easily fallen in the trap of being preachy and pedantic, which it doesn’t. McPhee makes you see how writing is – truly is for those who are writers and also for those who want to become writers.

What I loved about the book is that I could identify with most of it. For instance, McPhee states that while you might write for only two to four hours a day, your mind is working twenty-four hours on the book. He also mentions of “the elegance in the less ambiguous ways” – for instance, the turn of the phrase or where to place the bracket words (he does get to technique as well).

This is a collection of essays that doesn’t take away from the joy of writing. It lends to it beautifully. He of course says and advises the way he has to, but also gives you room to come up with your comfort rules of writing. The ones that actually work for you. So why must you read this book then? Because it will open your mind to going back to the basics of writing (which is what every writer says but most don’t really know what they are talking about) and implement them in your way to your advantage. McPhee makes it seem simple (not without mentioning its cons and the power of writing to drive you crazy sometimes) and at the same time ironically tells you that your fourth draft perhaps will be the best one, ready to publish.

Fresh Complaint: Stories by Jeffrey Eugenides

Fresh Complaint Title: Fresh Complaint: Stories
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374203061
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Jeffrey Eugenides’ writing has come a long way. Who am I to judge that? His ardent fan. One of his ardent fans, who could not get enough of The Virgin Suicides or Middlesex or The Marriage Plot (weakest among the three and yet, I loved it to bits). One of his fans who cannot stop raving about his new book “Fresh Complaint”, a collection of short stories that shows family love, discovery of the self, adolescence, identity and what it means to be American (well, not all the time) through ten stunning stories (two of them which I found to be off, but loved them nonetheless).

I have also always believed that writing short stories is way more difficult than the novel. Short stories have to be taut. You cannot take liberties with time and space as you would in a novel and that makes them even more difficult when it comes to engaging with readers. In Eugenides’ stories we meet people who are broken, who are whole, who go through life in a daze and some who think they have it all under control and stumble only to realize that this isn’t the life they wanted anyway.

My favourite stories in this collection are “Baster” – which is funny and yet so tragic and also “Air Mail” – which is about Mitchell whose story was left hanging in The Marriage Plot and this story somewhat gives it closure. “Complainers”, the first story in the collection is about dementia, old age and above all of the beautiful friendship two women share over the years. And last but not the least, I absolutely could not get enough of the title story. “Fresh Complaint” is a story that could very well have been a novel. It is the story of a high school student whose wish to escape her immigrant family has consequences on a British physicists’ life beyond repair.

Characters in this collection are not kind all the time. They are just human. Eugenides allows his characters to make their mistakes, live their dreams and see regrets for what they are. He takes you to uncomfortable places and is not apologetic about it. These stories date from 1989 to 2017, out of which eight were previously published (I hadn’t read any). “Fresh Complaint” is a collection of stories that are real, insightful and dark, allowing characters to hide, to be seen and not without some humour as well.