The Furious Gazelle

Literary as hell.

Tag: Novel (page 1 of 2)

Book Review: The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar

Review by Tess Tabak

The book’s translator asked to remain anonymous for fear of safety

 

This haunting, evocative novel spins a finely woven tapestry out of the Iranian Revolution, djinns and mermaids, and family lore. If you’re willing to go on a meandering journey, Shokoofeh Azar takes you to unique and hauntingly strange places.

This novel truly feels like a piece woven from disparate threads to create a whole. At no point until the end did I ever have any particular idea where the book was going, but I was engaged throughout. Azar sets the tone of magical realism juxtaposed with harsh realities early on, from the very beginning, when the narrator’s mother receives enlightenment from a greengage tree: “Beeta says that Mom attained enlightenment at exactly 2:35 p.m. on August 18, 1988, atop the grove’s tallest greengage plum tree on a hill overlooking all fifty-three village houses, to the sound of the scrubbing of pots and pans, a ruckus that pulled the grove out of its lethargy every afternoon. At that very moment, blindfolded and hands tied behind his back, Sohrab was hanged.” Continue reading

Book Review: And So We Die, Having First Slept, by Jennifer Spiegel

and so we die having first slept jennifer spiegel coverReview by Tess Tabak

Brett is a hopeless romantic who finds herself middle-aged, washed out with fading looks and her fiery independence dulled by brain damage. Enter Cash, a former drug addict turned born-again Christian. When the two enter into an unlikely, impulsive marriage, the meat of Jennifer Spiegel’s novel, And So We Die, Having First Slept, begins.

You don’t necessarily think of an abusive marriage as grounds for a great romance novel, but Spiegel has such a remarkable talent for capturing characters that it never feels forced. Cash and Brett feel like real people trapped in a dark place, working through their demons together. Where Cash is addictive, sulky and at times violent, Brett has a fierce need to be loved by someone, and a belief both that her value as a woman is fading and that it’s her wifely duty to stand by her man. Though religion is a big part of the narrative, Spiegel doesn’t portray them as Christian monoliths. She explains both characters’ complicated and ever-changing relationship to their faith. Continue reading

Book Review: The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung

the tenth muse catherine chungReview by E. Kirshe

I try to write very thoughtful reviews about very thoughtful books, and I will, but I’ll let you know right away that Catherine Chung’s The Tenth Muse was excellent. Don’t waste time here, go read it.

Filled with lovely prose, The Tenth Muse manages to remain an intimate story while going through a sweeping history- we encounter many of the major events of the twentieth century through our protagonist Katherine.

The book follows Katherine, a mathematician, from her 1950s childhood through her years of school and work as one of the only women in her field. Her quest to solve the Riemann hypothesis takes us through to the end of her career.

As with most stories relating to women fighting for their piece of the world I was often inspired and then angry. Much like the real-world women of math and science who appear throughout the book (some anecdotally, some make a cameo appearance in the story) Katherine is often punished for being both clever and ambitious. Continue reading

Book Review: Sugar Run by Mesha Maren

Review by E. Kirshe

After spending 18 years in prison, Jodi returns to her home in West Virginia’s mountains. Dealing overwhelmingly with redemption, as well as home and maybe more importantly, place, this well-paced novel also beautifully tells a story of imperfect people trying to stitch together their broken lives.

“Until a week and a half ago she had thought she would not return until her death- a body shipped back to a family that barely rmemebered it, a body to be laid back into the mountains to rest- but now here she was not just a body but a jumble of wild thoughts and emotions, coming home.”

Sentenced to life in prison at age seventeen, Jodi didn’t leave behind much of a life to re-build, but she does have dreams of creating one- settling down on her grandmother’s beautiful and wild stretch of land in the mountains where she was raised. Jodi does, however, have one piece of unfinished business, fulfilling a pact she made with Paula, her dead girlfriend, to rescue her brother from their abusive family home.

Just a few pages in you’ll know that Maren is an incredibly skilled, poetic writer. After a beautifully detailed greyhound bus ride (literally every detail in this book is beautifully written), Jodi’s first stop is in a small town to pick up Paula’s brother Ricky, who is now a troubled grown man. In the same span of just a few days (all of this happening before Jodi has to be home to make her first parole meeting) she also meets and quickly falls for Miranda Golden, wife of a faded country star and, though still in her twenties, mother of three. This cobbled together group heads off to Jodi’s land all with the insane hope of creating a new run at life. Continue reading

Book Review: Beauty of the Death Cap by Catherine Dousteyssier-Khoze

Review by Tess Tabak

Who knew mushrooms could be so fascinating?

In The Beauty of the Death Cap, Nikonor, the eccentric narrator, states, “I have always preferred the company of trees and mushrooms to that of my fellow humans.” That is the gist of the book. With a wry sense of humor, Nikonor takes us on a rolling journey through his life in mushrooms. He is obsessed with fungi, and has made them his life’s work. The people he meets are another story.

