Tag Archives: literary

#Bookreview and #mini-interview ‘what if I got down on my knees’ by Tony Rauch. For readers who enjoy short-stories, love language and the unusual.

what if I got down on my knees by Tony Rauch
what if I got down on my knees by Tony Rauch

Sorry I haven’t been around much recently, but today I bring you a review and the author, Tony Rauch, has also agreed to answer a few questions, so we have a double feature, a review and a mini-interview.

Title:   what if I got down on my knees
Author:   Tony Rauch
ISBN:  098293355X

ISBN13:  978-0982933558
ASIN:  B00YNR6HBM
Published:  Whistling Shade Press; 1 edition (May 31, 2015)
Pages:  189
Genre:  Literary Fiction/Short stories

Description:

what if i got down on my knees? presents romantic misadventures and entanglements of absurd, whimsical, existential longing, featuring discovery, secrets, identity, escape, strange happenings, endurance, regret, and hope. The stories are little postcards from the lonely regions of the human heart.

These tales of wonder are about people trying to find meaning and a place in an indifferent world, and their discoveries, revelations, secrets, failures, struggles, connections, and odd encounters along the way—

—two unemployed men steal dogs and run them through buildings around town.
—a man goes on what turns into the worst date in recorded history.
—you are asked to baby-sit for a neighbor, only to find a giant baby waiting for you.
—a man comes home to find his entire yard and home paved over by a long lost rival.
—a clerk at a used record store finds a man has passed away on one of the couches.
—some young adults go into the basement to get sad, in order to impress girls.
—a stranger extracts a baby from a man waiting for the bus.

With themes of longing, fragility, uncertainty, impermanence, regret, the mysteries hidden in everyday life, discovery, ennui, loneliness, irresponsible behavior, confusion, change, identity, and absurd situations, Tony Rauch is a worthy successor to the artistry and absurdism of Donald Barthelme and Steve Martin.

 Body of review:

I received a copy of this novel from the author and I voluntarily review it for Lit World Interviews.

Short stories are an acquired taste. We might think a short read is perfect because we are always rushing and don’t have a lot of time, but sometimes we might feel disappointed when the story ends and we’ve invested time and, in the best of cases, emotions only to have to get to know some new characters after a few pages. Of course, not all short stories are born equal. And this collection of short stories by Tony Rauch proves the point.

Some of the short stories in this collection are whimsical (surreal) and might leave you scratching your head (or looking up to the sky searching for… No spoilers) , some are vignettes illustrating the lives of people who might appear content with their lives at a superficial level, but whose thoughts and worries run deeper than it seems, many are about lonely people wondering about others and trying to connect (in some occasions with hilarious consequences), some are about pretending to be something or somebody else, about growing up, about growing old, about moving on or remembering the past…

The quality of the writing is superb, and the first person narratives cleverly capture the speech and rhythms of the characters, who sometimes are talking to others, sometimes conducting an internal monologue with themselves, or even writing a story. From young kids trying to impress their friends to old men dying, from people contemplating a new relationship to others letting go, these few pages run the whole gamut of experiences and emotions.

To give you some examples:

His skin appeared two sizes too tight for his body, stiff and washed out, like he’d gotten it secondhand, or found it in an alley late at night.

His suit is mythical—straight, lean, long, pure, giving, musical, thoughtful, caring, dynamic, cosmopolitan, unselfish, strong, industrious, and nostalgic for his mother, her peanut butter cookies, and snowy Christmas mornings.

“And what would someone do with a dream of mine? Where would you keep it?”

“I’d stretch it out to create a sail, and then use it to float off to who knows where,” I advise.

 Some of the stories are nostalgic and melancholy, but there are great comedic moments, ranging from slapstick to joyful turns of phrase (and oh, a so very satisfying revenge story).  Another example I highlighted:

Eventually, he turned up in over 3000 cans of a popular brand of tuna. A horrible fate to be sure, and amplified by the fact that the guy was notoriously reputed to detest tuna.

I won’t tell you which stories I liked the most as I’d find it difficult. I checked the reviews, and on reading the comments when the reviewers mentioned a story or another I’d agree with them. So… Just go and read them and enjoy their variety.

 What the book is about: Many things: growing up, life, dreams, realities, loneliness, relationships, friendship, revenge, writing…

 Book Highlights: The quality of the writing and the very distinct characters and voices. The whimsical sense of humour.

 Challenges of the book: Sometimes with the electronic version I wasn’t clear when I had moved from one story to another. The titles of the individual stories and the different parts weren’t always easy to tell apart.

Although the book is not long, I think it is best taken slowly and savouring the quality of the writing, rather than rushing to get to the end of the story. It is not a book to be read in a hurry.

