Tag Archives: FSG Books

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.

 

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

Universal Harvester Title: Universal Harvester
Author: John Darnielle
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374282103
Genre: Literary Fiction, Literary Thriller
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3 Stars

I did not read his first novel “Wolf in White Van” but I will most certainly read it, because I absolutely loved “Universal Harvester”. The book is not only unusual in terms of its plot but also kind of edgy that it stays with you – and the horrific bits do. The book starts off normally – very usual plot of a small town and its people till it becomes something else mid-way and you are astounded at the turn of events.

It is the late 90s and something sinister is brewing in Nevada, Iowa. It creeps up on you suddenly as you are enjoying or doing something else. You are watching something on your VHS player (yes there is a rental store that rents out VHS tapes and I loved the time it is set it) and suddenly there is heaving breathing in the dark coming from it, as your movie gets interrupted. There are clips and more clips in different tapes that surface and for some reason Jeremy cannot help but watch. He works at the store and wants to get to the bottom of this mystery.

The book reminded me of House of Leaves to some extent – ust the setting and the atmosphere surrounding it, and due to this, I was even spooked out easy, I suppose. Darnielle’s form of writing is easy. It doesn’t make you think so much while reading the book as it does after. At the same time, I thought it was a bit too detailed even though I am a sucker for them. It just got a lot to take in by the time I reached the end. Jeremy’s character is brilliantly etched. You can sense the darkness looming and yet don’t want him getting to that side.

“Universal Harvester” is eerie, and yet hopeful. I just wish it wasn’t so rough at the edges and a bit clean with the details and other miniscule characters and emotions.

A Grace Paley Reader: Stories, Essays, and Poetry by Grace Paley. Edited by Kevin Bowen and Nora Paley.

A Grace Paley Reader Title: A Grace Paley Reader: Stories, Essays, and Poetry
Author: Grace Paley
Edited by Kevin Bowen and Nora Paley
Publisher:Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN:978-0374165826
Genre: Anthology
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Grace Paley is one of those writers for which you to devote a lot of time and mind space. The reason I say this: the narrators and characters of her stories will not leave you. Her essays will haunt you long after you have finished reading them. Her verse will stay, whether you like it or not. To me, she is one of the finest I have read this year (I have of course read her works earlier as well – but scattered). I think this book also is the definite collection if you need an introduction to her work, before you move on to other books by her.

“A Grace Paley Reader” has a lot of omissions from her earlier works, but I guess as an editor they have to choose what to put and what to remove. Nonetheless, to me the span of her work mattered and this anthology touched on almost every genre in which she wrote. My favourite essays though are “A Midrash on Happiness” and also “Other People’s Children” which are very unsettling and yet so comforting – the paradox is hard to explain.

But then the sort of writer Grace Paley was, it is just very difficult to ignore her as a reader. “A Conversation with my Father” will tear you up in no time and you would wonder if a short story can do that, as it already has. Her economy of words, and at the same time the effortlessness of her prose keeps you stunned. Paley was also a feminist and that is reflective in her poems such as “Anti-Love Poem” or “Is There a Difference Between Men and Women” and my personal favourite “Letter to my Daughter”. She can do anything if you ask me and does in most of her work.

The introduction by George Saunders sums up her work beautifully in this one sentence: “Grace Paley will live in the minds of the readers she has moved, and in the minds of those she will yet move”. Need I say more after this?

 

Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

Borne Title: Borne
Author: Jeff VanderMeer
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 9780374115241
Genre: Literary Fiction, Science-Fiction, Dystopian Fiction
Pages: 330
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

“Borne” is an unusual book that takes some time getting into. It isn’t an easy read. Don’t be fooled by the initial pages. If anything, it will also drive you in a tizzy, trying to sometimes make sense of what is going on. It is dystopian and not so much because we can see what will happen to us if we don’t take care of our surroundings and the environment. This was a wake-up call for me but more than anything else, VanderMeer’s writing (I have read his The Southern Reach trilogy and it is fantastic) is first-class and he is most certainly at the top of his game.

Rachel survives as a scavenger in a ruined city – destroyed by drought and conflict, the other half destroyed by experiments (which were obviously in vain) conducted by the Company – a biotech firm, now rendered useless. Rachel lives with her partner Wick who deals with his own homegrown psychoactive biotech. And in all of this one fine day Rachel finds Borne and takes him home. Borne is more than just a green lump and has something magnificent about him. Borne is a constant reminder to Rachel of the life before the so-called apocalypse that took place (albeit of a different kind). She takes care of Borne, nurtures him – he makes sense of the world and makes Rachel believe in the goodness of the world all over again. Till he grows of course and everything goes for a toss. The world they have created is not perfect and Rachel would have to reconsider her decision.

There is a sense of morality about “Borne” which is very high. VanderMeer is okay with you taking any side, and yet it feels that he only wants you to be on one side so to say. He is also great at casting a web of fables – most of the book is that, but it is also the scary future we could have. Jeff’s prose is lucid and yet detailed at so many levels. He stretches your imagination and doesn’t serve anything on a platter, which to me is fantastic. The characters behave strangely and it is great to get to the motive at the end of it. I hope this one also has another two-parts, because to me Borne’s story does not end here. I am certain there is more. So if you like your books to make a chill run down your spine, then this is the one for you.

Enigma Variations by André Aciman

51L-bsaKRML Title: Enigma Variations
Author: André Aciman
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374148430
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I remember when I first read “Call Me by Your Name” by André Aciman and couldn’t stop crying. The book touched me in places I didn’t even know existed within me. The love of a teenager and an older man had me by the gut and for the longest time I couldn’t stop recommending it to people. Actually, I still do. Good books must always be read by all, even if it means just most people, but read it must be for sure. And for a while after I didn’t read anything by Aciman, till “Enigma Variations” was sent to me and I couldn’t help myself.

You cannot expect “Enigma Variations” to be like “Call Me by Your Name” but the writing is for sure similar (the same author of course) and that is what keeps the reader going. This novel charts the life of a man named Paul – whose loves remain as overpowering and passionate throughout his adulthood as they were during adolescence. With this book Aciman has sealed himself as being one of my favourite authors for sure. This book is that powerful and lyrical.

“Enigma Variations” is about Paul of course, but it is also about the people he falls in love with – both women and men. The setting could be Southern Italy, where as a boy he had a crush on his parents’ cabinetmaker (reminded me so much of Call Me by Your Name) or it could be a snowbound campus in New England where he falls hard for a girl and meets her over and over again, or it could also be his nefarious one-night stands with men who he will never meet, or New York’s sidewalks and cafés and more – the bottom line is that Aciman makes his characters yearn, gives them raw desire and emotions and leaves them to grapple with it. At no point did I get bored with the book. In fact, if anything I just didn’t want the book to end.

It felt like I was Paul and it was my life playing itself out in front of me. Aciman’s language casts a spell – through his words and situations he maps corners of desire that were most mysterious and out of reach. His characters are human. They make mistakes. They cry. They hurt. They also want and they also waver from the wanting. They are indecisive and it is alright for them to be this way. Paul takes account of all his fears, hopes, desires and still wants love in his life.

To me that is of paramount significance – after being such enigmas to our own selves, we finally discover what it is that we really want. Aciman plays on everyday emotions and scenes. At no point as a reader you will feel strongly disconnected from the plot. It is almost like he is chronicling what you might have gone through once a upon a time. Aciman understands emotions intricately and is not shy of putting them out like an open wound.