Tag Archives: FSG Originals

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.

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A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin

819-Mmqz8XL Title: A Manual for Cleaning Woman: Selected Stories
Author: Lucia Berlin
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374202392
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 432
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Berlin’s collection of short stories is about ordinary people. The people who live right on the margins of society and aspire to make their lives better and yet some succeed (rarely) and most do not. They go through bad Christmases, live hand to mouth sometimes and don’t know what tomorrow brings with it for them. Her characters aren’t depressing as much as they are clueless and bored of living the same life, inside out, almost every single day. Her stories are real and you can identify with each of them with ease and at the same time, they also make you think about the state of affairs of the blue-collar workers.

The stories in “A Manual for Cleaning Women” are slow. Let me warn you upfront about it if you are expecting them to move at a certain pace. That will not happen with a Berlin collection. Berlin’s stories are horrific tales of addiction, poverty, alcoholism, illness, failed love affairs, and wrong choices. At the same time, the obvious isn’t apparent in her stories and that is something which leaves the reader guessing. She doesn’t dish it to you on a platter. At the same time, there is minimum dialogue and brevity in her writing. At times while reading this collection I was reminded of Chekov only because of the way Berlin understood the human condition and expressed it beautifully through her stories.

The collection will leave you devastated if you read it in one go. You need to take your time with these stories and read it after a couple of intervals. Berlin’s writing also reminded me of Alice Munro (who I love and admire) – the slowness, the eye for detail and doesn’t skip a beat when it comes to human emotions. “A Manual for Cleaning Women” will most certainly leave you begging for more.

You are Having a Good Time: Stories by Amie Barrodale

51XyTyEIp7L Title: You are Having a Good Time: Stories
Author: Amie Barrodale
Publisher: FSG Originals
ISBN: 978-0374293864
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

“You are Having a Good Time” by Amie Barrodale is a collection of non-interlinked stories of desire, consequences be damned. It is about characters who are so simple that all they want is for their desires to see fruition and at the same time so complex that they want to justify everything that desire makes them do (or so it seems). The desires in these stories could be related to the body or not. The underline theme though is that of normality being stripped away from every single character, for him or her to discover who they truly are behind the façade.

Barrodale writes with such honesty that she almost shows you the mirror without you wanting to see it. From an up and coming starlet harboring a complicated attraction to her abusive director to a compromised psychiatrist getting embroiled in a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship to even a woman who just wants to break free, so ends up having an affair with a drummer that will ruin it all, Barradole’s characters do not follow any rules. The mean, ugly, often oblivious characters are just placed in terrible situations and they have deal with them, no matter what.

This collection of short-stories does not make you question anything but if definitely makes you think of human relationships a little more in detail. The borderline of being macabre and beautiful is rather thin when it comes to Amie’s style of writing. The stories are devastatingly honest and it might even cause some discomfort but I guess that is the intent of the author. “You are Having a Good Time” will make you think and wonder about what is going on with your life at the end of the day – the compromises you make, the compromises you demand from other people and above all will make you question desire and responsibilities.

The Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner

26114416 Title: The Hatred of Poetry
Author: Ben Lerner
Publisher: FSG Originals
ISBN:978-0865478206
Genre: Criticism and Theory, Poetry
Pages: 96
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

This book’s title might make you wonder: The Hatred of Poetry? Really? It might even intrigue you to pick it up (which is a very good thing by the way). Most people hate poetry as an art form by the way. The book starts with bashing poetry and Ben Lerner even stating that he hates it as well. He goes on to even list other people and even poets who have said that they hate poetry. Ben Lerner then throws this right on its head and lets readers know why people hate poetry so much and then builds a very strong defense for it.

Lerner is a poet by the way, besides being a novelist. He has published three poetry collections in case you are wondering how does he get to be an authority on poetry and write on it. “The Hatred of Poetry” is almost a treatise and yet it isn’t preachy at all. Lerner is fair when he speaks of why people hate poetry (rhymes, meter, etc.) and at the same time he uses those very elements to convey why people would love poetry as well. To me, he also made a very valid point of the language sometimes used by poets that restricts it from connecting with people (this to a very large extent is also quite true).

This book also reminded me of the poetry open mic I had been to. Thank God, the only one I had been to. I say this because at some level I could also see the pretense of it (where some of them were concerned) and Lerner also makes a point to this perspective. All in all, “The Hatred of Poetry” will either make you stop reading poems altogether or will convert you to a fan. I love poetry. So I was safe anyway.

Book Review: The Isle of Youth: Stories by Laura van den Berg

The Isle of Youth by Laura van den Berg Title: The Isle of Youth
Author: Laura van den Berg
Publisher: FSG Originals
ISBN: 9780374177232
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I have always admitted to the fact that for me, short stories are a little more important than the novel. I am aware that there are literary greats who at one point mastered the form so well, that everything written by anyone after only got compared and perhaps looked pale when done so. There are also times an author comes along and literally makes you wonder about the most amazing genius he or she possesses when penning a short story and perhaps for me after Munro, there is now Laura van den Berg with her dazzling collection of stories, “The Isle of Youth”.

“The Isle of Youth” is mainly about women and their lives. It is about the angry women, the quiet women, and the women who just want to lead uncomplicated lives, which is never the case with them. I think what struck me the most in these stories besides the language, was the strong characterization of both – the men (who obviously are in the background and yet play a vital role) and the women, whose every act and move is monitored, giving the reader the much needed understanding of the why and the how.

Every story in this collection speaks for itself. From the first story in the collection, “I Looked for You, I Called Your Name” with honeymooners’ crash landing in Patagonia to the title story, right at the end, van den Berg will dazzle you with her characteristic eye for detail and landscape of emotions used.

The first story is about the woman discovering her husband’s personality and in the wake of that, her relationship is riddled with doubt and she also begins to understand herself. The nature of the setting, Patagonia in this case also lends to the fragility of the story. For me, what worked the most was the sudden bleakness you are witness to throughout the stories and yet somewhere down the line, there is the underlined hope that is subtle and exquisitely written about.

My favourite story in the collection is, “Opa-Locka” about twin sisters, who are detectives and are entwined in people’s lives, causing unnecessary complications. They discover nothing and leave trails in form of objects and amidst all of this; they are confronted by their father’s criminal past. Why is it my favourite story? Because of the sheer force used to tell this tale. Van den Berg has used all her writing charm according to me in this one. It is that good.

The stories are full of wonder and charm. The women are weak, they are strong, they love and sometimes they also discard their emotions, to make sense of the real world. The stories will have you not look away from the book, till you are done with the collection. They are perfectly structured, coherent and magical. There is no sugar coating and nothing that is saccharine sweet. They are the way life is to a large extent and that is what makes them so readable.

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