 What do you get from it: Beautiful writing, stories that make you think and a few laughs.

 What I would have changed if anything: As I mentioned perhaps change the size of the titles or the formatting (in the digital version) to make the divisions clearer.

 Who Would I recommend this book to?: To readers who enjoy language and a mood more than heavily plotted stories (although there are some great ones too). And to writers who are considering writing short stories, or just keen on exploring the many ways characterization works.

Ratings:
Realistic Characterization: 4.5/5
Made Me Think: 4/5
Overall enjoyment: 4.5/5
Readability: 4/5
Recommended: 5/5
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
 

Buy it at:  
Format & Pricing:
Paperback:  $12 

Kindle: $3.22 

Author Tony Rauch
Author Tony Rauch

And now, I asked a few questions to the author:

People have less and less time these days and short forms of writing are becoming more and more popular. From flash-fiction to microfiction and even stories told in Tweets, it’s all about brevity. Of course, the short story has a long tradition, but what is for you a short story? And what makes it (so far) your preferred choice when writing? –

For me a short story is anything that conveys a feeling, or an event, or that sets up an event that may then spring forward. It does not have to have a beginning or an ending. I like story starters, that is a written piece that poses a situation or premise, and then you have to imagine various outcomes. But the premise is so interesting it creates that zing in your brain and gets you thinking. That to me is a good story: anything that kick-starts that zing in your imagination and gets you thinking on a different track or about various possibilities.

I prefer the short form because I don’t need a lot of useless background info that longer work sometimes gets bogged down in. I don’t have a lot of free time, so the short form is good for getting ideas down. I have a lot of different ideas, so the short form works well in sorting them into more organized paradigms.

Tony Rauch in action
Tony Rauch in action

Who are your favourite writers, in general, and writers of short stories (if they aren’t the same ones)? Why? What have you learned from them? –

Favorite authors, influences: Anyone interesting, imaginative, and concise. Anyone who makes you think.

Mostly I like short stories as they get to the point quickly. The books that really inspired me are mostly imaginative story collections because they were exciting and new and you never knew what was going to happen next in them. Also, they were brief, which made them memorable and easily digestible.

I like strange or absurd adventures that are well crafted and have a meaning to them, and sci fi as it offers ideas. Reading these types of writers is like taking mini adventures that I could not experience otherwise in the limitations of my actual life –

Older writers:

Donald Barthelme, J.D. Salinger, Richard Brautigan, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Charles Bukowski, Leonard Michaels (murderers), Mark Twain, James Thurber, Antoine de Saint Exupery (the little prince), Dr. Seuss (cool illustrations), Roald Dahl, Steve Martin (cruel shoes), W.P. Kinsella (the alligator report), Jim Heynen (the man who kept cigars in his cap), Don Delillo.

Contemporary writers:

Barry Yourgrau, Mark Leyner, Adrienne Clasky (from the floodlands), Lydia Davis (Samuel Johnson is indignant), Etgar Keret, Stacey Richter, George Singleton, James Tate (Return to the city of white donkeys), Thom Jones, Italo Calvino, Stephen-Paul Martin, Will Self, Denis Johnson (Jesus’ son), David Gilbert (I shot the hairdresser), David Sedaris, Paul Di Filippo, D. Harlan Wilson, Andersen Prunty.

Science fiction from the 40s, 50s, and 60s:

Rod Serling, L. Sprague De Camp, Ray Bradbury, Phillip K. Dick, Aurthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Charles Beaumont, Ursula K. Le Guin, Douglas Adams (an 80’s writer), etc.

Author Tony Rauch trying to grab the intangible
Author Tony Rauch trying to grab the intangible

Many writers read this blog. I subscribe to the advice that one should read in order to improve one’s writing. I know it will be a difficult choice, but any stories in particular that have had an impact on you or have increased your understanding of the form? 

Yes, many – see the list of authors above. One thing I look for is that buzz or zing when they convey a feeling or present something I hadn’t ever seen before. For example, I like that F. Scott Fitzgerald story “Winter dreams” because in it the character changes, or his feelings for someone changes. I like that arc, that sense of change the character goes through in a story. That story presents a loss, and the character’s feelings about that change and loss.

Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?

Yes, it is:  https://trauch.wordpress.com/

You can find book information and story samples on that bad boy of rock and roll.

If you know of any good publishers looking for arty story collections, please let them know about me. I’m always looking for good publishers. A lot of places don’t publish single author story collections.

Thank you for your time.

Thanks very much to Tony Rauch for his book and for answering my questions, thanks to you  for reading, and don’t forget to like, share, comment, and CLICK!