Author Catherine Dousteyssier-Khoze gives us a Nabokovian narrator in Nikonor. The prose is gorgeous, with lines shifting back and forth between French and English that verge on poetry (“Encore que . . . suddenly I am seized with doubt!”). He slowly unveils a narrative, distracted along the way by tangents on everything from mushrooms to Charles Baudelaire’s missed calling as a nature poet, all with a surprisingly sharp sense of humor and a pretentious air. He speaks of death and murder as coldly and carelessly as if he were talking about picking a mushroom, musing things like, “I am a lone wolf by nature. I made the mistake of taking on a partner only once, and the attempt ended in an abject failure—one from which my associate did not recover.” Continue reading

Book Review: The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle

Review by E. Kirshe

Were you ever asked that old ice-breaker question: if you could have dinner with any five people, living or dead, who would it be? When Sabrina Nielson arrives to her 30th birthday dinner she finds her five picks sitting around the table. Though it’s more or less what I expected, Rebecca Serle’s take on this premise is very well executed and sensitively written.

The Dinner List is bittersweet with moments of levity and heartbreak throughout. It’s a one-night-only therapy session for Sabrina as she navigates her most important past relationships: Robert, the (now deceased) father who abandoned her; Jessica, her somewhat estranged best friend (and her traditional birthday dinner companion); and Tobias, the on-and-off-again boyfriend of basically a decade, for closure and healing. All of this is mediated by her old college professor Conrad, and also, Audrey Hepburn.

The Dinner List mainly digs into Sabrina’s relationship with Tobias, who she still regards as the great love of her life. Occasionally Serle serves up some funny moments, general relationship advice, and all with a bit of magical realism. The Dinner List pulls you through relationships, very human fatal flaws, and explains why those five people made Sabrina’s list- essentially answering who shapes a person’s life.

Continue reading

Book Review: This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga

Review by Tess Tabak

In This Mournable Body, a woman named Tambudzai grapples with the harsh realities of living in Zimbabwe after the Revolution of the 1990s.

The author, Tsitsi Dangarembga, writes on familiar topics (anxiety, existential dread) but set against a backdrop that’s truly harsh and depressing. Tambu is mistrustful of white people living in Zimbabwe – but this isn’t the crystal clear “us vs. them” of books set further in the past, like Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The white people in this novel are somewhat further removed from the atrocities of their ancestors. In modern Zimbabwe, the lines have blurred. The white people that Tambu loathes haven’t done anything “wrong,” per se, except for profiting off the crimes of previous generations. Tambu acknowledges her advantages – she received a Western education at a prestigious school – but oppression means that she still can’t find a suitable job, unable to tolerate the way that white men steal her work for their own, or how she’s paid far less than her peers just because she’s black. Continue reading

Book Review: Mr. Neutron, a novel by Joe Ponepinto

Review by Tess Tabak
In a troubled election, Gray Davenport must prove that Reason is dead.

Reason Wilder, the new mayoral candidate in Grand River, is a crowd pleaser. He has a certain energy about him that people love. There’s just one tiny problem: Reason seems to be a Frankenstein’s monster, and Gray Davenport is the only one who’s noticed.

Mr. Neutron, Joe Ponepinto’s debut novel, is a biting satire about the craziness and politics that go into elections. Gray Davenport, the beleaguered, unpaid campaign manager for Bob Boren, the underdog in the race, wants to talk about real issues, but everyone is swept up by Reason’s charisma.

Gray must figure out how best to expose Reason for what he truly is. Gray has a stake in the game: he won’t get paid for managing Bob’s campaign unless Bob wins. What’s more, his wife, L’aura, is campaigning for Reason. This is about more than just politics for Gray. He has to win Bob the election to earn his own self respect, and possibly win back his stone-cold wife’s affections.

Gray Davenport, a self-described “sofa of a man,” has trouble sticking up for himself. He calls himself a neutron, “taking up an area of space so insignificant that it was no surprise to be regularly ignored.” Continue reading

Book Review: Glamshack, by Paul Cohen

Glamshack by Paul Cohen

Review by Tess Tabak

 

Paul Cohen’s debut novel, Glamshack, is a gritty, sensual journey through a man’s obsession with a woman, and her fiance.

 

The object of Henry’s obsession, a woman referred to only as Her and She, is almost pure male fantasy: dripping with sex, full of manic energy and childlike imaginativeness. She feeds Henry raw tuna out of a can with her hands and playfully poses as other people in public, adopting a Southern accent to get served at a closed restaurant.

 

Slow to unfold, but fairly fast-moving once you get past the first few chapters, Glamshack dives into Henry’s psyche. Narrated in the second person, Henry attempts to explain how he became the way he is, how his obsessive desire began, weaving his tale into beautifully constructed sentences. Cohen’s language throughout is gorgeous. He captures the essence of pure, raw, unfiltered desire in ways reminiscent of Nabokov’s playful-but-dark Humbert Humbert in Lolita.

Continue reading

Book Review: Where Night Stops, by Douglas Light

Review by Tess Tabak

 

Where Night Stops, a new novel by Douglas Light, is a gripping thriller written in deliciously literary prose. The protagonist ends up over his head in a money laundering scheme when a homeless man named Ray-Ray hands him a message in a bar of soap. That message leads him to the local library, which sets him off on a series of jobs that seem easy enough, and pay well. There’s just one problem: he has no idea what he’s doing, no idea why someone is paying him $300 to pick up checks from pre-arranged points and deposit them in library books. He calls these mysterious jobs “Kam Manning,” and inches in further and further, convincing himself that he’s not doing anything wrong.

The novel unravels slowly. It starts with our narrator in a bar with a woman who complains of being ugly. She sits next to our protagonist, trading a few lines of witty banter. She says that “My heart is a divided Vienna,” referencing Orson Welles’s The Third Man. Continue reading

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