Olga Núñez Miret

@OlgaNM7

http://www.authortranslatorolga.com

 

 

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#Bookreview EILEEN by Ottessa Moshfegh. A Marmite kind of novel

REVIEWS FOR LITERARY WORLD REVIEWS

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

Title:   Eileen
Author:   Ottessa Moshfegh
ISBN13:  978-0143128755
ASIN:  B01BYMRLEA
Published:  Penguin Books
Pages:  272
Genre:  
Thriller: Crime and suspense, literary

Description:

Shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize and chosen by David Sedaris as his recommended book for his Fall 2016 tour. 

So here we are. My name was Eileen Dunlop. Now you know me. I was twenty-four years old then, and had a job that paid fifty-seven dollars a week as a kind of secretary at a private juvenile correctional facility for teenage boys. I think of it now as what it really was for all intents and purposes—a prison for boys. I will call it Moorehead. Delvin Moorehead was a terrible landlord I had years later, and so to use his name for such a place feels appropriate. In a week, I would run away from home and never go back.

This is the story of how I disappeared.

The Christmas season offers little cheer for Eileen Dunlop, an unassuming yet disturbed young woman trapped between her role as her alcoholic father’s caretaker in a home whose squalor is the talk of the neighborhood and a day job as a secretary at the boys’ prison, filled with its own quotidian horrors. Consumed by resentment and self-loathing, Eileen tempers her dreary days with perverse fantasies and dreams of escaping to the big city. In the meantime, she fills her nights and weekends with shoplifting, stalking a buff prison guard named Randy, and cleaning up her increasingly deranged father’s messes. When the bright, beautiful, and cheery Rebecca Saint John arrives on the scene as the new counselor at Moorehead, Eileen is enchanted and proves unable to resist what appears at first to be a miraculously budding friendship. In a Hitchcockian twist, her affection for Rebecca ultimately pulls her into complicity in a crime that surpasses her wildest imaginings.

Played out against the snowy landscape of coastal New England in the days leading up to Christmas, young Eileen’s story is told from the gimlet-eyed perspective of the now much older narrator. Creepy, mesmerizing, and sublimely funny, in the tradition of Shirley Jackson and early Vladimir Nabokov, this powerful debut novel enthralls and shocks, and introduces one of the most original new voices in contemporary literature.

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

Editorial Reviews

Review

Eileen is a remarkable piece of writing, always dark and surprising, sometimes ugly and occasionally hilarious. Its first-person narrator is one of the strangest, most messed-up, most pathetic—and yet, in her own inimitable way, endearing—misfits I’ve encountered in fiction. Trust me, you have never read anything remotely like Eileen.” —Washington Post

“What makes Moshfegh an important writer—and I’d even say crucial—is that she is unlike any other author (male, female, Iranian, American, etc.). And this sui generis quality is cemented by the singular savage suburban noir of Eileen. . . . Here is art that manages to reject artifice and yet be something wholly new and itself in sheer artistry.” —The Los Angeles Times

Eileen is anything but generic. Eileen is as vivid and human as they come . . . Moshfegh . . . writes beautiful sentences. One after the other they unwind — playful, shocking, wise, morbid, witty, searingly sharp. The beginning of this novel is so impressive, so controlled yet whimsical, fresh and thrilling, you feel she can do anything . . . There is that wonderful tension between wanting to slow down and bathe in the language and imagery, and the impulse to race to see what happens, how it happens.” —The New York Times Book Review

“The great power of this book, which won the PEN/Hemingway debut fiction award last month, is that Eileen is never simply a literary gargoyle; she is painfully alive and human, and Ottessa Moshfegh writes her with a bravura wildness that allows flights of expressionistic fantasy to alternate with deadpan matter of factness…As an evocation of physical and psychological squalor, Eileen is original, courageous and masterful.” —The Guardian

 

Body of review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Random House UK, Vintage Publishing, Jonathan Cape, for providing me with an ARC copy of this novel that I have freely chosen to review.

I confess that I did look at some of the reviews on this novel before writing mine and they are very evenly divided. Some people love it and others can’t stand it. Yes, I guess it’s a Marmite kind of novel. Why? Having checked the novel in several online stores I noticed that it is classified under mystery novels, and if lovers of the genre of mystery read this novel I suspect many of them are bound to feel cheated or disappointed. Literary fiction, which is another one of the categories it is classified under, perhaps is a better fit.

The story is an in-depth look at a character, the Eileen of the title, who is narrating an episode of her own life, in the first person. It is not strictly written as a memoir. As I observed recently when reviewing a novel also told from the point of view of the older character looking back and reflecting at her young self (in that case it was Anne Boleyn), these kinds of books have the added interest for the reader of trying to work out how much of what is being told is filtered by the wishes of the older person to provide a positive portrayal of their young selves. In this case, what is quite shocking is that either that younger Eileen had no endearing features, or the older Eileen is trying to make herself feel better and reassure herself that she’s come a very long way, indeed.

Eileen is a lonely young woman (twenty-four at the time of the episode she describes), whose mother died years back, who has a very superficial relationship with her only sister (who no longer lives at home and who seems to be very different), and who lives with her father, a retired policeman, an alcoholic and paranoid man, who sees hoodlums and conspiracies everywhere. From the mentions she makes of her mother and her past experiences, her childhood was also sad and the opposite of nurturing, with both parents drinking heavily, and neither of them having any interest in family life (and even less in Eileen, as her sister seemed to be the favourite). She lives in a derelict house, drives an old car with exhaust problems, works at a young boy’s prison, and has no friends or hobbies, other than shoplifting and looking at National Geographic magazines. She lives in a world of fantasy, and even her physiological functions are bizarre.

In some ways, the novel reminded me of Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller because of the narrator, who was also very self-absorbed and had no empathy for anybody, although in that case, it wasn’t evident from the star. Here, Eileen sees and observes things carefully as if cataloguing everything that happens, but has nothing good to say about anybody, apart from the people she gets crushes on (however undeserving they might be).

The novel, full of details which can be seen as sad, shocking, or bizarre but humane depending on our point of view, hints from the beginning at something momentous that is going to happen and has influenced the choice of the point at which the story starts. A couple of new employees come to work at the prison and Rebecca, a young and glamorous woman (at least from Eileen’s point of view) becomes Eileen’s new obsession. She tries her best to deserve this woman’s attention and that gets her in some trouble that I guess it the mystery part (and I won’t discuss to avoid spoilers, even though as I said I don’t think the novel fits in that genre easily, although perhaps it shares similarities with some classics of the genre, and I’ve seen mentions of Patricia Highsmith. Ripley, perhaps?). From the reviews, I saw that some readers were disappointed by the ending, although it fits in well with the rest of the book. (And from the point of view of the character, at least, it feels positive.)

The novel is beautifully written (although the content itself is not beautiful by any stretch of the imagination), detailed and fantastically observed, and it works as an impressive psychological study, that had me wondering about all kinds of personality disorder types of diagnosis (although the whole family are depicted as very dysfunctional). It is difficult to empathise with such a character, although she seems to be an extreme representation of somebody with low self-esteem and completely self-obsessed (and at a lesser level, even if we might not feel comfortable acknowledging it, most of us have contemplated some of her thoughts or feelings at some point). She is relentless in her dislike for almost everybody and everything, but even her older self remains unapologetic (and well, it takes guts to just not care at all). I could not help but wonder how much better she is now, despite her words, as her comments indicate that she hasn’t changed an iota. If anything, she’s come into herself. But I guess self-acceptance is a big change for her.

I found it a fascinating novel, a case study of the weird and disturbed, pretty noir, but not a read I would recommend everybody. (After all, I’m a psychiatrist…) It is not a feel-good or a nice novel to read but it might be for you if you like weirdly compelling characters and are happy to go with a narrator who is not sympathetic at all. I don’t think I’ll forget Eileen or its author in a hurry.

eileen3

Ratings:
Realistic Characterization: 4/5
Made Me Think: 4.5/5
Overall enjoyment: 4/5
Readability: 3.5/5
Recommended: 4/5
Overall Rating: 4/5
 

Buy it at:  
Format & Pricing:
Paperback:  $9.52 (https://www.amazon.com/Eileen-Novel-Ottessa-Moshfegh/dp/0143128752/

Kindle: $6.19 (https://www.amazon.com/Eileen-Shortlisted-Booker-Prize-2016-ebook/dp/B01BYMRLEA/

Hardback: $17.64 (https://www.amazon.com/Eileen-Novel-Ottessa-Moshfegh/dp/1594206627/

Audiobook: $23.59 (https://www.amazon.com/Eileen/dp/B01K7U9GFW/

 

Link to an example one (areas you enjoyed, areas for improvement)

Olga Núñez Miret

@OlgaNM7

http://www.authortranslatorolga.com

#Bookreview There Will be Stars by Bill Coffey (@billycoffey) Have you ever thought what being dead would be like? If you have you might want to read this book.

There Will Be Stars by Bill Coffey
There Will Be Stars by Bill Coffey

Title:   There Will Be Stars
Author:   Billy Coffey 

ISBN13:  978-0718026820
ASIN:  B010R7HOR2
Published:  Thomas Nelson 3rd May 2016
Pages:  416
Genre:  
Christian Books, Religious and Inspirational, Literary

Description:

“IN A LIFE FULL OF LIES, HE FINALLY SETTLED FOR THE TRUTH.”

No one in Mattingly ever believed Bobby Barnes would live to see old age. Drink would either rot Bobby from the inside out or dull his senses just enough to send his truck off the mountain on one of his nightly rides. Although Bobby believes such an end possible—and even likely—it doesn’t stop him from taking his twin sons Matthew and Mark into the mountains one Saturday night. A sharp curve, blinding headlights, metal on metal, his sons’ screams. Bobby’s final thought as he sinks into blackness is a curious one—There will be stars.
Yet it is not death that greets him beyond the veil. Instead, he returns to the day he has just lived and finds he is not alone in this strange new world. Six others are trapped with him.
Bobby soon discovers that this supposed place of peace is actually a place of secrets and hidden dangers. Along with three others, he seeks to escape, even as the world around him begins to crumble. The escape will lead some to greater life, others to endless death . . . and Bobby Barnes to understand the deepest nature of love.

 

Body of review:

Have you ever thought what being dead would be like? If you have you might want to read this book.

Thanks to NetGalley and to Thomas Nelson for providing me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I understand this book is part of the author’s Mattingly series although is the first book I read by this author. In my opinion this book can be read as a stand-alone and be enjoyed without any knowledge of the rest of the series.

I hesitated when I saw this book recommended in Net Galley as I realised the publisher is considered a publisher of Christian books, and although that is not a problem for me per se, I don’t usually read books within that category and it’s not one of the things I look for in my reading. But the description of the book, and the fact that the author has been compared to great American Southern writers, convinced me to give it a go.

With regards to the plot… I had an accident in January this year. I thankfully was fine (the car not so much) but I had a strange thought afterwards. What if I had actually died at the accident and what I went back to and I thought was real life wasn’t such but just the afterlife that just happened to look exactly the same as my previous life? It might have been the shock, but I kept thinking about that for a while. When I read the description of the book, I realised that what I thought at the time is somewhat similar to what the main character, Bobby, experiences. He has what appears to be a car crash at the beginning of the novel but wakes up the next morning with no clear memory of what had happened. Strangely enough he realises he can tell what’s going to happen next, as if he’d already lived that day. Eventually he is told that he’s dead and he becomes a member of an ersatz family of dead people who are caught up on what they call the Turn, whereby they keep again and again repeating the same day, as if they were Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, but with far fewer laughs.

The book is told in the third person but from different points of view, although the main one is Bobby’s. The assemble of different characters (and old widow who becomes the mother of the group, a preacher who’s lost her faith, a battered wife, a young boy who’s lost his alcoholic mother, an old teacher who only believes in science, and a young man with more brawn than brains) have very different views on what this place is. For some, it’s heaven, for others is hell, and others try to find a scientific explanation for it, it’s either a bend in the river of life, or a mirror. They all have secrets and unresolved issues and the author is very good at creating complex characters that are anything but clichéd. They are all flawed and that’s what makes them human.

We might have our suspicions about what is really going on and I very much suspect this book will mean different things to different people. It is a book about redemption, and about second chances (or even multiple chances) and about how we might not be able to choose our circumstances, but we can choose how we react to them and we can try to be the best version of ourselves possible.

If I already said that the book can be interpreted and read in many different ways (in another review somebody mentioned Groundhog Day meets The Twilight Zone, and yes, that’s true), the ending can also be open to many interpretations. I won’t go into detail but I think whatever the faith, or lack of it, of the reader, that should not impede the enjoyment of the novel.

For me this book falls into the category of literary fiction, and as such it might not be to everybody’s taste. It is beautifully written, with nice cadence and rhythm to the words, but it isn’t a page turner or a quick read. It is contemplative and it has its own pace (like the river mentioned by one of the characters). The novel delves into psychological, moral and transcendental questions and the characters are not immediately likeable or recognisable (perhaps with the exception of the young boy), but if you are intrigued by such themes and are prepared to go exploring, you might discover a pretty special book.

Ratings:
Realistic Characterization: 4.5/5
Made Me Think: 5/5
Overall enjoyment: 4.5/5
Readability: 4/5
Recommended: 4/5
Overall Rating: 5/5
 

Buy it at:  
Format & Pricing:
Paperback:  $11.11
Kindle: $10.27

 

Olga Núñez Miret

@OlgaNM7

http://www.authortranslatorolga.com

http://www.OlgaNM.com